Saturday, November 26, 2016

Information is symmetrically asymmetrical.

Recently where I worked, we had the thumb turn fall off of a relatively new door lock. (The thumb turn is the part on the inside of the door so you can lock a deadbolt from inside without the key.) My first thought was that since it just unthreaded it shouldn't be that hard for me to thread it back in, but it turned out to not be obvious. I was able to get it threaded back in, but I couldn't get the lock mechanism to do what it was supposed to. I felt like that I could have done it given enough time, but it wasn't the sort of thing that I could spent more than ten minutes on without feeling like I had something more important to do.

Later, after we had finished with customers for the day, one of the technicians that work for our locksmith came by to fix the door. He met me at my desk at the counter, noting that I have a few Rubik's cubes there to harass customers with. I assume that he's around my age, since he identified the cubes readily, although he was a little surprised at how shiny the new plastic tile cubes are. We headed over to the offending door, and I handed him a plastic bin with all of the carefully sorted thumb turn pieces. It took him relatively little time to correctly line up all of the pieces of the lock and get it back together. Even though I really tried to watch him, whatever he did was so natural and effortless I didn't really see what he did that was different from what I had done. I tried to ask him what he did differently, but he wasn't able to explain it. While he was looking at the rest of the door to see what might have caused the thumb turn mechanism to come loose, he says "Did you see that thing..." and I stupidly assume he's going to ask "Did you see that thing on America's Got Talent with that guy that does magic tricks with a Rubik's Cube?"

He tells me no, finishes the piece he was screwing back in, and then says "Did you see that thing where a middle school kid took apart a Rubik's Cube and figured out the mathematical formula for it and the Rubik's cube company paid him a whole lot of money to keep it a secret?"

There was an awkward silence while I tried to regain my composure. Meanwhile he found one of the holes at the top of the door where the top bolt was rubbing in a way that it wasn't supposed to and reamed it back out so that the door could lock more smoothly. While he was doing that, my internal dialogue was going full blast.

What was so bad about that? He's just asking a question. Did you see that or not?  Were you listening to the question? Disassembly doesn't inform you about the cube's regular solution, using the phrase "mathematical formula" in this context is nearly meaningless, and the notion of a conspiracy to keep the solution of the world's largest selling and probably most pirated toy a secret is laughable since most of the cubes sold in the last 20 years come with a solution pamphlet right in the package and you can get a solution method from the company's own website.  How would he know? He's busy doing actual work.

When I returned to reality, I explained about how that there had been cube competitions since the 80's, and no conspiracy like that existed that I was aware of. He came back to my desk to write up the bill for his office, and I grabbed a mostly unsolved cube, finished it, and then showed him how a short sequence of moves can move a small predetermined number of cubes around. My go-to routines for this are usually R2 U' S' U2 S U' R2 that moves three U layer edges around, and R' D' R D' R' D2 R D2 that twists some D layer corners and moves some D layer edges around.  The reason for those two particular moves is that I know their inverses as well as the regular moves. I also showed him what happens with the cube mechanism itself, about how better cubes are better able to realign when one face is turned before another face is completely aligned. I thought this concept might appeal to the part of his brain where all of his locksmith information already resided. While he seemed receptive to the idea since I was able to easily show him what I was talking about, I didn't feel sure that I had dissuaded him of his original notion despite being able to solve a cube in front of him. At that point I grabbed my boss since the bill was ready to be signed off and he was done and we said our goodbyes.

The first time that I ran across this sort of thinking was my stepfather, when he rambled on one day at lunch about how the car companies had colluded with the oil companies to keep high MPG engines out of production. This theory didn't really hold any water with me at the time, since my father is a mechanical engineer and was very involved with engine design and I had at least some sense of the math involved. (You can find a much better version of the math here.) But, if you're a person that's sure there's a conspiracy, and there's no obvious way to falsify your hypothesis, and you don't understand the problems of making regular gasoline do what it does, then the thought remains unchecked.

At least for our Rubik's cube conspiracy, I was able to easily falsify part of the hypothesis - I was able to show that it can be solved. (I was going to say that it could be solved by a normal person, but many of you reading this will want to refute this non-trivial assertion.) That might not be enough to prove to the locksmith that there never was a conspiracy, so perhaps that thought will still remain as well.

I wasn't surprised about the idea that people exist that have never seen a Rubik's cube solved in person. I carry a cube around with me every day, and I'm always going to meet someone every once in a while that hasn't seen a cube solved.  What I was surprised about was the harboring of the idea that there was a conspiracy to keep the solution a secret, and what believing in a thing like that does to a person's trust in humanity itself. I can't place the same amount of importance on the solution to the Rubik's Cube, or the details of a magical carburetor that doesn't actually exist, or the nature of how to unlock something that's supposed to stay locked.

I was left with the feeling that maybe me showing people a Rubik's Cube can be solved is more important than I thought. Not just for the thing itself, but to show people the idea that even learning something (anything?) complicated is just part of a process that we go through gradually and that through reflection and observation we refine our abilities. Luckily, this morning in traffic I solved a cube at a stoplight and the person next to us rolled down their window to tell me that it was amazing to watch and that they've been working on cubing for a month and that they were learning. It restored my faith in people again.

Oh, yeah. I was left with a second feeling - if I want to be able to put locks back together I need more practice.

Friday, October 7, 2016

PS4 Upgrade: OK, so the first thing you do is...

The first thing you do when you upgrade the hard drive on a PS4 is - you just snap the cover off of the top of the left side of the console. There aren't any screws to take the cover off - it just slides over. Then you take a Philips screwdriver and take the one screw out with the Playstation symbols on it and then slide out the disk caddy. Swap the drive for a larger one - SATA, at least 5400 RPM. If you have the 500G unit now, a 2TB drive will quardruple your available space. (It may be hard to find one larger than 2TB that meets the criteria of being smaller than 9.5mm high.) Then, all you have to do is reload the Operating System back on to the PS4 from a USB stick (It's only around 1G in size), log back into Playstation Network, and then reload all your save files that you either already have on the cloud if you have Playstation Plus, or you needed to have saved them via USB...

OK, wait. The first thing you need to do when you upgrade the hard drive on a PS4 is to back up all of your save games to a USB drive. You need to be logged in as each user before you do that, and all your save games will take under a gig even if you have save files for a dozen games or so. If you have users like your kids that don't have a PSN accounts, then you will have to make them a PSN account...

OK, now really, the first thing you need to do when you upgrade the hard drive on a PS4 is to make sure all your users have their own PSN account. You need a unique email address and a password...

Now what do you mean you have kids in the house that don't have their own email addresses? OK, so then the first thing you need to do is make sure all of your users have email addresses, since after they sign up for PSN they're going to have to verify their accounts.

Also, if they're a minor, it's going to take a while to set up that email account since you have to verify them and give permission for them to use certain services.

It's OK. I can wait.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

If you're going to get mad, maybe try being more involved.

My older son and I went over to my local Gamestop the other day, thinking that we were going to get the code for the new Pokémon character Volcanion.  Usually you either get handed a card with a code on it, and redeem the code in the game in the "Mystery Gift" section on the main screen, or sometimes it works by connecting to the Wifi at certain places and then going in the same part of the game. (McDonalds did that recently when the character Hoopa came out. Oddly, for that one you could just change the SSID of your own router to "McDonalds Free WiFi" and it would still work.) As we discovered later, Volcanion is not available in the US until October 10th.

There were a lot of people there trying to do trade-ins and other things, so we hung back while my son tried to go into the Mystery Gift section to see if it would work that way. After a while, we decided we were just going to wait in line, and we also noticed that they got in some of the new Lego Dimensions level packs and grabbed the Adventure Time level pack. (I would have gotten the Mission Impossible one instead if there was a Simon Pegg minifig.) They also had a Harry Potter Team Pack, the new Ghostbusters 2016 Story Pack, and some other team packs.

So, just as I'm about to be called up to the counter, a grumpy mom holding an Xbox One game, a receipt, and the arm of a not-quite-a-teenager walks in, and interrupts everybody to ask the clerk if there is anyone else working. He says no, but mentions there is someone else that is there, but on break. After a second or two, I recognize the kid as someone who was one of the people doing a trade-in while we hung back in the back of the store.  The mom is mad that her kid had just a few minutes before traded in NBA2K16, which he just got recently, and only got two bucks trade-in value for it. Moreover, he traded it in to get NBA2K17, which apparently nobody mentioned to him was just about to come out when he was buying NBA2K16, which is why he wanted to return NBA2K16. She left in a huff, presumably to get satisfaction in some other way. So, let's go over the problems with this scenario.

1) The kid's copy of NBA2K16 had been opened. For the most part, no retailers will do a return for open new software. Gamestop does do returns for used software because sometimes you end up with a bad disk here and there, or maybe you just don't like it. The kid could have just walked away with his copy of NBA2K16, told his mom that they wouldn't return it (and she could have still rolled in the store grumpy the same way that she did).

2) Knowing that the kid really wanted the new version, the store employee talked him into a trade-in just so the old version wasn't "collecting dust and taking up space". Some people do that, so I don't know how to speak to that. I'm not sure if Gamestop has a policy about minors doing trade-ins.

3) I didn't remember if the kid had had anybody with him when he came in the first time - Grumpy Mom was definitely not there the first time, though. I wouldn't send one of my kids in to try to do a return on anything by themselves just yet, even with a receipt, just because in most cases it's not exactly as simple as ordering something, and often you get asked for ID, or have to sign stuff.

4) As far as not knowing when the new one was going to come out, that's kind of a head-scratcher. From the Gamestop employee's view, they would be ecstatic to be able to sell a new copy of NBA2K16 right before NBA2K17 comes out, so I really can't blame them for not saying anything. If the kid had asked them, they would have told him, though. Moreover, the series has put out a new version every fall for longer than that kid has been alive, and the last 10 versions have all been between mid-September and the first week of October. Despite how easy the Internet has made it to look things like this up, not everybody is going to know, or even think to check.  What I'm really wondering is if when the kid bought NBA2K16, if the Gamestop employee asked if he wanted to preorder NBA2K17. My guess is that if they did, the kid said "no" by reflex and didn't give it another thought.

5) Sports games, especially ones that get released every year, have had historically bad trade-in value, so that's a non-surprise to me that it was only a $2 trade-in value. Of course, if Grumpy Mom was expecting a real return to have transpired, this wasn't even a thing that would have been considered beforehand.

I would have been a little bit more impressed with Gamestop had the employee offered to negotiate with Grumpy Mom, but I think that Grumpy Mom had already decided that leaving and taking it up with someone else was preferable to being in the store for even one more second. Clearly Grumpy Mom didn't want to go in the store in the first place, or she would have been present for the discussion about the trade-in, or perhaps she might have figured out about the new version had she been present for the original purchase.

So, what did we learn? If your kids are playing games, even a little bit of involvement will save you a lot of aggravation later.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

An odd bit of computing.

On my Ubuntu desktop machine I had finally gotten over the fact that every time a semi-large update comes across I have to type:

sudo make install 
sudo modprobe 8812au

to reinstall my wifi driver, because I picked a Wifi device that isn't well supported. 
If the update is _really_ big, I have to type:

dpkg -l 'linux-*' | sed '/^ii/!d;/'"$(uname -r | sed "s/\(.*\)-\([^0-9]\+\)/\1/")"'/d;s/^[^ ]* [^ ]* \([^ ]*\).*/\1/;/[0-9]/!d' | xargs sudo apt-get -y purge

to clean up the OS because the /boot partition is just that - a partition with limited space. 
If it really bothered me, I could just save all my documents and wipe the drive and reinstall the 16.04.1 LTR from scratch, and I don't think the boot sector nonsense would be as much of a problem, but then the OS wouldn't ever properly clean up after itself and would slowly grow larger over time unchecked.

What really fries my bacon is that the Espon printer driver quietly failed while I'm busy doing the other stuff. So, I will have to hijack one of my kids' Windows 7 machines to print something. And, no I didn't make them upgrade to Windows 10 even though it was free.

(I suspect that a portion of my readers aren't laughing or amused because printing stuff is like, so ten years ago.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cubing Tips Part 3 - I'm still talking about practice.

I really wanted to wax philosophical about practice, but I think it's more important to nail down some specific things that will help people practice speedcubing more effectively. This will mostly be aimed at CFOP solvers, but I will try to add comments for Roux.

1) Slow, untimed solves. This is effective regardless of the method used. Work on consistency of steps, looking ahead, not turning the whole cube very much, and turning smoothly. If you wanted to take this idea to the next step, then start solving with a metronome dictating your speed, and then gradually increasing the speed while maintaining smoothness.

2) Work on your first four edges as an automatic reaction to what you see during inspection. Lots of random scrambles done slowly may start to get you familiar with what you have to do to keep your movecount down and cube turns to a minimum. Not everybody is going to start color neutral, so maybe at first you're just going to look at your target center and the four edge pieces that go with it for a lot of scrambles and see what the easiest way there is. However, some of them are not intuitive at first, and you might gain that knowledge by watching some machine solved cases. One of the extra features of the Android app Twisty Timer is that when it generates a scramble for 3x3x3, you can press the "Hint" button and it offers optimal solves for the first four edges for any of the six colors. Once you think that you can formulate a good plan, the next thing to do is to figure out if you can execute the plan without having to look at those pieces, because you need to start looking for what's next - the first corner/edge pair. For Roux solvers, apply this to the first block, and start looking for the second block.

3) As you execute the moves for each corner/edge pair to build the F2L, you need to locate the next pair of pieces for the next corner/edge pair. If you can see farther ahead than that, that's great. If you feel you're not doing something smoothly, look up a couple of different algorithms for that case and see what feels good. While the F2L should be done intuitively much like the first four pieces, it still may be helpful to learn some algorithms for the more difficult cases.  For Roux, the next step is the U layer corners, and is its own very difficult subset of algorithms, nearly as difficult as the last layer algorithms in CFOP, and probably will get accomplished using the main feature of item #4 below.

4)  For the last layer, my suggestion is drill, drill, drill.
Once you learn an algorithm, go on youtube and watch a couple of different people do the moves to look at move groupings and hand positions.
While the OLL is done before the PLL, and it might make sense to learn things in order, it's more important to learn the PLL first.  Early on you will only make use of only three or four of the OLL cases, having to use them in combination and even multiple times in some cases.

Once you feel like you have enough moves put together to finish the last layer, use the qqtimer subset feature to generate scrambles for the last layer.

For Roux, there is a different subset you can use that just scrambles the last six edges - it's labeled "Roux-generator ".

Don't forget, there's always more to practice (and not just at cubing).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I know what Pokémon Go is short for...

... it's short for "Pokémon Go outside where their main demographic is woefully unfamiliar with the surroundings".

Since my older son has been playing Pokémon for many years, I felt like I should see what Pokémon Go was about. The first night it was available, I loaded it onto my phone, and after a little bit of user information setup, it puts up a map of our neighborhood with locations of a few Pokémon nearby. I took my older son outside with me, we turned the camera part of the game on, and we looked at the screen where it shows what we currently refer to as "augmented reality" or AR. I flicked a representation of a Pokéball at a representation of a Pokémon that somewhat seemed to be out in the neighbor's yard. (I'm sure that he didn't know that he had a Pokémon infestation.)


I know that I'm not really the intended audience for the game, so it's no big loss if I'm not playing it. My son doesn't have a smartphone, so he's not playing it. The game vaguely reminded me of a location-based game that was out a few years ago that one of my other neighbors wanted me try, but I didn't have a smartphone then (and frankly I was a little suspicious about the nature of a game that was GPS tracking you and all of your friends). For all I know, that game was Niantic's previous game - Ingress. It didn't have Pokémon, it just had a map with little lights all over it and it used local landmarks as control points for a team vs. team resource collecting game. While it didn't take off like Pokémon Go has, it was a good showcase for the location-based technology and apparently helped them better map places for Pokémon Go.

The Nintendo DS/3DS family couldn't play Pokémon Go because although it's fully capable of integrating the camera into AR-type games, it's only able to communicate with the internet via WiFi and doesn't have any sort of mobile data connection. (Honestly, I don't use the mobile data on my phone that often, so that was another strike for me against Pokémon Go.) Also, other than the handful of AR games that come with the DS/3DS systems, most developers have ignored AR gaming in favor of more traditional games. Also, all of the Pokémon games on Nintendo's handhelds have all had much more complicated mechanics (battles, RPG elements, interacting with NPC's) than Pokémon Go does.

I'm a little bit surprised that some adults have taken to Pokémon Go as much as they have, but I can only assume that's because they either haven't played any sort of AR game before, they're nostalgic for Pokémon, or they just needed an excuse to get outside and didn't have one.

I'm not surprised at all that kids (and some adults) have had odd discoveries and mishaps playing Pokémon Go. Most people these days aren't used to being pedestrians for any length of time, and the random distribution of the Pokémon may cause people to walk places that they otherwise might not go. This is made grossly more difficult by the fact that you're staring through your phone screen which effectively narrows your field of vision, and creates much lower situational awareness than you would normally have as a result.

Well, don't worry. Soon enough, we'll have the first mishaps with people playing Occulus Rift outside.

Happy Pokémon hunting to those of you who are, but be safe out there. To the rest of you, just remember that if you think that Pokémon Go is stupid, then you're probably not in the intended demographic.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cubing Tips, Part 0. It's only pieces.

So while I am trying to work on tips for people getting into cubing, I was reminded that I skipped some fundamental concepts. All of you people that are already under three minutes probably don't need to read this one, so you'll probably have to wait for me to type Part 3.

The standard 3x3x3 Rubik's cube has three distinct types of visible pieces. There are six center pieces of a single color, all of which are attached to the center spindle. These six pieces cannot move relative to each other. There are twelve edge pieces, each with two colors. There are eight corner pieces, with with three colors. Each of the pieces has a unique set of colors that correspond to the final location of the piece.  For example, the green and white edge has a final location that is on the edge between the green and the white center pieces. The corner piece that is orange, green, and white corresponds to the location of corner of the three faces that have the orange, green, and white centers. Since the centers cannot move relative to each other, all that is really happening is that there are twenty pieces moving freely around the center pieces. This is a little bit different from what many people initially see - often the first impression of a Rubik's cube they have is that there are 54 stickers. (They're at least colored tiles now, anyway.)

The next part of conceptual understanding is the idea that any specific set of actions performed on the cube always has the same effect on the cube, and thereby can be used to perform predictable operations on the cube. These operations are usually referred to as algorithms.

We typically describe algorithms as a specific ordered set of face turns, described in relative terms. Instead of using the colors of the faces, which can vary from cube to cube, we use a set of names for the faces that refer to their positions in space. Those names are Up, Down, Left, Right, Front, and Back. In the context of written algorithms you may see something like

R U R' U R U2 R' U2

which cycles the uf piece to the ub position, moves the ub edge piece to the ur position and moves the ur piece to the uf position, and rotates the corner pieces ulb, urb, and urf counterclockwise in place.)

R = Right face 90 degrees clockwise
U = Up face 90 degrees clockwise
R' = Right face 90 degrees counterclockwise (Typically spoken as "R prime".)

After that the only new notation is U2, which means to turn the Up face 180 degrees. You could also write U'2, but unless there's a specific reason to notate a specific direction, this is not commonly encountered. Remember - clockwise is from the perspective of looking at the face.

If you want to undo an operation, you need to do the opposite of each operation, in the reverse order. So, to reverse the move above, you would do the move

U2 R U2 R' U' R U' R'.

To notate a move of one of the middle layers, or slices, of the cube, the letters M, E, and S are used. M moves in the same direction as the L face, S moves in the same direciton as F, and E moves in the same direction as U. You may see other things in move notations, like the small letters x, y, z, and the small letters of the faces. The x, y, and z notations are to rotate the cube around the corresponding spatial axis, and the small letters of the faces refer to double layer turns, so f is a clockwise turn of the F face and the layer behind it. You can get started cubing without all of these small letter moves, but in any event if you want to learn the notation I would suggest bookmarking this page. You won't have to learn all of it at once anyway, so referring to it as needed will eventually give you enough familiarity.

A collection of algorithms that work together to solve the cube is referred to as a method. Instead of talking about what types of algorithms a method contains, methods usually refer to the overall style of the solution (layer-by-layer, corners-first, CFOP) or the inventor(s) of a specific solution (Roux, Petrus, Thistlewaite, Guimond, Waterman, ZZ.) Discussing any specific method may be outside the scope of what I intended, but in general there can be any number of methods. If you're just trying to get the cube back to the solved state, there is more than one way to get there. What algorithms are required depend on the steps we decide to take. Still speaking generally, the steps of a solution boil down to solving some of the pieces and then another group of the pieces, and then another, until all groups of pieces are in the correct locations and correctly oriented. Each subsequent group of pieces typically takes longer algorithms, knowing that we have to not upset the pieces put in place from previous steps. That's not to say that the previously solved pieces never move during the algorithms, you just have to pick algorithms that put the things that are already solved back into place by the end of each algorithm.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

My first official cube competition.

You would think that someone that's been cubing for 30 or so years would have been to a cubing competition by now, but I hadn't. Part of me had realized that the world had largely passed me by, and my usual standby, the ancient corners first solution that hasn't been viable since 1986 or so isn't going to win me any awards. So, when events started popping up here and there in my home state, it was easy to say that having kids at home and bigger stuff to worry about was a good reason not to go. But, as more time went on, I realized that it wasn't about winning, but maybe about learning things, and also about meeting other cubers. Under normal circumstances, I only run into new people that I haven't met before that can solve a cube once every couple of years or so. So, I decided to go to an event last weekend (Central Florida Summer 2016) and just see how I did, and meet some of the other people cubing in Florida.

The drive was a couple of hours, and thankfully uneventful. I actually didn't practice 3x3x3 in the car at all. I started with 4x4x4, went up to 5x5x5, and did a 6x6x6, and then I hoped that I would have a chance to finish a 7x7x7 solve in the car. Since I'm still using old solution methods, I'm well over 20 minutes on the 7x7x7 still. My first attempt at 7x7x7 got interrupted by the location of a rest stop on the highway, and the second attempt got interrupted by having to navigate once we got off of the interstate. So, I never did manage to finish one that day. Once we were there, I thought it best to just take my 2x2x2 and 3x3x3 with me since those were the only events I was competing in, and my notebook that I use just for cubing. I took my stickerless DaYan 2x2x2, which is sort of important later. The 3x3x3 I brought is a Yulong stickerless which I got fairly cheap on Amazon and it's pretty fast.

Since my wife wanted to explore a nearby nature area with our younger child, I got dropped off. Getting dropped off in a parking lot of an unfamiliar school was just like going to a high school math tournament. I waited in line, realizing that there were a lot of fairly young kids practicing 2x2x2 in line. I got to registration, filled out a piece of paper with my name and the events I was participating in, paid my $20, and tried to relax. The big upside to this whole operation was that I was meeting the guitarist from the band that I play in and his son (who had just recently gotten into cubing) at the event. It gave me something else to fill my brain with instead of just filling it with nervousness about the event and not knowing anybody there. 

Once I sat down, I practiced a little bit of 2x2x2 with my guitarist's son and a friend of his that he met at a previous tournament. I was able to finish easily before either of them, but I had to focus pretty hard on turning slowly so I could make sure I wasn't making mistakes. Eventually I got called for my heat in 2x2x2.

What happens at this point is that the person running that heat puts down a bunch of slips of paper with a competitor's name and space for times to be written in. Each competitor puts their own cube down on their piece of paper, and then the official grabs up all the cubes for that heat and takes them to the main table to be inspected and scrambled. Once your cube is scrambled, the piece of paper with your name on it and your cube go into a paper bucket and is taken to a table where there's a Stackmat timer and a judge. The paper goes to the judge, and the bucket is turned over on to the table, covering your cube. What's supposed to happen at that point is that the judge asks you if you're ready, and you have 15 seconds to inspect your cube and then arm the timer and start. The judge will let you know when 8 seconds have transpired, and then 12. At that point you really need to start arming the timer by putting your fingertips on the two contacts and waiting for the green light, because it takes a second or two.

I had used a Stackmat timer before, as I had one for a few years before it lost its mind. I use TwistyTimer to practice with on my phone now, but I think I need to get another Stackmat at some point if I'm going to do more of these events.

Event 1 - 2x2x2

14.65/DNF/12.64/14.49/13.89 (14.34 avg)  52nd out of 73

That's around 6 times as slow as the winners who averaged between 2-1/2 and 3 seconds , and not nearly as good as my usual average of closer to 12 seconds.

My first solve of my first heat almost got me a DNF because the timer hadn't been reset by the judge beforehand. I couldn't remember if the new Stackmats reset on their own if it's been long enough since a previous solve or not, so it didn't occur to me to ask. The judge realized the mistake and took my cube up to be rescrambled and I got to solve again, but I was more than a little rattled. It didn't help that I was at a table at the front where all the cube moms were spectating. My second attempt was a DNF, because I opted to use that DaYan 2x2x2 that was a little bit looser and had a preferable color scheme. When a puzzle pops, you're allowed to put the pieces back in and finish the solve, but the DaYan 2x2x2 has three or four little mini edge pieces that pop out when a corner piece pops out, and it didn't seem realistic that I could just put it back together quick enough. The last time I put it back together took me a couple of minutes, and all I wanted to do at that second is take a second by myself and reassemble it away from the spectators. Had I used my Cyclone Boys 2x2x2, I might have finished all five solves, but probably a little slower. The first time I ever popped a piece on the DaYan 2x2x2, it was at a stoplight on the way to picking up my wife from work. I had to wait until I got home to try and get it back together. I think that it only tends to pop when it's comedically inconvenient. My guitarist's son had me spooked thinking I had made the cut for the second round, but it turns out it was just an anomaly of how the solves were displayed on where he was looking at the scores.

Event 2 - 3x3x3

31.69/36.56/32.26/32.84/37.35 (33.89 avg) 40th out of 71

That's a little less than four times as slow as the winner, on average, and maybe only a second slower than my average when practicing. I was a little less rattled, but not enough for me to pull out any solves under 30 seconds. The last judge that I had was amused by my ancient solving technique since they mostly only see CFOP. Oddly, some of the younger cubers think that Corners First is RedKB's method (an early Youtube cuber) instead of Minh Thai's (the method I use) or Jeff Varasano's.

While I was waiting between solves, I asked a couple of the 10-year olds standing around to show me how they do the Z permutation (M2 U M2 U M' U2 M2 U2 M' U2) and it was just frightening how fast they could whip through the move, and it was also very interesting to watch each of them watch the other do the move, because their execution varied a little bit. One of them was more crisp and staccato, the other one was just as fast but smoother. All of the M slice moves were done with the ring or middle finger of their left hand from behind the cube, where the U layer moves were done with their index and middle fingers of their right hand. It reminded me of drum rudiments.

Best single time in both of those events and everything else went to Daniel Wannamaker, currently ranked 31st in the world in regular 3x3x3 as of the other day and in the top 100 on all the events from 2x2x2 through 7x7x7. I actually talked to him briefly about something I saw other people doing on 4x4x4, and he walked me through the algorithm that he uses for doing an edge pair flip during the last layer. (Lw2 B2 U2 Rw' U2 Lw U2 Lw' U2 F2 Lw' F2 Rw B2 Lw2) As it turns out, he didn't win 2x2x2 and Pyraminx because his average wasn't as low. Daniel better watch out for Katie Hull, though. She won Pyraminx and was close behind on a lot of the other events. Dawson Wellman won 2x2x2 by putting up some great times in the last round.

I only ended up talking to a few of the cubers. I talked to Jeff Stinson briefly, as I surmised early on that we were the oldest two people competing, and we had a good laugh about being the only old men there. I also talked to someone that had only been cubing for a few months that was almost as fast as I was already, a programmer fond of making rather tall towers of cubes, and hard luck case that had a few too many DNF's. I also got to see a Mixup Cube in person for the first time, and my guitarist looked very oddly at a Mirror Cube which he had not seen before.

It was a little odd that the guitarist from my band and I both opted for superhero shirts. I almost wore a cube shirt, but since we were at a cubing competition I saw absolutely no need to identify myself to others as a cuber. So, if you can't be yourself, be Batman. (My guitarist wore a Spiderman shirt that I think is the somewhat obscure Spiderman 2099 logo.)

I think that I achieved all of my intended objectives - I got to participate in a real competition, I got to be in a room where my cubing was not any sort of an oddity, I got to hang out with my guitarist and his son outside of a music venue, and I made an effort to talk to some of the other cubers - both experienced and new.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cubing Tips, Part 2 - Look Ahead, move efficiently.

One of the things that some new cubers get caught up in early is trying to turn as fast as they can.  It's one of the first things that getting a better cube is going to do for you, because the better mechanism will allow for faster turning. While turning faster is important, it's equally important to know when it will be the most effective.

When you're nearly done with a solve, there are fewer remaining positions to consider, and as you get more experienced you're going to know what those positions are probably going to be. However, at the beginning of the solve, there are a lot more possible positions that the pieces you're looking for can be in. That's why looking for pieces while you're doing other moves is important. Sometimes you will spot a piece you need later right as you're about to do a move, but it's something that's going to get moved by what you do. Do you know where that piece will end up at the end of the algorithm that you're doing? Alternately, you may intentionally look at a piece in a location that's not going to be affected by what you do, and think about where that goes and what you're going to need to do next.

If you're using the Beginner's method, look-ahead may not seem important yet because after the first four edges (which hopefully you mostly covered during inspection) you're going to look for the first layer corner pieces one at a time to finish the first layer. However, if you have time to look for the second corner while you're doing the first one, there will be less pausing between moves. The same would go for the middle layer edges. As you put each middle layer edge in, since the algorithm should be muscle memory, you should be looking around the cube to find where the next piece you need is and where it should go.

If you're using F2L as part of the CFOP* method, where the middle layer edges go in at the same time as the first layer corners, look-ahead is the most important. If you just went "What's CFOP?" here's a quick refresher.

*In the CFOP method, we have 4 stages.
We have the first four edges, commonly called the Cross (That's the "C" part.)
We have the first layer corners going in with the middle layer edges, which completes the First 2 Layers (which is the F of CFOP, referred to as F2L.)
Next we Orient the Last Layer(OLL) which is where we turn all the last layer pieces the correct way, and then Permute the Last Layer(PLL) which is where we move around all of the correctly oriented last layer pieces to their correct locations.

While the OLL and PLL moves primarily require quick recognition and fast execution, the recognition is relatively easy because you're only looking at the last eight pieces, and execution speed will just come from practicing the moves over and over. The speed of the F2L totally depends on your ability to look for two matching pieces at a time without having to stop, and represents the slowest part of the solve because you're having to react to a pair at a time. You can automatically ignore any edge that has the last layer color on it (easier to say than to do), but you still have to mate up a corner piece with its adjacent middle edge and then put those pieces into their slot. The corner can be oriented in three different ways, in eight different places, and the edge can be in one of eight places. So, as you're inserting a corner-edge pair, you need to look for the next pieces to put into place. As you get more advanced with F2L, you may opt to place your first pair in one of the back slots so that you can better survey the open slots in the front and the unplaced pieces in the last layer.

F2L represents a serious improvement over the beginner's method once mastered, because placing a corner usually takes 3-4 moves, but could take up to 6, and placing a middle layer edge afterwards takes 8 moves. Placing the corner and the edge together in the worst of circumstances maybe takes 11 moves, but usually takes 7-9. On average you're going to save around 20 moves by switching to F2L, but that's only going to save you time if you're accomplishing that at speed, and that's only going to happen if...

