Friday, February 22, 2002

Measuring other people's typing speed.
The newest version of Y! Messenger has "X is typing a message" in the status bar if your chat partner is typing away.
chat chat chat chat chat...
It's happening again. I think this is the reason why I went so long away from Yahoo! Messenger. When I switched computers today, Y! Messenger started up automatically and I saw the off-line message from Avynne from February 15. So I wrote back to it and simply stayed on-line. (Actually that's not quite true: I went through five computer crashes but always signed back on.) In any case, she did sign on an hour later and we've been conversing.

Then she got booted or something, which led me to begin this entry. She'll get booted and I'll wait around and hope she comes back. Usually she does. Point is, though, I'm so unproductive whilst chatting with her or in between chatting with her. It's not healthy. Yet it's fun.
Also I'm going on a road trip
To Portland, leaving tomorrow, getting back Wednesday. Bloggage during that time will be sporadic at best.
Ah, the joys of Windows 98
Late last night the mouse port quit on my Silicon Age computer. Mouse wouldn't move. Tried other mice, they didnt' move either. Tried rebooting, that didn't help.

So now I'm back to the computer I used to have at home, but with the keyboard and monitor from the Silicon Age one. Have I mentioned this monitor is HUGE?

It's way bigger than this computer seems to think it is, so my resolution is about to give me a headache. Also, I'd been gone from the chat programs for so long that I had some off-line messages. Whatever my Hawaiian friend sent to my hotmail account since the start of the year is gone since I managed to go a month without checking it. Worse yet, I saw a message from her on Y! Chat dated February 15, just the word "hey." When I lose touch with someone, it's a vicious cycle because I feel bad about being out of touch but the feeling bad just ends up being a barrier to getting back in touch.

Then again, who knows? I doubt she missed me THAT much.
About Nelson
My roommate, Nelson Yu, has gotten the least airplay of any of my roommates here. He's so quiet. He works, not just any old weird hours, but precisely the weird hours I'd work if I had the choice.

Tonight he came in the door. Hey, haven't see you in awhile. He told me a little about this movie he and his friends are making, a murder mystery in which the plot unravels entirely through a series of answering machine messages.
How to unstick "Get The Party Started" from your head
1. Find a radio station that plays the Photek remix of the theme from Six Feet Under
2. Listen to said theme.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

My chess page and my ability to tell the age of children
It's unclear who other than me gets utility out of seeing my games. Maybe explaining the moves is useful; I didn't want explanations to be too Tim McCarverish. ("The pitcher will bat in the #7 spot, so instead of coming up second in the bottom of the inning...")

Over the weekend I wrote about beating a "12-year-old girl" and "10-year-old boy." Both ages were wild-ass guesses, though one of them did turn out to be dead-on accurate. Ewelina Krubnik is 12; she's also not bad for a girl, to put it mildly. Oren Gazit is 13 rather than 10.

(I'd forgotten that girls that age are invariably taller than boys that age, since we get our "growth spurt" a little bit later on average.)

In any case, Ewelina Krubnik is a future superstar, to the extent that any chessplayer can be a superstar. This puts a different spin on her politely declining a post-mortem. It's not just that she's female and I'm [adjective] (but I didn't say or do anything off-color, I swear! :-)), it's also that in the long run she's a way way better chess player than I'll ever be.

One of my absurd hopes and dreams in life, an example of one I never share with people because it's the sort of thing you can't do on purpose, is to have a prodigious daughter. She'll be the smartest girl the world has ever known (with any luck, taking after her mother, though both anecdotal evidence and scientific research that I'm vaguely familiar with suggests that your opposite-sex parent has more to do with your geniusness than your same-sex parent) and chess is an example of something where she'd excel. Not that anyone would push her though. Rather, just step back and let her do her thing. Encourage her and so on.

Oh, and if you care... I didn't have a chess rating until I was 16. If ratings of my peers were exactly what current ratings happen to be, then my 1673 as of fall 1992 would have put me 86th on this list of 17-year-olds. Better yet, I'd have been 59th on this list of 18-year-olds a year later. Heady stuff.

Given that my rating entering the weekend (that is, the same rating I've had for three years now) was 13 points lower than my best rating as a 17-year-old, I doubt I'm anywhere near any top-100 lists lately.
Today I learned that Mike Burger is a born-again Christian and that trash had its very own forum. Where have I been?
This guy can write. I love good prose.
Sometimes the conservatives are right about sports though...
Dave Shiflett nails the Swimsuit Issue, dead-on.
Why do conservative rags even bother writing about sports?
I already have plenty of issues with The Weekly Standard, mostly ideological and unrelated to their decision not to hire me. David Brooks is an insufferable snob whose ideas about what makes this country great are anathema to anyone who believes in individual achievement. Fred Barnes -- he's a nice guy actually. It's unclear whether he believes in anything, since what he chooses to write about is always pragmatic, strategic, and Washington insidery.

My big beef with the Standard usually has to do with their wanting a big government and fawning over Beltway types, neither of which is usually associated with folks who think the way I do.

Today, though, my big beef has to do with sports. In theory I'm apathetic about the figure skating thing, but Jonathan V. Last annoys me by misrepresenting the Patriots playoff run. Two glaring errors?! I know what one of them is (and he's dead wrong about that one), what's the other one? David Patten's head? Some play I missed?

