High Five: Knots as Tools

From Bob Giles: High Five for Handshake 2.0Bob Giles:

Slashdot has reported on major advances in knot theory.

I do not know how many ways there are to tie my shoes. I know there are many ways not to tie them and the zero-th way sounds like something a mathematician would count.

A shoe tied with a granny knot will loosen and fail quickly as it did on my young daughters’ shoes many times. “Retying” is the father’s praying position.

Since I was a teenager, I have been fascinated by knots and hitches. The interest started in Boy Scouts but was heightened by Mr. Mundy, a Scout leader in Lynchburg, Virginia. Gone now, he still is an example of how someone with an interest in youth and special knowledge can influence people, in this case over 60 years later. 

I've worked with ropes as a tree surgeon's helper, a smokechaser in Oregon, a game biologist in Virginia, in training as a US Army Ranger, as a wildlife professor in Idaho, and, most importantly, as a husband and father.

My daughters once liked knowing about knots. My students got a dose of knot-tying on field trips but usually were disinterested.  Instruction in such things seemed unsophisticated, so non-technical.

I lived part time at a cabin next to a wildlife management area. I used knots almost daily and took pleasure in knowing about knots and hitches. A knot can turn "a piece of old rope" into a useful, even life-saving, tool or piece of equipment (e.g., a timber hitch to move effectively log-like objects, a barrel hitch to lift such-shaped objects, a bowline to make a permanent loop, a stevedore knot to keep a rope from sliding through a hole or under an object).

Most of us enjoy having tools, even though we may not use them often. We may feel badly when using a tool improperly (as the poor screwdriver is used for everything). There are knots that are proper for an occasion. Whether we use them or not, even knowing the right knot for a task is a sign of special knowledge, of extra competence.

To reduce risks, we need to know when a knot being tied or used improperly will fail. “Your shoe is untied. You will step on the string and fall!” And she did!…because of a bad choice from among the many, many ways (good, bad, and indifferent) that shoes can be tied, and the structure of the universe, somehow, untied.

Girth hitch sketch by Kathy Wimble

The girth hitch above was sketched by Kathy Wimble, a Virginia Tech student in wildlife management years ago.


Robert H. Giles, Jr. writes High Five for Handshake 2.0, a technology business news and business blog venture of Handshake Media, Incorporated, a member company of business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks.  The opinions Robert Giles expresses are solely his own and are not necessarily shared by Handshake 2.0 or its sponsors or advertisers.


Robert H. Giles, Jr. is a Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus with a vision for a rural land management system.  He writes two blogs, The Survivalists and Faunal Force. 

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