Chris Worfolk's Blog


Caster Semenya, and hyperandrogenism

August 27th, 2016 | Sport

Caster_Semenya_2010_Memorial_Van_Damme

Caster Semenya is a South African athlete who recently won gold in the women’s 800m at the Rio 2016 Olympics. That should not be controversial, but it is, because she has hyperandrogenism.

Hyperandrogenism is a medical condition where you have an excess of testosterone in your body. Because testosterone helps you train harder and recover faster, it is on the banned substance list in athletics. If you get caught taking it, you will be banned from competing (unless you are Russian, of course).

Caster Semenya hasn’t been taking it: she just has incredibly high levels of it in her body. But other athletes claim it is unfair: they say no matter how hard they train, they can never compete with someone who has so much testosterone.

My view, is that that is tough luck.

Caster Semenya isn’t cheating. She is just naturally bigger, stronger and faster than other athletes. That is just how sport is. It has never been a meritocracy. You can train as hard as you want, you are never going to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint. When we take the top athletes in the entire world, of course they are both hard working and physically gifted.

I have been running for 25 years and I still can’t get my 5k time to within a few minutes of Mo Farah’s 10k time. No amount of training is going to make me faster than he is. However, for consideration, I have laid out the possible paths we could take.

Let Caster Semenya compete

This is the obvious one, and the one I favour, as outlined above.

Not let Caster Semenya complete

So now we’re banning anyone with hyperandrogenism competing because we’re confused about their gender? That’s obviously discriminatory.

Make Caster Semenya take medication

You know, like we did with Alan Turing to try and cure his homosexuality. We could give her pills to reduce her testosterone levels to a “reasonable” level.

This sounds like Kurt Vonnegut’s distopian short story Harrison Bergeron in which ballet dancers must wear weights, newsreaders must have stutters and smart people must be dumbed down. We will be giving Usain Bolt a drag parachute and removing large segments of basketball players legs so that I can compete in the NBA?

Do away with gendered sport

Instead of diving everyone into men and women, we could just allow everyone to compete in the same competition. Do away with discrimination and give everyone an equal opportunity.

Make Caster Semenya compete with the men

Which would be totally unfair, because she is a woman.

Have a new “we’re not sure” category

As well as having a men’s race and a women’s race, we could introduce a new intersex category that would allow the IAAF to parade around anyone who doesn’t exactly fit into their nice gender boxes.

Conclusion

Personally, I find all other possible routes out of this situation either ridiculous, or offensive, or in some cases both. Caster Semenya is a wonderful athlete and should be allowed to compete.

Expecting Better

August 26th, 2016 | Books, Parenting

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know is a book on pregnancy by economist Emily Oster. Oster is known for applying her economics to other fields having given a TED talk on re-thinking AIDs in Africa. During the pregnancy of her first child she got sick of uncited recommendations and decided to look at what the evidence really said.

Take alcohol for example. I wrote about alcohol and pregnancy last month. Oster’s review of the available evidence and theory behind alcohol use during pregnancy is that having up to one drink per day is fine after the first three months. Coffee gets the green light too.

There is no evidence that bed rest is beneficial for pregnant women. In fact it is quite the opposite: laying around for weeks or even months on end is likely to have a negative impact on the mother’s health. Aromatherapy provides no benefit either, but not everything is out the door: having a doula at the birth produces much better health outcomes.

With each topic, each stage of the pregnancy and each taboo, Oster reviews the available evidence and produces a short summary at the end of each chapter explaining what is safe and what is not. This is by far the most important book on pregnancy I have read.

expecting-better

Unelectable: A History of Jeremy Corbyn at the Polls

August 25th, 2016 | Politics

jeremy-corbyn

You won’t hear any protests from me when you call Jeremy Corbyn unelectable. What a joke the man is. He can’t afford a nice suite, and didn’t even have the decency to look flustered when asked to publish his tax return. What kind of politician is that?

That said, being skeptics, we like all that evidence and stuff. So I thought I would see if there is any evidence as to whether Jeremy is electable or not.

Year Election Result
1982 Islington North Labour Party candidate selection[1] Jeremy wins with 54% vote share
1983 General election[2] Jeremy wins with 40% vote share
1987 General election Jeremy wins with 50% vote share
1992 General election Jeremy wins with 57% vote share
1997 General election Jeremy wins with 69% vote share
2001 General election Jeremy wins with 62% vote share
2005 General election Jeremy wins with 51% vote share
2010 General election Jeremy wins with 55% vote share
2015 General election Jeremy wins with 60% vote share
2015 Labour Party leadership election[3] Jeremy wins with 60% vote share, in the first round of alternative voting

It probably comes down to personal opinion as to whether you think Jeremy Corbyn is electable or not. After all, it is all in the interpretation of the data. It’s just that, so far, he has won every single election he has ever contested in his entire political career, which started well before I was born.

