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Re-learning basic life skills

by Richard Elen on 19 Jun, 2011

in Science & Technology

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I remem­ber clear­ly one of the first pieces of real­ly use­ful infor­ma­tion I ever got from the World Wide Web.

It was back, prob­a­bly, in the ear­ly-to-mid 1990s, when I was essen­tial­ly cod­ing HTML by hand, as one had to do. The pre­vi­ous year, I’d com­plet­ed a demon­stra­tion of what a mag­a­zine I was work­ing on at the time might look like on the web as a method of inter­na­tion­al elec­tron­ic dis­tri­b­u­tion instead of send­ing Page­Mak­er files to var­i­ous loca­tions via AppleLink, and the client had liked it. I was inter­est­ed in find­ing out how to make it, and oth­er sites, look bet­ter.

I stum­bled upon the web site of a design­er and dig­i­tal typog­ra­ph­er. My mem­o­ry sug­gests (though I could be wrong about this) that he was David Siegel, the design­er of the Tek­ton font, who was demon­strat­ing tech­niques for mak­ing your web pages look halfway decent from a design point of view, long before the advent of CSS and oth­er web lay­out tools. That would make this in 1994 — I designed my first web site the pre­vi­ous year. Siegel went on to write the best-sell­er Cre­at­ing Killer Web­sites.

In those day, the idea of the web was that it car­ried infor­ma­tion, and that infor­ma­tion had a struc­ture and hier­ar­chy — dif­fer­ent lev­els of head­ings, text and so on — and as long as you iden­ti­fied those struc­tur­al ele­ments accord­ing­ly, that was all you did: the view­er decid­ed what the fonts were and what the page actu­al­ly looked like.

But it’s not  web site design I’m talk­ing about today. On one of his pages, I found a real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing set of illus­tra­tions. They were sole­ly there to show how you could lay them out, but they were on the sub­ject of how to tie your shoelaces.

Now you would­n’t think there was a lot to learn about tying your shoelaces. It’s a life skill we learn real­ly ear­ly. We also, I sus­pect, learn it essen­tial­ly the same way. The page not­ed that the prob­lem with this was that shoelaces, espe­cial­ly those round-sec­tion nylon ones, tend­ed to come undone very eas­i­ly. The dia­grams showed a bet­ter way, that stopped this from hap­pen­ing. In a nut­shell, what you do is instead of going once round and through, you go twice round and through. It’s not nec­es­sary to go into any fin­er details, as you’ll dis­cov­er in a moment.

I imme­di­ate­ly tried this, of course, and it worked! And that’s how I’ve tied my shoelaces ever since. Well, until the oth­er day.

Back in 1994, I real­ly nev­er thought that I would be re-learn­ing how to tie my shoelaces. But I am all in favour of learn­ing new things — even if that means un-learn­ing old things. So at the age of 43 or so, I learned this basic life skill all over again, and used it all the time for the next sev­en years or so.

The method he described has some issues, I should point out. The big one is that if you are unlucky how you pull an end to undo them, you can end up in a very com­plex knot that can take a while to untie. This, of course, will hap­pen when you are in a hur­ry, or in the dark. But the ben­e­fit of the tech­nique out­weighed the down­side.

Then the oth­er day, I was get­ting to know the shiny black new Box­ee Box I acquired. I’ve had Box­ee on the lit­tle Mac Mini con­nect­ed to the TV as a media cen­tre type com­put­er for ages but nev­er used it that much. But with the Box­ee Box it all becomes much more acces­si­ble and, give or take a few bugs which I am sure will get fixed over time, it’s a very impres­sive piece of kit.

One of the main ways of access­ing con­tent with Box­ee is Apps, and one of them is for TED Talks. TED stands for Tech­nol­o­gy, Enter­tain­ment and Design. It’s a non-prof­it that holds two inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences a year where some amaz­ing speak­ers talk about some amaz­ing things — you can learn more about them here. Their slo­gan is “Ideas worth spread­ing”. It’s where I first heard about the com­pa­ny Bet­ter Place, for exam­ple, and their amaz­ing­ly sen­si­ble idea of hav­ing swap­pable elec­tric car bat­ter­ies so you don’t have to sit around while they charge (you can see the video here).

On the front page of the Box­ee TED app is a set of pan­els pro­mot­ing a selec­tion of talks. One of them was from Ter­ry Moore and it’s called How To Tie Your Shoes. I won­dered imme­di­ate­ly if he was show­ing what I might call “Siegel’s tech­nique”. Well, he’s not. He’s show­ing you a new way of doing it that also does­n’t come undone — and does­n’t have the risk of knot­ting. It’s in fact both sim­pler and bet­ter. In essence, instead of going once round anti­clock­wise, you go once round clock­wise, and get a stronger form of the knot (note that if you’re left-hand­ed you may already be doing this). But don’t let me say any more: just watch the video. It’s only 3 min­utes.

[vod­pod id=Groupvideo.9234779&w=425&h=350&fv=vu=http://video.ted.com/talk/stream/2005/Blank/TerryMoore_2005-320k.mp4&su=http://images.ted.com/images/ted/tedindex/embed-posters/TerryMoore-2005.embed_thumbnail.jpg&vw=320&vh=240&ap=0&ti=1150&lang=eng&introDuration=15330&adDuration=4000&postAdDuration=830&adKeys=talk=terry_moore_how_to_tie_your_shoes;year=2005;theme=ted_in_3_minutes;theme=new_on_ted_com;theme=hidden_gems;event=TED2005;tag=Culture;tag=Entertainment;tag=demo;]

There are in fact loads of ways of tying your shoelaces. This web site sug­gests at least 18 pos­si­ble knots and also describes the tech­nique dis­cussed above.

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