Thursday, September 10, 2015

Are Athletes Really Getting Faster, Better, Stronger?

In 2014, David Epstein gave a sports-minded TED talk that highlighted the ways in which athletes are becoming faster, better and stronger today. He noted many compelling examples to solidify his talk, many of which we discuss below.

Compared to the winner of the Olympic Marathon in 1904, who ran for 3 hours and twenty-eight minutes, the winner of the 2012 Olympic Marathon ran for 2 hours and eight minutes. This means that the 2012 winner is faster by nearly 1 hour and a half. It seems like we are actually evolving into a new species, one that is faster than ever. But let’s see what exactly happens.

In 1936, Jesse Owen won the 100 meters competition by running for 10.2 seconds, while Usain Bolt finished the same competition in just 9.77 seconds in 2013. Owen would have 14 feet more to go if he would have been running in 2013. In order to see exactly what this means, you can imagine both athletes running at the same time on a stadium. The two beeps that signal the finish of the race (one beep for each athlete) are so close to each other in time that they are heard almost simultaneously. If we consider the way the track was built in 1936 and in 2013, the track from 2013 offers an obvious advantage.

Technology Improvements from Triathlon to the Track

Let's now consider a longer event. In 1954, the first man to run a mile in under four minutes was Roger Bannister. Today, every college kid does it. Only in 2013, there were 1314 people running a mile under four minutes. But, just like Owens, Bannister ran on a soft surface, which is worse than the synthetic tracks of today. Biomechanics say that synthetic tracks are 1 and a half percent faster. If we take a look into the history of sports ranging from triathlon to decathlon, we can see that technology has made a difference in all sports.

Between 1956 and 2008, the 100 meter record for the freestyle swim has constantly dropped, but it has been punctuated by various changes in procedures, the addition of new features and the addition of new types of swimsuits.

Cyclists also improved their timing as bicycles became more aerodynamic. This is proven in the sport of triathlon where most athletes utilize an aero position on the bike that enables them to minimize wind resistance. But triathlon is just the tip of the iceberg. There has also been significant improvements in the level of sports science, coaching, and biomechanics.

There are many other examples that show how technology is a deciding factor for the improved performance in sports today. Another factor can be the body type, shape, and size. In the twenties, all individuals who were involved in sports had the average body size. Now, there is a different size for each type of sport.

It seems like there was an explosion in the variation of body types in sports over time, in a similar way in which the universe expanded after the Big Bang. The height of NBA players has increased over time. Today, one in seven men in the NBA is at least 7 feet tall (which is very rare in the general population). Large athletes have gotten larger (basketball) and small athletes have gotten smaller (gymnasts) in the last 30 years. Today, types of bodies that were not in sports before are becoming something common (Kenyan marathoners for instance).

Learn more about David Epstein, journalist and author of The Sports Gene.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to Build Your Creative Confidence by David Kelly

David Kelly's TED Talk is about creativity is focused on what he calls creative confidence. While design schools and workplaces seem to divide people in two categories (creative and practical people), David says that anyone can be creative if the creativity is stimulated.

In his TED Talk, Kelly recalls a story from his school years, when his best friend Brian was working on a project that involved creating a horse out of clay. One of the girls sitting at his table said that the horse he made is terrible. Brian destroyed the model and placed the clay back where he took it from.

From that moment, Brian has never worked on such a project. There are many similar stories today, as David has heard from his class. Many students are discouraged by the negative opinion of other students and even their teachers. Some individuals just shut down their creativity and design aspirations at some point in their life. People lose their focus on creativity as they advance from childhood to the adult life. By doing this, they can suppress their capability of doing amazing things.

People today have this fear of being creative, because they also fear of doing anything unconventional. They don’t want to do things that will determine other people to judge them. David has a revelation after meeting a psychologist called Albert Bandura. This expert has developed some methodology to cure different phobias. One of these techniques was about taking the patient into a room where there was a snake. Eventually, the patient became comfortable with the snake and even touched it using a leather glove. Bandura has called this process guided mastery.

Another story is the one of a technical guy named Doug, who created MRI machine for kids. But, children had to be sedated before they entered the machine, because they feared it. Doug was disappointed about this and re-designed the machine, transforming it into an real adventure for kids. Fear is eliminated now. We can do the same thing with creativity and success. If we don’t fear them anymore, we can make them part of our lives. We must overcome our fear of creativity in order to thrive in creative environments.

So the takeaway point is this: step out of your creatively-confined shell and make something. It can be as simple as designing neon tank tops on the web, or as elaborate as crafting a stained glass lamp. Whatever it is, explore the inner workings for your right brain and tap into a deeper sense of artistic expression.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"A personal story about farming and the future of agriculture" by Mark Jackson

 Maybe one of the most important things for us all is agriculture. It is an area that people do not often talk about or even notice, but for some people it is a way of life! One of these people is Mark Jackson, after 5 generations agriculture is a most important area in his life.