And they compound the error with their on-line poll implicitly dissing curling. I've come to think curling is really cool.
Those Wacky Sectarians...
Wouldn't it be a hoot if this country had two competing, somewhat theologically different branches of Roman Catholicism?

Maybe that's not the right comparison. Seems like there are a dozen different kinds of Protestant, none of whom really have much of an idea what it is they disagree about. ELCA versus LCMS, though, we pretty much know. Where to begin? Open communion (ELCA is fine with it, LCMS isn't), the role of women in worship services, and I suppose this whole syncretism thing. The last one wouldn't even be an issue for ELCA folk, that I know of.

Last I knew, the most divisive issue within the ELCA had to do with acceptance of homosexuality. Yeah, us and every other liberal mainline domination. Don't hold your breath waiting for either LCMS or the Catholics to budge much on this.

LCMS is rare among Protestant groups in that what unifies 'em seems to be doctrine much more than ancestry. When you think of Lutherans, do you immediately think of Minnesota and Garrison Keillor and blondes named Sven and maybe even trashtalk the morning of a Viking-Packer game? All that would be ELCA.

On the LCMS side... a lot of Germans. A lot of Missourians (hence the name). A lot of dourness. I don't fully understand what it is they believe and I don't agree with the part that I do understand so I'm not the one to ask. Still, this dude said a prayer at Yankee Stadium. If salvation by faith alone is even close to true, then who really gives a flying fig where he prays?
Trying to avert my eyes. Trying to just stay out of it. But catfights are so fun!

In the red corner, Cooch's World. In the white corner, Jen's Domain. Read it yourselves, I really have nothing to add. Maybe two things.

1. Once I'm no longer unemployed the volume here will probably go way down.

2. I remember Jen from Atlanta. She's pretty! At some point during the Braves-Sox game I procured a frozen fruit thing for her and it seemed to make her happy. That she's studying physics raises my esteem for her all the more. No sooner do I say that than we run headlong into...

Rose is Rose?!? Um, okay, so I've repeatedly had long conversations with people over the intricate plot elements of For Better or For Worse but even I have to draw the line at Rose is Rose.

If the folks at Psycho Circus ever get tired of making fun of Bil Keane, then Pat Brady seems like fair game to me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Department of Jumping the Shark No-Brainers
If it hadn't jumped already, did the X-Files clearly jump whenever it was that Mulder left the show?
Offer Accepted, Web Page Overhauled
While waiting for my parents to call me back I rearranged stuff on my home page for my own convenience. The radio pre-sets went to their own popup window. The software developer tools, already on my "work" page, went away. Links to various BU live-journal users and also static pages of friends went away. Don't take it personally, I just found myself not following the links much.

If the links were really convenient to you I'd be glad to put 'em back.

More importantly, I'll start at Vectiv March 1. I strongly suspect there's more to Chris's non-offer than meets the eye. One of us is screwed relative to the other but it could be me, if he ends up with some sort of Ueberposition. :-) Oh well. In the former case I'll be tactful, in the latter case I really won't mind that much in the end but I'll still feel free to give him all kinds of shit.

Found out after the fact that he made over $10K/year more than I did at Silicon Age. Wasn't at all surprised by this given relative seniority. He was mildly surprised at how small the discrepancy was, which vaguely peeved me. ;-) What I didn't mention is how phenomenally my salary grew upon each of two performance reviews.

No idea how much anyone else made, nor do I especially want to know. I suspect Scoon made more, given that he was Silicon Age's first ever employee (that kind of has an effect on seniority :-)) but I also suspect Kubi made a bit less, given that his girlfriend smacked him on the arm when my own salary came up. (I forget why, it had something to do with also wondering what Vectiv paid me for contracting. Note that Shelly smacks Kubi on the arm at the drop of a hat. If the gender roles were reversed this would be really scary but I strongly suspect that Kubi's way too strong -- both physically and as a person -- to put up with actual abuse.)

Anyway, one of my favorite "what-if" scenarios is once the two of them actually get married, they'll be the most perfect Newlywed Game couple I've ever known.
Vectiv Acceptance Likely
Boston trip postponed

This is a real good news/bad news situation. I did indeed get a job offer. (So far, Chris has not, which disturbs me.) Bad news #1: It's about $15-20K less than their VP of Engineering had hoped to offer me. It's unclear whether this is a real budgetary restraint or a negotiating ploy. I'll make my reserve price clear (so far it's only a verbal offer, with only a range of compensation proffered; I guess the thing to do is demand the figure at the upper end of that range) and we'll see.

Bad news #2: I do not begin with any vacation time. I have two floating holidays but all vacation is accrued more-or-less monthly. Which means I can't go to Boston in March. Have to do it some other time. Probably in the summer. (Cancel Bowl?)
Is she hot or not?
Go to The Weekly Standard, where all their articles get posted alongside caricatures of the author's head. Look for anything by Beth Henary. She has one today for example. Can't decide from the caricature if she's cute in person or not. She has a job now that I almost got six years ago. I came off as a doofus in the interview though.

Guess I can tell my grandkids I got to meet Fred Barnes, Chris Caldwell, and Jon Podheretz. Woo-hoo. Bill Kristol wasn't around. Oh well. I never liked National Greatness anyway.

