Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Battling Kushan

  Kushan Tyagi from Ames, Iowa is the 32nd ranked 12 year old chess player in the country. I was able to play him 2 games on the web site. is a great site for chess players. I post pictures of the chess events I direct on it for free and it allows you to play a form of correspondence chess. Correspondence chess differs from over the board chess or internet chess in that the players normally have 3 days to make each move. This can make games take months, but it also allows you time to really consider each move. I think playing this form of chess makes me a better players in over the board chess. I played in the 2006 Iowa e-mail chess championships and made the finals. In the finals, I was outclassed and did not win a single game (losing 2 and drawing 6). I was a hard player to beat, but had no conception on how to outplay my opponents.

  When Kushan and I played, it was my only correspondence game. He was playing 30 or 40 games at the same time. This proved to be a tremendous advantage to me. In over the board play, Kushan would beat me 9 or 10 out of 10 times, but with the handicap I was getting, I liked my chances.

  In the rematch, Kushan would be White and I knew he would be spend more time to even the score.

  A hard earned draw. One thing to remember when playing an impatient player in correspondence chess is to take your time and maybe your opponent will hang a queen!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"You get treated better when you buy American"

  That was the comment laid on me when I wrote about my new 2009 Kia Rio. But I had bought GM Cars for the past 15 years. When I was commuting 110 miles a day to Des Moines from 1994 to 2008, I would put 30,000 miles on my car every year. I had a Honda Civic when I moved from New Jersey and when it broke down, I found out that there was only 1 mechanic at Ken Wise Honda in Marshalltown, Iowa that could service my car. It took a week to get a simple repair done (although I was assured by the customer service rep that it was worked on by the best Honda mechanic in town!). That convinced me that it paid to buy American in the heartland so in 1996 I bought a bare-bones (not even a radio) Geo Metro at Bob Brown. The car was cheap, got good mileage (40mpg) and never broke until the dashboard panel lights stopped working. By that point, I had 80,000+miles and the dealer was happy to take the car as a trade in on a new Metro. The 1998 Metro had a CD player and air conditioning. I bought the extended service warranty and when my new Metro’s dashboard lights stopped working at 40,000 and 80,000+ miles, it was replaced at no charge. I was so happy with Bob Brown that when it was time to buy a new car, I bought a Cavalier from them (Metros were no longer being made). The Cavalier was a great car and when it was time for a new car, I kept it to give to my son, who uses it now. I even bought 2 Chevy Ventures from Bob Brown as family cars. Including my 2005 Aveo, I had purchased 6 Chevy cars from Bob Brown over 10 years and never spent more than 90 minutes setting up each purchase. I even got my oil changes there. The dealer was a half mile walk from work, so I would drop the car off in the morning, walk to work, and then walk back to pick it up when they called me to say it was ready. Everything was working smoothly or so I thought…

  Around 2006, I started having a lot of problems with the service department. My favorite rep had transferred to another office and the new guys wouldn’t call to let me know my oil changes were done. My salesman had retired so my years of purchases weren’t remembered as fondly as before. I brought the Venture in because I had a sensor problem and was told it was not under warranty (I had bought a 6 year no deductible warranty). I called GM to complain and was told my problem was covered, but I was not feeling like a valued customer any more. I put my key in the Aveo one day and the lock fell in the door. I had a $100 deductible on my extended warranty for that car and the service rep seemed extremely happy at how they managed to fix the lock for $98. The lock fell out again the next day, so I suppose I had the last laugh that time. That was the end of my oil changes at Bob Brown. The last straw came when my Aveo’s clutch went out at 60,000 miles and I was told by the dealer and GM that it wasn’t under warranty because it was a wearable part. As if all parts aren’t wearable. I didn’t know at the time that GM was broke and probably screwing over all their customers, but I said I’d never get another GM car. Whenever GM or the GM Card or GMAC or GM whoever call to sell me something, I tell them I’ll be happy to talk to them once they reimburse me for my clutch. I would buy a Ford except I still remember being able to outrun my dad’s 1973 Pinto wagon up hills. The Pinto wagon was found to have a defect that could make the gas tank explode if it was hit from behind. Ford sent my dad a warning sticker to put on his visor informing him of the danger should he be rear-ended. So, Ford is out for me.

  I’d like to buy an American car out of loyalty to my country, but GM needs to be loyal to me also. Given the bad first impression the Kia service department gave me, GM may get a second chance sooner than later.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You get what you pay for

  When I went back to commuting this year and needed a new car, I bought a 2009 Kia Rio. It is very inexpensive. Normally a 2009 car hits the lots in 2008, but the salesmen told me that it had just gotten there and that was just the way Kia dated their cars and if he says so, it must be so, because he is a salesman after all. The car runs OK and gets 30 mpg. I really like that I can play my MP3 player through the radio. I bought this car after getting an internet bid from Des Moines Imports and am hoping for a long term relationship, but my first encounter with the service department had an inauspicious debut, at best.

  I was planning to get my car’s oil changed at the dealer since it is only a mile from my workplace. I called Monday to get my first oil change and found out there is no charge for the first change. Giving away the first purchase is a tried and true marketing technique that has been perfected by most of the drug dealers I’ve known. And as a bonus, every oil change comes with a car wash. I was sold and made an appointment for noon Tuesday. I went to the service department and gave my key to the smiling customer service rep. He told me there was an alert on the car that would require a small change to the program to keep the check engine light from coming on and would I like them to take care of that? I said OK and he smiled some more and asked if I wanted the car washed. I said OK again. And then I waited…and waited...and waited some more. At 1pm, my lunch hour was over and I went to look for my car. The service rep told me that it was still being programmed and wouldn’t be too long. He was still smiling, but I wished I had asked how long the small change would take. I went back to the waiting room, put 2 chairs together and went to sleep. I was woken up by the rep tapping my shoulder telling me I was all set and my car was in the bay with the key in it. It was 1:45 and he was still smiling. I signed for the oil change and went to my car and the rep then told me they hadn’t washed the car yet (I noticed) and would I want to stick around a little longer? He was still smiling, but I wasn’t. I told him I was almost an hour late from lunch and that if he was going to have the car washed, he could have let me sleep. So after almost 2 hours, I didn’t even get my car washed. I wonder if they really changed the oil. I don’t think I’ll be going to Des Moines Imports for any non-warranty work for a long, long time. I am happy that I didn’t have to pay for the ‘service’ but not pleased that I got what I paid for.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don’t ask, don’t tell, why bother?

  In a shocking bit political uncorrectness, retired US General John Sheehan blamed the failings of a Dutch military mission in a 1995 massacre of Bosnians on the Dutch policy of allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in the military during recent Senate hearings on ending the US military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy (Read the article here). I think the failings of the Dutch Army has more to do with the fact that no one joins the Dutch Army expecting to see any military action than some lack of disicipline due to the orientation of the service members.

  According to
the definition on Wikipedia, the don’t ask, don’t tell policy prevents the military from initiating any investigation into a member’s sexual orientation, but prohibits anyone who "demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the armed forces of the United States because "it would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." Clearly, current US military policy is hypocritical. It regards homosexuality as a threat to their way of life, but will turn a blind eye to the sexual orientation of the service members.
I find the policy very confusing. If we can have teachers, clergyman, mayors, talk show hosts, etc. who are homosexual, why not the military? If they are a threat to the military way of life, what about the rest of America’s way of life? I think there is a misconception on the part of heterosexual people. One is that all homosexual people are constantly looking to ‘hook-up’ and the other is that they are looking to indoctrinate young people into their ‘deviant lifestyle’. I’ve known a few gay people and haven’t found that to be the case at all. They are like most people that want to get through the day and get on with life. Yes, I’ve met a few activists and I avoid them, but I tend to avoid most activists anyway. I must be equal opportunity since I’m equally uninterested as to the sexual preferences of anyone. Most people I know can tell if someone is gay or straight just by some observation. If you can’t tell, why ask? And if you can tell, you don’t need to ask.

  Maybe the military can successfully deal with their problems by enforcing a stricter code of conduct, perhaps by incorporating more activities from one of the last bastions of heterosexuality, the Boy Scouts.

  Speaking of the Boy Scouts, A lawsuit against the organization has recently revealed that they keep ‘perversion files’ on people unfit for scout leadership
(Article here). It appears that when scout leaders molest young boys, they are barred from further service, get a file, but no criminal charges are filed and the matter is not made public. When this lawsuit goes through, I predict a flood of repressed memories and more and more lawsuits. Now I wish I had been a scout. I feel a repressed memory coming on.......maybe I was in the scouts after all...

  The major problem I see is a lack of openness. At least General Sheehan is saying what he thinks. The military wastes time, money, and resources trying to pretend there aren’t any homosexuals serving and the Boy Scouts allows children to be molested while they are more concerned about their recordkeeping and not getting sued. If these organizations would deal with their problems instead of trying to maintain their illusions of self-image, a lot of people would be better off.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Health Care Mess

  The battle for health care reform is nearing a very ugly conclusion. The Democrats are angling for ways to pass the bill without a climactic final vote since the Republican and Tea Party machines are salivating at the chance to use the vote as a media tool to wrest congressional power from the democrats in November. The main opposition argument that the bill shouldn’t pass since the majority of America is against seems stupid to me. After all, when the majority of Americans wanted to get all the troops out of Iraq, along came the famous ‘surge’. At least with the surge, the Republicans stood up for what they believed in, public opinion aside. I would be more encouraged to see the Democrats pass health reform with a vote and show the country that they believe it will make our country stronger. The way they are handling this does not inspire my confidence.

  I want health care reform. Since I have been a contractor for the last 2 years, I bought my own health insurance. It does not cost much more than I could get by working at a company, but the problem with private insurance is that if anyone in my family gets sick, the insurance companies will find some reason to cancel my policy or make it unaffordable for me to continue purchasing coverage. The insurance companies are absolute snakes and any meaningful health care reform needs to put them out of business and have the government as the only insurer so they can set the rates for the insured, hospitals, doctors, etc.

  The current health care reform is a sham in that uninsured people will be covered but there is no cost savings. The extra costs will be borne by making everyone purchase coverage. This is a boon to the insurance companies (more people to write policies for) and the medical industry (no charity cases that can’t pay), but it does nothing to contain treatment costs. This means that we will still have to pay hundreds of dollars for a few minutes of a doctors’ time, thousands of dollars for the work of the emergency room or a specialist, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in the event of a cancer or heart attack. Until the costs are contained, health care will remain a mess and no amount of insurance reform will resolve that.

  The biggest problem with cutting costs is that we (including me) want to cut the other person’s costs, but when we are sick, please spare no expense. How much would costs go down if the entire country decided not to visit a doctor, buy prescriptions, or go to a hospital for a month? This would never happen and the doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and politicians know this. That is why they can get away with practices that would not work in any other industry. Would you get a car repaired without getting an estimate? No, but we when we are sick, we will do whatever we are told without asking for the cost.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The right for Maid-Rite

  The big news in the Marshalltown papers this week is the proposed outlawing of the mass preparation of the loose meat sandwich known as the Maid-Rite . At issue is the time-honored practice of keeping the cooked and uncooked loose meat together and the risk of E-coli (No cases of illness have been reported thus far). The owners of the local Maid-Rite contend that if the new preparation laws take effect, they will have to purchase new $7,000 cookers that can only churn out 20 pounds of meat an hour instead of the current 65 pounds and they will have to close their business. Nothing in my 15 years in Marshalltown has galvanized public opinion in town as this issue. A facebook page has been set up and collected over 5,000 friends in a week. Even the State Legislature has gotten in the act to save the maid-rite tradition.

  While I love the immense amount of political pandering going on, I don’t like the idea of cooked and uncooked meat together. All it takes is one person not following procedures or the cooker malfunctioning and there will be a lot of sick people. The maid-rite customers have probably been exceedingly lucky to date.

  I find it ironic that this debate comes while researchers and authorities are talking up the idea of taxing soda, pizza, and other unhealthy foods ostensibly as a way to
battle obesity. The research comes as excellent cover for politicians as they struggle to find ways to raise revenues from a cash-strapped public. What averaged-sized taxpayer wouldn’t jump at the chance to tax some slob who is reaching for another soda, candy bar, donut, Twinkie, Big Mac or even –yes- a Maid-Rite? Maybe we could pay for free salads for the rest of us. No blue cheese dressing or croutons though, just a little vinaigrette if you must.

  There are some problems with the junk food tax. The tax is regressive since a 350 pound bank CEO would snack on the same number of Ho-Ho’s as a 350 pound factory worker or homeless person. In order to redress this inequity, a Democratic Congress would arrange for a subsidy to allow the unfortunate people near or below the poverty level to be able to have the same snacks as the privileged few, while a free market Republican Congress would want to sign trade deals with other countries to bring in cheaper snack items that more Americans can afford.

  If we really want to control obesity as a country, start a new cabinet level Department of Fitness. It could establish a standard weight for every American and lock them away in ‘fat prison’ when they are overweight until they get back down to a healthy level. All the census takers will be hired permanently to walk around with scales and weigh their assigned portion of the population. This will also solve a lot of the unemployment problem. The only downside would be the needed bailout of the pizza and donut industries.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The zero sum game

  I’ve managed to win the 2 last weekly blitz tournaments in town, greatly aided by my son Matt’s refusal to play in the tournament if Matt Kriegel from Tama is participating. Matt has been coming the last few weeks. The other players seem to enjoy having Matt to compete against, and I’m not sure what my son has against him. It is hard enough to get players to play without the presence of one player meaning the absence of another. Two weeks ago this juvenile exercise became even more of a zero sum game. Not satisfied being the only player not to play in the tournament, Matt convinced another player to not play. So now instead of having an extra player competing, I end up with one less than I started with.

  The Salvation Army has always been for the people on the edges of society and my chess club is no exception. Everyone is welcome. This is a situation that would be easy to handle if my son wasn’t involved. I’d just tell the players if they didn’t want to play in the tournament to leave the club once the tournament has started. Not wanting to start a major confrontation, I found another method to express my displeasure. Normally, when there are an odd number of players, I don’t play so everyone will have an opponent. But now, when I need someone to sit out, my son is candidate 1 and his unwitting accomplice is candidate 2. The politics of exclusion works both ways.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Tale of 2 Tournaments

  On Saturday, I helped Bill Broich direct the Drake Chess Festival in Des Moines. Just like the Des Moines Winter Chess Classic that I helped Bill with last November, my main duty was to run the beginner section. There were a lot of Drake students playing for the first time among the 29 players in the beginner section tournament. One of the students finished second, but all of them seemed to be taken aback by how strong the younger players were. The tournament was won by Frank Li, a 4th grader from Ames.

  One thing that I like about running the chess tournaments is that good sportsmanship is prevalent amongst the players. The rare times that a player causes a commotion makes for a good story, but they are by far the exception and not the rule. I introduced a high school player from my club, Chris Johnson to my friend Lee Cole and his son Sam before the tournament. As fate would have it, Chris and Sam played in the last round and Chris won, but there were no hard feelings from Lee or Sam, even though I could see Sam was not happy at losing. Instead they were all just talking after the game as friendly as they were before the tournament. The adult section also went smoothly (except for Bill’s temperamental printer and computer) and it was a pleasant, albeit long day. A bonus was that my son Matt tied for second in the open section and Marshalltown Chess Club player Jaleb Jay tied for second in the reserve section (Class C and below). Their free entry to the tournament was the payment for my help.

  On Sunday, I helped the Optimist Club by being a timer and scorekeeper for the 5th and 6th grade semifinal and final rounds of their annual boy’s invitational basketball tournament. As opposed to the good sportsmanship of the chess players, almost all the young basketball players would make faces, scream, pout or whine when a foul or an out of bounds call would go against them. If the clock wasn’t stopped or started quickly enough, the coach who stood to benefit by the mistake would be quiet while the other coach would start yelling at us to get it right. Some of the coaches would yell at the referee, mostly to see how much they could get away with or if they could sway the next decision one way or the other. And the parents would also do their share of hollering. Two particular incidents stand out in my mind. With 19 seconds left in the game and his team trailing by 9 points, the coach called a time out. Why? Did he have a 10 point play drawn up on his little basketball clipboard. These games had no 3 point shot so they would need to get 4 baskets, be fouled on 3 of the baskets, make all 3 free throws, and stop the other team 3 times. In 19 seconds. Right… In the other situation, the coach called a time out with 8 seconds left and ahead by 5 points. Was his team really going to lose the game? Was this something the coach saw on TV last week? I’ll stick with chess, thank you.