Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Amazon Mechanical Turk

I've been spending a not inconsiderable amount of time on mturk.com lately.

I had heard of Amazon's Mechanical Turk quite a while back, but had never really bothered to check it out until recently. Basically, mturk allows humans to either request or work on what are known as Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) for micropayments. Read more here. If you're based in the USA or India, you can actually cash out your earnings. For everyone else, your earnings get deposited into an account with Amazon which you can then use to purchase items on Amazon.

It's generally difficult to make serious money (i.e. more than minimum wage) on mturk, although it's not unheard of. For Requestors, who may range from corporations to graduate students, the quality of work that you can get back from Workers on mturk is also of uncertain quality. But mturk is still a useful resource; that's why it's been around for a while.

I've been working on and off on mturk for the past two weeks or so as a personal project and experiment, and while I never really got to the point of making serious money, it was substantial enough to score me a chunk of change. I made about USD100 over about 10 to 15 hours of work spread over two weeks...and my first shipment of Amazon swag courtesy of mturk is en route to Singapore as we speak via vpost. This is probably an unsustainable figure though, as I scored some high-paying HITs that don't come by too often (One paid me $15 for a 750 word article I cranked out in a little over an hour). 

I think I could probably sustainably make about $10 to $20 a week turking. That may not seem like a lot, but it does add up. More importantly, it doesn't feel like work. I complete HITs while surfing on the Internet, waiting for videos on Youtube to load, or just because doing HITs is fun. For instance, I've been completing a set of audio transcriptions of interviews done for a documentary on Polaroid, and it's been interesting hearing artists and photographers talk about why they still use Polaroid despite the prevalence of digital photography.

I've done transcriptions of classroom lectures by Mormons (deathly boring, and for some reason, mturk is stuffed with them), interviews with venture capitalists, interviews with an American manager of an auto components plant in Mexico who talks about offshoring of the auto industry (obviously part of a research study or dissertation), and an interview with the maker of the just released video game Mafia II (probably part of an entertainment channel that wanted a transcription). 

So I'm a little picky with my HITs, but that's because I don't do it just for the money. Turking can be fun too.

If you ARE interested in making money on mturk, then you would probably want a strategy that maximizes profits and minimizes the time spent. Lots of strategies that you can google for out on the web. But personally, I'm just happy to make a few dollars each day doing something that's mildly enjoyable and not having to spend any cash at all the next time I order something from Amazon. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Pose Method

Perhaps it's because posts on my blog are linked from Singapore Daily that I have unconsiously written more from a socio-economic slant, although that wasn't the original intention with which I started this blog.

This blog was originally meant to serve as a repository of my thoughts as well as a communication tool, both with people I know personally (but often do not meet up with in person as often as I would like) and with people I don't know but might find interesting to converse with online.

In any case, it's been a while since I posted anything on running, which had been one primary subject for this blog. Running is, after all, something I spend about 10 hours on a week.

Today's post is on the Pose Method, a modified running form that is purported to improve performance.

Re-engineering one's form in any sport is never a simple or quick matter, particularly without coaching, so I had drastically reduced my mileage from the usual 40 - 60 kilometers per week (off-season) to a more moderate 25 kilometers per week in the last two months to experiment with the Pose Method. Of course, I took care not to sign up for any race this year, such as the Stanchart Marathon which I traditionally run at the end of the year, so there was no pressure to add mileage during the week.

There's a lot of information on the web on the Pose Method; it's just that most people haven't heard of it before. In fact, the creator of the Pose Method, Nicholas Romanov, first found widespread interest in the method not among runners, for which it had been originally developed for, but among the more hardcore open-minded triathlon community.

Very briefly, the Pose Method allegedly improves efficiency and performance while reducing the risk of injury, particularly chronic overuse injuries that typically plague runners. It does so by prescribing naturally falling forefoot landings, rapid ankle raising/pulling, and a forward lean that harnesses the force of gravity.

Does it work?

After two months of experimenting, I think it does. I'm running either faster, or at a comparable speed to what I was running before, but with noticeably less effort.

