Thursday 30 April 2009

Footwear Fitting 2009: The Anatom Academy

Working in an outdoor shop many years ago I learnt how to fit hiking boots – check there was enough room to slide a finger down the back of the boot when the laces were tightened. If I could do this and the customer didn’t complain too much about pressure points and pinched toes then the boots fitted. Unsurprisingly this crude method – standard practice at the time - often resulted in aching feet and many blisters - for me as well others. Then in the mid 1990s I attended Phil Oren’s Fitsystem courses. These were a revelation. Phil had developed a method that actually resulted in footwear that fitted properly, a complex process involving foot examination, foot measuring, incline boards and, when necessary, stabilising footbeds and boot modification. I was impressed with the method and the attention to detail and delighted that outdoor shop staff were being trained in this way. It made a personal difference too. Once I added stabilising footbeds to my boots and shoes I came back down a size as my feet no longer elongated when I put weight on them. My feet hadn’t “got bigger” with age as I’d thought. Instead they’d become unstable. I also found that my knees no longer ached on long steep rocky descents – and they still don’t after another decade.

Phil retired around four years ago and his Fitsystem courses faded away. However Anatom, the company who organised them in the UK, set up their own Anatom Academy to provide fitting training for shop staff. I’ve just returned from attending one of the Anatom Level 1 courses and I must say I was impressed. The Anatom staff, who are trained pedorthists, have developed Phil’s system and added further topics such as biomechanics and gait analysis. The course is hands-on and attendees practise measuring feet with Brannock Devices and fitting Superfeet footbeds. The amount of information is somewhat overwhelming and I’m sure some people went home still trying to take it all in. There is also a longer Level 2 course for those who’ve taken Level 1 and Anatom do in-store training.

Anyone who has no problem finding boots or shoes that fit comfortably can ignore whether shop staff are trained in footwear fitting or not. The rest of us can greatly reduce the likelihood of sore feet and blisters by finding a shop with staff who’ve taken the Anatom Academy courses and who can fit footwear properly.

The picture shows Andy Blair of Anatom introducing the Level 1 programme to a group of outdoor shop staff.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Richard Dawkins: The Purpose of Purpose

The Edinburgh International Science Festival is an excellent annual event with a series of lectures and activities. If I lived in Edinburgh I’d attend many of them. As an occasional visitor I’ve only managed a few and this year I attended just one lecture, as most of the festival took place while I was living in igloos in the Rockies. But this lecture was well worth the journey south just two days after returning from Wyoming as it was by Richard Dawkins. Over the years I’ve read and been impressed by many of Richard Dawkins’ books and seen his TV programmes but I’d never heard him give a talk before.

As a speaker Dawkins is both authoritative and accessible. The brilliant intellect is clearly there but without a sense of superiority or arrogance. The talk, entitled The Purpose of Purpose, was packed with information and ideas – I’ve thought about it every day since – but there was also some humour to lighten the tone, including a short video of a creationist explaining that a banana had been designed to fit the human hand and mouth. Dawkins pointed out that the modern cultivated banana is actually a very different shape to the wild original and that it has come about due to artificial selection by humans.

Humans are obsessed with purpose and like to ask "why" even if it's an irrelevant or meaningless question. What, Dawkins asked, is the purpose of this desire to find purpose?

Artificial selection, said Dawkins, with references to the cultivation of corn and roses, continues from natural selection. Using pollination as an example he showed how plants range from those reliant on the vagaries of the wind to spread their pollen to a plant whose pollen only one species of moth with a very long thin tongue can reach. This adaptation by natural selection has the purpose of ensuring the genes of the organism survive and continue. Dawkins calls this archi-purpose. There is no plan or design involved, just natural selection.

Much that people do does not have an obvious or clear archi-purpose however. Several examples were given to illustrate this, including adoption, which doesn’t help the survival of the genes of the adoptive parents in any way. Purpose here is intentional and planned and comes from our ability to think, which in turn comes from the evolution of our big brains. Dawkins calls this neo-purpose. Neo-purpose isn’t exclusive to people either. Machines can have it too, which Dawkins illustrated with a video of a guided missile. Such a missile, he said, seeks a target, unlike, say a cannonball, which has no built-in goal.

Neo-purpose can be positive or negative. In one of the most interesting sections of his talk Dawkins discussed the flexibility we have in directing and changing our behaviour. This flexibility means we can change our aims away from archi-purpose, though once we have a neo-purpose a degree of inflexibility is then needed to achieve it. This could be in the service of rigid religious or political beliefs. Inside this inflexibility flexible short-term goals could be set that might subvert the original aim. To show this Dawkins referred to the film The Bridge Over The River Kwai in which a character subverts his main aim of opposing the enemy by wanting to build as good a bridge for the enemy as possible, justifying this by claiming it will show superiority.

Next came the idea of fictive kinship, in which non-kin relationships subvert real kinship and replace it. This can lead to blind obedience to religious or political “kins”. Escaping from archi-purpose can be positive too, though, with cultural evolution having led quickly from the invention of the wheel to the space shuttle. This has enabled humanity to progress rapidly. At the finish Dawkins said that his take-home message was that neo-purpose was itself an evolutionary adaptation.

After the talk Richard Dawkins answered questions from the audience. I thought he was especially impressive here as he revealed the depth of his knowledge and his desire to explain clearly his ideas.

Three of us had attended the lecture, two of us familiar with Dawkins books and ideas, though we were still given much to think about. The third member of the party, a 20 year old art student, had never read any of his books. However she was so impressed by the talk that afterwards she was excitedly asking which ones she should read first. That’s how good it was.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Ed's Wind Rivers Trip Report

Quick note to say that Ed Huesers has posted a detailed report on our ski tour with igloos in the Wind River Range on the Grand Shelters website. You can find it here.

Photo info: Dawn at Camp 2 after a snowfall. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@25mm, 1/60@F8, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Igloos, John Muir's Birthplace & New TGO Backpacking Column

I’ve just returned from an eleven day ski touring with igloos trip in the Wind River Range in the Rocky Mountains in the company of Igloo Ed and, for the first few days, four others. It was a superb trip and I’ll post more about it soon. In the meantime here’s a picture. You can also read more about the trip from Ed and see some of his pictures (and the occasional comment from me) on the Rocky Mountain National Park Forums (you have to register for this site) in, currently the thread titled No Poser- He's The Real Deal. and Ed will be posting a trip report on the Grand Shelters Icebox website.

While I was away the John Muir theme of my last two posts was continued with the publication of my photo essay on Backpacking Light about a visit to Muir’s Birthplace in Dunbar, Scotland.

Also during my absence in the hills the May issue of TGO came out with the first of a new backpacking column I will be writing each month, this one covering the joys of long distance trips. There’s also a review of socks in this edition. One pair I recommended in the feature, the Teko Summit Expedition, I’ve just worn on the ski tour. I’m glad to say that they stayed soft, comfortable and warm throughout the trip - my spare pair were never worn.

Photo info: The Wind River Range and Camp 3. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@23mm, 1/200@F8, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.