Beth Henary is (rather, once was?) a University of Texas freshman from Memphis, TN. At UT, she once wrote for The Austin Review as preparation for her future career as a writer/psychologist. Good heaven that's an ugly web page.
Blogback Again?
Got that
Pink song stuck in my head last night because Alice of all stations was playing it. DJ-wise, think 'FNX without all the shock jocks they added after I left. Rather, without all the male disc jockeys. As for playlist, my first thought was 'FNX but with a lot of estrogen. Actually it's even less "alternative" than that. Alice is your home for Pink, Nellie Furtado, the new Alanis Morissette song, and all those acts that might have briefly seemed hip but are suddenly just as mainstream as my Troika of Angst (Creed, Staind, Linkin Park) were three months ago.

This is great. It used to be that I'd think of something stupid and ephemeral and send it to a couple of BUCB people. Never using an actual address book but always just the people I happened to think of. Going back to when Cooch took over the team, in practice this would usually be him and Coen. Sometimes I'd throw Allyson's address in just for kicks. Apologies to any of you who also wanted to be included but the main reason is I never really memorized your addresses.

Sometimes the stupid and ephemeral would lead to feedback conversations. Coen and Cooch and I would banter, maybe Allyson's inbox would fill if this were one I'd thrown her onto. So it works out. No surprise who the bloggers are now, or that Allyson's the one who pointed out (to me) that these other two blogs existed.

(I guess it's not true that "everybody's blogging." The everybody side of it seems to be all the people with live journals, who don't exactly update them regularly.)

Anyway, back to the backtalk.
On Kiss 108. Yeah, seconded about the DJ's. Wait, I never even listened to this station. But I had friends who had both car radios and bad taste in music. I had errands to run, Store 24 and the like, where employees had portable radios and bad taste in music. Most of all I had Nik Carter, making fun of the rest that Boston radio had to offer.

The other day in Berkeley I went to a pizza place that had a sign proclaiming that no more than three minors were allowed on the premises at any one time. Is that legal? I guess in Berkeley of all places if it weren't, it wouldn't still be up. Their way of preventing a perfectly good college pizza joint from becoming Cafe Aventura (aka "buck-a-slice"), the place I went to get a glimpse of teenaged girls before moving out here and finding Stonestown Galleria.

On the Marlins. No insult intended to anyone's younger brother but, if I'm officially rooting against the Red Sox after the franchise shuffle, I go even a step further and join the mythical f*ck the Marlins club. I'd even buy cheap merchandise with that slogan on it if Florida actually had a rival who cared enough to print such things. Let's look at what happened: Jeffrey Loria got rid of a basketcase of a team (a basketcase partly of his own doing) and latched onto a team that everybody thinks is a basketcase but was actually doing useful things after recovering from Wayne Huizenga screwing it over.

Did he keep anyone who was responsible for the useful things? On the field, yes. They still have Brad Penny and Josh Beckett and all the arms and Charles Johnson and Cliff Floyd and all the bats. But they fired 100% of the front office. This earns Loria major burn in hell points. Or "need to be hurt" points.
Elizabeth Wurtzel is really weird
The link probably won't be up-to-date more than a day or so.
What took her so long?
Finally. Is there anyone out there who didn't know about Rosie?

Andrew Sullivan waffles a little about the timing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

A Grammy Prediction
Nellie Furtado will set new records. Lots of people who currently have no idea who she is, suddenly will know. Actually, that part happened in the last two weeks or so. But I knew of her before you did. (Not literally "you" as in my actual audience but... you get the idea. It's actually pretty rare for me to be ahead of the curve on these things.)
First Prize, Stupid Criminal Contest
It's becoming clear that blogspot is down today. Which means I'm literally typing to the wind. You'll be back someday, won't you?
Being Mike Develin
(I should update my homepage link to him to go straight to his main page but the foyer has its own charm...)

If Mike were a more normal person, his weblog would mention the fact that he spent the better part of this past weekend designing and handcrafting (between chess games I tagged along with him to an art supply store) a board game that is vaguely similar to Settlers of Catan but with enough enhancements (trapezoids, for one thing) to make the game more than different enough IMHO. Nobody's played this game yet because it's unclear what the victory requirements will actually be.

Instead, his recent entries are 100% introspection and 0% narrative. This is an implied criticism, though I'm not sure whether it's entirely a bad thing.

He and I are also talking over a simbase trade where I'm the one with cold feet, partly because I'm also the one with what it is that he wants. (I guess he also has what I want, namely a first-round draft pick, but he also wants to get a future secound-rounder from me and get value by giving up a player who seems close to worthless to me.)

He also has cooked up a diabolical plan that I'm convinced has tremendous downside. I probably can't say what the plan is, but I'll grant that it's really ballsy. I am not only too cowardly to do anything like it myself but also even too cowardly to really express my full skepticism about it when we were in the car together Sunday.

The short version is that there's this girl he wants to meet and he may have found a way to lure her to his web page without yet knowing her identity.

I shouldn't talk about my friends like this. Then again, I suppose this is what happens when my friends fascinate me.
In other news I choked twice last night.
My Round 6 chess game was going along just fine, then it got really ugly really quickly. I played an unsound sacrifice. I thought I'd won his queen, which I had, but at the same time he'd won my queen. Dueling knight-forks, except that his came with check. Dammit. Had I not sac'd, I thought I had a slight advantage but I was Black and it was a Closed Sicilian and I had no desire to spend all evening getting ground down.

If you're in a situation where the prize money (best-case $35, if three other games all ended in draws; more likely case $14) calls for a decisive game (winner gets some money, draw leaves both players SOL), why the hell do you play a Closed Sicilian? It's like betting $0 in Final Jeopardy! In both cases, presumably you rely on your opponent to choke.

Thanks to the quick ending I was there live for the first few rounds of an 'expert' fantasy baseball draft (in progress). Only here I also choked, way way overdrafting Miguel Tejada (the Baseball HQ 2002 preview itself only values him at $22) when the uniquely correct draft pick was Jeff Bagwell. What can I say? Between Unit and Alomar, I feared having too many geezers around. Geezers are bad news in a keeper league. But even at that, there were two shortstops arguably better than Tejada at that point: Crosstown rival Rich Aurilia, not to mention (of course) Nomar. Thanks to injuries, he and Pedro are both officially "high risk, high reward."
Alma Mater Pride
Skip this entry if you don't like seeing me as a smug bastard.

My high school is going to the NAQT national tournament!! Finally!! This is one of those schools that has been hardcore into the Chip Beall fold. This is partly my fault (then again, whatever glory I helped achieve in 1995 didn't prevent Harvard from deaffiliating several years later) and partly a credit to Chip for putting on a good show. Really, Chip's core competencies relative to the rest of high school competition are the same as CBI's relative to the rest of college competition. I'm trying to find a value-neutral word for this and the best I can think of is pageantry. To my ear, "frills" already has a negative connotation (your mileage my vary) but there you go.

If you despise (say) Southwest Airlines then you'd probably like what it is that Chip and CBI both do well. But if you're into the nuts and bolts of good quiz competition at the best value around... hey wait, I'm not part of NAQT's marketing/biz-dev! Then again, we really all are.

Anyway, this is exciting news. I even found myself remembering our alma mater, word-for-word... only to web surf a little and discover that the words were right here all along. Yessir, we "stand as a beacon in Tulsa." Woo-hoo!

Also checked the Master Schedule to see which of my favorite teachers were still around.

The most volatile English teachers are both gone. Ms. Kimrey and Dr. Talley couldn't stand each other (or at least acted like it). Think of the on-stage behavior of Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly. Of the four of them, I'd be willing to bet that two are gay, just not sure which two. (Even Jack Klugman was conceivably a beard.) Mrs. Gronberg is still around. Oddly enough, I mentioned her son in a Valentine's Day entry somewhere around here.

Mrs. Gronberg taught (dude!--still teaches) the "Search for Identity" class that got me started on journal keeping sophomore year. The idea was we were supposed to write something. Sometimes she'd give us a topic, sometimes free-form. Staying on topic was a guaranteed A, being somewhat interesting with your free-form was a guaranteed A. She'd read what everyone wrote, with two exceptions:
1. Anything marked for her not to read, in theory she wouldn't read it. (I don't know, I never had anything for her not to read.)
2. Ad hoc exception specifically for me: I wrote so damn much that after starting to read it, she decided to give me an A and not read the rest unless there was something I specifically wanted her to see. (There really wasn't.)

Mr. Hames (chemistry) and Dr. Zaller (art) used to be the academic team coaches. Now it's Ms. (Mrs.?) Baxter, who was after my time. Actually, Mr. Barnes used to coach the Memorial quiz team but somewhere along the way, he too was attracted by the Magnet.

Were I still in Oklahoma, I'd probably not be a Republican. Well, by voter registry I'm not anyway but you know what I mean. Tulsa-area Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature largely resented the existence of Booker T. as a magnet, fearing that resources (including the brightest students) were drawn away from the neighborhood schools. Well, did they ever see the delapidated campus that Booker T. sat on? A half-century of neglecting the "black" school of a segregated system will have that effect. Magnet schools--these days I guess "charter school" is the hip term--will always be attacked, with opposition from both sides of the aisle. Parochial Republicans and liberal education establishment types make strange bedfellows.

Mrs. McGinnis still teaches math but her father-in-law, Mr. McGinnis, seems to have left. He was my favorite. The Colonel, we called him, since he really did retire from a job at the Pentagon. Given that his stated aim was to keep teaching until America reclaimed the world's math/science leadership, his absence means one of two things: Either America really is #1 again or... I fear it's the second, much worse alternative. What's sad is that there's no easy way of knowing when. Bob Nozick passed away a month ago. If you have Clark Byse (BU Law) in a dead pool, well, shame on you, but also a very good percentage move, though thankfully he seems to be alive and well.

Anyway, remembering all these teachers is partly an ego trip because in high school, at least, a cult of personality surrounded me. Not the kind that would lead women to throw themselves at me, or even lead me to be invited to parties, ever, (it's okay, really, I'm probably better off not having spent entire weekends drinking and toking at Chandler Park) but rather the kind where everyone know who I was and talked about me in hushed tones. Okay, so was I Martin Prince or was I Jason Fox? Between the math and the hair (my current mullet is actually shorter than what I sported as a high school junior), gotta go with Jason.

