The morning was unremarkable. Having taken the first ten minutes to settle my eighth-grade physics class and direct their attention to the front, they now sat in fragile silence, their carping glares conveying mild annoyance at my interrupting their conversations. I began with enthusiasm to introduce an extension to the previous lesson.

“I don’t know how to do this,” interjected a voice from the centre of the room almost immediately, before I could finish specifying the first problem. “We’ve never done this before, Teacher,” agreed another. Protests erupted from all directions.

Quite accustomed to such disagreement, I replied with irony…


It was eighth-grade mathematics. Our teacher sat at the front corner of the room, an orderly stack of test papers resting on her desk. One by one she called our names, announcing our grades, and at times appending a laconic criticism or comment. The room was quiet with anticipation as students left their seats to retrieve their assessments.

I was confident, but nonetheless anxious. Always the first to finish, my paper lay at the bottom of the pile, so I practised patience as the self-restraint of my peers began to wane. A circumambient murmur of voices intensified.

“Peter — ”…


For most of us, the basic mechanisms behind training and conditioning would seem straightforward: if we train hard and consistently, we will gradually become fitter, faster, or stronger. And that is true. However, as we might expect, it is very much an incomplete picture of the truth, and it is what is missing from this picture that often determines our success or failure.

As early as 1936, Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye (1907–1982) wrote in the scientific journal Nature about his emerging research on physiological responses to various biological stressors, amongst which he included physical exercise. He described a “generalized effort…


The greatest challenge to training success lies in identifying our own motivations to exercise.

Antonia was a new client: exceptionally tall, timid and self-conscious. Over the course of several weeks, I had watched her grow gradually more familiar and comfortable with the hustle and bustle of the gym environment. She had first insisted that we conduct our training entirely from an isolated corner of the floor, but as her confidence grew, she became increasingly open to doing new things.

The gymnasium was uncrowded one afternoon, so we found our way over to the power rack in the corner of the free-weight area. …


Cheating is not only rife; it is the standard. That was the conclusion I related to the high school principal at one of my former schools, following our first round of internal examinations. I estimated, conservatively, that some 80% of the student body had engaged in academic dishonesty — cheating. And its being my first semester at the school, I was astonished, affronted, and frustrated.

My superior was rather less affected.

Perhaps she was already familiar with the statistics on the topic. According to the Josephson Institute’s 2012 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, 51% of middle and…


A popular Indian fable tells of a Brahmin by the name of Lahur Sessa, who travels south to seek an audience with King Ladava at the royal palace. Received by the king, Sessa presents him with his new game of Chaturanga — the game which we now know as chess. Delighted by the gift, the king offers his guest anything of his choosing from the royal treasury. But the Brahmin instead asks that he be paid in grains of wheat, one grain for the first square on the board, two for the second, four for the third, eight for the…


It was 1994. A skinny, hesitant nineteen-year-old man stepped into the nightclub-like darkness of a popular inner-city Melbourne gymnasium. Dimly lit and overcrowded with the early evening traffic, its long, arched hallways reverberated with heavy bass and the frequent overpassing of trains. Staff and members moved about the cramped spaces with energy and purpose. They were fit, muscular, fashionable, and confident. The Underworld was the training ground of competitive bodybuilders and kickboxers, the gentlemen’s industry’s models and dancers, and a host of white-collar city employees whose professional competitiveness extended into their recreation time. The air stank of sweat and bleach…


“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Or everyone’s favourite, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein has long been popular amongst modern educators, within whose ranks, it would seem, exist a disproportionate number of disgruntled strugglers and mediocrities whom the system left behind. His troubles with the formal educational establishment, in their minds, vindicate them for theirs. They too are misunderstood geniuses.

Einstein was…


Losing weight is trivially simple — in theory. The underlying physics is unquestionable, guaranteed by the Law of Conservation of Energy which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred or changed from one form to another. It follows, therefore, that if our output is greater than our input, energy must be liberated from our stores. This begins with liver and muscle glycogen, and continues with fat. Voilà! Weight loss.

Formally, the Law of Conservation of Energy tells us that energy and mass are conserved in a closed system. In order to lose or gain energy or mass…

Peter O'Donnell

School/university teacher (mathematics, physics, English); computer scientist (BITS); high-performance coach (ASCA L2); passionate advocate of social justice

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