Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Rubik's Cube & Writing

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It's hard to believe I have been blogging about the Rubik's Cube and writing for over two years.  Especially since I never thought it would last much beyond my "10 Ways Writing is Like the Rubik's Cube" post.

This blog began mostly out of curiosity.  Just how far could I stretch it?  Could I continue to make new connections between something so technical and something else so abstract?

I'm happy to say, yes.  The ideas continue to come.  This is part of the creative process and I love it.  Making connections that were not there before.  Uncovering personal truths by challenging myself and pushing the limits.

I feel like I have accomplished my goals here.  But being the kind of person who enjoys pain and thrives on challenges, I must set new goals.  Truthfully, I'm not sure exactly where those new, lofty goals lie.  And thus, I will be taking a hiatus from my blog for a few months while I figure it out.

Honestly, I never thought I would have any visitors to the blog -- let alone followers.  Thank you.  I am grateful to all of you and your wonderful comments.  I look forward to reengaging with you all very soon!

I also never thought I would write a novel in 30 days or be able to solve the Rubik's Cube blindfolded.  But none of that would have been possible without the discipline of blogging and encouragement from the writing community.  I hope you will be encouraged to set new and higher goals for yourself, too.

Thank you for your support.  See you soon!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

13 Examples of Evidence for Evolution

13 Examples of Evidence for Evolution

1. The independent arrival of useful traits.  For example, the wing in insects, birds, and bats.  Or, the complex eyeball in humans and squids.

2. The human appendix, tail bone, wisdom teeth, goose bumps, and male nipples.

3. Vestigial organs in others.  Whales have 'leftover' hind leg bones. The eyeballs of the blind cave fish, Astyanax mexicanus, and penguins' wings are other examples.

4. Fossil evidence.

5. Drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

6. Pesticide-resistant insects.

7. Dog breeding.  (The Great Dane, the Chihuahua, and the Dingo.)

8. The Flounder and other flat fish. The eyeball on the "bottom" travels to the "top" of its head.

9. Flu vaccinations. Every year.

10. Modern transitional examples. From the eye spots of flatworms to the primitive eye of the nautilus.

11. Nylon eating bacteria.

12. A peacock's ridiculous tail.

13. DNA.  No, you are not a monkey, but you do share genes with a pea plant.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Am I Missing Something?

I'm still fascinated by the Rubik's Cube even though it's been around now for more than 30 years.  It's such a complete and unique puzzle.  And it's satisfying to the very end.

But what if you didn't realize a piece was missing until the very end?

Wouldn't you feel just a little cheated?

Well, I had similar feelings after finishing the book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs.  I don't normally write book reviews, but this is such a unique and interesting book that I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

The story is told by 16 year old, Jacob Portman, but is also told through a series of strange, vintage photographs interspersed throughout the book.  On their own, the pictures are quite interesting and fun to flip through.  The cover art picture, featuring a levitating girl, and the book's title were enough to hook me.  Overall, it's an intriguing book and I recommend it.

I read the Kindle version, so I probably did not get the full experience had I read the print version, but for me, the screen display of the pictures was sufficient.  If you're really into the visual experience, then I suggest buying or loaning the print book.

The narrative story can stand on its own without the benefit of the photographs.  But the pictures really do enhance the overall experience of the story.  It's a fun and quirky book.


The story revolves around the murder of Jacob's grandfather and the adventure Jacob embarks on to learn the truth about his grandfather's strange childhood.  But the story is really more fantasy than murder mystery.  It may be dark at times, but it's also not scary, so your tweens won't have nightmares reading it.

Jacob is just like any teen and doesn't fit in anywhere.  Nobody quite understands him except for his quirky grandfather -- who just may be losing his mind.  They have a special bond and his grandfather always tells Jacob fanciful tales about the children he lived with at an orphanage in England before World War II.

Jacob is older now and is no longer convinced by the poorly altered old photographs that "prove" that these children had supernatural talents.  Jacob assumes the children were special because, like his grandfather, they were Jewish refugees of the war.  Thus, Jacob is saddened by his grandfather's dementia and increased paranoia of the "monsters" from his past.

It is not until Jacob's grandfather is brutally killed by a strange looking animal that Jacob begins to wonder if those fanciful stories may somehow be true.  Jacob is called to adventure by his grandfather's cryptic dying words and seeks out the old orphanage.

His family assumes Jacob is losing his mind out of guilt for not being able to save his grandfather's life.  With the encouragement of his psychiatrist, Jacob visits Wales to find answers.


I really enjoyed the prose of the book and thought it flowed well.  There is a passage where all these years later, Jacob walks into his grandfather's dilapidated orphanage expecting some ancient crime scene, "...but all I found were rooms that had become more outside than inside."  There is a nice visual style to the writing and the main story elements flowed naturally.  Although the story line weaves its way through unusual hoops, it's easy to suspend disbelief and just go with the story.

Of course the book is peppered with the strange photographs, too.  I appreciate the challenge it must have been for the author to brilliantly spin a truly unique story around the dozens of photographs.  This was like a writing prompt on steroids.  Just take an album of weird and random photographs and make a story out of it.  I love this about the book.  I love even more that it's a good story and not just that he incorporated all of the photographs.

The story was well written for a debut novel and had great promise.  I found myself guessing about what might happen in the next chapter and then the next.  However, the piece that I was left missing was the ending.  I was disappointed in the ending because there was no satisfying resolution.

I'll admit the question of Jacob's grandfather's death was solved -- so technically that's a resolution -- but that's not enough given all of the build up of the story's main adventure.  Too many unresolved and unanswered questions remain and then the story simply fades to black.  It's rumored that a sequel is in the works, but not everybody wants to go to the next book to see how things play out.  I certainly don't.

Just like the Rubik's Cube missing a corner piece, I felt the last pages were missing from this book.  I wanted more -- not from a sequel -- but from this book.  On the one hand, I usually feel if you don't have a sufficient ending, then you don't really have a complete story.  However, this book is so fascinating, unique, and interesting in its premise and how it's executed, that I still recommend reading it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

13 Suckier Things About Travel

You caught me.  I say I love to travel.

But what I really mean is I like to be in different and strange places.  Nobody really likes to travel these days.
And if you're forced to endure the ordeal that business travel has become I pity you.

This post is dedicated to you.  Let's commiserate!

13 Crappy Things About Travel That Have Only Gotten Worse in Recent Years

1. Airport security.  The illusion of safety.  Now we have body scanners.  If body scanners are intended to detect items not picked up by metal detectors, and vice versa, why doesn't the TSA march us through both?

2. No free meals.  Remember when you'd get a free sandwich for coast-to-coast flights?

3. Airline baggage fees.  Every airline now charges for checked bags depending on your status.

4. Overhead bins.  The overhead bins for carryon luggage are smaller and crammed fuller than ever before.

5. Packing.  You are now forced to allocate your toiletries into Petri dish-sized containers.

6. Standby.  Have a change of plans?  Want to get home before that terrible storm rolls through?  Unless you have earned a mid- to high-tier status, you will now be charged a hefty fee (~$75) to standby for an earlier.

7. Mileage status.  Your travel miles earn you fewer perks.

8. Mileage status (again).  Should you lapse in status for one year, the next year you're deported to the end of the line.  Hello, boarding group 11 and 12!

9. Delays.  The airlines will try to sell you the idea they have improved on-time performance.  Just look at our shiny new statistics.  What they don't tell you is they measure their performance by an inflated "travel time" not actual flight time.  They don't even need to burn extra fuel to make up the time in the air.  The extra padding ensures an "on-time" arrival for most flights with a late departure.

10. Common courtesy.  Passenger courtesy has declined significantly.  People push and shove to board so they can pack their sprawling belongings into the overhead bins.  These also happen to be the same folks eager to slam down into full recline without checking for a laptop or sore knees pressed into their seatback.

11. Flight options.  Fewer and fuller flights mean you have fewer alternatives when they cancel your original flight for "mechanical" reasons.  Don't fret!  You may receive a discounted, $99 hotel voucher to the dirty airport hotel room of your choice.

12. Hotel pillows.  I'm pretty sure the only reason the pillows in the hotels are worse than in years past is because they are the same pillows.  Does anyone like feather pillows?

