ABC Radio (Australia) Interview

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Jul-2008: After several listeners phoned in about “aglets” (the tips of shoelaces), the station contacted me to participate – but we ended up discussing knots instead of aglets!

Interview Details

Interview Transcript

RED: I've been fascinated by shoelaces in recent days. I've learnt something. The word describing the small metal ferrule at the end of a shoelace – F-E-double-R-U-L-E – is in fact an aglet. An “aglet” is a sub-category of “ferrules”. An “aglet” pertains. This is a “ferrule” pertaining to the shoelace. It's good, isn't it? Well, I think it's good. Don't care what you think. You can go and listen to someone else if you don't like it.

But “Professor Shoelace” and I are very excited about this. Who's “Professor Shoelace”, you ask? Might as well ask the question myself. I think it's Ian Fieggen perhaps. Good morning, Professor!

IAN: Good morning, Red, how are you?

RED: Y-you are a – (coughs) – ah – an academic in the world of shoelaces, in shoes, are you?

IAN: (chuckles) It's an odd profession to be an “expert” in, but – that's what I've ended up as, yes.

RED: It's good to be good at something (chuckles). But shoelaces – shoes? What is – what is your fascina– you're – you're not one of those “shoe people” are you?

IAN: Not really – in fact – well I've sort of been turned into one – following the creation of the website, but –

RED: What website would that be?

IAN: Ah – it's – “fieggen.com” is – my surname but I– you can also go via “shoe-lacing.com”. So, it's a website – the vast majority of which is about shoelaces.

RED: Shoelaces? Just shoelaces?

IAN: Yeah – the reason this came about was – years ago I invented a faster way of tying shoelaces, and when I stuck this “Ian Knot” on my website – it sparked a lot of interest and people kept contributing things and asking for things so before I knew it I'd– the – the stuff that I added was all about shoelaces and – and that's where – I ended up with thousands of visitors a day.

RED: You – you've invented a knot?

IAN: Yeah – I basically sat down one day to try to analyse a way of making the knot symmetrical because I figured the reason why shoelaces always broke on one end was because it wasn't tied symmetrically. So I simply sat there and pulled apart a finished knot and thought – well, look – it – it finishes up looking symmetrical so if I pull it apart and see if there's a way of putting it together symmetrically, and in the process of doing that it actually ended up a faster way of tying it as well.

RED: Is it a conventional bow?

IAN: Yeah, it actually forms the identical bow to the standard shoelace technique. In fact I've – I since found out that there are two standard shoelace techniques that – come up as the same thing. And – thus there are three different ways of tying a standard bow, all of which end up as the same – exact same standard bow.

RED: The way I tie a shoelace personally – and I – I do this for my ten-year-old – I had to do this for my ten-year-old the other day – not because he can't do it 'cause he did demonstrate when challenged that he could do it – he just likes me doing it because I do them tighter – he likes tight shoes for some reason. I go: “eh er err, eh er vhet, and a vhet, and a shoes er het” and a heet. How do you go?

IAN: (chuckles) It's hard to describe, isn't it, over the radio? But –

RED: Well, I thought I just did it!

IAN: Yeah, well –

RED: Was that not clear to you?

IAN: Quite a good description, actually.

RED: I – I'll do it again, I said: “Heh”, and a “han” and a “vheet de vheet” and a “hewwww-whet” and a “wheet” and a ack.

IAN: Well it sounds like there were about ten separate steps in that and mine just goes: “Heh huh” and it's done.

RED: NO! Do that again!

IAN: “Heh heet”.

RED: Oh I see, yes!

IAN: (chuckles)

RED: That's very efficient, isn't it – and they're symmetrical too, I can see that.

IAN: Exactly – I mean, for the lot– for the vast majority of people this is really nothing more than – a bit of entertainment but – for some people this can be quite life-changing –

RED: (laughs)

IAN: No, I'm not talking about people like you and I that just – you know – consider this entertainment –

RED: Mmmm.

IAN: – but for – there's people for example who are either – either physically challenged or have difficulties with sequencing, like there are kids that simply cannot learn how to tie shoelaces. Kids with attention defecit disorder or with – other – other inabilities to concentrate –

RED: Yeah.

IAN: – and they simply can't follow the ten or twelve separate steps of tying a standard shoelace knot.

RED: How many steps do you reckon?

IAN: Probably about ten or twelve. I mean if you consider that you – you make a loop with one – one side.

RED: Yeah. Loop on the other side.

IAN: But the process of actually making a loop involves grabbing – grabbing the lace in one hand, getting the other hand, folding it in half, letting go with the first hand, and that's about three separate steps just to make a loop. I mean, we sort of take it for granted because we can do it so easily, but when a child is first learning it, it's a lot of individual steps.

RED: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's one of those exercises where if you had to program a computer to do it – which is in a sense what human existence –

IAN: Exactly.

RED: – can be reduced to – it is a lot of steps and each one of them is complex, yes.

IAN: Mmmm. Now I've had occupational therapists for example who've just praised this method because they've said: “Look, I've tried to teach a child for a year and haven't had any success.”, and they've tried this different method, and I think there's two aspects to it: One is that there are fewer steps –

RED: Mmmm.

IAN: – for them to have to memorise. And the second is that – that this child, who is currently gone from being the – the source of derision to his peers –

RED: Indeed.

IAN: – because he can't tie his shoelaces –

RED: Mmm-hmm.

IAN: – suddenly will take a step upwards in being able to tie them faster than anyone else. And that's a real source of – of determination for them, they figure: “If I can learn this, I'll actually be better than my peers.” And – there's been a lot of success in that regard.

RED: Ian, look, I never do this – I'm – I'm actually genuinely going to have a look at your website because I'm fascinated to see what your knot is.

IAN: Mmmm.

RED: Could you tell us what it is again?

IAN: It's “shoe-lacing.com”.

RED: That's not hard, is it? Shoe lacing.

IAN: Yeah, you can go to “shoe-lacing.com” – in fact, I've got various different domain names – “shoelaceknot.com” you can go to as well.

RED: I – I'm definitely – I'm – well I – I'm going to put it on our website too 'cause I – I genuinely want to have a look at that to see how it works.

IAN: Okay.

RED: As you – as we – as we discussed, it's very hard to describe, isn't it?

IAN: Mmm-hmm.

RED: Mmm-hmm. Thank you very much for talking to us.

IAN: You're welcome.

RED: Professor Shoelace – Ian F-Fieggen. Ian Fieggen. F-I-E-double-G-E-N. I – I can't wait for the show to finish now, I want to look how to do that. Phew! I'm wearing shoelaces too. No I'm not! I've got slip-ons like the Pope! (sigh) Oh dear. It's five minutes to seven.

(Next day, speaking with another caller, Jeff...)

RED: I did have a look at the shoelace site yesterday that- the “Ian Knot”. The bloke I spoke to yesterday about tying your shoelace. It's a pretty amazing knot! You want to have a look at it.

JEFF: Yeah? I'd better have a look at that.

RED: “shoe-lacing-dot-com” or something. Can't remember? Doesn't matter!

(A few minutes later, after a commercial break...)

RED: That – shoe lacing site. It's: “shoe-hyphen-lacing” – and there is no “e” in “lacing”. You probably knew that but it was a question that popped into my mind. “shoe-lacing.com”, he's got a terrific knot there, it's just a “ffwwhhere”! It's just a “ffwwhhere”! Yeah – and then he's got a little animation. It's worth a look, it's good, it's fun. You may not be able to do it – I mean – unless you're getting on a plane and going to London and you're wearing lace-up shoes and you're really bored – you will never be able to do that knot. But – it's worth a look.

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