Thursday, April 28, 2005

Behold! The power of chess.

I have discovered the reason that I don't study chess more intensely. My desire to be a better player is tempered by my fear of losing my marbles. Yeah. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Charles Krauthammer has an article in the most recent Time talking about the connection between madness and chess greatness. It's somewhat serious, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. His conclusion? Chess won't drive you mad. Probably. An interesting read. I discovered that Natan Sharansky (the Russian dissident) is an outstanding chess player and once even played Kasparov to a draw (according to Krauthammer, I can't find it at ChessGames).

Linked from

Fun with maps

Over in the Corner yesterday they had some links to some geography games that are pretty fun. Some European games here and there are others on the site that are pretty easy to find. It makes learning fun!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A plaything for an idle minute

An interesting little toy. Not actually useful for much, but interesting nonetheless.

Ziggy Must Go

Ziggy is not funny. Ziggy has never been funny. Ziggy will never be funny. Which leads us to the ineveitable conclusion: Ziggy must go.

Monday, April 18, 2005

You look down and see a tortoise, Leon.

Found something that talked about an automated Turing Test (a test that assesses whether the one being tested is human or a computer) that is currently one of the best. It's used by e-mail providers such as Yahoo! to make sure that a spam bot isn't signing up for the address. (Follow the link above for an example.) So far, people working on AI problems haven't been able to solve this particular problem, but their attempts have helped make great strides in text-recognition software that makes the scanning of texts into computers easer and more accurate.

Sophocles, Euripides and Archilochos

An interesting article about a new way of using technology to decipher documents almost entirely destroyed by the passage of time. And they're already raving about what they have found so far. Though I have not actually read that many of the "classics" yet myself, I still think it's a pretty grand thing that we may well have more of Sophocles plays and such like.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

You don't have to talk about it.

Turns out there is more evidence that some people just don't need to talk about their problems with other people. A new book is out, One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance, that has yet more evidence that (for some of us) talking about our grief or trauma just doesn't help. Beyond that, it also points out that for someone who doesn't want to talk about their problems, being made to do so can be counter-productive.
In a Montreal study, heart-attack victims with a repressive coping style -- i.e., they just don't want to talk about it -- who received monthly phone calls to monitor their psychological distress became more psychologically distressed. They were more likely to visit the emergency room or be prescribed tranquilizers than repressors who were left (blessedly) alone.
I've discussed this before here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

M's Baseball

They had dropped out of first place, but they are 5-4 now and back tied for first! True, true, we're only 8 games into the season, but that's no reason not to be hopeful. Oddly enough, Seattle's pitching seems to be doing a better job than their hitting. 5th in the AL in team ERA so far.

Call the SEC! Um, I mean the BSEC.

Over at Blog Shares, I discovered an oddity that has damped my spirits considerably regarding the game they run. If you check the Monthly Best list you'll note that the player at (or perhaps near because it changes day to day) the top is Jim Cortina. Don't know him from Adam, as the saying goes. Probably an upright, honest and honourable man. But be that as it may, he has profited enormously this month at Blog Shares. The man must be a genius, he's over B$5bil. I've been at this for a month and I'm only around B$25mil. So what's his secret? Let's look at some details.

From his profile page (linked above via his name) we see that (as of 04/11/05) he has "B$1,102.43 in 1 blogs". Wow. That's odd. How then has he come by B$5bil+ in 11 days? Let's look at his transactions. And this is even odder. As of the 11th of April, 2005 Jim has exactly three transactions. Numbered 8701137, 8701212, and 8702355. The first and third are the ones that interest me. Jim has bought B$1.56 worth of a blog called Cleric One. (Actual blog is here, NOTE: I have not visited it and know nothing about it.) He then sold some or all of his shares in Cleric One in that third transaction and received B$5,000,000,000.00. Way to go Jim! Let's look at the recent transactions for that blog and find Jim's purchase and sale.

