Archive for October, 2009

Wednesday Wii — Hacking Fit

October 7, 2009

This isn’t an entry on how Homebrew Channel will let you reset your weight to svelte, it’s a brief discussion of how to get more out of Wii Fit than Nintendo intended.

I know that it’s possible to do exercises that don’t involve WF. Things like, you know, going for a walk. I can even put those hours, well, minutes, into the chart as generic Activity Log exercise time. But suppose I want to actually have my time measured according to the type of exercise, the way WF does for the built-ins? I mean, that’s the whole purpose of having different categories and tracking your time — we could each do our own exercising without any computer support at all, but where’s the fun in that? Turns out, you can subvert some of the exercises so that you can do your own and still get credit.

STRENGTH
This is the easiest. If you have an exercise that requires timing, particularly arm movement, you can use the Tricep Extender. TX doesn’t actually track the movement of the controller, or score you on how well you do. If you switch the controller for a water bottle, it doesn’t care. If you switch the exercise from TX to Biceps Curl, it doesn’t care. In fact, you could switch to a rowing machine and it wouldn’t care, and you’d get credit for your two minutes of strength exercises. If count isn’t important, and you just want to track time, consider going over to Yoga for Spinal Twist.

YOGA
The trick here is to see what your exercise requires in the way of foot placement, and pick the WF exercise that best matches it. Anything that requires both feet in place can be done on the Deep Breathing or Half Moon exercises. Single foot exercises — foot forward or back — can be done using Warrior pose. The key is that your exercise has to have some similarity to one of the WF yoga poses. Of course, doing this will mess up your scores, because you might do well at Half Moon, and be terrible at Balance On Both Knees, or your exercise might require horizontal steadiness, but be dynamic in the vertical plane. Scoring is a topic for a different blog.

There is one Yoga exercise that doesn’t track your balance: Spinal Tap Twist. This exercise is one that no sane person wants to engage in anyway. My wife threw her shoulder out doing it, and the few times I have tried it, it felt like my sternum was going to pop out of my chest, a la Alien. But it doesn’t track the controller, and it’s a 30-seconds-on-each-side task.

AEROBICS
The game side of WF, aerobics and balance, is harder, because they are geared for specific step patterns. You can change the music in the step exercise, as long as it has the same beat, but you still have to step on and off, and kick, when they want you to, because if you don’t, they will stop to give you some instructions. Running in place is different, instead of just stamping your feet, you can try other movement style aerobics, as long as they move the controller, and as long as the sensor bar can see them. For example, you could set the WF up in front of your treadmill and get some real running exercise. You might also try it with an exercise bike, or one of those air strider rigs. I haven’t tried either of those, but they should work as long as the exercise moves the controller briskly enough. Alternatively, you could sit on the couch, and just wave your controller at the screen.

BALANCE
The balance games are, as far as I can tell, impossible to…game. They are geared to elicit movement patterns on the board in reaction to what’s on the screen. They are measuring dynamic balance, not static balance, the way Yoga is. It might be possible to do something like set a 2×4 on edge on the centerline of the WF board, but you’d have to do that in the Yoga section, not here, and there’s a good chance you’ll break your neck. I’ll let you know if I think of something.

On Getting Out of Afghanistan

October 5, 2009

There’s been a lot of argument recently about how many troops we need to “win” in Afghanistan. There’s not been much discussion of why we should try, and to me, most of the ones I’ve heard sound like the domino theory statements that were made during the VietNam era. Those had much the same compelling urgency and they turned out to be wrong. Our problem is that no-one currently in power is old enough to remember the lessons of those days. They’ve read of them, but they didn’t live through them and to our current leadership they are so much history, as applicable as the Schleswig-Holstein affair. The trouble is, bringing the Domino Theory into the argument invokes a variant of Godwin’s Law (in any internet argument, sooner or later someone will call someone else a Nazi) and makes it hard to discuss things rationally.

My take on it is that there is no compelling national interest to keep us there, certainly not at the projected cost. Al Qaida and their ilk is getting much more mileage out of the ‘foreign aggressor killing muslim brothers and murdering families’ story than any claims of ‘victory’ would give them. AQ and the Talibs are not natural allies, and AQ doesn’t need AF as a base any longer, if they ever did. The driving issues in places like Nigeria are local, not pan-Islam. To lay out the argument in detail:

1. The US is still the world’s greatest superpower, and there is nothing that any fringe group can do to us that will overcome that major fact of life. When we deal with countries and groups, they know this.
2. Nothing that any of the non-state actors (and very few states) can do to us rises much above momentary embarrassment. Whatever they do, see (1). In fact, I’d hypothesize that this is a general rule. I cannot think of a single case in history where a major power made the argument that “we must do this or the others will think we are weak” and had that argument stand the test of time.
3. The primary threat appears to come from ourselves, through overreaction to embarrassments. We are the ones who created a whole generation of US-haters in IQ and AF, and poured thousands of lives* and billions in treasure down the drain. *US lives. There were also a few hundred thousand other lives, and they all have cousins.
4. Triggering an overreaction is, of course, the whole goal of terrorist groups. Read what Peter Senge has to say about trim tabs. Avoiding overreaction is something the US doesn’t seem capable of.

My conclusion is that pulling major combat forces out of AF will cause less harm to US interests worldwide, over time, than staying there and destroying our military, our economy, and our credibility. Certainly, we don’t want to announce defeat and burn our regimental flags, but the recent, demonstrably corrupt, elections in AF give us a good excuse to quietly draw down forces to something more like a MAAG group and to let the Afghans solve their own problems. Karzai has given us an excellent opportunity. We should take it.

(Most of this entry was part of my earlier comments to the blog Abu Muqawama http://bit.ly/lPxzM, but I wanted to present it in my own forum)

Update 06Oct09: To support my contention about AQ and the taliban, here’s a McClatchy report on a CNN interview with the National Security Advisor: http://bit.ly/1a7gWj

Hone on getting a PhD

October 4, 2009

Good series by David Hone on Advice for Young Researchers. He is a paleontologist, and it shows, but the information is still generally applicable to a wide range of disciplines, and I’d strongly recommend that anyone thinking about starting in any PhD program read the series.

One section, on getting a PhD, is particularly interesting, and has started me thinking:

I have found that every discipline, every school, every program, is different. Some engineering PhDs, for example, simply require the publication of three or five peer reviewed articles in a give subject area. In some, it’s easy to generate your own data, because you are running your own experiments. In others, like business, you often need surveys, or (in paleontology) you need to visit museums and measure bones.

Hone talks about using your Supervisors (what I’d call the Dissertation Committee) as a resource, but not to pester them. I’d think of them as being like the Board of Directors of a new company. When you select them, you want to pick people who are experts in the areas your dissertation will cover — either the topic itself, or the tools you will use. Meet with them often, perhaps once or twice a year — it’s amazing how many people meet with their committee twice, at the start of the effort and four years later, the week before the defense. You are not meeting to ask them questions, you are meeting for them to ask you questions, so you can refine your approach. Then, since they brought it up, you can ask them questions.

One technique that I saw applied successfully in a history PhD, and that I tried, with marginal success, in my systems science PhD, was to make every class a dry run for part of the dissertation. Most classes required a paper. It’s helpful to think of that as a chance to do a literature search and descriptive writeup for one of your dissertation chapters. If it’s an applied class, like simulations, it’s a chance to build the tools you will need to do your work. Your goal should be that something out of each class should find its way into your dissertation. Of course, that assumes that you know your dissertation topic early in your PhD career. I changed my topic probably four times, starting with getting my original proposal shot down in flames. Still, the early concepts stayed on through the whole process.

Hone’s series is good, and useful. Go read the whole thing.