Week 6 – I see stupid people

M. Night Shyamalan has had one great movie, everything else has been but a pale imitation.

His movie’s central conceit is that there is a child that can see dead people, and that the dead people don’t even know they are dead.

It turns out that this is true not only of dead people but also of stupid people.

Yup, stupid people surround us and they don’t even know that they are stupid. And we’re all stupid about something …

First read this wikipedia entry:

Basically what it says is that before you can start teaching someone you need to know what their level of cluelessness is.  Once you establish the clueless level, then and only then can you start teaching someone how to be less clueless.

For example, the paper says for the truly clueless

  1. You think you are doing much better than you were
  2. If I show you the right answer you’ll think you are doing it right or even better than you are.
  3. If I ask you to grade your work after you’ve seen the right answer you’ll think you did better than you actually did.
  4. And you can’t recognize skill when you see it…

That’s right folks, stupid people are arrogant SOBs who think they have a clue. The world actually does work that way.

We can all wear this t-shirt:

I see stupid people shirt

Or put another way, I suck at cleaning the house. But I think I am pretty good at it. And I think I am doing a much better job than I am. When I am shown a clean house, I think I am doing an even better job than I actually am. But the reality is, well, I suck at cleaning the house and the house is not clean…

What I think my cleaning has produced:

What it may have actually produced:


What the paper doesn’t discuss is that the teacher and student may have a huge semantic gap. For example, when talking to some folks, I will assume that the person understands why a distributed system can not have a communication channel that hides failures. And start from that point. The person I am talking to may have no clue about why that is true and be confused or worse think they understand. And we can spend hours talking past each other…

Or my favorite, true, story:

World famous computer scientist professor teaches matrix operations to a class.

Student: Why does addition work one way and multiplication the other way.

Professor: Because Matrices and integers are a ring

Student looks funny

Professor: Because integers have the ring property as do matrices

Student still confused…

Professor: Well the ring property is something that matrices and integers have in common

Problem was that the professor had no appreciation that the student had no clue as to what a ring (mathematical object) is.

So what to do?

  1. Teach people from first principles — have to find the basis
  2. Build from that.

This does work surprisingly well.  But it does have some funny moments like when I talk to people … Conversations will begin like this:

How much software have you written? Do you know what X or Y is.. And then once the starting point is established the conversation can begin.

So how does this apply to my training. The level of cluelessness I have is quite amusing. And it’s also amusing to see the semantic gaps I have. The good news is that having been on the other side of this equation I at least am able to recognize some of it. Which is why I will ask questions about specific words… Like … for example … what is a cool down?

The process of becoming less clueless is what I like to call Climbing The Clue Ladder:

  1. Believe you are greater than you are. Read instructions and information and be confused. The problem is that the information is saying “Matrices are a ring” And you have no idea what a ring is … And unlike the student, I don’t even realize that the key word is ring…
  2. Start to learn about the technique basics and realize where you are clueless. For example – my mechanics of my stroke are wrong. I am rotating my shoulder. After staring at the video and doing more research I realized what I was doing wrong and that the arm extension wasn’t a rotation but a movement of the arm in the way the joints allowed. I could go on and on. I had stared at videos for many hours, read information but my cluelessness had to diminish to the point where the information began to bridge the semantic gap.
  3. Look at video and start to pick up on things you never even noticed were there.
  4. Progress…

This a fun process that I am enjoying… Climbing the Clue Ladder is fun.

Week 5 – Aut viam venviam aut facias


Every Thursday morning sucks. Every Thursday I hit this brick wall. I wake up tired. The accumulated stress of workouts and work has almost drained me. And I realize every Thursday that there is four more hours to go …

For those who care by Thursday I’ve:

  1. Sunday: Bike 1:20->1:45
  2. Monday: Run 1h, Swim 40min
  3. Tuesday: Run 1h45
  4. Wednesday: Swim 40min

And then I still have to

  1. Thursday: Run 1h, Swim 40min
  2. Friday: Run 2h

It’s a permanent brick wall that I have to go through. My body is screaming: give up. The exercise has exhausted my brain, my legs and my arms. And I just want to give up.

If you’ve ever worked at a tech start-up you’ve seen this before:


My Thursdays are my weekly Trough of Disillusionment about this whole Ironman plan.

And I think to myself another year of these Thursdays and I just want to give up.

And it would be so easy to just quit…

And it doesn’t get easier after I finish my run and swim on Thursday. And it certainly doesn’t get easier on Friday. By Saturday, I’m just wondering what in God’s name was I thinking… This is insane.

And then by Saturday night my body is feeling better. And my energy level starts to kick in…

But on Thursdays, I remember what Hannibal said to his generals:

aut viam venviam aut facias – I’ll either find a way or I’ll make one.

And so I find some way to get through that brick wall


and make it to Sunday where I start this cycle all over again…

Week 4 – Pride cometh before the fall

Christians believe that Lucifer, Satan, is a fallen angel. That his hubris lead him to be cast out of Heaven.  He falls from nice cool heaven, to end up in blistering hellish heat. Given my run today, I felt like I had been sent to some blisteringly hot hell hole..

In many ways, I felt like a fallen angel today. Normally I go for a run in the evenings when it is nice and cool. Today I had to go in the middle of the day. 

This is what I thought I would look like:

Such form, such poise, such speed, such beauty…

I’ve lost weight and I crushed my last long run in awesome time… Today I was going to run with no kid stroller, and I was going to come home in blistering form.  Pride!

But the Good Lord likes to punish pride… and so instead I looked like this:

The problem was that I completely miscalculated how much water I needed to drink. After the first three miles I drank 1/2 of a cup of water. After 6 miles I drank another 1/2 cup of water. Between miles 6 and 9 I was  cramping, unable to move my feet – my cadence was collapsing etc. At mile 9, I drank a cup of water … and then as my body started to recover, I ran into my house and drank …

Not quite … but if I could have I would have. And the last mile and half was actually quite pleasant…

Moral of the story if you want to look great while running in the sun remember this image:

Drink early, drink often.

Week 4 – Eating is hard


One of the biggest challenges when training for a long distance endurance event is eating.

On the one hand there is this myth that you can eat whatever you want. That the world is your oyster. That the entire gamut of edible things are your buffet.

Except – it’s a lie. A damn lie. Why?

Well let’s see,.. Your body is craving calories. And I don’t mean a few calories, but awe-inspiring amounts of calories. For example, my body requires about 4000 calories a day. That’s equivalent to 6 big macs




1 loaf of bread and 1 gallon of whole milk and one big mac…

So on the one hand your body is like GIVE ME FOOD NOW! With such a huge calorie deficit the temptation is to go for the cheap calories… To get the big mac or the cookie dough or the ice-cream. And when you do your body is like:


Except when you go train when you’re body is like WTF? Or you get on the scale and realize that you are putting on weight or ..

And so you swear to not over eat the next day, But now you’re on a frigging yo-yo of a sugar high followed by a sugar crash. And your body KNOWS how good it felt when you gave it the simple sugars and there is no way it’s going to suffer through the salad and the nuts and the chicken, no way.

And this can go on for weeks. And it takes this superhuman effort of will to get back on the balanced plan.

And so you have a super bowl party with your friends and you gorge on the cheese and the bread and the sweets, and you’re like: This feels good. And you can’t stop eating these simple processed carbohydrates.  Until finally your wife hands you a healthy meal and you realize that this feels so much better.

It’s like going on a drinking binge and then going sober.

Every hour of every day you’re in this constant war with your body that just wants to eat high calorie foods to make the hunger go away while you have to teach your body patience and the virtue of eating a lot of the good stuff because the high calorie stuff is just a quick fix that goes bad fast.

So no, eating while training for an endurance event is not fun. It’s this never-ending war with a body that just wants the hunger to go away.

Week 3 – 20m down, 3980 to go


When you read about swimming free style, there is a lot of discussion about smoothness and balance. When I swim free style the water looks anything but smooth.

My body is flopping around, my arms creating drag and interference at every possible moment.

And I keep reading this whole smooth and balance thing and all I can think is – damn. It’s like runners high. There is no such thing as smooth swimming. Until I see this dude and…

And I feel worse. It’s like watching someone who can dance, dance just after you think it’s impossible. It feels like Luke Skywalker being schooled by Yoda in Dagobah after he fails to use the force to free his star ship from the swamp.


And I am thinking, this, this kind of beautiful swimming is so far out of my reach it might as well be from another species.

But once you see something is possible, there is this bit that flips, and you think – okay there is something there that I can strive for. So back to the pool, back to doing the work. And I start doing research on the perfect stroke, on the concept of weightless arms, of rotation and of using your chest as a buoy…

And then for about 20 meters, I am able to get all of this to work. My head is in the right position, my arms move in the right way, my hips rotate and it feels different. I mean, it actually feels like a different body is swimming through water, and then the turbulence takes over.

So it’s like riding a bike. It takes a while to get all of the pieces in place, and then you just have to build on it.

Obviously, I don’t have the physical strength and technique to swim 3980 meters perfectly, but I do have the strength to do 20m – not perfectly but at least with less turbulence. So we have a start. And that start, at this moment is all that matters…