Archive for the ‘puzzles’ Category

“I’m saving a dollar a day to throw a party on the day he fries.”

This was whispered to me on my walk  between the witness room and the courtroom during the trial by someone hurting for a loved one of the 1993 Chuck E Cheese murders.


Was she wrong?   was she justified?  was she just saying that?  What did I believe?  Should we kill another person to make things “right?”  What is justice?  will this bring peace to anyone?

Over the last 19 years this is just one of many contradictions I hold in my head.   It’s like some sort of gnarly moral entanglement that is so often the source of the anger, guilt, distress I feel at times like this.

After an event like this your world is very quick to attempt to soothe away the gnarliness.  It’s God’s plan.  It was fate.  Everything happens for a reason.  Memorial services.  Vigils.  TV specials.  Therapists.  Help lines.  “Get back up on that horse.”, Why Bad Things Happen To Good People readings, commemorative T-Shirts.

Some of these sentiments and activities are temporarily helpful. However, what was in my head and still hangs about there sometimes in the darkest ways…

nothing matters.  it’s all random.  why bother.

After I stew on that for awhile I usually flip over to…

everything matters.  make it matter.  live like you are dying.  get after every moment.

Obviously after 19 years the more positive outlook that making it matter has won out more times than it’s lost.  By no means though do I have resolution.   You almost feel forced into the positive.   If one goes all in on nothing matters, why bothers, you get your answer clearly.   Unfortunately, it feels, if you go all in on everything matters, make it matter you may not get a clear “yup, this is right.  it all does matter!”

I think the easy resolutions of these big questions is what leads to the profound loneliness I feel occasionally.   Hanging on to one of these resolutions like “it was all part of the plan” despite everything in your experience suggesting otherwise makes you afraid to be upset, to disagree, to wail against this comfort.   To this day I’m very upset at the idea that 4 of my coworkers should have been killed because that was part of some grand design for my life or the greater good.   That always sounds so good in abstract when it’s not you having to live with this unknown plan or your not related to one of those that died.   Want pressure?   that’s pressure.  having people tell you and make you believe that your life is somehow worth more than someone else’s and then you go on living without some obvious sign that it is.

I didn’t go to the memorial service, didn’t go to any vigils, could barely speak to Bobby.  Maybe I didn’t want to feel the implied pressure or the pressure I was putting on myself.

Everyone’s life is worth the same.  Whether that’s everything or nothing, I don’t know.

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Man, I really didn’t expect to think this way as a father.

It’s the last day of school and my wife and I are ecstatic!   Like run from the building pouring your locker contents into the trash as you go ecstatic!


Being an active parent in the school community AND working to pay the bills AND trying to be a social human being is damn near impossible.  Maybe it’s us, our community, our school, our work…  but I don’t think so.

Summer gives us a chance to take a break.  Mornings don’t have to start and crank up to 11 by 6:15am.  Everyday doesn’t have to be non-stop from dawn to 9pm.  We don’t have to go to parent meetings, boosters, flings, sales, conferences, clean ups, lock downs or whatever right in the middle of the day.  And, yup, there’s far less drama from the kids… fewer hurt feelings, confusions, messed up schedules, illnesses.

Was it always this way?  (Seriously, someone tell me it was.  I’ll feel less crazed.)

Many of these things are necessary to provide kids a great launch into their own lives.   And we have to pay the bills and socialize.   There’s got to be a better balance though.   I’m definitely not the only dad who has ratio strain right now (more energy going out than is coming back in).

If you’re wondering… yes, I’ve read the 4 hour work week and done the Tony Robbins thing and “do only the most important things”.   It’s just frickin’ hard.   Maybe the lack of tangible progress on community development, creation of value and wealth creation makes the ratio strain seem so much worse.   There’s something to be said for working the land to feed your family and homeschooling…. then again, maybe we’d lose more than we gain in going for a less busy approach.

and with that… SCHOOL’S OUT… and I’m happy.

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Blame! Blame! Blame! Boy do we love to dish it out in this country (only country I have any insight into, FYI.).

Who screwed up the oil rig? Who fat fingered the computer on the flash crash? Who ruined main street? Who heated up the oceans and melted the glaciers? Who started these wars?

And on a more personal level – who’s to blame for this relationship or that messed up deal or that poor choice or that car accident…

On the flip side, we also like to heap praise on ourselves, our celebs, our CEOs, our saints, our leaders for how much of a difference they made. Without you, where would we be?  Here’s a big bonus just for you.  Here’s the MVP trophy.  Here’s the street cred.

All of this assumes way too much control by humans over the incredibly complicated interconnectedness of the world – in business, sports, relationships, politics.   No doubt specific folks shape and contribute, hurt and hinder, but no single person is due that much credit nor blame.

I don’t know when our culture gained this orientation.   Maybe it was from the beginning… the whole “American Way.”   Where there’s a will, there’s a way.   You can do it!  It’s up to you!

The attitude is maintained by repeated association of blame and praise to the negative and positive happenings in our lives.  The association is inaccurate but is very hard to break.  Perhaps there is some juice in this attitude.  Maybe it helps keep people working more.  Maybe it helps people commit longer than they would with a different view.

Personally I don’t think it’s healthy.  Nor do I really think it leads to bigger business, better policy, or decades of championships.   I think our individual powers don’t extend much beyond keeping ourselves alive.  It takes a tremendously positive mix of variables to help us thrive beyond the basics in life.

Persistence is the key.  Survive long enough for the mix of positive variables to align.

Fear of failure and over indulgence in taking credit are the enemies of persistence.   They are energy wasting red herrings.   So much of persistence is about maintaining your energy (physical ability, concentration, passion, etc. etc.).

Change when it’s too painful.  Help others along the way. and keep going.

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[UPDATE  1/10/09:   This post is fairly popular so I assume many people are looking for help on Scramble Squares and potentially hints or solutions.

Sadly, there is no way to shortcut these puzzles.  I suppose if you look at the box, and your box shows you the completed puzzle, you can “cheat” that way.

If you just want to use an already coded “solver”, there are a few out there.  Here’s a good one.

Read the instructions on how to encode your puzzle pieces so the solver can work properly.

Note that puzzles can sometimes have more than 1 solution.

Also note that the algorithmic solvers are not “shortcutting” the puzzle.  They simply try more options than you do much faster.  It’s pretty much just brute force.  A modern computer can run through all 23 billion combinations in 30 seconds (and usually does it faster because it might pick the right center piece early on… which is what the popular algorithm uses as a starting point).

That said, humans can somehow solve these puzzles without “trying” a lot of configurations.  As I discuss below I have some theories how this is possible, but I do not have a definitive answer.]

Here are  some papers, code and blog posts (this is nice one too) on how to algorithmically search for solutions to squzzles/scramble square puzzles.  You might have received one of these puzzles as a holiday gift over the last few years, they were quite popular.

C and Perl Implemenations

General Backtracking Approach

The algorithm is straightforward – just one that searches through solutions.

What’s interesting is that I’ve seen people solve these puzzles, even brand new ones (no prior knowledge), very quickly.  There’s something that happens with a persons vision or something that’s helping them not have to exhaustively search the full solution space.  If I’d seen someone do this once or twice, I’d think it was just lucky picks. (these puzzles have enormous solution spaces (4^8 x 9! = 23,781,703,680 puzzle configurations) )

Is there something in this puzzle that “hints” to a human early in the solution testing that a solution is viable or not.  That is, after 1 or 2 pieces placed, can the human see a promising solution “faster” than the basic algorithm that searches quickly through all piece placements and orientations.  If so, what is that data (“hint”) the human sees and how can we factor it into the algorithm?

Possible hint data:

Rules of thumb on how all these puzzles are printed and cut (do the puzzles all get made with same orientations so exposure to one puzzle provides data on other puzzles?)

Humans can see the whole pattern in parallel even when pieces aren’t lined up so they don’t have to check each piece systematically

Are combinations of pieces eliminated as the humans solve it thus taking them out of future solution attempts, reducing solution space the more the human works on the puzzle

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