THE WEEKLY HOWL IS AN ENEMY OF THE STATE

Geolocation: So Strava is now a threat to national security. The future is now and that future is weird. Strava, the popular fitness-tracking app, decided last November to release a heat map illustrating the activity of its users all over the globe. A couple of months later, Nathan Ruser pointed out on Twitter that you could use that heat map to identify forward operating bases in Afghanistan as well as map the traffic patterns on known military bases. The operational security implications are of this are huge. From The Verge:

Strava’s map doesn’t necessarily reveal the presence of military installations to the world — Google Maps and public satellite imagery have already done that — but where Google Maps shows the location of buildings and roads, Stava’s map does provide some additional information. It reveals how people are moving along those areas, and how frequently, a potential security threat to personnel. For example, in the following pair of images, one can easily match up roadways and structures on Google Maps to how people are moving around Fort Benning, Georgia.

Ruser points out that anyone viewing the map can pick out Coalition bases in Syria, and installations in Afghanistan, and zooming in on these locations reveal heavily trafficked areas, as well as US installations that might not have been disclosed. Air Force Colonel John Thomas, a spokesperson for the US Central Command, explained to The Washington Post that the military is looking “into the implications of the map.” A Strava spokesperson told The Verge that the company is “committed to helping people better understand our privacy settings,” and that its map “represents an aggregated and anonymized view of over a billion activities uploaded to our platform. It excludes activities that have been marked as private and user-defined privacy zones.”

                  There are 2 main issues here. The first is the Department of Defense’s failure to control service members’ use of devices that utilize geolocation. The second is the privacy implications for civilian users. Strava wants to become Facebook for exercise and they are adopting the social network’s approach to privacy features. From Quartz:

I soon learned that the first problem was my assumption that “Enhanced Privacy” on Strava meant that my data and running routes were viewable only to my approved followers. In fact, it means no such thing. Strava’s “Leaderboard” function ranks the pace of all athletes who complete the same Segment, or a set distance on a given route that has been mapped by a user and added onto the app. Though I had Enhanced Privacy on, I hadn’t enabled “Hide from Leaderboards,” which is a separate toggle on the privacy settings in the app.

This meant that if I ran a particularly fast 200-meter segment in the park, landing me temporarily on a Leaderboard, anyone who was examining that segment in the app—whether or not I’ve allowed them to follow me—could see my workout that day. Troublingly, this also would allow them to see my first and last name and the photo attached to my profile.

                  If you want to share your runs with your friends but not make it readily available to every Tom, Dick, and Harry then you have to become an expert on Strava’s privacy settings. A lot of men reading this might not think that this is a big issue but running outside can be a time of great vulnerability for most women. Making those runs easily searchable could enable people with bad intentions to act on those intentions. It could also reveal where someone lives. From Lifehacker:

Strava’s first recommendation for privacy is to create “privacy zones” around your home, workplace, or anywhere you don’t want people snooping. (I also learned today that mountain bikers use privacy zones to hide their activity on illegal trails.) But these zones are a clumsy tool that don’t really make your whereabouts all that secret.

 First, you have to go through the Strava website to set up a privacy zone, but you can reach that through a link from the app if you know where to find it. (It’s at the bottom of the privacy settings screen.) Then, you have to enter an address, and choose how big the zone should be. Your options range from a 200 meter radius up to one kilometer, which is 0.62 miles.

Those distances might be handy if you live in a densely populated area, but if you’re on a country road, there might only be a handful of houses within your privacy zone. Strava hides the portion of a run or ride that starts or ends in a privacy zone, but that means that your profile can end up with a bunch of short activities circling a two-kilometer dead zone.

                  Strava has not been immune to controversy; this is just the latest chapter. It does illustrate the tension between Strava’s desire to be a full-fledged social network (and the sharing of personal data that does with it) and the safety implications of making your exercise data available for all to see. Strava could make its privacy settings easy to understand if it wanted. It clearly doesn’t want users opting out of sharing. The question is whether that attitude will backfire on Strava. Will users opt out of Strava entirely? My first reaction is that the tech giants have been playing fast and loose with our personal data for years and it hasn’t slowed their growth. My second reaction is that outside of Facebook/Instagram, social networks are struggling. Twitter’s user growth and advertising revenue has disappointed investors since its IPO and Snapchat is similarly floundering as a publicly traded company.

Building a social network in 2018 is not nearly as appealing a prospect as it looked in 2010. Strava has some advantages baked in but there are serious concerns about privacy and some general headwinds about social network fatigue. I believe that Strava would be smart to make its privacy settings easy and intuitive to use instead of hoping that people just give up on their privacy. Once you lose your users’ trust, you will never get it back.

Hold your breath: What is the purpose of sport? Originally, it was to prepare for war. The modern version has expanded far beyond that and now encompasses leisure, exercise, competition, entertainment, among other things. Personally, I have always been fascinated by seeing what the human body is capable of and how hard we can push ourselves. I have never participated in the sport of free-diving or any other form of competitive breath-holding but it has held some interest for me. But I never really thought about whether it’s even a good idea. From The New Yorker:

But is circumventing the body’s internal warning systems really a good idea? Last October, François Billaut, a French researcher at the Université Laval, in Quebec City, published a paper examining the effects of apnea on cognitive function. Billaut spent part of his childhood in Tahiti, and he is still a scuba instructor and recreational free diver (best breath-hold: four minutes). Working with several French universities and the French National Apnea Commission, he and his colleagues recruited twelve élite free divers, twelve novice free divers, and twelve control subjects with no free-diving experience. All of them completed a series of five written tests and three computerized tests. Billaut’s team found that the élite divers scored poorly on a task called the modified Stroop test, which measures executive function. Damningly, the subjects’ scores got progressively worse as their experience increased. The most accomplished diver, a nineteen-year veteran with a best breath-hold of seven minutes and sixteen seconds, fell within the pathological range of impairment.  

When I asked Billaut how his subjects had reacted to the results, he smiled and shrugged. “Apnea is not different from many other sports, in the sense that practice at a high level often leads to deleterious impacts on human physiology,” he said. “Think about alpinists going to Mount Everest, climbers, gymnastics, marathon runners—every sport has its drawbacks when performed at the élite level.” Some of Billaut’s subjects didn’t really believe the data and hoped that the study was flawed. But, for the most part, he said, they simply accepted it as the price of admission. Bain wasn’t surprised. “The Croatian divers have the exact same sentiment as the French,” he said. “This is their life style. They’re not stopping.”

                  The difference between breath-holding and running is that running isn’t fundamentally bad for you. Running is great exercise but it can be taken to an extreme point at which you are doing more harm than good. Starving your brain of oxygen is never good for you. That’s the starting point and the more you do it, the more damage you do. I believe that in the 21st century every sport should serve the purpose of making us healthier. If a sport compromises our health at its most basic level, then perhaps we shouldn’t have it.

What goes into a shoe: The soles for Nike’s first shoes were made in Bill Bowerman’s waffle maker. Those were much simpler times. From Wired:

The latest running shoes, dubbed the Epic React Flyknit, are the first to use Nike's new React foam, which is partially made of rubber. The foam itself is being seen as a competitor to adidas' Ultraboost and Nike has included more of it on the shoe's base than in other models.

Where things get really interesting is in the design of the shoe's sole. The foam on the underside is mostly exposed to the surface below it, but also partly covered by additional rubber protection on the points of highest impact. Beneath this, the new React foam has a number of grooves, dents, and tracks running along it.

These were all designed by Nike's machine-led design. "Those tools are able to concept things the human brain can't conceive and the human hand can't draw," Schoolmeester says. The process of computation design involves converting data to structural patterns and telling the system what outcomes it should produce.

                  The barriers to entry in athletic shoes have gotten really high in the last 50 years while the barriers to entry in athletic apparel are lower than ever. Shoes require advanced machine learning. Apparel requires a basic understanding of graphic design and an account on TeeSpring. It’s weird that 2 spaces that are so closely related have moved in opposite directions like that.

 

Turn it down: I had no idea that the music in boutique classes was so loud. From PopSugar:

My slightly dulled hearing only lasted for an hour or two after my Spin session ended, but it continued to nag at me for far longer. Was I sacrificing my ears every time I booked another ClassPass workout? After all, it wasn't the first time I'd noticed my hearing was a little wonky after attending a group fitness class. Don't get me wrong; I like my music loud. Very loud. (I played bass in a punk band in high school, for god's sake.) But even so, some of the classes I attend seem to dangerously overdo it on the decibels. Is the very thing I'm doing in a quest to get healthier actually bad for my health?

Maybe I was being too sensitive. Maybe I just had a knack for booking exceptionally loud classes and instructors. So, a few days after that fateful Spin class, I decided to informally poll my Facebook friends. Had any of them either walked out of a workout class because the music was too loud, or been legitimately concerned that the volume in a workout class was negatively impacting their hearing? Fifty-four percent of the people who responded said yes.

