Saturday, August 26, 2017

Uncle Edgar data

The letters from great-great-great-Uncle Edgar Metcalfe, in the form of text files transcribed by my daughter, are shared (with a PDF having a little more data provided by his Australian descendants) in a Google Drive folder which should be visible to anyone with the link, e.g. anyone who clicks on it here.  I think I did that correctly.....

or then again, maybe not.

Friday, August 25, 2017

If the shoe fits... and it will, someday

One of my daughters just sent me the 3D result of her foot scanning done at Fleet Feet Sports; very cool, and it seems to me a good but limited basis for better shoes in future -- 3D printed shoes that fit you exactly? CNC-carved shoes? Robot-woven fabric shoes? Sure. Real Soon Now, and my granddaughters may well grow up with rather dim recollection of shoes that didn't fit perfectly. I am reminded of that same daughter's high-school project, which included working (very carefully) on this letter from her dad's dad's dad's dad's mom's brother, Edgar Metcalfe (relevant part in bold):

Atlantic Ocean
August 3rd, 1851

As an oportunity presents itself (very unexpectedly) to get a few lines to you, I make bold enough to send them, though some persons that I still consider friends, would (I suppose) consider it a disgrace to read a letter from me--while I feel assured that others, (and particularly my Father and Mother) have been waiting very patiently for something in the shape of a letter from me.
Well, I am here, on the Atlantic Ocean, where I have been since the 22nd of May. We are now in full view of the Flore’s Island and purpose sending a boat into the city of Fiall, from whence the letters will sail. I have been well ever since I left the States, and have been gaining flesh up to this time, I am now flesheyer than I ever was. The sea appears to agree with me very well. I have never been seasick at all, which is [a] very uncommon thing for people that has never been to sea. The fact is, it has cured me of everything that I was subject to, viz. the tooth ache, head ache, and it has cured the corns on my toes. And now too, that I am entirely out of sight of my creditors, I feel easy at mind, and I hope to keep out of sight until I am able to pay them their just dues, (which I will do or die trying). All I ask of them is to have patients, and all I ask of my parents is not to fret themselves about me. I am able to take care of myself. Heretofore, I have taken care of others and neglected myself but now that I am away from all that cares for me. I have none to care for, but, this thing of traveling without money is not what it is cracked up to be. I am obliged to do work and live on harder bread than ever I lived on at home, and I must suffer myself to be ordered by such men that once followed me, but no matter it won’t last long. We expect to leave Fiall on Monday morning and make tracks around the Cape of Good Hope and on to the South American shore. This is a very crooked way from traveling. If I had money I could have been where I was trying to get by this time, but I had none and of course I must go the best way I can. But I hope to be in better circumstances when I return home, and not be obliged to travel on a whale ship. Though whereever there is a disadvantage there is always an advantage. By coming on this ship I have learned to man a vessel and find my way over the mighty waters, and I have learned the trade of catching whales. We have taken two whales, the one made 180 Bbls. of oil, the other a sperm whale and made 85 Bbls. of sperm oil. I shall not undertake to give you any idea of the danger there is is in taking whales until we have more time. But I can assure they are not a fish to be fooled with. I am very glad that we are ready to leave for I don’t want the (“fun”) as the call any longer.
Excuse me for not writing a longer and more satisfactory letter, I have no desk to write on. I am writing on the top of my hat which I hold on my knee. I must now cut short for I hear that bloody nosed captain (singing out) “Ship Ahoy”. So once more Adieu-- to all that cares for me at home.

I can remember, fifty years back, my grandfather getting excited about the "cured the corns on my toes" in that letter; he explained to me that
As late as 1850 most shoes were made on absolutely straight lasts, there being no difference between the right and the left shoe.
Uncle Edgar's corns went away because he mostly didn't wear shoes on shipboard; corns were common, because shoes didn't fit.

Grandpa was also excited about "I have no desk to write on. I am writing on the top of my hat which I hold on my knee..." and the beautiful handwriting which he contrasted with mine. (His own writing, developed around 1900, was better than mine, but nothing like his great-uncle Edgar's.) But what I mostly remember from that letter, and from others in which Edgar detailed his Australian adventures as civil engineer and wood-mill-manager, is the technological improvement sequence of the age: so much better than what had been, so much worse than what we have now.

And is the foot-scanner some kind of Ultimate Device to generate Perfect Shoes? No, it can't be, because your feet don't have just one conformation. Your feet change shape as you sit, stand, walk, jump, run, jog, and dance... and your shoes will create different stresses, if not actual corns, depending on what you're doing.

(Example: My own feet were scanned early this summer, and orthotics prescribed; it seems that my feet are flattened, differently flattened, in part "twisted tibia" from birth (breech birth, started in the hospital elevator -- gee, I don't quite remember it myself, but so I was told), and in part worsened by running without orthotics until it hurt too badly and (when the daughter in question -- remember her? When she was about three or four, and I had to stop running, so I bought the elliptical exerciser on which I now do some intense exercise every single morning unless I'm actually sick.) Running changed the support needs of my feet.)

So, should your shoes actually change shape to support your feet as you move? Probably. How much? That'll be different for different people. How can we know how much flexibility should go into a shoe? I dunno, but I'm amusing myself by thinking about two possibilities: one is the obvious direct extension of the current scanner, where you change your foot's stress factors and then rescan. That's possible, but it's not clear that it can represent the dynamic changes in stress. Or we might get there with a mesh of sensors, in effect a sock made of a network of springs, each with an addressable force-sensing resistor. Now sit, stand, walk, run -- do A little dance, take a few readings, get down tonight... and print shoes that are as good as they can be, at least until shoes themselves change conformation because they're robots with fairly substantial AI capabilities printed right in.

Or then again, maybe not.