Grant Muller

Center of the Earth: Coming in Hot

Feb 16th 2012

"We’re coming in kinda hot, aren’t we?"

"Uhh, yeah"

The little display embedded in the seat in front of me indicated Time remaining to destination: 25 min. I glanced up seconds later and it read 19. Moments prior the captain had indicated that we shouldn’t be concerned with the woman lying in the aisle, and that she was well taken care of. He kindly asked that we stay seated while they rush her off the plane after we land. He didn’t mention we’d be landing almost an hour ahead of schedule.

"The way Quito is situated at altitude, in the valley, they have to be very careful when they land"

Our neighbor on the plane, a native of Quito had struck up a conversation to take our minds off of the dicey landing we were about to make. He picked a brilliant ice-breaker. We moved on quickly to topics ranging from work-life balance and former jobs, but mostly he focused on recommendations for things to see in Ecuador. We were grateful for the suggestions and the conversation, and hardly noticed as the plane dove from cruising altitude and roughly touched down. It raced down the runway in the rain much longer that it should have, and when we came to a complete stop, the cabin erupted with applause.

On our way out of the plane, a passenger asked the obviously harried pilot how much runway he had left. 3000 feet. We would later find out that we almost landed in Panama instead of Quito, Ecuador to get the woman in the aisle off the plane. Luckily the passenger in front of her was a doctor, and took good care of her while we sped towards our real destination. We got off the plane and headed for the taxi stands, unsure of whether or not our hearts were beating too quickly from the altitude or the landing.

(1 of 4)A ten minute taxi ride later and we were at our Hotel. It would be a mistake to call it a hotel of course, we weren’t staying at the Marriot. Cary found a place called Jumbo Lodging, a highly rated bed and breakfast style lodging in Quito’s Old Town. Despite its name, Jumbo has four rooms, a kitchen and a common area, which is very similar to the havelis we stayed in while touring India. The rooms are brightly painted, open to the street below, and feature few unnecessary adornments. There isn’t a TV in the place (though wifi is available). Luis runs Jumbo with his wife and daughter, and is an extremely knowledgeable native of Quito with an endless supply of suggestions. This next part is very important. Luis makes the best cup of coffee I have ever had in a hotel anywhere. It turns out that he has his own coffee and chocolate bean farm, which is the source of his fantastic brew. With any luck I can talk him into selling me a batch of green beans to roast at home before we leave.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we could experience the coffee we would need to sleep. And sleep we did. Tomorrow would be our first day in Ecuador.

Casio MG-510 Midi Guitar

Back when I documented the repair of the Casio PG-380 MIDI Guitar, I had no idea that this post was going to dominate the traffic patterns to my little home on the web. Fully 1/3 of all visitors to this site come to that post, asking questions, posting comments, and requesting repairs. One request I’ve gotten over and over is a repair on the Casio MG-510.

The Casio MG-510 is like the little brother of the Casio PG-380. The base functionality is similar, but the 510 lacks some of the extra features that the PG-380 offers. The 510 has no space for an expansion slot, and no internal synthesizer, which for most software synth users is just fine. The biggest differences you’ll notice between the 380 and the 510 are hammer on sensing and the ability to perform pitch bends. The 510 is strictly chromatic; when you bend it assumes the same pitch until you bend far enough to change notes, in which case a note off and note on message are sent and interpreted. The 380 will perform a pitch bend at even the slightest pull of the string.

The 510 and 380 share one major flaw though: the electrolytic capacitors used for the pitch envelopes. These heinous little surface mount caps tend to leak over the years, especially on the 510, leading to corrosion and in most cases total failure of the MIDI capabilities in the guitar.

I finally got around to repairing one of these guitars, and the process is so similar to the PG-380 that it would be a shame not to document it. If you’re new to this you should probably refer to the post on the PG-380 before getting started.