"I once exited a SoulCycle class because the music was deafening," one fellow POPSUGAR editor told me. "My ears were ringing for a few minutes after I left, too." Another Facebook friend complained that even though she'd tried to wear earplugs once in an overly loud Spin class, they fell out halfway through. I, myself, can't even count the number of times I've physically moved myself away from a massive speaker in a bootcamp or hip-hop yoga class because I just couldn't take the volume.

 

                  Why does it have to be so loud? You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your hearing to get in shape. This feels like a lot of these classes are using overly loud music as a crutch. A great workout should be able to stand on its own. You don’t need music in order to generate energy or intensity. And doesn’t that make the instructor harder to hear? If you have to hand out earplugs, then the music is too loud.

Government Fitness: I am not one of those people who believe that government is the source of all of our problems and that everything would be better if the private sector ran it. There are things that I believe should never be in the purview of the private sector: police, first responders, prisons, the military. But there are also areas in which more government regulation is unnecessary and would stifle innovation. Fitness is one of those things and believe it or not, there is a movement to require a license to work as a fitness trainer. From Reason:

Crossfit's explosive growth was made possible in part by the lack of regulation in the fitness industry. While many states require licenses for occupations as innocuous as trimming trees, tending bar, braiding hair, or even arranging flowers, personal trainers can work without government oversight. Crossfit was free to run its own certification program, which flouts most of the conventional nutrition and exercise advice championed by government and academia.

The company regularly spars with fitness credentialing organizations with different exercise philosophies, like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Several of them have united under the banner of the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREPS), an industry group that regularly lobbies for regulation of the fitness industry. The fight is occuring largely behind-the-scenes at state legislatures across the country, where licensing laws have been introduced on 26 separate occasions since 2005. Crossfit supporters have pushed back just as hard, at times showing up in person to speak out against the bills.

The one place Crossfit lost is Washington, D.C., which passed the nation's first fitness trainer licensure law in 2014.

                  CrossFit Inc. has been fighting this tooth and nail and bringing light to the relationship between the big fitness credentialing organizations and Big Soda. And they’re right! This is a terrible idea. All this would do is create a gatekeeper for trainers and it’s not hard to figure out who would benefit from the creation of a new gate. It’s a move borne out of desperation. When you’re out of ideas and can’t compete in the marketplace, you try to get the government to protect your market share. Mark Rippetow, of Starting Strength fame summed it up best:

 "The competive marketplace is capable of sorting this out," says Rippetoe. "Did I get stronger? Did I get more fit? These should be the criteria that a competitive marketplace provides for the profession."

                  Well said.

Fill her up: A couple of months ago, Reebok suggested that the Oscars should add a category for best fitness trainer. Now the fitness brand wants to convert gas stations to fitness centers once electric vehicles have rendered them obsolete. From Forbes:

To that end, Reebok and Gensler have developed a plan that would redevelop existing filling stations according to either of three health-minded models:

·       The Network: Major interstate-highway rest stops would be turned into full-blown fitness centers where motorists and their passengers can shake off the road trip cobwebs by, say, running, spinning, boxing, or taking Crossfit classes while they replenish their vehicles’ batteries.

·       The Oasis: Larger gas stations adjacent to smaller local highways would become “recharge zones” to offer those with grueling commutes a mental and physical respite via yoga and meditation pods, and meet their nutritional needs via a juice bar and a farm-to-table restaurant.

·       The Community Center: Smaller gas stations could be transformed into mini-facilities that address local residents’ needs. For example, the former repair shop section of the building could be converted into an area for teaching nutrition classes, while the mini-mart can be reconfigured to sell local healthy food, and pop-up facilities can be employed for Crossfit and spinning classes.

I don’t know that this makes a ton of sense but I kind of like what Reebok is doing here. It’s like a weird mix of brainstorming and marketing. Will people really want to knock out a WOD while their Tesla is recharging? I kind of doubt it but you never where the next great idea is going to come from. Maybe Reebok will stumble upon it while they’re trying to promote fitness like this.

TidBits:

-The Women’s Strength Coalition wants to get more women into powerlifting

-5 Ironmans in 5 days in NYC

-What the hell is plogging?

-Under Armour is holding NFL Combine workouts in the Mall of America this week for the Super Bowl

-Michelob Ultra wants to be the “beer for the fit”

-The history of the hotel gym