Just fooling around with my clubs and unicycle on an unseasonably warm day. Trying to add a little humor to this.
Just fooling around with my clubs and unicycle on an unseasonably warm day. Trying to add a little humor to this.
I just finished reading “Marauders of Hope” by Aruna Ravikumar(@aruna.writes on IG, @aruna_writes_ on Twitter). This book is an in depth look at the multi-level marketing industry and all the misery it causes around the world, particularly in India. She also offers guidance on what you can do to help stop this menace.
Aruna pulls no punches by describing these companies for what they truly are: pyramid schemes that exploit the desperate and ignorant to enrich the few at the top. They manage to get away with this through powerful lobbying arms and taking advantage of loopholes and ambiguities in the law. Many people are enticed into joining these schemes by promises of riches and cult-like brainwashing techniques to keep them in the club. They’re pyramid schemes but use products to camouflage what they’re really about.
Billions of dollars are looted from the gullible in this manner. Amway in the U.S contributes heavily to the Republican party; Betsy DeVos, secretary of education, belongs to the DeVos family which founded Amway. Trump himself has been involved in mlm and other scams. Politicians and government officials in India are similarly paid off or are in cahoots with the criminals.
But Aruna has not given up hope, and neither have I. As she shows in her book, there are many people around the world trying to spread awareness of these predatory schemes. I thought the chapter about the various scientists, government officials and consumer advocates fighting mlm in India, in spite of threats and legal setbacks, was particularly inspiring.
Besides corruption, misunderstandings and lack of political will have hindered prosecution, but every now and then the crooks are arrested and some companies do get shut down(at least temporarily).
I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how this predatory industry works and how it’s able to achieve a veneer of legitimacy to far too many people(including vegans). If you’re tired of people trying to recruit you or seeing friends and family getting exploited, get involved and spread the word! Visit MLMtruth.org for more info.
This is a very difficult skill to master, but I am slowly getting better at it. Besides requiring a high level of coordination and balance, it also requires a lot of stamina, which I think I may have due to many years of endurance running.
I also still use an interleaving method much of the time, rather than focusing on the same thing — I like to think it helps but this isn’t exactly a controlled experiment. I also still use an interleaving method much of the time, rather than focusing on the same thing I like to think it helps but this isn’t exactly a controlled experiment.
Two things that I find helpful:
1) Throwing the clubs a little higher
2) Throwing the clubs in a narrow pattern instead of a wide one
Both of these allow for greater control of the clubs and the unicycle, and give me more time to react.
What kind of fun new skills are you working on?
Last weekend I completed my 6th marathon, the Yonkers marathon as a member of Team Humane*, a team of amazing athletes who are changing the world. Besides being the second oldest marathon in the U.S, the Yonkers marathon is one of the hilliest.
In case you’re new here I’m the guy who juggled while running this thing for all 26.2 miles. I won’t bore you with too many details, or give a mile by mile account of my race experience. To make the long story short, just think a lot of wind, a lot of hills, and a bunch of people running, with one juggling while running.
So I completed this double loop race in 4:30, my slowest marathon to date. The wind was particularly fierce last Sunday, and was at least partly responsible for my slower than usual pace. At one point I had to hilariously chase after one of my balls that got blown away by the wind, losing precious time as a result. The sub-4 hour finishing time I aimed for just wasn’t happening. I dropped the balls a total of 5 times due to the wind, so my no-drops marathon joggling streak is over. I didn’t drop while joggling at my last 3 marathons — this streak had to end some time.
Besides the howling wind, I was under-trained due to personal issues that unfortunately got in the way of training at times. If the situation hadn’t improved I probably wouldn’t have run this race.
The crowd support as usual was fantastic, especially at the beginning. Lots of good humor also. Years ago I would have kicked myself for falling short of a goal. But it’s just so counter-productive to do so. In the end, I still entertained a lot of people and helped promote a good cause that is doing all it can to help end the suffering of farm animals. Animal exploitation and suffering is a problem, my not running a marathon fast enough isn’t.
Unlike last time I tapered from both running and also unicycling; I think I did a little too much unicycling last time during marathon training. I use a variety of marathon training guides, rather than just one source. Most say essentially the same thing, though none recommend unicycling during training(still figuring out how to use it as a cross-trainer).
As usual it felt amazing crossing that finish line, knowing all that training, even if incomplete, helped me build up my endurance to complete this race. Also all the support from my fellow runners, fellow Team Humane members and just knowing I am doing this to bring attention to a good cause made a big difference.
Another marathon completed, but so many more to run or cycle. So what’s next on the agenda? Stay tuned!
If you would like to donate, please visit my fund-raising page.
*To clear up any confusion— I want to clarify that I was running for Team Humane, not Team Aisling. The shirt worn by the many members of Team Aisling at this event looks very similar to the green Team Humane shirt; I have nothing to do with Team Aisling(great, good-humored people though!).
