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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

No shirt, No shoes, No service.

"No shirt, no shoes, no service." It's a common enough sign in store windows and other establishments, though, who would ever be seen without shoes? Shoes are essential to civilized life, and they bring with them a distinctly civilized manner of walking: lock the knee, and brace a controlled fall on the heel; roll the foot forward, rocking into another locked-knee heel-fall. It's difficult to walk any other way while wearing shoes, and you'll often find this described as the way humans walk. But of course, humans are not born with shoes on, nor did we evolve in shoes. Every human begins walking a different way, and needs to be meticulously trained to walk like this.
Cover of The Tracker, vol. 4, no. 1

Cover of The Tracker magazine, vol. 4, no. 1, published in 1985, illustrates fox walking.

Tom Brown, Jr. put it quite starkly: "Our walk is devastating, not natural. Little babies have shoes like cement boots. Our feet are ruined from the first step we take in shoes." Walking barefoot, most of us naturally adopt a very different step: the knees are bent, rather than locked; the outside ball of the foot touches the ground to test it first, before applying any weight; then, if it's safe, we roll the rest of the ball in and flatten the heel; only then does the weight come down. This is what Tom Brown and his students called "fox walking."

This kind of walking can be difficult for people who've spent much of their lives in shoes. It uses muscles that "cow walking" has allowed to atrophy, perhaps most notably the gluteus maximus.1 The largest muscle in the human body is barely involved in civilized walking, but exercised with each step in a "fox walk." It is similar to the "empty stepping" of t'ai chi.2 You might also notice similarities to models on the catwalk; we still have an innate response to this kind of walking as "sexy." This kind of walking will reduce the strain on your body and the damage to the countryside you walk over; beyond ecological footprint, it will lighten your own body's footprint. Children who learn to walk like this can walk much farther.

Corns, bunyans, and in-grown toenails can only grow inside the dark dampness of shoes. We have to watch where we step, and even so frequently step on people or hazards like nails, thumbtacks or just sharp, pointy rocks. We trip, fall and have accidents because the very first movement in the "cow walk" commits our total weight to the step. Fox walking commits weight only at the end, after the foot has touched the ground and knows what's there. For that reason alone, fox walking practically eliminates the accidents, trips, falls and other problems we so often encounter in our "cow walk." Moreover, fox walking develops a keen sense of balance that cow walking neglects.3 There are more systemic health problems associated with it beyond accidents, though. With each step in our normal "cow walk" we pound our legs into the earth, sending shocks up the leg and into the lower back. Back pain and foot pain follow from that kind of constant pressure; fox walking helps alleviate both.

Fox Walking has affected me in several simple but profound ways. When fox walking my lower back, which was injured, seems to relax and in turn relieves the pain. Even more profound is the feeling of soft energy currents that seem to flow down my legs. I feel my feet make contact with the ground in a new and pleasurable way. The energy literally flows from my feet into the ground. With this new grounding of the energy to the earth it brings with it a new awareness or "contact" both with my own body sensations and my surroundings. In this relaxed and energetically flowing state I simply function in the moment, in the pulsation as it were. Not thinking in the future or in the past and not thinking at all as we normally think of thinking. The fox walk is like what church people call walking in grace, a feeling of gratitude in each step, an intense alive feeling, a deep understanding that comes from your entire organism.

The subjective difference between fox walking and regular walking is analogous to two men at work. One man hates his work from 8 to 5 and dreads the thought of ever coming back. He leaves work at five exhausted and without experiencing any pleasure in his day. The second man loves his work, does not want to leave after 8 hours, is in the groove, and has more energy after work than he did when he started. Being "in the groove", so to speak, with fox walking might shed some light as to why the Indian scouts could fox walk or fox run such long distances, and not only not be tired, but be exhilarated at the end. It was not simply that they were in good shape but that they were energetically "in the groove" or "pulsation". (Akido is another clear example of this.)4

There is certainly plenty of accounts of native populations that could perform feats that seem almost superhuman to us with our modern "cow walk." In his 1966 Gospel of the Redman, Ernest Thompson Seton, who largely started the "Scouting" movement (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts), wrote:

The most famous runner of ancient Greece was Pheidippides, whose record run from Athens to Sparta was 140 miles in 36 hours. Among our Indians, such a feat would have been considered very second-rate. In 1882, at Fort Ellice, I saw a young Cree who, on foot, had just brought in despatches from Fort Qu'Appelle (125 miles away) in 25 hours. It created almost no comment. I heard little from the traders but cool remarks like, "a good boy", "pretty good run". It was obviously a very usual exploit, among Indians. The two Indian runners, Thomas Zafiro and Leonicio San Miguel, ran 62 1/2 miles, i.e. from Pachuca to Mexico City, in 9 hours, 37 minutes, November 8, 1926, according to the El Paso Times, February 14, 1932. This was 9 1/4 minutes to the mile. The Zunis have a race called, "Kicked Stick." In this, the contestants each kick a stick before them as they run. Dr. F. W. Hodge tells me that there is a record of 20 miles covered in 2 hours by one of the kickers. The Tarahumare mail carrier runs 70 miles a day, every day in the week, carrying a heavy mailbag, and he doesn't know that he is doing an exploit. In addition, we are told: "The Tarahumare mail carrier from Chihuahua to Batopiles, Mexico, runs regularly more than 500 miles a week; a Hopi messenger has been known to run 120 miles in 15 hours."

If our modern walk is maladaptive, then this begins to make sense; rather than such feats being superhuman, we can see that they are perfectly human, and it is we, domesticated humans, who have been diminished. And why not? Homo sapiens has been as finely tuned to bipedalism as a shark to hunting underwater.

The noted anthropologist Frederick Wood-Jones states, "Man's foot is all his own and unlike any other foot. It is the most distinctive part of his whole anatomical makeup. It is a human specialization; it is his hallmark, and so long as man has been man, it is by his feet that he will be known from all other creatures of the animal kingdom. It is his feet that will confer upon him his only real distinction and provide his only valid claim to human status." To that, Donald C. Johanson, paleoanthropologist and chief of the Institute of Human Origins, Berkeley, California, adds, "Bipedalism is what made us human," Thus, man stands alone because only man stands.5

Horses and dogs can easily beat humans in an initial sprint, but over long distances, humans prevail as endurance runners by keeping up our pace long after faster animals have stopped.5 Many hunter-gatherers, particularly before atlatl, bows or slings, ran their prey to death. The key to such feats is walking properly, the way we evolved to walk. That largely means walking barefoot; it is almost impossible to fox walk in shoes, and when barefoot, most of us naturally begin to slide into fox walking. It is certainly possible to fox walk in shoes, although some have compared that feat to teaching the deaf to speak, since you lack the tactile feedback of the nerve endings in your feet. The physiological effect of shoes is similar to that of a cast.

Shoes act like casts, holding the bones of the foot so rigid that they can't move fluidly, Steven Robbins [MD and adjunct associate professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia University, Montreal] explains. "The foot becomes passive from wearing shoes and loses the ability to support itself."6

A comparison of wild and domesticated human feet

A comparison of wild and domesticated human feet. Notice any familiar differences? Source

Another doctor describes his own revelation about the effect shoes have on the human foot:

At last I began to understand the cause of fallen arches and the origin of foot trouble. With his toes continually pressed together in his shoes, his body had to improvise a brace—instead of leaning on his weakened, squeezed-together toes, the inner sides of his feet were turned outward for balance. I realized then why people persist in leaning on their strained inner arches, which were never meant to support continuous leaning, and why they have to push off painfully from their arches instead of their toes, at the end of each step.
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The Genius Of Swarm

A single ant or bee isn't smart, but their colonies are. The study of swarm intelligence is providing insights that can help humans manage complex systems, from truck routing to military robots.

I used to think ants knew what they were doing. The ones marching across my kitchen counter looked so confident, I just figured they had a plan, knew where they were going and what needed to be done. How else could ants organize highways, build elaborate nests, stage epic raids, and do all the other things ants do?

Turns out I was wrong. Ants aren't clever little engineers, architects, or warriors after all—at least not as individuals. When it comes to deciding what to do next, most ants don't have a clue. "If you watch an ant try to accomplish something, you'll be impressed by how inept it is," says Deborah M. Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University.

How do we explain, then, the success of Earth's 12,000 or so known ant species? They must have learned something in 140 million years.

"Ants aren't smart," Gordon says. "Ant colonies are." A colony can solve problems unthinkable for individual ants, such as finding the shortest path to the best food source, allocating workers to different tasks, or defending a territory from neighbors. As individuals, ants might be tiny dummies, but as colonies they respond quickly and effectively to their environment. They do it with something called swarm intelligence.

Where this intelligence comes from raises a fundamental question in nature: How do the simple actions of individuals add up to the complex behavior of a group? How do hundreds of honeybees make a critical decision about their hive if many of them disagree? What enables a school of herring to coordinate its movements so precisely it can change direction in a flash, like a single, silvery organism? The collective abilities of such animals—none of which grasps the big picture, but each of which contributes to the group's success—seem miraculous even to the biologists who know them best. Yet during the past few decades, researchers have come up with intriguing insights.

