14 September 2014

Thoughtless Chess

This afternoon, I invented a new game, "Thoughtless Chess".  You probably own this game already, though you may not have realized it.  The game is played on a standard chess board, with the standard chess pieces, and the pieces move exactly like they do in the normal game.

The difference, is the player.  The rules of Thoughtless Chess are few:

Source: theliftedbrow.com
  1. Of utmost importance is to realize that the object of Thoughtless Chess is not to win (nor to lose).  The object is to let the game unfold as it will, and see what happens.  There is an infinite number of possibilities for a game of chess - the goal of Thoughtless Chess is to create a random, human-generated chess match (though don't intentionally be random - see rule #2)
  2. You must make your move in a very short amount of time; and you are not permitted to plan or strategize your move (or future moves).
    • Patterns are permitted ("I feel like annihilating all of the pawns", or "I wonder how long I can go without taking a piece", etc.); any such patterns, which seem to be amounting toward a larger strategy should be called out, by any player or observer.  If that person can articulate the strategy being enacted, the player who is carrying out should desist, and will be shunned with pursed lips and shaken heads.
  3. While moves should not take time to plan, the players should be mindful of legal moves later in the game.  A player in check must make a move to get out of check.  After an initial check and un-check, however, a follow-up check is no more likely than any other eventuality (at least theoretically).
Chess theory is a long, proud tradition - The Lifted Brow published the image above as part of a lengthy investigation of the chess scene in Blade Runner (I know, you're probably saying, like I was, what chess scene in Blade Runner).  Poorly written villains use chess as a metaphor for the game of life (at least the sort of life where there is royalty and expendable little people).

Chess is a beautiful, noble game.  Players furrow their brows and stroke their chins to show how deeply they are considering their options.  Thoughtless Chess is an opportunity to experience the game itself, without the pesky mind games.

30 August 2014

Lake Express

Riding on the Lake Express Ferry for the first time.  We’ve just left behind the last of the birds doing the “Boat Challenge”, which I assume is a contest which consists of a dare to outrace the ferry for as long as possible.  Once the Lake Express gets up to its full cruising speed, it’s passing even the fastest moving birds like they’re standing still… except they’re flying parallel to the ship.

The Wisconsin coastline is still very visible, and Michigan, up ahead, is still just a vague notion.  At the mid-point, I’ll show you what both coasts look like.
It’s an odd blend of people on the ferry this morning.  There is a palpable sense of adventure to many of the groups.  It’s difficult to pin down any generalizations about the socio-economic status of Lake Express-ers.  Even more difficult to figure out is any kind of cultural mean.  There are a couple of foreigners, several “older couples”, a smattering of little kids with a parent or two, and a biker couple.  There are several people dressed like drifters, and an inordinate number of people wearing bright neon, which makes me constantly mistake them for crew members.  I can’t figure why they chose such bright attire, whether it’s their norm, or they felt it was befitting the water voyage.
The terminal, naturally, has the ooky borderland feel that almost any kind of station has.  A multitude of ennui from the people waiting, coupled with the dense feeling of mass anticipation, makes any transit hub a jumble of weighty unpleasant-ness.  Airports are particularly interesting examples of this, because the ‘average’ passenger is so much more bourgeois.  You expect a certain amount (that amount being large) of heavy despair when you’re at a bus station, but when you’re at an airport, it doesn’t seem quite as ‘natural’.  That sense of despair and foreboding is foreign for most passengers preparing to fly, and they don’t like it, and they don’t know where it’s coming from.
Now that we’re en route, though, things are looking up.  The side to side* canting of the boat aside (I’m riding up top), the ominous feel of the terminal is left behind, and the anticipation of arrival has captured the collective imagination of the passengers.  The air up here is heavy with humidity, but feels good, in conjunction with steady wind, and the forthcoming sunshine from Michigan (as you can see, the sun has long since risen, but not above the cloud-line quite yet) gives the trip a sense of hope.

* As I typed “side-to-side”, I tried to cast back to my nautical terminology, but only came up with port and starboard (which I think is back and left – a la JFK)… I then looked at the bottom of my shoe, because one of my pairs of shoes (boat shoes, natch) has the labels for all 4 directions of boating terminology (I think a third is aft – I can’t discover the fourth yet).

04 August 2014

On Tim

Reading through The Wind Through the Keyhole tonight - the story (within a story) of the brave boy, Tim, on a grand quest.  In terms of volume numbers, it means I'm more than half way through The Dark Tower series for another pass.  In terms of page numbers, I'm not so sure I'm there yet.

Before I'd tuned back in, I'd flipped on About Time, which I think is my new favorite terrible great movie from the folks at Working Title Pictures.  Man, they no terribly good movies (or goodly terribly movies).  In this latest mastersluice, a mild-mannered ginger named Tim, is told at a coming of age New Year's Day that he and the men-folk in his family are capable of autobiographic time travel.  Tim, being a Tim, uses this power to optimize his life and the life of those around him.

Tim is a noble name, with literary and historic pedigree.  I think timothy is some kind of grass.  Something understated and cool. 

I think there was probably a Timothy in the bible, and I'm quite sure there was a Saint Timothy, though I can't say what he helps folks out with. 

There's Tiny Tim - who may be no Little Nell - but certainly is one of the more obnoxious fictional characters in history... But he has such a good heart...

I can't think of a single villain named Tim (though when I asked google the same question, they introduced me to @timTheVillain twitter feed).  At the same time, I know of no super-heroes named Tim (maybe a alter ego) , no 'Great Men' who wear the name come immediately to mind. 

Instead, when Tim is a hero, he is an unexpected hero.  He's someone who rises from the everyday to perform the extraordinary.  Tim defies odds.  No one ever expects it to be Tim.

That I have a brother named Tim, of course, makes this a topic near to mind.  I'm not sure how well my theory holds for the non-fictional world.  Tim Curry, Tim Duncan, Tim Johnson, Tiny Tim (ukulele, not crutches)...  not sure what kind of conclusions to draw, but to paraphrase the Byrd:

A Tim to weep, and a Tim to laugh; a Tim to mourn, and a Tim to dance;
A Tim to cast away stones, and a Tim to gather stones together (useful when there's another Tim around casting them away); a Tim to embrace, and a Tim to refrain from embracing

Now all we need is a Tim to comment...

26 June 2014

Environmental Theory

Of late there has been a ghastly pall of fog drifting over the spires of downtown Milwaukee (also, I've been reading some H.P. Lovecraft).

I hadn't given it much thought until
Brooke asked about it this morning, musing (sorry - HP) that the cause had something to do with the lake temperature, and theorizing that this perma-mist would last through the summer until the overall lake temp rose sufficiently to no longer need to release it's loamy essence. 

I said the theory sounds sound. But it certainly looks cool to me. And befitting my current reading. 

27 April 2014

Star Trek - the Chronology

An attempt (again, wildly incomplete until it's not) to watch the Star Trek Universe chronologically.  A straightforward version exists on Wikipedia.  Others have put together lists as well, which do good work.  I'm curious about how such a viewing alters the experience - not recommended for the uninitiated.

I would love some help with this, if anyone is a Trekkie novel buff, for example.  There is real value in seeing things in new ways.  Seeing  the Star Trek world in its imagined unfolding, from our past to our present and future, helps envision what Roddenberry's world might have to offer us, if we were to work toward inhabiting this future.

I'll make note of when to watch in particular episodes in [bold face in brackets].  Real world dates will be outlined in 'far left' italics.  I'll track watching //within slashes//, both in the timeline and viewing notes

3.5 Billion Years BCE

"All Good Things" - ST:TNG (Season 7:24-25)
  • Q and JL bond at the erstwhile beginning of life.  [Briefly near the end of episode 24 (22 min. from end on Netflix)]

2731 BCE Era (approximate)

"All Our Yesterdays" - ST (Season 3: 23)
  • Spock and Bones bounce back to some Ice Age era, when humans may or may not exist in the world (and it may not be earth).
Spock's ability to overcome his primal instincts, which are taking over throughout the episode, is the earliest (chronologically, at least) example of the common Star Trek theme that people are a product of their environments much more than they are innately good or evil (or greedy, etc.).  This is an important Utopian theme that runs throughout the series.  The implication is that if we can successfully build a good and just world, people will become good and just naturally.  It's an argument for creating the change that we want to see in the world, and trusting that we inhabitants of that world will deserve it, eventually. //4.29.14//

 16__ (very approximate)

"All Our Yesterdays" - ST (Season 3: 23)
  • Kirk lands in a sort of late-17th Century version of the English Restoration-style religious fanaticism.

