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S3E6 - Tripping Takeoffs & The Interface Of Art And Science With Sunny Zhang (MSc) and Brennan Jones (PhD Student)

Timestamps, References & Transcript

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- 00:00 - Introduction
- 00:47 - Segment 1: Approaching Limits (Short Story)
- 08:19 - Segment 2: The Origin of "Get Off On The Wrong Foot" (Metaphor History)
- 15:25 - Segment 3: The Interface Of Art And Science (Communication Topic)
- 27:17 - Segment 4: Talk With Sunny Zhang & Brennan Jones (Guest Interview)


- Connect with Sunny Zhang via Twitter: @sunnyyaying
- Connect with Brennan Jones via Twitter: @brennanjones
- Check out their recent XRmas project:
- Metaphorigins Instagram Page -
- Javier Sotomayor - Youtube -
- Evan Ungar - Youtube -
- Paul Anderson -
- Wired - Youtube -
- 9.27 theoretical limit -
- False Start (10th of a second rule) - Wikipedia -
- Cambridge Dictionary -
- Podiatry Idioms - Foot and Ankle Centre -
- Grammarist -
- Cinergy Coaching -
- -
- Phrase Finder -
- Leonardo diVinci - Scientific American -
- Maria Sybillla Merian - BMC -
- Johannes Bach - Tom McLeish - Irish Times -
- Applications - David Featherstone - Forbes -
- The Offspring -
- Tyehimba Jess - Youtube -
- Peter Trusler -
- Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - Wikipedia -
- CD Projekt - Cyberpunk 2077 - Wikipedia -
- EMBO Reports - Scientific Article -

Theme Music​

- Flying High by jantrax |
- Music promoted by Switxwr
- Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License |


To my glorious family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 26th episode of the Metaphorigins podcast.

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: Just a reminder, I will hold another draw on my 30th episode for the kitsch, butterfly-printed, custom Metaphorigins shirt, so stay tuned for that!

Okay. So for today’s episode, I will be speaking about a well known expression used at the beginning of relationships, whether those be platonic, romantic, or business.

Let’s breakdown the scene: you are an up-and-coming athlete participating in the Tokyo 2021 Summer Olympics. What’s your sport, you may ask? No, it’s not any of the team sports like basketball or volleyball. No, it’s not any sports with equipment, like cycling or shock put. No, you’re in the big leagues, standing next to the all-time greats like Florence Griffith Joyner and Usain Bolt. You are a track and field athlete aiming to beat the world record in the 100 m dash.

Before this career, you were a mathematician studying biomechanics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More specifically, you were specializing in kinesiology, a field of science delving into the anatomical and organic processes that govern human motion. You looked at, from a completely theoretical standpoint, what is physically possible in regards to human performance. What better subjects to study than the most elite humans in the entire world, olympic athletes.

How many different kinds of movements do you think humans can do? Let’s take jumping for example. The art of the jump requires a massive amount of force on the ground in order to accelerate one’s self against the force of gravity and achieve vertical height. Arms can be used as a way of increasing the momentum of the leap upwards. In regards to the olympics, the current world record hasn’t changed for almost 30 years, standing at 2.45 meters set by Javier Sotomayor from Cuba. For a static, standing jump, the current record is 1.6 m set by Evan Ungar from Oakville, Ontario. To put that in perspective, Mr. Ungar can jump vertically as high as the average Canadian woman is tall. Unreal.

Now let’s take lifting. There are different ways in which people can lift heavy weights. You can bend down and pick up a weight off the floor by afterwards standing completely straight. You can raise a weight over your head. All of these require incredible dedication to form and concentration, utilizing every relevant muscle to achieve the maximum amount of work. But what’s the most weight ever lifted by a human? That record goes to a man named Paul Anderson, who lifted 6,270 pounds off a back-lift on his shoulders. To put that into perspective, Mr. Anderson can lift one and a half SUVs on his shoulders. Incredible.

