Three Impossible Things

I am sharing three examples of things that I was impressed to find existing. As they exist, they are clearly not impossible; a more accurate word might be inconceivable. Until I came across them, I had no conception of this stuff, and learning about them simply makes me glad. It also reminds me not to assume that something’s impossible just because I’d never heard about it.

Drilling a square hole

It turns out that you can drill a square hole, if you use a drill bit that’s based on a Reuleaux triangle and mount it on a special chuck. Such a thing was built by a guy called Harry Watts in 1914 and apparently you can still get them from the Watts Brothers Tool Works. The resulting hole has slightly rounded corners for practical reasons, but it still has four straight edges at 90 degrees to each other.

Assemble “Stonehenge” without a crane

A retired carpenter has shown on his site how he was able to assemble two vertical pieces and a capping piece (a la Stonehenge) by himself and without a crane. He also demonstrates some techniques that might have been used to move heavy stones in ancient times for other projects. Exactly how they did this will be a mystery, since they didn’t document it and aren’t around anymore, but it’s interesting to see simple techniques that would have made it straightforward.

Sharing a cake fairly

Of course, it’s easy to share a piece of cake two ways, while maintaining fairness (or “envy free”, i.e. no one feels someone else has a bigger piece) – one cuts, the other chooses. But, how to do it for more than two people? Well, in 1995, Brams and Taylor published a procedure for sharing between any number of people, involving cutting more pieces than necessary and taking turns trimming them. Assuming the people involved understand the proof, they should be happy that a fair distribution of the cake has been made, even if they each risk ending up with multiple pieces of different sizes.

Facebook Movie Review

In the lead-up to having our second child, we are getting in some things that will be harder to do once there’s a newborn around. So, about a week ago, thanks to our baby-sitting neighbour, we got out to see a movie together.

We are fans of Aaron Sorkin‘s oeuvre, with the box sets of both The West Wing and Sports Night in our TV cabinet. Since he’d been out here in Australia spruiking his new film recently, and that was its opening night, the choice of what to see was pretty simple.

The Social Network

A tale of friendship and betrayal with a lot of geeky detail mixed in

This is a film that follows the Sorkin model. Sports Night had rapid-fire technical sport talk, West Wing had a thousand-words-a-minute political speak, and The Social Network has a firehose of geek speak and technical computer detail. But in none of those cases did it really limit your understanding of the plot, and on the contrary, it does at least make you feel smart.

It also doesn’t hurt that the movie is well cast and acted, and dialogue is clever and humorous. Because it’s based on a true story, you already know how it will end – Facebook will be a success – but the tale isn’t about Facebook, so much as the interesting bunch of people who were around in the early days of the social networking website, and the roles they played in bringing it about.

Perhaps these characters are as much the social network of the title as the website. They are excellent fodder for Sorkin’s script and part of the enjoyment for me was in the fleshing-out of the characters as the film progressed.

While Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t get a particularly favourable presentation in the movie, his friend Eduardo Saverin is treated very sympathetically. Still, Zuckerberg is presented in a way that allows us to feel that we can almost understand him and what has driven him to become the billionaire and social media titan that he is today.

Another aspect that comes across well is the excitement and craziness that comes from being in a high-growth start-up. This is another thing Sorkin is good at capturing, whether it is the crazy cultures of the armed forces, top-tier politics or TV journalism. In this case, it helps explain the lure of why people would want to join a start-up (despite the high risk and long hours).

So, while this isn’t a truly great movie, it was a very interesting one. Especially so as the influence of the Facebook social network continues to grow in our lives. By getting a perspective on the early days of this service, it helps in understanding the changes Facebook is undergoing.

Rating by andrew: 3.5 stars