Laboratory experiments, text editing and sports

Last week we had our first laboratory session at the university. We were given the task of measuring the mass of a lump of play-dough without using a laboratory scale. We did the obvious thing and measured the spring constant of a light spring using known masses. After that we measured the displacement caused by the play-dough hanging on the spring to calculate its mass.

The experiment was simple and the first of six we’ll be doing this autumn. For me the main aim was to learn more about using Latex for scientific writing and getting familiar with additional tags and commands. It took me over eight hours to write the report, but it was well worth it. Writing these first reports with Latex will make the work all the more easier when the experiments and subjects become more complex and I need more time to concentrate on the subject matter. In addition, I found writing with Latex more concentrated since one can separate formatting from subject matter. This aspect is often mentioned as an advantage of Latex over word processors like Microsoft Word but one must experience it firsthand to appreciate it. Using Latex allows one to write in a more concentrated manner and produce text uninterruptedly, when formatting is not done on the fly and the formatting of the text does not keep changing continuously in real time.

During the last weeks I’ve also returned back to bouldering and done some bicycling, both of which I have enjoyed very much. Making a 30 kilometer tour on a bike in the fresh autumn air in the early morning is very energizing. Bouldering is also very enjoyable after a six-month break. I like to think how to use my body’s joints and limbs to maximize leverage and make my way to the top as easy as possible. Yesterday I was again climbing and was pleasantly surprised how I was able to read the pattern of the grips and plan a good way of climbing the route in front of me. After a few tries I was able to refine my approach and reach the top without too much effort and using good technique. Now I have to improve my grip strength and endurance to be able to climb more demanding routes. At the moment I am capable of climbing routes with ratings around 6B to 6C.

Trying out dancemeditation

For the past week, my yoga teacher has been giving daily sessions in a nearby castle. In castle Werdenberg a one week cultural event (“Schlossmediale”) consisting of music, visual arts and various performances is held each June. It was in this event that I was introduced to yoga in 2014, and the following year I learnt to know my current yoga instructor there.

Yesterday was the last day of this year’s Schlossmediale, and instead of a yoga section our teacher had planned and prepared dancemeditation.  I had never heard the term before, but she had told us that it would be free dancing, letting yourself move as you felt fit. When I heard about this, my immediate thoughts were: “I don’t like dancing, but I like meditation. I also like how our yoga teacher encourages us to experiment and try new things. I also want to challenge myself, get out of my comfort zone, so I must go to this dancemeditation.”

Aversion to dancing

Before telling about the dancemeditation, I include here a few words about my relationship to dancing. I have never liked dancing, period. I can manage the regular waltz, and in upper secondary school we had a ball to which we practiced some old dances, and I did like that since there were clear steps, instructions, a way to dance right, and we practiced it all. But dancing at a night club, in a disco, that has always eluded me. I remember always thinking in such events: “How do I dance right? What should I do? What’s the choreography? How does one improvise well?” Additionally I have always disliked not being able to do something well. That’s probably just part of the human condition, but I think that in my case this feeling is more pronounced. There are people who are more willing to try new things, even if they might fail. But for me failure was always a monster. I would be afraid of what others might think about me, how they would judge me and my skills, how they might laugh at me. In conclusion, taking part in the dancemeditation was something I wouldn’t have done in the past. But having become more independent in my thinking, increasingly willing to experiment and having less fear of failure, I decided to go, and it was worth it.

Dancemeditation

The session started with us all standing still, eyes closed and listening to some rhythms from the loud speakers, while a voice told us to go through our body parts, move them, feel them and let the rhythm take us. We started with moving our head, changing our focus to the shoulders, spine, hips and over the knees finally getting to the feet. After this roughly five-minute warm up the actual dance meditation started. It was a compilation of pop songs and ethnic music with very pronounced rhythms, to which you could easily dance.

After the warm up I felt that it might turn out quite nice, moving as I felt fit, not observing others and not being judged or evaluated by them. Initially, however, I was reluctant to open my eyes; I was still insecure of my own dancing, moving my body, hips and feet while swinging and moving my hands and arms without a clear purpose or plan. First I kept my eyes closed, but after the first songs, I had this feeling of just doing my own thing, not caring about the others. They were in the same room, I could see them and feel them, yet each one of us was his own world, moving in harmony between other similar worlds, yet being unaffected by them.

