How the experts play chess

Look at this exhibition of chess blitz between two of the USA’s greatest chess players, Hikaru Nakamura and Max Dlugy. That phrase, “the hand is quicker than the eye” is apt. I almost swore that once or twice the players were moving two moves at a time. If you suspect this is speeded up artificially, then you are not alone – I did think so too, initially. Except – it couldn’t possibly be speeded up. Firstly, the background music is an indication (albeit irritating); secondly, the player’s reactions are too ‘normal’ looking to have been speeded up. It is an incredible feat when you see it! 

The adrenaline rush when playing chess is substantial. Scientists have studied this and have compared it to the sensation seeking experiences of high-risk sports, like skydiving and parachuting! This from a recent Chessbase article:

But every chess player knows that there is also a massive emotional side to chess. Recently, a team of psychologists from Seattle Pacific University (USA) led by Professor Jeffrey A. Joireman conducted a most interesting study on this subject, titled “Sensation Seeking and Involvement in Chess” [Joireman, J.A., Fick, C.S., Anderson, J.W. (2002) published in Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 509-515].

The team discovered that enthusiastic chess players score very highly on psychological tests designed to measure sensation seeking, which is “a trait defined by the seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical, social, legal and financial risks for the sake of such experiences.”
If you ask non-chess players, they will probably find this somewhat surprising since usually the list of activities associated with sensation seeking does not include chess but rather bungee jumping, sky diving, paragliding, scuba diving and mountaineering.

Furthermore, the group of psychologists found that during a chess game a wealth of intense emotions is experienced by both players, and if they are involved in a tense and important struggle, there is an accompanying testosterone rush, typically of the same order of magnitude as that experienced by people involved in one of those risky undertakings just mentioned.


Dog days

American billionaire Leona Helmsley has left $12 million to her pet dog Trouble in her will. What class! 

So, what is a dog to do with such monies? There are only so many nail manicures, doggy treats, shampoo and washes, that one dog can get.

I suggest: morning walks accompanied by a team of security personnel; a selection of deletable girl-doggies at his beck and call; only the freshest of red meat for dinner; personalised, gold-enamelled poop scoopers; little doggy choo-choo trains to bring him around his estate; champagne baths; and personalised doggy number plates on the Rolls Royce to bring him to his favourite parks. Topped off with a solid-gold, diamond-encrusted coffin when he enters her mausoleum.

What puzzles me is: does he pay inheritance tax? I mean, is there a law that says all dogs have to pay tax at all? Dunno. I guess that would be a question for the lawyers.

Chocolate Chess Pieces

(Due to popular demand…)

In chess with chocolate pieces, the aim is to eat your opponent’s pieces before he eats yours. This choccy chess set (pic below) reads like some kind of sexy come-on: “these seductively smooth Belgian chocolates”. Huh? Somehow, chocolate, chess, and sex just don’t go together, do they? Please tell me they don’t…
Choccy chess set

Here’s a much tackier version (click the picture below, if you dare). I can imagine kids all over the world saying: “Oh wow mummy, you have spared at nothing to delight us with these authentic, silver-wrapped pieces! Not only am I now staying in to play chess, but I am pigging out on chocolate too! Heart-attack at 35, here I come!”
It “features” (hardly the word…) such tasty treats as Nestle’s Crunch Bites or Mom’s Surprises, or even Ferrero Rocher (“Oh, Garry, with deese pawns you are spoiling us.”)
Chocco horrors

On a slight detour, why stop at chocolate, when you can have beer chess pieces!
(Their motto: Boldly going where no chess has gone before.) This picture is scary. What if you’ve guzzled down all your opponent’s pieces, you’re about to mate him, er, and you fall over on your face from extreme drunkeness! Obviously, the guy with the glasses has done just that, because he has the tell-tale tape around the frame. Mind you, he would be advised to feign extreme drunkeness in front of that beefy bruiser with the tatoos.
Beery chess

And, by the way, can you notice the table upon which you have to play the chess game?

While I’m on the topic, let me explain the First Law of Chess Advertisement. This states quite categorically, that “you absolutely must make sure to place the pieces the wrong way round for the expensively-assembled photo-shoot.” The Second Law of Chess Advertisement goes like this: “You must ban all people who know the basic rules of chess from coming within a hundred yards of the photograph, or have any dealings with editing or publishing the photograph.”