In 1890 his great-grandfather bought a small piece of land in Iowa. At the beginning he has problems, so he lost whole year’s crops. Something had to be changed so he planted soybeans in order to feed his livestock through cold winter. But he discovered that they are very healthy and very easy to work with!

After five generations Mark Jackson is still living and working at the same farm as his parents and grandfather. The interesting fact is that although he has big family only one person, his son, is real person for this job. He even says how happy he is for working together with him. Did you know that only 1% of the U.S. population is producing 50% of world’s soybean!

During Marks 40 years farming career, his farm increased significantly, the reasons for that are science and heavy machines that are very important. Another important technology used are computers. Using them Mark has increased production 3-4 times by reducing seeds and fertilizer, on the same land his grandfather was using. Although he has increased production he is still using sustainable production and environmental responsibility. He was one of the first farmers who started soybean farming with Unilever.

Mark says that future can be even better, but only if we start worrying about it. Because if we don’t improve and stop running water, air and earth, future generations will have serious problems with farming. If we improve our world (with mindful harvesting practices), and improve our technology (from use of grain cart scales and yield management systems), our farming will be better and production will be higher.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Happens Inside those Massive Warehouses? By Mick Mountz

Mick Mountz talked about a new solution for managing the inventory inside a warehouse. This revolutionary solution is based on the use of thousands of mobile robots to do the required tasks around a warehouse. Today, there are human workers who perform these tasks, but this could change in the near future. When you order a product from the Internet and it reaches your door in two days, maybe you don't think how many efforts these workers have made to get the product from a warehouse and send it to your door. A warehouse worker can spend up to 70 percent of the day working around the warehouse.

In the dot com era, Mick has worked for a company that was supposed to deliver groceries online called Webvan. But, this business proved to be ineffective. About thirty items had to be assembled in a single tote. Mick came to the conclusion that there was no way of solving each base picking. Soon Webvan went out of business and Mick started to think about what the problem was and how it could be solved. He was looking for technologies that could be the ultimate among supply chain solutions.

With a brainstorming exercise, Mick began to assume different things. For example, he imagined having a large distribution center in China, where labor is extremely cheap. He imagined zero costs for every worker, which lead him to the possibility to hire ten thousand workers. Each of them will go to the distribution warehouse at 8 in the morning and pick one single product, then hold it until it is ordered. There is no way of hiring people with zero costs, so robots and certain logistics and warehousing technology can be used instead. The only task of a human worker would be to work as pick worker instead of moving around the warehouse.

It doesn't matter if it's a small distribution warehouse in Illinois or an enterprise-level supply chain warehouse in China, things like walking, searching, wasting and waiting can be eliminated. Besides productivity, there were other positive effects noticed that Mick didn't think about, such as workers not interfering with each other. Once the system is in place and working, there are ways to tune it up using adaptive and dynamic algorithms. Mick just realized that sometimes it is better to let things do their own work. When someone places an order online, they can ask themselves if there was a robot involved in the work, because it is quite possible.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why we should build wooden skyscrapers by Michael Green

Michael Green has built buildings of different sizes using various materials during his life in New York and Vancouver. But, the only material he truly loves is wood. From all the buildings he has been into, he only saw people hugging wooden columns and maybe the reason is that wood impresses people. Michael says that there are very tall forests in the world, that reach heights of 40 story buildings, but there are no wooden buildings that exceed 4 stories.

In the near future, the percentage of people living in cities will grow from the current 50 percent to 75 percent. This means that more than 3 billion people will need a new home in the next 20 years. Tall buildings will continue to be built and buildings will become taller and taller. Concrete and steel are great materials, but these materials have a very low green contribution percentage and the industry that makes them is the main pollution source in the world, followed by the ways the materials are transported.

There is a need for new ways in the construction industry and Michael Green thinks wood is the next big thing. There are valid reasons for this, as wood is the only material that comes already grown by the power of the sun. By using it for constructions, the carbon dioxide normally eliminated when a tree dies is kept inside the wood and this can be good for the environment.

While there are many things adopting wood as its primary composition, like wooden play kitchens for children or even the utensils we eat with, wooden structures are slow to adopt on a large scale. The first steps to use wood for skyscrapers are these: starting to use less concrete and steel and building wooden structures that are up to 30 stories high. There are new products for construction right now called timber panels and they are huge: 8 feet wide and 64 feet long. Until now, wooden constructions have been built using two-by-four types of panels.

The primary concern for new wooden buildings is the probability of fires. The truth is timber panels don't lighten up that easy and these buildings can be made to be as safe as concrete and steel constructions. Another concern is the deforestation that could be involved. Different strategies can be used to minimize it. A revolution happens in the construction business right now and wood may be the big thing of the next century. Michael Green has already started to construct high wooden buildings and things go in the right direction.