What also helped me is the fact that I am shortsighted and I had taken my eyeglasses off on purpose to prevent myself from seeing so well. That helped me pay less attention to others, since I had no way of figuring out where exactly they were looking at. Since I had no way of knowing whether they were looking at me and evaluating my dancing, which I am sure they weren’t doing, I could let go more easily and not think about the other people in the room.

Experiencing the joy of dance

Had some old friend or relative seen me there on the floor, they might have been surprised. Since it’s no secret that I don’t like dancing and don’t dance, seeing me shuffle my feet, twisting my hips, jiggling at the knees, bouncing up and down while throwing my arms in the air would surely have made them ask, what I had been drinking.

The dancing went on for about an hour, and after that I was so glad I had done it. This must have been the first time in my life that I have enjoyed dancing freely, not thinking about what I should do, but just doing what I feel like doing, following the music. Actually, I think this was the first time I have done so. What I found interesting was the effect music had on us all. When the song changed, people did similar changes to the way they would dance. Not just regarding tempo and rhythm, but also the specific instruments and the presence or absence of vocals seemed to have a similar impact on all dancers. I was stunned by this observation a couple of times when I, dancing with my eyes closed at the moment, opened them up as the song changed and saw how others had changed their movement patterns in ways similar to mine.

Before we started, our yoga teacher told us how she finds children so inspirational when it comes to dancing. They haven’t had the time to develop the mental constraints and fears that adults have: fear of being judged, thinking what others might think and so on. She encouraged us to express (Ausdruck in German) ourselves instead of presenting what has been imprinted (Aufdruck in German) on us by others. This a very good piece of advice to follow, if you want to do things you like instead of doing things others like.

When we were dancing in that hall in the castle, 20 or so people each to himself, I felt pure joy, listening to the music, feeling the vibration of the lower bass sounds and feet thumping on the floor, moving my body and swinging my limbs without a move being wrong, being taken away by catchy guitar playing, the amusing lyrics of the songs bringing a smile on my face. I felt like a child and I felt like dancing.

Sports and national pride

Some time ago I was still somewhat skeptical towards the national pride people feel during international sports events: countries playing against each other, trying to win and beat the opponent, shooting goals, scoring points and so on. I felt that such national pride was a step towards a more extreme national feeling, one that might end up in nations and people waging war and trying to obliterate one another. At the same time I felt that at least in sports the national pride is channeled in a less harmful way than in the event of open war, sports hooligans being the exception.

When the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament started in the beginning of July, I noticed two things in my hometown. First, people with their origins in different countries were driving around with their national flags fluttering on their car tops and side mirrors. Second, people of different nationalities were driving in the same line and seemed to be enjoying themselves in the spirit of the ensuing sports competition.

This made me adjust my opinion on the national feeling brought about by sports. That feeling is a healthy feeling, as long as it involves respectful behavior against others and is about coming together, regardless of nation and origin, showing others the best sides of me, being proud of my and my country men’s good qualities and admiring the good qualities in others. It is just wonderful how people of different nationality and origin can, in a foreign country, openly express their background and cheer for their home country. Contrasting this with the national feeling usually felt during war made me realize, how different the two situations are. I find it more difficult to imagine people showing their background and nationality in a foreign country during wartime, especially if their country of residence and their home country are not allied, not to mention on the opposing sides.

During war time it would be difficult to try to show your good qualities in a foreign country and being appreciative of those of others, if you in fear of being identified as an outsider do not want to stand out. But during peace time you and your country men can show through sports how good people you are, how well you treat others, co-operate with and respect others and how skilled you are. Then you use that national pride to stand out of the crowd and improve the lives of those around you.

Sports brings people together and helps us accept each other just as we are, without paying too much attention to the differences between us, rather accepting everyone as they are and embracing them and their contribution to the society. Sports helps us form stronger bonds and use those in other areas of life to achieve greater deeds together than we could alone.

Season final at Gams

Last weekend hour sports association finished the competition season at the Rheinthaler Turfest in Gams. In our category we finished 2nd. Although there were only 2 teams in our category, our score shows that we would have placed among the top ten, or even top five, in the neighboring categories as well. It just happened to be that we had too few participants in our team to make it to the highest category, but also too many to compete in the lower categories that had up to over 30 teams each. Regarding the final score, we achieved our goal of 27 points or more, or an average of nine out of ten.

Unfortunately, I could not participate since I sprained my lower back the evening before. Luckily, it turned out to be just a prolonged and very hard muscle cramp. Nevertheless, it prohibited me from participating in the competition, but a team member jumped in to substitute me, so my absence didn’t cost the team any points. A good team is prepared for absences even on the day of the competition.

Now it’s time to enjoy summer without thinking about competitions and soon start preparing for the next season. After the show is before the show.

Leubergcup 2016

As previously mentioned, I will be posting some pictures from our competitions this season. Last Saturday we participated in Leubergcup in Zuwil. We did quite ok, placing 4th out of 11 in gymnastic, 6th out of 13 in flying rings and 12th out of 20 teams in 80 m relay We can still improve next weekend in Gampel and am sure that we wild, now that we have the first competition of the season behind us and have gotten in the groove.

Unfortunately the pictures I took with my mobile phone were quite bad so I’ll be adding links to photographs taken by my friends, as soon as the pictures are uploaded on our sports club’s website. Anyway, here two pictures taken by me to give you an idea of the event. I especially like the tradition of bringing the club flags to the event and having them present, whenever a club’s team is completing an event. It gives a nice touch of dignity to the whole event that in itself is very relaxed though competitive.

Flags at Leubergcup 2016
Flags at Leubergcup 2016
Flying rings at Leubergcup 2016
Flying rings at Leubergcup 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Edited on 29.5.2016: Added link to the photos on our sports club’s website.

Starting the competition season

The season for the country-wide competitions on gymnastics, track and field and some other sports is nearing. During the next five weeks, larger and smaller competitions will take place all over the country, the largest ones bringing in thousands of people to small villages to compete, follow the competition and spend warm summer days in good company. Our sports association will be taking part in three competitions: Leubergcup next weekend in Zuwil, Oberwalliser Turfiest in Gampel the weekend after that. For us the season will reach its high point in Rheintaler Turnfest mid-June in Gams.

Last year our sports association was awarded at the Leubergcup for participating in each of the 25 annual competitions having taken place that far, and this year we are the 26th time there. I will be taking some photos and will upload them to the blog for some impressions. I am hoping for good weather and counting on good performance and lots of fun.

Slow-up

Last weekend I participated to the May 1st Slow-up event. During Slow-up a section of the main streets are closed for motorized traffic for one day, forming a bike route between the participating cities and towns.

The Slow-up I participated in consisted of a 40 kilometer route between multiple towns. Although the weather was rainy, many people participated and spent part of their Sunday riding the route by bike and enjoying the other activities and the food and refreshments organized along the route by local producers, shops and associations.

I only completed part of the route and by foot, so I had some time to think, and I asked myself, what it would take to slow-up on a more permanent basis: How could we make streets less crowded without having negative side effects? Since for example in the EU road transport corresponds to about 73% of the total person kilometer and to about 50% of the total tonne-kilometers, reducing this traffic is no trivial task, since it is the backbone of modern logistics. However, the optimist asks, how to reduce road traffic by replacing it or making part of it redundant, while the pessimist only sees the threats to modern logistics. How to reduce and replace transport of goods and people on the road to make the unavoidable use of the roads more pleasant?

I will be writing a related post to this subject to briefly discuss the incentives and mechanisms in making roads less crowded.

EU Transport in Figures: Statistical Pocketbook 2015
EU Transport in Figures: Statistical Pocketbook 2015

Nationalities and athletic performance for sale

Reading the newspapers this weekend, I spotted an article on a topic that has gone under my radar: buying athletes to gain success in international sports competitions. With buying of athletes I am not referring to illegal bribery, but to the practice of sponsoring a foreign athlete and having him consequently change his official nationality to that of the sponsoring country. This practice is nothing new, but has become more prevalent in recent years, as nations want more fame and fortunes. It is not just countries looking for the best talents but also athletes trying to find the best opportunitiesSome voices say that these practices of nationality and athlete shopping are worrying, if not outright morally wrong.

A knee-jerk response to the question on the fairness of these practices might be to condemn them as immoral since sports is about fair competition between nations and should be not driven by motives other than the joy of sport and competition.

When looking at such a counter-argument, as I present above, for trading athletic skills for money, it seems to be on shaky grounds. What is fair competition? Why should sports be done only for the joy of sport and competition? Yet another question is, if it is even relevant or desirable for nations or countries to compete against each other in sports. I will briefly discuss each of these questions and after that, I will draw the argument together with some analogies to the business world.