But you were obsessed with speed. So much so, your supervisor gave you complete control of the sprint lab, where research was focused on how fast someone can run. Up close, the form of sprinting is, at its core, beautiful. Athletes almost look like a living vector diagram, calculating angles and forces with every movement. Sprinting consists of one key objective: maximizing the force you apply to the ground in as little time as possible. At the elite level, sprinters can apply 5 times their body weight with contact to the ground occurring for only about 8 or 9 hundredths of a second.

Obsession was, in fact, putting it lightly. You couldn’t sleep. You dreamed about running. Every waking second you were figuring out what the theoretical limit is for humans to finish the 100 m dash. Man or woman, this record is set at 9.58 seconds by Usain Bolt, meaning that he ran on average 10.4 m per second, or over 37 km an hour. But is this the fastest time one could complete this race?

9.27 seconds. Austrialian physiologist and coach Dr. Jeremy Richmond published research with a major focus on reducing the amount of time runners are in contact with the ground, to its theoretical limit: from the current 8 or 9 hundredths of a second to 7 hundredths of a second.

Since he published first, and academia is all about producing original research, you quit the biomechanics lab and began your own career in running. Training for 3 years, you rose up the ranks and quickly made it to the big leagues, premiering in your first Olympic Games in Tokyo. And guess what, today is the qualifying round. You’re determined to achieve this 9.27 seconds.

You see, what researchers and other athletes fail to mention, is the take off. Runners reach about a third of their max speed before your last foot even leaves the starting foot pedals. There’s also your reaction time, which can shave off important milliseconds if practiced. You had the final trick, which was optimizing this incredibly important phase of the sprint.

How do you optimize the take off? For a long time, runners have already realized that your front foot, the one in which you push off and produce as much acceleration as you can muster, needs to be in contact with the pedal for as long as you can, such that you reach your maximum speed sooner. Obviously this doesn’t mean staying at the pedal for too long, but if, for example, you reach maximum speed 1 second faster, this decreases your overall time. Runners even developed the technique of dragging your back foot’s toe on the ground, thus intentionally giving you longer opportunity to apply force on the front foot’s pedal.

So where does the optimization come in? Reaction time. It’s a gamble, sure, but you’ve analyzed how much time it takes officials to produce the gunshot signalling the start of the race after the warning of “get set”. Current regulations will actually disqualify you if you move faster than a tenth of a second after the gun goes off. Your goal, is to move at EXACTLY one tenth of a second.

Well, the moment is here. Qualifying rounds have commenced, and you’re at the starting line. Everything you’ve researched, everything you’ve trained for has led to this moment. You hear “get ready”, your ears are perked. You hear, “get set”, and your butt is raised.

All of a sudden you have a race of thoughts hitting you. What was the method you used for guessing the tenth of a second reaction time? Two steamboats? Or three? Was it steamboats? Or was it Mississippis?

The gun goes off, but because you weren’t paying attention, you accidentally get off on the wrong foot, pushing with your back foot instead of your front and stumbling forward, adding precious milliseconds to your time. You finish the race just under 10 seconds, but last in your group.

Your coach runs on the field. “What happened? You’re take off was horrific.” He states, carrying a bin of used clothes.

“I’m going back to research.” You say, and throw in the towel.

Academia really be like that though, it just keeps reeling you back in. But anyway, hopefully you caught today’s expression towards the end of that story, and even learned some cool things along the way. Nonetheless, how does a bad start associate with incorrect walking?

What’s the origin to the expression, “get off on the wrong foot”?

*Theme Music*

Most of this information was obtained from several articles discussing the potential origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

An aspect I find interesting in regards to communication is the experience of forming and keeping relationships in one’s life. These can be platonic, romantic, completely business, there are many different relationships we form over the course of our lives. And not all, but a lot of our relationships form and take hold based on the first interaction. First impressions are cliché but certainly memorable. Think about it, can you recall how you first met your significant other? How they may have tongue-tied a string of words together to greet you out of nervousness? Or how about a candidate for a work or volunteer position on a team you lead? How they make have showed up late to the interview or wore beach sandals? In either case, people want to be remembered, but obviously in a positive light.

