Tag Archives: go

Yellow Mountain Imports

Well as part of my multipronged celebration of an upcoming new gig I’m pondering placing an order at Yellow Mountain Imports, however their shipping (being from the states) is killer, but they do have some weird stuff that Payday Games (my favoured UK supplier) don’t stock.

So if you fancy some stones (non-leaded yunzi, marble or biodegradable, antibacterial starch), some stupidly cheap bowls, a board (if you feel like chipping in more shipping than others, I’d advise picking up boards and glass stones from a eurovendor) or even some mahjongg bits and bobs or even a yixing clay tea thermos then let me know in the next day or so, I’ll price things up and let people know what kind of horrific shipping and VAT charges we’d face (if shippings too high I reserve the right to chicken out :)

He enjoys sitting

Well recently suggested that in fact sitting was one of my hobbies, and while I realise it was in jest (and I did indeed giggle) the comment conceals one of the ways I’m currently interested in looking at the world. In that most of the time we just work out how to get something done basically and never really return to look at the area properly.

Since I’m not particularly great at anything I do (although I think I’m pretty good at many things) I’ve found solice in the materials written by those who are and am attempting to absorb their material for my benefit (i.e. learnin’). Now one of the threads that I keep coming back to is that of the fundamentals.

Now its not that I enjoy studying samey basic materials over and over again, its that a truly good treatment of a subject must start by addressing the very basic things from which that subject is built, and it takes a truly lucid and deep understanding of something before those fundamentals are truly absorbed in to the self and can be communicated clearly. Every time you read a description of something fundamental from another experienced and valid point of view you pick up at least a new way of thinking about it, which may help things click with you and help your own practice.

In my opinion truly mastering a subject or improving at it beyond a certain point requires at least cursory study of the fundamentals of what goes into building it.

For example (and I realise I’m banging a drum about this but it interests me) my iaido is especially fascinating to me because never really been physically fit, so to move through the first 11 training forms (which are the ones I can say I “know” in at least a rough way) I’ve had to start to learn all kinds of things from that groups point of view. Posture, sitting, standing, stepping, breathing, these are the basic things (you also get to do cutting, which in itself is an elegant system) but even these can be broken down. The fundamentals of shifting weight, of tensing and untensing certain muscles, of balance and body position. And this has come back to help the rest of my life. My posture has improved in other places, I’m fitter, I’d like to think my movements are a little more graceful and I’m less likely to trip over my shoes now.

The book that initially got me thinking about this is Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, a truly excellent text by Kageyama Toshiro, in this the very basic building blocks of a truly well played game are discussed and outlined, the connections between moves, the natural way things should flow into each other, basic strategies like nets and ladders and a number of other topics. Now I knew of most of these things before I picked up the book, but I didn’t really stop to think about it, and mostly played on instinct. My game has deteriorated through lack of practice but I’ve enjoyed starting to get it back on track with books like this, thinking about the very basic things and coming back to them again and again to ponder how they influence the more complex behaviours.

At an earlier point in my life I studied the work of Constantin Stanislavski, specifically briefly going through (most of, I was lazy) his excellent work An Actor Prepares, which is essentially Stanislavski going back to the fundamental building blocks of acting, how to construct the mental and physical notions of character within yourself, how to break up and study texts, searching for motives, how to stir yourself to various emotions, how to condition yourself to be able to use your imagination to tie it all together in a moving performance.

I feel this also plays a part in a number of interesting occult systems I’ve looked at (even so briefly) over recent year, I feel in some ways the enduring attractiveness of a lot of the Hermetic or Egyptian work is that it is essentially the fundamentals of the later more baroque schools of thought. But also the later stuff in a way holds similar goals, the GD (although in many ways very complex) I always get the impression sought a return to the fundamentals, by attempting to create a massive syncratic union of everything into Kabbalah and Tarot they sought to understand the fundamental things that were the building blocks of other systems and the world. Austin Osman Spare I always get the impression was motivated by this. While he’d go away and learn in other peoples systems he was truly looking at the fundamentals and constructing his own way (not always the best route, theres a lot to be said for really trying to grok a system of anything, but its true at some point you should try to do your own thing). In many ways the current final child of the old guard of Magic is the Chaos Magicians who are again I think looking into what the real fundamentals of humans and the world are and how you can tweak them for the most benefit.

