Some thoughts on slow chess

I asked an old friend on Twitter the other day if he wanted to play chess. I’m no good at chess, but I thought it would be fun to play a really slow—and by slow I mean weeks or months—game of chess.

A few times, back in the day—it must have been graduate school or just after—I would go to Yahoo! Games to play chess, or some other simple board games. I didn’t realize it until after writing the preceding sentence and trying to go to Yahoo! Games that it doesn’t even exist anymore. (Wired: “Yahoo Games Has Passed Away at Just 17“) Anyway, I always got beat, but it was fun to play, and to maybe chat with someone for a while before moving on.

I had a thought that we good just send our moves back and forth to each other via Twitter. Slowchess. Pat myself on the back for coming up with that. But exists and redirects to, which looks like an active but old-school interactive chess game site. And what’s more is that there appears to be a term for this kind of asynchronous game: correspondence chess. There’s even an International E-mail Chess Club. Should’ve known better than to think I came up with something that clever on my own.

I’m going to spend a little time developing something anyway, just for coding practice. I’m thinking it will work like this. Start a game with a friend on Twitter by sending a tweet to @slowchess (surprised that handle was still available). Tweet your move to @slowchess for that game, and both players get a tweet with the current game board. Repeat until it’s over.

That’s it. Maybe it’s a lack of vision, or having come of age when the web was fairly half-assed and I wasn’t even able to develop eighth-assed solutions, but I’d like to see how lo-fi I can do it while still making it viable. In fact, while developing, I could even make it work Mechanical Turk style. Everything online seems to have features Features FEATURES with artificial intelligence this and machine learning that and that’s OK. I’m into it. But I don’t want it in everything. I just want to goof off a little and learn how things work.

A week in review, 2018-W02


Chinese vocabulary

From Chinese word of the day:

出轨, 伙伴, 声调, 重要, 出错, 误会, 关注




  • 色,戒 (Lust, Caution), directed by Ang Lee



鳄梨豆腐 (silken tofu with avocado) and 豆豉鸡丁 (black bean chicken) are both an exercise from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. 小七 is a cat and he’s not supposed to be on the table.


The worst things about running in the cold, in alphabetical order

  1. Breathing
  2. Having fingers

    1. -9°C. Feels like 17°C. And that’s a step up from last week.

      Breathing doesn’t hurt. It just leaves a funny sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach. Air doesn’t go down there. Where is that signal coming from? Hypothesis: the stomach is smarter than the brain, or at least has better survival instincts.

      And fingers. Two pairs of gloves. Three pairs of gloves. Doesn’t matter. Wind finds a way. And ten minutes into a run, the signal starts to break up, and the fingers don’t want to bend, and eventually they are there only if you look at them. Just useless, stiff, painless sausages. But wait, there’s more! In twenty more minutes you have a choice between (a) the pain of waking-up-fingers or (b) the anxiety of why-aren’t-these-fingers-waking-up.

      Trust me, you really need them to wake up. Try unlocking your front door while holding the key with two sausages. Possible, but not recommended.

Starting over–how hard could it be?

Have you ever looked over a cliff and felt vertigo–not to imagine falling but just feel the dizzying spin of the mind as it copes with the perspective and its implications. To brace for the impact that isn’t coming, but feels real nonetheless. To feel unstable even with four points of contact on the rock.

That’s what considering a professional shift feels like, anyway. The paychecks are coming, hands are on the rock face, something feels like it is floating down and away.

Instead of doing a web search for something obvious (“mid life crisis”) I opted for “know thyself”. Don’t ask me. I just live in this head.

The first (useful) link (that wasn’t about motivation or self-realization or some other claptrap that I’m probably going to be invested in within days at the current rate) was this one: Bence Nanay, “Know thyself is not just silly advice: it’s actively dangerous“. That’s not what I was looking for. I was looking for something a little more soothing so I could sleep tonight and make it through eight hours of work tomorrow. Just give me one of those quizzes and tell me what I am.

There is a huge difference between what you like and what you do. What you do is dictated not by what you like, but by what kind of person you think you are.

The real harm of this situation is not only that you spend much of your time doing something that you don’t particularly like (and often positively dislike). Instead, it is that the human mind does not like blatant contradictions of this kind. It does its best to hide this contradiction: a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance.

And there’s a link in there to this paper: Quoidbach, Jordi, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson. “The End of History Illusion.” Science 339 (2013): 96. (Full copy here wink wink.)

Let’s just pick off the first sentence to set the tone:

At every stage of life, people make decisions that profoundly influence the lives of the people they will become—and when they finally become those people, they aren’t always thrilled about it. […] Why do people so often make decisions that their future selves regret?

Google, show me “mid life crisis”. Mine, yours, anyone’s. I’m not picky. How much is a red convertible?

[…] people may believe that who they are today is pretty much who they will be tomorrow, despite the fact that it isn’t who they were yesterday.

That’s more promising, right? A person doesn’t expect to change much in the future because they don’t recognize how much they’ve changed in the past. That’s the “end of history illusion”. The vertiginous feeling is leaning into the future over what your brain believes was a horizon not that far away. Imagining yourself becoming something else is, in that case, not much different than poking your head through reality. How else would you expect a healthy brain to react?

Stepped in a self-help book

I avoid self-help, motivational books because they give me the creeps. They’re a little unsettling to me. They don’t seem to me like they have wildly effective advice–to the extent that they have any practical advice at all, not just some cover-to-cover affirmative statements–but they still irritate whatever gland that is that makes me feel like I’m missing out on something. How does that work? I don’t know. It seems best to avoid it.

(Obvious pivot.)

Sometime last year I listened to Tony Robbins on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, and this year he popped up in an old version of James Altucher’s podcast that I downloaded. He was pitching his book Money: Master the Game. That title… oof. Hard to swallow. That’s like someone trying to sell me a pair of pants by telling me that they’re women’s pants–even if they fit, no thanks.

I got it anyway. (From the library.) The book is mostly vapid so far, but it’s interesting. I told my wife that my new year’s resolution this year would be to learn how to manipulate people–which was a joke, by the way. This guy has definitely tapped into some frequency that keeps you looking out for the next thing coming in just a few more pages, a few more chapters. I don’t want to read it, but I want to read it. What is that feeling? That compulsion? I’m somewhere around page 90 and I’d like to go to the other book I’m reading, but I also don’t want to miss anything in this one.

When he was pitching the book on the podcasts, the part that attracted me wasn’t the Yes You Can Get Rich part of it, but the idea that money could be a game. That really hasn’t been addressed yet in the book. But the idea has stuck in my mind. I bet if I could model my finances, and turn it into some kind of game and learn how to play it better than I’m playing it now, I could do better. And feel less anxious about our national religion, Money. And I could learn how to do the coding along the way to model something like that.

So I’m expecting that aspect of the book–dumbed-down motivational guide–to help me out. There’s something about having a published author give me a list of things to consider that feels more valid than ideas that I have myself. I’ll take that list of 7 Simple Incredible Invincible Steps For Amazing Freedom And Empowering Empowerment And Whatnot and build a simple game out of it. I’m serious. Why not? If it works, it works. Should be rich by Friday. Gimme $20 on Monday and I’ll show you how.

(Bonus: Step Right Up. “The large print giveth / And the small print taketh away.”)

A week in review, 2018-W01


Chinese vocabulary

开始, 军师, 当时, 开水, , 已经, 胆量







One of my favorites: Python Weekly

Here’s one of my favorite email lists I’m a part of: Python Weekly.

I recommend it to you, even if you’re not a big Python person. What I like about it is just seeing the range of problems that can be solved. Honestly, I don’t even understand most of the Python stuff that it links to. And I don’t feel the need to understand most of it because I don’t rely so heavily on 3rd party libraries (for good or ill). I read through the links and absorb ideas that I can steal.

Do it up.


I checked into the Venture Cafe tonight at the Danforth Plant Science Center to hear some people pitch projects that they were working on. The one that stood out to me was this app: TableTalk.