Here (fourth heading down) it is. And here is where all the oddness gets so dense as to be totally perplexing. Jim bought one share of Cleric One at 10:48 09 Apr 2005. He then sold that one share at 13:13 09 Apr 2005. Jim made B$5bil on one share bought and sold within two and a half hours. (Eat your heart out Hilary Clinton!) Well, with a price jump like that the other shareholders must be really doing well. Wait, no, the stock price at the time of Jim's sale was only B$2.53 and it didn't change after his sale (sixth heading down the page). Not only is his profit mind-bogglingly large in the face of the share prices not changing and that he only bought and sold one share, but he was able to evade the time restraints. In the Help section it clearly states
BlogShares marketplace limits the ability of players to make a rapid succession of buys and sells on the same blog.

Successive Buys OR Sells
You must wait 20 minutes between two purchases or two sells in the same blog.

Buy then Sell OR Sell then Buy
You must wait 6 hours between a purchase and a sell in the same blog. Players selling shares must also wait 6 hours prior to purchasing shares in the same blog.
I don't wish to seem like I'm picking on Jim. For all I know, he could just be an innocent bystander who was the unwitting beneficiary of a strange bug. But I have noticed that this bug is widespread enough to affect several people in the top ten "Best Players" each month, and similarly about 90% of the top 15 or 20 seem to be making their money all with one or two blogs. Moreover, they all seem to have been given princely gifts of large numbers of very valuable shares as soon as they sign up as Blog Shares members.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

You are serving the greater good!

At the risk of turning my blog into a forum for an inter-family flame war, I'll respond to my brother-in-law's response to my goading.

You're not building it just for me, but for all the great mass of humanity that visits your site. Everyone, young and old, friend and stranger, shy and bold will be able to make use of a comments feature to provide you with valuable, nay, invaluable commentary and constructive criticism. How you have managed to hold back from adding comments for so long is truly the question that will plague scholars for ages yet to come.

Noted passings and some other thoughts.

Once again, I'm behind the curve. I'm several days late noting the passing of Pope John Paul II. I'm not Catholic, nor was I particularly enamoured with the Pope for any other reason. But I am pleased that there was such an orthodox Pope for such a length of time.

Also, I found out today that Saul Bellow died. I've never read anything by Saul Bellow, but he was a novelist of some note. Winner of both a Nobel and a Pulitzer he was accounted one of the best American novelists of the 20th century. Which got me to wondering. How do other people decide what to read? How do you set your priorities in regard to your time available for reading versus all the books you want to read? Periodically I tell myself that I should just stop watching movies or playing games on my computer or something similar and devote that time to my reading. I do for a couple weeks and then I usually slide back.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ah, Spring!

Baseball is here again! And the Mariners are in first place! (However briefly that may last.) And, as hoped for in the previous post, Randy Johnson did win, though Pay-Rod is striking out at a much lower rate than hoped for.

Why everybody hates you.

Not you, dear reader, unless of course your name is Alex Rodriguez and you play for the New York Yankees. I don't think he's a regular reader, but one never knows with the internet, does one?

In all seriousness, however, this article does a good job of breaking down why it is exactly that Pay-..., I mean A-Rod, comes in for such criticism and dislike from just about everybody.
Few thought of him as disingenuous until he bolted the Mariners in December 2000 for a record 10-year, $252 million contract with the Rangers. After three last-place finishes, Rodriguez politicked his way to the East Coast, landing with the Yankees, baseball's most storied franchise, after a trade to the Red Sox fell through.
And though Rodriguez has said
"You can't take three or four guys and say, 'Well, that's the notion of what this guy is all about,' " Rodriguez says. "You've got to go deep into former teammates, former managers and do your homework if you want to come up with what someone is all about. Former trainers. Former clubhouse kids. It just can't be whoever you choose to talk to and create a story."
even this doesn't seem to save him. Criticism from former teammates make up a large part of the article.
During Rodriguez's tenure with the Rangers, he occasionally would make like a Little League coach, shouting basic instructions at his younger teammates. "Get a secondary lead!" he would yell to a runner on first. "Get a secondary lead!" After Rodriguez left the team, one prominent American League veteran asked a younger Ranger with a chuckle, "How are you even able to play without A-Rod telling you what to do?"
I remember hoping last year that Rodriguez would be an albatross around the neck of the Yankers, and (seemingly) so it proved. They blew a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox and didn't make the World Series. But this year, I'm conflicted because Randy Johnson has been added to the Yankers roster and I'd like to see him do well despite playing for the Evil Empire. So here's hoping that A-Rod strikes out every at-bat, and the Yankees only win on days that Randy takes the mound.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

To DVD, or not to DVD? That is the question.

I finished watching (over a couple of days) Kevin Kline's adaptation of Hamlet. It wasn't bad, though to cut the length down to a mere three hours there was much editing and sometimes even whole scenes had to be left by the wayside. (Polonius' conversation with Reynaldo, for example. Which is a pity, because that is a fun scene.) The actress who played Ophelia left quite a bit to be desired, especially during Ophelia's mad scene where she was most unconvincing. Horatio was well-played, though a bit understated, Claudius was a little weak in spots, but the Gertrude was just about right. Kline as Hamlet was good, though the best performance I have seen is still Kenneth Branagh.

Which is a too bad in the regard that it is not available on DVD. However, when I was looking these things up at Amazon, I ran across a review that linked to this. If true, it is marvelous news. I cannot wait to collect a copy. If you haven't seen it, do so even if it means watching it on VHS. Be warned, it is a full-text version and thus it is just about 4 hours long. There is an intermission, but I urge you to watch it in as close to one sitting as you can manage. It is a beautiful play wonderfully filmed. Jack Lemmon strikes one the few false notes right at the beginning, so don't let that put you off.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Excerpt #2

The art of northern Europe during the last part of the Middle Ages is among the most satisfying ever produced by man, and for three reasons. First, it exudes faith: it is created by and for people who believed in God, and the existence, terrors and hopes of the afterlife as unquestioningly as they expected night to follow day. Secondly, this did not prevent them from embracing the business of life...with all the energy and cunning they could command. And, thirdly, they artists responded to this duality, which they shared, by presenting the divine and miraculous as actual events, but decking them out with as much worldly detail as they could cram into their space. (p. 189)

Book excerpt

I'm currently reading Art: A New History by Paul Johnson, and it's pretty good. It's also rather long, so I don't know if I'll finish before it has to go back to the library. But because it's rather long, I decided that I should do some excerpts from it like I did when I was reading War and Peace way back in the day. Two excerpts, one with comments from yours truly, the other without comment.

"For the true intent of their cunning designers to be realised these [buildings] need to be seen," Okay, that's fair enough. But then he continues, "and their rich colouring enjoyed, under a hot sun;" And again, okay, I can accept that. But wait, there's more, "indeed their warmth should be felt by hand and the smell of their baked tile and brick eagerly sniffed up." (p. 108) Okay, that's just weird. And this is a common theme. He often talks about how you can't truly appreciate Greek architecture until you've visited temples in Sicily, Greece, Ionia, etc. I understand how it is probably always better to see a work of art in person rather than through photographs or video, but there doesn't seem to be any realisation that the average person can't just jaunt off to Munich to see a particularly fine example of Greek pottery or what have you.

In many places Johnson levels criticism at a particular work of art on the basis that it regresses. That it is something done; it is old, tired, clich├ęd and better represented elsewhere. Again, I think he fails to realise that not everyone is able to jaunt around the world the way he does, and certainly early artists and patrons would have found it at least as difficult as many modern people. A lack of knowledge by a Byzantine artist is not to be condemned in the same way that a lack of knowledge should be condemned in artist of the current times.