reviews


I’ve been wearing “barefoot shoes” for about six years now and they have taught me a few things about feet and shoes in general:

1) We need shoes. No matter how adapted our bare feet are to forest floors or savannah, which is debatable, they are not adapted to industrial landscapes. This is true no matter how gnarly your feet get and no matter how prancing of a gait you adopt. (If this does not seem true to you, you are either young, do not have a real job, or both, and that’s awesome. Enjoy it while you can.) This is especially true if you like to have fun with foot-intense activities like dancing all night, or running marathons.

2) All shoes are uncomfortable, even barefoot shoes. You may not yet know this because you wear shoes all the time or haven’t paid enough attention.  The major problems with shoe discomfort are from narrow toe boxes, heaviness, stiff uppers, heel lift, and lack of cushion. Since there are no truly comfortable, versatile shoes right now, I have to assume these are tough engineering problems. Still, I can complain.

3) The toe box seems to be a fashion problem rather than an engineering problem. Clearly, narrow toe boxes are hipper than wide ones. I remember the first time I saw a shoe with a wide toe box (a early-2000s Birkenstock shoe) how weird and somehow wrong they looked to me. This, I think, is something we just have to get over. We need shoes that are shaped like feet. Anything else is culturally accepted foot binding. Look at any old person’s feet and ask yourself, did they “break in” their shoes or did their shoes “break in” their feet?

(Those early Birkenstock shoes turned out to be really heavy, clunky, and with painfully stiff uppers. Can’t recommend them even though their toe box was lovely.)

4) Once you get used to barefoot shoes, regular shoes mostly feel like cement blocks tied to your feet, and you can feel the weight and clunkiness of them jarring your ankles and knees with each step. It’s awful. Barefoot shoes are straightforwardly better in this way. However, if your real job involves the possibility of heavy and/or sharp objects landing on your feet, there are no good barefoot shoe options for you.

5) A surprising number of barefoot shoes have stiff uppers that cut into the tops of your feet almost as bad as normal dress shoes. Nike Frees have the best upper I’ve found so far, though it depends on the model, and they have heel-lift problems.

6) Heel lift may have a place for runners–I’m not particularly a runner so I have no opinion–but is purely uncomfortable otherwise. Once you are used to no heel lift, putting on heel lift shoes feels like standing on or walking down a slope constantly, which is hard on the toes and knees. The only thing I’d miss about heel lift is getting to be slightly taller than my wife every once in a while, which is nice for partner dancing.

7) Barefoot shoe enthusiasts say your feet need to be able to feel the terrain, and many barefoot shoes have little or no cushion underneath to accomplish this. I do enjoy being able to feel the terrain, as long as it is not concrete, but as far as I can tell the benefit of this is still an open question. It is obviously, experientially true, though, that walking without cushion is more tiring and harsher on feet, legs, and low back than walking with cushion.  Walking through a city in very low cushion shoes, like Terra Plana Vivobarefoots, it is clear that sidewalk is harsher than asphalt to walk on, which is harsher than brick or cobblestone–the more texture the better. Lawns and devil strips are the best terrain you will find in a city by far, and barefoot shoes turn you into a deviant grass-walker.

8) Barefoot shoe enthusiasts believe that arch support is just bad, that it weakens the muscles that would otherwise hold up your arch, making you dependent on supports. I think it is more complicated than that. I think spending time with collapsed arches is probably worse than having weak arch-supporting muscles, so be careful, especially during taxing activities like backpacking. After some experimentation, I’ve settled on wearing flexible, custom leather orthotics in my barefoot shoes most of the time–any time I’ve got a long day on my feet or doing anything athletic for an extended time. When my feet are fresh, the supports don’t seem to come into play much. When tired, they rest on the supports. It’s working for me so far.

9) It may be possible to design truly comfortable, versatile shoes. I’d like to try Nike Frees with no heel lift and without the wide sole in the heel. That might be the perfect athletic shoe, especially if they could tone down the bright, ugly color combinations so long compulsory for athletic shoes. For work, I’d like to try Terra Plana’s Vivobarefoot Gobi Suede but with some cushion in the sole.

10) I can’t comment much on toe shoes, but I haven’t found any that fit me. I am interested in them for the way they spread toes out–maybe they could help correct problems that years of regular shoes create. I found, though, that I needed a perfect fit: Too small hurts and too big means little floppy extensions on the end of each toe. No thanks. I have been wearing Injinji toe socks to get a little spread for the last few months and I like them.

 

My Shoes for the Last Year

Vivobarefoot Terraplanas. I wear these to work most of the time.

Vivobarefoot Terra Planas. I wear these to work most of the time. I got married in these.

Nike Free Run + for anything athletic or yard work.

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Merrell Edge Gloves for casual stuff, or a break from the others. I wear these the least, but a few times a week.

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Matt Miller has started a new podcast called This Is Interesting. I just listened to the first one and it’s good. I’m a big fan of his political conversation podcast Left, Right and Center, where he moderates as the political centrist between a liberal and conservative pundit. I’ve listened to him do that show hundreds of times, so I am very familiar with where he’s coming from and interesting in his take on things. (I’ve written about LR&C here.)

I think this show will stand on its own, though. So far it’s a bit like a “deep read” episode of Planet Money, talking in some depth to authors about their topic. In the first This Is Interesting–“The Robots are Coming!”–Matt talks to Martin Ford of The Lights in the Tunnel and Erik Brynjolfsson of Race Against the Machine.

A couple of the ideas I’m left with:

Outsourcing jobs is just a stage in the direction of mechanizing them, so countries like China and India stand to be hit the hardest by the rise of robots.

What a job pays is not a great indicator of whether it is in danger of robot-takeover. Radiologists will be robots pretty soon, but housekeeping staff will not. Auto mechanics are safe for a while too, combining the physical dexterity and cognitive flexibility that is difficult for now to mechanize. (I’m guessing I’m safe as a therapist (though they’re working on it) for the time being. I hope we get some county-approved-paperwork robots, though.)

If education is about creating the ability to add value to the economy (i.e., have a paying job) then we need to be focusing education on what machines can’t yet do. This may be tough–a quickly receding horizon.

There is no reason to believe that market forces will create as many jobs as there are people, and this is likely to happen less and less. If we lose the massive wealth redistribution system that is jobs-with-mechanizable-routines, we will end up having to massively expand our welfare system.

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I used a Palm Tungsten E2 for several years before moving to an iPod touch a year and a half ago. The Palm was my external brain in GTD style. They work great except that the screen goes out every two years. My solution to that was buying Staples’ $60 extended warrantee, where they would replace the unit one time, “no questions asked.” When the screen got fritzy, I would take it in, get a new one, and buy another extended warrantee. After the initial purchase price I was just renting it from Staples for $30 a year. Not bad.

This arrangement ended when the saleswoman at Staples (Eugene, OR) led me to believe that the warrantee she was selling extended the manufacturer’s one year warrantee for two more years–three years total. I naively took her word for it. When the screen died in 2 1/2 years, my warrantee had been dead for six months. Instead of re-upping I started using a hand-me-down 8GB iPod Touch from Reanna.

There are ways, of course, that an iPod is more useful than a PDA. You can watch videos, check email, and surf the net, for example. I hadn’t been missing those features, though, so what I most noticed when I made the change was that the iPod was way slower, less stable, and badly set up to be my GTD external brain, compared to my PDA. The neat-o factor was strong, though, and free fit my grad-school budget perfectly, so I spent several months slowly figuring out how to get it to do what I needed. Here’s what I came to:

For the Palm’s calendar function, I use the iPod calendar synced with iCal on my Mac desktop. This setup works adequately, though the iPod calendar is very slow to load and iCal occasionally freaks out and starts replicating “all-day” events every few minutes, which is a serious pain to fix. On the upside, both the iPod and iCal calendars are super cool to look at and you can color-code your calendars in any shade of any color. I love that.

For the address book, I use the iPod’s contacts app synced to Address Book on my desktop. Apart from being a little slow, this works just as well as the Palm.

