Dagmara Budnik-Przybylska

… aaaand “home”. I say this both since Poland certainly is this for me, and because of the relief I feel for writing up the final of my Baltic blogs: Latvia, Lithuania, and Belarus done, it’s time to head to the a country as homely to me as my native Canada.

About a week out of Belarus — October 19th to be exact — and I’m presenting another Q&A on my travels and on how sport psychology is “done” abroad, this time at Gdańsk University in northern Poland. The school is near and dear to me because it’s just outside my dad’s hometown and, indeed, I have lots of family in and around the city, but also because I’d taught classes there during my master’s practicum a year-and-a-half prior. We even fit in the popular Lap Circle (teampedia) before I am able to take the professor aside for our impromptu interview.

But this time it’s not Franciszek Makurat, the director of the Sport Psychology department, but Dagmara Budnik-Przybylska, one of two professors working full-time there (the other being her husband, Jacek).

Meeting Daga at her university department’s office.

Daga and I met serendipitously when I was still a student and have kept in touch since. Her foray into the field — as with many of its Polish trailblazers I’m finding — was through martial arts. Though her original PhD dissertation was in personality theory, she specializes in visualization, an interest that naturally grew out of her own experience in karate. Indeed, she has even collaborated with Tony Watt in this topic a few times over the years. We chatted a bit about the idea of nature v. nurture (v. Dąbrowski’s “third factor”), of psychocybernetics (not the same thing as the 70s self-help book and movement that followed it), and of the dystopian future all this can lead to. It was at this point that I noted something interesting: all the psychologists I had met during this tour were women in their 30s and 40s: Dace & Irina, Lina, Nino and Daga are all remarkably similar.

Sport psychology in Poland

As her karate career was winding down, Daga went on to study psychology at the same university where she now teaches, marking one of three entryways into the career. Summarized, sport psychology practitioners in Poland generally are:

  1. Higher-level athletes who go on to complete at least a master’s degree in psychology (5 years, including undergraduate work).
  2. Double-majors in psychology and physical education/sport science (4 years).
  3. Psychology bachelor’s graduates (3-4 years) with either a sport psych. specialization or a post-graduate diploma in it afterwards (~3 semesters).

This last diploma is available to graduates of other, related programs as well (eg: biochemistry, physiology). However, in order to call yourself a psychologist you must first join the Polish Psychological Association (requiring at minimum a master’s degree in the field), from which you can join their Sport Psychology Division (fb). Active membership requires continuing education and sustained work in the field. Members call themselves “Psychologist Trainers” to avoid the stereotype that psychology is for the mentally ill, and to underline that what they do is actually every bit as much a training for the mind as working with a strength and conditioning coach is for the body. Of course, there are self-professed “coaches” and “mental trainers” offering their services as well, but these are increasingly viewed with hesitation by prospective clients because of their lack of official association membership.

The association is undergoing regular changes as it matures. Massive political changes in Poland’s government since communism fell in the 80s resulted in waves that are still being felt in the country’s bureaucracy. Because of all this upheaval the term “psychologist” is not formally protected in Poland just yet — every time it seems the association is close to nailing the final paperwork, the government changes to a party who seems hellbent on undoing everything their predecessors did. This instability has already led to a small kerfuffle with a competing, business-oriented organization creating a competing web presence, but it is only a matter of time before things get ironed out.

In comparing the above to our own growing pains in Canada, I really admire Poland’s inclusivity in covering the wide variety of entryways into the field. I also immediately see all the confusion laid out by the bureaucratic maze required to get there, but ultimately really do see the great strides both the country and its citizens have made in recent years to clean up such messes.

Defining sport

An interesting shift in focus started showing up as I traveled westward through northeastern Europe, from rules and performance through work and striving to individual improvement and fulfillment. For Daga, sport was, “improving one’s efficiency, ability, personality, body, mind, and something fantastic! The actual definition I can get you from Wikipedia, but this is what sport is for me,” she laughed jokingly. As for cases like chess or darts, the importance of elements like rivalry and intensity came up. Daga said she was skeptical of classifying chess as a sport, but after studying with a chess player for her post-graduate certificate she agreed with her group that the game certainly can be classified as such in certain cases:

We did talk briefly of the role of physicality in chess, but as you can see with Carlsen above, you’d be hard-pressed in comparing his physicality to that of an Olympic shooter. Going down this trail we talked of the elements that start to make an activity a sport: pressure (eg: chess v. speed chess), spectators, competing v. performing (eg: sparring v. kata in karate). The bottom line we agreed on, was that there must be movement. “In chess, there isn’t too much movement,” Daga chuckled.

Working with a client

Daga has recently started introducing her work with a puzzle metaphor:

“You want to have all the right pieces fitting correctly before you can start performing. For an ideal start in a race for example, what do you need? A solid night’s rest, not to be running under stress, these are all pieces we can build up. And then with the basics covered you can get into visualization, motivation, concentration, etc.”

The main point is to build up an athlete’s understanding of what’s going on inside themselves, and athletes immediately buy in to this puzzle approach. They will often start analyzing poor performances as, “Yes, indeed, I hadn’t slept enough that night.” Daga is also careful to not start work with papers, even including consent forms. “I don’t know who you are, or what we’re even consenting to do,” is what she found her athletes thinking, immediately distancing themselves from her.

Puzzle introduction complete, Daga will then move on to share something about herself, her knowledge and experience, and her own history in sports, showing she understands the athletes and building up trust and relatedness all the while. Basics covered, she then prods athletes into a deeper analysis of their mental preparedness and how to improve it: what areas need work, running through mental scenarios, preparing for surprises, and so on. She’s independently developed the same technique as we used during my practicum in Vancouver under Laura Farres with questions like, “What is an ideal start for you? Can you describe one you’ve had, and what happened around it?”, as well as sometimes dipping into examining thoughts, feelings, and behaviours or even working with performance profiles as needed. All this, Daga finds, is much more effective than any lecturing or workshops one might be tempted to run, which last about 15m before athletes zone out. The sincere conversations brought about by her approach, however, last only 5-10m and are significantly more effective. “Listening is key,” she says, “sometime it’s most important just to be present.”

On Poland

Poland has a culture of complaining, Daga immediately noted, with Poles tending to not only lower their own self-confidence (reminiscent of Latvians), often assuming others are better than them, but also to focus on the negative. Happily, Daga’s noted a change in this trend (as have I in the years between studying there in 2004-5 and 2015), especially since Poland achieved EU membership in 2004 and the country started opening up to its neighbours. Unfettered travel across borders and open access to information has helped a lot in this regard. As Poland’s basic needs are slowly being met on a national level, the country is slowly able to begin caring for its development across other, deeper fields.

Applied experience

The face people make during this exercise.

Daga’s favourite exercise to get athletes on board with imagery is the lemon visualization exercise (YT); a walk-through description that causes salivation in the listeners upon completion. “Do you have a lemon? You don’t. Does visualization work? It works,” she laughs.

And tough moments she’s learned from recently included her pregnancy, when she was bed-ridden for a week and learned that, “it’s possible,” as well as an experience working with a very talented youth who just wasn’t succeeding and even broke into tears during a session. She went home thinking herself a complete failure, but then at her next meeting with him he presented her with all the work she had asked him to do. “You sometimes don’t see what you’re building until it’s built,” she notes, reminiscent of the famous “It ain’t about how hard ya hit. — it’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward” Rocky quote. A last experience involved becoming too friendly with a team early on in her career. This did help her become a trusted aide quickly, but ultimately hindered her from being able to help as much as she could have otherwise. She now knows to set up appropriate boundaries if only for efficacy’s sake.

Resources

Daga’s most valuable resource is contact with other professionals in the field. Barring this, she’s a huge fan of Morris, Watt, & Spittle’s Imagery in Sport, Morris & Summers’ Sport Psychology: Theories, Applications, and Issues, and Karageorghis & Terry’s Inside Sport Psychology, one of the few big works that has been translated into Polish. As far as movies go, Daga recommends Peaceful Warrior as Lina did (but both the book as well as the movie) and The Secret, “But with some explanation: the point is not that the Universe benevolently gives you things, but that the power to change yourself comes from you.”

Her favourite quote? “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right, by Henry Ford“. And her final advice?

“Build trust so you are accepted. If you’re accepted you can bring about a lot of good. How do you build trust? Simple: be yourself, and just let your natural optimism rub off on your athletes.”

The interview

If you can happily nod along to Polish then please have a listen:

… after listening to about 5h of myself interviewing, I cannot help but wrap up this series with a note on improvement: I need to work on stopping myself from uh-huhing, from laughing too much, from mumbling/stuttering (especially in Polish, where for the first time I heard my own accent caused by forming Polish words with lips moving the way they do in English; read: “barely”), from being overly enthusiastic or intense, from sharing my own anecdotes or unverified hearsay or anything even remotely approaching negativity/criticism/stereotyping unless it is necessary for the interview, from sharing jokes I think are funny or otherwise interjecting when the interviewee is speaking (even if I think it’s “helpful”), and from providing unnecessary background context in a way that could be viewed as mansplaining.The main reason for cutting all this out is just because it creates clutter when someone’s trying to listen to the interview afterwards. The bottom line? Interviews are not about me, but about them. I am just the interviewer.

Technical improvements include placing the mic much closer to the interviewee and filming is always preferable to just recording voice. Recording from multiple sources is a great habit to cultivate, and when doing such a massive projects as this series then uniform labeling across sets and periodical saving is key. Any smartphone will do for the above (I used my trusty rusty OnePlus 3), and Kdenlive is a fantastic tool for editing both audio and video afterwards while GIMP really is all you need for editing images. Using these two, it’s important to keep an XCF file saved of all your GIMP progress and to periodically save your Kdenlive projects into new KDENLIVE files because this program is still not super stable on Windows 10, even using such a new, high-power device like my MS Surface Book.




Нино Петриашвили

Fresh out of Vilnius, our cousin took us on a genealogical adventure retracing the steps of our great-grandparents to where her sister now lives, in a tiny hamlet just outside the village of Svir in northern Belarus. We paused there for a few days to take in the atmosphere of a forest cottage where the wild boars roam and where the only way in is by foot. Between laznia evenings and storytelling nights, we finally got a glimpse a little further up — and across — our family tree.

… buuut after a few days’ rest and we were back on the road again, with one night in the capital where, one speedy sleep and one hasty marshrutka ride later, on October 10th I met with Nino Petriashvili at her office at the Belarusian State University of Physical Culture.

Meeting Nino in Minsk

Nino’s textbook, available online if you can google Cyrillic.

Nino was born and raised in Georgia to a Belarusian mother and Georgian father, fleeing with her family to Belarus during Georgia’s bloody civil wars 25 years ago. She vividly remembers, “I know what war is, and it’s awful, it’s really awful, when the war machines are on the street… when people with armour are on the streets and it’s kind of normal for you.”

Nino with some of her board games.

She really hit her stride in academia as she grew up. Nino’s first education was foreign languages, learning Russian, German, and English on top of her native Georgian, but now all these are more hobbies — she hadn’t practised English for 15 years before our interview. She completed graduate studies in psychology and then in pedagogy, accepting a post as senior instructor at her university where she has been working for almost ten years now and where she’s already written one manual, Fundamentals of Psychology and Pedagogy. Her current project is developing interactive games and workshops to teach sport psychology, most recently on the topic of anti-doping.

Defining sport

Nino differentiates between athletes for whom sport is a profession and usually even a job, and those practising “physical culture” or “fitness for your usual life” solely for pleasure… reminding me of both Lina’s distinction between an athlete and an “exerciser” and Dace and Irina’s emphasis on the work element being attained before a physical activity is deemed a sport.

This intensity/work factor has been mentioned often enough that I’m realizing the term “athlete” and “sport” is not something attained lightly, and that I should keep it in mind as I continue to formulate this definition. At the same time I feel I may be missing the forest for the trees with all my focus on solidly tying this meaning down.

Sport psychology in Belarus

Just part of the Belarusian State University of Physical Culture.

With the definition above in mind, it’s very clear that Belarusian athletes are serious about their work — and it is work for them. Many of the students at this university are world-calibre competitors — and even champions — at the height of their careers. Indeed, the ice rink on campus was used for the world hockey championships a few years ago. In line with professional standards, the country pays for high results, with top athletes making a living from their performance. However, similar to Canada, the more popular sports get rewarded, well, more. “It’s more convenient to be a hockey player,” chuckles Nino with a sigh.

As in Lithuania, athletes are heroes in Belarus. This was taken at the airport in Minsk.

Despite performance being key, sport psychology still hasn’t quite taken a hold in the country. Most coaches do not want to employ a figure who they fear may undermine their authority, and the stereotype of psychological training only being for the sick is still very strong. Because of this, it is very difficult for Nino’s graduates to find work, generally settling for fitness club or school posts and only rarely for positions with professional teams. Paradoxically, many athletes are slowly opening up to psychological training and even support for their sport, but only in training cycles and not during competition. Because of this lack of a framework in a particularly rigid system, end-of-sport transitions are very difficult. “It’s a trauma,” notes Nino, “a kind of finish of their life. They have nothing to live for.” However the same can very aptly be applied to probably most countries in the world. It is only in recent years that we have started caring for our heroes beyond their medals.

Final thoughts

Gorbunov (L) and Alexeev, portraits from Straub et al’s top-10 article.

Because I didn’t have much more time with Nino we had to wrap up the interview here, with a promise of my returning in the future and stopping by again to continue the conversation. She did, however, have time to recommend two authors. First was the sport psychologist, pedagogue, and 13-year FEPSAC Managing Council member, Gennadi Dmitrievich Gorbunov, who became known for his applied work with the Soviet national swimming and cycling teams. His acclaimed work, Psychopedagogy of sports (Психопедагогика спорта, 1986), immediately came to Nino’s mind as a solid basic resource. Second was the psychiatrist Anatoly Vasilievich Alexeev, famous for his work with the Soviet national weightlifting and shooting teams. He wrote Overcome Yourself! (Преодолей себя!, 1978) where he outlined how to find and then enter the “optimal psychophysical competitive state” (reminiscent of Hanin’s IZOF model). He also developed the AGIM system (Система АГИМ) where he encourages the coach to:

“… see his athletes’ mistakes and not be irritated by them, but to look into their brains if he wants to achieve the result desired by all. After all, it is in the depths of the psychic apparatus that both the origins of mistakes as well as the means of overcoming them lie. Modern trainers simply have to completely operate with the mental capabilities of their students; not shouting at them, but calmly and soberly analyzing the reasons for their failures and successes.”

This rational, seasoned approach is a refreshing offset to the Cold War-era images of my youth. Perhaps it is not a surprise, then, than both men are generally considered top-ten minds in Russian sport psychology today.

Wrapping up, Nino shared her life philosophy of the boomerang: “Everything you do, comes to you again. It is not specific to sport psychology, but I think that it works!” Then she herded me into her classroom for a brief Q&A with her sport psych students, perhaps to underline that our field is certainly growing very fast.

Impromptu sport psych talk with Nino’s students.

A fraction of the interview is presented below, but like with the Baltic interviews prior, it too was garbled up so only the clear, important bits made it through the editing process:




Lina Vaisetaitė

October 5th: a day out of Riga and we immediately head out on a 4h bus ride for Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital. That evening we’re already at the National Olympic Committee office downtown on the river Neris, where Lina Vaisetaitė is ready to greet us. Lina has a very impressive CV, with posts as a university lecturer, as a senior manager of Olympic programs at the NOC for almost a decade, as a member of FEPSAC’s managing council, and, perhaps most impressive for me, as the author of a comprehensive website where she introduces Lithuanian visitors to sport psychology. She also has a rich history with ENYSSP which, combined with all her other posts and experience, has turned her into something of a hub in the Baltic network of sport psychologists… you’ll remember she was the initial point of contact for this Baltic blog series after all.

Interviewing Lina at the NOC.

The first unique thing about Lina, as compared to most sport psychologists I’ve met thus far, is that her academic pedigree is psychology through and through: both a BSc and MSc in the field from Vilnius University, the latter specializing in clinical psych. But this isn’t what hits you when you meet her; it’s that she’s one big smile behind which peeks a quick, gentle-but-probing mind.

Defining sport

We dove right into this question, where Lina quickly brought up games like chess, “What do I do with that?” she chuckled. We quickly achieved consensus realizing that sport, at its heart, is about striving to win, generally as measured through competition. Lithuanians frame this difference through the use of two words: sportininkas and sportuotojas, or “athlete” and “exerciser”, with the latter doing the same activity as the former but in the absence of competition.However, the “exerciser” is not really a term one meets outside of a dictionary, and this distinction has somewhat been taken over by that between a professional v. an amateur.

The idea of agreed-upon rules also floated up, where we wondered at what point an activity gets branded a sport. Taking the development of football from a basic game between villages hundreds of years ago to the plethora of official sport variants that exist today, we realized there’s generally no one defining moment when an activity becomes a sport, but rather more of a communal realization that this has already happened long after the fact.

Sport psychology in Lithuania

The general rule of thumb was that participants would go Lina’s route: get the appropriate BSc/MSc training in psychology and then start working in sport because of passion. In general, Lithuanian psychology studies emerged from psychiatry, which in Soviet times was a very strict discipline that often had political or overly conservative overtones (eg: dissenters or those thinking differently were often sent to psychiatric wards either as punishment or with a goal of conforming them back to the status quo). Then there was a pause as the USSR crumbled and Lithuania emerged as an autonomous country once more, wherein Western and especially American standards were slowly adopted. Currently, dedicated sport psychology programs are starting to pop up both in Lithuania as well as abroad, from which education is honoured back in the country.

Lina remembers when she had just started work in this field, when information on it was not freely available and there existed a strong stigma against psychological training for athletes who thought themselves “not crazy”, perhaps stemming from the psychiatric origins of the field. But things have since really developed: she sees athletes as being much more open to using techniques in the field and to googling their own sports heroes to discover what techniques they use in their training… and the media much more open to discussing it all, especially after the last Olympics where sport psychology received a lot of attention. “My phone has been buzzing since the games,” she notes, “a lot! But I’m still surprised that elite athletes — people who have gone to World games or even the Olympics — they are only beginning to train mentally now. When they tell me that they are stressed during final rounds and sometimes they even choke in them I wonder, ‘Where were you in the months before the Games? Why weren’t you training psychologically?'”

Consulting approach & current work

The question above has so plagued Lina that she’s turned to study the phenomenon of choking under pressure, having tagged it as a common problem in her athletes. When an athlete arrives for their first session with her, Lina first assesses their visions and perceived problems, but then also how they are acquainted to sport psychology: what was their first experience with it, and have they already tried some things? Secondly, she is careful to be realistic and to avoid excessive positive thinking, and to underline that the client is free to choose the path they will ultimately take.

Echoing Irina’s advice that the best tools are a pen, paper, and eyes, Lina also finds herself not focusing much on performance profiles or specific questionnaires, rather on being present during work with a client. She does take pre- and post-session notes at times, but these are primarily used to orientate her than to be any definitive markers for progress. If she has some concrete doubts then she may administer a RESTQ-Sport or TOPS questionnaires, and she uses mindfulness tools often to help her athletes deal with intruding thoughts like those of escape.

On Lithuania

Since many concepts come from American sport psychology, the problem of translation often pops up as in the concept of mindfulness. There is no real word for this in Lithuanian, the closest being pilnaprotavimas… which is immediately associated with pilno proto, or “full mind”, itself being another way of saying “not being crazy”, enforcing the stigma of sport psychology only being effective for those with mental problems. Lina gets around this through using other phrases that carry meaning better, like sąmoningas dėmesingumas or “aware attention” for example, or through simply using English terms and then explaining them, so “mindfulness” simply becomes “being here and now”.

Just part of the pathway honouring some of the country’s Olympians throughout the decades, decorating the pathway leading to Ozas shopping mall.

And something I noted personally was the quiet but persistent presence and honour given to the country’s top athletes. It was not uncommon to see Olympic champions of even the least famous sports lining pathways or smiling from ads throughout the capital; this in direct contrast to home in Canada where it’s generally Hollywood faces we see, with the odd Big-Four’er here and there… but generally only if they’ve entered pop culture in some way.

Additional resources & tips

We talked about the difficulty many of us have in accessing scientific papers and I mentioned Alexandra Elbakyan’s contentious work in this field or, as she is sometimes called, “The Robin Hood of Science“. Lina was quick to quip that the best resources currently are Google and YouTube, both for athletes and practitioners. She’s used Dr. Forlenza’s sport psychology film database before, but notes that — contrary to what you might think — not all athletes enjoy sports movies. In a related vein when asking for a good book recommendation, Lina shared the wise insight that for a book to be good it must not only match the person but also catch them in the right time in their life, to teach them something they don’t know yet:

“I realize that when I read a book maybe it made a big impression when I was in that situation in my life, but maybe another person is in a different situation – maybe if I shared it with them they would be like, ‘I’ve known this for twenty years already!'”

… a good example of being ready to receive a concept is Lina’s history with mindfulness. When she first read of it she wasn’t particularly impressed. It took another two years for her to be ready for the concept, “I had to grow!” she now understands.

However, after some poking and prodding Lina shared that, like her Rigan colleagues, Weinberg & Gould’s Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology is a solid resource: it holds all the basics that you will inevitably forget but really need upon graduation. She also recommends finding supervision or mentorship at the beginning of a career and her best practical advice is getting your feet wet with practical work as soon as possible. When pressed for a movie, Lina admitted to really enjoying Peaceful Warrior, thinking it cheesy at first but finding a lot of valuable lessons within when she finally caved in and watched it after hearing about it so much:

A final piece of wisdom? Again following Irina and Dace further north: be wary of media, they have an uncanny way of twisting your words. Journalists are skilled in lulling you into a sense of relaxation and security so you’re thinking you’re speaking sincerely and commonsensically, but the quotes you’ll read afterwards could certainly get you into some hot water. Wrapping up, Lina shared with us her favourite quote, most often attributed to Mark Twain: “They did not know it was impossible so they did it“.

Our interview

As with our Rigan friends, Lina’s interview was largely garbled up but I was able to salvage about 15m of it to put a voice to the beaming smile up top. My sister makes a presence here as well, but Lina’s voice is immediately recognizable right from the outset.

Wrapping up, here are some photos from our brief but delightful stay in this wonderful city (further reading includes the Gate of Dawn, Užupis, the Writer’s Wall of Lithuania, St. Casimir’s, the Presidential Palace, the Vilnius Cathedral, Šnekutis’ restaurant, and Milda):




Dace Eikena & Irina Simoņenkova

Guiding us we had our dad’s old army map.

Last fall I traveled with my sister through northeastern Europe, convincing her to turn her Euro tour into a genealogical and semi-professional adventure. In under two weeks we powered through Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Minsk, Kaliningrad, and Gdańsk, getting a smattering of flavour throughout as we inhaled our way through the Baltic States.

Genealogy and culture aside, our adventures were unforgettable for the simple reason that I interviewed leading sport psychologists in the majority of the countries visited. Hearing I was heading north, a prof-turned-friend, Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, put me in touch with Lina Vaisetaitė from the National Olympic Committee of Lithuania, and what a godsend she was! Within days of reaching out to her I’d received the contacts of a small handful of sport psychologists throughout the region. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make contact with Estonia’s Aave Hannus from the University of Tartu, nor with any sport psychology professionals working in the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad — no one I met on this trip knew of any sport psychology activity in the exclave. But the remaining discussions were plentiful enough without adding anything extra to the schedule.

We arrived first in the Latvian capital of Riga, on October 4th, and almost immediately met with Dace Eikena and Irina Simoņenkova from the Latvian Sport Psychology Association. Dace had previous training as a pediatrician and only later went into clinical psychology, and is now working for the Latvian Olympic team and studying the Limbic Coaching Method. Irina, originally a student of mathematics but now a psychologist, maintains a private practice in the heart of Riga.

Kicking off the Baltic interview tour between Irina (L) and Dace at Irina’s downtown Riga clinic.

Both women we gifted with the warm hospitality that is a staple of the region. They immediately sat us down, pulled out chocolates (and when we finished those, more chocolates), and started sharing their stories. They were surprised someone had made such a long trek just for a chat on our shared passion, but then the conversation just flowed: I pulled out my questions and we dove right in. Unfortunately, upon revisiting the recordings I made of our 3h+ conversation, it became clear my phone had garbled up about half of it at random intervals. What I’ll be sharing here is what I could remember from our encounter and piece together from the recording.

Defining sport

We started with defining sport. As always, no clear definition emerged, but certain parameters did: “level” was an important one. It seemed a hobbyist who only trains intermittently is not performing sport as much as a professional athlete who trains their sport upwards of 3-4 times a week. This led to the second demarcation, that of conscious intent or purpose: that an athlete is an individual who is consciously putting in effort into their training and not performing these acts simply for fun (something Côté calls “deliberate practice“). Interestingly, Irina didn’t think competition was a necessary marker for someone to be performing sport, though we all agreed it’s often in the background anyhow — be it officially with others or unofficially with the self and chasing personal bests. Reading Wikipedia or Google‘s definitions on this topic later I noted the main element does indeed seem to be the idea of improving oneself in a specific physical activity bound by rules agreed upon by others also performing it, and where the goal is not the creation of something external with that activity (as in art or engineering) but rather of perfecting the activity itself, reminiscent of the Japanese art of ensō. This definition draws in all the secondary characteristics of competition, spectator presence, organized association, enjoyment and even slowly begins to edge me towards an answer in the common physicality-versus-game argument (eg: darts, bowling, bridge, and chess, the last of which I was surprised to learn is a discipline supported by our sport psychology friends in Latvia). I suppose, revisiting this now classic quandary of mine, I can comfortably say sport is the pursuit of excellence in a physical activity bound by specific, objective rules and sharing a community that maintains these standards. I suppose it’s no coincidence Terry Orlick named his classic book what he did.

Working in the field

Administration-wise, I was surprised to learn that psychological studies were unavailable in Latvia until the fall of communism in the early 90s, lending credibility to most Latvian athletes’ distaste for seeing a sport psychologist (the typical “I’m not crazy, I don’t need any psychologist” phrase). Still, as in Canada and most of the world, funds for sport psychology are few and far between, with both ladies supplementing their incomes through more clinical work. Sport psychology is now a branch of psychology in the country, with practicants in the recent past needing a general psychology master’s degree and then completing some sport science work. Now Latvia is adopting EU standards and more and more practitioners are coming in from a sport or teaching backgrounds, with the same issues of sport-versus-psychology polarity being raised as Dr. Davis did in his 2007 interview that helped me contextualize my own trials and tribulations of breaking into the field back home.

After a quick discussion of the detriment caused to athletes who are forced into their positions as portrayed in Friday Night Tykes or Trophy Kids, Dace shared an important nugget of wisdom: it is very helpful–if not crucial–to first understand yourself, and then to help your client understand themselves. From there you can spring into the problem areas. Both Dace and Irina work with members of their athletes’ support networks — coaches, parents — right from the outset, understanding the key role they play. And an easy takeaway for dealing with hesitant coaches who doubt your expertise in their sport: that’s fine, it’s in sport psychology that you are an expert, and that psychology is always the same. And a warning too, of not talking to media, no matter how much it makes sense at the time. Journalists have an unfortunate way of twisting your words to fit their agenda so it’s better to keep a back seat and just watch the ride unfold rather than become a part of it in the national discussion.

On Latvia

We then sprang into a discussion about issues specific to Latvia: that in the past 5 years the 2 million-strong country lost about 500,000 of their youngest, most motivated and energetic citizens to the European job market, and that Latvians generally lack confidence, wishing to be complimented by others instead of going out and bragging about themselves (or, as Dace noted, “I do, but not say.”). This in direct contrast to the 30% Russophones comprising the country — Latvians with Russian, Belorussian, or Ukrainian descent who generally speak Russian at home. Athletes with this background tend to be very confident, so a balance needs to be struck when working with a team that is made up of members of both groups. That for many Latvians being the best in the nation is often an adequate goal is another limitation their psychologists are finding.

An interesting insight was the strong role women play in Latvian culture, from the idea of “Mother Latvia” to freedom being feminine in the country to the figure of Māra in pre-Christian Latvian mythology, and how this matriarchal spin still bleeds into the country and family life today. This insight paired with the fact that Latvian is such a tough language to learn, with its subtleties often floating under the surface such that what is said is sometimes not exactly what is meant, showed Latvia to be a still water with deep currents underneath that beg deeper understanding before just blindly diving in.

Additional resources

Speaking of favourite techniques for working with athletes, both ladies agreed that the performance profile is a good start, especially because it gives an athlete an immediate visual of what’s going on and requires very little interpretation, but Irina then laughingly added that “the main tools for a sport psychologist are a paper, pencil, and eyes”. Speaking of valuable resources, Irina continued that there are very many great articles and books on the topic of sport psychology, but that for very many athletes, the gross majority of them are simply not interesting. She continued noting that very many sport psychologists are not very quick to share their methods, which she found unfortunate. Dace was quick to laud Nideffer’s 70s classic The Inner Athlete: Mind Plus Muscle for Winning (though her Russian translation didn’t have the chapter on hypnosis because the USSR was doubtful of its efficacy and so it didn’t end up getting translated) and Pargman’s Psychological Basis of Sport Injuries while Irina nodded to Weinberg & Gould’s Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Both however agreed that Andersen’s Doing Sport Psychology is a must. Movie-wise, Irina recommends Legend № 17, a recent biopic on the ’72 Team Canada v. Team USSR Summit Series that won the best Russian film of the year in 2013, and is immediately reminiscent of 2004’s Miracle on Ice:

… subtitles available directly via YouTube, you just have to enable them. This movie made me especially excited because, so far, I’d only grown up seeing Russia — and especially the USSR — cast in a particularly evil light. There were good people on both sides of history though, and I love seeing others skating as well as our homebred Canucks. Of course, there is a Canadian counterpart that I now want to get my hands on as well.

The interview

Here is a short outtake I was able to salvage from our interview, where we discuss some of the main points above (Irina is the first voice you hear, Dace the second, and the other lady with the Canadian accent is my sister).

 

And finally some photos from the trip to wrap things up (further reading includes Stalin’s birthday cake, Memento mori, and the Zeppelin garage) and Irina’s favourite quote: “If you can jump the bar, it’s not good for you.”




Bloodsport

Bloodsport (1988, 92m, 6.8, 33|74%) is a cult martial arts action film made in the typical American Hollywood style, where the lines delineating good and evil are simple and audiences gather to either watch the fight scenes or the cute hero. It portrays the now-tired storyline of the young Westerner trained by an exotic, mysterious Asian sensei (among a few other cultural stereotypes), but nevertheless gets a plus for being quite diverse in its casting of fighters. I remember friends talking of this movie when I was in school, but now understand why films like Rocky ended up taking the cake.

A young boy, Frank Dux, is trained by his Japanese mentor in the rites of ninjutsu and honour. The movie quickly moves all obstacles out of the way so young Frank can take part in the Kumite, an underground, no-holds-barred fighting competition where it seems more glory and not honour is to be won. The competition starts with Frank breaking the Kumite KO world record and ends with Frank winning, of course. The movie closes with text indicating it was all based on a true story, albeit a little research into the real Frank Dux leads to equal amounts stories and incredulity, with even a best-of reel from the real event of the real fellow popping up if you’re lucky. More interesting trivia for me were that a young, 18-year old Jean-Claude Van Damme was nominated for a Golden Raspberry for Worst New Star (losing out to none other than Ronald McDonald in this horrible flick), and that Bolo Yeung, the actor playing Dux’ archnemesis, was 50 at the time of filming. This sure does explain his pec-flicking ability though.

Okay, rating time. A total of ★¼ for this bad boy. Neither character nor plot development exist, complexity rests at a steady zero, and recommendability is negligible — I only watched it to catch up with my generation and to finally get all the cultural references about splits that have been dropped here and there since… but that will probably fade in a generation. It was motivating, however, to watch the fight scenes and seeing all the rippling muscles and athletic fighters did stir a little fire under my butt to want to pump out some extra push-ups right then and there, so a meagre half point here as well as another ¾ of a star for originality. Though not nearly fresh, the Muscles from Brussels and his adductors have made it into common jargon enough that I was sufficiently intrigued to spend an evening with him. Still, watching his truck ad just about sums up all the main points of the film. If you’re looking for motivation, go see Rocky. But first, go watch that truck ad.




OnePlus 3, plus Nougat

Tl;dr: I hacked at my OnePlus 3 for a few days to update from Marshmallow to Nougat, going the TWRP/SuperSU route. I then swapped stock GApps for OpenGApps pico, to minimize Google’s footprint. I ran into several problems, key being the “dm-verity” error message, but it all sorted itself out in the end. This is the whole outline of the battle, but steps 1-7 at the very end as well as their preceding paragraph is basically all I’d need to do in the future.

A serious camera focusing bug had me shipping my OnePlus 3 out to Toronto for repair (under warranty, completed in record time: it left Monday and was back Wednesday that same week). Still, I was told the repairs could take up to a week so I had to go a whole month before I was able to ship my phone out, and this resulted in many, many missed photo opportunities. The silver lining however, was that I was able to also get them to reset the device to factory settings. Since minimizing Google’s footprint on it earlier this year, the device was working perfectly except I was unable to update from Marshmallow to Nougat on the OS side. At least, not without setting aside a few days to properly read through all the forum talk… and I just didn’t have this kind of time, needing my phone running for work much of the week.

The device just came back and I love the new feel of Nougat, but I’m already excited to customize it again and degoogle it as far as possible! Privacy issues are driving me a little bit, of course, but I’m not qualified enough to understand what I’m doing on any real crypto level, and I’m not naïve enough to think I’m doing anything really NSA-proof. Still, doing all this blankets me in something of a feeling of more security, and more importantly, teaches me a lot about how my device works, giving me fuller control over what exactly is going on under the hood. But my main reason for going through with this is I’m just so annoyed at all the auto-updating bloatware Google serves as part of its default Android experience!

Turns out the whole process took a lot more time and digging (through both forum and phone) to get it done right. Here’s the play-by-play.

Day one: First try

First you need to unlock your phone. I did it using the video below:

… but it was very long and had lots of unnecessary talking. But I was patient, it got me through to the end. Here are the main points:

  1. Update the system (to Android 7.1.1 currently).
  2. Set up ADB/Fastboot on the PC: get ADB Installer v1.4.3 from the Google Drive link on androidsage, run the .exe file and then type “Y” three times, including for getting the additional drivers.
  3. Unlock the phone: enable Developer Options and then OEM unlocking, advanced reboot, and USB debugging, and then unlock the bootloader. The part where he’s fiddling with what appears to be a few buttons @ 5:37 he actually just pushed the power button. At the end, to get to the bootloader screen to confirm the device is unlocked, I had to also re-enable advanced reboot.

Next, the device needs to be rooted and then it’s good to install a custom recovery program (TWRP has become the standard). I downloaded SR 3 SuperSU v2.79-SR3 from androidsage and upload it to the phone, but this was a bad idea. You’ll see why as you read on. I next downloaded TWRP 3.1.0 from TWRP into my adb folder (C:\adb; androidsage didn’t seem to do this). Shift+right-click in this folder and open command window, then flash the recovery img file into it as per the video. At 6:15 he manually boots into recovery mode, once the recovery img file has been successfully installed. Here’s the whole walk-through:

Now this is important. MAKE A FRESH BACK UP OF EVERYTHING. Check all those boxes you see at 7:30 above. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Lastly install SuperSU. Wipe cache and dalvik; reboot into system. I chose to both prompt to install TWRP and to install it as a system app before rebooting after reading this article (tl;dr: this allows me to monitor and update TWRP from the app side and not continuously having to do so from the back end). Back up again now that the phone’s all set and presto!

All the above is great for now having fuller access over my phone and for being able to make solid backups that I can then export to external drives for safekeeping, but again, the real reason I do it all is to remove bloatware and minimize the amount of apps running on it that may be collecting information on my activity: enter the Open GApps project. From a blog post I know OnePlus 3s require the ARM64 platform, and I always get pico because that’s just enough Google to run the device (any less and it just doesn’t work) plus the Play Store to get all my apps  like Google Translate and Maps (sadly, still irreplaceable). The steps are simple:

  1. Download the appropriate GApps package, then upload that to your phone.
  2. Reboot your phone into recovery, then from the TWRP interface select Install and navigate to your GApps file, and flash it.

Day two: Second shot

That pesky error.

Everything was working fine until I uploaded the incorrect version of GApps, mistakenly thinking I needed ARM (I needed ARM64). The upload failed so I quickly restored the latest backup above (thank goodness I’d made them this time), and it would install, but then the Reboot System button wouldn’t show up even 10m after the reboot had clocked 100%. I powered the device down and then up again with the power button and that thankfully rebooted, but I didn’t feel secure with this set-up. I tried the previous recovery file and the same thing happened… and then I noticed that upon each restart, I kept getting a confusing dm-verity error. This may have been because I neglected to properly wipe the cache and data before starting up this process. This step seems important in the forums; otherwise residual footprints from the previous settings seem to mix things up in the new restore. The forums agreed on only one course of action: a full factory reset. It was time for me to learn how to do this. Luckily, it was a cinch:

  1. Download the appropriate OxygenOS version (I always go with the latest stable build) into your adb folder and then follow the remaining easy steps:
  2. Ensure your phone has OEM unlocking, advanced reboot, and USB debugging all enabled. Reboot into recovery mode. From there click through English > Install from ADB > Upgrade Android from USB? Ok.
  3. Using the ADB sideload method mentioned in the first part, open a command line in the adb folder (Shift+right click or type “cmd” in the folder address bar and hit “Enter”). Verify your device is connected via adb devices. You should see a short serial number confirming the device is connected and read by your PC.
  4. Type in adb sideload <filename>, where “filename” is whatever the name is of the recovery zip file. I renamed my zip to just “oxygen.zip” to make this process easier. Hit Enter and off you go! Here is a video quickly showing how it all looks like in action (I like it because the song is full of hope, and that’s what you need at this point in the process):

This took care of that dm-verity screen. Next up: redo the first day’s work in re-installing TWRP, SuperSU, and then finally the appropriate GApps if you so desire and you should be good to go! Here’s that process:

  1. Leave the phone on, connect it to your PC, then run the adb devices command to ensure it’s connected.
  2. Enter fastboot mode: adb reboot bootloader.
  3. Flash TWRP recovery img file (I renamed this to twrp.img to make it easier): fastboot flash recovery twrp.img.
  4. Enter recovery mode, selecting with volume rocker and hitting power to enter.
  5. When prompted if you want to keep system “unmodified and read-only“, do that this first time. This is good idea to create a completely fresh backup that you can fall back on to get OTAs (over-the-air updates: updates that were pushed out after whatever OS version you have). Remember? This was my original problem that had me stuck on Marshmallow months after Nougat came out. Wipe the cache and dalvik (full factory reset is perfect) and then reboot.
  6. Enable Developer Options, then OEM unlocking, advanced reboot, and USB debugging. If your phone isn’t being recognized by the PC, dis- and then re-enable USB debugging. That usually does the trick. Move the TWRP recovery you just made to your PC for safekeeping; move your SuperSU and GApps zip files to your phone. This caused Windows to muck up and restart twice for me so I just unplugged and re-plugged the phone in and it worked fine. Took about 5m though.
  7. Reboot back into recovery. For some reason, TWRP did not boot here, I suspect it’s because I chose to keep the recovery unmodified and read only in step 5 (this issue is easy to fix; read on). So repeat steps 1-5 to reinstall it. This time it did not offer an option of being read-only so just create a second backup here. When that’s done, swipe to a factory reset again under Wipe and then swipe right to Install TWRP App for the reasons listed earlier. Reboot the device (this will take a minute) and move that backup to desktop as well (keep copies of all your backups locally on the device as well). You’ll have to go through the welcome screens again. Re-enable Developer Options, then OEM unlocking, advanced reboot, and USB debugging.
  8. Reboot into recovery once more. This again led me to stock recovery options so I ADB-sideloaded a fresh OxygenOS zip (exactly as before the video in this section). I installed TWRP again, as above. Still, no swipe-right-to-get-out-of-read-only option. At this point I’m too tired to go through figuring out why, and confident enough that I can still de-bloat the phone, at least sufficiently to meet my needs.
  9. In the TWRP recovery screen I Wipe and do a factory reset. I Install my SuperSU, then wipe cache/dalvik. Then GApps is installed. This is where I get nervous because I really don’t want to go through any more of this… but it’s looking good. Done! Wipe cache/dalvik again, reboot system with the TWRP installation prompt enabled and there we have it! A de-bloated, largely de-googled OnePlus 3 running the latest Android OS: Nougat!!!

… and all was good until I realized the SIM card wasn’t being picked up and I had no signal. That just won’t do. TWRP was very confusing because of that initial mount setting (it wasn’t letting me upload backups because of being in read-only mode), but that’s taken care of through unchecking a box under Mount. So off to the official site for the official recovery img file, sideload that in place of TWRP, and then re-load a fresh OxygenOS ROM back onto the phone using it. At this point I just don’t have more time to dabble in all this, and it’s a pity too — the minimized Google footprint felt great. I’m leaving this phone with how it was when I received it, and hoping the forums figure out how to not kill the SIM signal with GApps pico in future releases. Fingers crossed!

The main lesson today was how to backup and factory-reset my device on a deeper level. This feels like finding those one-up extra life mushrooms in Super Mario way back when, and is very good for selling it later without any sensitive information on it, from documents to passwords to bitcoin (yikes).

