Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Just when you think you're getting good . . .

There have been times in my career when I think I'm getting pretty good at what I'm doing for a living and then . . . I find somebody that is way, way better. Sometimes it is somebody that is a lot better in a totally unrelated field, but either way, I tend to have one of two reactions to this realization: give up or get inspired.

On a much, much less important scale I experienced this sensation recently while tinkering with one of my Christmas presents from my wife: a Rubik's cube. As a child of the 80s, I had one during my Junior High School years when they were first popular and got pretty decent at it. With my new present in hand this past December, I found I remembered the basic moves for solving the first three layers (a top face and the first two rows of the faces perpendicular to that top face), but that I needed some help with the last two layers.

During my recent travel from hell, I worked quite a bit with my cube and ultimately did it once in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, a good minute and a half better than my best time as a twelve year old. I was feeling pretty good about myself until I saw this:

I will never, ever, ever be as good as this. Two opposite thoughts immediately crossed my mind when this became clear:

1) Quit cubing because if I can't be the best, I might as well not try.
2) Learn as much about this guy's techniques so I can be the best cubist I can be.

The first impulse is the easier one to follow, but also the least satisfying. The second requires work but helps my own personal achievement which perhaps I shouldn't always measure against others. The first idea leaves me in awe of someone else to the point where it paralyzes my own journey while the second inspires me to try harder even if I never reach the level of expertise of Jean Pons.

More times than not, choose the second path.

There are certainly times where it makes sense to quit something (I doubt my wife would want me to devote my life to speedcubing), but choosing to become inspired and finding how you might mimic techniques to at least improve your current standing is a whole lot more productive. Finding a way to improve, even if your example comes from a completely unrelated field, benefits you in the long term.

For my little cubing hobby, I'm already learning that some cube solution theories require fewer turns than others and that if you can lubricate your cube enough so that turns can be made on the strength of your fingers, as opposed to your whole hand, you can speed up your times significantly. Those optimizations weren't obvious to me at first and I'm taking a step backwards to learn these things before I get the anticipated benefits of beating my best time. I'll never solve a Rubik's cube in 12 seconds, but I'll do better than 2 minutes some day and appreciate the different approach to solving the problem that I discovered in the process,.

On a good day, I bringsuch thinking to my daily activities too.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 10:01 AM   2 comments


At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Esmit Pérez said...

Funny, this is the second Rubik Cube related article I come across this week.

Here's a guy documenting his algorithm:


At 6:44 PM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...

That's actually the same technique I use, which anybody into speed cubing would tell you takes too many moves. Still, its requires the least amount of memorization. Nice video link Esmit, thanks.


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