For the Palm’s Tasks, I use Todo on the iPod synced with the desktop version of Todo. The desktop version cost me $15 extra and it was totally worth it. Toodledo online was terrible and I tried using iCal’s to-dos for several weeks first and that system sucked worst of all. Todo has its problems–it’s slow on the iPod and occasionally forgets how to sync and I have to relearn how to set the sync back up–but it’s a slightly more powerful system than the Palm’s. (By the way, I use Todo’s Lists as GTD contexts, not Todo’s contexts. Lists sort items way better. The downside is that Lists in Todo are basically iCal calendars, which can make your Lists list very long. I just put an @ at the beginning of each context-List so that they show up at the top of the list of Lists. (Leave me a comment if that explanation was both important to you and impossible to understand. I’ll try it again.))

For Palm’s Memos, I use Simplenote on the iPod synced to Notational Velocity on my desktop. Aside from Simplenote being infuriatingly slow, this system works great. It’s better than Memos. I tried out Evernote, which looked awesome–actually bought it–but it crashed my iPod every time I tried to use it.

For Palm’s Expenses, I use a project in Todo. This is not a great system, but I’m limping along with it.

Palm’s Notepad was cool and I used it a lot, but I don’t seem to miss it much now. There is probably a good drawing app for the iPod, but I quickly became conservative about adding new apps. About half of the ones I tried (Skype and Evernote, off the top of my head) crashed the iPod. For one thing, I need a stable system way more than I need a cool drawing app, and for another, I hate having to buy something to find out if it crashes the iPod.

I never used my Palm’s Media function, so I can’t really compare it to the iPod, but I’m sure the iPod would easily win in that category. I don’t use my iPod to store photos or videos, but I do love being able to store music and podcasts on it. And I do enjoy being able to stream videos on it. I also really like that I can plug a mic in and record–I keep an audio journal and this means that I don’t have to carry around an extra gizmo. (Though it sucks that Voice Memo is so unreliable. I lose about 15% of the longer recordings I make which, as a recording engineer, gives me a small heart attack every time. And I haven’t seen a recording app that seems better yet. Any suggenstions?)

And I really do love the interface. So neat! So pretty! I was fairly obsessed with it for a while. My friend Debra named my iPod “Petunia” and asked if Reanna was jealous, I was spending so much time with it.

Left: About to put chains on my B2200, just north of Mt. Shasta. Right: Mazda & Reanna, Indian Cove, CA.

My Mazda B2200 pickup was first sold the year I started driving, 1988. I bought the truck from my girlfriend’s dad in 1992 for $3,800, with about 80,000 miles on it. It was my second vehicle, after a 1979 Honda Civic that went through two engines in three years. It wasn’t a great deal but I thought it was a good vehicle after driving it off and on for six months. Nineteen years later I can say that it was a good buy.

Now it has 254,566 miles on it, total, and is 83,857 miles into its second engine. It just pulled a load that weighed over 4,235 pounds for 1,112 miles – from Eugene to Joshua Tree – including the highest pass on the I-5 and several other passes. I never even had to go into first gear to get up those grades. In fact, it made the entire trip with no problem at all. (I don’t recommend pulling 4,000 pounds with your B2200, by the way. It’s only rated for 1,000 pounds of cargo, passengers included. It’s basically a station wagon in the shape of a pickup. But we did make it!) It was a slow trip, though. We were surprised to pass a tractor-trailer on a hill just south of Eugene, so we started a tally of vehicles passed:

Tally of Moving Vehicles Passed Between October 30 and December 4, 2011. (That driver passed us back as soon as we started downhill.)

My B2200 gets between 15 (around town) and 27 (on the highway, no stops, downhill, with a tail wind) miles per gallon. That’s 350 miles to the tank. I average about 22 mpg over a year of driving – pretty bad, I know. Gas mileage is my main complaint about the truck. It may run pretty clean, though. At its last smog check – in 2001 because Oregon does not require them – it blew 17 parts per million hydrocarbons (of 120 allowable and 30 average), and something less than .01% carbon monoxide (of 1% allowable and .1% average) at an idle, 792 RPM. At 2,453 RMP it blew 35 ppm HCs and still less than .01% CO. We’ll see how it does ten years later, now that I’m back in California.