The basic idea seemed to be this: make it easy to set up a table anywhere (via API connections to Yelp, Eventbrite, Meetup) and meet with people. Even if they’re people you don’t know, you could organize around an idea or topic.

I have a Meetup account, but I never use it. I’m a member (“member”) of a number of local groups, and I get the weekly updates, but I never use it. The regular schedule of the meetups make them seem like pseudo-organizations, and I’m not interested in that. And the feeling I get from the meeting announcements is that they’re aiming for big crowds, but there only seem to be a few people actually signed up. It all seems a little off for me, so I never use it.

TableTalk sounded nice to me because it seems to be aimed at a smaller audience per meeting—the size of a table, obviously. And it feels like a one-time thing for each event without any unnecessary obligation, even if you do repeat the events. The demo app worked quickly as well.

It’s planned for launch in a few weeks. I hope it goes well. I think it could go far.

On leaving well enough alone

This is a followup of sorts to this one: “My Recurring Nightmare” (15 Oct 2016).

On Friday, for our project 2 team in CS411: Database Systems, I needed to demonstrate the software we’re developing to the professor via Skype. The project is to develop a program that can perform SQL queries on CSV files. On Thursday night, I had a version of the code that only had simple capabilities (a single WHERE statement on a single table), but it worked.

And what follows is where we get the saying: leave well enough alone.

Since I ended up taking a sick day from work on Friday, I spend some of the time trying to develop more capabilities in the code. Mainly, just trying to get the thing to accept multiple WHERE statements. Naturally, I broke something. And that something that I broke, well, it broke everything. At least before it gave some correct outputs for simple inputs. But after the “improvement”: blank answers for everything.

And that’s what I got to present to the professor. Laugh or cry—what difference does it make?

At least I got to walk him through the code and explain how it was working the evening before. And it didn’t turn out too bad because the other project teams were also having problems, so another intermediate demo was scheduled. And I was able to get in there and, first, fix the thing I broke, and second, add the extra capability I was trying to get in there in the first place. So all’s well that ends well.

That moment of terror an hour before presentation time, though, was the stuff of occasionally recurring nightmares about college. I was tempted to say I learned my lesson about fussing with things that are good enough, but I’ve lived in this head long enough to know that I’ll do it again, and at the first available opportunity.

On GitHub, if you can work Python and would like to give it a try: SQL CSV ASAP.

Back to Los Angeles, December 2017

The version of me that spent three-ish years in the LA area may as well have been a different person. That’s one of the refrains I use on myself to avoid thinking too hard about whether I’d prefer to be there now or not.

I used to believe in no regrets, but after some years I’ve settled more on not only regrets. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, and it’s not going to make the cut for a motivational poster, but after a few decades I can’t image it’s not OK to look in the rearview mirror sometimes and think, “Oof, maybe I should have turned there.” The key is not to dwell on it. If you’ve figured that one out, tell me how.

Where were we…

Coming up in December: four days in the LA area. My wife and I are going to check in on the things we miss. Porto’s Bakery in Burbank. Sushi Komasa in Little Tokyo. 金海餐厅 in Monterey Park. Pick up a Green Tea Mille Crêpes cake at Lady M. Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Glendale. Oysters from the Pacific Fish Center at the Redondo Pier.

And others. If we can fit it in—fit in in the schedule, fit it in our stomach.

There are people there that I miss as well. Of course, there’s never enough time for that. But we’ll try.

There are other things in my memory from that time as well, but I don’t know how to classify them. I only lived there in Burbank—lived as in having my own address— for about 15 months. But I was there for 42 months, though the first 24 were only half-time because I was traveling two weeks on/two weeks off for work. So my memory from the time is a mess of running trails and diners and bars and roads and bookstores. As snapshots, when they come uninvited to mind, the memories are so crisp and tangible, but as they pass they leave eddies in their wake, fouling the memory image so you wonder if the substance of the memory was ever there at all. It doesn’t hurt. It’s more of a curiosity. Like seeing a face you think you recognize, only to realize that it’s a mirror.