Insert 30m and some chewy Chinese candy…

Done! With a signal! Turns out my SuperSU file was faulty (either BETA-SuperSU-v2.74-2-20160519174328-forced-systemless.zip or SR3-SuperSU-v2.79-SR3-20170114223742.zip, both from the independent site androidsage). But XDA-developers pulled through again: they have a whole forum conversation dedicated to getting SuperSU right on there. I went with SuperSU-v2.79-201612051815 and it works like a charm! Still getting the dm-verity error but at this point this is a very minor problem (turns out it’s not a big deal, just a system error message, kind of like a “check engine” light usually is on old cars). Okay, time for a wrap-up. Let’s see if I can’t get the device up to factory settings, then make a TWRP backup, then bring it up to Google Minimized status in under 15m. Here is the setup:

First a TWRP backup of the current state to the PC. SuperSU and GApps pico zips are already on the device, ADB is running on the PC, Developer Options plus OEM unlocking, advanced reboot, and USB debugging are all enabled, and the device is connected and charged at 100%. Files: ADB from AndroidSage, OnePlus OxygenOS 4.1.3 (stock & recovery), SuperSU-v2.79-201612051815 from XDA-developers, and OpenGApps ARM64 7.1 pico. Now the process:

  1. PC (ADB flash stock recovery): adb devices > adb reboot bootloader > fastboot flash recovery <filename>.img. Reboot into recovery with volume rockers.
  2. OnePlus: English > Install from ADB > Upgrade Android from USB? Ok.
  3. PC (ADB sideload stock OS): verify via adb devices > adb sideload <filename>.img. Reboot into system.
  4. OnePlus: Reboot. Settings > Developer Options > Dis- then reen-able USB Debugging.
  5. PC (ADB flash TWRP recovery): verify via adb devices > adb reboot bootloader > fastboot flash recovery <filename>.img. Reboot into recovery with volume rockers.
  6. OnePlus (flash SuperSU): Install > SuperSU<filename>.zip > Wipe cache/dalvik >
    Backup > Check Boot, System, DataSwipe to Backup.
  7. OnePlus (flash OpenGApps): Install > OpenGApps<filename>.zip > Wipe cache/dalvik > Backup > Check Boot, System, DataSwipe to Backup. Reboot system > Swipe to Install TWRP App.

Time-wise, each step above took under a minute apart from sideloading the stock OS (15m). Altogether, the entire process lasted 25m. And the best part? No dm-verity error messages!

Day Three: After the Smoke Cleared

Waking up bright and early, I already couldn’t wait to get my hands on my machine again and start doing the fun stuff: uploading all my apps and setting up the settings to be as clean and clear and soft and solid as possible. OnePlus’ shelf feature is amazing here (I no longer need extra note-taking or weather apps)! Here’s how she looks now:

What a beauty! Look at that: fresh TWRP, SuperSU, and OpenGApps pico in the back end, and then personalized for productivity up front. And all this right through stock options!




Turning forests into seas

The past decade or so I’ve gotten into some real deep identity-, ethnicity-, and — more recently — genealogy-diving. I was extremely lucky in my search, the timing of it coinciding with the advent of the Internet as a true publicly accessible technology. I started with Poland but very quickly found myself in Germany, Israel, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Serbia, Croatia, Lithuania, and Belarus… so far. In retracing my family’s footprints I developed what I think might be a new type of family tree: a “wave chart”.

Pope John Paul II’s wave chart (just a sample draft; factual errors to be expected)

The original Word file of the above can be downloaded here. At the far right in the tallest aquamarine bar is the focus of our study, Karol Józef Wojtyła… aka Pope John Paul II. Receding leftwards are his ancestors, females touching down and males lapping up. This because families were generally patriarchaly organized Central/Eastern Europe, and surnames were received from and passed on through the male lines. On the extreme left, following the colour gradient, the journey of a surname through individuals can be clearly seen. Siblings of direct ancestors are a separate colour in each box, with sisters’ married names entered in italics. Additional marriages follow a similar format but in much smaller font, including any progeny. Additional information like birthdays and locations can be easily added, space-depending.

The biggest drawback I’ve found so far is the potentially tremendous waste of space as descendants get added, but this can be quickly fixed through chopping up the wave into smaller ripples:

JP II’s parental charts

I find this format tremendously useful in beginning my genealogical research, contextualizing myself in the information I know and firmly understanding what basics are still missing. Interestingly, the same chart can be made in reverse to trace a single individual’s progeny moving forward… for anyone adept at programming, it might be neat to combing the two so selecting any name in a chart would offer the option of popping open forward- or reverse-wave charts. I’m sure there’s more to come, just this new organizational tool was too exciting to not share!

The name was inspired by Hokusai’s 1833 painting, The Great Wave off Kanagawa. I toyed with going with “pipe charts” because of the shape, but the mention of water swelling up conjured up a much more vivid, fluid, applicable image to the tumultuous way family trees often form. And why JPII? Well, family history suggests he might just be a great-…-great-uncle and I’m trying to get to the bottom of this rumour. This wave is helping.




Why genealogy?

I am often asked why I’m so into family tree research, why I’m as deep into it as I am, why my research is so comprehensive and far-reaching as possible. Why not just plan for the future and let generations past stay buried where they are — what’s the point, anyway? Sometimes I’m asked rudely, as if I shouldn’t waste my time, but more often it’s in a bored way, as if it really doesn’t matter. This second is the far more frustrating of the two. Well, here’s an old piece that really resonates:

The Chosen

“We are the chosen. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again. To tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve.

“Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the storytellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: Tell our story. So, we do.

“In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors, “You have a wonderful family; you would be proud of us.” How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say.

“It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who I am, and why I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying – I can’t let this happen. The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that the fathers fought and some died to make and keep us a nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us.

“It is of equal pride and love that our mothers struggled to give us birth, without them we could not exist, and so we love each one, as far back as we can reach. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are they and they are the sum of who we are.

“So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take my place in the long line of family storytellers. That is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and restore the memory or greet those who we had never known before.”

Della M. Cummings Wright, 1943
Rewritten by her granddaughter, Dell Jo Ann McGinnis Johnson
Edited and Reworded by Tom Dunn




OnePlus 3, Google minimized

After a surprisingly long relationship with my trusty rusty Nexus 4, I bit the $586.47 CAD bullet and got me a shiny new OnePlus 3. The honeymoon truly was up when I wasn’t able to properly update my custom ROM on the Nexus, but the screen suddenly losing huge chunks of responsiveness was really the beginning of the end. Even when I found workarounds for typing e, o, 3, 9 (and everything nearby), other things started to go… the browser’s address bar, ghost touches, menu soft key/volume rocker/power button unresponsiveness and, well, I knew it was time for an upgrade.

Paranoiders scooped up for Oxygen

Paranoiders scooped up for Oxygen

Why the Chinese flagship killer? Simple, and not really a solid reason: they had hired the core team behind Paranoid Android, my ROM of choice because of its great “immersion” feature and allusion to the depressed robot of Hitchiker’s‘ lore. They were also working closely with CyanogenMod to develop a custom OS for their phone, moving away from total Google control. Curtly, they seemed to be democratizing the mobile world, and at a fraction of the cost. Yes, I was worried about potential corporate abuses employed to get ahead in the market (eg: worker/environment exploitation), but, after researching this a little, I was happy to have my fears assuaged:

After getting my phone, I immediately set about removing as much Google from it as I could. First, it’s a whole lot of bloatware. Secondly, goodness only knows how much of it is spying on you. However, the only way I knew how to go about doing so was through installing a custom ROM. Naturally, I chose Paranoid Android again. Compared to my previous forays, this was an exceptionally painless operation. I have since discovered there is a script that can do much of this even more easily, but all this is water under the bridge now.

In researching this topic for about a week though, one of the biggest revelations was the video below, fully explaining what rooting is and why doing so is just good practice. A highlight was the explanation of why all Android phones offer slightly different, company-specific experiences. Tl;dw: Samsung, Sony, etc. wrap the original Android OS in a custom UI of theirs, complete with such nuisances as bloatware, a psychological incentive to stay with their brand when choosing a new phone, and much later official Android updates:

Taking control of your phone

Two quick steps:

    • Create a back-up, then install a custom ROM. I chose Paranoid Android:

And presto! Though I would no longer recommend Paranoid Android, it’s a bit slow and seems a lot less feature-rich than before. I might be flashing Hydrogen OS on my device shortly to see if that doesn’t speed things up. One thing to keep in mind while you’re flashing between ROMs: disable any screen lock. Recovery mode goes buggy and doesn’t let you do stuff if unless you do this.

Final things I learned: you should always perform MD5 checks when installing program files to ensure file integrity (ie: that the download is complete, that the file isn’t corrupt, etc). I remember the Liux Mint hack from the other year that was a direct result of people skipping this very important step when downloading what they thought were clean files. Here’s how:

And lastly, if it’s a minimal Google footprint you want, then the ROM you’re flashing isn’t of any significance —  it’s the GApps package you install that matters. Options are plenty, and I always go with pico because this has just enough Google functionality to enable the Play Store. Sadly, F-Droid doesn’t have all the apps I need, and in the end I download Google Translate and Maps anyway, because gosh darn it, they’re just that good. But I am looking for a way to unwind even these tendrils.




Becoming a sport psychologist in Canada

Me, now.

Me, now.

After wrapping up my sport psychology MSc, I’ve returned to work in Vancouver to continue paying off student loans. That in itself is a different discussion: why does our current system so often leave our brightest, freshest, most enthusiastic and most prepared minds saddled with so much debt? Wouldn’t they be of more benefit to society were they freer to apply all they’ve just learned without living hand-to-mouth the first decade?

… but this post is dedicated to something different: namely, in the shiny new, up-and-coming field that is sport psychology, how exactly does one start doing it Canada? It’s a long one, but it has all the information I wish I knew when I started on this path ten years ago.

divider

I still remember my practicum supervisor — the chief Polish Olympic sport psychologist who, among other things, was both the president of the national sport psych association as well as the VP of the national psychology association — half-jokingly chiding, “What do you guys across the Atlantic know about sport psychology? You only have therapists and PE teachers doing sport psychology, but no real sport psychologists“.

My practicum supervisor, Dr. Graczyk, and some students at a Polish Olympic Committee meeting in Warsaw.

My supervisor at a Polish Olympic Committee meeting in Warsaw with the rest of us, students.

At first I was insulted, but then I realized he was very right. I need to underline this was more a casual observation than any harsh criticism, but there really seems to be a divide here between sport scientists doing psychology and psychologists dabbling in sport/performance. Sport psychology seems an orphaned specialization, in Canada at least. Since having moved back home — and especially since trying to find work (not pay, simply work) in this field, I’m constantly running across specialists already working in the field atop a glass ceiling through which I cannot break, and across potential clients for whom sport psychology is easily the best thing they never knew they needed.

And this is not a new problem. When I was nearing the end of my BSc I reached out to a local sport psych specialist, to my old psych prof who recommended his colleague (who was kind enough to take me out to lunch and answer some questions), and even to the sport faculty of one of Canada’s top universities, but no one could give me clear details on how exactly sport psychology was “done”, never mind on how to “get there”. All these meetings and conversations boiled down to advice of the form “work hard, seize opportunities, naturally progress in the direction you want and your field will build around you”. Which is all well and good when we’re talking generalities and dream-chasing, but less so when it comes to direct career planning. That said, I now know there was nothing clearer they could have offered me at the time — that I’m writing this post while still in a state of uncertainty a whole decade later only underlines this. Still, I knew I needed concrete schooling in the field as a first step — continuing working informally in it as a Wikipedia-supplemented coach just wouldn’t do. I especially didn’t want to come at it from as wide an angle as was the case at the time (a massage diploma + a physiology undergrad), but it took a whole lot of time and luck to discover that this was at all possible.

What I'd be doing now if I didn't have other qualifications.

What I’d be doing now if I didn’t have other qualifications.

My BSc quickly showed me my future lay in pipetting unless I continued with graduate studies. The only directions pulling me were muscle physiology (an orphan field of its own with clear practical applications for my clinical massage work but something of a dead end otherwise) and sport psychology which, even that early on, was quickly growing into a passion for me. Luckily, after intensive googling I discovered the Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology in 2007 or so. This gave me hope, but not much else. This resource was not yet available online so I had to order a physical copy and I remember quite a lot of the information in it being outdated, especially contacts. The most saddening bit about it all though, was that all the programs were far away (USA, UK, Australia) and expensive. Still, it showed me that sport psychology was indeed a thing I could study! And this alone was huge.

The Directory

The resource that first gave me hope.

With student loan deadlines looming I couldn’t do much else after my undergrad but daydream about someday applying to one of these programs. And then, one fateful day, I remembered a friend I had met at a Polish students’ conference years back who was, at the time, just heading out on her own adventure of a lifetime. She told me of her upcoming master’s studies in a wide EU program made to standardize education and foster conversation among specialists across the continent. I thought, heck, let’s see if they offer anything I’d be interested in. And lo and behold, one of the (many) masters offered was exactly that!

I applied, got in, and then deferred for a year so I could set myself up financially (as an EU national, I qualified for the €7,000 tuition: just enough to not break the bank as compared to basically all the schools listed in the directory). I graduated with top honours in the summer of 2015, returned to Canada and then… silence. The program continued developing but I couldn’t. Working in massage therapy took care of my financial needs, but the career-development ones were left hanging.

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Which brings me to now. Finances doing okay, the immediate future also kind of secure, I finally have the space I need to hash all this out. The space I need to breathe, it feels like. I’ve been reading up and reaching out to people a lot, trying to figure out my next moves, and again, seeing lots of this glass ceiling appearing everywhere (my European friends confirm the same is true for many of them across the Atlantic). I submitted an application to join the CSPA but that, as far as I can tell, is hanging in limbo as the organization is only now starting to stand on its feet. The particular speed bump that got me was the supervised experience: I had accumulated around 250h during my master’s internship in Poland, but required 400h for CSPA membership. I emailed asking where I could get the additional hours and answers weren’t very clear on how to check off the “supervised” bit. Again, sport psychology is a very new field and specialists are busy establishing themselves in a career that is still done primarily out of passion, and often supplemented with other income to boot. It’s tough finding a supervisor out there. I did apply to an internship that might have worked, but it ended up not being a good fit due to timing.

ideas need space

Where I just came from.