The truck costs me about $1,500 to own and operate each year. I spent exactly $9,253.21 from the beginning of 2004 to the end of 2010 on everything truck-related, including fuel, registration, parts, labor, insurance etc etc. That was while I was living in Eugene, though, where I didn’t have to drive much. We’ll see how much it costs now that I’m living in driving country again. I should also say that I do most of my own auto repair – anything easy. I’ve done pretty much all of the routine maintenance, things like spark plugs, caps, rotors, fuel, air & oil filters, and tire rotations, plus other parts as they broke or wore out: the power steering pump, alternator, generator, shocks, various hoses and belts. I took it to real mechanics for the harder stuff, like the new engine, a couple mufflers, a vacuum leak, a new bumper and fender.

Whenever I hit a major repair, I have to decide if it’s worth it to keep going with this truck. Each one costs more than I could sell the truck for. So far I’ve always gone with my truck. It always seems like the it’s worth it. The transmission will probably be my next big expense – I’m still on the original transmission. That will cost $1,500 or so.

It definitely looks like a beater. Plenty of primer. I bumped into a few things over the years and always had more pressing things to spend my money on. During the big move, Reanna and I talked about a new paint job to reward the truck for hauling all my worldly possessions over those passes so admirably. We’re thinking yellow, or maybe red. My dad used to be a car painter, so he can show us how.

Moments With My Truck: A reunion, a roadtrip, the recent move. (Collages by Reanna)


I bought Sleep Cycle for my iPod touch because it sounded right up my alley. It uses the accelerometer in i-devices to measure how much you move while asleep to track your sleep cycles. Then it wakes you up when you will be most alert. How cool is that?

Well, it is pretty cool, but not because it tracks your sleep cycles, or because it wakes you up alert. First of all, sleep cycles are defined by brainwave patterns, not by movement. Perhaps it’s a decent analog–I’ve read that claim–but the charts that Sleep Cycle produces from my nights of sleep don’t look much like the examples of EEG readouts of sleepers.

Where in this graph was I dreaming? It looks like I fell asleep and woke up pretty abruptly, and was awake for a short period just after 6 am, but that’s all I can tell. I can also say that the app does not always catch it when you wake up. I’ve gotten out of bed to pee and not made a spike out of the sleep zone.

It is also not really useful for its primary purpose–to wake you up during the period that you will feel most rested. You set an alarm for the latest you want to wake up, and then a period of time during which it would be acceptable to wake up. The alarm is supposed to go off at the point in that period when you are moving enough to indicate that you are in shallow sleep. Supposedly, if it waited longer and let you go back into deep sleep, you would wake up groggy because of it.

Perhaps it’s just me, and perhaps it’s just that I’ve been in grad school, but I found that I never preferred to be woken up before I really needed to be up. I did not notice any benefit from being woken up when I started to move instead of when I had just enough time to get ready for school. Luckily, you can set it for “normal alarm clock mode” with no “wake-up phase.”

Still, Sleep Cycle is cool for a couple of reasons. First, It tracks how much time I give myself for sleeping. It starts counting when you set the alarm at night and stops when you wake up and keeps track. That’s how I know, for example, that I gave myself an average of 8 hours and 35 minutes to sleep in for the 155 nights before Reanna moved to Eugene. (It doesn’t work with two people in bed.) (And that included my last 125 days of grad school–not too bad!) That means I averaged fairly close to eight hours of sleep a night, with an estimated average sleep latency of 30 minutes. And that brings me to the coolest part.

As a chronic, intermittent insomniac, I’ve always wanted to know how long it actually takes me to get to sleep. Now I have a pretty good idea, thanks to Sleep Cycle. Many of my graphs look something like this:

I started trying to sleep just after 1 AM and drifted off around 1:45. I probably would have told you that I lay awake for at least an hour. Here’s another:

That looks like about an hour of insomnia. Don’t be fooled by the little initial drop–that was me lying very still, trying to sleep, before starting to toss and turn.

To finish off, here are a few other graphs, just so you can see some of the variety: