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Shoes with more bounce for the buck

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Remember Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, cleverness, and speedy travel? Wings on his feet propelled him out of his own temple without shoes, a god determined to make a buck.

Rest assured his commercial spirit lives on, but with a major difference. No wings. Instead, Mercury's entrepreneurial heirs promote the most amazing new shoes for adults and kids which are absolutely guaranteed to make walking, running, jumping, and jogging, almost divine. Or at least a peck of fun for $60 to $150 a pop.

Many of these new shoes use embedded, tiny computers and other technologies while virtually promising an end to clumsiness and a dull life. The hype is aimed at gaining a share of the $14 billion athletic-footwear market.

Consider Reebok's Traxtar shoes. A tiny microprocessor in the tongue of the shoe measures how high kids jump and how fast they run. Achieve a personal best in jumping, and the instep flashes multicolored lights, while the embedded chip plays "Pomp and Circumstance." All this for about $65.

"Traxtar uses accelerometer technology," says Michael Phelan, director of Reebok marketing for kids, "the kind used in airbags to sense motion and impact. Most technology means you are sedentary. You buy it and sit at home and play with it. But these shoes encourage kids to be active and move."

Despite the hype, half of the 17 fifth-graders who tested Traxtar shoes rated them "a nuisance to use" in Zillions, the Consumer Reports magazine for kids.

Or there are Raven Sneakers, invented by Ronald Demon, a recent graduate of MIT. He designed his shoe with interconnected bladders filled with a shock-absorbent fluid wired to a computer chip. Run fast and the chip stiffens the bladders for more support. The bladders soften when you walk. Quicker than you can say, "Don't mess with Texas," you are walking on a cloud. The batteries last for two months. All this for about $149.

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