On the Vulnerabilities of Combination Locks

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Back in December, just a few days after Kelly came home from the hospital, I went to the gym for a badly needed workout. I put my wallet and car keys in a small set of lockers located on the weight room floor. Those lockers (pictured above) have a built-in combo lock where you can set the combo yourself. Unfortunately something went wrong. When I went back to retrieve my belongings the combo I had set did not work. I asked a staff member to find the master key to open the locker. He informed me that the boss had it and that he wouldn’t be back until after the holidays. I panicked. How would I get by without my keys, credit card and driver’s license? Then I remembered an idle afternoon back in the summer when I attempted to learn how to crack combo locks.

The efforts of that afternoon paid off. After around five minutes of practice on the other lockers I figured out how to open the lock and I manged to retrieve my belongings.

Combo locks all work the same way. The internal mechanism has three or four wheels that must align to open the lock. More expensive combo locks have false gates to make them harder to crack. The cheap built-in locks at the gym had no false gates. Opening the lock was as easy as turning the numbers until I felt a subtle resistance. The process reminded me of playing a musical instrument. All it takes is a little finger dexterity and practice.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, you’ve got a couple of options for opening a combo lock:

  • With a shim:

  • With some math:

Both the shim and the “math” methods take practice. I have not been able to open the lock I’ve been practicing on with either of these techniques. Of course, the easiest method is just to pry open a locker with a screwdriver or crowbar. And many locks can also be defeated by drilling them.

Lastly, let’s say you have an open combo lock but have forgotten the combo. You can figure it out by peering into the opening:

In addition to adding a James Bond villain skill to your mental toolkit, consider this post as a warning. Don’t leave valuables in a gym locker. I could have easily opened the other lockers, pulled out wallets, copied down credit card numbers and put the wallets back. My fellow gym goers would not have known anything was wrong until their credit card bills arrived.

My Favorite Minimal Shoes: Vivo Barefoot

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Vivo Barefoot Stealth II Men’s Running Shoe

Yesterday I wrote about the solution to my plantar faciitis problems: going barefoot around the house and, when not at home, wearing minimal shoes. I’d like to focus in this post on the minimal shoes I chose: Vivo Barefoot.

This post might seem like a shoe ad but I want to emphasize that I’m not being paid to say this, nor have I received any free shoes. I’m just a fan of Vivo Barefoot. Unlike those strange Vibram shoes, Vivo shoes look like normal shoes.

As I noted in yesterday’s post I was guided by the advice of physical therapist James Speck. He suggests four considerations when choosing shoes:

  • Flexible Sole
  • Little or No Support
  • Minimal Toe Spring
  • Flat or Low Heel Height

img_7359By flexible sole he means that you can roll the shoe up into a little cigar. Minimal toe spring means that the shoe does not turn up towards the toe (look at your feet–they don’t turn up so why should your shoe?). Arch support weakens your arches. And heels? Why should fashion trump health?

Vivo Barefoot sells running, hiking, casual an even semi-formal shoes. With just one click I can order a new pair of shoes and never have to set foot in a mall ever again.

They also make the only decent looking running shoe I’ve ever found. As I’ve said before, the design of most running shoes look like what would happen if a dog ate and then barfed up a bunch of florescent pool toys. This is not even to touch the issue of the evidence-free cushioning and stability control the big shoe companies think we need.

Please don’t get me going about the running shoe industry and the horrible magazines that support them. I’ve noticed, in the past year, that the powers that be have deemed that the minimal shoe trend is “over” and that we now need “maximal” shoes like this atrocity:

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I guarantee that if you run or walk in a maximal shoe like this for any length of time you will end up with knee and foot problems. This is due to the principle of risk compensation. Make a shoe soft and you will land harder with each step. Wear a minimal shoe and you will tread lightly and, with each step, your foot will grow stronger.

On Speck’s suggestion I took a “cold turkey” approach to the barefoot/minimal shoe lifestyle. It felt strange and was painful at first, but gradually the plantar faciitis that I was suffering from has greatly dissipated.

Vivo Barefoot isn’t the only minimal shoe company. Kelly is fond of her Lems.

Do you have a favorite minimal shoe? Leave a comment!

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A Cure for Plantar Faciitis?

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He’s the world’s crankiest man and one of Twitter’s most entertaining trolls. If he’s right it means most of what we’ve been taught in school is wrong. I’m talking about Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. You can apply his ideas to many areas of human knowledge, everything from the economy to beekeeping. In this post I want to look at how his notion of “antifragility,” systems that benefit from shocks, applies to a little understood malady that effects 2 million people in the U.S. every year: plantar faciitis (I’ll call it PF for the sake of brevity).

PF is an inflammation of the plantar facia, a band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes. It causes a sharp pain that makes walking extremely painful. Risk factors include tightness in the calves, overuse and obesity. I’ve had three cases of it in the past ten years, two brought on by running and one by fencing.

