21 March 2017

Another type of chess "problem"


Broadcast media (movies, television) have persistent difficulties incorporating chess into their storylines without introducing errors:
There are a ton of chess mistakes in TV and in film,” says Mike Klein, a writer and videographer for Chess.com. While different experts cite different error ratios, from “20 percent” to “much more often than not,” all agree: Hollywood is terrible at chess, even though they really don’t have to be. “There are so many [errors], it’s hard to keep track,” says Grandmaster Ilja Zaragatski, of chess24. “And there are constantly [new ones] coming out.”

Chess errors come in a few different flavors, these experts say. The most common is what we’ll call the Bad Setup. When you set up a chessboard, you’re supposed to orient it so that the square nearest to each player’s right side is light-colored. (There’s even a mnemonic for this—“right is light.”) Next, when you array the pieces, the white queen goes on white, and the black queen goes on black. “When I teach six-year-old girls, I say ‘the queen’s shoes have to match her dress!’” says Klein.

Six-year-olds may get this, but filmmakers often do not. Along with The Seventh Seal, movies that suffer from Bad Setups include Blade Runner, Austin Powers, From Russia with Love, The Shawshank Redemption, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. Shaft and What’s New Pussycat may not have much in common, but they do both feature backwards chessboards.
Further discussion (re dramatic checkmates and tipped-over kings) at Atlas Obscura via Neatorama.

Compare and contrast


For your essay today, class, you will compare and contrast two of the leaders of major countries in terms of their knowledge about nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump's comments (on the left) can be viewed in this video.  Fortunately, at the time he was not speaking to Angela Merkel, whose doctoral dissertation (on the right) translates as:
"Study of the mechanism of decomposition with single bond breaking and calculation of their rate constant on the basis of quantum mechanical and statistical methods." ("Dissertation to obtain the academic degree doctor in a branch of science - diploma physicist Angela Merkel...")
Sheesh.

Not untrue


From the archives of The New Yorker.

The ancient Greeks had no word for "blue"

Homer’s descriptions of color in The Iliad and The Odyssey, taken literally, paint an almost psychedelic landscape: in addition to the sea, sheep were also the color of wine; honey was green, as were the fear-filled faces of men; and the sky is often described as bronze.

It gets stranger. Not only was Homer’s palette limited to only five colors (metallics, black, white, yellow-green, and red), but a prominent philosopher even centuries later, Empedocles, believed that all color was limited to four categories: white/light, dark/black, red, and yellow. Xenophanes, another philosopher, described the rainbow as having but three bands of color: porphyra (dark purple), khloros, and erythros (red).

The conspicuous absence of blue is not limited to the Greeks. The color “blue” appears not once in the New Testament, and its appearance in the Torah is questioned (there are two words argued to be types of blue, sappir and tekeleth, but the latter appears to be arguably purple, and neither color is used, for instance, to describe the sky).
Further discussion in an interesting column at the Clarkesworld sci-fi e-magazine.

With a tip of the blogging cap to the elves at No Such Thing as a Fish for mentioning this in a recent podcast.

19 March 2017

"A Man Called Ove"


I watched this movie earlier this week and can unreservedly recommend it.
A Man Called Ove (Swedish: En man som heter Ove, pronounced [ˈuːvɛ]) is a Swedish comedy-drama film... The film was written and directed by Hannes Holm, and is based on author Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name. In the leading role as Ove is Rolf Lassgård. The film was nominated for six awards, winning two, at the 51st Guldbagge Awards in 2016. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling categories at the 89th Academy Awards.
It's clearly not a Hollywood-style movie, featuring a curmudgeonly older man rather than a superhero, in a story where nothing explodes.  It begins a bit slowly, until the viewer learns a bit of the backstory of the protagonist.  A pleasant diversion for an evening's entertainment.

Re universal health care


Via Reddit.

Word for the day: "Rotting Room"

Before the bodies of Spanish royalty are consigned to their gilded crypts, they are first consigned to a special chamber to allow the flesh to decay.
Rotting Room is the unglamorous translation of “El Pudridero.” When Felipe II designed the gargantuan El Escorial royal complex in the 16th century northwest of Madrid, he practically made it a shrine of death... Located behind the Pantheon walls, accessible only to monks at the Escorial monastery, this is a secretive room accessed by a private passage... It’s here where for at least 20 years mortal kings — and queens who birthed kings — decompose beneath lime until they are completely bone.

Centuries later, the Rotting Room is still in use.

Remembering the Metropolitan Blues All Stars


When I lived in Kentucky in the 1980s,  I had several opportunities to hear the Metropolitan Blues All Stars perform.  The group members came from in the hills of Eastern Kentucky; they came to Lexington for concert performances (or to Louisville for Lonesome Pine Specials as in the 1987 one embedded above).

I particularly remember Rodney Hatfield's prolonged harmonica riffs, and I have an old VCR tape with Caroline Dahl really rocking the keyboard; I understand she later moved on to San Francisco for a successful career there.

I wonder if any other readers here remember the group.  Miss C?

As reported by The Onion


For those unfamiliar with the publication:  "The Onion is an American digital media company and news satire organization... The Onion's articles cover current events, both real and fictional, satirizing the tone and format of traditional news organizations with stories, editorials, op-ed pieces, and man-in-the-street interviews using a traditional news website layout and an editorial voice modeled after that of the Associated Press. The publication's humor often depends on presenting mundane, everyday events as newsworthy, surreal or alarming.

And a backstory from Mother Jones.

Keeping foreigners out of the United States

As reported by Voice of America:
Each year, the University of Southern California brings delegations from Africa to meet with business leaders, government officials and others in the U.S. But this year, the African summit has no Africans. All were denied visas.

Visa issues are not uncommon for people traveling from African nations. During her prior three summits, Mary Flowers saw a high percentage of her attendees at the African Global Economic and Development Summit, unable to attain visas.

"Usually we get 40 percent that get rejected but the others come," said Flowers, chair of the African Global Economic and Development Summit. "This year it was 100 percent. Every delegation. And it was sad to see, because these people were so disheartened."

Flowers estimated that she lost about 100 attendees, including speakers and government officials. The countries affected included Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa.
More details at the link.

Horseplay

16 March 2017

Chess problem

From The Telegraph:
The puzzle above may seem hopeless for white, with just a King and four pawns remaining, but it is possible to draw and even win.

Scientists have constructed it in a way to confound a chess computer, which would normally consider that it is a win for black.  However an average chess-playing human should be able to see that a draw is possible.  A chess computer struggles because it looks like an impossible position, even though it is perfectly legal...

The first person who can demonstrate the solution legally will receive a bonus prize.

Both humans, computers and even quantum computers are invited to play the game and solutions should be emailed to puzzles@penroseinstitute.com.

Hospital waste

I can verify from personal experience that the following account is basically true:
This, however, isn’t a story of about the crippling price of medical supplies. This is about the high cost of medical supplies that hospitals throw away.

On a recent snowy day the warehouse’s 65-year-old proprietor, Elizabeth McLellan, gave an indignant accounting: She yanked a urinary catheter out of one bin. It’s unopened and has an expiration date of July 2018. “There’s no reason to get rid of this.” A box of 30 new feeding bags has an August 2019 expiration date. The same type sells on Amazon.com for $129.

That surgical stapler? It’s unopened. The same model sells online for $189. And McLellan simply shook her head over a set of a dozen long thin laparoscopic surgery instruments that some hospital discarded. Similar used tools can go for hundreds of dollars.

“There’s nothing wrong with these, nothing wrong with any of these,” she said.

Ten years ago, McLellan, a registered nurse, shocked to see what hospitals were tossing out, began asking them to give her their castoffs instead. In 2009 she launched Partners for World Health, a nonprofit that now has four warehouses throughout Maine. Today, she and hundreds of volunteers collect medical equipment and supplies from a network of hospitals and medical clinics, sort them and eventually ship containers full of them to countries like Greece, Syria and Uganda...

MedShare, a Georgia-based nonprofit more than 10 times the size of Partners, sent 156 containers of discarded medical supplies to developing countries last year, each one worth as much as $175,000...

McLellan started her nonprofit after watching patient rooms being cleaned out at Maine Medical Center, where she was a nurse administrator. When patients were discharged, hospital staff threw out everything, including unopened supplies. McLellan got permission from the hospital’s CEO to put out bins to save the discarded items.

A year and a half later, she’d gathered more than 11,000 pounds of supplies and equipment in her house. Today, Partners has three paid employees — McLellan is a volunteer — and an annual budget of $357,000, most of it from individual donations. Hundreds of volunteers pitch in. Similar nonprofits have sprung up around the country...

And those pallets of adult diapers stacked high on a shelf? He sells the same type at his pharmacy for $11.99 per package or more. Farren recalled one time they picked up about 100 unopened packages of diapers from the home of a patient who had died. “It was ridiculous,” he said.
Further details at Salon.

"Heelwork" demonstrated


I remember teaching our dogs to "heel."  But heelwork at Cruft's annual show is a whole world different.

Here's the 2015 winner.

Via Neatorama, where there is also a video of the flyball competition.

14 March 2017

Future presidential candidate ?


He says no.  But lots of people are discussing openly the possibility of the Democratic party nominating a non-politician for the office of President.

The underlying logic would be that the president needs to represent the people, but he/she doesn't need to be an expert on law, or war or economics or education.  The president has (or at least should have) a staff and aides to provide analysis and expert opinions.  The president meets with other foreign leaders with a major role in diplomacy, and needs to communicate effectively with Congress and the people.

Michael Moore was the first person I heard who advocated this change, speaking just a week after Donald Trump was elected:
Moore, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union show, said the leadership vacuum that will result from the departures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would best be filled by a well-liked celebrity.

Democrats would be better off if they ran Oprah [Winfrey] or Tom Hanks,” said Moore. “Why don’t we run beloved people? We have so many of them. The Republicans do this – they run [Ronald] Reagan and the Terminator [Arnold Schwarzenegger] and other people.”

Moore continued: “Why don’t we run somebody that the American people love and are really drawn to, and that are smart and have good politics and all that?” 
A CNN article discusses the possibility of Oprah Winfrey campaigning for the presidency.  There is also a relevant article in New Republic.

Other celebrities who might consider running for political office (not necessarily for the presidency) include Will Smith, Roseanne Barr, Angelina Jolie, Kanye West, and Mark Zuckerberg.

"Traditionalists" who cringe at the thought of celebrities invading politics might do well to remember that (IIRC) one of the concepts of the Founding Fathers was that state and national legislators should be ordinary people who could put aside their hammers and plowshares and travel to the capitol to manage the country, then return to their work (although they themselves were elite aristocrats).

Photo credit Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, via.
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