13. Toilet paper (yes, I went there).  Any time your toilet tissue crinkles, you know you're in for an uncomfortable stay.  To make matters worse, this rough (cheap) toilet paper somehow has been designed to ensure frugality and rips off into individual squares.

Do you think traveling has gotten better or worse in recent years?

Thank you CubaGallery on Flicker for the great photo!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Yuvi's Zalkow's Fear & Failure Experiment

Today's post is dedicated to author, Yuvi Zalkow, whose work I first read in the literary magazine Glimmer Train.

I immediately loved reading his quirky voice and was delighted when I rediscovered him through his wonderful blog and hilarious Failed Writer videos.

It's hard to refer to Yuvi as a "failed" writer since his debut novel was released earlier this week.  But that hasn't done much to ease his mind.

Even in the midst of his book launch  the very definition of success for most writers  he discusses his fears.  As a way to commiserate with other writers about fear, he started the Fear & Failure Experiment.  I'm showing support for Yuvi by sharing some of my own fears. 

In the past, I have talked about failure and quitting, (Go Ahead, Quit! It's Not Taboo) but this time I'm going to talk about my fear of failure not just quitting outright.  For me, fear of failure is a terrifying issue.  And as usual, I will discuss this in two parts.

A Puzzling Fear
You probably know by now, but I have a puzzling reputation to uphold.  It didn't take me long to conquer the major Rubik's puzzles without much difficulty.  But not long ago, I decided to discard the safety nets and find a new challenge that would put my reputation on the line.

I sent away for a Crazy 3x3 Cube (pictured above).  Now this puzzle is not stocked at your local Toys "R" Us.  It looks like the result of an apple corer and a Rubik's Cube getting into a fight.  Undeterred, I thought, "How hard could this be?  It just has a few more pieces in the centers than a normal Rubik's Cube."

It turns out those tiny pie-shaped pieces brought me to the brink of insanity.

I bought this puzzle when it was first released so I didn't have the luxury of cheating with YouTube tutorials.  I was on my own.  My plan was to very carefully experiment with different tricks and techniques I had learned from the other Rubik's puzzles.  Starting with a solved Crazy 3x3 Cube I thought I could simply determine which techniques I could adapt.  But before I gathered any meaningful data points, the entire puzzle was scrambled beyond belief.  I had inadvertently jumped into the unknown.

It took the entire first night just to get it to the state pictured above.  It may have appeared to be nearly solved, but there were still 24 pieces out of place.  It was past midnight, I had no plan, and I had to work the next day.

For the record, I did not give a second thought to the cube until well after 5pm that following day.  However, a cursory glance through my internet history at lunch just might have shown a frantic search for a video tutorial to solve these tiny pie-shaped pieces.  It was torture.

When I finally got my hands back on this crazy cube I had a primal urge to determine how the pie-shaped pieces moved about the cube.  I felt like Newton and would invent Calculus if need be.

I spent the evening scribbling notes and trying to chart positions.  It was a terrible and cruel shell game.  Pieces moved, but I could not decipher the patterns.  That's it!  I told my wife.  I cannot figure this one out.  This is the hardest puzzle I have ever tried to solve.  I cannot do it.  It's over.

I went to bed defeated.  I had failed.  Was I even worthy of calling myself a puzzler?

On the third evening, I reluctantly picked up the crazy cube.  There was one sequence of moves I rarely used on the normal Rubik's Cube.  I gave it a try.  For some reason, something clicked in my brain and I realized that there might be a way to isolate a pair, or three, or four pieces at a time.  If the pie-shaped pieces could be isolated, they could be swapped with others.  I scribbled more notes and eventually made progress.

It was painful, but before midnight on that third night I solved the Crazy 3x3 Cube.

Writing Fear of Failure
There is no such happy ending with my writing.  I'm still paralyzed by the fear of failing.

For the past several years I have been "working on my craft".  I have told myself that I'm not ready to publish yet because I have more groundwork to lay.  That's not true.

Yes, I will always work on my craft and continue to evolve as a writer until I die.  But that's not the reason why I haven't seriously submitted my work for publication yet.

It's fear.

It's the same fear Yuvi has reading in public.  It's the same fear I had my first day of Kindergarten.  What if no matter how hard I try they don't like me?

What if after years of writing and learning to write I never get anything published?  What if my main character is unsympathetic?  What if my critical plot twist doesn't convince the editor?  What if my voice simply isn't compelling?  What if my first novel isn't commercially viable?  What if my writing is derided at epic levels like EL James'?  What if my ending is predictable?

I don't know how to get over my fears of failing as a writer.  Sometimes I feel like I'm defeated before I have even started.  Like that second night with the Crazy 3x3 Cube.  Maybe I don't have that it factor. 

I'm inspired by people like Yuvi who persisted and journeyed on through over 600 rejections.  But he's special.  He has found his voice.  He has found success.  He is a writer.  He is an author now.

I'd love to open my 601st response letter and finally find success.  But I need to get over my fear of failure because the first 600 submission letters aren't going to mail themselves.

What about you?  How do you deal with fear and failure?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Puzzling Mind Clip Show

Sometimes it's nice to reminisce and be reminded of funny, exciting, or profound moments from the past.
Television studios use clip shows to do thi although the practice has become rare.

Clip shows are not always a Best Of show.  They can also be a convenient way to bring audiences up to speed on things they may have missed in past episodes.

Sometimes history is worth repeating.

Today, I'm bringing you my blog clip show.  Here are 13 posts compiled from the archives.

Please don't be shy and feel free to leave a comment anywhere.  I love to hear from you.

10 Ways Writing is Like the Rubik's Cube
Are You Afraid of Process?
13 Reasons Why You're Not Published
Do You Need a Deadline?
Don't Do What You're Told!
It's the Journey, Not the Destination
Story Structure and the Rubik's Cube
Go Ahead, Quit! It's Not Taboo.
The Rubik's Cube and The Great Gatsby
Short Stories? Like, Gag Me With a Spoon!
The Trick to Writing  Revealed
Billions of Free Story Idea At Your Fingertips!
13 Popular Novels Gone Dirty

And if you haven't checked out my latest Rubik's Cube writing post you're in for a treat.  This one really does require audience participation:  The Rubik's Cube Writing Promptetition.  If you're a writer, then you should share something with the world.

Thank you for stopping by!

Thanks to Cyaniona on Flickr for the great photo!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Rubik's Cube Writing Promptetition

Practice makes perfect.  Sometimes you just need help getting started.

Speedcubers perfect their ability to solve the Rubik's Cube by being flexible and adapting to different scrambled states for each solve.

In competition, participants are given a scrambled cube that has been turned at least 25 times.  This ensures that everyone is presented with a fair starting point.

Even if every competitor were presented with the exact same starting point, let's say:
L'  R  F2  D2  L'  D  F  B'  L  F'  U'  D2  F  R'  U'  L'  B2  D2  L'  D'  U2  F'  L  D2  L
you would get wildly different results.  For example, this particular scramble may produce the World Record solve of 5.66 seconds or the embarrassing 39 seconds with my lethargic hands.

(Nerd alert: The code above simply defines the sequence of turns to perform on the cube to mix it up.  L for left face clockwise, R for right face clockwise, etc.)

In any case, there are websites that generate these random scrambles that give you a starting point for any particular solve attempt.  It's a nice way to get an apples-to-apples comparison for timed competitions.

Now when we write, we don't always have a convenient starting point.  So today, I am giving you a writing prompt.  It's always fun to see the variety of different things writers come up with when given the exact same prompt.

Your goal is to write a story, a scene, a description anything really based on the following prompt.  Post your results in the comments below.  Please try to keep it to approximately 100 words.

Start your piece with the following sentence:

With the marching band eager to storm the field, she fumbled with the Rubik's Cube trying to shield her nakedness from the stadium lights.

The Rubik's Cube Promptetition emphasizes challenging yourself rather than besting others.  Also, this is not a timed event – unless you want it to be.  And although this is not judged officially, you just might win praise from me or other participants.
Have fun and Go!

Thanks to Argonone on Flickr for the picture!