Friday, November 30, 2012

Writing a blog post from my iPad

I have to admit that after using the iPad a little, I got to enjoy it and find some uses for it. Most enlightening was using it with a cover. Without it, the iPad is just a thing to make your hands tire; with a cover one can place it somewhere, watch a movie, hold it in a myriad of ways and alternate the muscles needed to support it, if any. I still hate Apple and everything it stands for, but I'll admit that I stopped disliking my iPad.

I was thinking the other day what would my father do with a device such as that? His job at the moment is a translator, that even without it, he would like to comment on things and write content. So I have experimented by writing a blog post on the iPad (see previous post) to see how it holds for data entry.

My conclusion is mixed, but it borders on the positive. The first thing to notice is that, since I was writing English, the autocomplete was very helpful. I doubt that it would have been as easy to write in Romanian, for example. Then, the solution for writing on the iPad was not the split keyboard (keys too small and cumbersome use), but placing the device on my belly (in it's cover that allows for this) and typing with two fingers. The writing went pretty fast, but my hands soon got tired. I had to pause at regular intervals. That is not something bad when creating, though.

Of course, there have been problems with stuff like punctuation or writing non letter characters. Writing about code on the iPad would have been suicidal, I think. Also, I was a little put off by the fact that the blog post entry did not look too good on the iPad browser (the interface on the right, like labels, was inaccessible). I know this is a Google issue and they should fix their Blogger interface to fully support devices like the iPad, but also an Apple issue, since that interface works in every desktop browser and it should have worked in Safari as well (btw, have you seen how cool and cross browser is my blog even on the iPad? :) ).

Bottom line: I really would have wanted to say using a keyboard is so much better, but with my incredibly bad typing I have to always backspace and fix words, while in the iPad autocomplete enabled, one "key" at a time writing style, this was a non issue. My hands got tired though, even if I found a relatively comfortable position and in the end I had to Publish the post from the desktop just because I also needed to set the labels for the post. Overall, a usable experience.

The need to do something

As an experiment in blogging from the iPad, I am also trying to say something about my thoughts lately. One of them is about the need to be active, to do something, no matter what.

There is obviously nothing wrong with the first part, more with the latter: we are content when we do all kind of stupid things. We might regret them later, but while we are engaged in them we are enjoying it. A brilliant example is my grandmother; when she retired from her job she had a crisis, she did not know what to do, so she came to our house and catalogued every book we had. And we had hundreds. In a recent film Maggie Smith's character said that her apartment is so small that she can make it spotless in 30 minutes; then what is she supposed to do? Why did she need to do anything?

I also remember the times when, no matter what idiot designed the feature and what moron asked for it, I was happy to feel useful coding it. I imagine that people with jobs that I consider inferior, like housecleaning for example, would also feel better doing that instead of nothing at all. We sometimes curse the people that use us for their own benefit: the faceless corporation, the greedy boss, the slave driver manager. But isn't that a bit two faced if we actually enjoy it and feel that it gives purpose to our lives anyway?

What is this obsession with doing something? I can imagine that during our evolution, individuals who needed to do something to keep occupied were more successful than the ones sitting around doing nothing. That we are obsessive by design is a bit unsettling.

I guess the true test of this hypothesis would be to get into a situation where I am neither constrained to do something nor having a particular craving at that moment. Alas, this is hard to achieve. Even during holidays, there is first a time of respite from the stress of work related thoughts, then a bit of relaxing, then some things that we had planned before and then... it's over: we need to get back to work.

There have been rare occasions when I would become bored with sleeping, watching movies, reading books and news, playing games or learning whatever held my fancy at the moment. It is a time of creativity, of sifting through previous ideas and dreams and deciding some are not worth the effort or the resources to complete (or are damn impossible) and, yes, of doing. And yet the doing is never as good as imagined before starting it and never as satisfying as expected after having been done it. Yet the sheer pressure of sitting still and doing nothing forces on.

Of course, being a rather ordinary human being, I can hardly consider myself free of constraints. The rare occasions mentioned are just that: extremely rare. Having a lot of money might enable this kinds of situations, but even then I suspect the real hurdle would be to actually get to be alone. Alone with one's thoughts, alone from incessant distractions, free to let the mind roam. Would I then do something great, as I often daydream? Would I find the situation satisfying enough to not do anything? Or would I bore myself and be forced to seek the very distractions I have been fleeing? And before feeling left out and ignored, dear wife, I have to mention that this is an exploration of myself, outside any context, and that includes you, not forgotten, just off topic.

The answer to the question above is that I don't know, really. I just feel that the true test of one's life is to have the opportunity to imagine its next steps free of constraints and the resources to follow that path. Until then, we are just absorbing stuff, like biological capacitors. And sometimes we die before we get to discharge. I refuse to even consider people that learn nothing from their experiences.

There was a TED talk about the evolution of computer intelligence. We are at the edge of a revolution when computers get as smart as us and then exceed that intelligence. It is inevitable. People will be replaced by machines in increasingly more fields of expertise until there is nothing left to do. Can you imagine how that would be? I can't at the moment. Like pets to exceedingly smarter computers, we would either explore new avenues of thought or just sit and eat and sleep and fornicate. The pessimist that I am, I predict the latter. We will drown in the thing that defines us next after intellect: socialization. You already see hints of this now (I am talking of you, Facebook!), but this will only get worse.

I am torn right at this very moment between exploring this scenario (and of course, finding a solution) and the very subject of this post: doing or not doing something because we need to. Of course, this post must win for now. I can save the world later (I am putting it in my todo list).

My life is really quite uneventful, but I wonder if it should ever be different. The Chinese do have that curse "Be that your life is an interesting one". Is that truly that awful? Why is it that whenever I feel content with my life I also feel the need to change it? And when I do not, I feel the need to be content. Must I journey to find myself, as in so many bullshit movies and books? And if so, what will I find? Will I even want it after finding it? Is my life like a boring movie that must pick up the pace and, if so, who is watching it besides myself and who gets to direct it?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Evans Gambit

After such a long pause it seems only natural that I come up with a good chess blog post and I think this one, about the Evans Gambit, fits the bill. Since it is a gambit employed in the Giuoco Piano/Italian Game opening, it has been widely used from the 1820s when it was first documented. There are numerous videos on it on YouTube, but the one I consider the best is the one below, from GM Gregory Kaidanov.

