I define brilliance as the ability to create something extraordinary out of what seems to be eminently ordinary to everyone else. Can you imagine the first person who decided to tie sticks together to make them easier to carry? Until then, who hadn't seen a vine bind up trees? So many "inventions" are right there in front of us, and it takes a moment of brilliant insight to see how to put the pieces together the right way.
I bought a bike this year to get around a parking lot-poor campus a bit more quickly as I work on my graduate degree. At times I'm running a few minutes late, and biking from my parking spot makes a 15 minute walk into a 5-7 minute sprint on a bike. I wasn't going to be using my bike every day (meaning it was going to be sitting for days at a time), so I didn't want to bring in my shocked-up, mid-range mountain bike. Off to Wal-Mart for a $50 special nobody would ever think of stealing. Right?
Imagine my surprise here at the end of the semester when I walk up to the bike rack and notice among the score of locked bikes *not* that my bike's gone, but that its front wheel had been stolen! What the heck?! The bike itself is a piece of relative junk (the seat stopped working after about two weeks and the brakes don't really stop me anymore). Why would anyone steal a wheel that's not even "quick-release"? For the amount of dough you'd get for that wheel, you'd've been better off (and would've risked less) panhandling. Nobody would put that wheel on a nice enough bike they'd be paying top dollar for wheels.
I took the front tire off of my "real" bike this morning to lend to my Wal-Mart special, and as I walked up to the now nearly empty rack (it's a weekend) all was clear. Sitting next to my front-wheel-less bike was -- you guessed it -- a bikeless-front-wheel. Brilliant. This was not the safe dorm rack that I normally use for long-term stays, so I can't say when the would-be larcenist came on the scene s/he didn't have two bikes begging to be combined this way, but it's really pretty smart. Take the top off of an expensive bike that's [for now] inexplicably attached only by the front wheel, steal the defenseless front wheel from the Wal-Mart special, bike off, and profit.
Even better, I notice today that as I try to lock up my lock around my bike's frame and front wheel (it's a nice one this time, after all), I can't. It's not long enough (it's one of those 8" u-bolt thingamahbobs). But you can give yourself the optical illusion of having tied 'em both up by putting the lock through the front wheel and around the fork which, as you may have already guessed (good guesser by now), means *only your front wheel* is locked down. Ha! It's a continual vortex. Either you use the u-bolt and expose your front wheel (or everything but!) or you buy a cable lock that can wrap around the frame and wheel, but be easily cut by cable cutters, releasing the whole bike. Or you have to use two locks, which for whatever reason is too annoying for me and apparently anyone else to consider (at least until I lose another wheel). It's a great system.
Programming is a place where brilliance counts. You can create infrastructure essentially from time and thin air, and, if good enough, you can do better than Rumplestiltskin's spinning hay into gold. If you can find a new way to put two seemingly unrelated widgets together the right way, the gains in efficiency can be outstanding. This among other reasons is why it's very hard to pay or judge programmers based on lines of code created or what-have-you. There just isn't a good barometer for utils of brilliance, much less consistency of brilliance, other than perhaps, in our society, how much dough you can bring in *today*.
I may have mentioned taking a test in Pascal years ago where we had two "essay" questions where a task was presented and you had to, within constraints, make a program to fit. After taking this exam, I remember talking with the student who'd been consistently making the highest grades as we tried to figure out the best way to solve the questions. He'd beaten my socks off in the first, but in the second I'd been able to figure out a way to use recursion to make the answer a one-liner. Now I'm not going to argue that recursion is automatic brilliance, far from it. Sometimes loops o' recursion are, as you know, no more than instant memory lock and the apparent death of your user's operating system. But in this case, a quick, bright flash of insight made for a very elegant solution.
Yay for me.
At any rate, I wish the fellow whose bike was stolen would unlock that wheel and give it to me, as I doubt s/he would want my frame. Or at least when the 5-0 find the stolen bike at the pawn shop, I hope they contact me to give me my wheel back!
posted by ruffin
at 11/20/2004 02:04:00 PM