However, from my experience, the Pose Method is not without caveats.

The Pose Method requires the runner to run at a reasonably fast pace - an equivalent or better than four and a half minute per kilometer pace. That translates into a sub-eight minute per mile pace. If you can't run that fast, you're going to have problems with the forward lean part of the Pose Method.

Secondly, one of the virtues of the Pose Method is that it reduces the likelihood of injury to the joints, especially the knees, by prescribing forefoot landings. The impact of running, however, still needs to be absorbed somewhere, and in the case of the Pose Method, it's the calves and the Achilles tendons that do the job.

The first time I ran using a facsimile of the Pose Method, emphasising forefoot landings, I couldn't run for a week after. The Pose Method is murder on the calves for beginners, before the gastrocnemius and soleus have had time to adapt and remodel in response to the increased loading. Unfortunately, I found out about this only after beginning my training. Now, with increased practice though, I can comfortably run about 14 kilometers with the Pose Method.

Is the Pose Method right for you? Well, it depends on whether you can learn well using just books and videos, which is what I did. And if you're fine with the two caveats above. As I said, re-engineering form is never an easy endeavor, and you should never attempt it if you are currently training for a race or an event. Save it for the off-season instead.

[I have no way of proving it, but I suspect Straits Times journalists read blogs too, and more annoyingly, crib ideas from the blogosphere. It does seem an awful bit of coincidence that a post I had written several weeks back provided ideas for an article that ran just a few weeks later. It wasn't the first coincidental occurrence, but this was the most recent example. So this is just a placeholder here in case Jeanette Wang, resident runner and fitness editor at the Straits Times, or anyone else for that matter, decides to write something on the Pose Method and publish it in the local paper.] 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The YOG will be a success

It must be nice working for the government when you're in a position like Teo Ser Luck. Or Vivian Balakrishnan.

Ignoring that part of the reason why the YOG is being organized is to bolster your public profile just so you can stand for elections under the ruling party's banner in the near future, purely a coincidence I'm sure, the government will bend over backwards and pull out all the stops to make the event happen. Nay, not happen, make it a success even, a foregone conclusion.

Budget overrun? No problem. Triple the amount of money available, and doubtless there's more if needed. Concerned with transportation hiccups? Request that the LTA mandate a YOG-only lane that motorists must give way to, on pain of a fine. Put in a note to remind Ms. Saw from SMRT to run more trains, something a groundswell of grousing and bitching from the public failed to do. Stacks of tickets left unsold? Get MOE to conscript students and SAF commanders to force NSFs to attend the various events. Apathetic public? Enlist the "nation-building" press to print favorable stories and put the best possible spin on things. Whatever. Call in all the favors you need. The time and inconvenience to thousands of students, NSFs and motorists is...inconsequential when it comes to trading favors between powers that have a mutual understanding of how things really work here on the Island. I think they call it networking in the public service, and those job rotations are meant to foster this sort of thing.

As for inconveniencing the great unwashed, people are resources and factor inputs after all; they're meant to be used to achieve a desired result. If you have to, justify it with a nebulous claim of supporting the Olympic spirit, or an appeal to nationalistic sentiments. Doesn't matter that it runs counter to the average experience that a Singaporean grows up with, that if you want something, you've got to pay for it (hey, we learnt from the best.) You want my time, my passion, pay for it. Money talks and bullshit walks.

If a project that I had to manage at work were to meet with massive budget overruns, failure to meet specified targets, or inability to obtain customer buy-in, I would be hauled up before the risk management committee, along with my boss, for an earful. My bonus would be negatively affected, and my career prospects probably shot.

No recourse to summon extraordinary resources from distant realms, like what the organizers for the YOG can do. And of course the YOG will be a success. The only KPI for its success, after all, is that it was held. Nobody should doubt that the Anointed Ones for the YOG will receive anything other than accolades for this event. After all, worst things have occurred on the watch of other luminaries and nothing untoward has ever happened to them.

I wish I had a teflon career. With millions of dollars in wages and benefits. Pity. Common mortals like me are so...encumbered...with accountability.