Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 79 / DECEMBER 1986 / PAGE 89

IBM Personal Computing

Donald B. Trivette

Run, Puma, Run

Mercury, the son of Jupiter and Maia, was the Greek god of wrestling, gymnastic exercises, and anything requiring great speed (including thievery). His swiftness was attributed to a winged cap and winged shoes.

Were Mercury around today, he'd be wearing new Pumas. Although they don't come with wings, they do come with a computer in the heel that would make even Zeus jealous.

Here's how they work. Attached to the heel of each shoe is a cab made from the same material as the sole. The cab on the left shoe is for looks and balance; inside the cab on the right shoe is a printed circuit board encased in water-proof shrink-wrap material. It has a red button and a black button protruding. The circuit board contains a timer, a foot-fall counter, memory, a beeper, and a tiny nonreplaceable battery. There's also a trap door which opens to reveal four prongs of a male electrical connection.

Two-Button Shoes

Prior to a run, the jogger presses the red button to reset the electronics and clear the shoe's memory. Then, as the run begins, the athlete presses the black button to start the clock and the counter. Should the runner pause for a stoplight or drink of water, it's also necessary to pause and restart the shoe. This is done by pressing the black button. Finally, once the run has ended, the black button is pressed to stop the recording of data.

Once back in the house or gym, the shoe is plugged into a computer. Puma supports several computers: the IBM PC family including the PCjr (with disk drive); the Apple He and II+ (48K); the Commodore 64, 128 (in 64 mode), and SX-64; and all MS-DOS and PC compatibles. The disk that comes with the shoes contains the software for each of these machines. For the IBM family, the cable attaches to the parallel port, which means you need an optional board in the PCjr (most PC and XT machines already have a parallel port). I asked the people at Puma why the shoe wasn't designed to run on the serial port, which everyone has (in fact, many of us have several free serial ports), but received no satisfactory answer. I'm afraid that Puma knows a lot more about shoes and running—as you'll soon see—than about computers and programming.

The software for the IBM PC is written in BASIC (type RUN "PUMA") although it may not work on your PC. The people Puma hired to write the program knew more about other makes of computers than they did about the PC. Instead of getting the address of the parallel port from a table in memory, the programmer hard-coded the address used by the IBM-brand parallel printer interface board. Many non-IBM brands use different addresses. This causes no problem with most software because programmers know to look for the address in the computer's memory. Puma has promised to modify the program to use a memory lookup, but if your program doesn't work, you may have an old version.

Once I patched the address of my Apparat board into the program, it worked. I selected read data from shoe on the menu and followed the instructions on the screen. It successfully read that I had jogged four miles in 39 minutes. The program recorded this for future comparisons, and, since I had already entered my body weight, it calculated that I had burned about 700 calories. It's also possible to send data to the shoe. Say you want to run six miles and stop. Just plug the shoe in and, using the menu, download 6 miles. When you've jogged that distance, the shoe will beep three times.

Software Weaknesses

Unfortunately, I discovered more poor programming. It reports time and distance, but, for reasons unknown, it doesn't calculate the speed. I can only suppose that serious runners, for whom this shoe is intended, don't care about speed. The IBM version does not take advantage of color; output does not line up under headings; and, most inexcusable of all, the program has no print commands—it depends entirely on IBM's print-screen routines for hardcopy output.

Bad programming aside (it is BASIC, so you can fix it yourself), Puma must be applauded for trying something new and different. The program and shoe do make it easy to keep a daily diary of workouts, and that—according to Mark Nenow, the world-record holder for the 10,000-meter road event—is what's important. Mark has used a pair of Puma RS-Computer shoes for several months. "Improvement comes gradually in running, so this gives the athlete a way to compare weeks and months of running—and graphically see how much he's improving."

If you're thinking, as I was, how great these shoes would be for walking, I'm sorry to tell you that the foot-fall sensor isn't delicate enough to record a walk. But the shoes are uncommonly comfortable—as they should be for $200— and Puma is studying the possibility of marketing a shoe sensitive enough to measure a walk.