Lastly, the Third Law of Chess Advertisement is not a law of chess or of advertisements at all, but a law of physics and has been demonstrably proved to be as fundamental a law as E=Mc2 or the first and second laws of thermodynamics. It is that in any randomly assembled chess set, the right-hand bottom square is always black. Always. See below for more proof of the universal constant:
Chess set wrong again! What do we do?

World Championship Chess – Preview

I’ll be posting all my thoughts about the upcoming tournament to this page:

Hopefully, I can finish off the personal profiles a bit more over time (they’re not all completed yet) and add some games too.

10 signs Irish boom is over

Modern problems, ancient ills

The Catholic Primate Archbishop Sean Brady has written a stimulating article (delivered as a speech recently) in today’s Irish Times. Many of his themes and the issues he considers are quite germane to Irish life today – stress, suicide, substance abuse, the love of consumerism and wealth. While I applaud the fact that someone is attempting to address these difficult issues in a thoughtful and constructive manner, I believe that his answers are utterly out of touch and inadequate.

The central message of his homily is that accepting God’s plan will solve all our problems:

the fundamental call of the Christian disciple remains the same in every age – to say “Fiat, voluntas tua” – “Be it done unto me according to thy Word!”

He correctly identifies a problem but incorrectly diagnoses the reason:

The land of saints and scholars has become the land of stocks and shares, of financial success and security. Tragically, it has also become a land of increasing stress and substance abuse. And all of this has occurred as the external practices of faith has declined.

The fact that two things are inversely correlated over time does not necessarily mean that they are related. I am determinedly against the notion that the decline of religion has led to the increase in stress and substance abuse. Not only does this argument ignore the rise and rise of other factors in our culture that might be contributing to stress – television, long commuting times, emigration, pollution, the changing gender roles of women and men, smaller family sizes, globalization, new technologies – but it ignores the negative effects of religion that have now been eliminated. In other words, declining religious observance might actually be contributing to a fall in stress levels, but it is masked by other factors which greatly outweigh it. But that is not really my main point: it is rather, that it is always the lazy assumption of religious people that a decline in religion is at the heart of society’s problems, and they steadfastly ignore the other possible factors.

The Archbishop further says:

People are seeking to control their future rather than entrust their future to God’s promise and plan.

Seeking to control one’s future is not appropriate, apparently, because:

The result is an increasing culture of insecurity and fear. What often appears on the outside to be a culture of confidence and certainty in Ireland is in reality a facade. More and more Irish people are becoming stressed out trying to bring a security to their lives that only trust in God can give. They are trying to control a future that is ultimately in God’s hands.

Dramatically, he quotes from the Catholic Cathecism:

“A sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it”

At the heart of this ludicrous argument lies a dire fatalism that must be soundly rejected. Firstly, it is deeply contentious whether there is in fact a God or not. Even if there were, it is not apparent that His will is manifested in human affairs to an extent that it has an impact on individual lives. Certainly, were I trying to purchase a house next week, I wouldn’t sit around and wait for God to rustle up the deposit for me.

Secondly, the “unhealthy curiosity” about the future is actually to be applauded. It is our human ability to be conscious of a future, to plan for it, and to change our world to make it better, that reveals our greatest strengths. “Unhealthy curiosity” is one of those inane platitudes from an all-dominating, paternalistic church that just infuriates me.

The Archbishop seems to suggest that we adopt a position of fatalism, or waiting for God’s plan to unveil itself to us and for us to accept whatever joy or pain he delivers. I think this is the worst form of religious arrogance and is incredibly bad advice. It encourages lazy thinking and the acceptance of poverty and ignorance. I believe that most things are changeable by the sustained application of human willpower, determination, and reason. We can and must improve our circumstances, both individually and as a society. I will not accept that things just happen because of the capricious will of some unearthly God. Even believers should see through this gross and stupid doctrine.

He further elaborates his theme by pointing out some home truths about modern Ireland:

You see it in our fascination with fast cars and consumption of the latest and the best. Yet look at the impact on our climate, on the beauty of our environment, on the sustainability of our world. You see it in our fascination with image and sexual fulfilment. Yet look at the consequences in terms of the stress and strain of keeping up with fashion, the increase in eating disorders, and most tragically of all, of suicide among the young.

I agree broadly with his description of a society that seems enthralled to consumerism and the negative impact this is having on our climate, environment, and psyches. It is the common complaint of the negative effect of the Celtic Tiger phenomenon. But his diagnosis is disturbing:

The truth is that more and more Irish people are becoming trapped by the illusion of being able to control their future completely. They are putting their trust in an illusion, in things that will not satisfy.

I disagree. I think the problem is more complex than a lack of moral substance and lack of holistic thinking, although this is part of it. It is outside the bounds of this posting to discuss the issue in-depth, but I do take issue with the simplistic account given by the Archbishop.

He then tackles the issue of “new age” superstition:

One of the most subtle but disturbing signs of this underlying fear in Irish life is the increasing reliance of people on practices which claim to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, tarot cards, recourse to clairvoyance and mediums conceal a desire for power over time and a lack of trust in God’s providence. They are the new Irish superstition. Those who put their trust in them or take them seriously are colluding with an illusion, promoting a fiction.

I couldn’t agree more with the Archbishop on this one. I fully endorse his opinion that these are the “new Irish superstition”. Unfortunately, I would go further, and say that religion – specifically his religion – was the old Irish superstition. Those who put their trust in an omnipotent God or take Roman Catholicism seriously are colluding with an illusion, promoting a fiction. For every horoscope-wielding new-ager, there is a rosary-bead wearing Catholic. For every plam reader or medium, a priest, for every tarot card, a candle lit for the saints. Roman Catholicism is paganism dressed up in flimsy monotheistic clothes. Easter is a pagan spring festival par excellence, Christmas celebrates the birth of a new year, while the saints are glorified polytheistic gods. Share your sins with a priest and seek absolution; or consult a palm reader to divine your future. Take your pick of superstition.

Catholicism revels in the lowest form of new-age superstition imaginable: the Patron saints. Want a long life? Pray to St. Peter. Selling your home, just offer a quick prayer to St. Joseph. Quick back and sides? Hairdressers can pray to St. Martin de Porres, apparently.

The Archbishop lays it on the line, the solution to all of our problems:

Mary abandoned herself to God’s will. She did not ask the angel to tell her what the future would hold. She simply trusted God’s promise minute by minute, day by day. She trusted in the midst of the joys and her sufferings. This is the attitude of the blessed. This is the attitude every disciple of Christ is called to imitate. It is the attitude of a perfect love, a love sustained by the Eucharist and prayer, a love which casts out all fear. This is the perfect love shown by Mary.

So, the answer to all modern ills is to “abandon” ourselves to God’s will. And what is God’s will, pray tell? The answer, according to the Archbishop, is “For all its human imperfections, it is the church which still holds the answer to these questions.” So, the Church holds the answers: abandon your will and ask the Church to intercede on your behalf.

Let me see now: the very Church that opposes the creation of female priests based on outmoded concepts of gender; the Church that imposes celibacy on its priests out of some fear of sexuality; the very Church that haboured the peodophiles in its midst for many years; the self-same Church that thought the earth was flat and condemned Galileo for suggesting otherwise? This very same Church wishes you to abandon yourself to its interpretation of God’s will, to lay down all plans for the future and instead to trust in God to get you out of a fix.

No, thanks. I prefer to trust in my human intelligence, reason, and sense of morality. I prefer to trust in my friends, my family, my colleagues, and my state, imperfect though all of that is. It’s all I have. I intend planning for a better future by working and thinking and getting educated, by making appropriate financial and insurance arrangements, by living honestly and fearlessly.

The opposite of religion is not fear. It is self-confidence and humanity. It is humanism, tolerance, openness to new ideas. It is liberating and it unlocks the full potential of the human spirit. It behoves us all to reject the superstitious nonsense spouted by out of date institutions like the Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop should listen to the sage advice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he said: “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

Spammers and the human mind

I keep getting some astonishing spam coming into my comments box. Luckily, Akismet does a great job of blocking them out. But they are insanely and incredibly offensive. I feel I am like Dr. Alfred Kinsey stumbling into some den of iniquity, where dark sexual shadows lurk, like the forbidden fruit of Eden, tempting strangers passing by with their promises of illicit and dangerous liaisons. Or Marquis de Sade, slavering over his latest sexual invention. Every form of sexual expression (Freud called them ‘polymorphously perverse’), from bestiality to orgies and beyond, is included. It is a testament to the human mind’s vast range of desires and sexual needs. 

