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My Day Without Shoes

2010/04/09 1 comment

April 8th was One Day Without Shoes, spearheaded by TOMS Shoes to evangelize the plight of children around the world who don’t have shoes. Hitting close to home, Booneville, KY was the site of a TOMS shoe drop. For these kids, lack of shoes means reduced access to education and increased incidence of disease. For me, walking barefoot was an interesting exploration of the most basic form of human transportation.

Events like this are the epitome of social entrepreneurship, combining the support of a worthy cause with a brilliant marketing plan and a sustainable business model. That’s why TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie‘s picture hangs on our Rockstar Wall at Awesome Inc, and why I’ll be highlighting his story in my talk at Saturday’s Appalachian IDEAS conference.

Thanks to “Cool”, avid TOMS fan and member of Team Alpha, I was inspired to spend most of my day barefoot. It was amazing how strange I felt in the beginning, leaving my house without shoes on.  I quickly discovered how painfully uneven the sidewalks are in my neighborhood. Next came the realization of how much slower I was moving compared to my normally hurried pace. I noticed my feet garnering plenty of strange looks as I progressed through campus to meet up with 50 other barefoot marchers. It would have been great to see more people participate in the walk, but it sparked plenty of curiosity from onlookers, who were eager to learn why a pack of young people were traversing UK’s campus with naked feet. After the walk, I continued on to Awesome Inc. At the completion of my 1.3 mile journey, my dogs were tired and slightly blackened. After a few hours of touch screen business development work, I had a hankering for a sandwich. Although weary of potential rejection, I strolled into the nearest sandwich shop, and was delighted to order my favorite #13 sub without a hitch. I’m not sure they even noticed I was barefoot! Sandwich in hand, I set out to find the latest copy of Ace Weekly to read about “Techsington”, which highlighted some of the great things going on for Technology Month in Lexington. Once I finished lunch and discussed user interfaces with some brilliant UK Computer Science seniors, I set out for a half-mile walk to help Shannon, one of the founders of Nextington 4, move some furniture. Following the return trip to Awesome Inc and a shoeless meeting, I finally gave in and put on my sandals for the No Mercy gaming event at Bakers360.

The great thing about this day without shoes is that it still hasn’t ended. When I take a shower tonight to wash the road grime off my feet, I will be thinking about the kids who don’t have that opportunity each day. When I wake up tomorrow and my feet are still sore, I will compare my meager daily trek to the meandering voyage that kids in Ethiopia take across harsh volcanic soil. Will I buy a pair of TOMS Shoes tomorrow? Probably not. But the next time I’m in the market, I will think about how my feet feel right now, and consider whether Sketchers or Asics are doing anything to prevent that feeling for kids around the world.

As an engineer, I was rather curious about the effect of different pathway surfaces on the comfort of my feet. Here’s how Lexington’s surfaces ranked:

  1. Grass: like heaven to sensitive feet
  2. Carpet: not painful, but the uniform texture is uninteresting to my toes
  3. Asphalt: when well-traveled, the smoothing effect of tire rubber accumulation is pleasant
  4. Concrete: predictable when smoothed, providing decent distribution of force
  5. Gravel: about as painful as those sharp edges look
  6. Raised aggregate: deceivingly painful, unpredictable. There’s a reason I seldom walk barefoot on my parent’s driveway.
  7. Steel access grates: stay off

Stats

  • Time barefoot: 12 hrs
  • Distance walked barefoot: 1.3+1+.5=2.8mi
  • Average temperature: 54 deg F
  • Precipitation: 0.34 in
  • Sandwiches purchased from restaurant while barefoot: 1


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Why I Hate Cars (Part 1)

2010/04/07 3 comments

My passionate dislike of automobiles and their effect on modern society is poised to become a treatise, hence the “Part 1” annotation in the title. This initial entry was spurred by startling transportation scenarios (one for me and one for a complete stranger friend), that occurred today while I was not riding in a car.

The most dangerous part about cars is how safe they have become.

Dwell on that for a moment before pointing out how obviously counterintuitive this statement is. You might notice a similarity to Parkinson’s Law, which states that Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Similarly, humans push their level of risk to the upper limits of their perceived level of safety. Why is texting while driving a problem? Because the perceived risk is so low. If drivers truly perceived that their risk of an injury crash increases four-fold when using a mobile device, would they continue that activity?

A few statistics for you to enjoy:

  • 4 out of every 5 accidents (80%) are attributed to distracted drivers. In contrast, drunk drivers account for roughly 1 out of 3 (33%) of all accidents nationally.
  • Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident than driving while intoxicated.

Before I digress too far from the reason for this post, I want to discuss the two transportation safety wake-up calls I experienced today.