So I started reading. Which is how I happened upon a fantastic 2007 interview with two Calgary-based psychologists who work in sport, where one neatly outlined why Canada doesn’t really have any sport psychologists (we’ve been graduating ours more under the “sport science” banner), why people don’t hire sport psychologists (uninformed coaches, incompetent/unqualified specialists ruining it for the rest of us), and the first clear advice I’ve seen anywhere about becoming a sport psychologist in Canada: “Become a psychologist, learn kinesiology. Enjoy sport. Expect to work with coaches as much as with athletes. Respect high performance.” And I’m likely meeting the other in a few weeks just to see how his practice is run (his advice so far: sport psych doesn’t pay well just yet so subsidize your income with other work, get as much education as you can — particularly a PhD in psychology — to increase your credibility and knowledge).

In reaching out I’ve been even busier. I gave what might have just been the first sport psychology high school class ever given in Canada by a qualified sport psychology professional, I started mentoring a friend and current student from my master’s program, and just this past week I got in touch with a local sport institute as well as a local specialist to talk about interning or even working the field. I’m attending a conference in nearby Victoria this week where both the CPA (and I assume their sport division) and the CSPA will be present, where they’ll likely be informally talking of how to move the profession forward. I will try to find out which of the two I should join, if either, and also ask about benefits of joining the APA (especially their sport division) and the AASP. Wanting to be credentialed in Canada at the moment, I don’t plan on spending extra money joining the ISSP or FEPSAC, or even continuing my subscription with ENYSSP right now. And even regarding joining associations in Canada, I agree with our visiting professor who questioned joining anything just for the sake of having it on a CV. If the organization is active and useful, then yes (and the CSPA does seem to be moving in this direction), but I’ve been part of one too many organizations in name only to want to do that again. Bottom line: my primary goal with joining any organization would be to make my services reimbursable through insurance for any potential clients. I understand this probably involves diving into the murkiness that is registration as a psychologist with one of our provincial colleges and that this would likely involve acquiring a PhD plus around 1500h of supervised consulting practice, but this is increasingly looking like a worthwhile goal in the long run. Secondarily, I’d be looking to meet potential mentors or even internship supervisors — though this is increasingly looking like a difficult/unnecessary goal — or to access resources like job postings, articles, toolboxes, fora, etc.

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During all this reflection thoughts of the Canadian massage therapy profession keep springing to mind. When I took a break from my BSc to complete my two-year college massage diploma, a lot of people thought my diving into this unknown, fledgling field just wasn’t a good move. And their reasoning was sound. Yet massage has positively ballooned since then, close to ten years ago: four provinces have provincial regulatory colleges and the remainder are well on their way in developing theirs; a national association has developed to ensure education programs are accredited and standardized, and, most importantly, massage is formally entering regular healthcare as an important, extremely effective and now even necessary specialization… bringing insurance coverage with it. This enables therapists to charge $100/hour for a massage and therefore $500/year in association fees, which are then used to further lobby government and big insurance firms and to advertise our services and solidify our brand to the public at large. Looking at another field that is also on a similar path of credentialing and career-solidification, I know personal training/kinesiology is also mounting a similar hill (though a few years behind massage) with CSEP.

Sport psychology, it seems, is in exactly the same position massage was in about 20 years ago, and I’m positive it’ll also blow up big as people realize that, just like massage, it works wonders. Canada already has a handful of schools offering a smattering of courses and even degrees in the field, and I know Europe is moving in the same direction too, only faster. Sport psychology is flirting with all sorts of applications too, the most recent of which are outside elite sport, in topics like health, life skills, and non-sport performance. And I’m just thrilled to have caught this wave just as it’s beginning to swell!

Moving forward, I’m following opening notifications on HigherEdJobs (US) and GlobalSportsJobs (world),  I’ve joined the APA’s Div. 47 listserv (what a fantastic resource!), I’m on the CSPA’s mailing list, and there’s a good chance I’ll be in Warsaw this fall for the annual ENYSSP conference that I’ve come to know and love during graduate school. For now though, I’m confident that my MSc is the perfect qualification to get me working in this field. A PhD can wait until later, and may not even be necessary (or possible) depending on how my career (and life) goes these next few years. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue working in massage therapy and might even escalate this into becoming a physiotherapist soon. I’ve gotten into Birmingham for this September already (second best in the UK for physio, and they have some really neat sport psych opportunities… only the  $70,000 two years’ tuition is what has me second-guessing this proposition) and am still interviewing for others. This would cost me dearly but would also enable me to simultaneously continue working in both sport psychology and massage therapy, not really putting a halt to either but rather complementing both.

An aside to anyone reading this who seems to be perpetually in school: when family and friends hear I’m off to more school they always chuckle too, asking when I’ll get a “real” job and, I suppose, settle down. I used to always just laugh this off but now I’ve realized that I have entered the workforce. A long time ago. My first step was withdrawing from university and enrolling in that massage course way back when. In the ten years’ since then, I’ve bounced back and forth between school and career, my education taking the form of self-sought formal degrees coupled with travel instead of work-imposed weekend courses. My sister comes close to hitting the nail on the head when she says I am a pracademic, but then, aren’t all sport psychologists? I found this reflection brought me peace in that I was able to explain my lifestyle better to those who perhaps live more traditionally.

Pulling back from all this reflection and into reality, my plan moving forward is simple: find as many opportunities as possible to apply sport psychology in Vancouver this summer. I’ll be following some the advice of ex-AASP president, Jack Lesyk (from a very useful AASP archive), with less of an emphasis on stability and setting myself up, and more focus on continuing gathering experiences and slowly letting sport psychology unfurl in front of me:




Why Massage Therapy Needs Modern Psychology

Christopher Moyer is a counselling psychologist who specializes in the niche field that is where massage therapy and psychology intersect. I had already cited him in my thesis without realizing he had only started blazing trails in the field. When the RMTABC recommended I check out more of his work, I was thrilled to find there is so much going on there. This post is just a review of key takeaways from his very recent Colorado lecture, above in full.

One of the first things tossed aside, even before the talk fully begins.

One of the first things tossed aside.

Christopher starts off citing he’s a huge fan of massage therapy but that he was going to leave some very unsettled listeners in his wake — this because he was going to criticize some practices that have become almost sacrosanct in the field, but that have little scientific backing. He then outlined how psychology is a field unique to many others in that everyone knows something of it. However, most people’s views on it are very outdated; when asked to name prominent players people revert to thinkers from decades back whose work has since seen major overhauls (my own use of the classically Freudian featured image reflects this stereotype). And this is a problem, hence the emphasis on modern psychology in this talk. He tied this in neatly to modern massage therapy: whereas psychology has evolved from models spun from theories rooted in authority to currently become a very open, inquiring, living science, massage therapy still rests on unexamined evidence in very many places, with a therapist’s authority frequently building a protective barrier around what inevitably becomes tradition.

Sleep duration with age (Roffwarg et al, 1966)

The example he uses is a patient’s explaining away of their perceived longer sleep requirement as a result of their advanced age, when this is patently false. Massage therapists, he argues, should seize opportunities like this to educate their patients and to learn more about the phenomena being discussed, rather than complacently nodding in agreement and building pseudoscientific theories around what seems to be “common sense”. To this end, he recommended picking up two books: Why People Believe Weird Things (Shermer, 2002) and Excuse Me, Exactly How Does That Work? (Allen, 2014). This second author is especially enlightening as she’s a massage therapist who had herself believed and propagated various myths in the field before having her own eureka moment. Since then, she’s become something of a torch-bearer in this refreshing campaign for understanding in the field. Here she tackles a very common example of a massage myth, that of massage “flushing toxins” from the body:

Returning to our list of psychologists, one name generally unknown to the public is that of Carl Rogers, whose person-centred approach to therapy shows immediate relevance to massage therapy. His three core conditions for therapeutic change are congruence, acceptance, and empathy: that the therapist is genuine and not acting, and sharing his or her own life experiences to facilitate therapy; that the therapist accepts the patient unconditionally and without judgement, giving the patient room to be the main author of change in his or her own life; and that the therapist understands and empathizes with the patient’s own frame of reference. All three ring true for massage therapists, who — even if not expressly taught so — will have developed a natural leaning towards this style after a few years of work. Christopher hinted at developing Rogers’ ideas further within massage therapy, creating what he called “Affective Massage Therapy”. This would be massage therapy with added psychological support to better take care of patients’ needs. I mean, since we’re already tapping into this parameter, it makes sense for us to have some training in it. Lorimer Mosely, a physiotherapist from Down Under, is already integrating such an approach in his practice. His is a second very clear voice that resonated throughout my master’s research. Here he shows clear Rogersian leanings in how he explains pain to patients:

From here, Christopher discussed a few concepts that really need hashing out in our profession. First was the idea that the body may be able to store memories outside the brain, most often in limbs or muscles. Though often called “muscle memory”, a more accurate term for this phenomenon is “body memory” since that first term now commonly refers to the neuromuscular learning process that increases task efficiency with repeated practice (a good example are uchikomi in judo training; automating technique such that entry into a throw is almost reflexive). Body memory is used to explain surprising emotional outbursts during treatment, as in the case of a patient breaking out in tears: “painful memories were trapped in this muscle that was just treated, and the massage has released them.” We know from current neuroscience that this just doesn’t hold much weight. However, this phenomenon certainly warrants further study for it certainly is real. My own guess is that it is something about the relaxing massage setting and the application of Rogers’ core conditions allow for patients to reach such a point in treatment… but the bottom line is that we just don’t know.

Guess which one is Hans.

Guess which one is Hans.

A quick note on psuedoscientific claims in general and the harm they may cause before I move on. An immediate thought that bounces back in discussion is that, even if you aren’t telling the complete truth as a therapist, isn’t the placebo effect you’re ultimately creating good if it gets the person on their feet again? Well, no, as Christopher explains. Yes, it may be good in the short run, but there also exists a significant chance that your patient will read up on her or his condition further, or deal with another therapist later who will throw serious doubt on the claims you initially presented them. If they are hit with these doubts before making a full recovery, your patient’s condition could actually spiral backwards and there would be very little you could do to bring them back again since your therapist-patient relationship will be well tarnished — just visualize a hyper-inflated balloon getting popped, or read about Clever Hans (and then think about everything you know about energy healing). I’m continually surprised how often people think they should drink water after a massage, for example. Sometimes I enlighten them that this doesn’t really do anything, but very often I just let it go unless I feel they are actually going to be receptive to the change in thinking, because this ultimately pins me, usually a stranger, against their old therapist, whom they usually really liked, and those cognitive dissonance wheels start cranking.There have been times I’ve tried to explain away the placebo only to be met with a blank stare edging into incredulity.That’s usually the moment I just let it go. Further to all the above, building upon a placebo so strongly really inhibits dialogue with other health professions, but will be outlined in a minute.

More benefits of marrying massage therapy with psychology just tumbled: massage therapists could benefit from understanding flow state, the brainchild of the Hungarian psychologist with the unpronounceable name. This could be used to explain what’s going on when a therapist gives an exceptionally good massage and both therapist and patient are ecstatic (in psychological terms, the challenge and skill levels of the treatment are both high and adequately matched). In a not entirely unrelated vein, understanding the expertise needed for excelling in massage would go a long way in recruiting better therapists faster, and in discovering alternative career paths and advancement strategies in for them down the line — both domains dealt with in vocational psychology. Christopher aptly pointed out that massage therapy tends to be a very horizontal career, with few advancement opportunities beyond specialization or, for the odd few, teaching or administrative roles in related institutions. This could contribute to therapist burnout, explaining the statistic I was told by my peer assessor in Ontario about five years back: that the average “shelf life” of a massage therapist was a mere two years. Perhaps adopting a mentorship model, as was used in Québec up until around 2010 (if not still being the case), might perhaps expand our career path to include some vertical movement. Or even roles not really explored as yet, like working alongside health teams in hospitals or in research? Because massage therapy has the potential to be much cheaper and much more available than many of the drug therapies currently on the market, not to mention much more effective in dealing with things like pain or depression. Such research could even mark a change public policy, from dealing with health issues in a reactionary, rehabilitative manner, to one more forward-thinking and “prehabilitative”. Understanding and developing all these ideas further would help therapists better plan their careers, just as understanding attentional fatigue would help them better prepare their workdays, knowing that not only does their body take a toll but so does their mind (especially when effectively applying Rogers’ principles for an entire day).

A last idea that floated around the room during the lecture was the observation that one of the biggest barriers in dragging massage therapy to be on par with other allied healthcare professions (apart from making it a university degree program, in my opinion), is the problem of communication. Christopher joked how few massage therapists leave their treatment rooms after a successful treatment with the following outburst: “It worked… but why?!?!” And this is natural, but also unfortunate. We create this “massage bubble” wherein we don’t need to question our efficacy because everyone involved is always happy with the treatment… and so we don’t. Then, when pressed for an explanation, the combination of usually inadequate education combined with those half-baked ideas floating around the profession leads many of us to murmur something about meridians or chakras or emotions stored in muscle, to the discredit of our entire profession in the eyes of the other healthcare fields. This serves to isolate us from others who could very well help us, and whom we could certainly help as well. We are, after all, some of the best experts in soft tissues, palpation, and empathy when it comes to health.

A final point in wrapping up this summary: Christopher underlined the fact that the majority of the top-cited articles on massage therapy are actually in peer-reviewed psychological journals, not physiological ones… this alone should make us as a profession rethink where the real strength of our field lays. Maybe there are more similarities between Freud’s couch and your massage table than first meets the eye.




A Patriotic Man

A Patriotic Man (Isänmaallinen mies, 2013, 97m, 6.3) is a Finnish comedy-drama following one man’s journey in balancing morality with patriotism while complicit in a serious doping conspiracy, loosely based on a true true scandal. It centres on Finnish Nordic skiers’ doping strategy to come out on top after a few years of unsuccessful results in their national sport. Their Olympic ski team discovers and subsequently hires an average, recently unemployed man with particularly iron-rich blood to serve as an emergency doping bank for their athletes, lavishing him with gifts and guilt to keep him on hand as needed. Pressures from his wife to be someone she can be proud of encourage him to tuck his morality away as he does “what’s best for the country”, ergo the title. Eventually he’s visiting strip clubs and dealing with drug traffickers, becoming embroiled in an affair with the nation’s sweetheart skier, and even almost dying through a botched blood transfusion in a tale that still manages to pull off a near-Disney ending.

Some context first: blood doping, the “drug” of choice here, is the injection of extra blood cells before competition to increase muscular oxygen supply. It was a very useful technique because it was nigh undetectable since the athlete was often injecting concentrated volumes of their own blood back into themselves. And then there is guilt and shame: the first is the acknowledgement of fault, the second is the blow to self-worth resulting from it and, in the case of Finland, largely based on the perceived perceptions of the world.

Finnish headline reads "Shame" over Jari Isometsä, one of the disgraced skiers.

Finnish headline reads “Shame” over Jari Isometsä, one of the disgraced skiers. I cannot imagine the pain of living through something like this.

The movie is lighthearted but it must be underlined that the blow the original scandal dealt to Finland was huge, with the country reeling still a decade laterJari Isometsä, a national legend, was the first to be caught, but he built up a plausible story explaining his use of a banned substance. But then a bag with doping supplies was found, spiraling Finland into a deep state of communal shame, with Mika Myllalä, one of the other legends involved, never fully recovering. Mika battled alcoholism, unsuccessfully tried to re-enter the sport without any real success, ultimately going through a divorce just four years before dying at the young age of 41.

The country had built a precarious national identity around her sporting power to cover up something approaching an inferiority complex regarding the rest of Europe: Finland only attained autonomy in 1809 and independence over a century later, didn’t really have a particularly rich history full of glorious exploits and no real tradition of fine arts, and had developed a tendency of accepting “European” (mostly Swedish) stereotype of themselves, but in the worst possible form. For example, their honesty became stupidity, their excellent work ethic workaholism, their modesty a lack of civil mannerisms. It was therefore natural that athletic prowess, the one remaining cultural marker, became a solid rallying point in developing a national Finnish identity. Of all the sports the Finns excelled in, skiing was the biggest deal because of its association with the Winter War and with the Finnish philosophy of sisu, a persevering quality that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost. Just reading how this perfect storm formed, I wouldn’t be surprised if sisu might well have been an element that drove these top-level Finns into the scandal to begin with.

Aino, the skier at the heart of the movie.

Aino, the skier at the heart of the movie.

Now a few thoughts. First, on the unfortunate leapfrog cycle of doping, alluded to by Aino in the film: that passion and skill is what brought her to the national level, but at a certain point she plateaued. It was then that she starts noticing murmurs of other skiers taking performance enhancing drugs, leading her to the rational conclusion that that’s her next step too. “If they’re cheating and winning,” she justified, “and I don’t stand a chance otherwise, then I need to do what they’re doing because it’s working.”

She takes a first substance, then a second to mask it, then a third to augment the first, then a fourth, fifth, sixth… until she’s “on a locker-room bench, watching them pour blood into you. And always you’re afraid you’ll be caught. And when it falls apart, you’re a traitor and the media spits on you.” We quickly see how this skier’s personality and lifestyle choices are shaped directly by the cutthroat atmosphere of elite sport: she juggles relationships as resources, with only a near-death experience bringing her true colours out in a moment of real vulnerability… but she immediately creeps back into the shell of success she’s built for herself, her castle of support. And the strange thing is, you feel happy for her. She’s selfish, but also an underdog throughout the whole film. And this somehow makes a difference.

Toivo and Arno hook up take gold.

Toivo and Aino hook up for gold.

This points to a previous allusion I’ve made: is not some blame to be laid on us, the public, for demanding ever more from our athletes? Or on the systems creating disparity in the world, driving athletes in desperate situations to close their eyes, grit their teeth, and make some very risky moves in hopes of huge payoffs? I really think so. That the strategy to stop doping in the event that inspired the movie was based on surprise capture rather than on developing practices to reduce doping itself points to our world’s reactive rather than preventative approach, an approach that I think needs revision. Why not create programs where athletes are taken and shown the serious, comprehensive facilities where drug testing occurs? This alone might deter many of them.

Wrapping up this point is the interesting phenomenon of doping often occurring bottom-up: top tier athletes often are playing catch-up with those below vying for a medal, reminiscent of the Pumping Iron line, “the wolf at the bottom of the hill is not as hungry as the wolf at the top”:

In the end perhaps the world should balance the Olympic hendriatis with de Coubertin’s own alternative Olympic motto: “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!”

And now onto patriotism. I’ve examined related issues before: cultural identity and the almost evolution-driven competition that results when these fight for prominence. As I continue critically examining the issue, I see these structures as increasingly man-made and therefore arbitrarily assigned at birth. This does not negate their power, however. Despite seeing the havoc competing for one’s country brings — always resulting in unhappiness and emptiness because the public’s eye quickly moves on to the next high literally the moment the winner steps off that podium — I still caught myself tearing up when Aino tore it up on the slopes… all the whole purposely looking for a “POL” in the winner’s tables, despite knowing the country of my ancestors was certainly not going to be represented. Patriotism carves a deep hold indeed.

Toivo, our protagonist, with the most conniving film still of Coach Ilmo I could find.

Toivo, our protagonist, with the most conniving film still of Coach Ilmo I could find.

And the national coach in this film, Ilmo, definitely realized the power of using such rhetoric. Whenever he uses the words, “Are you a patriotic man?” — no less than thrice in the film — you can be sure subterfuge is coming next. I am not sure if Ilmo is selfish, an idiot perpetually caught in a perfect storm, or outright evil, though I’m leaning towards slipping him into the first box. Regardless, the movie is worth watching just to see how eagerly people serve themselves up for exploitation whenever event a hint of patriotism is mentioned — I mean, even Toivo’s wife comes to terms with his affair because he is ultimately serving their country.

Final thoughts: Toivo is much stronger than many of us, originally refusing to cooperate despite very real threats of violence but only coming on board when serving the country was perceived as a greater good than his own moral code. The scenes with the Russian drug traffickers made me genuinely uncomfortable, that Ben Johnson made a cameo was neat (especially given the topic), and a scene involving a heart attack reminded me of a golden rule: if ever a friend looks sick and retreats to a quiet place in the middle of a social gathering, follow them! This advice can be the difference between life and death. And some trivia: turns out Toivo & Aino jokes are quite popular in the Nordic country. Additionally, the Finnish word for Finland, Suomi, likely means ground (as opposed to the “Fin-” derivatives used by most other languages).

Rating time: ★¾. Characters are not special but this makes them totally believable, with the lead split between a great match of a simple hero and a misguided heroine. The plot kept me genuinely interested from start to finish and the complexity was just right. Half a star for all three. Originality: ¾ for the believable, non-Hollywood elements that pulled empathy for our imperfect heroes right out of me. Recommendability: half a star. It’s good for people who like Scandinavia (especially Finland, obviously), sport, ethics, or skiing, and would definitely make for a good high school class leading to interesting discussions on doping afterwards, and even a neat flick for a comedy drama with friends who like foreign films.




Masha and the Bear

I just received an invitation to watch a neat video from a friend I made while still active in our university Polish-Canadian cultural association during undergraduate years. I was initially wary of the lightsaber battle because that’s just been waaay overdone, but when I realized the metaphor behind it, it suddenly didn’t seem as bad. Watch the short clip first because I write a bit of a spoiler at the end; I’m curious if you notice the same:

After seeing the video I immediately took to writing a quick note to Filip congratulating him on a job well done… but the ink just flowed. So I’m posting it instead; lots of rumination here. Grab a tea and off we go!

An ad for the Leipzig exposition (important: “die” = “the”).

An ad for the Leipzig exposition (important: “die” = “the”).

The video reminds me of my recent studies in Germany, where I saw just how Americanized they are over there. Reading up on German-American relations sheds lots of light on this, particularly looking at how much the US has helped Germany after the war. Artefacts of this special relationship exist everywhere, from Munich’s river surfing hotspot in the middle of the city (the story goes Californian soldiers posted there in the 70s first started this tradition), to Germany’s maintenance of their opinion that the US remains their most important ally in spite of the US spying on Merkel, to their having regular shows and expositions on this relationship (one was on permanent display at the museum in downtown Leipzig throughout the entire semester I was there), to even the majority of their social events. One day I remember seeing an 80s party advertised in the street in Nuremberg, and literally every single thing on the poster I knew from my own childhood, from Ninja Turtles to Power Rangers to Salt-N-Pepa.


Surfing the Eisbach

And this made me sad. Because this “liberation” from a dreary, oppressed world into one of vibrant colour and action presents a problem. Local culture can quickly fade as cultures of great empires take over, leaving in its wake whole swathes of people who feel very closely tied to — but awkwardly not completely at home in — the empire’s culture. After all, they didn’t really participate in it apart from merely gazing in.

"Real men love unicorns"

“Real men love unicorns”

I’m reminded of a Biggie vs. Tupac Christmas party we organized with an American friend while studying in Greece, with many foreign students in attendance. I found it hilariously strange how the Romanian, who made himself out to be very worldly and a huge fan of American culture in particular, didn’t actually know how to act when it came to even pretending to be of that culture. He tried to look a rapper, but ended up looking something like a farmer, with an undershirt neatly tucket into his jeans and a streamlined bike racing cap he couldn’t decide if he should wear backwards or forwards. Our Dutch friend knew that tats were big with rappers and so commissioned our Indian friend to draw a rainbow unicorn along the full length of his triceps. To this day we’re not entirely sure if this was some sort of joke or if he was serious. It was as if these guys knew all the words but not the tune. Of course, the Romanian continued blaring heavy rap music in his room for the duration of the semester.

Just another hip-hop Christmas (4) (Large)

Just another hip-hop Christmas. Sadly, no photos of our Romanian friend exist. Flavor Flav, Nicki Minaj, and Tupac did make it though, along with some Portuguese and Greeks who were just there for the food.

There is also the worry that children growing up in such restrictive settings end up tying their views of freedom and even of life meaning to the culture presented in the “good guys'” media. These become new cultural norms, and people can quickly get caught up with this new value set to the exclusion of exploring other lifestyles (or even just values) that may actually be better, something that is especially true if it has been lived in the mind for years while the real world continued to oppress. Between growing up first-generation here and traveling quite a bit throughout these past few years, I started seeing that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies beyond our silver screen. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who didn’t really get that Gary Cooper Solidarność poster (“Why don’t they use their own guy?” I kept wondering).

Tomasz Sarnecki Solidarnoœæ. W samo po³udnie 4 czerwca 1989, 1989 Warszawski Komitet Obywatelski Solidarnoœæ, Warszawa 100x70 cm, offset barwny

Here’s that cowboy poster.

Now I’m thinking of all the Polish families I know who came to Canada with nothing and who worked tremendously hard to finally buy a house, a car, furniture, appliances… and how many of these I now see almost addicted to the tremendous problems that are inherent in capitalism without even realizing it: overconsumption, exploitation of people and resources, apathy regarding the developing world… just to name a few quick but glaring examples.

A final thought on this topic is from when I was home and saw a huge billboard advertising a local lawyer. After seeing it a few times around town, I could easily name the lawyer and, worryingly to me, felt as if I knew him. I’d been thinking a lot about Dunbar’s number at the time and I quickly realized that what was happening here was he was trying to get into my brain as an acquaintance, taking up a spot even at the periphery of my 150. And he was succeeding. This, after a few days of mulling-over, led to the realization that business, and indeed culture, takes two forms of payment: cold hard support (cash and other more materialistic forms that allow it to grow), and attention — or even just awareness from an audience. The latter gives it a reason to keep growing, and both rely on the other. This is why it makes sense to shell out sizeable sums of your first pile, of cash or time, for example, for things like advertising or community engagement. Without your second pile growing at a matching speed, your first pile will inevitably wither away to ashes because no one will care about its continued existence. This idea neatly explains things like celebrity sex tapes, 24-hour news networks, and Donald Trump’s political campaign.

Why is this so natural?

Why is this so natural?

Flash forward to the media phenomenon in this video. It is very clearly a case of an exceptionally successful billboard lawyer entering a drab part of town. Everyone looks to him and knows a better life is possible, even if that better life is a dream right now. But of course, the billboard lawyer will not be advertising any of his failures through this window you view, no… and so he shines on with an otherworldly radiance. The whole scenario points to Dawkins’ interesting theory of culture evolving just as frenetically as biology, with memes of cultural behaviour constantly fighting each other for prominence and, in the end, existence. With empires’ ever-growing resources, their stories will inevitably become better and better: better crafted, better scripted, and now, better tuned to subtle cultural differences so they can more easily be consumed by an ever-widening audience. And the consumption of an empire’s culture goes hand-in-hand with the eventual recognition of that culture’s increased value in the eyes of the world.

Criticisms of American policy creeping in.

Criticisms of American policy creeping in.