"Time's Arrow" - ST: TNG 
  • "Maybe it's worth giving up cigars for, after all"- Mark Twain ca. 2369 (in response to Counselor Troi's explanation of how the 24th Century has eliminated poverty, despair, hopelessness, and power run amok generally).
One of the 19th Century's greatest humanists remarks on the achievement of the humanist project (at least seemingly) in the Star Trek universe. //5.5.14//


"The City on the Edge of Tomorrow" - ST (Season 1: 28)
  • The re-write of this episode famously has Kirk making the ultimate decision to allow his new love, Edith Keeler, to die, rather than his being held back from saving her (to the detriment of the entire future) by Spock.


"Storm Front" - ST: E (Season 4:1-2)
  • An alternate history in which Germany occupies the Eastern United States during the Second World War.
At times it's obnoxiously utopian, reading the racist/sexist American 1940s as magically cured by a common enemy.


2269 - StartDate 5943.7
"All Our Yesterdays" - ST (Season 3: 23)
  • Spock recognizes (and accepts) he can't go back to the ice age he's been longing for...

"All Good Things" - ST:TNG (Season 7:24)
  • "Encounter at Farpoint" - JL's arrival on the Enterprise [Throughout Pt. 1]
Picard comes across a bit crazy in these moments, which is cool.  Interesting will be to view this episode alongside "Farpoint" when the chronology gets there. //4.26.14//
- StartDate 479.88 
"All Good Things" - ST:TNG (Season 7:24)
  • Worf and Deanna days - JL in a low-cut gray shirt [Throughout Pt. 1]


"All Good Things" - ST:TNG (Season 7:24)
  • Jean Luc's present - in the Vineyard, and beyond - (25 years after JL and Geordi served together) [Throughout Pt. 1]. Troi is dead, unmarried to both Riker and Worf.

09 March 2014


We watched Smoke Signals this afternoon - must have been the first time in more than 10 years - and I was reminded what a truly great, and enjoyable movie it is.  I love the fuzziness of truth and lies in the film - Thomas tells stories and the response is almost invariably, "is that true?".

I've had a slow-boiling theory of the transience of truth (well before Colbert's 'truthiness' campaign, thank you very much), which a film like this (or my favorite on this theme, Stranger that Fiction).  I've always read poetry as a form of this borderland between fiction and reality.  I'm never as concerned with what is or isn't absolutely true as I am with what 'rings true', which, to my mind, is poetry's primary function.

Sherman Alexie has a great poem about Walt Whitman, which is a great response to Whitman's earlier "Song of Myself", which has another response verse by Allen Ginsberg, "A Supermarket in California", which is a great echo of the original.

Others have written this connection up more completely and thoughtfully, so I'll just point here and remember a great film and storyteller in brief.


31 December 2013

Happy New Year - 1844

Sitting, enjoying some quiet holiday pause, I am reading my way Kierkegaard's Stages on Life's Way, and he unexpectedly had something to say about the New Year, which I thought worth sharing today.

"In case a man in all seriousness surrenders himself to love, he can say that he has lots of assurance, if only he can get any assurance company to take the risk, for a material so inflammable as woman must always make the insurer suspicious.  What has he done?  He has identified himself with her: if on New Year's Eve she goes off like a rocket, he goes with her, or if that does not occur, he has nevertheless come into pretty close affinity with danger..."
-Constantin Constantius 

Source: thedanishpioneer.com
... And now, a bit of context!  Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher with really excellent hair.  His book, Stages, is a collection of 'found writing' purportedly by a variety of different authors, put together into one volume by an intrepid (and equally fictional) book dealer.  The three works, "In Vino Veritas: The Banquet", "Observations about Marriage" and "Guilty/Not Guilty", presents perspectives from the several speakers on love and life.

I find "In Vino Veritas: The Banquet" something of a tough nut to crack.  The premise is fairly simple: several men go off into the woods and get rip-roaring drunk while opining about women.  The present speaker (good ole Constantin) seems to be of the mindset that any sort of congress with ladies is an inherent risk, offering up the novel concept of 'love insurance'.

The book seems an odd collection of conversation and opinions, some or all (or none) of which may be Kirkegaard's (though the notes imply that he was hung up on some woman named Regine, and his thoughts on love and life were heavily influenced by that failed relationship).  In what would become a tradition of existential writers, the text contains what seems to be a simple narrative, with piles of introspection (and in this case elocution), the content of which seems over simple - the meaning of which is to consider simple existence.

Regardless, on this New Year's Eve day a century and a half later, I wish you a Merry New Year (it seems to me that merriment goes much better with celebrating a new year, whereas happiness should be more to do with Christmas (or whatever gift-giving, family oriented holiday you may celebrate).  Make it a good one, and a safe one, though, of course, there can be no assurances...