One key to an ant colony, for example, is that no one's in charge. No generals command ant warriors. No managers boss ant workers. The queen plays no role except to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a colony functions just fine with no management at all—at least none that we would recognize. It relies instead upon countless interactions between individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb. Scientists describe such a system as self-organizing.

Consider the problem of job allocation. In the Arizona desert where Deborah Gordon studies red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus), a colony calculates each morning how many workers to send out foraging for food. The number can change, depending on conditions. Have foragers recently discovered a bonanza of tasty seeds? More ants may be needed to haul the bounty home. Was the nest damaged by a storm last night? Additional maintenance workers may be held back to make repairs. An ant might be a nest worker one day, a trash collector the next. But how does a colony make such adjustments if no one's in charge? Gordon has a theory.

Ants communicate by touch and smell. When one ant bumps into another, it sniffs with its antennae to find out if the other belongs to the same nest and where it has been working. (Ants that work outside the nest smell different from those that stay inside.) Before they leave the nest each day, foragers normally wait for early morning patrollers to return. As patrollers enter the nest, they touch antennae briefly with foragers.

"When a forager has contact with a patroller, it's a stimulus for the forager to go out," Gordon says. "But the forager needs several contacts no more than ten seconds apart before it will go out."

To see how this works, Gordon and her collaborator Michael Greene of the University of Colorado at Denver captured patroller ants as they left a nest one morning. After waiting half an hour, they simulated the ants' return by dropping glass beads into the nest entrance at regular intervals—some coated with patroller scent, some with maintenance worker scent, some with no scent. Only the beads coated with patroller scent stimulated foragers to leave the nest. Their conclusion: Foragers use the rate of their encounters with patrollers to tell if it's safe to go out. (If you bump into patrollers at the right rate, it's time to go foraging. If not, better wait. It might be too windy, or there might be a hungry lizard waiting out there.) Once the ants start foraging and bringing back food, other ants join the effort, depending on the rate at which they encounter returning foragers.

"A forager won't come back until it finds something," Gordon says. "The less food there is, the longer it takes the forager to find it and get back. The more food there is, the faster it comes back. So nobody's deciding whether it's a good day to forage. The collective is, but no particular ant is."

That's how swarm intelligence works: simple creatures following simple rules, each one acting on local information. No ant sees the big picture. No ant tells any other ant what to do. Some ant species may go about this with more sophistication than others. (Temnothorax albipennis, for example, can rate the quality of a potential nest site using multiple criteria.) But the bottom line, says Iain Couzin, a biologist at Oxford and Princeton Universities, is that no leadership is required. "Even complex behavior may be coordinated by relatively simple interactions," he says.

Inspired by the elegance of this idea, Marco Dorigo, a computer scientist at the Université Libre in Brussels, used his knowledge of ant behavior in 1991 to create mathematical procedures for solving particularly complex human problems, such as routing trucks, scheduling airlines, or guiding military robots.

In Houston, for example, a company named American Air Liquide has been using an ant-based strategy to manage a complex business problem. The company produces industrial and medical gases, mostly nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen, at about a hundred locations in the United States and delivers them to 6,000 sites, using pipelines, railcars, and 400 trucks. Deregulated power markets in some regions (the price of electricity changes every 15 minutes in parts of Texas) add yet another layer of complexity.
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5 Most Controversial Comic History

Like any community that draws active fans, the comic world has its share of controversies. While each point of contention might not be enough to fragment the comic world and send it spiraling into cataclysm, they often stir the pot enough to send readers yammering on-and-on for months.

Collected here are some of the most interesting controversial comic occurrences from recent years. And as an added bonus illustrator Jeaux Janovsky has drafted original artwork to stir the pot a little on his own.
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Winner Of Sperm Race Is Andy Lau

The 45-year-old star has beat out younger handsome faces like Brad Pitt and Tony Leung and billionaires such as Bill Gates to top the poll.

To the 1,000 women who, aged from 25 to 35 and taking the poll in 15 different cities, good looking and wealth are both very important to their kids' father. In addition, Lau has proved himself a hardworking man.

US billionaire Bill Gates comes in close on Lau's heels to be second placed while Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiron is in the third.

The list for Chinese women's most wanted sperm are as follow:

1. Andy Lau

2. Bill Gates

3. Takeshi Kaneshiro

4. Liu Xiang

5. David Beckham

6. Li Ka-shing

7. Tony Leung

8. Louis Koo

9. Lee-hom Wang

10. Brad Pitt
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