Archive for the ‘From my life’ Category

More about playing chess again…

April 23, 2019
citadines

Main London Chess League venue 

We give some more reflections on playing league chess in London now as against in the North-East (mainly) 30 or even 40 years ago.

People

Active chess-players now seem to be either people (men) of retirement age or people (not all men in fact) from Eastern Europe–certainly a diverse group in terms of origins.  With a few exceptions, there is not much evidence of juniors–possibly because there is less time or willingness to organise chess clubs in schools.

I had thought that with the far greater number of players in London you would be more likely to end up playing opponents of the same strength.  In fact the reverse seems to be the case–with large teams (8 or 10 boards) you end up with a an even match somewhere (say on the middle boards) and a mismatch somewhere else (say on the lower boards).

Places

The fact that there is a shortage of public space in London (like church halls and community centres) is hardly a surprise.  You tend to end up doing what you can in a pub, but that won’t really do for chess.  It’s rare to encounter a venue that has sufficient space for both a match and casual games on the same evening.

Procedures

My recollection is that it used to be common practice for somebody to be on hand to welcome the visiting players and show them the toilets and other necessities (this could even be the visiting captain if he was familiar with the venue).  Now it seems that if you arrive early at an away match (and manage to find your way in) you wait like nervous sheep outside a slaughterhouse for some guidance.

The common practice of playing to a finish on the evening is surely to be preferred to adjournment or adjudication, but the quick-play regime means that you get far more possible infringements and penalties, which means that the captains get distracted from their games…

Another point possibly connected with premises is that in my past clubs used to have some ongoing activity in the form of an internal tournament and would also play matches with other clubs while in London it seems to be the other way around–there may (or may not) be some internal activity in between matches.

 

 

Old, slow, weak and stupid: playing chess again, 30 years on

April 1, 2019
chessphoto

Back view of the author after losing (picture from Lewisham Chess Club)

The experience of playing competitive (club) chess again after a break of 30 years gives rise to some interesting reflections.

Principles

It’s easy to decide that the whole thing is pointless.  Over the past three decades, computers have if not totally solved chess then reached the stage of being able to play better than any human player ever could.  In addition, while 30 years ago one merely weak, now one is weak old, slow and stupid.

In addition, it is certainly true that chess is a negative-sum game, in that the pain of defeat is greater than the joy of victory.  There are some rare cases where both sides get pleasure from a well-played draw and some very rare cases where even the loser feels he has played well and so is pleased with his efforts, but these hardly detract from the general point.

This is different from sports such as rugby (where you might not even know the score as the game progresses) and tennis, where you can have a healthy run around the court even in defeat.

So what is the point?  

A long time ago Aristotle asked of tragedy why people took pleasure in witnessing events that would be extremely distressing in real life.  His answer, which seems still to be the correct one, is that working out of these experiences in watching a play enabled one gto better deal with them or the threat of them in real life.

And the same thing happens when you play a game as when you watch a play.  The famous English virtue of character is reflected in how you react to defeat, and if (as you ought to be) you are playing people of the same approximate strength you will have an unfavourable outcome half of the time.  More specifically, chess does give you some insight into:

–whether you are inclined to take a decision (play a move) that makes you feel comfortable rather than one that is the best you can do,in the circumstances;

–how you react to unavoidably unfavourable situations (like playing a much stronger opponent)–of course, the only sensible thing to do is get your head down and do your best, but fantasising and cursing fate are both very popular;

–how you react to unfavourable situations that are due to your mistakes–not by flailing about is a good answer;

–how you make difficult decisions when there is no time to do a proper job.

Old, slow, weak and stupid

It is not clear how far what you learn here is easily transferable to real life, but the insights gained can hardly help.  Responding to the old, slow, weak and stupid point, the interesting thing here is that these learning experiences originate from the levels of conscious incompetence or conscious competence.  When you have reached the level of unconscious competence, so that you do as well as you’re going to without thinking about it, you don’t really get this kind of learning.  The same is true of foreign languages for instance–much of the educational value comes at the beginning when you realise that there really are different ways of doing things from those you take for granted.

Along the same lines, it is true that chess tends to be played by young males in the same way that they do maths homework–some do it better and more quickly because they are cleverer, but very few want to grapple with situations where there are many ways of tackling a complex problem.  Which approach leads to difficulties when they start doing maths tutorial problems at university.

Now the kind of insights to be gained from playing chess are much more useful to the the old, slow, weak and stupid fraternity and have actual lives and real decisions to take than to the young, fast, strong and clever who do not.

The NYT Dialect Quiz and Me

February 18, 2019
nytmap

reaction to First version

My first reaction to this was The NY Times dialect quiz  suggests I come from Middlesbrough or Carlisle–well I’ve been stuck at Carlisle station a few times…

And furthermore it’s a question of what age you acquire the characteristics of your speech, so for me you’ve got Teesside (ages 8-18 say) and possibly the Isle of Man (5-8 perhaps) but nothing for Sarf London (2-3 ish and 29-58).

But in summary–for my case–since even the existence of Teesside is only weakly acknowledged in Yorkshire and County Durham and hardly at all further afield, I find this seriously impressive!

nytmap2

Version 2

Of course, it also helps if you read what it says, which is The map shows places where answers most closely match your own, based on more than…respondents who said they were from Ireland or Britain.

