Monthly Archives: July 2012

Prisoners and the right to vote

image from The Guardian

The European court of human rights, just like Canada’s supreme court, ruled that member states should not ban prisoners from voting.  Unfortunately the UK government is dragging its feet in implementing the required reforms.

This is a legal decision that I’m proud to say Canada got absolutely right.  I’m convinced that denying prisoners the right to vote is very dangerous to democracy.  We should not be creating large classes of people who have no say and no stake in our political processes.

This might make some people uncomfortable, but that is kind of the point.  If prisoners were to actually form a political constituency, we would have to have an ongoing dialog about crime, punishment and rehabilitation.  Every time election season rolls around, politicians rush to hold public debates in nursing homes, at city hall, and in schools.  What would happen if they also held them in our prisons?

I believe it would help ensure that we as a society didn’t conveniently ignore the correctional system.  Politicians would have to be actively engaged in issues of prison conditions, recidivism, parole, prisoners’ families and rehabilitation.

The stated mission of Correctional Service Canada is ‘encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens.’  At it’s heart I believe that this can be a fundamentally redemptive process – recognizing social brokenness and taking active steps towards building a more healthy, whole society.

And ensuring that both victims and perpetrators of crime remain connected to our political conversations is one important step in helping this happen.

Learning a lesson from my Huaraches

One of my all-time favourite books is Chris McDougal’s Born to Run.  It’s a wonderful mix of character profiles, meditations on what makes us human, sport’s journalism, and ultra-running.

Like everyone else who read the book, I totally fell in love with the idea of minimalist or barefoot running.  Inspired by stories of Kenyan children covering miles to and from school every morning unshod, or the Tarahuma in Mexico travelling up and down mountains in their huarches, I decided that here was the solution to the knee problems that had been plaguing my running career.  This was the right way to run.  I could become one with the trails I ran on.  I could re-discover the joy of feet and road and freedom, without all the modern paraphernalia of motion control, air cushioning, torsion bars and who knows what else.


I’ve had mixed results.

As it happened, I still completely believe that this is the right way to run.  As a result of reading this book, and my painful experiences last year, I re-engineered my gait, and adopted the minimalist philosophy.  And it worked – this year I completed my first ever ultra-marathon wearing just a pair of sandals.

Tracing out my feet

But that wasn’t enough for me.  Oh no.  I decided to go one step further, and make myself a pair of huarches.  These are nothing more than a few millimetres of rubber sole tied on to your feet with a length of cord.

The soles after cutting

A kit from cost me a mere $26, the cheapest pair of shoes I’d ever bought.  And I had the fun of making them myself – tracing out my foot on a sheet of paper, cutting out the soles, and threading the cord.

The finished product


And then I discovered something that wasn’t mentioned in Born to Run.

These shoes will challenge your feet like nothing ever has. Thirty years of running in padding, supported running shoes with thick heels, or even in regular sandals, had in no way prepared me for the abuse my feet were about to take.

I’m quite capable of running a half-marathon before breakfast.  But my first run in these gave me huge blisters on my toes that took weeks to heal.

These huaraches bite!

Once the first set of blisters healed, I tried them again.  A little trail run down to the lake and back.  This gave me a completely new set of blisters, on my heels this time.

So, back to other shoes for a few more weeks.  Then, last Wednesday I went out for a little hill training with the folks at the Running Room.  I didn’t get blisters that time.  I got tendonitis in my heel, instead.

There’s a reason for this.  Modern running shoes have a big cushion in the heel that is designed to absorb energy on impact and return it on push-off.  But our bodies already have a mechanism to perform this action – it’s the muscles in our calves.  But if we don’t train it, and then suddenly ask it to support us as we run uphill on our toes, it’s not surprising that it complains.

So, here I am, sitting with an ice-pack strapped to my ankle and wondering how I can train for Ironman Muskoka when I can’t walk without limping.

But I’m not complaining.  I still believe that our bodies are designed to run, and that it’s worth working with our natural biomechanics rather than fighting against them.  But we must do this with a certain degree of humility!   Our bodies are amazing things that can adapt to incredible demands, but we must approach this kind of training with caution and patience.

I’m not done yet!  Just as soon as my ankle heels I’ll be running in huarches again.  But just around the block to start with!



Ridiculously Easy Javascript Experimentation

My current favourite online tool is jsfiddle. This is an incredibly well designed tool.

If you ever find yourself wanting to quickly try out some HTML, CSS or javascript, without any edit-save-publish-reload cycle, then jsfiddle is the tool for you.  It keeps surprising me how well put together it is.  Sharing snippets of work with friends and colleagues just requires cutting and pasting a simple URL.  Forking is literally a one-click process.  Versioning is built in so seamlessly you hardly notice it.  And although you can set up an account to manage your code snippets, you don’t need to login to start using it.

This is a lesson to me on user-centric design.  The barrier to entry is absurdly low, and there are a bunch of powerful features that are easily discoverable when you want to go beyond the basics.  You have the option of pre-loading any number of popular javascript libraries such as jQuery and Prototype, and even Coffeescript is supported.

So, go give it a try.  jsfiddle could quite easily be integrated into your development processes in the next ten minutes.