Anyone? Let's not always see the same hands.

That's only going to happen if you're looking ahead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It's important to have a plan - or Cubing Tips Part One.

There have been way too many games that came out recently, and I couldn't possibly talk about everything that I've been playing all at once. I have also picked up a couple of new cubes, and got another as a late Christmas gift. On top of that, I recently found out that I missed a cube competition less than an hour from my house - I didn't find out about it until the Monday after.

So, what do you do when everything is crazy? The same thing you do with a scrambled cube - have a plan. However, we're going to talk about planning only in the context of cubing here - I will just have to work on my plan to type more blog posts behind the scenes.

Clearly a plan is not enough by itself, because there are other parts to be considered during the actual execution. Practice is important, and so is a good handle on theory, and so is learning to deal with mistakes, setbacks, and things that just plain don't go your way. But, we have to start somewhere, and that usually starts with a plan.

In speed cubing, you get 15 seconds of inspection time. That's time you basically get for free that doesn't count as part of your solve time unless you're doing a blindfold event. That's the time to make a plan. For a fast solver it could make the difference of a second or two, which could make the difference between making the cut or not. For me, as a relatively slow solver, a good inspection makes the difference between a 30 second solve and a 40 second solve.  Even if you're just starting and you're averaging around a minute or two, a good inspection could still make a ten to fifteen second difference in your time. What are you looking for in the inspection?

For Beginner's Method solvers, you're looking for the first four edges, and a corner or two. For CFOP (Cross, First two layers, Orientation, Permutation) solvers, you're looking for the first four edges, and one or two corner-edge pairs for F2L. For Roux, you're looking for the first five pieces on the L face. For me, as a corners first solver, I'm looking for the first four corners and trying to figure out where the fifth corner is going to fit into the other layer, or if the first four corners go really easy then I'm looking for an edge piece or two in the first layer.

Statistically, most of you are using something that's like either the Beginner's Method or CFOP, so let's talk more about those. During inspection, you should have those first four edges of the first layer figured out either way. Have you figured out something that's around eight turns and leaves the cube in the right location for the next part? Do some practice scrambles and see if you can consistently work out a 7-8 move solution to the first four edges. Ultimately, you should be working towards having the first four edges on the D layer when you're done, allowing you to work on the next part with the best visibility of the remaining edges.

That's enough for now,  so go practice making a plan. (Or is that planning to practice?)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Big Cubes, and small setbacks.

I had been getting better at big cubes of late - not like actual better, just better for me. For 4x4x4, I'm under 2 minutes once in a while, and for 5x5x5 I'm under 5 minutes nearly half the time now. I finally felt like I could take another swing at my 7x7x7, because of those improvements. For 2x2 to 5x5 it takes me somewhere in the ballpark of 6 times whatever the WR is. (Here's a new WR on the 5x5x5 by Feliks Zemdegs.)

By that logic, I should be able to get my 7x7x7 time down to around 15-16 minutes - my best previous time is 37 minutes and change. Here's another one from Feliks, this time on the 7x7x7.

It's not even like I was sure that it was going to happen, but I just feel like I need to be in the right frame of mind to make progress and do well. The bigger the cube gets, it reduces the number of times you can practice it in a session, and I have to say that I haven't practiced 7x7x7 that often at all. Part of it is that I get nervous about pushing those little stickers around with my hands when I'm turning the cube, so maybe I'm going to have to think about finding a stickerless 7x7x7 at some point. I don't think I want one of the pink ones though, the colors aren't high contrast enough for me.  I'm sure that the other part of it is that my 7x7x7 is a V-Cube and some of the newer cubes have a better mechanism than the V-Cube does.

But, this morning, I was really ready to do it, and got 1:47 in AND POPPED OUT A CENTER PIECE! Frankly, I'm a little bit amazed that I was able to get it back into place without major disassembly.

I started typing this once, and thought that it was going to be about failure, but decided that I had to do it again. I just re-scrambled from the partial solve for several minutes, took a deep breath, and started the 7x7x7 again. It was 27:12.21. Certainly it wasn't 15 minutes, and I'm sure I burned a few minutes making sure layers were correctly aligned so that I didn't pop a center piece again like last time. Hey, it's 10 minutes better than my previous, so I'll take it.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Initial Pokkénalysis

So yesterday, Pokkén Tournament was released for the WiiU. We picked up our copy around dinnertime. My older son and I played a couple of matches before either of us knew what we were doing, and then my older son went through a bunch of the single player material to get an understanding of the battle system. Here's the character roster, with a few comments here and there where applicable.

  • Blaziken - Blaziken is a tall, powerful fire/fighting type Pokemon. He reminds me of a big furry rooster. He is able to break through an opponent's defenses with normal moves, but he has a few moves that cause recoil damage (damage to your own character) if they miss.
  • Braixen - Braixen is a fire type who looks like a fox carrying around a flaming cotton swab. Braixen has a lot of projectiles, but not as many as the next character.
  • Chandelure - Chandelure is a ghost/fire type that looks like a chandelier, and a lot of people's early choice in this game because of its ridiculous ability to churn out projectile after projectile. (My older son says he's "spammy".) Tekken games didn't involve projectiles very often, and some of the ones that did were very slow startup. It should prove confusing at first for most opponents in Pokkén to deal with all of these projectiles until more of the metagame is developed.
  • Charizard - A lot of people probably know Charizard because of his inclusion in Smash Bros. While he looks like a big orange dragon, so far his strength in Pokken has more to do with shutting down his opponent's attacks than being directly aggressive.
  • Garchomp - Garchomp is literally a land shark.
  • Gardevoir - We haven't played as this fairy/psychic character yet, but we can say that the computer is not that good at living up to the name. It wasn't guarding nearly enough of our attacks in the single player mode.
  • Gengar - Gengar has some creepy attacks. What do you expect? He's a ghost type.
  • Lucario - Another fan favorite from the Smash games series, Lucario seems well-balanced, but I only used him once.
  • Machamp - Machamp is a large four-armed fighting type. He only has a few ranged attacks, but is able to power through his opponent's ranged attacks easily to get in close where he can do more damage.
  • Mewtwo - Mewtwo needs unlocking first.
  • Pikachu - Pikachu is another popular choice in this game, both because of pure popularity and because he seems to genuinely be a solid character with a balanced moveset.
  • Pikachu Libre - At first I though this was a pretty silly choice, but my Pokémon knowledge is not quite as deep as my older son's. There are hundreds of Pokémon, and while Pikachu is rather popular, I wasn't sure why they had to build a second character variation, when it seemed like they could just have additional costumes for the characters to pick from. I mean, wasn't there Pikachu cosplay in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire? Then, when you go and look it up, it turns out that Cosplay Pikachu is a different subspecies, and is only female.  The tip of the tail is black and heart-shaped, unlike a male Pikachu's pointy yellow-only tail, and a female Pikachu's yellow heart-shaped tail. My older son also reminded me that if they specifically wanted a luchador, in keeping with Tekken's inclusion of King, they could have picked the somewhat less popular Hawlucha. Pikachu Libre has a very strong (cheap?) "Double Team" move that makes it temporarily unhittable.
  • Sceptile - Sceptile is a grass type that looks like a tall lizard with a plant for a tail. We haven't quite figured out exactly what he's good at.
  • Shadow Mewtwo - Shadow Mewtwo is the character that you can unlock early with the amiibo card, but is also unlockable normally if you complete all of the Ferrum League. He's the boss of the game.
  • Suicune -Suicune, a dog-like creature with two tails, seems to have a lot of ranged moves which may prove difficult to get past.
  • Weavile - A dark/ice character, Weavile is fast and grumpy looking. Don't get clawed!

  • We haven't played everybody yet, but a few things seem pretty clear. The Tekken system of the buttons corresponding to limbs does not apply at all here. The only thing that seems to be the same as Tekken is the round fixed size arena and the sidestep and throw commands.

    We were worried that two-player was going to be somewhat choppy, because of the system having to render two instances of the game but we didn't really feel it.

    There are still a lot of other Pokémon in the game as support characters, but we don't have all of them unlocked yet, so maybe we will have to save that for another time. I'm sure that we will discover even more about the game after playing it for a while.

    Also - there's a Splatoon Splatfest today, so if you're not busy playing Pokkén, get out there and ink some stuff! (Don't let my older son catch you standing around at the spawn AFK, either!)

    Friday, March 18, 2016

    It's Pokkén Day! (But still too early.)

    My older kid is pretty excited for Pokkén Tournament, which comes out today for the WiiU. It's a fighting game, much in the style of Namco's Tekken, but using various Pokémon instead of Tekken's usual cast of martial artists. Unlike Street Fighter, which is played in a 2-D plane with a mostly fixed camera perspective, Tekken and Pokkén are usually played in a round arena and the camera swings around perpendicular to the characters, and sidestepping moves is an important defensive technique.

    He's certainly a lot more excited about this than about St. Patrick's day, which from his perspective seems to be about wardrobe infractions and green beer. By comparison, Pi Day seemed to have a lot more import, since we gathered around a computer, ate Key Lime Pie, and played quizzes on Sporcle.

    Sadly, he will have to wait until I get out of work today to play Pokkén, since I'm picking it up from my local Gamestop on the way home.  Preorder customers get an amiibo card that gets you the Shadow Mewtwo character available for use right away. (Presumably there's a complicated method to unlock him otherwise.)

    He's got the day off, so he may spend some of it playing The Legend of Zelda:Twilight Princess HD in the meantime.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2016

    Street Fighter V, Initial Impressions

    I picked up my Street Fighter V preorder for my Playstation 4 on Tuesday to little fanfare from my local Gamestop. It's not like they opened early, or did a midnight release - it's not like it's Call of Duty or Madden. The employee on duty had to try to work me real hard on the protection program and SFV's season pass to no avail. Thankfully, my kids know better than to use game discs as drink coasters thanks to other people's bad example. Also, why do I need a season pass for a game that swears you can earn enough in-game points to unlock all future characters? Do I look like a guy that cares about costumes? The employee didn't even notice that I was wearing my15th Anniversary Edtion Street Fighter T-shirt from 2004. (Or, maybe he did notice, and that's why he asked me about the season pass.)

    What do you get for preordering the non-premium version of the game? You get an alternate costume for Ryu, the game's main character. On reddit, in the /r/streetfighter subreddit, they've been referring to this costume as "Sexy Ryu".

    Unfortunately, the Gamestop employee had to ruin this for me by referring to this as the Chuck Norris version of Ryu.

    Once you load up the game, you can start right away in offline mode, but you can't earn any of the game's in-game points. Meanwhile, you have a 6 Gigabyte download in the background for the 1.01 patch. I don't care who you are, that's going to take a while. After that installs, you can connect the the online mode. If you don't have Playstation Plus, you can't fight against other people online, but even if you don't have plus you still need to be logged in and connected to earn the in-game currency that you can spend on the characters as they release.

    It's still Street Fighter, but it might feel unfamiliar. The animation is nice, although sometimes the characters have odd crosshatched textures to them like they're trying to crawl out of the pages of a comic book. The dynamic camera moves smoothly from showing the character entrances to the match. With the subtle changes made to input buffering, combo execution is much more consistent. However, all of the characters have had significant changes to their combos and some have had changes made to their specials. Chun-Li had the input for her Hyakuretsukyaku changed to a quarter circle motion plus a kick. (You used to just mash the kick button repeatedly until it started, but Capcom has been trying to remove special move inputs that could be adversely affected by network latency.) Personally, I like how they changed it because that move can also now be performed mid-air when it couldn't be before. Vega had all of his special move inputs changed. You can check all of the moves here. There's no Arcade mode right now. There's no Story Mode until after you download the patch. (Well, Street Fighter never had Story Mode at all before, so maybe that's something in and of itself.) The Survival Mode seems to have inconsistent computer AI difficulty. PC users are upset about a lack of controller compatibility and no button mapping utility. The one thing that's supposed to be working really well right now is online multiplayer, but since that's not a concern for me just yet, I haven't tried it.

