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What do you suspect?
Thursday, February 28, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Every time I have to install some IDE thingie, I remember why USB is so popular.

Continuing the frenzy of geekish acquisition inspired by visiting Dad and playing with some of his toys, I've ordered a plausible-looking scanner from Amazon; we've been saying ever since we got the digital camera that we really need a CD-burner (to store all those digital pictures on) and a scanner (to make digital versions of all the old-style analog prints that we have). So the scanner is On The Way.

True to my unshakable principles of careful consumer research, I stopped into Office Max after dropping the little daughter off at ballet last night, and after talking geek-talk to the computer-frobs guy for a few minutes, bought some random cheap CD burner. Actually bought it at a physical store, and drove it home myself!

It cost me about half what I expected to pay (assuming the Manufacturer's Rebate thing actually works), and I got it working in about a fifth the time I expected it to take. I opened up the Aptiva in the playroom (for the very first time), and diddled with jumpers and IDE cables and power plugs and stuff for awhile (with great assistance from the cat, who had to rub his chin against all these previously unknown objects), and when I put it all back together and turned on the power, it worked! Astounding.

So far I've burned two CD's: one with the 600MB of pictures that I took in the first six days of owning the camera (way back when), and another with like 150MB of mostly all of the digital pictures we have from our entire lives before then (those few that we used Mystic's diskette and CD processing options for).

The only glitch at all so far has been that the Aptiva's little door doesn't close properly, because a decorative shelf on the inside of the door bunks against a decorative bulge on the face of the CD burner. But with the aid of some tin snips and a little whirring rotary tool, that problem was basically solved (now someday I have to solve the "the computer looks like someone's been working on it with tin snips and a little whirring rotary tool" problem).

And soon the scanner will come, and the Linksys router thing, and the DSL connection, and, and, and...

I'm such a geek.

Today in Tic-Tac-Toe: readers who aren't quite clear on the concept write:

I suspect that a tic tac toe portal site would be really very silly.

I suspect some elaborate tic-tac-toe gag/joke. It'll probably take less than half a page of code to play it perfectly, every time.

This strikes me as more anti-tic-tac-toe bias. I mean consider: there are nine places on the board, and each place can be either empty, X, or O. So the number of possible board positions is three to the ninth power, which is, well, a rather large number. It's nearly a thousand times the number of chromosomes in the human genome; given the huge amount of computing power that's being devoted to the problems of human genetics and protein folding, you can imagine how much computing power it would take to "play it perfectly"!

People so often underestimate the difficulty of programming problems.

Fleischer v Garuda

A reader more On The Bus expands on our reference to a classic [EDGE] game the other day:

Ah, Fleischer v. Garuda! [EDGE]-[OPPO CORNER], [ADJ CORNER]-[BLOCK], [BLOCK]-resigns. Magical.

Indeed. You can almost smell the blood in the air!

And finally, Lance Nathan points out a very good Tic Tac Toe column that once ran in The Atlantic. Readers planning to write to their own favorite newspapers and magazines in favor of tic-tac-toe features might cite this column as an example.

Funny Thing O' the Day: Our Thing today comes from Rob Slade. I showed this to Steve while we were on a conference call this morning, and I will just say that it's a good thing we had the Mute button on: thispagecannotbedisplayed.com

Wednesday, February 27, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

The always excellent Bovine Inversus (who would definitely be on my list of sites to read every day if it was actually updated on most days, herm herm) continues the project of rehabilitating neglected games by offering (in the entry for Monday the 25th) "A Critical Examination of the Classic 'Rock' Opening" in rock / paper / scissors. Equally excitingly, we are referred to the site of The World Rock Paper Scissors Society, which takes the game very seriously indeed.

Our own plans for a massive worldwide tic-tac-toe portal site are becoming firmer with each passing moment.

Here's a link that would definitely be on that portal: an online computer tic-tac-toe game that actually seems to be able to beat (or at least draw) a moderately skilled human player nearly half the time. I had no idea that computer tic-tac-toe algorithms were so advanced. (It does tend to flounder somewhat if taken out of book too early in the opening, but that's a common failing.)

Named for animals: from WordURL, the rather cool reindeer.com, and the extremely frightening anaconda.com.

I am trying to forget the very nicely done Win32 version of Conway's Life that Dad showed me while we were down visiting him. It's bad enough that I spend hours in a virtual neighborhood in The Sims (remind me to tell you about Harry Zoom sometime); I could easily spend more hours in the completely unhuman virtual world of Life.

(Actually maybe the Sims is worse; which is less human: a trivial simulation of a human, or an obviously inorganic formal mathematical system? Not that "less human" means "worse" in any universal sense...)

Give the gift of Enron stock! Someday these will be collectors' items.


What the heck is this image doing in my referer log? (Or anywhere else, for that matter?)

So many many minutes ago California had this stupid rule that electricity had to be bought on the spot market, and when the market spiked (as the electriticy market has always spiked) there was this Big Crisis. To help fix things, California signed various longer term electricity contracts, so big spikes in the price wouldn't cause crises.

Now the price of electricity has gone way down (as it has always done now and then), and California is suing to break the contracts.

Words fail.

I think I know what the problem with the world is. The problem with the world is that all those grown-ups who were in charge of things when I was growing up have retired, and now the world is run by the people I went to college with, people whose idea of deep intellectual activity is getting blind drunk and standing in the middle of the road at three in the morning with your underwear on your head, scowling belligerently through the leg-holes and bellowing Saturday Night Live dialogue at the top of your lungs.

Which was really good practice, apparently, for regulating the electricity industry in California.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Did everyone catch the Olympic Closing Ceremonies on Sunday? Wasn't that some show? I did notice a few minor flaws in the production:

  1. At one point the symbolism of the performance came dangerously close to comprehensibility (it was saved at the last moment by the appearance of several lycra-clad people, each dangling in a breeches-buoy below a spherical white hot-air balloon).
  2. Due to what were no doubt technical glitches, a few of the performers were not shooting streams of multicolored sparks from every bodily orifice.
  3. During the song "I Have Sex Much More Often Than You Do", part of Christina Aguilera's mons veneris was briefly obscured by her costume, momentarily depriving the international television audience of its fundamental right to view the exposed pubic regions of young women during all serious sporting events.
But otherwise I'd say it all went quite well, as incredibly expensive displays of extremely questionable taste go.

As some of you may have guessed, we spent the last week in Florida, visiting Dad (well, we spent half the time visiting Dad, and half the time driving some 2200 miles at high speed). It was great fun, and the experience of sitting in Dad's living room talking wirelessly to the Net at DSL speeds finally pushed me over the edge. We now have DSL on order from Verizon, and a bunch of stuff like a Linksys DSL/Wireless Router thing and associated cables and frobs from Amazon. In fifteen to twenty-one business days, I should be able to sit in my very own living room with the laptop, untethered by wires, surfing the Web for pictures of Christina Aguilera's mons veneris at DSL speed.

I wonder if this is a good idea?

So anyway the trip was great fun. The kids loved swimming at Rainbow Springs so much that we went there on two of the four and a half days that we spent with Dad. Swimming in 72°F water in February feels deliciously decadent. We also went to the Appleton Museum in Ocala, which was neat; despite being not that many minutes from NYC, we hardly ever get into the museums there. Museums (like zoos, come to think of it) are at least as much fun for the ambience as for the actual content; zoos have paths and decorations and rides and food-carts that are roughly as fun as the animals, and museums have marble walls and quiet echoey spaces and botanical food-gardens and mysterious niches that are roughly as fun as the art.

The little daughter and I took (part of) an Audio Tour of a couple of exhibits at the Appleton. When I was a kid Audio Tours were on clunky cassette players; today they are of course on tiny MP3 players (Intel ones, with teeny LCD displays and a USB port on the side). The tour was really designed for adults with three hours to kill, not for a little girl and her Dad who don't want to keep Mom and little brother and Grampa waiting too long (and who don't, for that matter, have a whole lot of patience with some guy trying to explain why a painting of a huge boulder sitting in a room is cool; I mean, it's pretty obvious, isn't it?).

The kids were real good on the trip, partly because they're real good kids, and partly because they were fully wired, with a Nintendo 64, a Gamecube, tons of games, a VHS player, tons of tapes, and tons of books and other old-fashioned stuff all crammed carefully into the back part of the car. So rather than being bored, they were actively reluctant to get to the end of the trip and back to the world of chores and school and stuff. (It's a Whole New World.)

A highlight of the trip down was the traditional New Jersey Speeding Ticket. (I took some pictures, but I seem to have left them in my other pants.) The officer was very nice, and wrote us up for like 74 in a 65 zone when in fact we were (I was) going like 86. We tried to stay within say 10 mph of the posted limit for most of the rest of the drive. *8)

A reader writes:

and thank you :NOT!: for the torture of those boiled peanuts!! man, i LOVE them...they are so nasty and GOOD. now i need to go south again. desperately.

I hope this reader was not offended by my morning-after second thoughts. Or perhaps that's the "nasty" part. I'll have to try them again sometime while they're still warm. Are you supposed to (allowed to), like, dry them off before you eat them, or anything?

A reader who apparently considers all French-looking phrases to be equivalent writes:

Unlike vengeance, then, boiled peanuts are poulet avec outre choses. Don't you think?

Hey, mordez-moi, y'know?

Possibly another reader writes:

I suspect that that tic-tac-toe bit was really very silly.

Hah! More flagrant anti-tic-tac-toe prejudice. Why do people have such little respect for the game? Is it because it is often played by children? Is it just because it has a sort of silly name? What if it were called "crevette" or "dalghot"? Would its virtues then be more rationally appreciated?

Alakov v Smythe

On the other hand, a reader of discerning taste sends along this example of one of the more distressing modern styles of play:

What about the smug post-modern opening [EDGE]? Its nihilistic flavor is best captured in the 17th game of the 1998 World Championship. Alakov as X opens [EDGE]?, showing his icy contempt for his opponent, for the game, for the world at large. Smythe as O valiantly attempts to seize the initiative with [CENTER]!, but after [ADJ CORNER]!!, must riposte with [BLOCK]. Now, like automatons, the players become puppets to the grander game. BLOCK-BLOCK-BLOCK, and now the game is hopelessly tangled, with no hope of resolution. Can the game rebound from this sort of bitter hostility at the highest levels?

I consider the more cynical brand of postmodernism (in tic-tac-toe as in, say, literary criticism) to be primarily a media phenomenon. It may get you into a few tournaments (it may even get you tenure), but in the broader sweep of history it will be seen as irrelevant, or at best amusing.

Now if you want to see a good traditionalist [EDGE] opening, look at Fleischer v. Garuda, Rome, 1957. There was a player that knew how to play for the win, not for some obscure point about the textuality of Being.

Man, we should do a whole tic-tac-toe portal site. It could be a life's work! Maybe once that DSL connection's working...

Monday, February 25, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

The kids and I have been playing a bit of tic-tac-toe lately, and it occurs to me that the game doesn't get much respect. I mean, you have chess books, and chess games with extensive commentary on the moves, and chess columns in newspapers, but do you see the same thing for tic-tac-toe? No! Now is that fair?

To help remedy this injustice, I present a sample column, as it might appear in your local paper, or even say the New York Times.

Crossed Nauts
by Staunton Howards

THIS WEEK: Back to the center; an inverted history of the hypermodern style

The [CENTER] opening, regarded as flat and unpromising during the "hypermodern" era of the 1980's and early 90's, has returned to respectability in the last few years, and is again part of the standard toolkit of every strong player.

In this week's column, we look at two games that illustrate this story. Our inverted history will go backward in time, starting with a [CENTER] game that was pivotal in the rehabilitation of the opening, and ending with an earlier game, from the height of the [CENTER]-denial of the hypermodern era.

[CENTER][EDGE]: Cusp v. Vermander, Munich, 1995

1. [CENTER] [EDGE] O's response almost sneers at the old-fashioned opening. Avoiding the standard [CORNER] reply, Vermander (a thoroughgoing hypermodernist) seems to say "thus I refute tradition".
2. [OP.CORNER] [BLOCK] X's solid development forces O to take a realist tack despite himself.
3. [BLOCK]! ... Neutralizes O's threat on the edge, and simultaneously opens two new lines of attack.
3. ... [CORNER] Probably the best that O can do in the circumstances.
4. [WINS]   A solid victory.

Although it would not be generally acknowledged for some years, this game was the beginning of the end for the hypermodern style. But what did that style look like at its peak? We will next consider one of the most determinedly [CENTER] avoiding hypermodern games in the record; note the utter contrast with Cusp Vermander above. Litov, one of the founders of the hypermodern movement, is at the height of his powers here.

Adjacent Corners: Litov v. Ciano, Minsk, 1983
2. [OP.CORNER]?! ... Hypermodern play can be incomprehensible to XXIst century players. The center, through its very emptiness, becomes a vortex of energy, around which the game swirls.
2. ... [BLOCK] O has no choice but to leave the center empty.
3. [CORNER]! ... A viscious corner Fiancetto.
3. ... [CENTER] Ironic that O can take the center only now, struggling to keep his head above water.
4. [WINS]    

After more than a decade of this sort of surreal play, is it any wonder that audiences breathed a sigh of relief when the cool logic of the [CENTER] opening returned to international tournament games?

In next week's column, we will look at the stolid conservative play that inspired the hypermodernist revolt: "Call it a draw; [CENTER][CORNER] openings of the 60's and 70's".

This sort of feature would not only be a service to practicing tic-tac-toe players, but might serve to attract others to the game. Write your favorite paper! Suggest, or even demand, a tic-tac-toe column; maybe we can start a worldwide movement!


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