How NOT to swim distance butterfly?

Since promising Cindy to teach her how to swim a long and efficient butterfly, I’ve been watching swimmers of various fluency at my pool (not very hard – swimming fly attracts butterfly like daffodils 🙂 ) as well as videos of exceptional swimmers like Misty Hyman and Mike Phelps online.  I’ve since learnt that it’s a very hard stroke to diagnose sans footage… hats off to swimming coaches!  Here’s two of the most common mistakes I’ve seen, and two I’ve learnt in my own skin:

(i) head too high.  This seems to be much more detrimental to the stroke than it does to the front-crawl.  Unlike the front-crawl where a high head mainly increases drag, in the butterfly a high head also affects the body rhythm (the pulse is ineffective going up) as well as the recovery (it’s physically impossible to do a low, straight-arm recovery when the head is held up).  Everyone who does this butter-struggles.

(ii) chop-chop (aka too fast pull).  These are committed by better (and sometimes fast) flyers who have a high stroke rate but low stroke length (e.g., 13 strokes / 25m).  I noticed these as a “chop chop” pattern: it takes about the same time for their hands to go from entry-to-exit (pull) as it does exit-to-entry (recovery).  I can’t say what they are actually doing, but from my experience, I “chop chop” when my hands are slipping through the water and/or pulled too narrowly and/or not with high elbow.  The pull is the propulsive phase and should take longer (at least 3-fold longer) than the recovery.

(iii) inward rotated legs.  I was experimenting with pigeon-toeing (inward rotated feet), and then inwardly rotating the legs so that the kneecaps are touching.  A few kilometers later my knees hurt, and I’m backing away from trying again (can’t practice when you’re injured!)  It might be from the repetitive whipping momentum applied out-of-plane.

(iv) too long a glide.  When I was looking to be more efficient, one of the advice was to spend longer in the glide (the streamline after entry).  So I did that for a long time, and yes, it’s sound advice to an extent.  But following the “some is good, more is better” thinking, I got to a phase where I milked the glide until I get buoyed up to the surface and have no forward momentum.  So every arm stroke is pulling from Park – no fun.  My current thinking is that if anything, it’s far better to slow down and lengthen the pull.

Thesis woes

This is a doubly rare post — a personal post, and an emo one for that.  The thesis is sitting between 930 to 1030 pages in the past month and I dread looking at it.  It’s never going to be as good as it should be, and I feel sick about it.  (And I feel even sicker about the synthesis appendix.)  As a self-proclaimed stoic I ought to feel indifferent, and often I try to be indifferent, and I have certainly been successful in being cheery with people.  I’m even cheery writing on a blog that no one reads.

The thesis feels so pointless.  No one is going to read it. Seven fucking years of my prime wasted on a tome that is good for nothing.  Fuck the “new paradigm” in the title and self-aggrandizing sentiments.  You know it’s inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

The horrible thing is that there’s all these things I think are important that I’m not doing because “I have a thesis to write”.  Friends, family, love, projects… I could be doing so much more meaningful things other than looking the stupid thesis, polishing at a snail’s pace, anguished with guilt, useless dead weight on god’s good green earth.  This…

“Go firmly to the window,
and listen, shaken with emotions, but not
with the complaints, the implorations of a coward.”

Back to the Butterfly

Backstory: five years ago I signed myself up for a SCUBA diving course. At the first class there is a swim test: 200m, and treading water for 10min. I splashed and gurgled my way through the swim, then sank and drowned. Twice, and barely survived on the third trial.

“That’s awful, dude”, I said to myself, “you’ve got to learn how to swim.” So I gave myself two years to learn to swim the butterfly. “But why the butterfly when you can’t even swim?” Why not? “How do you know you could ‘swim the butterfly’?” I’ll swim 1000m of it.

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Anonymous vs the “Patriots”

Visualizing the damage done in the so-called “first world information war“* up to Dec 10, with each unit representing one hour of downtime.  The data was extracted from PandaLabs’ blog.  Downtime on the top is largely from Anon‘s** Operation: Payback (and is investigated by US-DOJ and an arrest in the Netherlands); downtime to Wikileaks was by th3J35t34 and unknown “patriots” (state actors?).  Click on the image for a larger version.

* Is it the first of many cyber wars, or a cyber war largely fought in the first world?

** Down at this writing.

A Happy Illustrated Guide to a PhD

Diego posted a link to Matt Might’s article “The Illustrated Guide to a PhD“, which was funny, sad, and many would think is accurate.  Since I feel optimistic today, I would like to extend on that with an encouraging note.

While we’re all familiar with “perfect” objects, like a circle, triangle, or square:

…they’re not the only class of object that can exist.  “Ah!  I know what you mean”, Kate would say, “but when you look close enough, everything else can be described as a combination of these elements!”  And she’d point to this picture of a house.

And if this is true and all that there is, pushing the boundary of any shape will give us the same inconsequential bulge:

Viewed in this light, the years of anxiety while doing a PhD suddenly become even more of a

than it already is. :sadface:

But there are other things out there.  There are things that are not simple sums of elements.  Like your local coastline, which looks pretty clean at the moment you jumped out of the plane:

But as you fall, you started being able to focus on the little cove, and realize that it’s actually more jagged than meets the eye a few seconds ago… and so you keep discovering details as you splatt descend.  It never gets simpler.

This is an example of quasi-fractal objects*.  In mathematically fractal objects, there are infinite details, and the details are themselves replicates of the whole:

Julia set images by John Whitehouse, who also kindly provides python code for you to generate Julia/Mandelbrot fractal sets.

Can we (should we) think of “knowledge” as a quasi-fractal shape, like coastlines, as opposed to a geometrical shape like circles?  Thinking of knowledge as a geometrical shape focuses on the uniqueness of the dissertation’s “pinnacle of achievement”, but also burdens it with the tacit acknowledgment is that it is inconsequential to mankind’s body of knowledge.  Thinking of knowledge as fractal emphasizes that every feature of the details reflects the whole – a consequence of which is that by studying the details we also learn about the pattern of things we never studied. How true is that?**

Assuming it is objective, are there disciplines that are more “fractal” than others?  Assuming it is subjective, are there particular ways of thinking that makes our research more “fractal” than others?

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*  It can only be quasi-fractal, just as two lines on paper can at best be quasi-parallel.  Properties in the real world, in particular, are usually fractal and obeys a power law only within a limited scale.

**  Think about how different disciplines evolve.  Early archaeologists (Schliemann?) cheerfully dug up and threw away top layers until they reached the ones they wanted; modern excavations are systematic, carefully uncovered, and documented with a stratigraphy.  Early programmers cheerfully write more-or-less spaghetti-like code that does just the task they want; software engineers are systematic in their construction of objects and choosing what to expose, and (ideally?) everything is documented ad nauseum.  (In a close-to-my-heart example, earlier workers in my discipline cherry-picks data that support a mechanism, and sweep everything else under the carpet.)  Does the “fractalness” of knowledge lies in the abilities to impassionately observe and appropriately document (and devising a suitable notation if one does not exist)?  Is the fractalness of knowledge the same as the description of “scientific method”?  My sense is that I have a different type of appreciation for the “fractalness of knowledge” than when I finished my undergrad (when, being the philosophically-inclined kind since a young age, I’m well-versed in the philosophy of science).

My Ashtanga Yoga Experience

Starting this year I decided to let go of capoeira while I “sit down and write” (ha, ha).  Slowly it turned out to be a disaster: I was not eating properly, always tired, and goes on these “write 2 hours, sleep 2 hours” routine.  One day I tried kicking a quexada, when my now-tight hamstrings pulled me up in the air… and I decided I need some structure in my life.  After looking around I settled on trying Ashtanga yoga.

This is the second time I’ve given yoga a serious go.  After injuring my wrists last summer, I sought to augment my flexibility with Bikram hot yoga (I really want to be able to a macaco).  After a solid 6 weeks of almost every day practice, I decided that it just wasn’t for me.  Part of it was the environment: I have never understood what the “hot” bit was useful for.

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