The Magic Cube Resolution

In 1974, the Hungarian mathematician and sculptor Ernő Rubik invented a surprising puzzle, “The Magic Cube,” that became the best-selling toy of 1982. You probably know it as the Rubik’s Cube.

After more than twenty years from its inception, I met my first cube while lazily wandering in a department store. It was standing there, shiny, glowing, untouched, on a tiny pedestal, not really fit for its real glory.

We met, and I adopted it, flipping it through my fingers without any specific technique, just for the sake of seeing it mutate at every move. I knew full well that there was nothing magic about it, and I trusted my ability to dominate its secrets.

At first, I tried to reverse engineer it, but it didn’t work out, so it ended up sitting on a shelf, hoping it would solve by itself. Then, a few months later, while dusting that shelf once again, I resolved to apply a more solid methodology to it: Google.

I downloaded a step-by-step guide, and two weeks of daily practice later, I knew that guide by heart. A year later, I was fast enough to solve any position in less than 90 seconds, which is the average time between two tube stations in London, Vienna, or Paris. 

The real fun started when my cube and I started traveling the world together. 

We’ve all seen travelers on public transportation staring at their phones. Still, wonder ensues when we see a popular toy from almost 40 years ago being scrambled and solved at light-speed in between two stations of a subway train.

It might be the retro flair, the magnetic look of a multi-colored plastic puzzle, or the irresistible attraction for someone else’s business, but the Rubik’s cube attracts more stares than flowers attract bees.

My cube isn’t a one-trick pony. It doesn’t just glow underground; it’s an ace in the air too. We can be chilling out in an airport lounge, taxiing on the tarmac, or waiting in line at any checkpoint in the world; if the “Magic Cube,” pops out of my pocket, we’ll catch other people’s eyes, and might strike up a chat too.

Some people feel compelled to tell me how much they hated that toy when they were young because their friends were good at it, but they weren’t. Others want to see if I can solve it or if I’m struggling with it.

Once, someone asked me if I had bought it at the duty-free shop because it would have made the perfect gift for their son once they were getting home from that long business trip.

But no matter where, and no matter what, I will always get “the question.”

It’s the question people have asked me the most: “what’s the trick to solve it?”.

Should I tell them the truth? That it’s just about learning a sequence, an algorithm, and obsessively applying it to the letter until the puzzle is solved? Shall I tell them that’s just about practice, that you go from 15 minutes down to 90 seconds?

The first few times, I tried to tell the truth, only to see the light dim in my new friend’s eyes. 

Then it hit me – when they ask that question, people don’t want the truth; they want something extraordinary, inspiring, and wonderful. They believe there is a well-kept secret about it, they want to catch that classified piece of information, and join the club of the cube solvers.

However, the cube and I are in the business of killing time, not in the business of shattering dreams, so I made the resolution of being gracious with strangers.

I now answer: “It’s magic; I have no idea how it works; it just happens.”

I wink, they smile, and we part ways.


This essay is the first assignment of Write of Passage, a cohort-based online writing course I’m attending.
This piece is a remix of a previous article on this blog, which I translated and reworked. I want to thank a few people who helped me edit my initial draft, and provided valuable feedback during the creative process: AAkash Gupta, Alexandra Zamora, Chris Wong, Christin Chong, Danny Oak, Ellen Muench, Joojo Ocran, Nico Choksi.

The opposite of noise

A few years ago, I was writing on this blog. Very often, let’s say, at least once a day. At that time, blogs were a few platforms where ordinary people could publish their thoughts without incurring unnecessary costs. For the first time ever, your journal was coming out from the depth of that drawer, projected out there into the world, available to everyone.

I moved my website to WordPress in 2006. That was one of the few platforms that allowed complete control of your content, publishing your website on a cheap hosting somewhere, and pretty much put you out there. 

There were groups of people who were interacting a lot, and there were a few tools, which allowed to build the first blogging communities. Tools like MyBlogLog, a little widget on the sidebar that showed who visited the blog in the previous 24 hours, helped make blogging a little more addictive.

Feedburner allowed you to take the RSS feed from your blog and then syndicate your content in many different ways, from emails to social channels. Feedburner was also keeping stats of the daily views of your feed, creating a sort of celebrity contest about who was hot and who was not.

At that time, I didn’t know many people online. I didn’t have a professional network at all.

When I started writing every day, I was commenting on the news and everything trending on that day. I didn’t actually have a plan.

But something unexpected happened; people started writing back commenting on my blog posts. It also happened that they were writing on their own blogs referencing me as the source of their thoughts.

This was primarily happening because we wanted to grow our page rank on Google. It was a good practice to link others so they would reciprocate at some point.

It was pretty easy to position yourself on Google through this intricate system of reciprocal links. 

At the beginning of 2007, events around blogs started to happen. In Italy, we went from minor local events to larger ones attracting people from all over the country.

I made a lot of friends back then. Friends who are still my friends right now.

What I most regret about the latest years is giving away our position in favor of services that felt easier to use to build our social networks.

Social networking sites have a clear advantage in distributing inflammatory content, creating a more polarised information consumption.

In recent years, I decided not to engage in online conversations, especially when they were happening on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, because I thought that getting myself involved somehow supported the distribution of inflammatory content.

But more recently, after long thoughts and reflections, I reconsidered. If I consider all of these inflammatory discussions as noise, I need to contribute to the opposite of noise.

The opposite of noise is not silence.

The opposite of noise is signal.

As you might have guessed, I’m trying to revive this blog.

I’m not making promises, but if you stay tuned, you’ll read more frequent and deeper content from now on.

I never really understood people who were signing their blogposts, but I feel about ending this post with:

Yours Truly.

Surrealismo bancario

Per ragioni professionali avevo bisogno di aprire un nuovo conto corrente, quindi molto ingenuamente, ieri sono andato alla banca.

Era una piccola filiale di un gruppo bancario molto grande, probabilmente il piú grande in Italia (credo).

Ho parcheggiato l’auto e con molta difficoltà ho risalito la rampa che giungeva all’ingresso, facendomi strada tra i rami del cespuglio che bloccavano il passaggio.

La porta blindata era troppo piccola per far passare il passeggino, quindi ho suonato e dopo qualche istante mi hanno aperto la porta di sicurezza a lato per farmi entrare.

Ho atteso che un signore finisse un’operazione allo sportello e mi sono affacciato all’impiegato dall’altra parte dei 3 schermi di plexiglass che ci separavano.

“Buongiorno, vorrei aprire un conto corrente”

“Aprire un contro corrente?” mi ha risposto sbigottito, come se avessi chiesto 3 etti di prosciutto cotto.

“Ma ha un appuntamento?” mi ha chiesto.

“No, non sapevo servisse un appuntamento” ho risposto io.

“Un momento che chiamo il direttore” ha aggiunto l’impiegato.

Dopo pochi secondi, la stessa persona che mi aveva aperto la porta, si é presentata come la direttrice della filiale, e mi ha detto:

“Deve aprire un contro corrente? Ma serve un appuntamento!”

E io: “beh, non lo sapevo, posso prenderlo adesso questo appuntamento?”

E lei: “eh, ma aprire un conto porta via un’ora, un’ora emmezza, quindi serve un appuntamento, e non so neanche per quando sia possibile!”

Io: “non sa quando sia possibile aprire il conto, o quando sia possibile prendere l’appuntamento?”

Sguardo confuso di entrambi, cinque secondi di silenzio.

Poi mi dice: “Guardi, questa é una filiale da due persone, mentre quella del paesello a fianco, é di quattro persone. Le do il numero di telefono dell’altra filiale, che forse riescono a darle un appuntamento loro. Comunque consideri un’ora, un’ora emmezza per aprire un contro corrente.”

Mi ha allungato un post-it giallo con sopra un numero di telefono scritto a mano e ha aggiunto:

“Oppure lo apra da solo online, ci mette 10 minuti”.

Ho ringraziato e mi ha accompagnato alla porta.

Nel salutarla le ho detto: “faccia venire un giardiniere, la rampa é completamente invasa dai rami, se dovesse passare qualcuno con limitata mobilità farebbe molta fatica a salire.”

Sospirando mi ha risposto: “eh… lo so, lo so”.

Poi sono andato a casa ed effettivamente in dieci minuti ho aperto il conto corrente online, e dopo neanche un’ora avevo gia l’IBAN per ricevere pagamenti, e la mia nuova carta di credito é gia stata spedita.

Il conto l’ho aperto con un’altra banca.

One down

Today I got my first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

What a day!

It feels like we have been stuck in this deadlock since forever but in reality, we were able, as human specie, to pull off a vaccine against an unknown disease in a year, and then we organized the distribution.

I just wish richer countries were better at helping the ones in need, because we need to get out of this swamp all together as a humankind.

The path to become a competent man

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert Heinlein

Today I turn 41, and since my last birthday I’ve developed new abilities. I now score 16 out of 21 skills needed to be a competent man, according to Robert Heinlein’s poem.

Kayaking

Today we went kayaking through the Laguna di Marano. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too chilly. It was sunny but not scorching.

We paddled for almost 7 kilometers and we did a little bit of bird watching.

I had never been kayaking until a couple years ago when we went for a tour in the Abel Tasman reserve in New Zealand.

It was when, at the age of 38 I asked myself why I never had the courage to try such nice activities like exploring, multi-day hiking, and kayaking.

Today, after a year inside four walls, it was really good to get in touch with nature.

I’m so tired I can barely walk to bed. It was awesome.

The Wire

For the last few weeks we have been knocking down a couple of episodes of “The Wire” every night, before going to sleep.

There are shows that work so well even after more than a decade, and others that don’t age well.

I’d watch Parks and Rec every day, and The Office too. Game of Thrones? Nah…

Another great one is Bosch. I love that one. I look forward to watching the 7th season, premiering on 2021-06-25.