Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Power Balance Holographic Bracelet.. or An Expensive Con For Gullible Idiots

So I was in a sports shop the other day getting some brake pads for my bike when on the counter I noticed Power Bracelets!

Sounding like some add-on in an RPG for leveling up balance, they are priced at a highly reasonable £29.99.  Reasonable for the manufacturers and retailers that is, since so far as I can tell it consisted of a plastic band with a holographic sticker on it.  Unfortunately, that was as much as I could ascertain about this product, since it didn't even see fit to even attempt to explain how it might work on the packaging.  That really takes the biscuit: How hard is it to come up with some good quality mumbo-jumbo these days?  No, all this relied upon was argument from authority, displayed here as a fallacy in all its glory.

I struck up a conversation with the guy behind the till, asking how they worked and marveling at the price.  He didn't have a clue how they worked, merely that Beckham had one (he doesn't, but a host of other athletes do).  When I said it had the stench of pseudo-scientific nonsense about it along the lines of magnets and the like, he lowered his voice and said, "well, between you and me I think they are just a load of bollocks".

"So why do you sell it?", I replied...

"Why do you think?", rubbing thumb and forefinger together...

Oh Dear.  I can barely imagine what sort of mark up retailers are invited to take on this product.  Unless I'm very much mistaken and there actually is a highly complex, state-of-the-art holographically-powered balance machine in each bracelet, they must consist of 5p worth of plastic and a sticker.  Even if they charge retailers just 20% RRP, they are still making a killing!

So, to their website.  It's a glitzy affair, with promises of national websites all over the world (how depressing), though only the U.S. site is open at the moment (how surprising).  Numerous athletes have been paid to lie (or else are just as dumb as any other schmuck and have been convinced by their agent, also paid, that these things actually work) and claim that these really help with just about every aspect of sport and everyday life, as opposed to the years of dedicated practice and commitment to their sport.

At least they bother to hint at how it works, though the lack of imagination is astounding in this day and age:

What is Power Balance?

'Power Balance is Performance Technology designed to work with your body’s natural energy field. Founded by athletes, Power Balance is a favorite among elite athletes for whom balance, strength and flexibility are important.'

How Does the Hologram Work?

'Holography (from the Greek, ὅλος hólos whole + γραφή grafē writing, drawing) is a technique that allows the light scattered from an object to be recorded and later reconstructed so that it appears as if the object is in the same position relative to the recording medium as it was when recorded.'  OK, I admit that was from wikipedia... this is what they actually say...

'Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.'

Ah, Eastern Philosophies, those age old sages of holographic technology.  I'll give them 8/10 for ambiguity, but it's gotta be 1/10 for originality.  Sorry guys.

They've been a bit more clever when it comes to the testimonials.  Here's a selection of some of the best/worst quotes...

Pri Lima, Beach Volleyball:

"This product will raise your game and make a difference in how you feel. I mean there has got to be some reason almost every player on tour is wearing it now…"  Perhaps they have the same agents?

Ekolu Kalama, Stand-up Paddleboard

"I started using Power Balance after I saw my wife have the best sesh of her life with the stickers on her board, she sold me! Since then I use PB every time im in the water. Also, in stand up paddle boarding you use the paddle as a means to maintain stability and Power Balance is just another tool to keep your balance."   See! It's no different from using my paddles to keep balanced!  Doh!

Andrew Ference, Hockey

"The best way I can describe the difference is that I feel more grounded and in control of what my body is doing. I have shared the product with my team and it is now in most guy's skates and shoulder pads..."  I wonder if Power Balance were good enough to offer them for free?  Shill!

Shaquille O'Neal, Basketball

I want to do everything to get the slightest advantage; wristbands, necklaces, t-shirts, band-aids, everything and anything we can get our hands on. I’m here to tell you it works!”  Because nonsense isn't limited to just bracelets and necklaces!  Just get one tattooed on your forehead so we can all have a laugh.

Peter Smolik, Skateboarder

"Power Balance is the realest device in the industry right now."  Especially with people who say 'realest'

Oh man, that's low.  I just noticed the 'cause' page... special bracelets which see money fromt he purchase donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.  Urgh.  You little, squirming, ingratiating, sneeky arseholes.  What better way to say "we're not conmen!" than raising funds for cancer?

Part of me thinks that if people are so easily fooled out of £30 then fuck 'em... the other part of me riles at people getting rich in this way when the rest of us have to struggle.  How is such bollocks legal to do?  Bloody extremist cultural relativism that's how.  Can't slag of someones Eastern Philosophies now can we?!  I love Eastern philosophy and I can assure you that they never spoke of the sport enhancing qualities of holographic bracelets.

The consumer protection website Choice has this to say about Power Balance bracelets:

CHOICE verdict

CHOICE is all for the power of positive thinking, but we can’t find much positive to say about Power Balance. It has no discernable effect on flexibility and balance. Any benefit you feel while wearing it is almost certainly due to a placebo effect. So, zero stars for the Power Balance. If the products were cheap, we could at least call them a harmless bit of nonsense, but at $60 for the wristband and $95 for the pendant they’re far too overpriced to laugh off.

Next step: record some check-out people slagging them off and posting them on youtube.  There is something rather convincing in this consumerist world of someone who should be selling you something doing the complete opposite.  If anyone else fancies joining me, please link to this blog from sports forums and the like!

Also, many sports stars have twitter pages so lets target them publicly there!  Check out my twitter @grimeandreason for some I've already found and give em a guilt trip from hell!

Athletes on twitter supporting the Power Balance scam:

Rubens Barrichello: @rubarrichello - Particularly dissapointed in this one given the reliance on science of Formula 1.  Would have thought he would know better than that.
Casey Patterson: @caseypatt
Matthew Stafford: @matt_stafford9
Lamar Odom: @RealLamarOdom

Friday, 22 October 2010

A homage to our departed enlightener, Mr Mandelbrot

I still remember when I first read about fractal mathematics.  The sheer wonder of it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  I have a profound feeling that even now, many years after this image entranced people who understood its significance, it has yet to fulfill what it is destined to one day achieve: reach a critical mass of understanding that will become an immensely powerful conceptual weapon. 

You see, the picture above may well illustrate a fundamental truth that humanity has yet to fully grasp.  That struggle is symbolised by many of the arguments that sceptics encounter, arguments that maintain a refusal to see life, the universe and everything in anything but lofty, 'un-knowable' concepts.  Be it doctrine or simply uneducated 'common-sense', we humans seem to find it difficult to imagine how such a complex and 'miraculous' thing as life, or the universe, could possibly come about "by chance".  Perhaps it is the relic of religions hold on our language that it is hard to describe such wonders without recourse to misleading connotations?  Maybe it is merely a limitation of our evolution that we have not developed the necessary capabilities to see beyond what our environment has decried as 'need-to-know'?  Either way, through the combined efforts of un-indoctrinated minds or freaks-of-nature, we now have at our disposal the cumulative insights necessary to really start conceiving the impossible.

This picture represents such an insight.  This picture is generated by the simple equation Z = Z2 +  C.  All one has to do is repeat the equation over and over, using the answer each time as the starting point for the next iteration.  And yet this picture is infinitely complex, generating complex pattern after pattern the further you zoom in.  How can this be so? 

It goes against all intuition that complexity can come from simplicity.  And yet we now see that it is common throughout nature.  This is surely the most exciting and significant philosophical discovery of the 20th century, if not of all time.  As a concept, it beautifully and utterly destroys the need for a creator of any sort and yet, more than that, it also probes deep into the question of Free Will and determinism.

You see, complexity theory, together with chaos theory, tells us that with any reiterative process (as cause and effect surely is), time is all that is needed for complex structures to form unpredictably.  You would have to know the exact position and velocity of every known particle (which quantum theory says is impossible anyhow) down to an infinite degree of accuracy in order to predict far into the future, clearly impossible.  On a smaller scale, it means that by viewing ourselves as agents in a complex system, we can have faith that even though free will in the strict sense is an illusion, our destiny is not manifest or pre-ordained.  This knowledge in and of itself is extremely valuable, since though it tells us our will is but a small cog shaped by iterative processes involving other cogs, it still comes under own own individual jurisdiction if you will.  We have responsibility, through our awareness of our own part in shaping others and our ability of empathy and foresight, to shape how we effect the future as best we can.

Mandelbrot's discovery of this concept of complexity from simplicity has contributed to giving me vast peace of mind, as it has many others.  His contribution to the world will only grow as more people come to realise its significance.