Those of you who know me know that a bicycle is by far my preferred form of transportation. I have been commuting for the last five years on a pair of $25 10-speed bikes. There is no other form of wheeled transportation that invigorates me and reminds me of my fragility as much as a bicycle. Today, while enjoying a 20-mile jaunt down Old Frankfort Pike, I was reminded just how insignificant I am on a bicycle when compared to a dump truck. I’ve traveled today’s cycling route several times (challenging hills and only 5-miles-to-horsefarm beauty), but just now experienced the difference in industrial traffic on a weekday vs. a weekend. As I was passed a 35mph by the seventh behemoth Mack truck on the pothole-infested, 2-lane, shoulder-less thoroughfare, I began to wonder if the truck drivers would even feel me if we were to collide. I found myself hoping to at least be the princess’s pea. Finally breaking out of the industrial park inside of Lexington’s New Circle Rd, Old Frankfort Pike becomes a 55-mph scenic byway with rolling hills steep enough to conceal oncoming traffic. Although the verdant landscape provides breathtaking views, the stream of near-misses from passing traffic aptly reminds me to breathe. My first close call of the day came when a pickup truck driver approached from the rear as my riding buddy and I were about to crest a hill. Instead of following good driving practice, the driver chose to display a flagrant disregard for the fragility of his own life by swerving into the opposing lane to pass us. Little did he know, a box truck occupied that other lane barely 50 yards downhill. The idiot driver fortunately avoided a collision, but nearly side-swiped my fellow rider in the process. That could easily have been a whole lot worse.

I typically follow S. Upper St. home from work, but today noticed that it was blocked off by a police cruiser. Curious, I took a detour, only to find more blocked roads in the area surrounding the Pedal Power bike shop. As I wound through a maze of alleys to see what had attracted the authorities, I was startled to see a long, solitary skid mark that was punctuated by a motorcycle. Shuddering, my averted glance quickly noticed a nearby sedan with a chopper-sized indentation in the hood, and the truth of the scenario unfolded before me. As I retreated down the alley to reflect and avoid being a nuisance to the rescue personnel, I was beckoned by a man sitting on a bench at nearby Mellow Mushroom. “Get off that bike!” he screamed, somewhat hilariously. Curious, I approached this man, whose name I discovered was Joseph. Out for an evening walk on the warm Spring night, Joseph had been the sole uninvolved witness to the collision, but he was far from unaffected. He shared with me the string of challenges brought on by poor decisions in his personal life, but he was totally shaken up by the accident that he had just witnessed. Weary of the fate of the injured motorcyclist, Joseph urged me to reconsider my mode of transportation, or to at least ride on the sidewalk away from the dangerous cars (even though I shared these stats). As I rode off wearing my neon yellow jacket (thanks, Mom), I turned on the three flashing lights on my bike and thought about how easily a 2000lb automobile could pulverize my sub-200lb pedaled amalgamation of human and steel. Realizing that transportation laws require us to travel on the same roads, I quickly remembered why I don’t like cars. Update: Driver of car was charged with DUI, motorcyclist is Sam Mullins, a friend and UK Engineering Alum.

At some point, I’ll hit on my other reasons for strongly opposing the automobile as the dominant form of human transportation, including:

  • Inadequacies in driver training and certification
  • Social impact
  • Environmental impact
  • Economic impact
  • City planning
  • Exercise and health

Please say a prayer for the motorcyclist who was in the collision mentioned above. It’s entirely possible that sending that last e-mail of the night is the only difference between he and I.

Being Friendly to the Environment

2010/03/23 Leave a comment

Some things don’t make sense:

Organic banana excess labelingOn a shopping trip to Meijer yesterday, I stumbled upon an ironic sight: Why do the “Certified Organic” bananas (left) have more than double the disposable plastic packaging of the chemically-enhanced bananas? Does that really cater to the Green crowd? Labeling aside, I have been impressed with the variety and quality of Meijer’s fresh produce section.

Others are a bit more logical:

Zero Waste discussion at SXSWPanelists from the Zero Waste discussion at SXSWi 2010 congregating around the Austin Convention Center’s innovative refuse bins. Labels: “Recyclable Paper”, “Recyclable Metal/Plastic”, “Landfill“. Sure makes the destination of your waste a bit more clear.

LexTran's new COLT TrolleyLexTran’s new COLT Trolley, servicing Downtown Lexington and the UK Campus area. Oh yeah, rides are FREE. Seems like a good way to attract ridership and reduce downtown parking issues.

UK Solar Car's new garage bannerFinally, just wanted to brag that my friends at the UK Solar Car Team finally installed a permanent banner. Quite an improvement over the electrical tape hack-job I did in a pinch last year. If you want to talk to a group of students who understand energy efficiency and won’t bloat the facts, catch a meeting on a Monday night at 7pm at the DV Terrell Building.