Not Attending the Auckland Open

I’ve always been competitive so it’s unsurprising that I would end up going to tournaments and entering competitions.  But the go tournaments have become more than that to me - I’ve met many friends through them and they’re about the only event where the whole go community in New Zealand gets together.

This weekend the Auckland Go Club held the open and I stayed home.  Well, not quite, I got a babysitter and went out to a cooking class run by Julie Biuso.  

I feel like I’ve copped-out, and I suppose I have. 

WAGC 2011

The day began with hourly jumps out of bed to check the time in case the alarm clock failed, followed by 4:20AM when it worked.  

With much gratitude to Suzanne for taxi service I had a quick shower and even with the main road being closed I got to the airport with fifteen minutes to spare at 5:15AM.  At least I thought I did, the check-in desk told me to go away until at least 5:30 so I wandered around the airport getting a coffee but not a camera - though for $200 I wish I had saved the argument the night before.

Getting to Auckland was uneventful, though I was surprised that without more than quick window-shopping I arrived at the lounge as the flight to Narita was called.

The flight was under half full - earthquake related? But unfortunately the seat next to me was occupied so I got a fairly squashed flight.  I largely managed to keep my focus on studying during the flight but I suspect I wasn’t giving the problems my full attention.  Towards the end I got too tired and allowed myself a small glass of wine and a sappy movie.

An event inflight worth mentioning was my neighbour had to be put on oxygen which made me worry how little was being pumped into the cabin.  Apart from that I had an uneventful flight.

Navigating the airport turned out to be far easier than I had feared.  The customs officer even seemed genuinely interested in me attening an Igo tournament and the limousine bus driver had no trouble understanding where I wanted to go.  I ended up on the 17:35 without mishap although being unable to contact Asami and let her know I was an hour early was a worry.

Fortunately I needn’t have worried, she had got my emails fine - it turns out Japan doesn’t have SMS so the texts went nowhere and she only replied via email which of course I didn’t get.  Otherwise the bus journey was enjoyable.  I was surprised how like NZ the countryside is, the bush has fewer shrubs and the trees are slightly different but the feel is similar.  The rice paddies are obviously different to pasture but then they serve a similar purpose.

Another surprise for me was how familiar all the cars are.  Germany has European cars while China has Chinese - the mix of cars would have looked normal in Wellington.  The only difference is a sort of squarish car which is very popular.  They also had a decent range of ages, I had an idea that the Japanese got rid of their old things but apparently not.  I did notice they all had GPS - even the cheap ones - and many had versing cameras.

As we got closer to Tokyo the countryside gave way to factories and other industrial buildings.  I couldn’t see as much as I would’ve liked because the express ways have sound barriers that also cut out most of the light.  What I did see was on a scale you wouldn’t get in NZ - vast factories where thousands must work.  I also saw a collection of about a dozen apartment blocks all huge and identical.  The difference was striking compared to the countryside just fifteen minutes drive away.

Driving in was also made interesting by the loud, self-confident American sitting opposite me on the bus.  I learned how he plans to transfer funds away from their Japanese subsidiary because they were being mismanaged, how he used to work for MIT media lab, and how business decisions in Osaka came from a single executive making a call and passing it down the line but in Tokyo the decisions need consensus across the management team.  How accurate this is I don’t know but his junior colleague was certainly lapping it up.

I did notice that the stories people tell of office workings staying late appear to be correct wit most still at least half occupied at 7PM.  I believe the workers were less senior based on the small desks, lots of paperwork and conservative dress but maybe I’m applying NZ business standards inappropriately.

Meeting Asami went well with her taking me and her mum to a ‘quintessentially Japanese’ ramen bar in which I was able to order every aspect of my meal, pay, eat and leave without having to even look at another person - let alone speak.  Apparently it’s popular with Japanese businessmen worn out meeting people all day so they can eat without interacting.

Asami’s mum’s apartment was not what I expected.  It contained a German-style tablecloth, a whole dresser full of teacups and just didn’t feel particularly Japanese.  Asami showed me around my apartment which had a similar feel.

As soon as she left I realised I had mislaid my glasses which led to about an hour of absolute hilarity.  Firstly I carefully searched the entire apartment end-to-end, then I did it again trying to retrace my steps, and again.  By this point I was exhausted and thought maybe I’ll have more luck after a sleep.

Unfortunately unlocking my suitcase’s combination was far beyond my eyesite at night without glasses even after I played games like ‘guess which looks most like a zero’ and trying all likely combinations.  I also tried photographing it but without the flash I couldn’t hold still enough and with it all I could see was reflection.  

Exhausted I thought I would have a shower and just go to bed but in my clothes but I couldn’t get the hot water heater working.  So I had a cold shower which wasn’t much fun but did awaken me sufficiently to thinking of using the camera’s zoom rather than trying to take a photo.  This worked (abiet slowly) so I now had toiletries and pyjamas - things were looking up.

That off my mind, I found my glasses almost immediately - on the toilet roll holder - and so went to bed contented at about 23:00, roughly 23 hours after I had got up.

The bed itself was comfortable.  The pillow was really interesting, instead of down it’s filled with a beanbag like mix of plastic bits.  Remarkably it’s very comfortable.

24-5-2011

Of course I woke at 6.

On Learning

I’d like to begin with a disclaimer.  I have done a lot of learning but very little of it has being about learning and so these rambling observations are simply my opinions based on a few years of watching other people and thinking about how they’re learning.  Also, I’m going to use playing go for most of my examples - mostly because there are many learning approaches available and how much you’ve learned can be quite precisely measured.

There is a popular saying that practice makes perfect.  I think it’s dangerously incorrect; I have seen people learn things extremely quickly with very little practice and other, smarter people keep practicing for hours a day and yet never get very far.  Certainly time can help, but only if well spent - I think bad practice is far worse for you than no practice.

 

BUSSES AROUND WELLINGTON

I have a confession to make: For the last for years I have lived in Wellington, I have avoided getting a bus for the fear that I’ll hop on only to find it is going on the right line but in the wrong direction, or on completely the wrong line.  I had visions of hopping on the bus and hoping to head to work but the bus suddenly turning onto the Motorway ‘first stop Porirua’...

Well, since starting work at Snapper this is hardly acceptable so I’ve forced myself to learn a bit about the bus system and I’ve learned a few interesting things.

Firstly and most important, Google has recently integrated public transport in New Zealand into Google Maps.  As a result you do not have to navigate Metlink’s awful website which displays things from the Bus’s perspective, neglecting to suggest you should walk 50 meters to a more suitable stop.

By putting things from my perspective, Google Maps allows me to say I want to go from say my current location to my home and will work out where I should walk to and when I should leave.  For someone like me that sees bus stops all over the place and has no idea which one I should wait at, being told exactly where and when to walk is perfect. Google will even tell me when it’s better for me to simply walk, and by giving the time of arrival will make it clear when I should catch a cab.

The other observation that I have made since starting to use busses is they all go the same route.  I’ve been looking for a good program to visualise the route information and make it clear but in written form, I’ve found every single Wellington bus goes from the railway station, along Lambton quay, down Hunter street and up Cuba street, then along Courtney place.  

This is perhaps not the fastest route from say Courtney place to the railway station but it means for someone new to the bus system they can look at what direction a bus is going and know instantly if it will take them to their inner-city destination.  For instance, if you work on upper Willis street and arrive at the railway station by train only to find it’s raining then absolutely any bus from the main platform (Platform C) will take you to lower Willis street.  

Now if only the busses would run on time it would be a trustable means of getting around!

ABOUT GO

I have been playing the game of Go since 2000. Over that time I have advanced to the level of three dan, which means I’m pretty good at the game for an amateur.

This game, also known as Weiqi in China and Baduk in Korea is an extremely old asian board game - a little similar to Chess.  The game is not well known in the west which is a shame.  Perhaps it takes too much dedication and patience to achieve a level of mastery where you enjoy it? Or perhaps western game players prefer games where you trick and crush your opponent to games that are more about mastery over yourself.

The game of go is fascinating for many reasons. It is a very Zen game, where your personal qualities and your current mood will significantly affect how you play. It is often quipped that a pro reading the game record of his students can tell when the tea lady entered the room. I doubt there is any other game where you can measure the how greedy, tolerant or flexible someone is just by watching them play.

Apart from playing, I enjoy studying and teaching the game, especially to New Zealanders. In the evenings I can often be found on the go serverKGS reviewing games. I also run the New Zealand go society website.

Computers are famous for how poorly they play go. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how this could be resolved, largely based around extremely careful heuristics for evaluating each position and almost no searching. While I have started writing a go playing program, it has not yet got beyond random moves.

Some Game Records

Andrew

Do Young

Jerry

Barry

Martin

My Interest in Cooking

I was taught to cook by my father, who was apparently taught to cook by a flatmate back when he was at university. I have enjoyed cooking and eating all my life. I remember the first meal I ever made without my parent's assistance was when I was eight and I couldn't decide what to make so I made a six course meal. I doubt any of the courses went together I imagine it would have taken hours, and it may well have been missing such things as dessert. Regardless, I think this gives some idea of my background.

I enjoy trying things, and use friends coming over as an excuse to try new recipes. My wife has been trying to wean me off recipes and has had some success. i won't now go down to the shop to buy Gruyere cheese when I'm already running late, just because the recipe calls for 50g. Having said that, I certainly haven't given up on cookbooks' completely, with a personal library that would be approaching one hundred. Certainly I am comfortable making absolutely anything from any cuisine, as long as I do not have to make it against the clock. It seems some people consider 10PM an unacceptable time to be served dinner.

What else? Taste wise, my favorite cuisine is French style, except that I replace the potatoes with rice. I am equally happy eating Asian food, but am not as good at making it quickly and well. For various reasons I am always underweight, so do not hesitate about eating a high-fat meal such as coq-au-van. One contributing reason may be that dessert does not interest me significantly, so that while I will eat it and appreciate a well made cake, I do not tend to make dessert myself. i am not vegetarian, although somebody observing my diet could possibly be fooled since I eat a lot of vegetables and red meat less than once a month.

As for recipes, well I don't often make up my own recipes, though I do often modify them. I guess it would be helpful to put some of my favorites up here. In the mean time, my current favorite recipe-book author is Julie Biuso, my most used cookbook is Le Cordon Bleu (from the cooking school). I may dislike Gordon Ramsay's personality, but it cannot be denied that he is a spectacularly talented chef, and I make use of a number of his books.

I enjoy going out to restaurants. My current favorite is Da Noi which does not have its own website (I wonder if they'd swap a meal for a website?) My favorite Dunedin restaurant is Bell Pepper Blues, one of the stalwarts of the Dunedin restaurant scene, but still going strong.  In Wellington my favourite is Citron, mainly because of the degustation approach.