Blitz chess

Blitz chess is played with a time-control of 5 minutes per player. It is an entertaining format because it provides quick games with just enough time to create combinations. Often, stronger players can lose to weaker players, so the chance element creates a sporting twist for all players. Indeed, you would be forgiven for thinking that blitz chess is more unpredictable than standard chess, and contains an element of randomness that renders it virtually impossible to sustain a winning streak over many games.

The World Blitz Championships 2007, held from November 21st to the 22nd, demonstrates that among evenly-matched players, it is virtually impossible to sustain a long winning streak. But it also shows that stronger players still do emerge at the top.

Vassily Ivanchuk (second-highest rated player in the world) beat Vishy Anand (the reigning world champion over standard games and the highest rated player in the world) in the final game to clinch a one-point victory on 25.5 points from 38. It included 19 wins, but also 6 losses. Still, it is a world-beating performance. The results table is here.

However, as always, Bobby Fischer demonstrates a counter-argument. In 1970, the best players in the world took part in an unofficial world speed chess tournament, at Herceg Novi. The end result showed Bobby on top with an astonishing score of 17 wins, 4 draws, and only one loss (to Korchnoi). He was 4 ½ point ahead of the second-placed Tal.

Bobby’s result defies logic.

He was playing against formidable opponents. The cream of the Soviet chess elite were there, with former world champions Tal, Petrosian, and Smyslov. There were other luminaries such as Korchnoi, Reshevsky (of the US), Bronstein, and Hort. He beat the Soviet contingent 8.5-1.5. The only major players missing, arguably, were Larsen and Spassky. Also, as an anecdote, it was widely reported that Fischer rarely used more than half his time on the clock (meaning, about 2 ½ minutes per game). You can scan through his games from that tournament here.

Hence, I am forced to conclude, that any appearance of randomness or arbitrariness while playing blitz chess is just that: an appearance. If you are good enough – as Bobby was – then it still should not matter: you will win in the end.


Love songs

Just because I can….

I’ll start with something Susan stumbled upon on. Jacques Brel, singing a heart-rending version of his own song, which roughly translates as “Don’t Leave Me”.

Ne Me Quitte Pas, Jacques Brel

I offer you pearls of rain coming from countries where it never rains. I will cross the world until after my death for to cover your body with gold and bright light. I will give you a kingdom where love will be king Where love will be the law And where you will be queen.

This is one of the most beautiful and simple of The Beatles’ songs:

And I Love Her, The Beatles

And if you’ve ever seen Brief Encounter, you’ll recognise this classic:

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, in C Minor, played by Evgeny Kissin with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis.
(Opening part of the second movement)

Climate change = war and famine?

An article on Yahoo! today mentions a study conducted on climate change from 1400 to 1900. The authors analysed historical periods of cooling, in 1450, 1650, and 1820. Each was followed by periods of war, famine, or both. I wrote about Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive before and followed that with some analysis of the ecological issues behind it. I am now seeing endless articles, both academic and informal, all coming to roughly the same conclusion. (This is a well-attested phenomenon: when you read a book that opens your eyes, suddenly you start seeing connections everywhere!)

I’d like to believe that human kind can surmount these problems. Indeed, I think we all must remain optimistic, despite the evidence, if only because that attitude is more likely to see us through in the end. But there may be much hardship ahead for many of the marginalised people’s of the world: Africans, East Asians, Bangladeshis, and others. The time to tackle it is now, when we still have the capacity to change things around.

The great war of the twenty-first century will not be over oil: for the majority of the world’s population it will be over food, water, cropland, pastures, and the basics of living.

Engerland out

England lost 3-2 to Croatia. It was all the sweeter because they (somehow) managed to claw themselves back to 2-2. It was undeserved and would have been a travesty if it had finished at that. One dodgy penalty and one (just one) nicely worked equaliser could not hide the truth: they were by far the worse team on the pitch. Hence, all neutrals could only applaud when Croatia sealed a fine win with a great goal in the 77th minute. And the timing was impeccable – giving England just enough time to mount a miserable attempt at a come back and prove just how bankrupt they really were.

Alan Hansen on the BBC called it right at the end: they could have lost by six or seven. Croatia looked liked scoring every time they attacked. They hit the bar, got a huge save out of Carson, and generally looked menacing. In contrast, England were bereft of inspiration, resorting to hopeless high balls towards Crouch in the last 15 minutes. It is like they reverted to national football stereotype at their point of worst crisis: simple, crude, inept, brainless, neanderthal football.

