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The origin story

Dr. Langbourne Rust, cognitive psychologist, software developer, amateur singer and lifetime fly fisherman came up with the idea for SkillShaper while teaching a long-time friend, Gene Cayten, how to fly cast.

As Lang tells it:

Gene is a smart guy: emergency room surgeon, professor and a good athlete. You'd have thought it'd been a snap to teach him. It wasn't. It never is. I have taught a lot of people this skill and it has never been easy. They get there, if they keep at it, but never right away.

We were standing out on his dock at his place in Squam, NH. I strung up one of my fly rods for him and one for me.

I started off by explaining the basic physics of a cast to him: it being the fundamental task of throwing a string through space. You need to get is straight before it will move, to pull it in a straight line, to keep accelerating it so it won't drop; to come to a hard stop so it will keep flying and straighten out behind you before you begin to accelerate it back in the opposite direction. All pretty simple. It could have come straight from any book on fly casting for beginners.

He got it, he said, and took the rod, swished it back and forth and the line hit the dock behind him and then wrapped itself around his neck.

So I tried another way: monkey see. I told him to watch me as I did a cast, and then to imitate what I did. I cast. He cast. Swish swish. The line landed in a tangle at his feet.

I paused, thinking it over. And then I said. 'Think of it like making a sound. Almost like singing. Start by getting the line straight with a slow pull .... uhhhh .... then begin accelerating it .. ahhhhhhhh .... ever faster .... eeeeee .... and then stop your swing sharply, without dropping the tip .... akkk ... and then do the same in the reverse direction.

"'Like this?' he asked. He took his rod, went
"uhhhh..ahhhhhhhh..eeeee..akkk".as he swung back and "uhhhh..ahhhhhhhh..eeeee..akkk"  forward.

The line went out 20 feet. With a few more practice casts it went out 30 feet.  He was ready to start fishing. Most fish are caught with casts of 30 feet or less.

That was the core. I knew right away that I'd stumbled into something pretty important. I kept thinking.

What if I attached a sensor of some sort to a fly rod, and coupled it with a sound-maker, then a caster could hear the sound pattern, or melody, of the cast in real time. Even I, with my non-engineering background, could see how such a thing might be made.

A beginner could hear what a good cast sounds like and could learn to cast through mimicry - not by trying to keep step-by-step instructions in mind or doing visual pattern matching.

What about using the sensors in a smart phone? And ear buds? And Bluetooth? and so on.

SkillShaper was born.

 

 

 

    Dr Langbourne Rust - holding a fly-caught brown trout

Lang Rust - fly fisherman

 

Below: Squam Lake, NH

Picture of a dock in Squam Lake, New Hampshire