Day 17: Acrobats and Puzzles

If you want to see some live acrobat performances, the Circus Center’s most talented students will be performing in two different shows in June.

Kids are welcome, and you can get tickets and information here.

Today I met up with one of those good friends you can learn a lot from. Dave Litwin is an acrobat (you expected that) and an inventor (you might have guessed that too), but his serious superpower is this: He finds solutions, very very quickly.

This wiseguy can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute while carrying on a conversation, and less than 30 seconds if he’s Focused. Last year, he started teaching me how to solve them. I’m not fast, but he’s working on me.


This is a small part of Dave’s collection

He also invents puzzles, and builds them at the TechShop. You can actually order a handmade puzzle from him. After lunch, he showed me a prototype of a new one he’s working on.

In 1991, Dave and I built a computer together, but that’s another story.

Random assertion: Focus (with a capital “F”), is a gift which allows a person to dedicate every breath and motion to a single task. It can be used to accomplish astounding things, but carefully. As with any tool, it wants to rule the user.

Steganographic data: 1876/3.2

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Day 4: The Biggest Logic Puzzle Ever

Ben & Jerry’s in Berkeley on the west side of campus gives free WiFi access with any purchase. I like to think of it the other way around, as $3 WiFi access which comes with a big free cone of chocolate ice cream.

…so I sat in the ice cream shop with a Skype headset and called the muse in Hong Kong. Her “assignment” goes well, and after a quick change from brunette to redhead (with a new passport to match), she’s off to Taipei today before anyone notices the diamonds are missing. I get her back in 2.7 days, and I can’t wait.

(I tried to keep this post super-short, honest. I failed again.)

If you enjoy mind-bending puzzles, I recommend this book by Julian Brown as an intro to Quantum Computation. It’s written for interested readers, not math geeks.

In January 2000, my casual interest in this subject “clicked over” without warning, and became a hobby (in this case, the line between “hobby” and “obsession” is not well-defined).

Here’s why QC is cool:

On the U.C. Berkeley campus…

..in what’s called the Hearst Mining Building, on the very top floor (see the door up there?)…

…is what some people would call a nice bright attic with a comfy lounge and a small kitchen.

This, and the offices and computers and people and ideas it contains, is Berkeley Quantum Information & Computation Center (BQIC). In May of 2004, I skipped out of work for a few hours to attend the ribbon-cutting and dedication of this facility.

BQIC is another one of those places you won’t see unless you’re looking for it.

Today at BQIC, there’s a guest lecturer. Dr. John Yard from Los Alamos National Laboratory came to give a seminar on his recent work. By “recent”, I mean that he was presenting stuff he literally just finished last week, and it hasn’t even been published yet. There were about ten of us in the audience, which was awesome.

There’s a lot of the presentation I couldn’t keep up with (I just relax and write it down so I can stare at it later until it means something), but the conclusion is a shocker.

Here’s the gist: Imagine you’re trying to send a coded message to someone, but your transmitters don’t work at all, so the amount of information they can transmit is actually zero. By combining a few of the transmitters, you can create a code which allows the information to be transmitted anyway, and even keep it secure. (That’s a poor summary, but there it is.)

Afterward, I went to Christine and Shannon’s place. Once in a while, they invite a bunch of inventor-types and business-types to their place for an awesome dinner. It’s sort of like setting up a heap of kindling and then banging rocks together to make sparks.

Random assertion: If you think you’ve missed the golden age of invention and discovery, that it’s all been done and found, remember that your parents and grandparents thought the same thing, when they were your age.

Steganographic data: 1870/5.9