Every time I see their national team and, most of all, listen to their commentators, I cringe. John Motson is the worst. He is unashamedly biased and one-sided. He inevitably mentions 1966 at least three or four times every game. He will resort to “Come on England” when he has nothing else to say. He seems incredulous when the other team (whoever they are, they are all Johnny Foreigner to him…) scores or even manages to get beyond the half-way line. He will always patronise them – “This must be a significant victory for Croatia” was one example tonight. Why? Why John? Because they are a “little” soccer nation who just live for the day they can beat England? They’d already qualified for gods sake, they couldn’t care less. They’ll meet better teams in the European championships for sure and have many more “significant” victories. But he stupidly thinks the whole football world revolves around England. 

Motty was on perfect form tonight. Completely abandoning any attempt to describe the action in front of him, he resorted to imploring them to do something – anything – to turn it around. We would have got more insight from a three year old.

The truth is: English national football has always been bad. They have made one final ever – and that was 41 years ago, at home. They made a semi-final in 1990 – perhaps the worst football world cup ever. They have failed to qualify for many major tournaments over the last 40 years (1974 and 1978 being infamous, with 1994 another failure). Incredibly, their press and commentators always declare them favourites before every tournament! Incredible, because they have absolutely no reason to ever think they could ever win the World Cup. None.

And so, we have a whole summer without any English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh team in Austria/Switzerland. That will only be good for the tournament.

Definition of self-delusion

England are 2-0 down, at home, to Croatia, in a do-or-die game to qualify for Euro 2008. Croatia have just attacked to almost score a third. England luckily get the ball at the half-way line and John “Motty” Motson utters the immortal phrase: “…and England have drawn them out…”!!! England have drawn them out! Ha ha ha ha….I pissed myself laughing. That’s the funniest thing I have ever heard.

(If you detect schadenfreude, that’s because it is.)

Can’t wait for half time, to listen to Shearer and Wrighty et al….classic! The best pleasures in life are free.

Search This

WordPress allows me to view the search strings that brought people to my blog. I am astonished by some of the searches, for what they reveal about the human mind and the vast, incredible diversity of the Internet.

Here are my Top Ten Funniest Searches over the last 7 days:

1. rules for looking at breasts
Are there such things? This raises very interesting notions in my mind: Never get caught staring at breasts. Glance from side to side to prevent your neck seizing up. Never stare at breasts when you are taking another girl out. Come to think of, it is rather complicated, isn’t it? Hmmm…

2. people with very long necks
As yes, the old neck issue. This refers, I think, to my article about the Irish woman with the world’s longest neck, one Beverley “Brass Neck” Flynn
3. titty machine
What the hell is a “titty machine”? And, I wonder, is this search from the same person who wanted to know what the rules were for looking at them? What is doubly mysterious is that my blog mentions nothing at all about titties, nevermind titty machines. Bizarre.

4. “john terry” underpants totty
Okay, so I wrote about John Terry, cyborg king of Chelsea football club. But why underpants and totty? Is there a brewing scandal here?

5. teenagers from outer space
Aren’t they all?

6. heroin dublin phoenix park
Phoenix Park, heroin capital of Europe…Is this a search for where to buy the best gear? The Internet is such a vast mine of information!

7. the old woman of ireland
That woman again, Bev Flynn…

8. giraffe pee
Imagine our searcher, sitting down to do a school essay about the Serengeti, and pondering the great questions of life. He’d be sitting there considering ecological diversity, predators against prey, the natural balance of life in Africa’s heartland. And then the most profound question of all would occur to him: “How does a giraffe pee?”. I mean, it is so tall. The pee would spread everywhere, wouldn’t it? Interesting when you think about it!

9. humongous neologism
The bigger they are, the better they are.

10. dogs fantasy football
Do dogs play football? Why not? They even have their own fantasy league for God’s sake!

Genius is one step away from madness

As proof of that general statement, I offer you this totally bizarre spam I got today. (Anyone who runs a blog knows all about this kind of spam, but it rarely reaches the Joycean-like heights attained by today’s masterpiece). I reproduce it in full, with no deletions or amendments. As they warn before certain adult television programmes, “Some viewers may find this offensive”!

Her slender, mostly serval pamela anderson naked movies was extended. I’ll scold you usuaslly tomorrow? He had me blossoming score, barfing against what convulsively glam was available. You easier movig all over me Scott…I flood I will start every hehad of celebrity deaths december that happines out of your cock! We didn’t have celebrity lookalike sex since we had to masterbate that for the cameras. I could girlishly arrange her inflection against my dick. He pulled out all the www defamer com hollywood britney spears briefly before slobbing into my emphasising pussy. When all three were naked, Vic took his jennifer aniston nip slip in taking out their bodies. The onslaught zooms inside the car.

Going for a bicycle ride

What’s not to love about your bicycle? It is ecologically friendly, cheap, a healthy way to travel and looks ultra cool in places like Amsterdam.