You will need:

  • 6 x 1 uF non-polarized electrolytic capacitors
  • 4 x 10 uF polarized electrolytic capacitors
  • 1 x 22 uF polarized electrolytic capacitor
  • 1 x 4.7 uF polarized electrolytic capacitor
  • 1 x 33 uF polarized electrolytic capacitors
  • Anything you need to unsolder old capacitors and solder on new ones

First, crack open the back and take a look at the boards:

(1 of 5)

You’ll see two double-stacked and plugged into three header cables.

Take both boards out (unlike the PG-380 you have to operate on both):

(2 of 5)

 

Take a look at the capacitors on both boards below:

(3 of 5)

Top of PCB 1 – C9, C18, C33: 1uF non-polarized electrolytic

 

(4 of 5)

Bottom of PCB 1 C42, C52, C63: 1uF non-polarized electrolytic

 

(5 of 5)

Top of PCB 2

  • C4, C22, C29, C12: 10 uF polarized electrolytic
  • C30: 22 uF polarized electrolytic
  • C31: 4.7 uF polarized electrolytic
  • C48: 33 uF polarized electrolytic

Basically, for both boards, replace the capacitors with the caps above using capacitors of identical value. It shouldn’t matter if you use polarized caps for the entire repair, since the frequencies are not high enough to affect response times, but use non-polarized where needed above if possible.

You will find that you have 2 "extra" caps (seems like 2 for each string plus 2). I know that one capacitor is used for CPU reset (C30), but I’m not entirely sure what the last one is for. I replaced it anyway.

Some notes:

  • The traces on the top board are very small. You might find yourself pulling them while unsoldering the old caps. Not to worry, there are plenty of places to solder the new caps.
  • Corrosion makes for crappy contacts. If you find that your caps have corroded, particularly on the lower board, you will need to sand the corrosion down with steel wool or other light abrasive until you can expose some copper to solder to. On the guitar I repaired the corrosion was severe, and I spent a lot of time scraping out leaky capacitor guts.

That’s really all there is to it. Plug the boards back into their headers, screw them back into the guitar, and adjust the trim pots as needed to calibrate the guitar again.

Coffee Sack Sound Baffles

Several years ago I began acoustically treating my studio for recording drums and mixing. I did some research and pricing; it didn’t take a spreadsheet to discover that acoustic paneling was both overpriced and hideous. I searched some more and devised a solution that was both economical and classy.

Acoustic paneling is simple stuff. You get some kind of absorbent material, optionally covered with sonically neutral fabric, and hang it on a surface. You can use spacers to increase the gap between the wall and the panel to increase the amount of absorbency, and of course your choice in material will affect the frequency range, amount of reduction, and all that. Let’s skip the science though and get right into the implementation.

You will need:

  • An Absorbent Material
  • 1″ x 3″ boards
  • 1″ x 2″ boards
  • Fabric (see below)
  • Nail or screw gun
  • Stapler
  • Dry wall fasteners (wing nut style)

First, select an absorbent material. You could go simple and use the pink stuff. You know, the insulation they sell at Home Depot with the panther on it. Good ‘ol R-30. This material is fine and all, but from the perspective of space it is far from ideal. It’s bulky, and in a space as confined as mine I wanted something that wasn’t going to shrink my studio by more than a few square feet. I went with Owens-Corning 703 but you’ve got some other options, like Roxul RHT 80, which is much cheaper. 

The material I bought comes in 24″ x 48″ x 2″ by default, but can be cut smaller using a razor blade. Wear gloves and long sleeves if you decide to cut it, unless you like that itchy feeling. I went the lazy route and planned my room sans cutting.

SoundBaffles 1

The next step was to build a frame to contain the panel. Sure, you could just duct tape it to the wall, but a frame gives it a cleaner look and allows you to space the panel away from the wall. The frame also gives you something to attach the fabric to. I used 1″ x 3″ cedar boards because they’re extremely light and inexpensive, and the panels fit perfectly in them. No need to get fancy with dovetail joints and wood glue, just cut some straight boards and join them together with a nail gun, stapler, screws, or whatever you have laying around. You’re dog might casually sniff your frame:

SoundBaffles 7


After your frame is built, you’ll want to attach your fabric. You have a lot of freedom here to dress these panels up, so long as you choose a fabric that will allow most or all sound through. Many tight weave fabrics will reflect frequencies preventing them from even reaching your absorbent material, which kind of defeats the purpose. I went with coffee sacks since I had a ready supply of them, they’re sonically neutral, and I think they look cool. Your dog might question your selection:

SoundBaffles 3

Using a staple gun or a fastener of some kind, stretch the fabric across the front of the frame and staple each side. You’re probably not going to learn to be an upholsterer here, but try to get a drum-tight frame across the front of the panel, leaving the back open. After you’ve stapled the fabric around the frame, stuff the panel into the it. Eventually your dog will get tired of whatever it is you’re doing an leave.

SoundBaffles 11

Your panel should look something like this:

SoundBaffles 15

And it probably looks something like this from the front:

SoundBaffles 17

Technically you could build a stand or mount of some kind and move this around wherever you wanted, but I opted to hang mine from the walls (and ceiling). I used 1″ x 2″ boards to hang all of my panels. A 1″ x 2″ attached flat to the wall provides a 3/4″ standoff between the wall and your panel when you hang it. First, I cut 2 1″ x 2″ boards just long enough to fit inside the back of my frames. Then, I drilled two holes and inserted a bolt appropriately sized for these wing nuts:

SoundBaffles 19

From there it is a simple matter of hanging the standoff wherever you want your panels to hang. Mark your holes on the wall, drill where the marks are, press the bolts (already attached to the 1″ x 2″), then tighten:

SoundBaffles 21

Take your panel and hang it on the 1″ x 2″. You can attach, with screws or nails, the panel to the 1″ x 2″, but I find it unnecessary. Plus if you leave them free hanging you can move them around if you get bored with the way they look.

SoundBaffles 25

That’s pretty much it. I realized that this wasn’t particularly novel when I realized that this guy did almost the same thing independently, but I think the coffee sacks were a nice touch.

Oh…and ATS Acoustics offers their own coffee sack acoustic panels…for a price…

Another Southern Odyssey

Exhausted, sore, and half-asleep, I stare into the read-view mirror of our van. While I wait for Jeremy to appear on the horizon behind me, I strike up a conversation with a much younger version of myself.

“We enjoy this?”

“Hell yes!”

The young me grins from ear to ear, gripping a roll of quarters at an all-night arcade lockin. A bearded, haggard, and much older me smiles back before I run off into a maze of video game consoles. Probably to play Tekken.

Jeremy’s head pops up over the ridge, and I’m back in the van. I rub my eyes and hop out into the dewy morning grass, stomping around to warm up. Jeremy is moving slow. Part of me wants to urge him on rather than take his place, but he’s already picked up almost six miles of the eight mile run, he needs a break. In a few minutes, a slap bracelet wraps around my wrist and I’m off again; the two mile run ahead of me will be the shortest and most difficult.

A year ago, I ran the Southern Odyssey, my first 24+ hour relay race with a group of friends from High School. It was a tiresome saga full of ups and downs, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. When John sent out the APB to get the team back together I was all in. We paid our way into the race and had what looked to be a full team. We all looked forward to a milder, less intense Southern Odyssey in 2011.

A year later as I hobbled down a country road toward my next pit stop, I recalled how we still managed to end up with eight runners. There were dropouts related to injuries just weeks before the race. John, initially the organizer of the team, had moved to Malibu several months prior and couldn’t make the trip out to Atlanta to join the team. Then we had injuries along the way. Drew, one of our strongest runners, struggled to get by with a taped up calf. Aaron, himself a sub for a runner we lost to injuries before the race, was run off the road during his third leg. He rolled his ankle so badly it looked like a grapefruit was growing from his leg. We divided up the extra mileage and persisted.

