Forever learning

In my past job, I was the sole IT person in the company and so it gave me ample opportunities to learn new things. A large number of these, however, were unrelated to my ideal path as a web developer and so that learning at times stagnated for periods of up to six months. Being on my own also meant that I didn’t have the opportunity to share and develop these findings with anyone else, this perhaps lessened my ability to expand that learning beyond the basics. I am definitely glad of the skills I picked up with various types of hardware and software including network storage, indesign and filemaker. All these things potentially have uses in the future but I was unable to maintain pace with developments in websites.

When the opportunity came for us to take a year out while my wife completed her masters in America I decided it was a good chance to catch up. In my little basement in Denver I have been setting myself the task of filling in these knowledge gaps that have developed over time. A lot of this will come from learning by doing and a lot of it from reading.

The key areas I am looking to improve in are as follows:

  1. Web Design: My websites are never the prettiest. I understand that and want to fill in the gaps so that they can look better. I will be doing this through reading, trial and error and by trying out some online code schools like codecademy, codeschool and treehouse.
  2. Leadership and Management: I have been running a small business for three years but have no real management training. My goal is to work through Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman along with as many other business books as I can. I will read relevant biographies and case studies of businesses and people in my sector. I will then put these lessons into action with my small company.
  3. Mathematics: I always enjoyed maths in school but I was also aware of the growing holes in my knowledge as I worked through the curriculum. For example, until a month ago, I could never do long division or long multiplication. I feel that filling in these gaps and expanding my knowledge will help me down the road with my programming. I will use Khan Academy to work through these gaps.
  4. Computer Science: I did an A Level in IT but a lot of the syllabus was poor and outdated. It also didn’t dwell deeply on how a computer does what it does and I want to learn that. I have enrolled in a couple of edx classes to help me along this learning path.

I have created a new category on my blog so that you can track my progress, I will be putting reviews and brief notes of the books that I read, links that I find helpful and other information that should allow it to be shown what I am learning along the way. My aim is to come back from America knowing more and with a renewed hunger to never stop learning.

Review: Head Games

Motorsport has long had signs encircling tracks pointing out to spectators that motorsport is dangerous. From the biggest Formula One circuit to the lowliest kart track that message is loud and clear. Is it time for other sports to begin proclaiming the same thing? That is the question that Head Games deals with.

While the risk of injury in motorsport comes from the vehicles themselves, in other sports it comes from the act of playing the game itself. If you don’t stop the opposition in their tracks in American Football they will just keep running past you, in ice hockey it is also part of the game. This leads to hard blows to players’ heads. A blow to the head is never good news though and the NFL has been forced to come to terms with this. The movie primarily focusses on American Football but points out that concussions can come from practically any sport (the film dwells on women’s soccer for a while). Head Games is detailing the work done by Chris Nowinski and his team at the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston as they continue their research into how to find signs of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) – which can lead to symptoms of dementia – in people still living. Previously it has only been possible to have access to, and find signs in, the brains of the deceased. The film points out that unsurprisingly getting repetitive blows to the head is bad for you and the fact is brought home by showing us a former NFL player who can no longer recite the months of the year between January and June in order or remember a six digit sequence of numbers. The film also shows a study that NFL retirees have 19 times the risk of dementia of a normal member of the public.

The movie stops short of telling people not to play these violent sports but does suggest that perhaps parents should think twice before letting their children play, or keep playing after having a concussion. Head Games makes its points well and there is still a lot of research to be done by this relatively young team. If the movie is able to get a debate going and help make these sports safer then it has done its job.

It is obvious that after spending the nineties denying the effects of head shots, the NFL can no longer ignore the facts regarding concussions. For the past couple of seasons the rules have begun changing to start to minimize the risks and stop potential damage to the league’s reputation. As younger players start seeing the men they idolize clashing heads less often the hope is these changes will filter down. One thing to note is that concussions take a long time to heal, the NFL currently takes players out of the game but more often than not they are back the following week. The league perhaps needs to look into increasing the time that these players sit out before returning.

It may look like the league has been neutering the show but if it means one fewer suicide and more players retiring in decent health then it is surely worth it. What does this mean for us in the British leagues? We need to acknowledge that the problem is out there. Make sure no player enters the game with a concussion. If we see a player take a blow to the head then make sure he is fit to re-enter. While I have seen few, if any such hits in the British game it should still be a point of emphasis for coaches that players should not go in with, or aim for, the head.

As the movie points out one concussion is really too many.

Trailer for Head Games: