The Rubik’s Cube

Jens Mortensen for The New York Times. Prop stylist: Josephine Shokrian.

Published: February 9, 2012

“There’s never been a puzzle quite like Rubik’s Cube, and America may never be the same,” announced the Ideal Toy Corporation in an early 1980s commercial. It wasn’t wrong. While teaching a class called Form Studies in the early 1970s, the Hungarian architect Erno Rubik had his students slice a large cube of foam horizontally and vertically. He quickly realized that you could rotate the top half relative to the bottom half, the puzzle expert Jerry Slocum says. “And that’s where the idea of the Rubik’s Cube came from.” In 1975, Rubik patented it under the name Magic Cube and pitched toy executives on the notion that something that forced players to exert extraordinary mental energy was loads of fun. In 1977, it entered the Budapest marketplace. Three years later, it came to the U. S. as Rubik’s Cube.

Between 1980 and 1982, 100 million Rubik’s Cubes were sold worldwide. The mania even spawned a microindustry of guidebooks and cultural detritus. “One entrepreneur sold a set of stickers to frustrated cubists,” says Tim Walsh, author of “Timeless Toys,” “to sticker over their scrambled cube and claim to have solved it.” In 1983, “Rubik, the Amazing Cube,” a cartoon about a blue-headed Rubik with magical powers, made its debut on ABC.

After the initial craze, the cube crashed. Yet a recent resurgence has been led by an interest in speed cubing and the desire of some Gen X parents to share a toy of their youth with their kids. In 2008, 15 million were sold, compared with 3 million the year before. In 2010, Rubik, long a recluse, flew to Washington to celebrate his brainchild’s 30th U.S. birthday. He remains one of the world’s richest Hungarians.


Last June, an Australian named Feliks Zemdegs was 15 when he broke the world record for solving the Rubik’s Cube. His official time, 5.66 seconds, was clocked at an event held by the World Cube Association. Now 16, the champ discusses his craft:

When did you play with your first Rubik’s Cube? The first time I bought one and sat down and tried to learn it was in April 2008.

What’s the most important skill? Probably having good vision, recognizing patterns quickly and hand-eye coordination.

What advice would you give to other people interested in following your path? Learn as much as you can about it from the Internet. And just practice a lot.

How do you practice? I don’t really do much, because it’s not really that difficult to maintain my speed, I guess. So I just solve it casually.

Casually? Are there basic strategies? There are a number of methods you can use. The main one is just doing it in layers, which is pretty simple. There are three layers on the cube. Basically you just build them up until you solve it.

Do you think anyone will be able to top your world record? Yeah, definitely. I reckon probably 20 people, or maybe even more, have done faster times at home. It’s just a matter of getting to a competition, getting a bit of luck and not being too nervous.

So how has this record changed your life? It hasn’t really changed everyday life at all. There’s a lot more stuff on the Internet about me and lots of media stuff.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I might not be doing this as much — I can’t see myself doing it too much at all. But I’d still like to be part ofthe community.


The Information Diet

The talk around the water cooler is The Information Diet as the year begins.

Read.  Not too much.  Mostly Facts.

Based on the O’Reilly book by Clay A. Johnson, The Information Diet, A Case for Conscious Consumption I think it is time to get going on this topic.  Buy the book, read the cover, read the sample chapter on O’Reilly, read the Lifehacker article on the topic, but get going.

From the author:

The modern human animal spends upwards of 11 hours out of every 24 in a state of constant consumption. Not eating, but gorging on information ceaselessly spewed from the screens and speakers we hold dear. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat, and flour—so, too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.

We’re all battling a storm of distractions, buffeted with notifications and tempted by tasty tidbits of information. And just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much junk information can lead to cluelessness. The Information Diet shows you how to thrive in this information glut—what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In the process, author Clay Johnson explains the role information has played throughout history, and why following his prescribed diet is essential for everyone who strives to be smart, productive, and sane.

In The Information Diet, you will:

  • Discover why eminent scholars are worried about our state of attention and general intelligence
  • Examine how today’s media—Big Info—give us exactly what we want: content that confirms our beliefs
  • Learn to take steps to develop data literacy, attention fitness, and a healthy sense of humor
  • Become engaged in the economics of information by learning how to reward good information providers
  • Just like a normal, healthy food diet, The Information Diet is not about consuming less—it’s about finding a healthy balance that works for you

The Quantified Self and OpenYou.Org

I ran across OpenYou dealing with hacking health hardware.  A subject we are sure to spend more time on over hte next few years.

About OpenYou seeks to be a central resource for news about open source development on health hardware. It provides lists of libraries and applications from the open source community, to help developers learn more about the devices that let them learn about themselves.

In addition to pointing to other libraries and projects, the OpenYou team also actively reverse engineers and develops drivers and libraries for whatever health hardware they can find.

Kyle Machulis

Kyle Machulis

Kyle Machulis is an engineer working in such fields as robotics, teledildonics, biometrics, audio research, and whatever else he decides is interesting and/or can do silly things with. With reverse engineering as a hobby, he has been part of multiple health hardware projects, including drivers for the Lightstone, Omron Blood Pressure Monitor, Omron Pedometer, and multiple consumer EEGs.


Droid or iPhone?

Yes, I have them both.  Of course both are fine.  I use my Droid because I want to be like my son, or is it that I don’t use an iPhone to not be like my Dad.  From the Mercury News:

New studies highlight app gap between Apple, Android: As Google and Apple continue their battle for mobile dominance through their Android and iOS operating systems, a pair of new studies report some interesting findings.

The first, a report by Xyologic, finds that “iPhone is for games, Android is for apps.” It found that of the top 150 downloads in November from the Apple App Store, 100 were games, and game downloads outnumbered app downloads by nearly a 3-1 margin (71.5 million to 25.6 million). Only one app developer (Instagram maker Burbn) was on the list of top 25 publishers of 2011 — the rest were game-makers.

On the Android side, 85 of November’s top 150 were apps, and those outnumbered game downloads by an almost mirror image 3-1 ratio (91.5 million apps to 33.4 million games). A number of game-makers were among the year’s top 25 publishers, but that list was topped by Google and Facebook, and included app developers such as Adobe, Skype and Yahoo, all of whom were missing from the Apple list.

(Personal note: That sounds about right — I have significantly more games on my iPad than on my Android phone.)

What’s it all mean? That the Apple platform is more friendly to game developers, for one, reports Venture Beat. Xyologic co-founder Matthaus Krzykowski tells them that payment issues have kept developers from the Android market, which tends to monetize more through advertising, while Apple games lean toward the booming free-to-play model where users purchase upgrades within the game. But Dan Rowinski at RedWriteWeb wonders if there’s a more sociological reason — are Apple users more affluent and do they have more free time on their hands?

Apple users certainly spend more money on apps. That was the finding in a second study, by analysis firm Distimo, that compared the top 200 apps in both the Apple and Android markets. Based on those sales, the combined App Store for iPhone and iPad reaped six times the revenue of Google’s Android market despite Android’s wide lead in smartphone market share. Distimo co-founder Remco van den Elzen tells Wired that he attributes the difference to ease of use — “Google Checkout is considered to be more cumbersome than iTunes.” With Apple, “the threshold for purchasing the first application is lower,” he said.

While none of this data is particularly new or groundbreaking, it is interesting to note the differences between the two platforms, and where future opportunities may lie.


Open Book: Managing Your eBook Collection With Calibre

I am having fun with my Kindle Fire and reading this to make sure I can use Calibre.  Sometimes I have time to learn on my own, sometimes I like to race along.

Open Book: Managing Your eBook Collection With Calibre


How algorithms shape our world

Kevin Slavin argues that we’re living in a world designed for — and increasingly controlled by — algorithms. In this riveting talk from TEDGlobal, he shows how these complex computer programs determine: espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture. And he warns that we are writing code we can’t understand, with implications we can’t control.


The 3-D Printing Free-for-All


 The MakerBot 3-D printer makes objects from molten plastic from a computer design.Ángel Franco/The New York TimesThe MakerBot 3-D printer makes objects from molten plastic from a computer design.

Downloading — quite often stealing, in the eyes of the law — music, movies, books and photos is easier than bobbing for apples in a bucket without water. It has kept legions of lawyers employed fighting copyright violations without a whole lot to show for their efforts in the past decade.You think that was bad? Just wait until we can copy physical things.

It won’t be long before people have a 3-D printer sitting at home alongside its old inkjet counterpart. These 3-D printers, some already costing less than a computer did in 1999, can print objects by spraying layers of plastic, metal or ceramics into shapes. People can download plans for an object, hit print, and a few minutes later have it in their hands.

Call it the Industrial Revolution 2.0. Not only will it change the nature of manufacturing, but it will further challenge our concept of ownership and copyright. Suppose you covet a lovely new mug at a friend’s house. So you snap a few pictures of it. Software renders those photos into designs that you use to print copies of the mug on your home 3-D printer.

Did you break the law by doing this? You might think so, but surprisingly, you didn’t.

What about a lamp, a vase, an iPhone protective cover, board game pieces, wall hooks, even large pieces of furniture? In each of these cases, if you copy them, it’s highly unlikely that you’re breaking any copyright laws.

“Copyright doesn’t necessarily protect useful things,” said Michael Weinberg, a senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge, a Washington digital advocacy group. “If an object is purely aesthetic it will be protected by copyright, but if the object does something, it is not the kind of thing that can be protected.”

When I posed my mug scenario to Mr. Weinberg, he responded: “If you took that mug and went to a pottery class and remade it, would you be asking me the same questions about breaking a copyright law? No.” Just because new tools arrive, like 3-D printers and digital files that make it easier to recreate an object, he said, it doesn’t mean people break the law when using them.

But it could turn design and manufacturing into the Wild West. That’s already happening on Thingiverse, a free online site that offers schematics of more than 15,000 objects. Thomas Lombardi, a 3-D printer owner and regular contributor to Thingiverse, uploaded a free design for a “Lucky Charms Cereal Sifter.” This brilliant piece of American engineering is a cup with several holes in the bottom. When you pour Lucky Charms cereal into the sifter and shake it from side to side, the cereal falls through the holes and the marshmallow charms — clearly the most sought-after part of the product — stay in the sifter, leaving you with nothing but marshmallowy goodness to pour into a bowl.

After Mr. Lombardi posted his invention on Thingiverse, someone else downloaded the design and began selling a finished Lucky Charms Cereal Sifter on a competing Web site for $30.

Because the sifter is a useful object (although some might argue otherwise) and not simply decorative, there was nothing Mr. Lombardi could have done to stop them.

A recent research paper published by the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., titled “The Future of Open Fabrication,” says 3-D printing will be “manufacturing’s Big Bang.” as jobs in manufacturing, many overseas, and jobs shipping products around the globe are replaced by companies setting up 3-D fabrication labs in stores to print objects rather than ship them.

The disregard for copyright smoothes the way for this shift. Downloading music online prospered because it was quicker and easier to press a button than go to a store to buy a CD. Given the choice to download a mug, or deal with Ikea on a Saturday afternoon, which one do you think you would choose?