This can be seen in recent years with Russia. Up until recently the country was openly viewed as something of an untrustworthy, quietly looming enemy, just biding its time for the right moment to cause more havoc in the world. Putin was called a whole rainbow of names, from dictator to fascist to the devil himself. Well, since the inception of Russia’s official, state-funded English- (and now Arabic- and Spanish-)language TV program in 2005, public opinion regarding the cold bear of the north has very much thawed, and criticisms of American imperialism and neocolonialism have started trickling into mainstream news, commanding a consistently increasing presence (despite the West’s continued denouncement of RT as an untrustworthy news source). Russia’s protection of Edward Snowden, its recent apparent victories in the Middle East, and how delicately the country sidestepped being painted as aggressor in the EU during the post-Crimean invasion years all point to their finally having mastered PR… and a key to this success is no doubt simply having their culture consumed by the other side, by us. That one of the top YouTube videos of all time is a Russian children’s story speaks to the success of this strategy.


Adorable. It makes you want to learn Russian, with close to a billion views encouraging this decision.

With more and more countries realizing the power of global relevancy in changing global politics, I’m only curious when other voices will start emerging from currently exotic places, showing us they are the same as we are, and that maybe some of our own policies beg questioning. Have you ever had a chance to consume news from France, Germany, or even the Arabic world? Or even read the same Wikipedia article in a different language? It’s a real change, both the fresh perspective as well as the surprise that awaits you when you see what each linguistic community focuses on, and how they go about presenting their information. France, for example, has a huge amount of resources dedicated to African communities, something we never really hear about here unless there are pirates or starvation or rebellion or other such disasters… which, no doubt colours our view of that part of the world quite negatively. Conversely, Germany tends to have a very comprehensive, logical approach that makes you wonder where the balance is in our news teams.

Iran's recently come up as a big, bad guy... what if they can spin the story their way as the Russians have?

Iran’s recently come up as a big, bad guy… what if they can spin the story their way as the Russians have?

In the end, this culture-as-bridge phenomenon is great for linking us across communities. I’m reminded of the Iraqi lady who owns a kebab shop near my work. She has ladies working for her from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from Syria… but whenever they can’t understand each other they switch to Egyptian Arabic. Why? Because, even though the Saudi Arabian variant is said to be closest to the “standard” in that tongue, Egypt is the region’s Hollywood and so this culture is consumed by all others in the region… naturally becoming an immediate lingua franca, sneakily carrying with it many other trappings of Egyptian culture.

I wish this was more our reflex, integration.

I wish this was more our reflex, integration.

Now the spoiler: the shaking of hands at the end of that first video is an honourable, happy end to the bitter rivalry, not unlike what happens in a successful migration story. But that Reagan was shown being the underdog, then winning the lightsaber match, then suing for peace at the end just goes on to show how the “winning culture” continues being viewed as such, long after the conflict is over and new conflicts emerge. History quickly redraws into different polarizations, and happy reminiscences though watching American comedies in difficult times may be, it’s important to remember that everything isn’t perfect on the other side of that billboard either. For this reason I applaud the use of foreign culture as a bridge, but I remain wary of making that bridge my home.

THIS is key.

THIS is key.

To finish on a light note, Filip’s video was great in showing different perspectives of people growing up through oppression, really focusing on the solidarity felt by them in first believing that a better world is possible, then in making it so. I am grateful for people like this who share their stories; they show us that the struggle is not only real, but ultimately winnable.




In the Mind of Plants

In the Mind of Plants (L’Esprit des plantes, 2010, 52m, 6.6, 8.83) is a French documentary on the controversial and fledgling field of plant neurobiology. Its central theme is that plants are much more active, complex, and evolved than previously thought. I remember hearing in a genetics lecture that we share upwards of 95% of our genetic makeup with chimps (reasonable), something like 75% with a fruit fly (wait a minute…), and still over 50% with a banana (whaaaaa). This quickly makes complete sense as we remember just how many basic biological processes are necessary for organic life: metabolism, growth, healing, reproduction… the list is quite comprehensive. Every living thing must perform these functions else risk demise, and we all do so largely with proteins… and proteins are coded by genes, no matter if you’re Neil deGrasse Tyson or his lunchtime snack. This movie, however, goes one step further: did you know rice has twice the number of genes as we do? Yeah, that was a bit of a surprise to me as well.

This is the first distinction the documentary blurs: what is animal and what is plant? Because clearly complexity is no longer an accurate distinction. Movement used to be a key divider but, like all things in nature, this absolute quickly faded as moving plants speedily showed up. Even bypassing curious “maybe it’s a plant, maybe not” creatures like algae or amoebas and the like, carnivorous plants, mimosas, and dancing plants were enough to throw this requirement on its head. Dancing plants, it ought to be noted, move in response to sound. Yes, so now there are plants that can hear.

The next distinction to come up, naturally, was intelligence, usually composed of some minimal requirements in communication, memory, perception of and reaction to the environment, and (according to the filmmaker) having a central system to coordinate it all. It is in explaining how some plants perform on these indices that this film really shines. An example is made of acacia trees poisoning herds of overfeeding antelopes, including sending warning signals to neighbouring trees, triggering their doing the same (communication, perception, and reaction? Bingo). A less convincing situation of pea plants “remembering” how to grow after a disruption is also presented… but this appeared to be more a case of a slow resetting to the new environment, leaving me unconvinced about the whole memory bit.

However, a more plausible theory was presented for a central, brain-like coordinating region of cells existing just under the root caps, but I remain skeptical about the basic premise that a brain is a requirement for an organism to be relabelled “animal”. A quick reminder about jellyfish and starfish, both of which lack such a structure, further solidifies my stance. I also don’t know how this would work with multiple roots — are these suddenly now multiple brains? Not sold. However, the roots-as-brain hypothesis was at least interesting because it shares similarities with humans: we have our brains and many sensory organs in our heads and our reproductive system is further away, something many plants also exhibit in their root-brain/flower-gonads setup.

... and this is precisely what one of the most memorable images of the documentary humorously illustrates : ).

… and this is precisely what one of the most memorable images of the film humorously illustrates : ).

Delving deeper, let’s reexamine plants’ advanced evolution. An interesting moment occurs when a botanist curiously asks, “You try standing in cold water your whole life, with only that base and the sun as your nourishment — of course you need a few extra genes to help you out.” (this immediately had me thinking of all the great potential we’re only beginning to explore with biomimicry in design and technology, specifically in architecture and engineering). The explanation drawn is that plants and animals took different courses of evolution, reminding me slightly of the elves’ leaving in Tolkienian lore. You know, the noble, peaceful race leaving the bickering and violence of the more earthly beings behind it.

Is this really the best way of looking at things?

Is this really the best way of looking at things?

In any event, this fork-in-the-road hypothesis may be a useful model for research but it still leaves me with an unsettling question: why do we (predominantly thinking of the West here) need to divide everything into categories? Why can’t something just be on a gradient, or some other method of measurement? I feel this may have very positive outcomes not only in science, but in our own attitudes towards what we study, and towards the entire world and everyone in it in the end. I mean, it is no great secret that the father of taxonomy immediately used it to racist ends, well-meaning though it may have been. Perhaps moving away from this divide-and-conquer mentality would leave us less with the idea that what we study is also ours for the plundering.

"It was convenient"

“It was convenient”

This very “advanced evolution” of plants, combined with the realization that our consumption of them benefits everyone involved (eg: seed dispersal, horticulture) led me to a quick internal debate on vegetarianism. It seems plants depend largely on animals for their continued existence, forming a very healthy, simple symbiotic relationship where we care for them and they provide us with food. Why then, do we remain so hung up on carnism? There was that myth that we “need” meet for adequate nutrition, but this was formally busted by things like The China Study in 2005 and the American Dietetic Association in 2009.

How easy it is to become numb to this.

How easy it is to become numb to this.

We certainly have the technology and the abundance of alternative food resources to do otherwise. Meat husbandry, on the other hand, is laborious, resource-consuming, and naturally goes against our conscience. It produces some pretty horrendous practices, the cultivation of veal serving as a stark example. Tolstoy hits the nail square on the head when he remarks, “As long as there are slaughterhouses there will always be battlefields.” Ellen DeGeneres neatly summed all this up on the Katie Couric show, a sad combination of ignorance and apathy (unfortunately, the clip was taken down).

The final thought this entire experience led me to was Douglas Adams’ hilariously uncomfortable take on this very situation (Dawkins’ preamble gives a great context to the whole phenomenon). The reason I remembered this snippet was because this documentary I’ve just reviewed happily goes against Adams’ cow’s serious aside, that plants do not like to be eaten. From their co-evolution with more mobile lifeforms, and their amazing adaptability and cooperation, it actually seems that the opposite is true, that they indeed want to be eaten, because this ensures them a successful progeny! But the point about animals not wanting to be eaten couldn’t get any clearer. Here, have a look for yourself. See at what moment you start to feel uncomfortable:

And lastly, tying in to the above thought, underlining it even, is a new favourite YouTuber I’ve found, Jared Rydelek, aka the Weird Fruit Explorer (because he intelligently and comprehensively reviews just that). Recent favourites include the star apple, almond fruit, and a thing called monstera deliciosa… which looks like what would happen if an ear of corn and a pineapple had a baby, then sent it to daycare with pine cones where the teacher was a banana. You’ll just have to see it to believe it. Other goodies found via related videos were ice cream beans (think cotton candy meets a vanilla banana… yes, a vanilla banana) and a horned melon that looks like an even split between a grapefruit, a cucumber, and Bowser from Super Mario. Interest in all this first piqued when Filipino clients kept telling me of all the wonderful fruits they have back home and, well, I started googling. It boggles my mind that we, as a whole, global culture, have not moved on beyond meat with delicacies like these literally sprouting out of the ground!

Clockwise from top: star apples, almond fruit, ice cream bean, horned melon, and monstera deliciosa.

Now for a quick rating: . Half a star each for character and plot development (interesting but not exactly gripping apart from the few scenes of carnivorous plants at mealtime), a well as for complexity (losing points for jumping to conclusions with the whole “plants have memory” bit, or at least not explaining it very well). Original? You betcha. Full star, plus ¼ because of all the mental rabbit-trails it led me on. Recommendable? Definitely, but only to sciency or polymath friends. ¼. Overarching final thought? “Eat plants, they want it!”




Lollipop!

How I felt when originally diving into this issue.

Despite previous speed bumps, I successfully updated my Nexus 4 to Lollipop Paranoid Android! There were many hiccups along the way, most notably an “Unfortunately, <random Google programs> have stopped working” error, and my accidentally deleting everything from my phone in a fit of frustrated curiosity (a dangerous blend) — including all backups, cache, Dalvik cache, and system files — including even the OS! Yowch.

Neat for the first hour...

Neat for the first hour…

This all started because I wiped all back-ups, intending (but neglecting) to make a fresh one in the process. This meant I had to do a complete reformat, manually resetting  everything to factory settings via flashing a factory image on my device… all this before I could even think of installing PA. As I tried this a few times, my phone would continuously get stuck in a bootloop cycle — entering the animation screen with all the floating colourful dots and staying there for hours. So I killed the process (held the power button until the device powered off — about 5s), entered recovery mode (holding power+volume down buttons until the recovery screen showed up), and then started from scratch… and here’s how I did it.

Manually flashing stock Nexus factory image

Note: first, I tried the instructions laid out here, but they didn’t work very well. Still, a very comprehensive resource maybe useful for someone else.

  1. Install Minimal ADB and Fastboot to your computer.
  2. Download the appropriate factory image (Nexus 4 v5.1.1). Extract files as needed to your Minimal ADB and Fastboot folder.
  3. Follow steps 4-onward here. Note: Enter commands correctly, even if this means typing the same word twice.
  4. Let the phone reboot (may happen automatically, despite the guide saying you need to do so manually). This took about 10m of the flying circles… I just waited.
  5. Trying to enter recovery mode from here just leads to a screen with the Android robot on its back with a yield sign above… this is okay, this just means the phone is in true factory stock format. Success!

Unlocking, rooting, and flashing a custom recovery on the phone

  1. Power the phone on. Enable Developer options menu and USB debugging mode. Connect it to your comp via USB. If something gets stuck along the way, a common fix is dis- and reconnecting the phone.
  2. Download the latest TWRP custom recovery file appropriate for your phone (twrp-2.8.7.0-mako.img for me). Put this file inside your Minimal ADB and Fastboot folder. You can also use CWM but, having used both, I prefer the UI of TWRP.
  3. Enter recovery on the phone. This wasn’t working for me until I disconnected the USB and held volume up+volume down+power buttons at once. Luckily, the phone showed it was already unlocked.
  4. Reconnect USB. Return to the Minimal ADB folder, select MAF.exe (or just return to the command window you were using before if it’s still open), and type in fastboot flash recovery twrp-2.8.7.0-mako.img, replacing the img file’s name to reflect the one you’re using.
  5. Enter Recovery Mode on your phone (don’t simply reboot). Here I was met with a TWRP official screen asking if I wanted to allow it to make modifications to my phone. I did.
  6. Make a backup!!!
  7. Reboot your device. At this point, TWRP said my device wasn’t rooted but that downloading SuperSU would take care of this. I allowed this.

 Flashing a custom ROM

I’m going with Paranoid Android though CyanogenMod is the more popular option. I just had PA for years now and it kind of grew on me. I probably will experiment with CM soon though.

  1. I downloaded PA v5.1 and pico GApps to have as minimal a Google footprint as possible, transferring both files via USB to my phone’s main directory.
  2. Enter into Recovery mode. Perform a factory reset under “Wipe”.
  3. Hit “Install”, flashing first the ROM and then the GApps files. Reboot system. At this point I was asked to install SuperSU again; I did. Once your phone reboots, you’ll have to finish the SuperSU installation process. And there you have it, you’re basically done!
  4. I missed the gestures-to-type function since the Google Keyboard wasn’t installed (pico really is minimal), so I installed and activated that separately, directly on my device once it was booted. There are several other add-on modules available as well.
  5. Lastly, I copied the whole TWRP recovery folder to my computer, just in case.

Ugh, finally.

Ugh, finally.

The main thing I learned during this process: always confirm you have backups before making any changes!

But, overall, I’m happy things turned out this way because I learned a lot, and I had wanted to give my phone a proper app cleaning for some time now anyway. In the end, I was able to tame the rage bear from the previous post. All’s well that ends well : ).




Intouchables

The Intouchables (1:48, 2010, 8.6, 75|93%) is a French drama based on the real events of a rich quadriplegic and his unlikely, tough immigrant caregiver. A strange name, but this is just because the original French title was left untranslated (meaning “untouchables”). This is a nod to how both the disabled and immigrants are often looked upon by the rest of society, be it due to disgust or to uncertainty, or to a well-meaning but ultimately too-gentle-to-be-useful approach. This review marks the first non-sports themed movie I’m reviewing, but the elements it touches on are clearly the same ones seen in the world of sport and exercise psychology, so this theme is conserved.

The movie starts with an endearing clip of Driss, a black Frenchman with a no nonsense attitude, barging in on the interview process of potential caregivers for the white quadriplegic, Philippe. Dismantling racist attitudes, you’d think right away, would be at the core of this movie — especially this idea of someone from the ‘hood turning the white collar life of the local rich suburb upside-down. Not so.

Sincerity: often the missing element in therapy.

Sincerity: often the missing element in therapy. Here, Driss does his share to fix the problem.

This movie is mostly focused on just one simple truth: that therapy is often too bundled up in theory and sensitivity, and not on treating the patient as a person, to be maximally effective. It reminded me of an Invisibilia podcast I once listened to, where they put the whole idea of “dis”-ability on its head. The whole thing is well worth a listen, but the bottom line is that society’s expectations of a disabled person being unable to do something are exactly what contributes — if not outright creates — the disability. The classic example is that of Daniel Kish, a blind man who leads a surprisingly “normal” life:

Returning to The Intouchables, Driss ends up getting hired, going through some typical growing pains — as expected from the vast difference between his before and after socioeconomic statuses, and — outside some sexism, a surprise homosexual twist, and a few otherwise cheesy elements, does his caregiver job extremely well. The issue of countertransference isn’t brought up at all, but then Driss isn’t a trained professional. Still, his form of sincere therapy, and of not babying his patient, is what I found most worth noting in this film. After working in physical rehab for close to ten years, this is the biggest element I find missing from it all.

Ratings? ★★. Character and plot development are fairly stereotypical, so only half a point across the two. Complexity and originality also suffer, receiving only half a point each, with an additional half-point because it’s in French, which is always fun hearing. Recommendability? A full point — another great family night favourite, or something for a high school or junior year university health studies class.




Black Swan

Black Swan (1:48, 2010, 8.0, 87|84%) is an American psychological thriller about Nina, a New York ballerina working until she bleeds to first land — and then perform — the main role of Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The film is very heavy and quite dark, and in the end you have trouble sifting through the fantasy for bits of reality. It touches on some very difficult topics — from painful career-ending transitions (age), to vicarious, authoritarian parenting, to the use of drugs and alcohol to take the edge off extreme pressure at the highest levels of sport. It is this last that gets fully explored in this dark thriller.

Nina: cracking from within.

Nina: cracking from within.

Nina is a meticulous dancer, perfect in training and discipline, but she lacks the “spark” needed to perform magnificently. She must dance two roles for the show: that of the perfect White Swan, as well as that of the passionate Black Swan. In trying to lose herself to passion in performing this second — literally becoming the swan she is to emulate — she suffers tremendous psychological trauma… ergo the trouble pulling fantasy apart from reality as the film rolls on. Added to this are the mixings of awakening and letting run sexual desires (including for her trainer, as well as for her co-dancer on a much more subconscious level), the pressures of her mother (herself an accomplished dancer who gave up her passion to deliver and care for her daughter), and the threat she feels every moment she walks in the change room (amid whispers of old age darting around her like flies).

This movie was excellent in throwing me right into its feel. Every time a character danced, I felt as if I was dancing with them — as if I were the partner at the end of their outstretched hand. I felt threat in a way I hadn’t since I’d watched the traumatizing Irréversible years back… the camera’s wide, throbbing sweeps, the pulsating, ominous tones of havoc just about to break free as Nina’s psyche cracks, the brutal whispers of mouths cackling at her perceived ineptitude and inevitable demise. Amazing. The dark, pink backdrop of her bedroom was also great in underpinning her stunted, ballet-focused identity. It seemed she had become stuck in her sport so much that the rest of her identity didn’t even exist. Her bedroom became something of a metaphor for this situation: it is pink and frilly, much as you’d expect any small girl’s who loves princesses and dolls. However, it is always softly and poorly lit, as if the tendrils of darkness coming in from its edges were some sort of palpable foreshadowing of the pressure that she feels caving in on her little world. Natalie Portman plays Nina superbly well; a small girl trapped in her small world and wanting to give it her all because, well, it is all she has.

Nina's room, unsafe and unnaturally dark.

Nina’s room, unsafe and unnaturally dark.

Ratings? ★¼. Characters are full but the plot is a bit confusing and heavy for me — half point for the first and a ¼ for the second. I don’t like unclear films so only a ¼ star for complexity (I didn’t fully know what was real and what was in her head), but a full point for originality. Lastly, recommendability. Here, only a quarter point as it’s too heavy for anyone who doesn’t like diving into negativity, or who isn’t dealing with the same problems as Nina. However, it would be a good watch for coaches so they can have something on hand for athletes going through extreme pressure.




Stats 101

I have but three requirements between now and graduation: a 450h practicum (halfway done), a thesis (kind of started), and… a final stats assignment. This post is a tutorial for this last one. First though, two quick notes facilitating all that follows. First, you can easily toggle from viewing names to labels via “Options”, making finding variables much easier. Secondly, computing a new variable is easily managed via the “Transform” menu.

Chronbach’s Alpha

Lee Joseph Cronbach

Lee Joseph Cronbach

First named in 1951 by the American educational psychologist, Lee Cronbach, he called this reliability test coefficient just “α” with the intention of continuing describing further coefficients after it. He never got around to this, probably because of his busy schedule teaching at Stanford and presiding over the APA. Still, this coefficient eventually took on his name.

Chronbach’s α measures if several items on a questionnaire all are measuring the same characteristic. This is based on the assumption that, if indeed they are, their answers will be related to each other. Running this test through SPSS it is not only possible to see the Chronbach’s α measurement for the whole group together, but also how this value would change should any individual item be removed from the calculation. General consensus says an adequate value is anything over .7, while an optimal value is anything over .8. Here is how you would do it in SPSS:

As an example, you may have five questions meant to measure anxiety. You run a Chronbach’s α reliability test and find the result to be .65. You then scroll through the results and see that deleting number three would boost your α score to .85. This means you should consider not using question three in your analysis because it doesn’t seem to be measuring anxiety. If your α score is negative, then this shows a very week correlation between all scale items, meaning they may actually be measuring different things.

ANOVAs

Ronald Fisher

Ronald Fisher

The analysis of variance was first used in an 1918 paper on genetics by the English biologist, Ronald Fisher. Prior to this, statistics only compared raw values for correlations, and not how these values’ variations from their means might also match up.

A one-way ANOVA is used to measure the mean effects of one independent variable across three or more groups divided by one dependent variable (“way” refers to the number of independent variables involved). Eg: A class of students is divided into three groups and each group is asked to mentally recite one of three self-talk scripts for a minute: “I can do it”, “I should do it”, and “I must do it”. After this, each student runs 100m and results are gathered to see which self-talk script resulted in what average finishing time.

Factorial ANOVAs, on the other hand, measure a combination of independent variables on a dependent variable (only two-way ANOVAs are really used because of the complexity of interpreting the results of anything beyond this). Factorial ANOVAs also determine the presence of interaction effects, or the incidences of one independent variable’s input changing based on that of the second independent variable. In our example above, a two-way ANOVA could be used to measure the effects of self-talk scripts and gender on completing the sprint. It is possible that on average, everyone performs best with the first script, but that (upon closer analysis) men perform best with the last script, while women perform best with the first (voilà interaction effect). Again, SPSS instructions follow:

And this is all for now. By some miracle I finished the assignment, with the help of a great friend and a great book: Julie Pallant’s SPSS Survival Manual. Andy Fields’ Discovering Statistics using IBM SPSS Statistics was also recommended, but I just didn’t have the time or energy to properly dive into that one.




My Erasmus Mundus

In a nutshell, this was the past two years of my life.

My two-year Erasmus Mundus program is rapidly coming to a close. This adventure has taken me through a big chunk of Europe and has taught me more than I ever thought possible. I’ve raved over this program before (as well as writing summary posts about many of our profs: Schneider, Côté, Watt, Hagger, Smith, Van Raalte (1, 2), Hanrahan (1, 2), Weinberg, Dawson, Wright), so here I’m simply posting a few of my favourite videos from the past two years. More can be found on Vimeo. First, well, our first days upon arriving in Greece.

Then of course there were the pains of integrating into a new culture.

Trikala being the small, isolated town it was, we quickly became something like local celebrities.

When we moved to Leipzig for our term abroad, things went from “there’s no way life can get better right now” to “omigoodness it totally has, how is this even possible!?!”:

One of the best parts of our Leipzig period was certainly the access we had to top-notch professors from the world over. Here, Stephanie Hanrahan leads a disability seminar:

… where students took to the exercises like fish to water:

Traveling through Europe is a big part of the Mundus initiative, and cultural immersion bigger still. Here Tom teaches Iris some Dutch, which sounds just enough like her native German to prohibit her from taking him seriously.

Lastly, my EMSEP adventure wound down to a close with a very warm pre-Christmas Christmas in the same Big Apartment where it all started in late 2013.

And that’s it. Now I sit here — an official sport psych intern with the national Polish rowing team at Gdańsk University — reflecting on how much a different person I am from the eager greenhorn who left for Yellowknife midsummer three years back. Back then my goal was simple: miraculously make enough money to make ends meet in Europe. But so much more has happened than just this!

Now I am slowly readying myself for writing this thesis, the only real thing standing between me and convocation. Life has taken so many twists and turns and has served up so many surprises that I don’t even know what to say. What I can say — and this without even a glimmer of a shadow of doubt — is a heartfelt thank-you. Thank you, Trikala; thank you, Leipzig; thank you, Lund and Jyväskylä; but above all, thank you, EMSEP and all the faces behind this marvellous program. Were it not for you my life wouldn’t be nearly so exciting and chock-full of opportunity and friends and knowledge and understanding as it now is.

Ευχαριστώ πολύ, und lebt wohl, bis wir uns wiedersehen : ).

2014.12.7 Goodbye, Trikala




Lollipopping my KitKat

This is something of an update to a post I wrote a few months back about unbricking my Nexus 4. I did end up getting it working in the end, if you’d like to just directly skip to that post instead.

Updating my Nexus 4

Seemed easy enough...

Seemed easy enough…

I noticed since Google rolled out with the new Lollipop 5.0 update, my Nexus 4 (still running the old Paranoid Android ROM, KitKat 4.4) would chew up my data plans. Like just today I went through a whole gigabyte. Ouch. After letting this go on for a few months and just learning to live only by WiFi, I finally came along a forum post that explained it all. Quickly, my phone was constantly trying to upgrade to Android 5.0 but, running a custom ROM, would just download the ~150MB update, fail to install it, delete it, and then try again. And again. And again. So I decided to not wait for the official Paranoid Android 5.0 release and just flash the Alpha version right away, to save big on data at the very least.

This initially seemed a super easy task: first, make sure you do a backup of your current system. I used Team Win Recovery Project. Then download the ROM and GApps and transfer them to your phone’s SD card via USB, in the main directory. Next, turn off your phone and boot it into Recovery Mode. In the TWRP menu that opens select “Wipe” and then swipe to Factory Reset. This done, return to the main menu and select “Install”. Navigate to the bottom of the list and install your ROM first, then GApps next. Now reboot and you shouuuld be done…

Bugs

This is how I felt. This stuff shouldn't happen!

This is how I felt. This stuff shouldn’t happen!

During my initial process, I was told my device wasn’t rooted, and then asked if I wanted to install SuperSU. I did. Everything seemed to work upon booting, so I tried to manually delete previous backups I had made via USB docking to my laptop. After this whole process, I noticed a few bugs (eg: photos and screenshots weren’t recorded, I wasn’t able to manually drag and drop files to or from my device via USB, I couldn’t properly download Threema from their store). So I redid this entire process, this time ignoring the prompt to install SuperSU. The same bugs were present.

… so I performed the whole process yet again, this time also performing an advanced wipe on both the cache and Dalvik Cache (as suggester here), and installing SuperSU when prompted. This somewhat cleared the photo problem… I was able to drag photos from my device to my computer and to manually delete them from my Nexus 4 via USB, but they still wouldn’t show up in my phone’s Gallery.

I then installed, re-installed, and re-reinstalled everything in all sorts of orders and configurations, with many tweaks here and there. Ultimately, GApps just stopped installing, so I took a break from it all. Thank goodness for my backups!

Final decision

I felt it should have went something like this.

I felt it should have went something like this.

I opted for waiting for the non-Alpha Paranoid Lollipop release. After dedicating two days to reviewing forums I just didn’t have any more time to dedicate to this issue. Until then, I’ll continue running Paranoid Android 4.4.4, which I think is the latest (and last) version of KitKat, and will simply restrict Google Play services from running on data. This isn’t ideal as I’ll have to open the majority of my chatting apps to check for messages (their notifications get blocked under these settings), but this in itself isn’t a tragedy.

... but in the end, it was a lot more like this.

… but in the end, it was a lot more like this.

Going forward, I will also ensure I have the latest TWRP and SuperSUs installed.The TWRP was quite easy to update: I downloaded the ROM Installer app from the Play store, then clicked on “Flash Recovery” in the main menu and selected the latest version (though I will likely uninstall ROM Installer because it keeps requesting superuser access…).

SuperSU was also easy: I downloaded it from the Play store, and then updated it by granting it superuser access when prompted. I then rebooted my device directly from SuperSU and made a backup. This way I at least don’t have to worry about entering some godforsaken bootloop limbo as in the post that started this whole adventure. Oh what a pain that was.

Update: After much effort, I finally got it working!