Speaking of high school cults of personality, the first time I went to read at an NAQT high school championship, I thought the fun part would be seeing which high school coaches I remembered. When, in fact, the fun part (for me specifically, being a smug bastard and all) was discovering just how many high school coaches remembered me. For the most part this was a commutative relation. Sometimes a coach would tell his kids about me, where I remembered the school but not specifically that particular coach. Sometimes someone completely unfamiliar to me would remember me from high school.

There's an interesting, messed-up correlation here involving individual excellence versus team efforts. Namely, the way you remember things going down is inversely proportional to the way they actually went. We needed Jim Steichen (uhhhhhh, what exactly do they mean, the late Jim Steichen, that better just mean he was tardy, otherwise this is very very alarming) for his classical music background and some great "stump the experts" buzzes. John Defenbaugh had the ice-in-his-veins poise that turned out to be contagious and also wasn't afraid to buzz in with the obvious answer. Even my sister... Sarah was the key to our going 10-for-10 in lightning rounds on both The Simpsons and African-Americans. Yes, she was (is!) the Simpsons expert of the family. Also, she got the game-clinching buzz in the semifinal against Dorman.

(Yeah, that Dorman. One of those high school quiz teams that everyone hears about. Arguably the biggest upset of our 1992 championship run, though beating Eisenhower was also unexpected.)

By contrast, I like to assume without really thinking about it that I was the driving force behind Harvard's 1995 CBI run. Which, when you think about it, is ludicrous. Jeff Johnson was on that team. So, unlike the tossup distribution of a hardcore academic tournament, our CBI nationals distribution was Jeff around 37 ppg, Mark and J.J. around 25 ppg, and me bringing up the rear at 23 ppg.

The defining achievement of that team was that we went undefeated at a CBI tournament. A perfect 17-0 (counting the best-of-three final) at a national championship. This is 1972 Miami Dolphin material. Everybody else had at least five losses in the round robin portion.

(Note that our only loss in CBI competition that year was to Boston University, the middle game of the best-of-three semifinal. It's a shame the brackets went they wey they did that year, since the 1995 BU CBI team was IMHO much stronger than the 1995 MIT.)

And yet... a closer examination reveals just how much ass-luck going perfect required. The first game we played Saturday, after a Round 1 bye, was against Alaska-Anchorage. An easy win? Well, they did stun Iowa State that afternoon (more on that later) and they even almost beat us because I seemed to be the only Harvard person actually awake. A game-clinching question tossup on Pearl Jam even went all the way to the name "Eddie Vedder."

Next up was Michigan, and the Pack of Things I Happen to Know. Their result against us didn't reflect how good they were that year. After those two games I think I lead the individual stats for the tournament, though it was downhill the rest of the way.

We beat Stanford by five points, in controversial fashion. With less than 30 seconds to go, nursing a 25-point lead, I sat too long on a stupid math question (was the answer "ellipse"?). Irate at being beaten to it, I slammed down my buzzer. Twice. One of the myriad CBI game officials gave me a warning. This confused the hell out of the moderator, costing Stanford precious seconds on the bonus. (Remember, in the CBI format once the buzzer sounds the half is over, even on a bonus.) The pivotal bonus was essentially to name the most Catholic states in the U.S. for five points each. The answers were basically Louisiana and a bunch of New England states. Needing 15 to tie, 20 to win, Stanford got Louisiana and a random guess for only 10.

After that the matches run together, and I don't even remember who won Region 9 that year. (Or, for sure, Region 12, though I think it was UT-Dallas and I also think we beat them by more than we expected to.)

Highlights: We beat Oklahoma by five points, in a match with two irregularities. At the halftime buzzer, I got "the moon" on a buzz that wasn't nearly as impressive as I used to claim. The story goes that all I heard was "A jogger here" (at least, that's where I rang) but by the time I was recognized, David Tuttle had already read the words "would have the stamina." Had he stopped on a dime, it's unclear whether I was still going to say the moon as opposed to, say, Central Park. Then at the end of the game, we clung to a 15-point lead when Eric Bell got some tossup (Bell was basically their whole team). The ensuing bonus (5 to tie, 10 to win!) basically called for Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker for 10 points per name. Had the clock not run out in the middle of an interminable lead-in, Eric would have had 30. So, in a game under NAQT rules, he'd have 30'd it.

We had a string of tough mid-day matches including, in some order, George Washington (Guy Jordan in his prime), Princeton (or was it Penn?), Chicago, and BYU. The most memorable was Chicago. Both teams topped 300. The crowded applauded after the game ended. Everyone (correctly) had us winning by 40-50 points, except the scorekeeper, who announced a 5-point Chicago win. Turns out she'd given one of my tossups to Sarah. Or, as she explained it, "I gave that one to the wrong Bruce."

Useless factoid: Although I "beat" Sarah in the round robin, three tossups to one, she got more tossups than anyone else in the two finals games. That's right, on a panel with John Sheehan and John Edwards and Jeff Johnson and J.J. Todor and Mark Staloff and, well, me, she beat us all. Unfortunately, our side had an even distribution and on her side she had no help either game.