Rio 2016 Olympics: a review

August 24th, 2016 | Sport

rio-2016

I have really enjoyed the Rio 2016 Olympics. London 2012 was pretty good: a spent a lot of time watching that too, but no where near as much as I spent watching Rio. My love of sport has grown over the past four years. This time I was watching it from 9am to midnight most days. I am exhausted from sitting around watching sport.

It helps that Team GB has completely nailed it. Without home advantage I assumed we would be unable to hold on to third place in the medals table. The predictions said we would match last time. But as things progressed, people asked question. Could we beat China? The answer was yes. We finished in second, our best performance for over one hundred years. The only time we have ever done better than third was when we came first at the 1908 London Olympics. We have never matched that away from home before.

Brazil did a good job overall, in my opinion. Their opening ceremony was okay, but if we have learned anything from Bejing and London, you probably do need to spend an obscene amount of money to make it mind-blowing. Despite the odd technical glitch, Rio did a wonderful job though. Compare this to #SochiProblems at the Winter Olympics two years ago, or the absolute disaster that was India’s attempt at hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Things were not perfect, but isn’t it better to give a developing country a chance and accept it isn’t going to be London?

Brazil’s support for the Paralympics has clearly fallen short of the mark, and I will not defend them on that count.

In some ways, the Olympics has also been depressing. I remember spending an afternoon watching dressage. I lay on my sofa, wishing I had the motivation to get up and sort my life out and get things done. But all I could do was lie there and watch more dressage, a sport I have very little interest in.

But for the most part it was just sport, amazing sport, and the Union Jack being hoisted up a flag pole again, and again, and again.

Swn y Don review

August 24th, 2016 | Reviews, Travel

swn-y-don

During our recent trip to Anglesey we stayed in a villa named Swn y Don in Cemaes Bay. It was a big place with a living room, dining area, large conservatory, two kitchens and five bedrooms.

conservatory

The coastal path runs right next to the garden so you get people walking right past. Not that they were interested in us, but it did mean we had to observe the rules about wearing swimwear while in the hot tub.

It made for a very nice view though.

view-from-garden

Beyond that there was a rocky cliff down to the water, so no access to the beach. You could walk down into the village if you wanted one.

Hot tub

The hot tub was really good. It was ready when we arrived and continued to work throughout our stay. The water was a little grimy by the end of the week, but we found the chlorination tablets to clean it up.

There was also a BBQ on the patio which was large and allowed us to cook for everyone. Both of these were advantages over Ullapool where we had to take our own BBQ and hot tub!

Connectivity

This was probably the biggest annoyance about the place. They had broadband, but we had to restart the router and modem several times a day to get it working. This would not have been so bad if I could get any photo data, but there was no signal anywhere on the property.

Kitchen

The kitchen was narrow and made for a bottleneck when someone was in there. However there were two fridges, a freezer and a wine cooler, meaning we had plenty of space for food and drink. The cooker was amazing! Five gas burners, including an extra large one, plus a separate grill and two ovens that became hot really quickly.

cooker

Cooking was sometimes a challenge because the kitchen was missing a lot of the tools I have at home. It had an electric whisk, but no soup pot or cake tin, and all the knifes were pretty blunt. All the doors had keys in them, which was really useful as we could all take different ones when we split up.

Summary

It is a beautiful house and a lovely location. I would definitely stay here again, especially if North Anglesey ever get some proper broadband and phone signal.

Should you organise teams around Dunbar’s number?

August 23rd, 2016 | Thoughts, Work

business-team

Oxford professor Robin Dunbar suggested that the maximum number of meaningful social connections a human can maintain is around 150. This is why some many traditional societies and communities are based around a group of roughly that size. Any bigger and the social connections break down, leading to a breakdown in cohesiveness and morality.

Recently this number has been adopted by the technical community. Those following Spotify’s Tribes model often aim to get a tribe below 150 people, and many co-working spaces are designed around having 150 tenants.

The problem is that this does not seem to make any sense to me. 150 is supposed to be the maximum number of total social connections you have. If I look at the connections I maintain it consists of family, friends, people I know from volunteering and community groups, and work colleagues. If we assume a roughly even split between the four of them, that means I can maintain a maximum of 37 meaningful relationships at work.

If your company is a cult, that requires you to terminate all contact with your former life when you join, 150 makes the perfect size for a team. However, assuming you are a normal company, 150 does not seem to be the magic number. Even if you say “Okay, but people do not need to know everyone in the tribe”, that’s fine, but 150 is still irrelevant as a number. The perfect team size is likely to be something else.