A few weeks ago I did a post about interleaving and for the most part I’ve been using this innovative learning strategy for learning new unicycle skills since then. In case you’ve forgotten, interleaving is a learning strategy that involves mixing things up instead of focusing on just one skill at a time. So far it appears to be working.
As you can see in the video I figured out how to juggle while idling one-footed(at least that’s how unicyclists would describe it). I even figured how to do the tricky two to one foot transition in only one practice session; I assumed it would take longer to learn the transition. Instead of a long block practice approach, I interleaved learning this skill with the closely related juggling while unicycling backwards. I would focus on one skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then switch to the other skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then back to the first skill, in an ABABA pattern for about 50 minutes to an hour or more. Of course in this heat breaks are very important.
It took a mere few weeks to learn juggling while idling one-footed though I can’t do it that well yet. I think interleaving did give me a learning boost. I also think the fact that it’s just an extension of juggling while idling two-footed, which I can do competently, was also a big help. There’s a lot of overlap, it’s really not that distinct of a skill in other words.
Since juggling while one-footed idling is a more challenging version of juggling while idling, I think it’s helping me polish my juggling while two-footed idling(sometimes the key to mastering something is to practice the more complex variation of what you’re trying to learn— you don’t even have to do the more complex variation that well to benefit from it). It would be interesting to see what happens if I try interleaving with skills that are unrelated.
It also helps that I mixed it up with juggling while unicycling backwards, which I can almost do competently now. Idling and backwards are related skills and if you can do one well it helps with learning the other. Idling is, after all, going forwards and backwards just a little.
So if you’re on a learning plateau with anything, consider experimenting with an interleaving approach or at least trying variations of what you’re trying to learn.
One of the things I love most about unicycling(and joggling) is that it’s a fun way to learn about learning. With all the different skills unicycling entails, and the difficulty of learning many of them, it’s a great opportunity to test some new learning strategies. Let’s face it, we all want to learn faster. One strategy that I recently stumbled upon is called “interleaving”, which involves mixing things up instead of focusing on one skill or area and repeating until competence is achieved. Interleaving appears to provide a boost for both academic and athletic training.
According to Scientific American, in The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning:
We’ve all heard the adage: practice makes perfect! In other words, acquiring skills takes time and effort. But how exactly does one go about learning a complex subject such as tennis, calculus, or even how to play the violin? An age-old answer is: practice one skill at a time. A beginning pianist might rehearse scales before chords. A young tennis player practices the forehand before the backhand. Learning researchers call this “blocking,” and because it is commonsensical and easy to schedule, blocking is dominant in schools, training programs, and other settings.
However another strategy promises improved results. Enter “interleaving,” a largely unheard-of technique that is capturing the attention of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. Whereas blocking involves practicing one skill at a time before the next (for example, “skill A” before “skill B” and so on, forming the pattern “AAABBBCCC”), in interleaving one mixes, or interleaves, practice on several related skills together (forming for example the pattern “ABCABCABC”). For instance, a pianist alternates practice between scales, chords, and arpeggios, while a tennis player alternates practice between forehands, backhands, and volleys.
This sounds very promising. The research suggests it works best if you interleave similar skills. I’ve already been doing something kind of similar by practicing variations of the skill I’m trying to master, but usually on different days. However, interleaving isn’t about varying your practice every few days, it’s about variation within the same practice session.
These days I’m trying to learn how to juggle while idling one-footed on the unicycle(I can already do this with both feet on the pedals). I usually use a block approach, and after practicing this would sometimes do backwards juggling in figure 8’s, which is a similar skill that I’m much better at. This week I’ll experiment with an interleaving strategy and do 5 minute intervals of one-footed idling while juggling then backwards juggling, an ABABAB pattern and see how that goes. I hope 5 minutes is long enough. I wonder what would happen if I did intervals of unrelated skills, but I’ll try that out some other time.
I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’re struggling with learning something, consider the interleaving strategy.
As I often say, even if unicycling didn’t have any unique benefits beyond improved balance, I’d still do it because of how much fun it is. Us unicyclists often like to tout unicycling as a great way to strengthen the core, though there hasn’t been a lot of hard scientific data to support this.
Until now. Last year in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they did a study on the effect of unicycling on the trunk strength of children. They concluded:
Unicycling proved to be an effective and funny tool to develop proximal stability and strength, which prevents low back pain and improves the efficiency of energy transfer between body segments.
This is just one study, but it is terrific news. Hurray for unicycling! I admit I am very biased. Better core strength is often associated with better athletic performance in many sports, including running. Though this study was done on children, I can’t think of any reason this wouldn’t apply to adults, and it’s too bad they didn’t study juggling while unicycling. So if you want to strengthen your core, consider taking up unicycling!
I’ve been unicycling now for over 2 years, and what an adventure it has been! Here are some things I’ve learned over these 2 years:
Most learning is subconscious
When learning a new skill(going backwards, idling, juggling while idling, etc), it’s critical to use the right technique or in the very least not do things that will impede your progress. While we all may use a different learning method, we should observe some general guidelines, especially early on.