Other Saturday games, mostly non-descript, included Alfred (wild-card, from R2), UT-Dallas, the R9 winner (why am I blanking?), and finally Florida. We had a bye on the infamous upset pack, the one on which Alfred beat Virginia and Alaska-Anchorage beat Iowa State. In the latter game, R. had foolishly sat himself out. In the former, something happened two or three games earlier that left Andrew Yaphe unhinged.

Virginia started out 8-0 but finished 8-7. Things were so bad that by Sunday morning, Tom Michael had benched Yaphe and also some other player, voluntarily putting only three players behind buzzers when he'd brought five to the tournament. I still vaguely resent Michael for doing this. He should have given his team at least a fighting chance to win the game.

Speaking of fighting chances and ass-luck, would we have beaten Iowa State on Sunday had Chad Kubicek not gotten food poisoning Saturday night? Sadly this is unknowable, though both Kubi and I think they'd have had a good chance at the "upset." Kubi goes further to claim that it wouldn't have been too much of an upset, aside from one team being heretofore undefeated. The thing is, Kubi's right. In reality, he was too sick to play and R. knew too much to excel at CBI, so we won going away.

By the time we hit Cornell, everything was clicking. At this specific point in time, I think Harvard would have beaten a Legion of Superheroes team. Which is what Dwight Kidder and Eric Tentarelli basically were. If you'd seen that team play any other game that weekend, you'd wonder how they could possibly lose. But against us it was one-sided. Maybe since it was their final round they'd begun to mail it in? Who knows.

Then came the final. Both John's became neg-happy for Chicago, where only one Harvard player (me) became neg-happy. (The secret to Sarah's gaudy PPG was that she was the one who converted all four of my negs!) Pat Matthews read a round and Eric Hillemann read a round and even though the second game went down to the wire, J.J. was able to ice the championship by practically screaming Shaquille O'Neal as a tossup answer.

Did you notice just how many future NAQT people figured into this story? David Frazee was on the Michigan team; he would go on to found NAQT, though within 2-3 years he'd be inactive. (We didn't take off like wildfire, I guess. Idea men often have short attenion spans.) Eric Bell was a charter member, as were Dwight Kidder and R. Robert Hentzel and both of the finals moderators, Matthews and Hillemann. Eric Tentarelli, John Sheahan, and I all became heavy contributors the same year and members at the same time, though Tentarelli and Sheahan have since become insanely busy. Kubi was right behind me.

Andrew Yaphe wrote some NAQT questions this past summer; his contributions have trickled into packs this year. That leaves Jeff Johnson as almost certainly the best player in recent quiz history never to have written for NAQT. Tom Waters (this paragraph now completes the Best-Ever troika, where only R. can really mount a challenge to any of those guys) accounted for, in the early years, almost 100% of NAQT's high school production.

Monday, February 18, 2002

Half-Hour Commutes
I wonder if people find it strange that I attach almost no disutility to making drives of 30-40 minutes, especially to/from either Berkeley or Palo Alto. Well, in Boston it seemed like every relevant T ride lasted 30-40 minutes, especially my usual one between Harvard and Kenmore.

Come to think of it I also wonder whether my opponent lost this morning on purpose. It would have been subtle: Until the mate (which had an element of ass-luck to it) his moves seemed natural and his position looked better to me. (A brief post-mortem revealed that right before the mate, both of us were dead certain that the other one was winning!) But he took so little time. And his rating is 1799. Any chess rating that's either evenly divisible by 200 or one short of that is suspicious, because of how chessplayers are divided into rating classes. If you're at 1799, you're eligible for a B class prize.

If you're at 1800, you're not eligible for a B class prize. But what you probably are is at your "rating floor." That is, someone who used to be much better but has seen their rating fall substantially can only fall so low. Seven years ago I came damn close to passing the 1900 mark myself. I think I peaked at 1894 or so. If I'd gotten above 1900 then my rating floor would be 1700, and I'd probably be at my floor. Instead I fell barely short of 1900; my floor remained at 1600 (so I can never be a C player again even if I wanted to), and my rating bottomed out somewhere in the 1630's. (Stasis at 1660 for the three years or so that I wasn't playing.)

Brief synopsis of USCF ratings: 2200 or above is a Master. There are better titles than Master but the requirements for them go beyond rating. Most such titles ("Grandmaster" or "International Master", say) come from the international body anyway. 2000 to 2199 is an Expert. 1800 to 1999 is an A player, 1600 to 1799 is a B, 1400 to 1599 is a C. Below that I suppose letters of the alphabet continue. The absolute worst you can possibly be in USCF is 100, though I forget where I read this. In practice you'll never see players below 1000 except for youth/scholastic ratings that have become degenerately low as a result of kids playing against each other either before they became good or before their ratings could catch up to how good they are. When I started playing the median average rating of a rated player was in the 1500's. Now thanks to all the scholastic boom it's in the 1300's. Still, a generic weekend tourney chessplayer is probably a C player. B players are generically above-average, maybe not with a refined sense of position but can more than hold their own tactically. Despite my post-1995 ratings collapse, my conceit is that I still own the skills of an A player. Time to prove it...
So what the hell am I doing here?
After winning my chess game, I had more than five hours to kill. Went to Greg's Chicago-Style Pizza (of the popular pizza joints near Berkeley campus, this one is underrated; Blondie's is overrated) and had a pretty good pepperoni calzone. Snooped around 2706 MLK but none of my friends appeared to be both awake and home. So I came here (back home again) to hang out on-line.

