Saturday, May 30, 2009

in your face, Boston

Greg and Susan tried to go to Boston this weekend, but a suicide on the train tracks (unforeseen, the conductor kept stressing), followed by a malfunctioning engine on the replacement train convinced them that Boston was not in the cards.

Instead they came to visit me!

Greg shows me (us, readers!) a copy of a picture he bought at a street fair near Washington Square Park. It is the most colorful picture I have ever seen.

Actually, I only saw Greg for half an hour, because Rochelle, Brittanie, Talitha, Jiejing, Mitasha and I are playing in the NY State Women's Championship at the Marshall. We have 2, 1, 0.5, 1.5, 1, and 2, respectively. Rochelle and I are the top two seeds and the only ones with two, so she has white against me tomorrow.

Mitasha and Brittanie

Talitha and Jiejing

by the way, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is my favorite movie.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's finally here: the computer program that knows everything. You ask it any question and, instead of searching the internet for the answer, it figures it out. try here

It's inventor and namesake, Stephen Wolfram, "raised eyebrows when he proposed, in a self-published tome in 2002, that the entire universe is but a giant calculator that has been running for billions of years."

And for your viewing amusement: a catalog of galaxies!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

funnier than Sarah Palin?!

I love comical Republican politicians. My new favorite: Michael Steele!

In a recent speech, he argues that legalizing gay marriage will hurt small businesses. (it's a good exercise to pause for a moment here and try to imagine what form this argument could possibly take.)

"Now all of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for," Steele told Republicans at the state convention in traditionally conservative Georgia. "So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money."

From this I concluded
a) He's really, hilariously stupid.
b) He's a total prick.
c) I am enormously looking forward to reading more about him.

So I come across this GQ interview with glee. Mr. Steele begins with an anecdote I can only describe as a creation myth:

Let’s talk about your background. You have a fascinating background. You were adopted

Tell me how it happened.
Well, from what I’ve been told, it’s really kind of a touching story. My mother, when we finally talked about it—it wasn’t until I was much older that she shared with me the story of my arriving in our home. And she said that she was unable to conceive children, and decided, you know, with her husband, that they wanted to have a family. So she went to Catholic charities here, St. Ann’s infant home in Maryland. And she said it was funny, she was walking through the nursery and she got to this one crib, and there was this baby there, and the baby stood up and reached out and said, “Mom.” And that was me.

How old would you have been?
Oh, 7, 8 months old.

And you said, “Mom”?
And reached for her. When she walked by, I reached for her. And even the nuns were, like, floored by that moment. It was very powerful when she told me that. I was a sobbing wreck when she told me that story.

what does it mean to tell such a story to GQ?

But you also decide, after graduating Johns Hopkins, to go into the priesthood? What a decision.
It’s a huge decision. And of course my friends were like, “You’re going to be a what?” You know, because I had a small reputation at Hopkins, you know—

As what?
I loved to party—still do—and have a good time

Then he tells a bitchy story about Barack Obama:

Have you had any dealings with Barack Obama?
Nooo. I tried, I tried. When he first came to Washington, I was two years into my term. At that time, I was the only African-American lieutenant governor in the country. And when Obama became senator, my office called his office several—no, more than several—times, to invite…for the two of us to sit down and get to know each other. I was gonna welcome him to my hometown, Washington, D.C. I figured, you know, take him out and get to know each other. And his office told my staff they didn’t see any need for the two of us to meet. So I’m like, “Oh-kay. All right. I don’t know what that’s all about, but that’s fine.”

And did you do that with everyone who was newly elected in the Senate?
No. I reached out to him brother to brother.

Brother to brother?
Yeah, you know: “There are only two of us, Barack, just you and me. You’re the senator, I’m the lieutenant governor.” ’Cause you didn’t have, you know, the black governors in New York and Massachusetts. It was just us.