As important as these guidelines are, they are not written in stone. Through trial and error we may occasionally find it helpful to ignore certain guidelines. It can be frustrating when we hit upon a technique variation that seems to work but later on doesn’t. If we’re persistent enough we improve, though we’re often not sure why. This is because so much of the learning is happening at a subconscious level, to the extent that it’s very difficult to describe or replicate what we are doing that is leading to success instead of failure. This is largely due to muscle memory and that practicing the same thing over and over again forces our body to do it more efficiently.
This isn’t all that unique to unicycling since it happens when learning just about anything. However, it’s because learning new unicycling skills is so bewilderingly difficult and complicated at first that every little improvement is celebrated as a victory. While we all have an innate sense of proprioception(the sense of where we are in space which helps with balance), unicycling will lead to a quantum leap improvement in this ability to the extent that we feel like we have acquired super-powers. This is why unicycling is so uniquely enjoyable.
Taking breaks can help you improve
This may seem counter-intuitive, but I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was going to be rusty after a break but instead got better. I am not saying you shouldn’t be persistent, but rather that after practicing on a consistent basis, a break of a few days to a week may be helpful, besides taking off one day a week(or whatever works for you).
Finding the magic formula to ensuring breaks will be helpful is interrelated with figuring out what is the ideal of amount of practice time. It varies from person to person, and more isn’t necessarily better. We probably all notice that there are diminishing returns to going beyond a certain amount of practice time, and that excessive practice can lead to burnout or extreme frustration.
This is why one day off a week from unicycling may be better than doing it 7 days a week, and anything more than a few hours of practice a day is unlikely to be helpful.
Besides providing rest, a day or a week off may help your brain and muscles properly assimilate what it has learned, and practicing excessively may interfere with this assimilation. This is why occasionally taking time off may be more helpful than detrimental to getting better at unicycling, or anything for that matter.
Variation is the key to improving
You practice the same thing every day, with the same unicycle at the same place at the same time and you’re noticing very little to no improvement. We all know the cliche that “practice makes perfect”, but some of us(myself included) get stuck on a learning plateau and we’re not sure why. Again, this is not unique to unicycling. Besides taking the occasional break, practicing subtle variations may help us improve.
What do I mean by variation? By playing around with tire pressure, or putting in different size cranks, or simply practicing with a different unicycle altogether. I’ve experimented with different tire pressures while learning to go backwards and would often notice significant improvements after a few days of variations. I’ve also tried carrying(not juggling) heavy balls to increase the challenge. Also changing locations can sometimes be helpful.
The reason this probably works is because these variations force our brains to discover the essence of a skill by feeding it unique data points it otherwise wouldn’t have access to if we practiced the same exact way every day. In this sense it is kind of related to cross-training.
Think of all the ways you can vary your routine. It doesn’t have to make learning much more difficult, but it should be different enough so that it feels new or a little awkward at first. One approach I’ve often found helpful is to warm up with a variation or something different, then I practice what I usually practice. Sometimes it’s a short trail ride with the municycle, then a long practice session juggling while idling with my freestyle unicycle.
* * *
Unicycling is not just a lot of fun, it offers so many different fitness benefits without breaking the bank. Like I’ve said before it’s great cross-training for runners and offers similar fitness benefits. It also forces you to pay close attention to your body and all its asymmetries and quirks, like yoga or dance. Besides this, taking up unicycling is a great way to learn about learning.
Going vegan can be bewildering for many people. You’re discovering all these enticing new foods, and you have no idea what to do with them. In particular, you’re seeing hummus everywhere but have no idea what to do with it.
Hummus is a spread or dip made from chickpeas, garlic and tahini that is a mainstay of Middle Eastern and eastern Mediterranean cuisine, and can be used in many different ways. There are countless varieties of hummus, some that are very lemony, some more garlicy, and some that are very spicy.
While many people just use it as a dip for chips or bread as an appetizer, you can make some delicious, more elaborate meals from it.
Here’s some suggestions.
A hummus-chickpea-arugula wrap: Just use a tortilla wrap or pita bread and stuff it with hummus, chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, tahini sauce, harissa(Tunisian hot pepper sauce), olives, fresh parsley, lemon juice and black pepper. The hummus is there, it just got buried under all the other ingredients. Not only is this very tangy and delicious, it’s also very nutritious.
Not in the mood for a wrap? Another suggestion is to make a hummus platter with stuffed grape leaves(dolma), tomatoes, romaine lettuce, tahini sauce, hot sauce, lemon juice, and black pepper. Another delicious, easy to make(unless you make the dolma from scratch) Middle Eastern meal that’s totally vegan.
This barely scratches the surface of all the things you can do with hummus, and Middle Eastern cuisine has so much to offer vegans. Have fun!