Thought I might do some laundry but it looks like I'll end up being too lazy to.

In the car on the way home I listened to the rest of Reload on cassette. This album is amazing! A good antidote to the inadequacy of both the INXS live tape and Nirvana's Bleach (maybe I liked it once but was so underwhelmed this time that I never bothered to put it under "Recent Music"). Both of those are going back to the black hole that is my tape collection here. Taking their place in my car's tape deck (the only place I listen to tapes anymore, as opposed to CD's) will be The Joshua Tree and a tape to be named later.

As impressed as I was by Metallica, when I hit eject it turns out KSJO was doing a twofer of Ozzy Osbourne, both "You Can't Kill Rock N' Roll" and "N.I.B." So in a spontaneous clash of the titans, Ozzy blew Metallica out of the water. Hey, that's what I can do before Round 6: Amoeba run! (Ah, but which location, SF or Berkeley? Decisions...) My car could really use an Ozzy album on tape. I was thinking some sort of compilation but it turns out, from track listings, that Diary of a Madman would suit my needs just fine.

(This turns out to be almost completely ruined by the fact that someone who appears to be a troll and/or a moron is using a Yahoo! ID with a pun on the name of that album. But f*ck 'em, it doesn't affect the album itself anyway.)
Last Night I Tempted Fate and Won
So when I played the 12-year-old girl yesterday morning, you might guess my interior monologue pushed the envelope a lot. Sure enough, I got to the site this morning and saw that I was paired against her father. This led my interior monologue for Round 5 to be pretty wacky.

What there was of it, that is. He spent maybe five minutes tops on his game. My chess clock has hands; it currently appears to read 4:05 on his side and 4:34 on my side. (If you have a classic chess clock and two hours apiece to reach the first time control then you set both clocks to 4:00 so that time control will coincide with 6:00. I wonder if there are any chess players who get nervous tics if they see a handed clock when it happens to be 5:59 in the afternoon.)

He played this variation of the Sicilian that I hate to face, one of those lines where known opening theory probably goes 15-16 moves with a bunch of really complicated tactics. Which would be fine if it were a line that I myself play but this one happens not to be. So I played a slightly unpopular version of his line, then actually played a dumb move. It couldn't have been that bad (or so I thought) because he kept playing his moves so quickly that I thought maybe we were still in some book line and he knew the whole line. But then all of a sudden I had a very pretty, very lucky, back rank mate.

On the remote chance that readers here know or want to learn some chess openings, he played the Sveshnikov (vague explanation of it here. I'm a Najdorf zealot. Couldn't find any good Najdorf pages on-line but it's usually one of those where White castles queenside and Black castles kingside and both players try to mate their opponent before getting mated themselves.

Yeah, I guess that's what most Open Sicilians are like ("open" = some pawns traded and files clear, "closed" = pawn formations all blocky). There's also the Dragon, which is immensely popular but (I'm dead certain of this) very very good for White. Of players about my skill level, Dragon invariaby ends in somebody's king getting pulverized, usually Black's. At higher levels that may not be so true but Grandmasters tend not (as Black) to play the Dragon anyway. Coincidence?

Anyway, the closest Kasparov's site gets to the opening I played is here (but with a typo: when they say 6. Nb3 clearly they mean 6. Nf5, given how it continues and given what link I followed. Then instead of 8. dxc6 I played 8. Bb5, not yet capturing the Knight but keeping it pinned. That's probably a mistake, since Kasparov doesn't even list it. Oh well.
Bart, Frankie Muniz, and Puberty
Noticed a similar theme in tonight's Fox lineup. (It wasn't at all clear that my Round 4 game would be short enough to partake, though it turned out to be.)

Oh, first, Futurama. Really touching tonight. Kickass background music.

Then, The Simpsons. About time Rainier Wolfcastle got his own spotlight, his family, and so on. Great choice of voiceover too. Reese Witherspoon is my [noun], something involving a swoon.

Then, Malcolm. I don't watch the show enough to know her name (either character or actress), and Reese (not Witherspoon!) sure as hell didn't... wait, do I need spoilers? Bah... but Malcolm has a girl classmate who just got back from Europe and was all out of sorts because of her new breasts. I shouldn't reveal much after all but basically this character turns out to kick some serious ass. My kind of gal!

Hey, Valentine's themes and chess again! Come to think of it, I watched both this Simpsons and this '70s show as new episodes after a really devastating loss to a Russian master in New Jersey.
"People's Chess Championship"
Pauley Ballroom, Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Center
(corner Bancroft & Telegraph Avenues)
Berkeley, CA

There's the logistical info I left out of previous post. Half-hour drive from here followed by 20-minute walk from where I park, which happens to be right outside Mike and David and Paul's house. I park there because it's free, because it gives me an excuse to visit them (with their explicit welcome) when they're around, and especially because I can use the exercise!

As chess goes, your typical weekend Swiss (so named for Swiss pairing system, where you'll typically face someone with the same record as you) tourney will happen at either a chess club somewhere (small event) or else a Holiday Inn somewhere (larger event). The latter are a much more thorough experience, because the idea is you have a room to go back to between rounds. In a Holiday Inn in particular, the conference room where the games are played will usually have buckets of water and styrofoam cups. From the playing site, walk past the restaurant (often with breakfast buffet!) and the plant life and the roaring waters to get to your room.