There are people who struggle to provide good first impressions. This could be due to a fault of their own, or not, circumstances out of their control that if mentioned seems like an unpalatable plea for sympathy. Society has little time to provide sympathy when many people in this world are fighting for the same relationships, to make friends, to meet partners, to build networks. People are placed in these races and unfortunately, they just get off on the wrong foot, and lag behind the rest.

An important skill in life, I’ve realized, is to search for the opposite and equally used idiom, “to get off on the right foot”. Personally, I’ve considered myself, well, not great at forming and keeping relationships. I figured that because I think too much and have difficulty saying words out loud on the spot, every impression I’ve made was either lacklustre or memorable in the worst way. An inability for any kind of small talk, which I still dread, or sticking my arm out to shake someone’s hand before even introducing myself. Moments of this calibre still reverberate in my mind. But these are all deemed as practice, experiences you learn from to find your footing and start the next race off on the right foot.

Reeling back, today’s expression, to get off on the wrong foot, is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as, “to start a relationship or activity badly”. Surprisingly, there are a lot of other idioms relating to podiatry. Highlighted by the Missouri and Illinois Foot and Ankle Centre, perhaps as we from time to time “get off on the wrong foot”, it may be due to the occurrence of “cold feet” and perhaps need to “put on a sock on it”, as we “wait for the other shoe to drop” in order to get our “foot in the door” so that we can “foot the bill” without hesitation. My my my, expressions are truly the “Achilles heel” to my attention.

Alright let’s get straight to it, the origin. The idea of a “wrong foot” was implicated in William Shakespeare’s King John, written in 1585, as the King bellows:

“Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.
O, let me have no subject enemies,
When adverse foreigners affright my towns
With dreadful pomp of stout invasion!
Be Mercury, set feathers to thy heels,
And fly like thought from them to me again.”

Yet, here are two of the most frequent theories that brought the saying into commonplace. Stated by Grammarist, Cinergy Coaching and, military personnel (which military, not specified) in the early 20th century adopted this saying to describe a soldier who had fallen out of sync during marching. By getting off on the wrong foot, the soldier would look awkward and out of place. These same sources also state the idea of right and wrong foots being used during the Roman Empire, and before that during the times of Ancient Greece.

Though, superstition may be where this all began. Mentioned in Cinergy Coaching, “For instance, we have right and left and right and wrong, which tends to associate left with wrong.” Also, there is a suggestion in this same source that in ancient Greece it was considered unlucky to put the left foot on the floor, or into one’s shoe, before the right foot. In fact, as stated by Phrase Finder, “It was thought unlucky to enter a house or to leave one’s chamber left foot foremost. [Saint] Augustus was very superstitious on this point. “

Therefore, it is likely that, literally due to the homographs of terms within the topics of morality and directionality, the expression “to get off on the wrong foot” or “to get off on the right foot” is rooted in legend, in amassing as much correct behaviour so as to favour your odds in the eyes of destiny. So perhaps, if your current relationships that have “got off on the wrong foot” are indeed strong, perhaps it was actually the right foot after all.

*Theme Music*

For my communication segment, I would like to talk about an abstract concept I don’t quite know how to define. The best way to imagine the notion would be the boundary dividing oil and water, like the organic and aqueous phases during a laboratory separation and purification procedure. And that topic, is the interface of art and science.

Let me begin with a story about naive Kevin. When I was a kid, I would tell my friends that music never appealed to me. As my peers would listen to Eminem’s Encore or 2Pac’s All Eyes on Me, two albums that I really admire, I would pretend that the idea of spending time on art was frivolous (a word I obviously didn’t know at the time). Yet, I would go home and play video games like Yoshi’s Island on the Super Nintendo, or read the 5th book of the Pendragaon Young Adult science fiction series, all of which I would constitute as art today. Or even my participation in learning karate after school, for which my mother had to discontinue due to shortage of finances, or helping my father and brother bake some pandisal (a filipino bread). How much I thought I was neglecting art throughout my youth in the pursuit of interests that stimulated me in a knowledgable, creative way. Art surrounded me, but I just couldn’t sense any of it.

Even up until recently, I shamefully disfavoured any indulgence of what I grew to understand as art in pursuit of science, of gaining knowledge about reality. Learning an instrument (now currently learning the fundamentals of playing the acoustic guitar), writing poetry (now presenting spoken word monologues on a national stage), preparing food (now curating healthy recipes trying to reduce my amount of meat consumption), as well as health and wellness (now learning the techniques of mindfulness, yoga and breathing), all of which took me 27 years to fully appreciate the almost spiritual space synthesized by mere experimentation. To my stubborn past self, “took you long enough”.

Where would science be without the advancement of art? And vice versa, where would art be without the advancement of science? In a 2017 blog post in EBSCO titled the STEAMy Relationship Between Art and Science, “A great deal of creativity is required to make scientific breakthroughs, and art is just as often an expression of (or a product of) scientific knowledge. Consider the science behind mixing paint in the correct proportions, or creating perspective in a drawing, or even imagining the dance of a quark.” One often needs a creative perspective, a vibrant imagination to conjure an understanding of the deep complexities we see (or don’t see) around us. Physics often comes to mind, like Einstein’s thought experiments of riding a light ray when developing his theory of special relativity, or Feynman diagrams to illustrate quantum field processes in terms of particle interactions, or the infamous cat in Shroedinger’s box to contemplate the superposition of particles and the observation (or looking into the box) thereby collapsing his wave function. These relatable concepts about unrelatable phenomena drive the continuous advancement of human intellect.

I went with physics because I’m fascinated at the level of creativity physicists have to convey complex ideas. But obviously art is found in all fields. Take mathematics, the language of physics. There’s the Fibonacci sequence first thought about when determining how rabbit populations may grow over time, found in all sorts of natural phenomena, and the videos of fractals that seem like psychedelic space-time loops. What about computer science? The learning of new coding languages to develop ingenious scripts, or the development of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Etherium, and Dogecoin via blockchains. Want more realism? Let’s go into biology. The idea that the structure of DNA is a twisting ladder of molecules, the symmetry of living organisms, hell, microscopy images of green fluorescent protein (or GFP). You never think this is art, but it is, really, it is. They are models, like the Venus de Milo, sculpted with sticks and balls, depicted with graphics from BioRender, communicated with forward slashes, hashtags and commands.

And in art, there also lies the necessary science that makes it so, unique. That reaction of, “Huh, never saw it like that”. As the general go-to polymath, many articles consider Leonardo di Vinci the epic combination of science and art. So I will highlight others. Mentioned in a blog post of BMC, you look at the colour palate of a Maria Sibylla Merian painting of a spider feasting on a bird, “The idea of a bird-eating spider was ridiculed at the time as fantasy. However, now we know that Merian was right and she drew a real predation event”. In music, though many come to mind, the one most noted is none other than Johannes Bach. Discussed in an article by the Irish Times, Dr. Tom McLeish of York University states, “His unsurpassed grasp of abstract structure, logical yet at the same time aesthetically satisfying, and creative of whole universes of musical form – that must stand for all time as a monument to the beauty of mathematical ideas, and as reflective of an understanding beyond compare.”

Science continues to appear in the artistic space. How many of us who have dedicated much of their lives to research consider doing other things? I know many who demonstrate artistic passions within the time constraints given their scientific projects. Painters, novelists, directors, bakers, fashionistas, yogis, graphic designers, botanists… The list goes on. Did you know the lead singer of the famous band the Offspring Dexter Holland has a PhD in Molecular Biology? And let’s not forget the cadence and psychology of elegant poetry. In a TedxNashville talk by Tyehimba Jess, he introduces the concept of Syncopated sonnets, a way of writing that has characters with distinct voices, but also when put together have another distinct charm. Here’s an excerpt of their combined verse: “We’ve mended two songs into one dark skin, we ride the wave of each other’s rhythm, bleeding soprono into contralto, beating our hearts syncopated tempo, we’re fused in blood and body in one thronged stem, budding twin blooms of song, we are a double rose, descended from raw carnage of the south, the music all our own, with our mouths bursting open our freedom, we sing past rage seeped in the glow of hand me down courage grown from hard labour that made our mothers shout.” Presented in butterfly format (just perfect for this podcast), do watch the video of his poem on the McKoy twins. Don’t tell me there’s not science to the organization of language or the chemical reactions which give rise to the feelings towards the poem’s vocabulary.

There is a desire to grasp what lies right in front of us, what was laid before us and what will lie after us in the future. Both art and science do just that through the communication of testable ideas, which we then apply in our lives to make sense of it. In a 2016 Forbes article titled Why art and science are more closely related than you think, Dr. Dave Featherstone of the University of Illinois mentions, “Both science and art have useful spin-offs. Applied science is technology. Applied art is decoration. Technology and decoration are applications of science and art for practical purposes. Technology and decoration make life easier. But they don't change how we fundamentally perceive what is around us. Science and art do.” For the past, artists like Peter Trusler have given us a window into what long-extinct creatures may have looked like based on archaeological evidence. And for the future, storytellers like Aldous Huxley provide glimpses of where society may evidently go if we give into human pleasures, or video games like CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077 showcasing society’s increasing symbiosis of man and machine. Current technologies and future technologies alike, help us to ultimately shed light on the darkness that which is reality, and decorations adapting to the ever changing culture of humanity help communicate what that light fundamentally is.

What I’m effortfully trying to convey is the greying of this boundary, this interface of art and science. Stated in a 2019 EMBO Reports article about the intersections of art and science through time and paths forward, “This interplay underlies much of the modern scientific methods and processes of art, as both artists and scientists do not comprehensively copy, but rather interpret and curate what they see into something meaningful and relevant.” In reality, what I’ve realized, by neglecting art for much of my entire life to focus on the acquisition of knowledge, both the scientist and the artist think the same and ultimately have the same objective. Both scientists and artists want to demonstrate to the public a novel aspect of reality from a perspective that gives you the Eureka moment, or that flushed-cheek sensation. A good scientist can communicate experimental findings in a comprehensive manner, and a good artist can master the techniques to build a vision. Sadly, we only fully grasp the beauty of it all at this dual liquid interface, divided only by a initial unwillingness to spend some time on the other side. Perhaps the solution to speed up human progress is to invest resources in a less stubborn emulsifier.

*Theme Music*

For today’s episode, I’ll be doing my first group discussion, interviewing two people who are right at that boundary between Art and Science, manipulating reality to provide support via distance technologies.

My first guest is a Microsoft Software Engineer and also a researcher on Human-Computer Interaction, specifically on Virtual and Mixed reality technologies. She’s especially fascinated by the areas where art and logic combine.

My second guest is a PhD Candidate also in Human-Computer Interaction, and Computer Science at the University of Calgary, and a visiting scholar at Simon Fraser University. His research involves designing and building futuristic telepresence, remote collaboration, and social computing technologies using tools such as VR, AR, robotics, and video communication. He also runs user studies and empirical research to understand people's needs and figure out how to design interfaces and experiences that better fit the user. He likes to blow people’s minds and warm people’s hearts.

Please welcome the astoundingly smart, Sunny Zhang and Brennan Jones.

*Theme Music*


And thank you for listening to this episode of the Metaphorigins podcast. For yet another update, I’ve recently started on the research pertaining to my PhD project on the impact of microRNAs on the gut microbiome. Specifically working with our team responsible for creating the conditional knockout mouse model. More updates will be given via bits and pieces throughout the season, so stay tuned, and hope you enjoy this captivating crusade. Remember to follow the Instagram page for visual updates as well as to be entered into the draw for the custom, butterfly-printed Metaphorigins shirt which will be given out on the 30th episode. Until then, stay skeptical but curious.

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