I have also explored the gambit with ChessBase, but there it is difficult to see the spectacular games, the ones that lead in traps or quick wins, as they are often studied and the mistakes there not repeated in high level games.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 {The Ruy-Lopez (Bb6) is twice as common, but this is the second most popular move for White.} Bc5 {The main Black response to Bc4, almost on par with Nf6.}
4. b4 {The Evans Gambit, giving material for speed. It is interesting to note that this gambit is the second most popular way to go from here, after the mainline c3.}
(4. O-O {When first invented by Evans, he castled first.} d6 {Here is a trap in the original Evans Gambit.}
5. b4 Bxb4
6. c3 Ba5
7. d4 Bg4
8. Qb3 Qd7
9. Ng5 Nd8
10. dxe5 dxe5
11. Ba3 Nh6
12. f3 Bb6+
13. Kh1 Bh5
14. Rd1 Qc8
15. Rxd8+ Qxd8
16. Nxf7 Bxf7
(16... Nxf7
17. Bb5+ c6
18. Qe6+ Qe7
19. Qxe7#)
(16... Qh4
17. Bb5+ c6
18. Qe6+ Qe7
19. Qxe7#)
17. Bxf7+ Nxf7
18. Qe6+ Qe7
19. Qxe7#)
4... Bxb4 {The overwhelmingly more used move to accept the gambit, rather than decline it.}
(4... Bb6 {A possible run for the lot less employed gambit declined variation.}
5. a4 a6 6. Nc3
(6. a5 Ba7
7. b5 axb5
8. Bxb5 {This transposes into a sort of Ruy-Lopez.})
6... Nf6
7. Nd5 Nxd5
8. exd5 Nd4
9. a5 Ba7
10. d6 cxd6
11. c3 Nc6
12. O-O O-O
13. d4 h6
14. Re1 Qf6
15. Nd2 exd4
16. Ne4 Qg6
17. cxd4 d5
18. Bxd5 Nxb4
19. Bb3 d5
20. Ng3 Bg4
21. Qd2 Nc6
22. Bc2 Qf6
23. Qd3 g6
24. Bxh6 Bxd4
25. Bxf8 Rxf8 {0-1 Santos,M (2245)-Martins,C (2278)/Americana 2000/EXT 2001})
5. c3 {Multipurpose move to defend d4, make way for the queen to go to b3 and doing it with tempo as it is attacking the Black bishop.} Ba5 {Bishop retreats, keeping an eye on the White king.}
(5... Bc5 {Bc5 transposes easily, but also has the disadvantage of giving White an extra tempo after d4.}
6. d4 exd4
7. O-O)
(5... Be7
6. d4 Na5
7. Nxe5 Nxc4
8. Nxc4 {Beautiful center and development options.} d5
9. exd5 Qxd5
10. Ne3 Qd8
(10... Qa5
11. O-O Nf6
12. c4 O-O
13. Bb2)
11. O-O Nf6
12. c4 O-O
13. Nc3)
(5... Bd6 {Not used a lot, as it cramps the d pawn.}
6. d4 Nf6
7. O-O O-O
8. Re1 h6
9. Nbd2 {Leads for a closed game for both sides, not really in the Evans spirit.})
6. d4 {Defended by queen, knight and a pawn that is, at the moment, pinned, White aggressively makes a claim on the center.} exd4 {The defending pawn can not move and taking with the knight invites a host of unpleasantness}
(6... d6
7. Qb3 Qd7
8. dxe5 Bb6
9. Nbd2 Na5
10. Qc2 Nxc4
11. Nxc4 d5
12. exd5 Qxd5
13. Qa4+ Bd7
14. Nxb6 cxb6
15. Qb4 Ne7 {Three games in the database for this, two White wins and a draw.})
(6... Qe7
7. O-O Bb6
8. Ba3 d6
9. Bb5 Bd7
10. Bxc6 Bxc6
11. Nxe5 Bb5
12. Re1 Qe6
13. Nf3 O-O-O
14. Bb2 a5
15. Nbd2 Qd7
16. c4 Ba4
17. Nb3 Ne7
18. Qd2 Nc6
19. Bc3 Rhe8
20. d5 Nb4
21. Bxb4 axb4
22. Qxb4 Bxb3
23. axb3 {1-0 Sveshnikov,E (2560)-Sofieva,A (2370)/ Cappelle la Grande 1995/EXT 1997})
(6... Qf6
7. O-O Nge7
8. Bg5 Qd6
9. d5 Nd8
10. Qa4 b6
(10... f6
11. Bc1 Bb6
12. Na3 c6
13. Rd1 {Tchigorin})
11. Na3 a6 {Two games between Chigorin and Steinitz in 1889 from here: one won by White, the other by Black.})
7. O-O {Main themes in the Evans: keep your king safe, develop as many pieces as possible and prevent the Black king from castling.} Nge7 {Nge7 is the move masters have found most effective against the Evans gambit, as well as d6, but at amateur or club level it is more likely you will see Black take the pawn on c3.}
(7... d6 {Meant to protect against the push of the White pawn to e5 and liberating the bishop.}
8. cxd4 Bb6
9. Nc3
(9. d5 Na5
10. Bb2 Ne7 {And again: Nge7.}
11. Bd3 O-O {At this point we can assume that the gambit has failed, as Black has achieved castling, but they are not out of the woods yet.})
9... Bg4 {Black is planning to castle queen side and their position is getting better.}
(9... Nge7 {At this point, Nge7 is a mistake.}
10. Ng5 O-O
11. Qh5)
(9... Nf6
10. e5 dxe5
11. Ba3 {Not taking the e pawn, but preventing Black from castling!} Bxd4 {let us see how it could go down from here.}
12. Qb3 Qd7
13. Rae1 Na5
14. Nxe5 Nxb3
15. Nxf7+ Qe6
16. Bxe6 Bxe6
17. Nxh8 {White wins a lot of material here.})
10. Bb5 Bxf3
11. gxf3 {Take with the pawn to continue to protect d4.} a6
12. Ba4 Ba5
13. Bxc6+ bxc6
14. Qa4 Bxc3
15. Qxc6+ Kf8
16. Qxc3 {Now material is even, but Black cannot castle and does not control the center.})
(7... dxc3 {Taking the pawn, accepting this second gambit, might seem a good idea, but it only allows White to develop a powerful attack.}
8. Qb3 {attacking e7, b7, c3 as well as getting close to the lightly defended Black bishop.} Qf6 {The only options for Black to defend the e7 pawn are Qf6 or Qe7.}
(8... Qe7
9. Nxc3 Bxc3
(9... Nf6 {The usual move in this situation is Bxc3. The Nf6 variation is what happened in the Fischer-Fine game from 1963, the one in the video above. The rest of the moves are from that game.}
10. Nd5 Nxd5
11. exd5 Ne5
12. Nxe5 Qxe5
13. Bb2 Qg5
14. h4 Qxh4
15. Bxg7 Rg8
16. Rfe1+ Kd8
17. Qg3 Qxg3
18. Bf6#)
10. Qxc3 f6 {At this point Black has not yet achieved safety, but it is pretty close. I continue with the main line, without annotations.}
11. Ba3 d6
12. Bd5 Bd7
(12... Qd7
13. Rac1 Nge7
14. Rfe1 Qd8
15. Nh4 Bg4
16. Qg3 Qd7
17. h3 Be6 {Rajaboz-Smeets 1995, ended in draw.})
13. Rfe1 O-O-O {Black castles (Steinitz Gray 1872), although White manages to win.})
9. e5 {The pawn cannot be taken due to the threat of Re1.} Qg6 {Only good square for the queen.}
(9... Nxe5
10. Re1 d6
11. Qb5+ {and if Black protects the knight with the pawn on d7, they open themselves to this fork.})
10. Nxc3 {Gaining back a pawn and bringing yet another piece into the game. White has brought almost all the pieces out, while Black is cramped.} Nge7 {And here it is again, Ne7. If playing correctly, it seems Black cannot move that knight anywhere else in any variation.}
11. Ne2 {Very sophisticated idea, as it attempts to lure Black into castling and losing their queen or some other piece in its attempted rescue.} O-O {Black falls into the trap. The next few moves demonstrate it.}
12. Nf4 Qe4 {The only acceptable move for the queen.}
(12... Qg4
13. h3 Qf5
14. Bd3 Nd4
15. Nxd4 Qxe5)
(12... Qh6
13. Ne6)
13. Bd3 Qb4 {Only safe square.}
14. Qd1 {The Black queen is still in trouble, as Rb1 follows.} Ng6 {This is the only move that is giving respite to the queen, but White still gains advantage.}
(14... d6
15. Rb1 Qc5
16. Rb5 Qc3
17. Bb2 {Queen is trapped.})
15. Rb1 Qe7
16. Nd5 Qe6
17. Rb5 {threatening to take on a5 and then fork queen and rook at c7.} Rb8
18. Ba3 d6
19. exd6 cxd6
20. Ng5 Qd7
21. Qh5 h6
22. Nf6+ gxf6
23. Qxh6 fxg5
24. Bb2 Nce5
25. Rxe5 dxe5
26. Bxe5 f6
27. Bc4+ Rf7
28. Qxg6+ Kf8
29. Bd6+ Ke8
30. Qg8+ Rf8
31. Qxf8#)