Don't forget your swimming trunks for the indoor pool!

There's a tourney in Las Vegas in early March that I really really want to go to, to get the chess hotel excursion experience again. Commuting to the Berkeley student center is okay and all (and much cheaper!!) but just not the same.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Being Matt Bruce at a Chess Tournament
Or, how to beat up on little kids

Do you find me inherently interesting? Are you fascinated by how my mind works, also known as what the hell was he thinking? There's a fair shot this is true, given that you're reading my weblog. If only you could somehow be subjected to my interior monologues, specifically while at a chess tournament.

There's a lot of downtime surrounding a chess tournament. There's that dead period after you've registered but while theyr'e still registering other people, much less making the first-round pairings. On days with more than one round, depending on where the tournament is, there's the time between rounds. Even if you go out for a meal, take a walk, do whatever, odds are you'll get back to the playing site for the next round 20 minutes or so before it actually begins.

Hell, with a time control as slow as weekend Swiss tournaments typically have (say, each side has 2 hours for its first 45 moves, one additional hour of sudden death if necessary), there's a lot of downtime during the game. That is to say, nobody spends every instant of gametime directly attempting to analyze the game itself. We'd go crazy if we tried -- at least I would. It's not like quiz-bowl, where you need instantaneous reflexes on every question. It's a very deliberate game. If you even tried to compare chess to quiz-bowl, what you'd have is a situation where "crack" instead of "pecan pie" singlehandedly loses the game for you. Just ends it right there.

So every now and then it's time to perambulate, time to check in with Jim Nance in the New York studio for how the games around me are going, think randomly wicked thoughts about life both inside and outside chess. Get songs stuck in your head while you're trying to play a game.

This was my first chess tournament in nearly three years, first since long before Linkin Park was anyone special. So of course I had them in my head a lot. Oddly enough, no Courtney Love sightings within my head this weekend (at least not yet!) but I did get a Sugar Ray and even a Do You Love Me (Countours).

Time permitting maybe I'll set up a chess page. Look for it at the home page if I ever do (under "Original Content"). Short version:

Six-round tournament, Saturday thru Monday. $42 entry fee. I'm in the "B" section (32 players), of which the top three prizes are $280/$140/$70.

Round 1: Saturday, 11:30 a.m. White against a British-looking black guy about 5-10 years older than me. I got an opening advantage, especially with an open h-file right by his king. The next few moves should have played themselves but I pushed a pawn I shouldn't have pushed and opened a diagonal for him to pin my queen. Loss.

So I swear up in down, in all the years I played tournament chess, this was the first time I can remember ever just hanging my f*cking Queen. Welcome back Matt! Shake off the rust why don'cha? Plenty of time to cool my heels, swear at myself, restrain myself from breaking things, between rounds.

Losing sucks, especially since chess games take so long. It feels like so much of your life flushed down the toilet when you lose. PLEASE don't point out to me just how much even a won chess game is in the grand scheme of things. When I don't f*ck the thing up, at least I'm having fun!

Round 2: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Black against a Hispanic guy about 10-15 years older than me. As many mistakes as we both made you'd think neither of us wanted this one. I didn't fully develop my kingside. Took a rook that I really couldn't afford to take; had to give it back. In the end queen plus three pawns versus queen versus just one pawn, but he let my pawn become passed, which was why I was able to force perpetual check. Draw.

Round 3: Sunday, 10 a.m. White against a 12-year-old girl. She wore a Hello Kitty sweatshirt with sleeveless shirt underneath (she was climate-controlling a lot, taking the sweatshirt on & off). Sweatpants had "ANGEL" written across the butt. Hair pulled back, just the slightest hint of makeup and blush. Embarrased smile on her face, trio of girls about her age that she hung out with (one her sister, one not). I beat her in a game whose moral was, the Bishop pair (against Bishop & Knight) can be really really good in an open position. Hey, my tactics are back! Nice little mating combination at the end. Win.

Cue Gene Rayburn! "Charlie the chessplayer's last match was against a beautiful girl. The game ended in [BLANK]." Charles Nelson Reilly is already acting like he has a migraine.

Only here's the thing: Where I come from we always go over the game with our opponent after it's done. Apparently in California they don't do that. I offered to go over the game with Ewelina but she wanted to hang out with her friends instead. I haven't been rejected by a 12-year-old girl since... since I was 11?

Round 4: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. Black against a 10-year-old boy. He played the English Opening! (Pawn to c4, or Queen's Bishop 4 if you prefer. Has a reputation for being really really quiet and leading to symmetrical closed positions that require far more attention span than I have, to say nothing of a 10-year-old boy.) Shouldn't they card people for that? Second time in a day that I laid waste to a kid with my rook and minor pieces after the queens were gone. Win.

Rounds 5 and 6 Monday. Stay tuned. 2 1/2 points out of 4 right now (2 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss). Even 4 1/2 is probably out of the money but you never know.

Actually... since 32 is only 2 ^ 5 and there are six rounds, 4 1/2 is plausibly a miracle money spot with a tiebreak, maybe a half-dozen people splitting the $70.