Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Cubes and Lawyers Part 2: Countersuit!

This is just a followup to one of the items in a previous post about legal action by Rubik's Brand, Ltd.

In response to aggressive action by Rubik's, TheCubicle has put together a countersuit. Here's the explanation from Phil from TheCubicle, from his post on :

Hi Everyone,
This is Phil from TheCubicle. I'm posting here to give everyone an update on the legal situation with Rubik's Brand Limited.
On Friday, February 2, Cubicle Enterprises LLC has filed a lawsuit against Rubik’s Brand Limited seeking cancellation of four of its trademarks on the basis of utilitarian functionality, genericness, and fraud, as well as treble damages for various antitrust violations related to trademark misuse and attempted and actual monopolization. The suit also requests a declaratory judgment that TheCubicle has not violated Rubik’s purported federal and state trademark rights.
This controversy first arose in October 2017, when Rubik’s sued TheCubicle for trademark infringement, threatening to shut down its business and strip away its assets, effectively destroying the livelihoods of our employees and their ability to serve the community. A line of dialogue with Rubik’s was quickly opened in hopes of resolving the dispute productively and amicably. However, the painstakingly frustrating negotiations that followed made it clear that Rubik’s legal claims were unsubstantiated and dealing with Rubik’s was impossible.
It has also become clear that Rubik’s wants complete control of speedcubing and is willing to resort to bullying, intimidation, abuse of intellectual property law, and monopolistic tactics, including illegal tying activities, in its attempt to get it. We will not allow this to happen.
Rubik’s fails to see that our community is built on the bonds of friendship, trust, and the spirit of fair play. We grow together as cubers and people, and this is what makes our community special.
Our world of sharing ideas, helping each other as friends, and competing at our best under fair rules with our favorite cube products from sources chosen by cubers is something that should never be tainted by Rubik’s voracious greed to control and dominate.
We will not allow Rubik’s to leverage its invalid intellectual property, monopolistic demands, and other threats against its competitors to oppress us or limit the opportunities for expanding cubing, both for competitors and fans. We will not allow its attempt at perpetuating a monopoly to be successful. And, we will not allow the shadow of Rubik’s to loom over us anymore.
For these reasons, we took action in Federal court to stop Rubik’s from threatening our company and the survival of its business operations, our community, and the market.
We cannot thank our community enough for its support and understanding. The past few months have been extremely challenging, and we are beyond appreciative of the overwhelming support and expressions of solidarity from everyone around us.
We tried to settle this on reasonable terms with Rubik’s, but it became apparent that Rubik’s was not bargaining in good faith and that it was necessary to protect our community through this litigation. We are confident in the strength of our legal claims against Rubik’s, and will continue to do our best in this difficult situation. We look forward to representing the cubing community’s interests.

Also just recently, the Rubik's Brand/Red Bull tournament has announced their first event. This tournament would be the first of its kind after Rubik's failed attempt to reach some sort of agreement with the WCA. Several other dates in other locations have been planned. Similarly to TheCubicle, the WCA was not amenable to what they perceived as strongarm tacticts to take over competitive cubing and chose not to work with Rubik's and Red Bull on these events.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

I disassemble things so you don't have to.

At a recent gig, I was solving my big 12cm Paladone cube. It's fun at night because it lights up, and it's less obvious on stage than leaving a flashlight up there. But, the cube is made mostly of acrylic, so perhaps I should have been more gentle trying to get through solves. Thankfully it was after the musical portion of the evening and while my drummer was packing up, because that meant only a couple of people saw the giant cube self-destruct. One of the spindle posts sheared off, and the entire layer of the cube that was being held in by that center piece tumbled to the cobblestone. Thankfully no small internal pieces went missing (except perhaps a nylon washer).

Today, I'm working on reassembly, so I thought it might be fun to show off the inside because I don't plan to have it apart often.

Here's the post that I had to cement back on. You can see a little of the the circuit board inside where the LED's that light up the interior of the cube are.

Here's the non-WCA compliant logo on one of the corners.

And here are the sub-parts of the center piece.

When the post finishes drying in a couple of hours, I can slide the lower part of the center on, re-seat the spring, lube and install the swivel ring, screw the retaining screw back in, and snap the center cap back on. There's a chance it's going to shear apart again, but I may also have a different glue formulation available if for some reason this one doesn't work out. I may also have to add a plastic washer

On another personal cubing note, I improved my best time on 6x6x6 by an entire minute, but going from 11:36.24 to 10:33.54 doesn't seem like much when the record time for a 6x6x6 is 1:20.03 (Feliks Zemdegs, AUS) and USA's own Max Park is closing in on him, having beaten Kevin Hays' best single by almost 5 seconds to take the #2 spot.

Here's Max's recent WR average that includes a 1:21.31 single.

POSTSCRIPT: Sometime while this was going up, Max Park broke the 6x6x6 single record.

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.