Sports and fair competition

If we say that sports, and especially sport competitions between nations, should be fair, I suppose we are requiring equal chances to win, equal chances to exploit potential or something similar. Without going too deep into a philosophical discussion on fairness, I just want to point out that even the concept of fairness is vague and not unlikely to vary between individuals. It is obvious that everyone prefers a “good” or “successful” life to a “bad” or “unsuccessful” one. Yet, we are not equally successful. But whether the observed inequalities are fair or unfair, is not always to decide. For those interested, I recommend reading John Rawls who has intensively studied fairness. In reading Rawls, it becomes clear that even equal chances to use our natural talents may not be fair. Thus, the requirement of fairness in sports would need a more rigorous definition to provide a good argument. In any case, I would claim that it is acceptable to pursue activities which you like, are good at and for which people are ready to pay.

Sports for the sake of sportsmanship

One argument against countries’ buying athletes into their national teams and athletes shopping for better prospects might be the concept of sportsmanship, the idea that sports is something pure and pursued just for its own sake. My immediate counter question is, why it should be so.

Many of us do sports, gymnastics, weightlifting, horseback riding, running, skiing and so on. Some of us train for health and fitness or to challenge our own limits. Some train for competitions where they can measure their skills against those of others. I’m inclined to think that many of these reasons belong or at least relate to the concept of sportsmanship, but they might just as well be goals on their own merit. We may play football on a Sunday afternoon with our friends just for fun, to spend time and rejuvenate from the hard workweek. But even then, I would argue, the purpose of the football game is to mingle with friends, recuperate and regain strength. These are stronger motives than just playing football for footballs sake.

The aspects of respect, ethics and fairness related to sportsmanship play a role in how we treat others during sports, but shouldn’t we always treat others with respect and according to high ethical standards? If we are to use these ideals to limit the number of ways how sports is to be pursued, why shouldn’t we also apply them in other areas of life? Why would it be any more acceptable for an office worker to move abroad after a better job and eventually change his nationality than for an athlete? I would argue that it is in both cases acceptable to maximize the benefits you can gain from using your skills, assuming that you are doing within the limits of the law.

Finally, the concept of fairness is still somewhat vague, so the concept of sportsmanship leaves us without a solid argument against our question on nationality shopping.

Utility and the competition of nations

The Olympic games are maybe the best example of a sports event where nations stand to find out who runs faster, jumps higher and is the stronger one. Winning sports competitions gives good publicity for countries, abroad and domestically. The politicians of a country with troubles in its internal affairs may receive a welcomed boost for their image, if their home country is successful in the Olympic games or other high profile sports events. Likewise, the individuals winning the respective competitions gain publicity, receive fame and fortune and can hope for even better opportunities in the future, as advertisers want to use them to increase sales, or the athletes can use the publicity to become known professionals in other areas of life.

Winning sports events can be seen as a consumable good like anything else, and people (and nations) have different preferences for goods. For example, ice hockey is quite liked in the USA and Canada so those countries have a high interest in getting the best players into their national teams, although their domestic supplies are already ample enough. Analogously, in Germany football enjoys high popularity so Germany could be argued to have a high interest in getting good football players into its national team, although here again the domestic supply is high enough. The main point is that if a nation receives benefit from trading something else for better performance in a sports activity, within legal boundaries, it should not trouble other countries. If some countries are willing to make that trade, two countries benefit. There might arise externalities that reduce the utility of other countries, but that can take place whenever people change their home country. Therefore, athletes changing country or nationality should not be seen as a special problem when compared to people in other professions.

As the people in today’s world are connected with each other, and people from different countries work together, the old meaning and purpose of nationality seems less important. Does it then matter, if an athlete has little or no connections to the country he is representing? Companies hire consultants to work for them, mainly to benefit from the consultant’s expertise. Companies also cooperate with celebrities for marketing purposes, paying for the use of a celebrity’s fame in hopes for increased sales. But these consultants or celebrities do not necessarily have any deeper connection to the company that is just one client among others. Likewise, an athlete could treat a country as a client, who buys his services in hopes of increased fame, visibility and financial benefits.

Pursuing talent in sports and business

We often hear about successful companies and their managers, but the home countries of these companies are less often at the center of the view. Countries may of course provide good policies, legislation and infrastructure for companies to flourish, but it is in the end the company that gets the most credit for its own success. Why shouldn’t this be the case with athletes? Furthermore, why shouldn’t countries try to get the best athletes into their teams and athletes go and grasp the best possibilities they are offered?

