Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Choice is not a purely objective experience.

So, I start this post off with a pretentious title, and we're already wondering "What the heck is he talking about?" Well, let me explain

Tonight, my mission was some rudimentary domestic supplies. Some protein, some vegetables, and some new bed coverings of some sort. Not the sexy kind of bed coverings that you get to see and roll around in, but the rather plain looking ones that you can't see because they're underneath the sexy ones that people with allergies want to enclose their mattress in. Knowing that where I was going put me on a path from the middle of the store to the grocery side of the store at some point meant that I was going to take a pretty close pass past electronics. So, why wouldn't I have a look?

The store clearly seemed full of people shopping for Christmas stuff, even more so than on Black Friday. I was overjoyed to see that a tall, fit, youngish man (but clearly old enough to be a parent) was buying a Nintendo Switch. I presumed it was for his kids. When they were fetching it out of the case, I thought I heard him say "The Mario one". Presumably, that's a system with Super Mario Odyssey included. Then, he went over to the case opposite to pick out another game and he asked for Arms - another Nintendo exclusive title. It's an arcade-style fighting game with motion controls where the characters have giant springs for arms. I was starting to think that he was getting the system for himself, and then he changed his mind and got Just Dance 2018.

At that moment, I was super disappointed. I mean, why bother to get a Switch if you're going to buy a title that's on six* other game systems? I did show enough restraint to not comment.

But, after getting some perspective, I realized that maybe having the dance game is the only way that the whole family is going to welcome a new game system in the house. Maybe they're already really into that game. Maybe the reason that dude was in really good shape was that he dances a lot.

Then, I realized that had he picked Arms, there were probably a greater number of potential bystanders right there in that store that would have been disappointed that he didn't pick a more mainstream, proven game title like Just Dance 2018.

It was a pleasant reminder that even the most inconsequential choices that people make could be a vehicle for criticism by others, regardless of which choice is made, and that lots of forces unseen to others go into every choice.

*PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360, WiiU, and Wii. Yes, original Wii. I had to check two places because I had been under the impression that the newer WiiU was already mostly dead, so it wouldn't have occurred to me that anyone was still making Wii games.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A leap forward... twice!

This last Friday, the 27th, was the release date for the new Nintendo game Super Mario:Odyssey. I was already excited about because it looked like that it had taken some of the best parts of several of the previous 3D Mario games, and then added an ability to hijack the other enemies with a smart control scheme to it to push it forward into the Switch.

Cappy is a a resident of the Cap Kingdom, a strange hat-themed place. At the beginning of the game, Mario is knocked off of Bowser's ship into the Cap Kingdom, and loses his hat at the same time. Luckily, Cappy happened to be nearby and found what was left of Mario's hat and returned it to him, with Cappy inhabiting the hat to give it some abilities that Mario wouldn't normally have. Since Cappy's Cap Kingdom was being attacked by Bowser, it seemed that Cappy and Mario would do well to team up to defeat the common enemy.

 Here's the commercial that they've been playing. Surprisingly, this song is part of an amazing set piece in the middle of the game that I will try not to spoil - but here's a hint: The woman singing is a representation of a character from the Mario universe, and no she's not Princess Peach. My older son, knowing what was coming up, had the good sense to make me quit what I was doing so I could see it for myself. If you're prone to fits of nostalgia about Mario, this will trigger most of them.

If you really liked 64, Sunshine, Galaxy, or 3D world, you're going to love this game. Also, dig around and see if you have some amiibo around, you might need them.

(As of this writing, our play tester has over 200 moons out of 999 and we've seen the regular ending.)

The second leap forward this weekend happened at ChicaGhosts 2017 on Saturday.

After Patrick Ponce took the 3x3x3 single record from Feliks Zemdegs back in September, I figured that it would be a while before we saw a new record, since unlike the improvement from Matts Valk 4.74 since to Feliks' 4.73, Patrick's time was a 4.69. However, on Saturday, we got this.

SeungBeom Cho took the new single record with a 4.59 - even more of an improvement than the last new record, and even sooner. This was somewhat unexpected as his previous fastest solve in competition was a 6.54.

 Reconstruction (posted both on this video and on r/cubers by Stewy_ )
 Scramble: U2 L' D2 L D2 R F2 D2 R' D2 U2 B U L U L' R D L2 F2 U2 R'

 x2 // inspection
D' R' L2' U' F U' F' (D' U') U' R' // xxcross
y' R' U' R // 3rd pair
y' R U' R' U' R U R' // 4th pair
U' R' U' F' U F R // OLL(CP)
U' // AUF

So from looking at this solve, the major things that happened here is that for taking an extra couple of moves in planning out the first four pieces, he picked up two additional corner-edge pairs. Also, the OLL algorithm happened to also correctly permute the pieces. Good planning at the beginning, a lucky skip at the end.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cubes and Lawyers don't mix.

So there have been a few odd developments in the legal side of cubing of late. The original legal history of the Rubik's cube was a bit mixed-up and checkered, but most of that was over by 1980.

Back in 2012, Rubik's tried to block DaYan (one of the first companies making improved 3x3x3 cubes) from exporting cubes and there were a few instances of cubes being destroyed at customs, and DaYan experimented with using an alternate color scheme or unassembled kits as workarounds, but for whatever reason this was short-lived and DaYan was back selling regular cubes by late 2013.

There was also some issues in the EU with Simba Toys of Germany, where Simba felt that the function of the puzzle should only be a patent and not a trademark, where Simba went through a 10-year legal battle with Seven Towns, the company in charge of administrating the Rubik's IP. I have seen differing accounts of the winner of the legal battle, but only because Rubik's likes to talk about the EUIPO  decision, (European Union Intellectual Property Office) and that was later overturned by the ECJ (European Court of Justice).

The two new problems are a little closer to home for Americans.

The first of two recent problems is that Rubik's brand is suing Duncan Toys and Toys 'R' Us. This is about trademark, and not the patent.

I had always assumed that the reason Target and Walmart never sold other brands of cubes is that they had a distribution deal with Hasbro and/or Seven Towns to sell real Rubik's cubes and didn't (and weren't going to) have a deal with the other manufacturers. In the last few years, the only other cube-like puzzles that I've seen in the big box stores have been the toys made by Meffert's, like the  Skewb Extreme, The Molecube, and the Gear Ball and Gear Cube puzzles.

However, I was not entirely surprised at Duncan's recent entrance into retail cubing. (You should know Duncan from their excellent Yo-Yo products.) The Quick Cube wasn't released until just a few years ago, and well after the expiration of Rubik's patent. (Applied for in 1975, granted in 1977, it should have expired in 2002.) Unlike DaYan or Simba Toys, Duncan already has a great grasp on the toy store market in the US.

I really like the Duncan Quick Cube, because at $5 it's an easily obtainable starter cube, and it's a much faster cube right out of the box than a Rubik's brand cube is. With a little bit of silicone lubricant, it's an even better cube, and I actually bought a handful of Duncan cubes for other people in an effort to start them off cubing with something decent. With a Rubik's brand cube, especially now with the tiled redesigned model out, it's not exactly a comfortable cube for beginners. More emphasis was placed on making a Rubik's brand cube not able to be tampered with or disassembled and a lot less emphasis was placed on smooth turning, so I couldn't recommend it. If you really want a Rubik's brand cube that works well, it takes months of breaking in for it to have a chance to be comfortable, and some of them get really loose and catchy by then. On the other hand, if you're the sort of person that thinks you're going to turn the cube so hard that it's going to pop apart and you feel compelled to eat one of the pieces but might accidentally choke on it, then by all means stick to the Rubik's brand cube.

The other lawsuit is that Rubik's brand is suing TheCubicle, an online speedcubing retailer. It's disappointing, while not entirely surprising. Since TheCubicle does some assembly and customization and is inside the borders of the US, it makes them appear to some as an infringing manufacturer and not just an import company.

I would have to imagine that nobody that buys from TheCubicle is trying to get a Rubik's brand cube, and anybody that even knows about TheCubicle is well aware of the difference between a Rubik's brand cube and other brands of cubes. Sadly, all suing TheCubicle seems to be doing is driving a wedge between speedcubing hobbyists and the Rubik's brand.  I find this rather sad because speedcubers are what have helped keep the Rubik's cube one of the most popular toys of all time for this long. We have long been emissaries for cubing, when all Rubik's has done in the same time period was make the same product with very little improvement and no effort to make a premium product for speedcubers. They're still using the same design for their 4x4x4 cubes that they were using in 1982 that still has the same design flaw it's always had while other companies have made vast improvements in the mechanism. Their current 2x2x2 is better than their 80's 2x2x2 only because that was such an exceedingly low bar to clear, and many could argue that the new 3x3x3 is actually worse for speedcubers as it allows no corner cutting whatsoever and is too variable in quality right out of the package.

I can understand Rubik's desire to protect their trademark, but as their patent has expired it should have been logical for them to expect to face some competition in the marketplace. While I don't know how much these lawsuits have cost them, I have to think that they could have fostered more good will and maintained more sales by designing better cubes - both for beginners and for the speedcubing crowd. It would have again given them some measure of patent protection, and cubers wouldn't be in the awkward position of not being able to recommend the product of the original designer.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Since one of you was going to ask eventually...

What's the deal with this guy? (Link to the left is WorldStarHipHop, where I found the best quality version so far, embed below is from YouTube so that Blogger won't yell about looking at http content over https.)

First look might make you think that you're watching an impressive one-handed solve, but further inspection would indicate that it's either a repeating pattern that just goes back to solved, or the video picks him up well into a solve.

In every still frame I can make sense out of, all the corners seem to be done, or at worst two opposite layers of solved corners are 90 degrees apart from each other. In addition, when you get a glimpse of a face with four solved corners, the edges across the center from each other are both the same color. This would indicate a cube where only slice moves had been done, typically, but there are other scenarios where doing (UD) or (LR) or (FB) together repeatedly might cause the same thing.

If a reconstruction gets done, either by one of the pros on /r/Cubing or eventually by me, I will post an update.

This is where the "rambling" part of my blog title comes from.

So, at some point I thought I was going to go to Cubing Knights 2017, but then I waited several weeks before I signed up because 1) I wanted to make sure no schedule conflicts arose and 2) I thought that I needed better cubes.  No schedule conflict ever arose, but the competition was full before I could sign up. Honestly, that's kind of fantastic - It's nice to know that a cube competition is still a viable thing and people still want to do that.  Meanwhile I got better cubes, I finally shoot some video of them and I talk to the camera for over three minutes and have everything framed slightly off-center.  This is the "rambling" part that I always worry about.

I thought about also including a solve or two, but the running time was already too long. Maybe I will have to try those separately.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Some Splatoon 2 reminders from RubbaChikin.

For those of you that might be playing Splatoon 2, I thought I would post a list of reminders from before, and a few new tips about the new parts of the game.

Here were the regular tips, changes are in red, photos are new.

1. Regular mode (Turf War) is just making sure you have inked more territory than the other team. Use your map to find out if there are places that really need ink. Now the map is accessed by the "X" button.

2. In the Ranked mode Splat Zone mode on maps that have two splat zones, have two people cover each one. This is less important now, as the new maps seem to either have one zone or put the two closer together.

3. In the Ranked mode Tower Control, it doesn’t do much good to just run around and paint stuff without a plan.Get the tower, hold the tower, make a path for the tower. Use the dotted line to figure out where the tower is headed. You can’t just run around the tower shooting at it – at some point someone on your team has to get on the tower. Blasters have become extremely effective at clearing the tower of enemies. Using the longer paths to go around the tower won't help. The tower now stops at checkpoints.

4. If you’re using any of the Nozzlenose weapons in Tower Control, you may find it rather difficult unless you’re extremely accurate. If you’re used to that weapon in regular mode, you may find it easier to use one of the Sloshers for Tower Control. The Nozzlenose now has better secondary weapons to make up for its minor problems. 

5. In Rainmaker mode – have the Rainmaker before you push forward through the map, and make sure the person with the Rainmaker is safe. If you have the Rainmaker and no teammates nearby, use the “C’mon” call by pressing up on the D-Pad to call them. The Rainmaker is much less destructive than before, making it that much more important to protect the team member with the Rainmaker.

6. In Rainmaker mode – No lounging around! You can only use the weapon for a limited time.

7. It's a team game, play it like one. Nobody cares how many frags you get if your team loses.

8. Don't let go of the objective during overtime! If you do, it's GAME OVER!

9. In all of the modes, don't place squid beacons near your base. You can already jump to it by opening the map with the X button, holding down on the D-Pad, and then pressing the "A" button.

10. Put down an ink mine or suction bomb on the tower if you're rushing it or defending it. Ink mines are no longer as powerful, but they do allow you to see where the enemy is. 

11. Sloshers are very good for covering the walls and ground. Use this to get your players with longer range weapons to higher ground.

12. Any weapon that you have to charge is SUPER slow when charging midair so don't try to start charging midair if there is an enemy below you. Fire off a shot or two so you can get to the ground safely and then worry about charging or attacking.

13. In all of the modes, if your weapon has seekers curling bombs and there are no enemies around it, swim right behind it. It is good stealth without losing much speed from the ninja squid ability. Seekers were removed in Splatoon 2. The new curling bombs do not home in any way but they do bounce off of walls. The ninja squid ability is slower than it used to be except when climbing walls.

14. Make sure before you super jump that you are not going to get killed right as you land. Hey - ever heard of "Look before you leap"? Also, the new ability allows you to roll once you land.

15. If you're playing one of the objective-based Ranked Mode matches, do not go off and paint stuff! Your super meter will fill plenty if you keep in the battle and watch for hazards. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Records are made to be broken, Part 2.

The World Rubik's Cube Championship (July 13-16) only had a couple of records broken, but sported a major upset. Complete results are here.

For the records, the new record average for 3x3x3 One Handed was taken by Max Park at 10.31 seconds. His times were (12.71), (9.76), 9.77, 10.15, 11.01. The times in parentheses are the high and low times that get removed, the remaining three times are averaged. This beats his own record by 0.28 seconds, and keeps him faster than Feliks Zemdegs' best average by 0.39 seconds. Feliks still has the WR single at 6.88 seconds.

The other record broken was the average for Pyraminx, with Drew Brads beating his own record by .1 seconds, taking his already amazing 2.14 average down to 2.04 seconds. His times were (1.52), 1.70, 2.26, (3.21), and 2.17.

Drew already knew where he'd have to be to beat his own record, so naturally he was rather excited on that last solve.

As far as the major upset goes, this was the first time that Felixs did not make the podium in 3x3x3. It's not like he did horrible, 4th place is still not too shabby. It's still 5 times as fast as I regularly go. What I suspect is starting to happen is that cube times are starting to get low enough that we're going to see more of who's the best on any given day, as opposed to dominance by whoever is in the best overall shape and is solving the most efficiently with the best hardware. That's not to say that there isn't still room for improvement, but more people are able to get to that level than there used to be.

I was hoping to get out to another cube event soon myself, but I was too slow on signing up for a rather popular event, so it may be a while before I compete again. I'm not concerned, it will give me more time to practice.

GIANT EDIT: It would appear that thanks to either lack of sleep or focus, I skipped the part where Felix Zemdegs got new WR's in early rounds that weren't the final with:

5x5x5 Single 38.52 WR Average 46.24 WR (53.69) 50.99 (38.52) 43.25 44.48 (SECOND ROUND)
6x6x6 Single 1:20.03 WR Average 1:27.79 WR 1:28.00 1.35.33 1.20.03 (FIRST ROUND)
7x7x7 Single 2:06.73 WR Average 2:15.07 WR 2:06.73 2:24.32 2:14.15 (FIRST ROUND)

For puzzles larger than 5x5x5, you get three attempts only and none are thrown out.

Word is, Feliks has been doing a lot better on 5x5x5 and 6x6x6 since getting some magnetic versions of those puzzles from Speedcubeshop.