Well, would you have this job if you were white?
Would I have this job? Now, that’s the reverse of the question I typically get. I usually get, would I have this job if the president were white? And my answer to that is yes. But would I have this job if I were white? [long pause] The answer to that is I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s a very good question. And it says a lot about, I think, where the party is right now that I can’t answer it.

Nice that he's at least thoughtful, but cmon, obviously he would not, right?
And finally, he makes avoiding/totally reframing questions look easy:

What specifically do you blame Bush for, economywise?
Oh, my goodness. The massive bailout at the end of his term? I mean, I don’t even want to use—I don’t even want to get into a blame game, ’cause that’s typical Washington stuff.

Do you have any criticism of how Dick Cheney played his role?
Oh gosh, yes. But I think, at the end of the day, the American people are a little bit better off, a little bit safer, because of what he did. Now, we can make the argument about the style of it, we can make the argument about some of the details of it, but it was effective.

it's really a political golden age

Monday, May 25, 2009

terrorism can be funny too

Jo Parr, 42, who lives two blocks east of the coffee shop, said that the blast had woken her up.
“It was really loud,” she said, describing the sound as a “concussion.”

'Stupidest man on the planet', says sister of James Cromitie, alleged would-be Bronx terrorist

When U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa M. Smith asked James Cromitie if his judgment was impaired during his appearance in federal court in White Plains, the 55-year-old confessed: “No. I smoke it regularly…I understand everything you are saying.”

Is the Bronx Terror Plot Good for Stoners?

Just imagine, for a moment, how lethal and effective these potential terrorists could have been if they weren't getting high. Maybe, with a clear head and increased awareness of their surroundings, they would have noticed they were being constantly surveilled. Perhaps they would have figured out that the explosives the FBI provided to them were duds. And most important, had their capacity for reason been uncontaminated, they might have recognized that the mysterious new stranger in their mosque was working for the government, as everyone else was apparently able to deduce quite easily. As the Post reports:

[Head imam Salahuddin Mustafa] Mohammad said members of the mosque had detected a man they believe was the government's informant, trying to get people to talk about jihad and radical Islam. The man would take people out for expensive meals to win them over, Mohammad said. "Anyone with any smarts knew to stay away from this guy," he said.

Anyone with smarts? Or anyone who wasn't easily swayed by the prospect of free food?
(click on the headline above for more clear-headed reasoning by New York Magazine)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Bronx Bombers
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

not related to terrorists, but great:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Saturday, May 23, 2009

from the obituary of Velupillai Prabhakaran

Velupillai Prabhakaran, former leader of the Tamil Tigers

"He stayed mostly underground where, like some large grub, he was oiled twice a day by his bodyguards and fed on curry and Clint Eastwood movies, in which cops and cowboys shot themselves out of trouble. He had an escape plan, or several. His cadres would kill him, and burn the body; he would squeeze himself into a submarine; he would bite on the cyanide capsule that hung on a black string round his neck."


Thursday, May 21, 2009

sorry to ruin your day

The Gambian President (absolute dictator), His Excellency President Professor Dr. Al-Haji Yahya Jammeh, was only a little weird at first : he invented a banana-and-herb-based cure for AIDS, he forbade anyone from passing under his special enormous commemorative arch, etc.
But recently he became afraid the country had been invaded by witches. So he kidnapped hundred of citizens from their villages at night, took them to secret locations, and forced them to drink a "foul-smelling potion," which caused hallucinations, immense pain, convulsions. people are really crazy, huh?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

nine things I'm definitely going to do in Thailand

I'm very excited about my upcoming (August!) trip to Thailand. I'm planning to spend a week in Phuket, and 6-8 days traveling before and after that. If you've been there, please make suggestions.

scuba diving in Phuket

Monk Chat (I have a lot of questions) at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai

thai massage

kayaking in Ao Phang Nga

staying at this mushroom farm in Pha Deng

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai
renting a motorbike in Chiang Mai and driving to the hot springs at San Kamphaeng

hiking in the north

lying on the beach

I fail to win a knight ending

Chandran,Kapil 19??- Vicary, Elizabeth 2100
Marshall rd 2, 20.05.2009
1.e4 c6
I just switched to the Caro Kann, starting, I guess, with this game, and I was relatively happy to be trying it out against a kid rated 100 points lower than me. I know it a little already because many of my students play it.

2.d4 d5
3.exd5 cxd5
4.c4 Nf6
5.Nc3 e6 I'm actually intending to play the endgame with 5...Nc6, but I haven't gotten to look at that properly yet, and I figured I knew more about the main 5... e6 line.
6.Bg5 Be7
7.Nf3 0–0
I had some idea that c5 is supposed to be good only when black has put the knight on c6 already, reason being that after white inevitably plays b4 in response to ...b6, (s)he will be threatening a quick b5, which will hit the knight, and then c6, and it gets nasty. But ok, nothing is obviously wrong with c5 here, except it gives up pressure on my center.
9.b4 a5 I wasn't sure about this. I could open the b file and leave the a file closed. Who wants what? I will have to ask Dave.
10.a3 axb4 I did think about playing Ne4 at several points around here. I wasn't sure if changing the pawn straucture was really in my favor-- d4 is exposed but maybe my new e4 pawn is weak and will I have to play f5? Here's a rybka line: 10...Ne4 11.Nxe4 dxe4 12.Bxe7 Qxe7 13.Ne5 axb4 14.axb4 Rxa1 15.Qxa1 bxc5

now 16.dxc5 loses a pawn to 16...Qf6 17.Qb2 Nc6 18.Nc4 Qxb2 19.Nxb2 Nxb4, but 16. bxc5 is possible. I don't know, do I like that? Readers: thoughts?
11.axb4 Rxa1
12.Qxa1 bxc5
13.bxc5 Nc6
Does my bishop belong on d7 or b7? I couldn't decide

14....Qc7 So I moved my queen
15.0–0 Bb7
16.Rb1 Ra8

It's my bad bishop? I should trade it?
18.Bxa6 Rxa6
19.Ra1 Qa7
20.Rxa6 Qxa6
21.h3 h6

I figured I would start attacking his weaknesses: B-->f6, maybe I break things open with ...e5?
23.Nb5 Qb7 [23...e5! 24.Nxe5 Ndxe5 25.Bxe5 Nxe5 26.dxe5 Bxc5 27.Nd4 Qd3]
24.Qe2 Bf6
25.Kh2 Qa6 You know why I played this? I had a strong sense he might blunder as he did.

what's the worst way out of the pin?
26.Qb2?? Nxc5
27.Qb1 Ne4
28.Kg1 Qa4
29.Be5 Bxe5
30.dxe5 Qb4
31.Qxb4 Nxb4
32.Nfd4 Kf8 [32...Nd3 33.f3 Nec5 34.Nc6 Nd7]
33.f3 Nc5
34.g3 Ke7


So I'm under 5 minutes here and I failed to win this (many more moves were played, of course). Pretty awful. What's funny was after the game, the kid (who has shown remarkably good board manners all game, really exquisite, hardly fidgeting at all, only offering two draws down material and adjusting his pieces once on my time in time pressure, which for a kid is really great and I almost said something nice to his mother) says to me "I think the knight endgame is already a draw."

I was stunned by this comment. What kind of nonsense is this? A knight endgame up a passed protected d pawn is not winning? How can he think that and be over 1000? I replied "No, it's winning," which came out sounding pretty arrogant, obviously if I'm going to talk I should be able to demonstrate it, and I did want to be nice to the kid, but really. The kid looked uncomfortable and said "I will check it with fritz."

I need to play more blitz.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Best Visual Illusion of the Year 2009

Third Prize: The Illusion of Sex

"In the Illusion of Sex, two faces are perceived as male and female. However, both faces are actually versions of the same androgynous face. One face was created by increasing the contrast of the androgynous face, while the other face was created by decreasing the contrast. The face with more contrast is perceived as female, while the face with less contrast is perceived as male. The Illusion of Sex demonstrates that contrast is an important cue for perceiving the sex of a face, with greater contrast appearing feminine, and lesser contrast appearing masculine."

Vicary - Kelleher Marshall Thursday Rd 1

Elizabeth Vicary (2100) - Kelleher,Jeff (1999) [B31]
Marshall Thursday over 1600 tournament rd 1 17.05.2009
1.e4 c5
2.Nf3 Nc6
3.Bb5 g6
4.Bxc6 bxc6


4... bxc6 is pretty rare. I'm supposed to castle, then play Re1: 5.0–0 Bg7 6.Re1. Playing 6.c3? doesn't make so much sense, because it reduces white's options after 6... Nf6: 7.e5 Nd5 8.c4 is stupid if you've already played c3.

After 6. Re1. black has three main choices: 6... e5, 6... Nh6 (with the idea of ...f6 and ...Nf7), or 6... Nf6 (daring white to play e5 and c4) . 6... d6 isn't good because of 7. e5.

Against 6...e5, there is a fun-looking pawn sac, and I love fun-looking pawn sacs, especially, for some reason, when they start with b4: 7.b4 cxb4 8.a3 bxa3 9.Bxa3 Ne7 (9...d6 10.d4 exd4 11.e5) 10.Bd6 f6 11.c3 0–0 12.Qb3+ Rf7 13.Na3 compensation for the pawn (Timman)

6...Nh6 is ok but passive and white can just develop and attack the weakness on c5: 7.c3 0–0 8.h3 d5?! 9.d3 f6 10.Be3 c4 11.exd5 cxd5 (11...cxd3 12.Qxd3 cxd5 13.Bc5 +/= S.Rublevsky-Z.Hracek, Polanica Zdroj 1996.) 12.dxc4 dxc4 13.Na3 +/=

6...Nf6 is much more confrontational: 7.e5 Nd5 8.c4 Nc7 9.d4 cxd4 10.Qxd4 Ne6 11.Qh4 and now two lines:

b1) 11...d6 12.Bh6 Bxe5 13.Nxe5 dxe5 14.Nc3 f6 15.Rad1 Qc7 16.f4 exf4

Palliser calls this quite reasonable for black, although I like playing pawn-down-with-initiative positions, so I'm into it. He now gives the weird-looking 17.Re4? from the game E.Miroshnichenko-Bu Xiangzhi, Bled 2000 without comment, but doesn't this lose to 17...Qb6+ 18.Kh1 Qxb2? (white can't block/defend with 18. Qf2 because black trades queens and plays ... g5 to trap the Bh6) In the game, Bu Xiangzhi played 17... Rb8 and then white secured the pawn with 18. b3. Rybka (and I) prefer 17.Ne2 Qb6+ 18.Kh1 Qxb2 19.Nxf4 Nxf4? (19...Kf7! 20.Re2) 20.Qxf4 big threat: Qc7 +-

b2) Black can also prevent Bh6 with 11... h6, but doesn't this look like white is having all the fun: 12.Nc3 d6 13.Rd1 Bb7 14.Be3 c5 15.exd6 exd6 16.Qg3 Bxf3 17.Rxd6 Qb8 18.Rxe6+?

back to reality....
6.0–0 I was wondering if I should play 6. c4 to stop a later ...Ba6 and ...c4. It seemed too far away to deal with now.
7.h3 Rb8
8.Nc3 Qa5
I couldn't think of a good way to deal with black's threat to take a pawn: 9.Qe1 felt lame, and 9.Qe2? just sucks: 9...Bxc3 10.bxc3 Qxc3 11.Bd2 (11.Bg5 Rb2) 11...Qxc2. So I decided to solve my problem with some "positional imagination," which turned out surprisingly well:

9.e5! dxe5
10.Qe2 f6

Here, I played 11. Nd2 because I'm greedy, and was still thinking that maybe I wanted to play f4. (Later, it occurs to me that I'm playing against 2 bishops, and consequently shouldn't be trying to open the position, but common sense hasn't kicked in yet.) Rybka has a couple suggestions: 11. a3 (can someone tell me why?) and the excellent 11. Re1. I hadn't realized that this prevents black from developing the knight, but it does: 11.Re1! Nh6? (11...e6 12.Ne4 Ne7 13.Nd6+ Kf8 14.Be3 Nd5 15.Nc4 Qa4 16.Bxc5+) 12.Bxh6! Bxh6 13.Nxe5! fxe5 14.Qxe5 winning stuff.
11.Nd2 Nh6
12.Nb3 Qc7
13.Nxc5 Nf5
14.N3e4?! Nd4
15.Qd1 Ne6 [15...f5! 16.Ng5 h6 (16...Qa5) 17.Nf3]
16.b3 Nxc5
17.Nxc5 0–0
18.Qe2 Rd8

19.Bb2 The bishop doesn't have much to do here. I thought I was restraining ...f5 by putting pressure on e5.
20.Ne4 Qd5
This is a stupid move, because why do I think I'm going to play f4? I'm not, I'M TRYING TO KEEP THE POSITION CLOSED. It's very hard for me to sit and do nothing, my natural instinct is to open every position, but I clearly need to get a hold of myself here and not do anything stupid and irreversible.


oh look, a target! I love you, little target!

22.f3 Bb7

23.Qf2 Rbc8
24.Ba3 Ba8

big dilemna: take with the bishop or knight?

I saw this in the game: 25.Bxc5 f5 26.Bxe7 fxe4 27.fxe4 Qd4 28.Bxd8 Rxd8 29.Qxd4 exd4

this, or what's behind door A?

I figured this was good for me, but I thought Nxc5 was too. I sat there, frozen, thinking blank, terrified thoughts for a while, but then I wasn't any closer to making a decision, so I went for the simpler move.

25. Nxc5 Qd6
26 .b4 Bd5

27.c3 Ba8

28.Rd1 f5
29.Qe3 This is me, trying not to ruin my position before time control (move 30).

At the time I was cursing myself for allowing this, but it turns out to be bad. (hurray me for allowing it?!) The rest of the game is mostly played by my opponent, I just made the obvious responses.

30.dxe4 Qxd1

31.Rxd1 Rxd1+
32.Kh2 fxe4
33.Nxe4 Bxe4
34.Qxe4 Kf7
35.b5 Bf6
36. Bb4 Rd7

37.Qe3 Rc4
38.a4 Rdc7

worried about the c pawn?
don't be

39. a5 Bxc3
40.Bxc3 Rxc3
41.Qf4+ Ke8
42 .b6 axb6
43.axb6 Rb7

find the cutest win!

44.Qa4+! Kf7
45.Qd4! Rxb6
46.Qxc3 h5
47.Qc4+ Kg7
48.g4 hxg4
49.hxg4 Rf6
50.Kg3 Rf7
51.g5 Rf5
52.Qh4 Rf8
53.Qh6+ Kf7
54.Qh7+ 1–0

Darth Vader rakes leaves, No Pants Day, helpfulness

Darth Vader rakes leaves

Slow motion shopping at Home Depot

hundreds of volunteer comedians dress in blue shirts and khaki pants and assist customers at Best Buy

Fun pranks by Improv Everywhere. Read about all of it in their new book: causing a scene. Join the fun on Roosevelt Island this Saturday

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Winner of the 2009 US Chess Championship Fantasy Contest!
Your score is 66.0. Your current ranking is #1!
Here are your predictions! Your confidence levels are shown at the right.
GM Gata Kamsky (2798, 2720) <> GM Hikaru Nakamura (2757, 2701) 11
GM Alex Onischuk (2736, 2684) > GM Yury Shulman (2697, 2632) 6
GM Varuzhan Akobian (2664, 2612) <> GM Julio Becerra (2672, 2609) 5
GM Larry Christiansen (2681, 2588) > GM Alex Shabalov (2620, 2569) 12
GM Joel Benjamin (2650, 2583) > GM Gregory Kaidanov (2662, 2595) 5
GM Jaan Ehlvest (2649, 2606) > GM Ildar Ibragimov (2628, 2586) 2
GM Boris Gulko (2631, 2561) > GM Melikset Khachiyan (2632, 2546) 7
GM Josh Friedel (2568, 2516) > GM-elect Robert Hess (2545, 2485) 3
IM Irina Krush (2496, 2452) > IM Anna Zatonskih (2503, 2461) 1
IM Ray Robson (2542, 2465) > IM Sam Shankland (2464, 2446) 9
IM Michael Brooks (2419, 2463) * > IM Enrico Sevillano (2549, 2520) 4
NM Tyler Hughes (2293, 2230) > NM Charles Lawton (2350, None) 10
You have selected GM Hikaru Nakamura to be the 2009 U.S. Champion.

Other top scores from IS 318 included:
10. Ezequiel Quinones (56)
12. JP Garcia (55)
13. (tied) Jakob Kobaljo (54)
16. Carlos Alverez (53)
23. LoveDeep Singh (51)
I scored a miserable 34 points and placed 182-192. Many thanks to Arun Sharma for running such a fun contest.

*Guessing Master

Friday, May 15, 2009

the "love theory," zombie ants, swine flu

Natalia Pogonina's webmaster/ boyfriend wrote me a letter! In a previous post, I had called his Chess Kamasutra a (probably) sexless flashcard training program. It seems I was quite wrong. He left this comment:

Dear Elizabeth,

I have stubmled upon your post by chance and was very surprised and amused by it. Thanks for spreading the news about Natalia's website, it's very much appreciated.

However, Chess Kamasutra is in no way a dull chess training program. It's a book that teaches chess using analogies from sex, and vice versa.

E.g. links openings and middlegame positions and the way you should play them to positions from Kamasutra, offers unique training exercises for boosting both your chess and sexual powers, promotes "the love theory" which is an innovative approach to beating your opponents, etc. It's a very interesting project indeed.

Best wishes,
Peter Zhdanov
Co-author of Chess Kamasutra

I'm so excited! How hilarious is this going to be? I hope it's not all in Russian. Do you think the chess training can be done alone, or do you need a "study partner"?

In other news, I just started playing in the Marshall Thursday-over-1600-one-slow-game-a-week tournament. I won my first game. hurray! (it's coming soon).


Pest control: Ants become headless zombies
Flies used to lay eggs on invasive fire ants, maggots then eat brains

FORT WORTH, Texas - Researchers are trying an unusual approach to combat fire ants — deploying parasitic flies that turn the pesky and economically costly invasive insects into zombies whose heads fall off....

The ant will get up and wander for about two weeks while the maggot feeds, said Rob Plowes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin.
"There is no brain left in the ant, and the ant just starts wandering aimlessly," he said.

I know all about that.

Flu Outbreak At School!!

Two days ago, kids in one seventh grade class at IS 318 started feeling sick. Yesterday a lot of kids were out; by today, 350 out of 1500 were absent. They all have high fevers: one or two were so bad that they were sent to the ER. Three schools in Queens were closed after many kids became ill and several cases of swine flu were confirmed. One assistant principal (from Queens) is in critical condition and on a ventilator. Freaky, right? I'm staying home tonight as a public service.

UPDATE: At the recommendation of the health commissioner and the chancellor, IS 318 will be closed for the next five days: 5/18 to 5/22. Students and staff report back 5/26.

wow, I have a whole week off.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm the Champion!!

Of yesterday's US Championship trivia contest (Which US Championship player gained the most points in the last year? Sam Shankland!). I win a year's subscription to New In Chess. Hurray!