In a similar vein are the Runes in a way, since they are at heart a mystery or a secret they describe the fundamental states of the world and inside that our lives and minds. I feel the study of Runes is again the study of fundamentals, in that although they can be represented as staves, sounds, numbers, letters, concepts, names, postures… but all some attempt to represent something truly underpinning the world.

I’ve also looked at this with roleplaying (and I believe and have recently been posting on this topic). What are the fundamentals of roleplaying? How to get people involved, to help them have fun, to explore characters motivations and actions, to play types of people they never get the chance to in real-life, to make them experience (at least in some way) a number of feelings they’d rarely get the chance too otherwise. My well known long running Kult campaign is in many ways a series of experiments on this front. Do we need dice? Character sheets? How can we generate an atmosphere? Do props help or distract? What kinds of lighting and music can help build atmosphere? What kills it? How best to pace a game? Can you run combat without getting bogged down? How to make players care for their characters? Is a “party” structure really necessary or just useful? How much direction does the game need, how much free reign do the players need? What kind of game do these players want to play? What kind of story do I want to help them tell?

In my own day-to-day profession I’ve also found that this sort of study is apparent. Again and again we see this outlined in many ways, the same building blocks are reused again and again. Breaking algorithms up into subroutines or functions, breaking code out into libraries, treating communication between programs as very simple streams (TCP sockets anyone?) and holding all of this up the concept of abstraction. We abstract to make things faster to develop, easier to modify and in many ways better to use and run, we abstract to make things simpler so we can make our computers do even more complex things, we abstract away from the fact that every current computer is at its heart a limited turing machine glued to a metronome.

Programmers relentlessly train themselves into the habits of efficiency, of doing things once and once only, and only then if really pushed. Always looking for ways make things cheaper and faster but always the idea that things must be robust hanging over us, if an algorithm has too many shortcuts, too many special cases, too many dodgy machine specific hacks it becomes brittle and unportable. In Perl culture its said that the three virtues of a programmer are Laziness, Impatience and Hubris and while I’m not sure I agree totally its interesting to ponder.

Even our user interfaces are built around these concepts, sooner or later every user has to get their hands dirty actually typing commands into a computer (although this is again abstraction), and those of us who enjoy this kind of thing get hooked on it, simple commands that can be held conceptually inside the mind join simply together with pipelines, and we again return to efficiency, abstraction and simplicity.

“When the Patriarch McIlroy invented the pipe, he knew that it would transform software, but did not know that it would transform mind.”
The Rootless Root

When programmers I know write code (and indeed write anything) they really have three choices. They do it in vim, they do it in Emacs or they use some piss poor tool that makes Baby RMS cry. They use concrete implementations of the platonic ideal of these two editors (okay originally they was ed and teco) because they were created, nay accreted over time in environments where people really really wanted to edit text. Vim is in many ways I feel the more simple, the more fundamental, the cleaner of the two ideals. Whats that? You want to move forward 2 paragraphs and three sentences? 2}3) and thats it. You remember typing some section title starting with the word “Good”? /^good and then hit ‘n’ until you find it. Emacs, whilst fun, is really more an entire environment in which the fundamentals of manipulating text are laid bare before your eyes, and hence you can do your own crazy thing should you wish.

Our Internet is also based on these principles, abstraction, efficiency and simplicity. It also looks towards that of independence, as given away by the name. Its an Inter-Network, a joining together of various independent autonomous systems to create a greater whole and pass information about, but at its heart its clearly very independent.

Just look at how email works for example (although those with a nervous disposition may wish to look away and pretend email isn’t foul) its a giant system for passing basically unformatted text files around, these days the text files are optionally formatted, but the actual mail transports don’t care. And look at the protocol, its simple (well it got more complex, the original is like 12 pages), so simple it can be typed by hand. Sure it would be more efficient to have it all squashed down and compressed into binary code but frankly its nice to be able to simply write or debug something with just telnet. Sure it would probably be more efficient in some ways to have some kind of big post-office like system and punt things around like that, but Email is built upon the idea that “When mails going between systems on the net we do SMTP, what you do to deliver it, read it or write it on your system is none of my business, just don’t expect me to do things your way.”

This is best summed up I feel by a wonderful checklist I’ve seen in a few places on Usenet and also sometimes on Slashdot about antispam ideas, essentially it includes things like “Your idea requires spammers to play nice”, “Why should I trust your system?” and other simple problems.

Efficiency, abstraction, simplicity, robustness, independence. These are just some of the fundamentals of computing, I’m sure in my rant I’ve missed a lot out.

Anyway the point of all of this was to attempt to discuss why I think the fundamental parts of activities require pondering and in some cases deep study before a subject will start to make real sense, so ask yourself:

How am I sitting, is it comfortable, is it good for my body?

How am I reading this text? Am I staring too long, will that be good for my eyes? How am I taking this information in? Can I recall it all? Should I take notes? How to take the notes? How to arrange them, format them, link them to the original text or other thoughts in my mind?

When I’m writing what are the fundamentals of that craft? The paragraph? The sentence? The word? How do I get my point across? How do I tell the story? What kind of structure should I use for my work? How to break things up? If its typed hows my typing? Should I take a course in touch typing? Is the light and desk the right height? How will it appear to the end reader? What control do I have on that formatting, should I use it? If its hand-written hows it organised? Can I correct mistakes? Is the actual motion of my pen making just text or is it writing as an art? Is that needed here? Is this a scribble or am I writing something important?

What about food, what are the fundamentals behind preparing food? Selecting ingredients, blending flavours, physically slicing or chopping items (and what about that? The best way to handle a knife, the best kind of blade for the kind of object), and what about eating food? Best place to be? (do you want a view? Do you want to sit? Stand? Sprawl?), methods of cutting food? Blending tastes from the meal on your palate? Drinks to go with it?

I recall a story of a zen master who looked particularly smug after eating something, and when asked about it said that this was because he was full. When it was pointed out everyone else had eaten as much as him he declared this to be false, his reasoning was that when he was eating that was all he was doing. Just eating, and savouring that. Everyone else was thinking about things, shifting themselves about in their seats, looking about and chatting.

What are the fundamentals of communication and polite conversation? When I was younger I watched a few small children interacting. One of them about 5 years old taught me the fundamentals of polite conversation (which I often forget to follow). In that: (a) You are not the centre of the world, (b) Conversation flows and forks naturally, don’t drag it too hard or it’ll jump the rails and crash and (c) Wait your turn to say something if you feel you have a valid point, if the conversation drifts away before you do then let it go, at some point in the future you may get a chance to say your bit, but does it really matter?

Now note that this is just about polite chatter and enjoyable social conversation, these rules don’t hold for meetings or any situation where it might be important that people know the information.

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use
a pile driver.”
— Anonymous.

Next time your climbing a tree think of this, what are the fundamentals of climbing? How does one lift ones self with the arms, or even with the legs? How many limbs should be on the tree at once, what kind of grips are needed? How do you judge the weight a branch will take? Where should your weight be positioned, resting on which limbs? If you fall how should you try and land? How best to try and catch yourself and stop the motion?

Everything from filing to swimming to walking and breathing have fundamentals, a lot of them overlap and most are useful to know, improving many parts of your life, just a matter of working out which to study then thinking and testing, fascinating work :)

Victorious return from the town of pigs

Well I’ve just returned from a fine trip to my home town to defend my 15kyu ranking at go and also catch up with my family and a few mates. The weekend started well with a train trip down with no serious delays, which was always good. This was followed by watching siblings of mine engaging in the first successful Zul’Gurub raid of their guild, which was passingly amusing (watching 20 people get organised over teamspeak is always amusing, although they were surprisingly effective).

On Sunday I headed out to town, helped shift tables and get a laptop setup to try and relay the moves from the 2006 British Championship match that was going on in a quiet backroom, that failed to work so well and eventually the moves started getting relayed via mobile.

Anyway! The draw came out, and armed with a strong cup of tea I engaged in a mighty clash of wills, by which I mean I played a horrific opening and my first opponent started the game by taking me to the cleaners somewhat. Luckily for me he was I think slightly nervous about playing in a tournament and thus I embarked on a campaign of strategic rip offs and a very aggressive middle game, and due to him misplaying a ko (in my opinion he could have captured it but chose to play elsewhere) and not being quite as good at end game as I was, and hence I dragged it back.

The counting was tense, with careful counts by both sides, and I thought that he’d won, we applied the komi and indeed I’d lost by half a point. “But wait” said I, “Did you count this singular point of territory?”, and lo we did a recount, finding that he hadn’t. The balance of the game shifted and I had managed to scrape a win by a half point.

After this there was far less drama in the day, the second game I had was against a charming old lady I’ve played before, and I managed to play good and solid, then resist her invasions and hold out for a win. The third was a giant moyo style game, with both parties attempting to out wrestle each other for massive chunks of board, again I squashed a pair of invasions, letting them live small and managed to come through with three wins.

After this I was also treated to watching my first opponent play my second, he had built a largish bit of territory in the middle of the board running to one side, she had both sides surrounding it, both had a lot of very thick and immobile groups, then for the late-middle game the drama started, with him almost ripping off a massive group on the side, with her just about saving herself, then (as is typical for her) invading all over the place. He couldn’t play calmly enough, and her invasions worked, pulling a giant chunk from the side of one of his groups and winning the game through sheer impressive endgame prowess.

Anyway, in light of my three wins after helping shift all the tables away I was gifted with my first shiny object won from such a tournament, a small cup with a plaque for three wins, most fine. Although this does now mean I really should enter the next tournament I’m in (possibly the Lancaster) as 12kyu, which could well lead to me having my arse kicked. But still, at least I’m back into the game, and have studied hard to get past the 15kyu stumbling block I was stuck at before. Now I’m older and wiser I feel I understand the game a lot more than I did when I stopped playing to come to Uni.

Apart from this the rest of the time was nice and quiet (unlike the return to Lancs which featured finishing a nasty paper and submitting it to a conference), however there was a fine time to be had on the trains on the way home. I was on a train from Bristol Parkway, which happened to be the Leif Erikson, my ticket had me reserved for seat 25, and a few stops up the line I was surprised to see Baz getting on, with my copy of Illuminatus! and a reservation for seat 23 :)

A more sensible update

Well I thought I’d make a more sensible update having had a nice quiet day doing productive days. First off I listened with a mixture of interest and terror at the nightmare that the Archers has become (more and more soap like every week!) with much much angst and a trivial mention of farming (a ploughing contest and a couple of cows as a backdrop to some extra marital hijinks, oh and some brief poachers…)

After that there was the main event of the day, the hauling of an el-cheapo table up to my room, thus giving me a nice big computer-free desk to do whatever on. Which is nice, as the desk my computers on is rather busy (mostly with Mish’s computer to be fair). I’d post pictures but A) I’m lacking a digital camera and B) I’m sure you can all live without seeing a big empty desk in my room (well for now… I may well produce some later!).

Anyway, after that was out of the way I spent most of the rest of the day relaxing, including studying an interesting game of Go

Honinbo Shusaku v. Ota Yuzo (warning: link opens the game in a small Java window, you have been warned).

Now this is an interesting game on several accounts, firstly Shusaku is a ranking newbie at this stage in his career, a mere 3 dan against Ota Yuzo, (6 dan). Yuzo is also at the height of his career (aged 35) as one of the Tempo Four (the four best rivals to Shuwa, undoutably the best player of that time).

Shusaku on the other hand is 13 and has been playing the game for about 7 years at this point.

Now I’m not going to suggest it was an utter smackdown, it was however the biggest example of a centre territory moyo I’ve ever seen in my life. There are also some exceptionally good position judgements involved on both sides. Particularly if you watch how Shusaku threatens (in a complex method of sacrificing stones) the white group on the lower left side in order to tie up white whilst he strengthens his group in the centre. While not the best of Shusaku’s games its one I had an SGF file for and that I’d done today so I thought I’d post a link to it :)

After that the day mostly involved sitting about and reading, with a side order of loitering on various places online and playing about with a new window manager (Fluxbox, link to Wikiperil instead of main site because its quite dead). I watched a couple of games by TheCaptain in a distracted way but didn’t really pay enough attention to get anything from them, and they were fairly quiet for Captain Games with little mega-bloodshed all over the board as is his normal style.

Oh and I watched that awesome Dragon Force video which I posted earlier, much fineness!