My inititial view was that you acquire your accent/pronunciation from the other children you go to school with, but I don’t know whether that applies quite so definitively to vocabulary.  

The rubric, however, gives a more nuanced account:

The way that people speak — the particular words they use and how they sound — is deeply tied to their sense of identity. And it’s not just about geography. Education, gender, age, ethnicity and other social variables influence speech patterns, too.

These dialect markers are so ingrained into people’s sense of self that they tend to persist well after they move away from home. “Identity is what underlies most people’s retention of at least some of their local features,” said Clive Upton, professor emeritus of English language at the University of Leeds, “because ultimately what we say is who we are.”

nytmap3

Version 3

And you can always try again–I don’t think it shows you exactly the same 25 questions each time and you can change your mind about doubtful cases. I ended up with an overall conclusion of the North in general, the North-East in particular and specifically Teesside.

We give some advice on mental illness…

March 29, 2017

I was asked whether my own experience provided any guidance for a friend whose daughter, a student, had returned home from university apparently suffering from depression:

I did indeed suffer from severe depression (accompanied by anxiety) 30 or so years ago when you used to kindly come and visit me in the hospital in [a place] whose name I’ve forgotten. Since then, I’ve suffered from it  more mildly on a few occasions.  (I think I the most serious episode was when I had five days off work while waiting for the pills to take effect.)

I personally find that antidepressants have always worked for me.   Apart from that, a lot of the process of getting through mental illness (indeed illness generally) is finding someone who you can talk to, who will listen to you and take you seriously.  I had a very nice lady doctor in [a place] who managed to sell me me on various things by saying that especially if you were clever you could convince yourself that depression was all kind of terrible things but it was just depression.

It’s important to reach the stage of understanding that this is it, which means that it’s not going to go away but also it’s not going to turn into something fantastically worse.  I think it’s useful to have contact with people in the same kind of situation as yourself, but I believe (this may be a London thing) that nowadays inpatient mental health facilities are often occupied largely by dual diagnosis cases (drug use and mental illness) and so aren’t particularly pleasant.  Actually, that’s not only London but also NHS, so probably beside the point. In my day, a lot of the clientele were nice young women suffering from bipolar disorder and as long as they were taking their lithium they were perfectly charming.

I have no real experience of either talking therapies or ECT, so can’t say much about therapeutic possibilities outside pills. It’s certainly the case that whatever the  underlying mechanism is, severe episodes are initiated by stress of some kind, so it’s worthwhile avoiding that.  I think that something like a rest cure in a simplified, predictable environment ought to do some good–it did some good in the days when there were no effective specific treatments.  One should avoid alcohol and other recreational chemicals–at best they impede the process of things getting better naturally.

I hope this answers your questions, as far as my experience is relevant.  What strikes me from re-reading your letter is that you say [your daughter] had been self-harming for years as of a year ago.  That suggests something starting in adolescence, which is a different mechanism from the one I am well acquainted with of having a severe initial episode as a young adult and less severe recurrences through adult life.

I return to work after three weeks away

July 11, 2016

lightgreen

0527  Wake up.  Where am I?  In Warsaw? I can recognise the picture and the bookcase, but the room is green and my bed is surely in the wrong place. Do I have a lecture to go to?  Stay awake and worry.

0904 –Where is that smell of stale sweat coming from?–The man sitting next to me is reading The Sun.

0927  Jon catches up with me as I cross the road and asks what I am working on.  I have no idea, I mutter something about operational projects and evaluation.

0950  My desktop icons have disappeared.  I ring up.  They reappear.

1015  I ring up.  They find some very old email folders.

1110  Not much in the inbox.  A demand for a quarterly report and a slide for a meeting on Wednesday I declined some time ago.

1120  OK there’s some crap about Performance Management and the slide to do this afternoon.  I may be OK.

1127  Carly says that cherry liqueur chocolates are her favourite.

1200  I can go to lunch.  Maybe I will feel better after.

1245  Lunch was nice.  Let’s go out for a bit and see how much a new computer costs.  Sofia’s meeting will take up part of the afternoon and I can do some of the other crap in draft and fix it tomorrow.

1417  So I miss the Programme Managers’ meeting because I am doing a Programme Slide.

1525  Maybe I can just put the requirements in the PM thing and fill it in later when I have some time.  I can go home in a couple of hours.

1603  When can I go home?

1630  I must last out to going-home time. That’s what matters.  Concentrate on that.

1713  Prepare to start packing up to go home.

1723  Go home.

‘On my hip I find there is no mole…’ (Larisa Dobrozorova)

January 11, 2015

On my hip I find there is no mole.
Everything is in its place when I wake
but that mustard-coloured flake…
Now, without distinguishing marks, I am whole.

Where is it? Did it flee? Was it kissed away?
Was it charmed away? Displaying your fidelity
at least to it, I suppose it’s likely that you may
not acknowledge in the public morgue a living me.

 

Просыпаюсь – а родинки нет
на бедре. Все на месте, а эта –
как снежинка, горчичного цвета…
Я теперь – без особых примет.

Где? Сбежала сама? Сцеловали?
Сколдовали? – Ей верность храня,
ты теперь опознаешь едва ли
в общем морге живую меня.

Protected: Letter to Irina

December 27, 2014

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below: