Sunday, December 30, 2018

Additional Evidence for the Central Governor Hypothesis: No Claudication-Like Symptoms With Sustained Maximal Effort

Two theories have emerged to explain a maximal exertion limit in exercise.
  1. Catastrophic failure. This is the "common sense" idea that limitations of local physiology set the maximum exertion - e.g., oxygen supplied to muscle, muscle fiber recruitment, and metabolite accumulation; and
  2. The Central Governor model (CGM), where some central regulator sets the limit. This regulator is often assumed to be in the central nervous system, and has been explained either as active limitation of exertion, and also as depletion of neurotransmitters during exercise.

For a more detailed explanation of these models, I refer you to Ament and Verkerke (2009.) They primarily defend the catastrophic failure model, and while they do give a fair shake to CGM, they also have some interesting arguments against it, as well as an excellent reference section (with references to Tim Noakes, probably the best-known proponent of CGM.)

It should be said that nothing in biology is ever simple, so I would agree with Ament and Verkerke that at the very least it's worthwhile distinguishing between slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers. In pointing that out, they imply but don't really defend the point that BOTH of these models may be correct, i.e., CGM in Type I slow-twitch muscle fiber, and catastrophic failure in Type II fast-twitch. It also seems that CGM proponents like Noakes are mostly interested in slow-twitch (he's an endurance runner) and I'm interested in this model for the same reason.

A bit of circumstantial evidence to bolster the CGM argument, at least for slow-twitch fibers is the phenomenon of claudication. Long story short, claudication is what happens when you have a blockage in a peripheral artery in your leg. Some blood may still be getting through, but not enough - and the problem is revealed with activity, so that when the person tries to run or even walk, they get extreme tiredness, pain and cramping, often in a matter of blocks, and at a very consistent distance. It's basically the peripheral analog to chest pain on exertion (stable angina) though in that case it's because of a blockage in a coronary artery in your heart. In some cases, especially in diabetic people whose circulation is damaged by the disease, skeletal muscle can actually be infarcted - that is, severe damage to muscle cells occurs causing tissue necrosis much like in a myocardial infarction.

If the catastrophic failure model is correct, then athletes pushing themselves and only being limited by peripheral metabolism in their muscles would sometimes infarct their muscles like this, and yet it doesn't happen. If CGM is correct, you would expect that the Governor keeps us out of trouble by keeping us away from the limit - except in people whose vascular systems have undergone rapid pathological deterioration (not just deconditioning), at a rate which perhaps the feedback system to the Governor can't adjust fast enough to take into account. Not only that, the experience of maximal exertion during exercise is not at all like claudication or muscle infarction. (Admittedly I don't have a satisfying mechanism for the peripheral vasculature's feedback to the Governor, but it is very interesting that anatomically nerves and vessels do tend to travel together in bundles.)

The most tempting possible objection to using the lack of claudication or infarction events as support for CGM is to say that catastrophic failure is correct, but the cardiopulmonary system is the constraint that sets maximal exertion, not the peripheral muscle. That is, in a runner, the quads are nowhere near their "theoretical limit" but the heart-lung system is at its maximum (whether it's cardiac output or diffusion-limitation, as occurs in a very few elite athletes.) But this just moves the site of the potential infarction, since now we would be infarcting our hearts instead of our limbs if that's where the limitation is, with no outside governor, and again, this never (or almost never) happens. (A very few elite athletes are diffusion limited, where cardiac output is so great that blood is moving so fast through the lung's capillaries that there's not enough time for oxygen to get into the blood, but this is certainly not the case for the vast majority of humans.)

A second possible objection is to say that catastrophic failure is true because at sustained maximal exertion there IS infarction, e.g., after a marathon, runners sometimes show CK values on the order of 10,000 to 100,000. Yes, but a) CK levels in infarcts from diabetes are actually much lower, in the low thousands; b) chronic mechanical damage to muscles would produce the same effect; c) these runners don't describe acutely feeling part of their quad suddenly dying like an infarct - it's a gradual process, and d) such elevations would happen in acute exercise as well. But they do not.

I suspect that the final correct answer will be that there is a CGM for slow-twitch muscle and not for fast-twitch, and this is why things like neurological changes e.g. after surgery or trauma, placebos, motivation, and anecdotally SSRI use have an effect on endurance sports but not as much in acute strength-and-speed events.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Two More Jackoffs Running Across the Country

Since you're reading about long-distance running projects, I am morally obligated to include some sort of media, typically a lonely desert road. But this is better.

Lest you think me a hypocrite, I (sensibly) only ran across California and around the Bay, which is quite reasonable, but again I bring you knuckleheads who really take this thing to far. Some people!

This fellow is raising money for spinal injury research, started in Maine aiming for San Diego, and is already just about in Flagstaff. Now, I should point out that this is in fact an Englishman besmirching our fair land with such efforts. What nefarious motivations might he hold in his dark British heart? Surveillance to try to take back the colonies? Some sort of condescending anthropology expedition? Either way, one thing is certain: the English are much like coyotes, in that when seen from a distance they seem harmless but as soon as they vocalize, you can feel viscerally that something is quite worrisome about them.

Yeah, and here's another numbskull, this one apparently homegrown. This speedy bastard ran from San Francisco to New York in 6 weeks. As if that wasn't bad enough, two months ago he started running from Alaska to Key West, and as I write he's already in Orlando! I mean come on.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

For Pennsylvanians: Paterno's Record vs Engle and Franklin

November 2011 felt very much like Pennsylvania's own 9/11, especially to someone for whom Penn State was the closest thing to a religion that they were raised with. Nowadays my relationship to PSU football is like a lapsed Catholic. Sure I don't really follow the season or know the players, but I go once a year and went to the Rose Bowl two years ago - like a Christmas-and-Easter Christian I guess. And just like a Christmas-and-Easter Christian, don't you dare tell me I'm not really a fan! I just follow Penn State in my own way. In my heart!

You can't bring up Paterno without addressing the Sandusky scandal, or make people wonder why you're not addressing the Sandusky scandal. That's completely appropriate. This is a game - a game, like dodgeball - and kids' lives are infinitely more important than guys running around with a ball. Fair enough. Joe knew, and he could've been a hero by immediately going to the police, but he thought that an entertainment group (which is what all sports teams are, period, end of discussion) had an internal moral system that was more important than criminal justice. If there were another school sports team, and one of the assistant coaches was molesting kids, and the head coach not only knew about it but actively discouraged efforts to take it to the police - would you want your kid playing on that coach's team?

Without further ado: as I implied, Paterno is deified as a coach. Is he really that much greater than anyone else? Let's look at the numbers (and by the way, I expect some people to get irrationally upset that I'm daring to do something so brazen as to actually evaluate a coach's performance by numbers - much like religious people don't want the history of their holy text scrutinized too much. "It's just true! Now stop it and don't worry so much about how it was written!") To be honest, part of my motivation here is that I like Franklin - for one thing, instead of Joe's arrogant "I won't run up the score" position, Franklin realizes that his job is to increase Penn State's ranking, and that means run up the score when possible, given the (stupid) college ranking system. I always thought Paterno's take was selfish more than principled, and it certainly cost Penn State ranking spots and revenues (I may write a post about this later), which tends to be what pro-athletics people use to justify the distracting influence of football programs on the colleges that host them. Also, Franklin once coached at good old Kutztown University in old Berks County!

Engle PaternoFranklin
Win %66.774.467.9
% Winning Seasons93.890.3100
Longest win streak15214
% bowl seasons[2]2582100
% bowl wins7564.950
% AP ranked seasons31.351.650
final AP, when ranked[3]

[1] Note, "longest win streak" means longest streak of winning seasons. A season has to have more wins than losses to be a winning season.

[2] Since # of bowls has increased without a concomitant increase in # of teams, if the team remains the same, it would get higher as time goes on. Case in point, in 2014 PSU won the Pinstripe Bowl but was still un-ranked!

[3] I don't know if there are historical rankings beyond the top 25, which would give a more accurate picture (and I could just use that to give a picture of team quality instead of this and the previous category.) Though I don't calculate it here because it would take a lot longer to round up the data, a better measure might be start-to-end-of-season improvement in rank, beating expectations. This is unlikely for legacy teams with big media markets (think Notre Dame and Penn State) for cynical business reasons. Legacy teams tend to be consistently over-ranked in the preseason and under-perform during the season, ending up lower; for new hotshots in small markets it's the obvious (think Boise State or TCU.) This is the way the NCAA underhandedly seeds the bowls in order to maximize revenues. Since we're only dealing with one team this may not have any effect here, or rather, it only will to the extent that the rating powers-that-be are changing their opinion over time about how much they want PSU in a bowl, and/or the extent to which they're using this technique.

So what does this show? Paterno does have the highest win rate, but a lower % of winning seasons. That suggests that under Paterno, when Penn State was good, they were great, but when they sucked, they really sucked. (Specifically, they sucked in the 21st century, but more on this in a bit.) But the statistical fallacy is that there is more noise in Paterno's history because his tenure was so much longer than Franklin's so far. Franklin gets to more bowls (see footnote #1) but does worse in them.

Taking out the win streak because it's so heavily dependent on tenure, in these categories, Engle wins for % of bowl games he won, Paterno wins on win % and % of seasons ending up in the AP rankings, and Franklin wins on % of winning seasons, % of bowl seasons, and final AP when ranked. That is to say, Paterno was in the ranked teams list a little more often than Franklin at the end of the seasons, but ranked lower.

What does it look like when we compare the first four seasons of all three coaches - that is, when Engle and Paterno were in Franklin's position near the start of their careers, how did they look?

Win %62.281.467.9
% Winning Seasons7575100
Longest win streak434
% bowl seasons075.0100
% bowl winsN/A62.550
% AP ranked seasons075.050.0
final AP, when rankedN/A4.77.5

Paterno got off to a strong start, again with high win percentage - that doesn't go away. Franklin spreads the wins out more and is more consistent season to season. It's worth noting that Paterno wasn't taking over a still-shocked program that had trouble recruiting.

What about the 2000's?

Paterno had his first losing season in 1988 after a 21-year streak of winning seasons. After that, others followed: 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004. You can see the trend over time here. (Note, his first non-winning season was a tie, not a losing season, and was also his very first as the head coach in 1966.) It may be worth pointing out that when the slide started in around 1998, Paterno was already 71.

It might seem a little mean to pile on a coach after he's gone, when there was no shortage of people in the aughts saying that Joe should retire (and it looks like they were right, for more reasons than they knew.) But Penn State continued its rabid fanbase, and does so even now after the scandal. (Here's the reason why people stick with unpopular or losing teams.)

Future possible project: analyze rankings movements during Paterno's career based on margins, and if there is some estimate of how many points off the margin you lose by putting in (second string, third string, etc.), and you correlate end-of-season rankings with revenues, you can actually calculate how much money you cost a university by refusing to run up the score.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

October on the North Fork of the American River

For those not in the area, this is the Sierra Foothills near Sacramento and the Central Valley, which is much awesomer than is commonly appreciated.

It was a fantastic day on the trails around Auburn, near the Western States Trail. We've had only one sprinkle so far and there isn't another due for over a week, but there's actually a fair bit of bright green gross poking up through the straw. The smell of the dust and vegetation is unmistakable on a warm Northern California fall day like this. I met a California king snake enjoying the days well, whose flicking black tongue was tasting the same smells.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Pennsylvania Trail and Outdoors Resources

There's so much cool stuff around southeast and central PA that I'm always surprised there's not more of an outdoor culture, although it's definitely getting more prominent (along with the microbrew scene - coincidence?) One possible reason is that people just don't know all the cool stuff that's around. I live on the West Coast now but I get back fairly frequently and I keep a list of places I want to check out during my visits home, and like many traily types, I suffer from two problems.
  1. Fear that I will run out of trails.
  2. Frustration that I keep adding new trails to explore, faster than I can explore them.
I would like you too to share this completely irrational conundrum, so here are some great resources for trails and outdoor activities around Pennsylvania.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Geographical NFL Traitors: Where People Are Loyal to a Team Other Than the Closest One

The map on top is "closest counties to the franchise location" (which shows what people's loyalty "should" be) and is from user @kodali_siva on Twitter, the past few days. The map on the bottom is actual primary loyalty by county from The Atlantic in 2014 (the year makes a difference because teams have moved since then.) Of course we want to know where the untrustable people are, i.e., the ones who don't swear fealty to the proper teams, so we can avoid those areas. More seriously, the reason this is interesting is that part of fandom is cultural afiliation - even though you're physically closer to City A, you're across the state line; or you're in a cultural region that's more like City B. It's even been argued that sports loyalties reveal underlying cultural divides going back to colonial times, i.e. the Keith line in New Jersey between Philly and New York teams (and culture).

What follows is a delightful romp through the quirks and personality disorders that make each and every pocket of our country so special. Join me wontcha?

So where, exactly, are the disloyal people, unworthy of the name comrade?

First, the West Coast is goofy because of the way that the map has to divide territory between the Raiders and Niners, being in the same metro area as they are. Also, legalized cannabis. Besides, the Raiders are constantly threatening to move to Vegas or anywhere besides Oakland, so who cares anyway. Still, the Niners manage to invade what should be Seahawks territory. If it's any comfort, southern Oregon is mostly inhabited by sasquatch anyway, though I'm a bit concerned that they've evolved enough to respond to NFL marketing surveys.

Then there's Nevada. That a state full of snakes, brothels and gamblers is disloyal should come as no surprise, but somehow its perfidy still manages to shock. Some of those northwestern Nevada types follow the Niners, but then there's the Broncos and - the Dallas Cowboys? Yes, as we'll see there are islands of Cowboy deviancy throughout the western US, the biggest of which is in Nevada (by proximity, the rest of the state should almost all be LA Rams territory.)

While we're noticing this singular most foul corruption of the loyalty map, the Cowboys also dominate Oklahoma (which should be partly KC Chiefs and a litte Broncos), Arkansas (should be about even between Cowboys, Chiefs, Tennessee and Saints) and the rest of Texas that Houston should rightly claim, like the Gulf Coast. My bet is that Oklahoma and Arkansas identify more with Texas than the Midwest or New Orleans respectively, and that people in more rural Texas outside of Houston are culturally anti-Houston, which somehow makes them pro-Dallas. As noted before, these malodorous islands of Dallas fans can be found throughout the country, much to the chagrin of decent Americans. I can't explain why this might be or how these misshapen cretins became "America's team." As it were, the Notre Dame of pro football, and yes of course that's an insult because what else could it be.

The Chargers are consistent between geography and proximity - down there in one corner of the country, they can have their little Orange County and San Diego, where they are fondly remembered from before their pointless move. Good for them!

Utahans give away some rightful Broncos territory to the Cardinals...but New Mexicans give away Broncos AND Cardinals territory to, who else, the Cowboys. This is what saddened me most about this post because I used to really like New Mexico.

The Vikings-Broncos border has some give and take that comes out about even but, here the state border effect comes into play, and there are plenty of people in western Wisconsin who SHOULD, by proximity, be Vikings fans. For the Green Bay fans, I want to be very clear about this (read slow so you can understand): a lot of Green Bay fans should actually be Vikings fans, and it's only because of your flawed moral character that you're not. I also don't get the pockets of Nebraskans who like Green Bay, other than, like Packers fans, the people of northeast Nebraska are physically very unattractive. Also, "Oh but we're a co-op everyone owns part of the team blah blah blah" to which the strongest counterargument is: your face.

In the South, fandom for the Titans, Panthers and Falcons basically follows state lines (with some bizarre exceptions), which does NOT follow the closest-county rule at all. The Saints however go far beyond where they should be, eating into Atlanta's and especially Tennessee's territory. My bet is that there's a "Gulf State" cultural identity effect here. The lines between New England and the New York teams show a similar effect - it's not about proximity, it's about whether you choose to identify as a New Englander or with New York/New Jersey. And if you find yourself confronted with this choice, you should consider the words of Sartre, that the only serious philosophical question is suicide.