The spam (if you’ve never seen it) consists of pathetic opening statements which represent their senders as naive or innocent. The main body of the spam consists of what seem to be random sexual phrases hyperlinked to pages of porn. Among the incredibly obscene hyperlinks included (way too obscene to repeat) are the very strange ones such as “intercourse after hip replacment” and “donate leftover latex paint” (!!?) and “husband bitter about decreased libido”. And those are the most mild ones. 

The comment attached is hilariously inept: “Hi, I’m novice here. Your forum is full of usefull information. But I can’t undestand, what is wrong with my messages – when previewing it I see some URLs that leeds to adult pages. Yes, sites seem to be very intersing, but I’ll better use google to find such a sites. Could you please advice me how to recover the problem. Maybe it’s a virus? Or maybe it’s a feature of your forums? Please, do not delete my message. Maybe you advice me something and it will help others if they have the same trouble. ”

I love the bit where he says “maybe it’s a feature of your forums?” As if. And to describe the sites as “intersing” (sic) is putting it mildly! 

Honestly, I know spam is utterly annoying. But it can also be an insight into the human mind. Dr. Kinsey or Signmund Freud would have been delighted.

The most important things to teach a child

Describe for them what it is to be human
Talk to them about history, philosophy, and astronomy. Tell them about man’s evolution and his intimate connection to the animal kingdom. Above all, share the pain, the joy, the sorrow, and the ecstasy of being human.

The value of friendship
Show them how to make friends and keep them; how to differentiate true friends from unworthy friends; how to be a good friend – with honesty, thought, consideration, respect, and companionship.

The value of education
Create a joy for the act of learning and the search for enlightenment, science, and truth. Disdain ignorance and stupidity – elevate knowledge and wisdom.

Bravery and calmness in the face of adversity
Fortify them with sport and adventure. Boost their confidence in their abilities and constantly get them to stretch themselves. Praise resourcefulness, gently let them explore their world and grow into it.

Self-respect and self-confidence
You cannot teach this directly: you instil it with praise and encouragement. But beware giving praise for unworthy achievements lest they become complacent and lazy. Warn them against arrogance. Forge in them the power of solitude.

Knowing right from wrong
Teach by example. Never expect your children to not see the difference between what you do and what you preach.

How to earn it and spend it in a balanced way; how to respect and disdain it in equal measure; to understand the difference between price and value; to understand interest rates and loans and how to avoid debt; to appreciate the difference between capital and income.

Things you cannot teach children
A sense of humour
Their own life goal

Things children can teach you
Joy of the simple
The unexpected

FA Cup Qualifiers

It’s that time of year again. Men with dogs, freshly-cut grass, middle-aged men in tight-fitting jerseys, car boot changing rooms, the giddy excitement, the echo of whistles and shouts across the village greens…It is FA Cup qualifying time!

Ah, the romance and the dreams. The splendid, evocative names of old England, redolent of warm beer and the spirit of 1940. It is all there in the list of names of the teams playing. What an institution it is. It would be a minor miracle if any of these teams make it to the FA Cup third round (when the big teams enter) but there is always the hope and the dreams. Perhaps Brimsdown Rovers can overcome the Burnham Ramblers and win a game against Ramsbottom Utd? Or maybe Lordswood will meet Shortwood?

The names of the clubs are fantastic. They are uniquely English. I stopped looking at the fixtures after the H’s, but here are some of my favourites up to that point! You can get the full list here.

Bacup Borough
Ramsbottom Utd
Oxhey Jets
Bemerton Heath
Biggleswade Utd
Borrowash Vics v Biddulph Victoria
Brimsdown Rovers v Burnham Ramblers
Brierley Hill & Withymoor
Cradley Town v Gedling Town
Crook Town
Daisy Hill
Flackwell Heath v Moneyfields
Flixton v Bootle
Frimley Green v Colliers Wood Utd
Glapwell v Dudley Town
Glasshoughton Welfare v Liversedge
Glossop North End
Gornal Athletic v Meir Ka
Norton & Stockton Ancients


Here’s an interesting thought experiment: how much memory will human civilisation need in 50 years time? By memory, I mean physical bits of information stored in any format imaginable: paper, books, silicon, magnetic disk, nanotubes, optical disks, holograms, or any unheard of as yet mechanism.

Surely there is an upper limit on the need for external memory? That upper limit may be because of lack of a technology capable of storing it, although I think this is doubtful (Moore’s law continues to be valid). To me, it seems more likely that we’ll run out of a requirement for memory sometime soon. But how soon? And what kind of applications can be imagined that continually demand more and more memory?

What will our requirements look like in 50 years time? Predicting how the world will look in 50 years time is an inherently risky task, but I’ll attempt it for the fun. I shall introduce a measuring system to make things simpler. We shall call the current memory requirement for any type of storage “c” and precede the c with an initial letter to distinguish it from other types of memory. Hence, “Mc” will refer to the current, worldwide amount of memory dedicated to storing music (Vc for video, Hc for health, and so on). In our thought experiment then, the requirement in 50 years will be expressed as a multiple of that current capacity: e.g. 10Mc or 100Mc, etc.


Let’s assume that people will still want to store music to carry with them. Let’s assume that music production reaches epidemic proportions over the next 50 years, increasing the annual output by 10 fold. This might be conservative actually. I think independent music labels will continue to prosper and grow as the means of distribution grow trivially cheap. And world music will become ever more popular as people’s taste changes. In addition, we could imagine a world where MP3 players (or their 2057 equivalents) hold upwards of 1000 (or more) times more songs than currently, so there would be almost no limit to what people could store, if they desired. And if MP3 players get merged with mobile phones, and if mobile phone penetration keeps getting bigger, than perhaps upwards of 4 billion of these devices would be available. Crunching the numbers gives us a figure of 10^5Mc. That is 100,000 times what we currently store as music.


Video is the next growth area for mobile devices. Already, mobile phones can record short videos digitally and YouTube is entering agreements to distribute content to phones. I can imagine that this trend is set to continue relentlessly, with everything from weddings to births to bar mitzvahs being distributed to friends and relations via mobile phones, and every single person on the planet watching and sharing videos at an ever increasing rate. In addition, law enforcement agencies are continuing to advocate the use of CCTV at every street corner. The time is not far off where thousands of these devices will appear in every city in the world, to be stored digitally and searched, as required, for evidence of criminality. All in all, I see the requirement for memory of these digital activities increasing exponentially, to 10^6Vc, although even this increase may be conservative.

Life Recording

The idea that we are becoming a society obsessed with recording our daily lives is gaining currency. YouTube sees every inane, trivial incident recorded and then shared with the world. Hypothetically, we might see a device that takes the pain out of actually having to carry a video recorder with you, or having to anticipate some funny incident that you see. I don’t necessarily see this kind of device becoming too popular, but even if only 1 million people use such a device, then we might expect 10^6Vc from this kind of thing too.

Health monitors

Wouldn’t your doctor love to have a complete record of your every physical move throughout your life, in order to better diagnose, prevent, and treat your every ailment? I can imagine a device capable of being embedded directly into your body that records constantly your heart rate, body temperature, sweating, exercise, blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol, brain activity, and so on. The device might produce 1MB of data every second of your existence (that’s a very rough guess) and then would transfer that data to a central database as you pass a wi-fi station. If almost every person living in the first world wore such a device for 365 days a year, then at that rate, the data generated would produce a prodigious need for memory capacity. At a figure of 2 billion people x 60 seconds x 60 minutes x 24 hours x 365 days x 1MB, I work that out to be a prodigious 6.3 x 10^16 MBs. Another way to phrase it is to call it 10 zettabytes, approximately. Too much to comprehend! Incidentally, I have to guess the current health data held about every average human at 10^3 MBs per year (for digitised x-rays, heart monitors, charts, pictures etc), so in my terms that makes approximately 10^13Hc.


Clearly, I could continue to speculate about the memory requirements of civilisation in 50 years (or 100, or 200…) but I hope you can agree that there might be applications out there that will eat up every conceivable bit of memory capacity that we produce.

Faced with this information, it looks like a case of “Build it and they will come”. Look at this classic website (unfortunately it seems to have ended in 2004) for a comparison of memory prices for hard drives across the decades. It never ceases to amaze me how cheaper a MB of disk storage could become. We cannot argue that price will prevent this vision occuring.

I have skipped over many concerns that might arise from these increases: legal, social, financial, logistical, technological, psychological. Perhaps that’s a topic for another day?

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