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Life Lessons^3

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Author: Evan Gates
Written as a college entrance essay in 2004 or 2005.

The following began on the night of October 19th 2003. I was at my grandmother’s house for my cousin’s 17th birthday. The atmosphere was cheery, and the room was loud, as it often is when the whole family is together. Getting distracted from the event at hand, I decided to take part in a little sibling rivalry. My brother and I took turns on my grandmother’s stationary bike, watching the RPM, seeing who could go faster. The bike had moving handlebars which could be used in place of the pedals, which of course led to a hands only competition. My brother pushed and pulled his way to 73 RPM; then it was my turn. I hopped on and started up. As my arms pumped like pistons, the RPM meter rose. The speed shot up to 20, 30, 40, 50 RPM and continued to rise up past 60, 70, 80 RPM. At 93 RPM, disaster struck. Due to the torque of my upper body as I fought with the handles, my bare right foot slipped, and fell into the path of the pedal. The pedal struck my heel and violently jammed my toes into the foot peg.

A trip to the emergency room revealed a broken foot and broken hopes of playing football any more that season. To the untrained observer, this event may seem to be an act of stupidity followed by the deserved punishment. But Winston Churchill said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” And perhaps Dale Carnegie put it better in his well known quotation “When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” In actuality, this event started me on my most intriguing journey to date.

A day or two later, while surfing the web and chatting with friends, I came across a video of someone not only solving the Rubik’s cube, but doing so in under 20 seconds. I have a profound interest in mathematics and computer science, so the idea of the world’s greatest puzzle intrigued me, and I followed up by getting a Rubik’s cube of my own. Sadly, I followed the path of most first time cubists, and got fed up with the cube after a couple of days. After a quick search on Google, I found a few simple and a few not-so-simple solutions to the Rubik’s cube online. I added the sites to my favorites, and then went to sleep for the night. The next day was a school football game. Because I was confined to the bench for the rest of the season, I brought my cube along for the twelve hour journey. During this time I began to understand the basics of the Rubik’s cube. I became highly proficient at following the directions on how to solve the cube. After a day or two more, I was solving the cube without the aid of an instruction sheet, taking about three minutes to do so. The addiction had begun.

From that day until the present I have been on a never ending quest for speed, learning more algorithms (sets of moves which produce a desired effect on the Rubik’s cube) and different solutions, working my way up. I have attended several official Rubik’s cube competitions, including the 2004 US national championships, in which I placed 15th out of the 47 cubists who attended. Currently my personal best time is 17.63 seconds.

Now as if one time and life consuming hobby isn’t enough fun, try combining it with another. This was the basic theory behind my 2004 science project. I’m fanatical about the Rubik’s cube, passionate about programming, and fervent about robotics. So what type of diabolical scheme can you come up with that combines all three? That’s right, the world’s fastest Rubik’s cube solving robot. My inspiration came from another video I had recently seen. Originally, I was planning on building a robot with the same basic design as in the video, but I wasn’t content with the speed, or lack thereof, at which this design solved the Rubik’s cube, and I didn’t want to be able to beat my own robot. So I went about designing something radically different and ended up with an 18 inch Plexiglas cube that looks like something out of Star Trek. The robot controlled my life for about two months, over the course of which I wrote the code for it, built it, and tuned it into a lean mean cube solving machine. It can now beat the current world record holder and averages only 11.46 seconds per solve. The robot took me to the California State Science Fair and led me to create my own website ( It is also unofficially the fastest cube solving robot in the world, as there has not yet been an official event for robots.

In the end, I was able to turn a negative experience into a positive one. I set a goal for myself, pursued it, and enjoyed the journey as well as the destination. Although I have not become the fastest in the world, my robot has, and I can solve the Rubik’s cube more quickly than I ever thought possible. Although Churchill and Carnegie provide timeless words of wisdom, perhaps the most memorable are the immortal words of my mother who has repeated time and time again, “Always wear shoes while using gym equipment.”


Written by macky

December 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm