Monday, December 12, 2005

This Week in Go: A Series of Unfortunate Events

My prediction last week that my Go rating would drop to 25 kyu before it hit 23 kyu came to pass. (Well at least the part about 25 kyu.) After I typed that, I lost six games in a row, for a total losing streak of seven. (The graph above represents the month of December to date.)

I started out by losing an even game to an American 21 kyu player. Because of the difference in rating, that didn't hurt me too much. Then I lost a 5-handicap game to a Dutch 15-kyu player. The handicap was not enough to account for the difference in ratings, so again, I lost less than 20% of a kyu. I dropped a 13x13 game to Ben. The handicap I had given him (based on our ratings at the time the game started) was probably too high -- I'm not that much better than him. The smaller board kept the ratings bleeding to a minimum.

I had started a bunch of games when I headed to India -- I needed something to pass the time. The first of those that finished was an even game I lost to a Swedish 21-kyu player. Again, the rating difference kept the loss to 20% of a kyu. The next loss -- a 3-handicap game to Ben -- hurt the most. I was up by around 50 points near the end of the game. If I had just played r10 with move 202 (instead of passing), I would have won easily. Instead, I lost by 28. Sigh. I then lost again to the aforementioned American 21 kyu (now a 20 kyu). The widening gap led to a loss of only 7% of a kyu for this even game.

The second "Indian game" that concluded was a 3-handicap game against a Japanese 27 kyu. At this point, the ratings difference was less than 2 kyu -- yet I had given him 3 stones. Thanks to a late invasion, I won by only 2 points! My reward was a whopping 58% of a kyu -- that uptick you see at the end of the graph.

My experience represents a nice feature of the rating system. In some sense, it's self-correcting. A 20 kyu who loses 10 even games to 20 kyu won't find himself dropped by the same amount each time. After a while, he'll drop to 21 kyu, 22 kyu, and the rating system will see these as reasonable losses and punish him less.

I have a few upcoming games I know I will win, and a few I know I will I don't know what to expect, except more volatility!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

This week in Nebulas

Last week, I told you I had read 19 Nebula award-winning novels. It turns out that wasn't actually accurate, but I am now up to 22. Here are the additions to my list.

1974: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed represents some of the best of what this Nebula project has given me -- the opportunity to read science fiction books that address deeper themes than run-of-the-mill airport fiction.

The novel's protagonist, a physicist, lives in an almost 200-year-old anarchist society that has been exiled to a planet's moon. The moon is a harsh society, but the anarchists have developed cooperative methods which allow them to survive, but not thrive. The physicist finds that even anarchistic societies find ways of wielding power, and he eventually finds himself unable to pursue his groundbreaking work on his home world. He becomes the first anarchist to leave for the main planet, where he is welcomed with open arms. But nothing is clear-cut in this novel, and he eventually becomes suspicious of his hosts' motives.

Le Guin, in fact, uses the different societies to examine the ambiguities and compromises inherent in any political system. The novel's subtitle is "An Ambiguous Utopia," and it's even ambiguous to which society this refers. Furthermore, I was pleased that none of it came across as thinly-veiled allegory for Earth societies, although the Cold War themes seemed stronger as the book progressed.

1980: Timescape

Sometimes, however, the Nebula project has led me to above-average, if ultimately forgettable fiction, like Timescape. How do I know that it is forgettable? I started reading this without remembering that I had read it before. Unfortunately, by that time, all of my other books were in my luggage, which I had left at my hotel after checking out (my flight home wasn't scheduled to leave until after 1 in the morning). So I re-read it. Until very late in the book, I didn't remember how it turned out. I blame that -- well, in addition to a poor long-term memory -- on a twist ending that doesn't really flow from the rest of the book.

1988: Falling Free

I enjoyed Falling Free more than Timescape, but it is probably closer to that in terms of weight than The Dispossessed. It's the story of some genetically-engineered humans with arms where their legs should be, and the corporation that treats them like disposable property. They, of course, have an inevitable fight for freedom, which is kind of fun, but fairly predictable.

So I've now read 22 Nebula novels. I have two more checked out from the library, although one is due tomorrow (despite Christina having checked it out on my behalf last week -- some sort of interlibrary loan issue). I should be able to renew it and push my total up by the end of the year.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

World Heritage: Year In Review

2005 is drawing to a close, so I decided to update my World Heritage page with the sites I visited this year.

I made it to five more sites, starting in February, when Christina and I went to Paris. Paris itself is a World Heritage site, for a number of reasons, including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, both of which we toured. (Christina made it to Versailles, but I was stuck in conferences and unable to join her.)

The first three quarters of this year were busy, but not from a World Heritage perspective. In October, however, we took a vacation to San Juan, Puerto Rico, whose Spanish fortifications constitute a World Heritage site.
In November, we spent two weeks in England, which allowed us to visit two more sites -- Blenheim Palace and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Those are the ninth and tenth UK sites I've visited -- over one third of my total sites. You'd think the US would be top of the list, but I've made about twelve visits to the UK since '93 and really enjoyed touring it. The US is a little bit harder to tour around -- and we have six fewer sites.

My final World Heritage site of the year was Mahabalipuram, which I visited during my recent trip to India. (More pictures to follow.) These approximately 1300-year-old sculptures were some of the farthest away sites I've visited, but oddly reminded me of some Mayan ruins.

I've now seen 29 sites -- less than four percent of the total. They're adding sites faster than I can see them. So unlike my Nebula project, the end is not only not in sight, it is absolutely impossible. (Until I become fabulously rich and spend several years doing nothing but globetrotting to these sites, I suppose.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Movin' on Up

As previously mentioned, I am learning the game of Go. It's a very complex and intricate game, despite its simple rules.

One of the attractions of the game is having a clear ranking system. The top amateur players are dan (pronounced "dahn") ranks. These roughly correspond to "greater than black-belt" ranks in martial arts. They range from 1 dan all the way up to 6 dan. (Professional ranks are confusingly also dan, although a professional 1 dan is better than an amateur 6 dan -- most of the time.)

Below the dan ranks are the kyu ranks. 1 kyu is the top sub-dan rank, and the higher the number, the worse the player. Different on-line ranking systems have different upper limits -- I've seen 22 kyu to 35 kyu. My favorite go server puts the most novice players at 30 kyu.

One of the great things about Go is how easily it can be handicapped between players of different abilities. For every difference in rank, a player gives (or gets) roughly 1 handicap stone. So a 2-dan player would give a 4-kyu player 5 stones handicap, a 24-kyu player would get 3 stones from a 21-kyu player, etc. (Beyond 9 stones, the difference in rank is generally too great to handicap properly.)

I probably should have started out as a 30 kyu player, but based on my reading of the instructions, I set myself at 27 kyu. As you can see from the graph below, it took a couple of months of losing games for me to end up at 30 kyu. Fortunately, my stay there lasted less than half a day. Ever since then, I've been climbing, if unsteadily. Right now, I'm 24 kyu.

These ratings are based on the results of games versus other players on-line. They fluctuate as I win and lose. One of my biggest jumps came when as a 28 kyu, I beat a 26-kyu player. My biggest drop came when as a 27 kyu, I lost to a 29-kyu player. These ups and downs diminish as time goes on, and the server gets a more definite idea of my ranking. They also depend on the handicap in the game. If a 25 kyu beats a 20 kyu, but has gotten a 5 handicap -- that's expected, so the drop is not as great as if it were an even game.

As of today, I'm 24 kyu. On the one hand, I'm happy -- that's definitely much better than where I started. On the other hand, I've put a lot of effort into trying to get better, and still haven't moved beyond the "beginner" ranks. " usually thought of as 20k or weaker."

I just started up a bunch of games...almost 20 in the past week. So my rating will fluctuate even more in the coming weeks. Hopefully more up than down -- eventually. I can already see several games in which I am in clear jeopardy, so I fully expect to see 25 kyu again before I hit 23 kyu. So I'll play some more games, read some books, and try to get better.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Recommended for You: Lead Poisoning

So I'm going through my "Recommended for You" list ("New Releases" section), and I come across this gem. "Recalled Item: Old Century Dread Pirate" is its name, and call me crazy, but any product with "recalled item" in its name doesn't seem the most promising. Sure enough, "Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed. " "Hazard: The surface coating and the metal in the ships contain lead and pose a risk of lead poisoning to young children."

Thanks, Amazon! For trying to poison me! (Or technically speaking, any young children who may visit my house.)

Although, you know, the game does look kind of cool... Maybe it's available on eBay.

(Bonus nerd content: one of the reviewers who recommends the game is Tracy Hickman, one of the original Dragonlance authors.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nebula update

About a year and a half ago, I announced my project of reading all of the Nebula-award winning novels.

At the time, I had read 11 out of 40 award-winning novels. There are now 41 novels. I read the 1973 award winner, Rendevous with Rama, in Spring 2004. I read the 1996 winner, Slow River, and the 1997 winner, The Moon and the Sun, earlier this year. (I guess I never blogged them.) Both of them required me to request the Anne Arundel Public Library's only's kind of sad that less than 10 years after winning one of science fiction's most prestigious awards, these books are fairly difficult to track down. I read the 1999 award winner, Parable of the Talents, during Fall 2004. I read the 2000 winner, Darwin's Radio, last summer. I read the 2001 winner, The Quantum Rose this past winter. I read the 2003 winner, The Speed of Dark, in Spring 2004. I read the 2004 winner, Paladin of Souls, this past October.

So where does this leave me?

  1. 1965: Dune, Frank Herbert
  2. 1970: Ringworld, Larry Niven
  3. 1973: Rendevous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  4. 1975: The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  5. 1984: Neuromancer, William Gibson
  6. 1985: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  7. 1986: Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
  8. 1992: Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
  9. 1993: Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
  10. 1994: Moving Mars, Greg Bear
  11. 1996: Slow River, Nicola Griffith
  12. 1997: The Moon and the Sun, Vonda N. McIntyre
  13. 1998: Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman
  14. 1999: Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler
  15. 2000: Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
  16. 2001: The Quantum Rose, Catherine Asaro
  17. 2002: American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  18. 2003: The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon
  19. 2004: Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
So that's 19 out of 41. The last six I've read have all been written by women. Hmm. And I now have read the last 9 winners. Part of what I've been doing is working my way backwards -- partly because those books are easier to find, and partly to see what's current in the SF world. I have the 1995 winner on hold at the library, and I have the 1974, 1980 and 1988 winners checked out right now.

One thing that holds me back from some of the other is my aforementioned need to read series in order. The 1983 winner, Startide Rising, is a sequel to a book called Sundiver, which I read yesterday. At the time, I couldn't remember which one won the Nebula, and which one was the first...Brin kept referring to past events, and I wondered if it was a gentle reminder of the events of a previous book. I guess not.

(It may amuse you to know that when I spell-checked this I had misspelled "library's" as "libary's". Blogger's spell checker suggested "Liberace.")