For more background you can scour the net for videos on the Evans Gambit, there are a lot. There are a multitude of traps in the Evans as well, for the unprepared. One video that I do recommend, though, is Ruy Lopez vs Italian Game where it is explained why the Giuoco Piano is less favoured than the Ruy Lopez, even if it seems to open up more avenues of attack, and also what are the goals of White in the opening, thus explaining a lot about the coices made during the Evans Gambit.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The medicine you do not need

Close friends and family of mine live in the world of alternative medicine. They believe and practice homeopathy, all kinds of massages that use bio energy, they take drugs made from plants and use all sorts of essences and stuff like that. I, on the other hand, live in the world of provable science, double blind studies and technology. And yet, after resisting the influence of my peers for so long, there are three stories which, ironically, are from the world of scientific (OK, let's call it commercial) medicine, which make me doubt the validity of my faith in it.

First of all there is a TED talk which I embed here.

This guy, Ben Goldacre, tells the story of experiments that form the basis of our medical beliefs and of the drugs and methods doctors prescribe to patients. As an example, from 53 published experiments on cancer, 47 were NOT replicable. That means only 6% of them were. Why is that? Because scientific papers are being published with overwhelming bias if they present positive results. Therefore if I make 2 experiments and one of them shows success, it is more likely to be the only published. So for everyone reading scientific papers it would appear I was successful 100% of the time.

The second story is slightly related to the first, since the wonderdrug Tamiflu was also mentioned in the above talk. Here is Peter Gotzsche, leader of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, wondering why Roche, the firm that created Tamiflu and made billions on the bird and porcine flu scares, did not release any of the relevant data on the workings of the drug for over three years now. One might argue that the tonnes of Tamiflu stockpiled by different governments could be completely useless.

But the third story is truly baffling. NewScientist published this article that says two recent studies have shown that beta-blockers, a type of drug used for over 40 years for treating heart problems, has NO effect. It works by blocking the effects of adrenalin and noradrenalin and, it was believed, it helped minimize the risk of heart attack. Apparently, they don't.

So, when I read these stories in no more than a month, how can I trust anything in the world of medicine? It is a highly lucrative business and it was to be expected to be filled with corruption and misdirection, but never have I thought that its basic functionality could be affected. Entering a drug store, I see that the shelves are filled with useless dietary supplements in colorful boxes and bottles, but I always assume that the drugs I get for specific ailments or by name are the real deal, that what is written on the label and prospect is correct. I also feel that people that die or suffer because they chose the wrong kind of medicine do so in a sort of natural selection; I just didn't believe that one of those people could be me.