The Extra Mile

The Extra Mile
The West Side Highway on this weekend's "long" bike ride. (I rode for an hour.)

Welcome to “The Extra Mile,” a new feature here: bonus Second Breakfast content for paid subscribers (although – introductory bonus! – everyone is getting today's email).

As we approach the first anniversary of this publication, I’ve been trying to think of something special to do for all of you who are generous enough to support me financially in this new endeavor. And in many ways, putting yet another email in your inbox hardly seems like “thanks.” But here we are, I guess – we opted a while ago to eschew RSS for social media, opting instead to click on links via social media; now we’re moving away from social media apparently and embracing newsletters – or some of us are. For now. It does seem as if, for all the talk of “killing email” from startups like Slack and Discord, email remains the “killer app.”

Speaking of Discord, I’ve been toying with the idea of launching one for paid subscribers – but for now I’m going to hold off on that. (Although I’d love to hear your thoughts.) I mean it could be a place where, as in the good ol’ days of Twitter, we discuss what we ate for breakfast, as well as what we’ve written, what we’ve read, what we’ve watched, our fitness triumphs and struggles, and sure sure sure, how much ed-tech remains terrible and don't you all wish I'd write about it. I’m hesitant to start a Discord because 1) I’m wary of investing time and energy in another platform and 2) I am not always very good at keeping up with “social” stuff and 3) I definitely do not want to have to police an online forum.

So for now, the “bonus” is another email. Sorry / not sorry. The “extra mile” newsletter will contain bits and bobs and small observations not yet fleshed out enough to be essays. Maybe writing here will help do just that; and maybe it’ll confirm that “yeah, that idea isn’t going anywhere.” As always, I encourage you to hit "reply" to the newsletter (or respond in the comment section), as I still believe we think better together.

What to expect in "The Extra Mile": more personal experience narratives. Some photographs from my walks and runs. Descriptions of some of my workouts and thoughts on my training regimen. Some recipes, as well as commentary on foods I’m eating before, during, and after training. Reviews and excerpts from books I’m reading. And maybe too I’ll write a little about what’s going on in therapy – I start EMDR treatment for PTSD in a couple of weeks and strangely, there’s a tech component. If you’ve read Teaching Machines (or are familiar with my work on education technology), you know that I am passionately ambivalent about the field of psychology – although lately I've been thinking about going back to graduate school and getting a degree in psychology which you don't need to email me to tell me is just a terrible idea.

When I saw the signage go up for this musical, I was appalled. Then I was intrigued. We went to the show Tuesday night -- The Outsiders remains one of my favorite books and a touchstone movie of my teen years. Surprisingly, teenage Isaiah loved it too, and so this was a good way to honor his memory. Except for the part where the musical is, at best, uneven. (The choreography for the big rumble in the park, however, is the best I've ever seen.)

Moving forward into year 2 of Second Breakfast, the publishing schedule will look something like this:

  • Most Mondays: “The Extra Mile” – random thoughts for paid subscribers
  • Some Wednesdays: An essay, free for all subscribers, on the culture/politics/history of health/fitness/(and maybe) education technology
  • Every Friday: “What’s Good” – everyone gets my look at the week’s health technology news

So, onward with some random recent thoughts and observations:

Training: Having finished my spring half marathon, I'm now training for my first triathlon, which will be in Philadelphia in July. I'm running less, swimming and biking more. As this is a spring triathlon, I'm using this training block as an opportunity to work on my 5K time (which, to be honest, is unlikely to be particularly good after a 300 meter swim and a 9 mile bike ride). I'm using Runna, an app which promises "personalized," algorithmic coaching, for training – as you can imagine, I'm hoping that this is good fodder for an essay. (I'm more confident in that than in its ability to shave time off my 5K PR.)

Saturday's long run -- 10 miles of a real "struggle run" in the humidity -- took me past Little Island, a public park and artificial island which is by far the best thing that Barry Diller has ever done for the world.

Speaking of training – training algorithms and training people, Reddit, a site whose users are overwhelmingly male, has licensed its content to Google for use in the latter's AI models. Who is training, whose data is training AI? The Guardian reported last month that "cheap, outsourced labour in Africa is shaping AI English," noting that ChatGPT overuses the word "delve" compared to the Internet-at-large, a reflection perhaps of the use of Nigerians, who use the word more frequently than do Americans, to fine-tune AI models.

The ever-excellent Helen Beetham on training, Turing, and ed-tech:

These messy question of politics, identity and desire are exactly what computational ‘intelligence’ is supposed to lead away from. AI is meant to offer accuracy, objectivity and control. The problem, of course, is that politics is not removed but installed in proprietary systems where it can’t be brought into the light of day, or questioned, or resisted. Power, desire, and the desire for power are parameterised. The judge in the Turing test, the ‘teacher’ of the child-machine, the model engineer and the designer of the ‘reward engine’ still have all the power to determine people’s ‘kinds’ and people’s futures, but none of the accountability that politics might demand of them.

And speaking of mental models, I've noticed an uptick in stories lately about the flaws in mental health diagnoses, the dangers and drawbacks of mental health treatment. "Why We’re Turning Psychiatric Labels Into Identities" in The New Yorker. "‘High-Functioning Anxiety Isn’t a Medical Diagnosis. It’s a Hashtag.’" in The New York Times. "Are We Talking Too Much About Mental Health?" also in The New York Times. "Maybe You Shouldn't Talk to Someone" in The Cut, which makes the case for quitting therapy.

Jason Kottke has noticed a bunch of "quitting running" stories lately – specifically, quitting because it's an addiction. I'm currently reading a book on addiction, recommended by my psychiatrist, and I noticed that it uses a model used for behavioral change identical to the one in the curriculum for my personal trainer certification. And how deeply ironic that behaviors remain at the core of my work right now. There is no escaping B. F. Skinner for me, is there.

Last week was a rough one. But onward, I guess.

Thanks for reading Second Breakfast. Thanks for being a paid subscriber (or consider becoming one so that you get these sorts of missives from me every Monday). And thanks for being patient as I work through my shit here in print.