    Here's my list of suggestions:

    • If you're going to play Street Fighter V against other people, don't wait. Hit the books now, learn the new moves and mechanics. If you need anything in the way of controllers I would suggest looking at what Hori has to offer. This goes double if you play with a pad instead of a stick - the Hori FC4 is fantastic compared to the MadCatz SFIV pads and works with PS3 and PS4. If you're playing on PC and have controllers that worked on XBox 360, those probably still work now.
    • If you're not going to play Street Fighter V against other people but you do really want to play it, give it a month. Alex, the first of the DLC characters, is supposed to be released in March, along with more single player content.
    • If you're going to play Street Fighter V against other people for money, go get in a time machine and go back to June 2015 and play the beta version more.
    • If you listen to a lot of Carly Simon, you might think that this bullet list is about you. Don't you? Don't you?
    My older son and I have played it quite a bit both yesterday evening and this evening, and while he used to main T. Hawk, he is now in the process of picking someone else since T. Hawk isn't currently in the lineup. I thought he was going to go to another grappler, but flashy (fleshy?) female wrestler R. Mika didn't really work for him at first. He did have some success with Necali (sort of a grappler?) and Rashid (totally not a grappler), though. If those guys don't work for him he might just wait for Namco to release Pokken next month. My younger son played it a little bit yesterday, and he didn't last long because Vega didn't work the way he expected but he may be switching to Zangief. I am getting the hang of Ken, who didn't really change that much, and I'm really digging Karin Kanzuki but I am probably going to rotate through all of the characters for a while so I can learn what each character's capabilities are.

    Sunday, February 7, 2016

    New Street Fighter? I'm not scared.

    So, Street Fighter V comes out on the 16th , just a few days off, but I'm not really worried.
    Maybe this is like a Coke vs. Pepsi thing with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but it's hard for me to say what to recommend to other people because I like Street Fighter for the gameplay and I like Mortal Kombat for the wacky storyline and interesting stage interaction. Having started Mortal Kombat X after Christmas, eight months after everyone else, I would say that the wacky storyline part of the game seems to be intact.

    Every time a new Mortal Kombat comes out, I feel like I am having it to learn it over again, and for the most part that's true. Starting from Deadly Alliance through to the present, it seems like one move or another was always having its control input changed.  Not all of them, just one or two per character, or they would take a special move away or add one and then you might find it back later in another game. I can't even complain about the influx of new characters - I'm just trying to consider characters that have been in the game the entire time like Scorpion and Sub Zero. My biggest problem was them changing how Sub Zero's slide is done, because it just used to be a specific joystick and button combination (back + LP + Block + LK), and then it got removed, and then it got changed to more like the other special moves, where you have to do a particular joystick motion prior to pressing the button.

    That's not to say that they don't change things in Street Fighter,  and there have been quite a number of major changes from the II series to the Alpha series to the III series to the IV series, and now in the V series. However, the main characters Ryu and Ken's signature moves - their fireball, hurricane kick, and dragon punch - have not had their inputs changed at all. Certainly, they have had moves above and beyond the basics changed from version to version and the move properties change slightly, but the basics have remained the same. I think that makes the changes in the other parts of the game easier to take.

    If you have been playing Street Fighter IV the last few years, or you're still playing some version of II, you will probably find that the biggest difference in the regular move set in V is that you can't chain a bunch of light attacks together into a combo any more. Most characters have had their combos and regular moves tuned up or changed in an effort to make button choice more deliberate and to make each move have a useful function. Another change in the normal moves is that they won't change properties at close range - so each button press will be more consistent. Some moves are different if you hold the joystick in a certain direction while doing it - that's always been the case - it just won't get affected by the distance you are from the other character. The biggest difference in the rest of the control mechanics are all part of the new V-system. Each character has a specific V-skill, done with Medium Punch plus Medium Kick (MP+MK). A correctly executed V-skill adds to the V-Gauge.  When the V-Gauge is full it allows for use of a more powerful V-Trigger move done with HP + HK and completely depletes the gauge. Alternately you can V-Reversal,  which is done with holding towards your opponent on the joystick and pressing either all three punches or all three kicks depending on the character. The V-Reversal only consumes one segment of the V-Gague. The V-Gague either has two or three segments, again dependent on which character it is.

    If you look at the trailer here that shows the game modes, it sure seems like there's more story elements in the game now than there used to be. I don't know if that's because they felt like they had to compete with Mortal Kombat, or if they just felt like they had a compelling story to tell this time, but I'm happy either way. Since I wasn't part of the beta I didn't get a head start on this game but I am looking forward to digging into it once it's released on the 16th.

    Sunday, January 3, 2016

    In defense of New Year's Resolutions

    I know that lately all of the self-help gurus have been writing articles about how New Year's resolutions don't work, or how we're just setting ourselves up to fail, or how if we need to make change in our lives, we shouldn't wait for an arbitrary date. These may all be true to a degree, but I think that abandoning the concept of a New Year's resolution entirely robs us of a chance to check in with ourselves in a way that we don't necessarily do any other time.

    Each holiday, in its own way, can get us to focus on a part of our life that we may just need a little tune-up on. Valentine's Day and wedding anniversaries get us to focus on our romantic life with our spouse. The Fourth of July and Veteran's Day get us to focus on what we can do for our country. Halloween gets us to think a little bit about our self-image, but usually it's a ridiculous fantasy self-image that doesn't have sugar issues. Sometimes we think about ourselves on our birthdays, but more often than not you're focusing on age and being older, and frankly you can't do anything about that one way or the other. Thanksgiving and Christmas get us to focus on our family and friends. New Year's Eve may tend to be about going out for beverages and fireworks, but as a result, New Year's Day presents us with an opportunity to evaluate ourselves that maybe we don't get the rest of the year (providing you're not too hung over.)

    Those two weeks at the end of December are likely to be a blur - between parties and end-of-the-year recaps and Christmas and family and dinners and presents and making cookies and stuffing and vegetables and various sizes of poultry and what-the-heck-happened-to-my-living-room-and-how-did-I-get-glitter-there it's bound to be a little crazy. If you're in wholesale or working at a factory, work itself might be slow but everything else may not be. If you're in retail or the service industry, it's going to be non-stop for those two weeks at work, and probably still crazy at home too.

    When do you get a break?

    Sometime around New Year's Day.

    Check in with yourself. Review what you've accomplished, look at what you want to accomplish, and make a plan or two.

    Maybe you got a weight bench for Christmas, or that computer or window desk that you've always wanted and you're busy setting it up.

    Figure out if your goal is to add ten pounds of muscle, or lose twenty pounds of fat, learn to code, mix some music, or just move some stuff around in your house so that you can more efficiently get the things done that you need or want to do.

    Maybe you're looking over your end-of year figures or reviewing your projects.

    Figure out if your goal is to pick up some new customers, work on some new strategies with the customers you have, or find some new products that you can implement with with all of your customers new and existing.

    Figure out if you're doing the things for yourself that make you happy.

    Now, once you've figured all of this out, don't be afraid to do it again.

    (Maybe it won't take a year this time.)