Social sharing buttons

August 22nd, 2016 | News, Websites

I hope you enjoy reading the things I publish on my blog. Chances are it is a mixed bag: some stuff you do enjoy, other stuff maybe less so. For those posts that you do enjoy, feel free to share them on your social media accounts.

To make this easier, I’ve added share buttons to the bottom of each post:

social-sharing-buttons

They only appear on the post page (if you click the title and go through to the individual page) so they’re not cluttering up the place. They offer loads of different services including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, email and many more.

Speaking of Twitter, I tweet all of my blog posts. So if you want to keep up-to-date with new posts, follow me on Twitter. It’s not heavy traffic: I tweet once or twice per day.

The Village Effect

August 22nd, 2016 | Books

How important is face-to-face contact? In her book The Village Effect, Susan Pinker argues it is super important. In almost every key aspect of our lives, strong social ties play a large role.

Longevity for one. Pinker shows that strong social ties have one of the strongest effects on life expectancy, bigger than almost any other factor. She discusses the villages of Sardinia where a strong sense of family and relationships help record numbers of people reach the age of 100. Interestingly, these stronger social ties not only help people live longer but also reduce the gender gap.

The differences in social ties can also explain other differences between gender. Men tend to have a wider less-intimate social network while women have fewer but closer friends. On average this benefits men more in things like the workplace as high-paid jobs are often gained through a weak connection. However, in terms of longevity it gives women the advantage because they have more people to confide men. Men on the other hand often only have one person, their spouse, and therefore nobody should their spouse die.

Having plenty of social relationships is important then, but it also turns out that they need to be face-to-face. Otherwise, no oxytocin release for you. Unfortunately spending time socialising online actually reduces face-to-face contact. The number of personal emails somebody sends directly correlates with depression.

Strengthening your intimate social connections has a large benefit. For example, getting married. I assumed that cohabiting was just as good as getting married. It’s not. People who choose to get married (marrying for family pressure does not count) live longer than unmarried people. Being in a marriage reduces your chance of cancer, depression, hospitalisation, premature death and prison.

In the workplace, increased social connections can bring benefits too. Call centres used to schedule people’s breaks at different times. What happened when they aligned people’s breaks so they had 15 minutes to chat to each other? Productivity and team work went up by a significant amount. In contrast, remote working has a negative effect on integration and cohesiveness.

Pinker suggests that being loneliness is a lot like being hungry. It causes you to feel actual pain. This is because we evolved in a world where we needed to stick together. Being excluded from the clan was a death sentence. So, just as being hunger-pain is a sign you need to get some food, loneliness-pain is a sign you are in danger of losing the group. We fear exclusion and people talking behind our back because we are tuned by evolution to fear exclusion.

What message should we take away? That social connections are really important If you want to live a long and happy life (and surely all of us want at least one of those) then having strong social connections is key. Spend time with people, and make sure that time is spent face-to-face.

the-village-effect

P.S. If you are wondering if Susan is any relation to Steven Pinker, the answer is yes, they’re siblings. Anything that comes out of the Pinker family seems to be an amazing read.

What is the fastest route across Leeds Dock?

August 21st, 2016 | Work

leeds-dock

If you work at Sky’s Leeds Dock offices, chances are you will walk in from the city centre. Once you get past the traffic lights on Crown Point bridge you can choose to go left, taking the steps down by the waterside, or go right and take the road round the back of Mumtaz. But which way is fatest?

To find out, I set about recording my walk time from the traffic lights to the post outside of Sky 2. I did six runs in total, trying to mix up the days randomly to get a representative average. Here are the raw times I recorded.

Run Steps Road
1 3:33 3:24
2 3:44 3:33
3 3:44 3:36

Here is the same data, in seconds, with averages.

Run Steps Road
1 213 204
2 224 213
3 224 216
Average time 220.33 211
Total variation 26.89 26
Mean variation 8.96 8.67

Based on the table, we can see that the road seems to be around 9 seconds faster than the steps (211 seconds compared with 220 seconds). However, the typical variation, 8.82 seconds, is almost as high as the difference. Therefore we can only have so much confidence the results are accurate. It also suggests that other factors such as weather and fatigue have as much impact as route selection.

Conclusion

On average, the road route seems to be slightly faster than the steps route. However the difference is small and so it seems a sensible choice to choose the steps instead if you prefer the more scenic route.

Team GB to finish second in Rio 2016

August 20th, 2016 | News, Sport

silver-in-rio

It’s official! Team GB will finish second in the Rio 2016 Olympics medal table. Nicola Adams’s gold in the women’s boxing moves us up to 26 gold medals. China have 23 and only have medal hopes in three remaining disciplines (men’s 10m diving, team volleyball and taekwondo). Given they are so far behind in the silver medals, they can no longer overtake Team GB.