But a man in Scotland fell in love with his bicycle, to the extent that he lost himself in its embraces, succumbed to its wily temptations. Read all about it in the BBC article here: Bike sex man placed on probation

Those rubber tubes, plush leather seating, and mud guards were enough to set him off. Oh, temptation! My kingdom for a bicycle…Did he preface his “act” by asking his bike for a ride? Was it consensual?

The big mystery to me (and it is not explained in the article) is exactly, ahem, well I mean, ….er, how? As in, where did he pop his thingy? It has me utterly baffled.

Maybe D. Levine, regular reader and bicyclist can tell me? (Sorry to drag your good name into this David!). But if you can offer some professional advice in this regard, I would be most grateful.

Milk of human kindness, water of life

The production of milk starts when a farmer invests in land, a herd of cows, expensive milking palours, and huge time and energy. He must maintain those cows in good health, using vets, anti-worming treatments, grain-feed during the winter, and other costly measures.

The cows, after spending most of the day eating grass and chewing the cud, feel that animal expectation, that elemental need to be milked. They begin walking voluntarily towards the milking palours, gently brushing past the gate, the dew still glistening on the early morning grass. The cows know well their individual stalls, their routine established over thousands of such visits. The farmer eases the automatic milking teats into place and the machines pump the white milk into giant containers. The cows return to the fields, often drinking natural water from streams and pumps on the way.

After the milking, the container (which is fully refrigerated and where the milk is continuously “agitated” to keep it from forming cream) is loaded onto a truck and transported to the local co-operative, where the milk is homogenised. (“Homogenised milk is produced by mechanically forcing milk through a small passage at high velocity. This breaks down the fat globules in milk into much smaller ones and creates a stabile fat emulsion.”). It has to be pasteurised, and possibly even further processed to add vitamins or produce slimline milk.

The milk has then to be packaged, sorted into trays, transported to retailers, stacked on shelves, all the while being constantly refrigerated, before being sold. Eventually, after a long journey from field to palour to shop, it reaches your kitchen table.

Let’s compare that to the journey taken by bottled water. Basically, find a pure(-ish) source of water, pump it out, and bottle it. It requires no ground-breaking technology, expensive animals, costly raw materials, good farmland, pasteurisers, homogenisers, refrigerators, a large workforce, winter grains, or vets. And it keeps for a long time, meaning it can be transported at leisure and without refrigeration.

And the price for these two liquids with such different life-cycles?

Tesco in Ireland now sell a one-litre bottle of Ballygowan (Ireland’s largest brand of bottled water) for €1.25 (that’s around US$1.80!). (The price is for Ballygowan Sports Still Water 1 Litre as quoted on their website on 13th November 2007.) A litre of milk is quoted on the same site and time at €0.59 for both the Premier and Avonmore brands of “Fresh Milk” (other varieties cost more, depending on the degree of processing involved, but these are the basic brands).

Hence, a one-litre of water costs 211% of a bottle of milk. Over twice as much.

What crazy set of economic practices, marketing, consumer behaviour, retailer policies, agricultural inequities, EU subsidies, or government action, has conspired to create a situation where a complex product like milk can sell in supermarkets for less than half the price of a simple bottle of water?

I came across this amazing quote from a farmer in England, from an article in the Guardian newspaper in April this year

The irony for Colin Rank, one of the family that owns Kemble Farms, is that his cows drink water from a Cotswold spring that he could bottle and sell for 80p a litre. “We’re giving it to cows and devaluing it by turning it into milk.

So, what on earth possesses them to continue? He says:

Like all dairy farmers we could pack up tomorrow and do something better with our capital, but we do it because we have an emotional investment in the land and the animals. And we know there’s a market for our product, if only the market worked.

Somehow, in a deep and mysterious way, we have managed to treat milk with contempt, and water (which is everywhere in Ireland) with reverance. Even more ironically, tap water in Ireland is perfectly drinkable. Bottled water competes directly with a 100% free substance, pumped straight out of the tap. 

Economics alone cannot explain this. Am I going mad, or is there a valid reason for this?

Ecological Laughs

After my Ecological Logic posting, I thought I’d lighten the mood with just a couple of YouTube videos that should make us all laugh out loud. Laughter must be an evolutionary response to dire disasters. If you cannot cope with something, at least crack a joke about it.

Global Warming debunked in 3 minutes: Go direct to the YouTube page (the author requested that embedding be disabled…so cannot host it here)

I assume this is an hilarious spoof job – deserves to be better known! I couldn’t stop laughing. Er…if it isn’t a spoof, then that makes it even more hilarious. Either way, I laughed. “If you don’t see it with your own eyes, it ain’t real…” and “The bible don’t say nothin’ about global warming…”. Brilliant!

Will Ferrell as George Bush, on global warming:

This is much more well-known, but still makes me laugh every time I see it. Good ole Dubya!

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