On to Pittsburgh. You will notice the bigger-than-expected island of yellow on the actual loyalty map as well as a few counties scattered throughout South Carolina. This is a combination of identifying as Pennsylvanian (or post-coal-industrial Appalachia for the West Virginians) and the desire to AVOID identifying with Philly, similar to but stronger than the effect I argued for in Texas with Houston. (I am qualified to comment on this as I am a bit of an authority on Pennsylvania "culture".) After the Eagles Superbowl win from the 2017-18 season I bet that line will be pushed farther west. The South Carolina Steelers counties are probably all retirees, as an absolute flood of Pennsylvanians sick of snow has moved to cheaper SC instead of FL in recent years, raising the average IQ of both areas (ZING!)

I don't know why Dolphin fans extend all the way to northern Florida, or why no one seems to want anything to do with Jacksonville. I considered whether gators keep eating everyone, but a) that's just wishful thinking and b) doesn't explain why Miamians wouldn't be similarly torn to shreds in the jaws of these handsome reptiles, proving themselves in the process to be man's other best friend.

And for a final proof that the world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we CAN imagine, witness that the Cleveland Browns actually have more fan territory than they should, relative to geography. To resolve this seeming paradox I can offer no better explanation than the understandable self-loathing of Ohioans.

A final serious note: if I failed to insult your team, state, cultural region or religion in this post, rest assured it's because you're too insignificant to bother with.

When I have more time, i.e. civilization has collapsed, I'm the last man on Earth, and I have accumulated enough canned food that I don't have to forage, I'm going to look at county-level per capita income, as well as "territorial encroachment" and its effect on team revenue and value.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

We Have a Better Idea Why St. Helens is Off-Trend, Relative to Other Cascades

A new study (Bedrosian et al 2018, in Nature Geoscience) maps the Earth's crust in the American Pacific Northwest, showing why Mt. St. Helens is so far west compared to the other Cascades. Bottom line, kilometers down, there's a large mass of older igneous rock blocking magma, so it has to move west before it comes to the surface.

Above: Hood, Adams, St. Helens ad Rainier in one picture. Obviously there's no straight line that connects the four. From Reddit.

I've long been obsessed with the Sutter Buttes for similar reasons, i.e. their isolation from other Cascades. The Buttes are the southernmost Cascade, isolated in California's Central Valley north of Sacramento, and part of the argument for why they are NOT Cascades (for those who hold such a view) is that they're off-trend. I expect this technique could tell us WHY they're off-trend, and why the Buttes came up as a ring of small volcanoes, rather than a shield or a single peak.

Friends of Nolde Forest

Above, Nolde (from Section Hiker), below, the mansion at Nolde (from Nolde's Facebook page.)

Here's a great article in the Eagle about Nolde and a group of remarkable people who protect and preserve it. And, they're looking for new blood...

Now that I think of it, I'd have to say Nolde ties with Blue Marsh for the best trail running in Berks - in terms of scenic-ness, trail quality (i.e. not nasty Appalachian rockiness like the AT or French Creek), decent hills and relative isolation. And the Pagoda Pacers hold a 10k trail race there every June, the aptly-named Run for the Ages, with Dipsea-style staggered starts! That is, to keep it interesting, the fastest age-groups are penalized, so the race really is up for grabs. And if that’s not enough for you, it was the training ground of one New York Marathon winner - so far.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Random Pictures from the Desert Southwest

Compilations of Central California here and Pennsylvania here.

I thought it would be fun to gather all my desert trip pictures in one place. These go back a ways and many were taken with horrible cellphone cameras, so if the quality of some of them offends you, assume that I did it with a filter for artistic purposes.

Four Corners Area - Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings, the Iconic Monument Valley

Stop and get some turquoise and fry bread and listen to the Dine (Navajo) radio station, which features Navajo chants for music, then cuts away for a brief news report in Dine, and then back to chanting. The area around Mesa Verde actually had more people when MV was a going concern around a thousand years ago than it does now. The display case is in the Burger King in Kayenta and contains captured material from Japan brought back by the code talkers.

Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Goblin Valley, the Canyonlands

Capitol Reef is the greatest national park you'll never go to, because it's not close to anything (not even the other south Utah parks really.) At one point you can see the dinosaur bones embedded in a cliff; in another, a massive boulder of quartz, like some kind of dormant alien egg. In the Canyonlands I spent most of my time in the Needles area (one of the greatest hikes of my life) and I also made it to the amazing petroglyphs in the remote Horseshoe Canyon section (the one where Aaron Rawls cut his own arm off), which like much of south Utah also features dinosaur tracks.

Utah: Bonneville Salt Flats from I-80

Palm Springs and Salvation Mountain

The gentleman who built Salvation Mountain was still living and coherent when I was there and that day he was discussing his works with some rapt French architecture students. Oddly, Palm Springs is often wet and cold when I'm there.

California: Off the Pearblossom Highway

There are some cool hot springs near Victorville, plus who doesn't like a nice Joshua Tree now and again.

California: Mojave Preserve

Nevada: Desert National Wildlife Refuge

Nevada: Mt. Charleston

I'm not a huge fan of Las Vegas, but Mt. Charleston is hands-down the best hike I've ever done in Nevada outside the Tahoe area, and the foliage as you can see was excellent. I wasn't expecting this to be such a great mountain. In one spot you can see what remained of a 1950s crashed plane, in 2008. I don't think there's anything left today thanks to souvenir-takers. You can clearly see down into Groom Lake AFB (which supposedly houses Area 51) but I didn't see any aliens.

California: Cuyamaca Ranch, San Diego County

Death Valley

I'm not religious, but I joked that in Death Valley, God got lazy and stopped finishing creation (didn't include living things; didn't separate the elements, ie the salt or the copper you can see in the green cliffs at one point.) It forces you to imagine what Earth might look like if life had never evolved.

Grand Canyon

Black Rock Desert, 2000

In 2000 everyone was saying "hey man, it's not like the Burn used to be back in '92. It's so commercialized now!" Sound familiar, 2018 attendees, who are yearning for the authentic experience of 2000-Burning Man?

Alamogordo, New Mexico: The Trinity Site

This is the site of the very first atomic explosion produced by human beings - ground zero, literally and figuratively, for the nuclear age. You can stand at the spot where it exploded, and there is vegetation everywhere except right there, though that's probably from people standing there. (Vegetation was actually regrowing by several months later.) You can actually head out there twice a year with no reservation - just have proper ID, be in the line-up by a certain time, and the military will escort a whole convoy of you and your fellow military-industrial looky-loos out to the site. It's still an active military proving ground today. The green glass in the one picture is "trinitite", where the heat of the explosion melted the sand. I originally had the brilliant, stupid idea of stealing some by picking it up with chewing gum on my shoes (this is how the guys who escaped from Alcatraz got the hair for the life-like dummies they left behind in their cells - from walking through the prison barber shop.) I changed my mind when I noticed 1) the nice military policewomen with large machine guns and 2) trinitite has lots of neat-o hot nuclei like europium that I didn't want near my gametes, which is part of why they shoot you if you try to take it. Oddly appropriate, there is a basalt area called the Valley of Fire nearby with good petroglyphs.

Arizona: Navajo Nation and Canyon de Chelly

Utah: Zion

It was on the 1.5 hour drive back from Zion that a visitor from Japan said "I never really believed that America was forty times bigger than Japan. Until now."

Tucson, AZ: The Minuteman Missile Museum

New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns and Chaco Canyon

I'm not a big fan of caves but Carlsbad is so immense that it's basically like being outside, except dark and cold. Chaco Canyon is a national treasure and I'm amazed that it's not better known.

Four Seasons in Sacramento and the Central Valley

(Here are photo compilations of American deserts and of Pennsylvania as well.) Even though Tahoe and and SF are within ~2 hours I left them out to focus on the areas around Sac, including the foothills. The Central Valley is the forgotten part of California and is way awesomer than is commonly appreciated.

Compare - above, April and below, October.