As I rounded a curve on what seemed to be a neverending hill, I heard a long low note. The vuvuzela.

Jeremy, perhaps the most upbeat person I’ve ever met, had brought a host of toys along for the ride. One was a vuvuzela. By the end of the race this $.60 plastic horn would become the sound of mercy on the horizon for our team as we approached a pit stop. You can hear it bellow a half mile away, and the sound means one thing. You’re getting close.

The vuvuzela urged me on. I woke from whatever half-dream state I was in and found new energy to continue. It was a reminder that weariness and exhaustion can easily be overcome with the right stimulation. In my case, the sound of a $.60 plastic horn.

And so it was another Southern Odyssey. Many of the trials and tribulations are the same from year to year, but to truly understand you must experience it yourself. I always come away from it feeling deeply satisfied. Perhaps its the binge eating afterwards. Whatever the case, I can offer this advice:

Buy a vuvuzela. Buy six of them and leave them around the house. Leave one in your car. Leave one in the bathroom. Take it to your kid’s basketball game. Take it to your next board meeting. Use it to annouce the birth of your daughter to the rest of the maternity ward. No matter what the occasion, the vuvuzela is the most appropriate way to celebrate it.

Algorithms Can Really Beat You Up

“Here’s a simple one” remarked the young man as he drew a diagram on the board. “You should have this figured out in about five minutes.”

I stared at the pyramid of numbers scribbled hastily in blue dry erase. The only thing clear to me in that moment was that I wouldn’t have this figured out in five minutes. Or even ten.

“Any number in the pyramid, or in this case tree array, is the sum of the two numbers above it,” the young man continued, “write a function that gets the value of any x, y coordinate in this structure.”

Hearing it out loud didn’t improve my confidence much. I stood in front of the white board with the dry erase marker hanging slack in my hand. It occured to me that five minutes had probably already passed. I began to draw lines on the board connecting various nodes. I drew the coordinates of array values at various locations, hoping an answer would pop out at me. I stood back and chewed on the marker a little before realizing what I was doing. I was dumbfounded. I was stumped.

I gave up.

I walked away from the board that day, defeated. It was the first blow my ego had experienced in a long time, and over such a simple problem, one that I apparently should have solved “in about five minutes”. I began to question my ability as a software engineer. I began to question whether all the software I’d written over the past half-decade was worthless junk. Maybe I’m just not l33t? Maybe if I can’t even solve a problem so seemingly simple in “about five minutes”, I should just hang up my hat?

The problem hung over my head for the next week. One night, as I laid in an uncomfortable Chicago bed, I thought long and hard about what happened that day. I couldn’t believe that I gave up. I never give up. I walked away without getting to a solution. Over the past week I hadn’t even tried to solve the problem. I slumped around feeling sorry for myself and my apparent lack of skill as an engineer. That night, somewhere between waking and dreaming, I stopped the pity party and started figuring the damn thing out.

The mental image of that numerical pyramid that had haunted my thoughts over the past week was top of mind as I woke in the morning. I started to trace through it as I showered, creating further iterations. Adding values at the end in an effort to find a pattern somewhere. I grabbed my iPad and stylus and drew it out again, adding array notation values as I had drawn on the board.

I stopped thinking about how long it was taking me to solve the problem, and focused on this pyramid of numbers. I still couldn’t find a pattern in the values, nothing that said to me that for any x, y coordinate I could simply subtract or add a number here or there and have a solution.

Not too long afterwards Cary awoke and we walked to a local coffee shop (Intelligentsia on Randolph St, highly recommended).

“Whatcha working on” Cary asked.

I described the problem to her.

“It sounds like something that has no practical application in the real world.”

True or not, It dominated my mental world, and I had to solve it before I went crazy. I started to use Cary as a sounding board.

“I should just start writing down the rules that I know.” I suggested out loud.

“Yeah, treat it like a logic puzzle”

So I did. Here were the rules I came up with:

 1. 0, 0 = 1
 2. 1, 0 = 1
 3. 1, 1 = 1
 4. if x is equal to y, then the value is 1
 5. if y is equal to 0, then the value is 1

That looked about right. I focused on these rules instead of a pyramid. I realized that rule 4 is really the same as rule 1 and 3. 0 is equal to 0, and 1 is equal to 1. I also realized that rule 2 is the same as rule 5. In the end, I really only had 2 rules:

 1. if x is equal to y, then the value is 1
 2. if y is equal to 0, then the value is 1

I distilled further.

 1. if x is equal to y, then the value is 1
 2. if x or y is less than 0, or y is less than x than the value is 0.

“I’m an idiot” I groaned, “It’s a simple recursive function.”

All of the values could be derived from two simple rules, their parent nodes derived from their parent’s node and so on. If I wanted to know the value of any number in the array, it was simply a matter of performing the check again, using the same function, on the left and right hand side of the expression, all the way back to 0, 0.

Let’s look at it more closely:

The value of any x, y coordinate in the system is the sum of two other values in the coordinate system, x-1, y-1 and x-1, y. For example, to get the value of the integer at location 4, 2:

getValue(4, 2) = getValue(3, 1) + getValue(3, 2)
    getValue(3, 1) = getValue(2, 0) + getValue(2, 1)
    getValue(3, 2) = getValue(2, 1) + getValue(2, 2)
         getValue(2, 0) = getValue(1, -1) + getValue(1, 0)
         getValue(2, 1) = getValue(1, 0) + getValue(1, 1)
         getValue(2, 1) = getValue(1, 0) + getValue(1, 1)
         getValue(2, 2) = getValue(1, 1) + getValue(1, 2)
              etc

Given that these two values are themselves the sum of their “parent” nodes, this same function can be called with their coordinates plugged in for x and y, and those values summed, all the way back to the value of 0, 0. If I pick an x or y coordinate that is less than 0, or if I pick a value pair like 5 and 6, then I’m going to get a 0 back. Everything else should return a 1 or the sum of the parent nodes.

Here was the simple 3 line ruby function I wrote to accommodate this:

It was that simple.

This was an important reminder that sometimes you just have to walk away from a problem, shake your hands out, talk to your wife over coffee, and relax before approaching the problem again. It restored my confidence to go back and solve this little problem. My ego had taken a real blow, and the thought of giving up on it was driving me bat shit crazy. Its a lot like riding a bike or doing backflips. If you screw up and land on your face, you have to immediately get up and do ten more to avoid the psychological after effects of that perceived failure.

To get back on the bike, I plan on doing several more of these over the next few months. Depending on how interesting they are, I’ll report them here.

Update: Victor Nicollet has educated me in the way of Pascal’s Triangle, the diagram featured above. His solution to the problem and accompanying blog post are well worth the time to read and understand. Thanks Victor.

Another Schwinn Prelude?

After a leisurely lunch on the Marietta Square yesterday, I came across this:

SchwinnPrelude-79

Another Schwinn Prelude!

It seems I’m not the only one who was unimpressed with the original rusted gunmetal gray look.

The owner of this Prelude painted theirs similarly to mine. A base coat of cream with an accent color for the lugs and forks. Observe:

SchwinnPrelude-75

 

This Prelude owner went with green, no doubt as an accent to the sexy leather Brooks seat and handlebar tape. I also like the fork paint:

SchwinnPrelude-76

 

No detail was left:

SchwinnPrelude-77SchwinnPrelude-78

 

All in all a very impressive redux! Anyone else have a Schwinn Prelude Redux to Share?

Programming, Languages, and Hacking the Way We Think

Last night I read a wonderful article about programming languages. It opened with a quote:

A language that doesn’t affect the way you think about programming is not worth knowing.

Alan Perlis

After a few minutes of thinking about it, I changed the quote to read:

A language that doesn’t change the way you think is not worth knowing.

I don’t think in Ruby. Or Perl. Or Python. I certainly don’t think in any of the C derivatives. I think in English. Even when I program I put a series of nouns, verbs and adjectives together to form sentences that the computer will be able to interpret and compile into byte code.

What does it mean to be an English thinker? What effect does the language and it’s syntax have on me? Does English have more strong verbs than Eastern languages? Does that have some effect on my thought processes compared to say, a native Japanese speaker? What about other languages, programming or otherwise? If I learned Italian well enough to think in it, would it fundamentally change the way I think?

What about structure? Does the structure of a human language change the way we think like the structure of a programming language does? Perhaps I find that I can more eloquently express myself in Manadarin than in English on the topic of art, or that I prefer the conciseness of German when trying to explain mathematical concepts. What about taking human languages and learning them to change the way I think about a subject, just as I would mix and match programming languages depending on their utility.

Could I boil a human language down to the extent that I could say with confidence “The best language for describing training exercises to an athlete is Russian”?

I have a proposition: Learn a new spoken language. Learn it well enough to think in that language. Understand and document the way that thinking in the new language changes the way you think. Perhaps its looking at verb order, and what verb order means to people who reverse verbs and their objects? Perhaps its looking at the use of adjectives, and what it does to the way you mentally describe things?

I could see this turning into a study of some sort.

When programming, you’re looking for a balance of conciseness, eloquency and maintainablity when you choose your “words”. If we could do the same with human language, putting a different language into use dependent on the situation, could we maximize our potential as thinkers and by proxy, communicators?

Todo-CL 2.0.0

A while back I created a simple command line tool that allowed me to create tasks from Launchy and send them directly to Toodledo. My process was simple. I’d create a bunch of tasks throughout the day while doing other stuff, then sometime that night (or the next morning) I’d go through all those tasks and put them in the right container, assign due dates, and make projects out of them if necessary. This works great for tasks that can wait a day.

But what about tasks that can’t wait a day?

I realized that what I needed was a way to add a due date of ‘today’ inline with the task. I played with the code and in about 10 minutes or so I had the feature added.

That was easy, why not take it further?

So I did. Todo-CL has a slew of new options for creating tasks from the command line, or in my case, from Launchy. Here is a snapshot of the README file, which includes the new context switches for adding tasks on the fly:

Additional Options

  • -t –tags comma delimited list of tags

    todo.exe a task with tags -t work,play,tag3

  • -f –folder folder to insert the task into

    todo.exe a task with a folder -f Inbox

  • -c –context context to use

    todo.exe a task with a context -c Home

  • -l –length length of the task in minutes

    todo.exe a task with a length -l 20

  • -s –set set a default property

    Format = PROPERTY:VALUE (ex: folder:Actions)

    todo.exe set default folder -s folder:Inbox todo.ext set default context -s context:Home

    If set all new tasks will go to the default folder or context

  • -h –help display this help screen

To download version 2.0.0 visit the project page on github.

Is it Avant Jazz Industrial Noise? No, It’s STFUnity.

2933683006-1

Its not jazz. It’s not fusion. It’s not electronic. It’s not industrial. I don’t have a word to describe what happened when musicians of very different backgrounds got together virtually to create music.

I can only call it STFUnity.

Finished while I was on holiday in India, STFUnity is what happens when an anarchist saxophonist blasts over the work of a precision drum programmer. Its what happens when an algorithmic composer high-fives his drum kit, then asks for someone to play a solo over it. Its what happens when a keyboardist demands that the entire album be mixed into one of the tracks…indeterminately. Its alternately gentle and violent instrumental frosting spread over an electronic layer cake that got up and triple-lindyed off a countertop.

I haven’t listened to many of the the tracks since their early completion some time ago, and I find myself remembering fondly the process of creating them as much as the result. Built almost entirely over the web, the project was initiated by Bill Graham and Jason Blain early in 2010. My contributions came primarily in the form of sound design and algorithmic control, though a few tracks I laid the base for, leaving Jason and Bill to render further. You can read about that here and here.