I’d cured my PF last time by going barefoot. That time, it worked quickly. When it didn’t work quickly this time around, I gave up and decided to seek the advice of medical professionals, including a sports medicine specialist. I didn’t trust my own experience. This was a mistake.

The standard medical advice for PF is rest, immobilizing the foot, constant arch support (I was never barefoot unless in the shower or pool), orthotics, needling and cortisone shots. In my my most recent bout with PF, I tried all of these things for a year and a half, following my instructions to the letter, and none of them worked. One of those strategies, immobilization in a boot with crutches made things much worse and, I believe, set my recovery back by months.

If my experience is any indication, I’m going to step out on a limb and suggest that if you have PF you shouldn’t go to a doctor.

I’m not going to let alternative medicine off the hook either. I also made the mistake of seeing a chiropractor. She pulled my hand around, using it as a kind of augur with which to indicate which worthless, expensive supplements (including rancid cod liver oil) I needed to buy. She also waved a kind of pimped-out laser pointer around my heel. That was also pointless. In the end I talked to another chiropractor I trust who is an ultra-marathoner and fellow PF sufferer. She admitted that she can’t fix PF and that’s why she’s a good chiropractor.

The Cure
What seems to be working is giving my feet a heavy dose of antifragility. I’ve stopped babying my feet: no orthotics, no rest, going barefoot as much as possible.

It was painful at first but I took it slow and now I’m walking and doing light running. This is exactly the opposite of what the majority of podiatrists, sports doctors and orthopedists will tell you to do.

What sent me back on the barefoot antifragile path is the webpage of a San Diego based physical therapist named James Speck (thank you Kathy Turk for that link!). Here’s what Speck has to say,

Plantar fasciitis doesn’t develop from overuse or too much stress on plantar fascia. It happens when the wrong kind of stress replaces the good kind of stress that the foot needs to remain healthy. The aim of treatment, therefore, should not be reducing stress on the arch. Instead, treatment should focus on changing the types of stresses being applied and encouraging normal function of the foot.

If Taleb ranted about feet instead of Ben Bernanke, I suspect he’d agree.

A Disclaimer
The usual warning about correlation not implying causation could apply here and certainly applies to many supposed PF cures.

PF tends to resolve on its own eventually and perhaps we can end up thinking that whatever the last crazy thing we did is the cure. But I have a feeling that Speck is right about restrictive footwear being a primary cause of PF. If you’ve got PF check out his background on PF, why common treatments don’t work and how to treat it.

I also want to be clear that this is not an indictment of all of Western and/or alternative medicine. Let’s just say that the virtue of Socratic ignorance is lacking in both sometimes.

Tomorrow I’ll do a post on what shoes I’m wearing (when not barefoot, of course). In the meantime, my feet are now more like the happy foot side of the happy foot/sad foot sign.

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082 Get Outdoors with Jeff Potter

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My guest this week is journalist and outdoor enthusiast Jeff Potter who runs outyourbackdoor.com. We talk about cross country skiing, riding bikes paddling boats and even eating road kill. You can find Jeff’s non-lycracentric cross country ski how-to videos in his Out Your Backdoor Youtube channel. During the podcast we also ponder the question, “If you could have only one bike what kind of bike would it be?” We get into canoe vs. kayak, how to roll a kayak and the joys of cyclocross.

Make sure to check out all the cool things Jeff has for sale on his website as well as his wife Martha Bishop’s website lazygal.biz.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Pet Peeve: Texting at the Gym

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The older I get the more time I seem to have to spend at the gym fixing dumb sports injuries. With that age also comes a crankiness about rude smartphone habits. Lately I’ve found my exercise routine lengthened by having to wait for people just sitting on equipment and texting. I know that this is a “first world problem” and I’ll acknowledge that I’ve probably been guilty of searching for just the right podcast episode between sets. But the gym should be for exercise not sending out texts.

Smartphone use on the gym floor has become an epidemic at my local YMCA. Once the New Years resolution crowd thins out in a month or so it won’t be so bad, but right now you have to wait a long time for some benches and machines due to texting millennials. The solution is simple. If you’ve just got to send that text, please step off the equipment momentarily! And maybe, just maybe, all that texting is distracting you from what you’re supposed to be doing at the gym?

I like my new smartphone and find it useful. But perhaps we all need to agree that in certain spaces and settings we all need to go into airplane mode. My short list of those settings includes sacred spaces, gyms, classrooms, lectures and at meals. And let’s not even get into driving–that should be obvious.

So how do we come to a consensus on phone etiquette? Since blocking or jamming cellphones is pretty much off the table, the only solution may be to “gamify” good behavior. Imagine an app that rewards you for not checking your phone while you’re at the gym. At the end of the month you get a small discount or prize. But that might not be enough. Here’s how the Russian military “gamifies” smartphone etiquette:

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Image via BoingBoing.

Check your phone while on duty and you have to lug around a giant wooden phone.