Countries try to get companies to invest in them, and individuals take jobs in those companies and countries that give them the best prospects. Since an athlete’s job is to compete in sports and, at least to some degree, entertain the audience, why shouldn’t he look for the best possible employer and the best possible country for pursuing his profession? On the other hand, why shouldn’t a country try to improve its success in the field of sports by offering good working conditions for athletes and recruiting talents from abroad? If we still accept that everyone wants a good life and that it is acceptable to maximize the benefits from your profession and if we also add the premise that a good life entails some degree of material well being, the conclusion is that athletes should be allowed to change their nationalities if they are so better off. Likewise, countries should be allowed to offer athletes citizenships. This all of course assumes that the actions take place within the boundaries of the law.

Who gets the spoils?

One piece of criticism against athletes changing their citizenship is the fact that their parents may not be following them, but stay at their, possibly poorer, home country.

But don’t all parties benefit, if a young talented athlete represents a foreign country, is paid well and can use his money to help his parents in his poor home country? This same practice takes place among people who are doing other jobs, coming from poorer to richer countries and sending money back home to help their families.

Arguably the initial media publicity from winning a sports event and the ensuing benefits in reputation and the monetary goods go mainly to the country an athlete is representing, but depending on his contract the athlete may be able to represent his home country later on. And when asked about his background, the athlete is able to promote his original home country, so it is not obvious that the arrangement would not be beneficial to all.

Even if money is not the main question, an athlete is likely to benefit if he is able to train and compete more often with the best and learn from them. Being the only super star in a losing team may not be equally satisfying as being among the middle-class in the world’s best team. In addition, a team may benefit more than the new team member’s individual skill set might suggest, if there are benefits arising from complementary skills between the team members. The audience may also enjoy the following sports events even more when they see more exiting matches or their favorite team becomes more successful. Of course, such changes come at the expense of other teams losing and some athletes not being able to play in the vest teams. Therefore, these externalities would have to be smaller than the added benefits, if we are to claim the change as beneficial as a whole. But in any case I would not claim that athletes changing nationalities and countries going for foreign athletes in hopes of more success in sports is wrong or necessarily counter-productive.

The idea of talented people moving abroad to improve their quality of life is discussed in the newspapers every now and then. Countries have to stay competitive, i.e. offer their citizens the possibilities for a good life, in order to avoid too many talented people moving abroad. If too many move abroad, a country’s capability to offer good opportunities to future generations gets undermined, as the current generation has less talent at its disposal. Another question is, how prevalent such changes are. If most people stay in their original home country, the flow of people between countries should not excessively undermine any country’s future. Quite the contrary, like with international trade, people moving abroad is likely to be beneficial because talents meet, get pooled and are able to combine their efforts more effectively and efficiently. As discussed before, some countries may also have different preferences for different goods and different capabilities for producing those goods. Therefore athletes, and people in general, moving between countries to maximize their potential may not be just acceptable, but also recommendable, for the benefit of individuals and a nation.

Being a child again

Last Thursday I was sledging with some friends from our sports club, for the first time in my life. At my home country the terrain is not that hilly where I grew up, so sledging was never really an option. Actually, I had never even held one before. But at my current home there are plenty of places for sledging.

We had very good weather with the temperature a few degrees below zero centigrade and a clear sky with nearly full moon. You could see well even without any artificial lighting, although the torch was required to see the terrain before you clearly. Since we were sledging on a road that had clear spots without the ice cover, it was necessary to see those spots in advance to avoid a sudden stop and a following nose dive to the ground.

Speeding down the icy village roads under a clear night sky, having the road go through a patch of forest every now and then, it was all simply amazing. It was like being in a movie, when the children are out, playing and racing with their sleds. My friends were also very helpful and made sure that I got the hang of steering and breaking and did not lose the group. As the roads made their zigzag down hill through the sparsely housed landscape, one could have taken the wrong turn on a couple of intersections, had the others not waited for everyone to arrive and made sure that everyone took the right turn.

The sled that was so kindly lent to me by a friend from the sports club was a bit small for me, so during the forty-five-minute ride my quadriceps and hip flexors received an intensive workout as I had to hold my legs bent and just slightly touching the ground to steer and break.

The whole experience reminded me that first, simple things can be really fun and second, that in order to stay playful, creative and energetic, in order to stay childlike, we have to do things that children do and the way children do them. We have to play, be open and spontaneous, we have to let go of certain inhibitions and just do things.