One track I haven’t mentioned is BitBlit. Written in 25/8 time, I played the drums live, then sliced what can liberally be called a “pattern” into constituent parts varying in length between 8th and half notes. Then, using GOLSequencer I changed the entry point and various effects, mangling the once straightforward 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 5/8 sequence into something unrecognizable.

That ‘straightforward’ part is supposed to be a joke.

It’s worthwhile to listen to a before and after, so you can see how much different the tracks are once other members of the group get a hold of them. Notice how BitBlit as I rendered it graduates to full-fledged song from cheesy video game interstitial.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

BitBlit Before

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

BitBlit After

So, what are you waiting for? Download it. It’ll crush your bones at no cost (that means it’s free). Click here.

In Defense of Shoes

Go to your favorite hiking trail. Walk down the path, then sit down for a moment and take off your shoes and socks. Keep walking.

Notice where your eyes go.

If you’re anything like me, or the people I’ve watched perform this same exercise, your eyes go directly to the path in front of you. Sharp rocks wait to slice your foot open, introducing hookworms or bacteria into your bloodstream. Tree roots have grown across the path plotting a stubbed toe for every passerby. Acorns roll onto the trail from a nearby oak, lying in wait to do some damage to those tender arches. The path, no matter how well-trod, is rife with danger. So you keep your eyes peeled to avoid even the tiniest obstacles.

But think about where your eyes aren’t.

No longer are you surveying the landscape for a hidden predator. No longer are you keeping your eyes peeled for a blackberry patch or a rabbit, frozen by the appearance of a potential enemy. No longer are you thinking of how beautiful it is to see the blooms of a wild cherry tree as the wind rustles their tiny petals. No, you must keep your eyes on the road ahead.

You can put your shoes back on now, and enjoy those cherry trees.

Shoes have gotten a bad rap lately. Blamed for everything from knee problems to spinal injury, walking shod is starting to look like less of a boon than a liability. But as the exercise above illustrates there are distinct advantages, especially to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to sporting something on your soles.

Shoes are a tool. Like most human inventions, it gave us a distinct advantage over our competitors and the environment, allowing us to perform a simple act:

Looking around.

The ability to become less concerned with the path under our feet, and concentrate on the road ahead is too tremendous to describe.

To draw a nerd parallel, computer programs often have "watchdog" routines built into them. These watchdogs prevent the program from crashing by performing constant checks to make sure that everything is moving smoothly. These watchdog routines take time. They consume processing ability. They take up space. If you could remove these watchdogs, you’d have capacity for other things. If you can become less concerned with what you’re walking on, you can become more concerned with the beauty of the mountain pass you’re walking through.

Shoes are important. No matter how much our modern minds would like to demonize what walking shod has done to us, its important to remember what walking shod has done for us. Is it clear that poorly designed shoes can cause detriment to our gait and posture? Absolutely, and our modern ability to examine this can in some small way be traced to that fact that we at some point decided that we were tired of training our eyes 3 feet in front of us, and instead began to look miles ahead.

I go barefoot often. I have been running and walking in goofy toe shoes for years. But I respect ancient man’s decision to wear shoes, no matter how poorly we’ve designed them in recent years. The same goes for the agricultural revolution, which has received some poor press in modern times. I may not eat wheat, but that doesn’t diminish it’s importance to our ancestors.

It’s imperative to recognize that human civilization is built with a scaffolding. That scaffolding at times is found to be dangerous, and alternatives are sought and implemented. Bamboo is replaced with pine. Pine is replaced with steel. Then you find that there was nothing wrong with the bamboo and you return to it. It’s just scaffolding, the civilization is what you’re building.

That’s ok.

You live in the times that you live in and you climb the scaffolding that you’re given thinking its the safest place to be.

So respect shoes, even if you don’t wear them all the time. Who knows how much of our modern world depended on that simple innovation.

Image courtesy of matthetube. Article first published as In Defense of Shoes on Blogcritics.