Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 Okoboji Open – Part 1

Just like last year, the Okoboji Open kicked off with a simultaneous exhibition by
International Master and 2-time defending Okoboji Open champion John Bartholomew.

  I headed up to Okoboji, Iowa this past weekend to direct the tournament for my friend Jodene Kruse. Normally I help by directing and providing a little advance publicity but this year I did extra work because I had helped convince her to use the online registration website developed by Sisira Amarasinghe. The registration website (you can see it here) was a boon because in our instant gratification based society the same people who will procrastinate about writing and mailing a check to enter a tournament until the early entry fee expires and then pass on going because it’s too expensive have no problem with clicking a mouse and entering their credit card information because they can pay on a convenient monthly basis with no messy checkbook or bank balance to deal with. A super feature of Sisira’s website is that players can go there to see who has already entered. This can create a ‘snowball’ effect because when enough strong players are signed up, other strong players will notice and possibly sign up themselves.

  All this convenience ended up coming at a cost to me. While Jodene is more than capable enough to handle a computer and play chess despite having cerebral palsy, she didn’t learn to use the online registration website. This created a situation where if someone had a problem with their entry I would be called upon to help them. When Jodene got an entry in the mail instead of putting the entry in the website so other users could see the new participant, she would send me the entry and I would put it in the site and when she needed to get a list of the players who entered on line she would ask me and I would create the list and send it to her. These things are no big deal but I’ve been so busy at work that the extra duties were unwelcome and I’ll admit there were times I regretted recommending using the online registration site. I thought it would make it easier for Jodene to have people enter directly but I didn’t realize it would make it easier on her by giving me responsibilities that are best left to the tournament organizer. None of that really mattered because I am used to working pretty hard to help with the Okoboji Open and after a rough stretch at work and the countless emails of the past weekend with the IASCA, I was looking forward to having a great time with some great people.

  The tournament got a boost when Will Liang, the father of the youngest US Chess master in history wrote to say his two children (Awonder and Adream) Liang wanted to play at Okoboji. Once he signed up, I put up a blurb on the state website to announce their attendance. Ten year old Awonder is an amazing player (you can see here) and was going to be fifth or sixth highest rated player in the tournament. I’m not sure that his attendance attracted other chess players but it was a drawing point and got tournament the attention of an area newspaper who wrote a nice article about it along with Sam’s contact information. John Flores helped out by getting an article on the Susan Polgar website. I don’t know how much it helped, but I do know it didn’t hurt.

  By Thursday night, it looked like the tournament would have at least 53 players which would not only tie the record set in 2011 but would mean a full prize payout since they were based on 50 players. A bigger concern was the massive snowstorms that had hit the Okoboji area the week before and the 2-4 inches scheduled to hit Thursday night. I wasn’t worried about this year’s attendance since most everyone had already paid (another point in favor of online registration) but bad weather would probably keep people from attending next year. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to driving in the snow.

Cylinder, Iowa!
  On Friday, it was finally show time. With no classes at St. Francis, I had no need to drive to Des Moines for the chess club like the last two years and left from Marshalltown. Tim Mc Entee, the three time state chess champ and my co-coach at St. Francis was going to car pool with me. He arrived at nine; we headed over to Ames to pick up Tim Harder (who traveled with me to the Jackson Open last year) and were on the road to Okoboji by ten. It is always nice to have people to talk to on a long drive and it made the time pass quickly. I was worried about hitting slow traffic and snow as we got closer to Okoboji, but while there was snow in the fields and ditches, the roads were clear and except for being slowed by a road crew that was pouring tiny rocks from a small bucket into cracks in the highway for a five mile stretch, we made excellent time. I even had time to get out of the car in Cylinder, Iowa. Cylinder is a small town with about 10 houses, an RV and camper dealer, a bank, a restaurant with a Mountain Dew sign, and a boarded up Post Office. It may be the only town in the US with more campers and RVs than people. I’m sure Cylinder has a police officer that writes speeding tickets since there are 2 45 degree turns that have 15 MPH speed limit signs. I’ve always wanted to breathe the fresh Cylinder air and now that I have, as soon as I make a bucket list I can cross off at least one entry and if I had actualy found a Cylinderan (Cylindette?, Cylinderite?, Cyllys?) to talk to I could have crossed two entries off!!

  We arrived at the Arrowwood resort at 1:30 and Jodene was already there. I couldn’t get my room until four so Tim Harder took a nap on the floor while I set up my computer and then worked with Tim M. and Jodene to set up the tournament room so that there would only be one chessboard per table. A big part of what makes this tournament special is that the playing room is extremely quiet and extremely large, and that allows the competitors to have their own table which makes them feel like this is a big time tournament which it has become.

  The players slowly started filing in around 4 and then International Master John Bartholomew showed up for his simultaneous exhibition in which he would take on all comers. John was also planning on playing in the tournament and was the two-time defending champion (sharing the title with Matt Dahl last year). Not only does John bring some of his students to the tournament, he is a great guy who has time to talk to everyone. It means a lot to us lower rated chess players to be able to have a chat with a super chess player like John who is happy to have that chat. I'm no chess groupie, but I am a big fan of John's and I watch his games whenever he is playing in a big tournament and root for him.

  At first I was planning on playing in the simul, then some players who hadn’t registered showed up and I had to take care of them so I decided not to play, but then it quieted down so I decided to play at the last minute, but as it turned out I had plenty of time to take care of the entrants since I was the first to lose to the International Master.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

While everyone else was still playing against John,
I got to stare at my checkmate position for a long stretch.

  Bummer! Part of the problem was while last year I could set up right outside the tournament hall and was in the same room as the simul, this year I was as far away as I could be from the tournament room and in a different room than the simul. As soon as the new arrivals showed up I was going from room to room and I felt like I was giving the simul! The other part of the problem was that John is a pretty good player. He beat everyone except Sam Smith who played great and earned a draw. After my loss, I figured that since I had Riaz Khan take a picture of me and Sam after I defeated him at Jackson last year, I’d get him to take a picture of me after my defeat this year.

  After the simul was over for me, I resumed checking in the players and started to focus on directing the tournament. There was $2,000 in prize money and nine masters playing so I would have to be on my ‘A’ game anyway, but also in attendance was FIDE (the world chess federation) arbiters Bill Broich and Sisira, Minnesota’s premier tournament director Dan Voje, and Noel Skelton. Noel isn’t a tournament director – he is a chess player who funded his own tournament (the Noel Skelton Open ). And I didn’t even mention all the people that Riaz Khan and Sisira convince to make the long trip to play by telling what a great tournament site it was and what a well-run tournament it is. I’m a good tournament director but my strengths lie in my mad good computer skills, an ability to work harder than almost everyone else, remembering names, and getting along with the kids and parents that attend my youth tournaments. Those are great skills but in a tournament like this the central skills are making sure that the players are paired correctly, that all the pairings the computer software is making can be explained, and that any problems on the tournament floor are handled quickly. None of these are especially my strong suits, but at 5:55, I got a player from the two day section to do me a favor and play the odd numbered player in the three day open section, took a deep breath, printed up the pairings, and the 2013 Okoboji Open was underway….

'And here we go...' - The Joker from 'Batman - The Dark Knight'

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What's mine is mine and what's yours is....

“The freedom of the city is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with those who say, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable."” John F. Kennedy

  I was listening to the radio on my commute home last week when I heard the old Joan Jett song ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’. When I got home, I decided I wanted to hear it again so I used my Rhapsody application on my amazing iPod to bring up a Joan Jett song sampler. Joan Jett was an early 1980’s punk rock singer who was a favorite of my listeners when I had a punk rock/ new wave college radio show and a part time DJ business. I listened to a quite a few of her old songs in the last few days and don’t think her first big hit ‘Bad Reputation’ has stood the test of time but many of the others like ‘Do You Want To Touch Me (Oh Yeah)’ and ‘I Can’t Stand Myself For Loving You’ sound as primal and hard driving as they did 30 years ago.

  I hadn’t listened to the song ‘I Can’t Stand Myself For Loving You’ for many years and as I was listening to it I was struck by how much the song sounded like the Sunday Night Football Song that is currently being sung by an underdressed Faith Hill just before game time, presumably to make the men of America feel better about the fact that they are about watch three hours of sweaty oversized men in tight pants shove and grab on each other. In any event, I went trolling on the Internet to see if I was the only one who had noticed the similarity between the two songs and I found plenty of posts (like here and here) also noting the similarities and NBC and Jett's web site acknowledge as much so I assume that the rights to copy the song was purchased at some point.

  A big part of pop music’s popularity is being able to follow a beat or sing along so it isn’t very surprising that many artists are accused of stealing a melody for their own songs. The most famous lawsuit I remember was when George Harrison was accused of copying the Chiffon’s song ‘He’s So Fine’ for his number one single ‘My Sweet Lord’. Harrison was assessed a judgment of $587,000 and found guilty of ‘subconscious plagiarism’.

  As a programmer (or 'software developer' as the young people call themselves), I am especially sensitive to unauthorized use issues. I’ve had customers give copies of software I’ve written to their friends and then call me to help with their friend’s support issues (pretending that the problems were their own). I don't put copies of games or songs on my computer and I don’t give them out either. In fact, my most recent article for the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) magazine, The Chess Journalist, (you can see it here) was about the whys and hows of putting pictures in blog posts. In the article, I included the following:

“I want to close this discussion of pictures with a note of caution. It is easy and tempting to grab a picture off the internet and place it in your blog. Please remember that even if an Internet picture has no copyright notice you have no way of knowing if it was copied from another site where a notice was posted. Every picture is owned by someone who has copyright protection whether explicitly stated or not.”

  These are nice words and I was hoping they would be read and taken to heart by the members of the CJA who get the magazine, but I know at least one who paid no attention to it. The editor of En Passant, the IASCA’s (Iowa State Chess Association) quarterly magazine is named Mark Capron. Mark is an officer of the IASCA and a member of the Chess Journalists of America. The En Passant has won numerous CJA awards under Mark's stewardship and he is the most professional tournament director in the state. I received the most recent En Passant and there on the cover was a picture of 2012 Iowa Correspondence Champion George Eichhorn. You can imagine my surprise when I immediately recognized the picture as one I took at the 2011 Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament and posted on my blog over a year and a half ago.

  You might say it’s just one picture and what’s the big deal and normally I’d agree, but the IASCA board has lately shown a marked propensity for doing what they please without regard for anyone or anything. Jodene Kruse has run the Okoboji Open for the last 5 years in April. The tournament has been the first tournament of the IASCA qualifying cycle and this year’s date was set last October for April 19-21 of this year after Jodene got permission from the state clearing house director (an IASCA board member). The IASCA has scheduled their year ending state championships for the week after the Okoboji tournament just like last year. The last tournament of the IASCA cycle was on February 2nd and advertised as the “final Iowa State Chess Association Closed Championship Qualifier for the 2012-2013 year”. So with most of February and all of March and some of April to choose from, the IASCA has chosen to have their year ending tournament and the only other IASCA sactioned tournament from February 3rd to June 30th the week after Okoboji just like last year instead of giving the tournament (held on the date approved by the IASCA in the first place) a couple of weeks to have the state’s spotlight.

  There was 24 emails (YES!! 24) this past weekend regarding the advertisement on the IASCA web site of a blitz tournament in Iowa City on the Sunday night of the Okoboji tournament to honor the visit of chess writer J.C. Hallman to Iowa City. In the very first one of these dozens of emails I was asked whether I was OK with the website announcement. Why me? I don't know, maybe to see if I was going to express the same outrage that came my way when I posted announcements of my youth tournaments on the same day as IASCA events in days gone by. I pointed out that the Okoboji tournament was Jodene Kruse's and I just helped by directing and this might be an opportunity to open a dialog between the IASCA and the Northwest Iowa organizers (Jodene, John Flores, and Sam Smith). After eight more emails that all dodged the point about the state championships being so close to Okoboji that I wrote email #11 and asked why this was the case. One of the responses from a board member (whom I know is a great guy) was “It may not seem like it, but we do try to be very accommodating with Okoboji.“ I couldn’t stop laughing and might have had to go to the hospital with a laughing fit if it wasn’t such a condescending comment considering the only way they could be LESS accommodating was if they were to have their state championships on the same weekend as the Okoboji Open. I was overtaken by a sudden bout of impishness. I knew I shouldn't and I tried to hide my mouse, but in the end I couldn't resist and I hit the little ‘Reply All’ button to send my observation which was quite possibly the best one-liner ever written in a chain of chess emails. This prompted a reply that the original comment was the 'honest truth' and I know that it was which to me is a sad commentary on the current state of said organization.

  As I was looking through the En Passant magazine with the unauthorized photograph from my blog on the front cover, I noticed that the inside back cover had an absentee ballot for the upcoming IASCA elections that would be held during the state championship tournament. I haven’t voted in an IASCA election since the time my absentee ballot (among others) was disallowed because I gave it to a board member instead of mailing it to the IASCA secretary (I would note that this had been an accepted although illegal practice for many years). I did notice that the only people who were running for election were people who already held an IASCA office. This made me curious and I searched the IASCA websites and the previous state magazines for any call for nominations. There were none that I could find and while I’m sure there is no rule requiring a call for nominations not calling for them is certainly a way to promote a ‘lack of discourse’, although sometimes it is as easy to be elected to the board as showing up at the annual meeting and raising your hand. In any event, only a policy wonk would have been able to figure out how to get on the IASCA ballot that was printed in the magazine and it's hard enough to get volunteers without making it as easy as possible to get involved.

  I have a lot of respect for and enjoy the company of all but one of the IASCA board members and I understand that volunteer work is oftentimes a thankless task, but there is something about their decision making process that makes everyone who isn’t part of the ‘crowd’ get the short end of the stick. I've served on the board and I’m sure they feel like they are being unfairly criticized for being willing to serve and I regret that my comments might sting a bit but I also see a group whose idea of working together is having their own way and letting everyone else work around them. In the next half-dozen or so emails there was a serious discussion about cutting a little space out for Jodene's (IASCA sanctioned) tournament and the IASCA president made a sizable donation to her so maybe my time at the 'email firing range' was well spent.

  Last week (before all the emails hit the fan) I wrote to the three officers of the IASCA (including the editor of the En Passant) to let them know that the cover photo of the latest issue of their magazine was taken from my blog without permission or credit and I asked how we could resolve this situation of unauthorized use. I got an email the next day from the editor telling me that he was sorry but he didn’t get the picture from my blog and didn’t know the picture was from my blog. He did offer to give me credit for the picture in the next edition of the magazine. That sounded OK except credit is not the same as permission. The information of where the picture came from was not volunteered or asked for but George Eichhorn is a former state representative and a statewide figure. If you Google him you can get a lot of pictures (here are the pictures with the one that was used highlighted) including 2 from my blog and they all say ‘Images may be subject to copyright’ when you click on them.

  I didn't need a pound of flesh, but I felt I needed something for the use of my picture. When I made the decision last May to not advertise my youth tournaments on the IASCA website, the president of the organization wrote to me to ask that I put them back on so people in the Des Moines area who looked on the IASCA website would find my tournaments. I suggested that he put a link to my chess website on the IASCA site and my tournaments could be found that way. The President said he would take care of it as soon as he got access to the site. It never happened. Did the President forget about it, make a halfhearted effort, or was he just talking? Probably a little of all three and I'll never know for sure but this past week I told the IASCA officers that if they would put a link to my blog and chess website on the IASCA site, I’d consider the matter closed. The links were up the next day and I sent along an email giving my ‘permission’ to use my picture on the cover of the magazine. And to me the matter is closed except for my writing about it since it has a surrealness that makes for good storytelling in the cautionary vein of the shoe store customer of mine who always bragged that he was an IT professional because he worked for IBM while I was a small-company programming hack -- but he never backed up his data and lost his entire mailing list when his computer crashed.

  I mentioned how I handled the picture situation at the Marshalltown Chess Club. They were a great group of men and women to ask because their lack of dealings with the IASCA give them an an unbiased perspective. One person said I handled it just right, another said I should have sued or gotten money, and another said it was no big deal and I shouldn’t have wasted my time. Someone else said that my links would probably be taken off the website in a short time and everyone thought that the magazine editor grabbed the picture from my blog and never thought I would recognize a picture from over a year and a half ago. I admit that that feat is pretty impressive and am wondering if massive coconut juice consumption leads to enhanced memory capabilities. I’m pretty comfortable with how I handled the situation and if time shows that I was hoodwinked I’m sure time will also provide another opportunity and if nothing else I have a great topic for my next CJA column on blogging.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thumbs Up and Down

  I am dedicating this edition of the Broken Pawn to the memory of Roger Ebert, the well-known movie reviewer who passed away last week. In the classic George Orwell book ‘1984’, the government of Oceania attempts to condense the English language to ‘newspeak’ which consists of the single word ‘good’ which can be decorated by a limited amount of adornments (‘doubleplusungood’ or ‘goodthinkful’). Despite his erudite and thought provoking movie reviews, Ebert’s (and his first TV partner Gene Siskel) main contribution to society as we hurtle towards the totalitarian future that 1984 portends was to reduce hundreds and thousands of words of movie reviews to the simple phrases ‘Two Thumbs Up’(good) and ‘Two Thumbs Down’ (ungood):

“A Farewell To Cody” – 2 Thumbs Up
Cody the Jiffy night shift clerk has to deal with meth heads, winos cashing in their dirty cans for a six pack, drunks who go nuts because they can't get another 24 pack after 2am, and this crazy couple that takes their pet beagles out for beef stick treats at five in the morning, but Cody handles it all with a good humor and aplomb that makes most of the so-called professionals I've ever met suffer in comparison.
  Of all the clerks at the Jiffy convenience store I’ve met in many years of taking Queenie, Tuffy, Baxter, and Daisy there on early morning walks for beef stick treats, the current weekend clerk Cody is my favorite. My least favorite was Bob, a 50ish chain smoking bear of a guy. One Easter Sunday, I was getting my coffee and beef stick treats when a guy walked in with a hundred dollar bill that Bob couldn’t break and asked me if I could. I pulled 5 twenties out of my pocket and gave them to Bob, who proceeded to put a 20 in his pocket and tell me I only gave him 4 twenties!! He still had the hundred and I knew arguing wasn’t going to get me anywhere so I gave him another 20 and chalked it off to experience. I got my revenge when a few weeks later I only had a twenty and when I used it to pay my 1.79 coffee and beef stick bill. Bob moaned and groaned so much as he pulled each one, five, and ten out of his change drawer to make my change that I thought the act of counting out the change was causing him physical and psychic suffering. So every time after that when I took my dogs to the Jiffy, I made sure I had a twenty to give to Bob and every time he would moan and groan as he counted out my change. One time I pulled a dollar and some change out of my pocket and started counting but then put it all back and gave Bob another twenty. After six months of this, Bob asked me exasperatedly “How come you always give me a twenty?” and I answered “Because I know you love my twenties….ESPECIALLY AFTER YOU STOLE A TWENTY FROM ME ON EASTER!” Bob pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about and I kept giving twenties until he got emphysema and had to go to the nursing home (no I didn’t get him a get well card).

  After Bob ‘retired’, there were a few non-descript types that covered the weekend shift for a number of years. My favorite was Dot, the mom of a chess player who came to my club, but none of these clerks were able to make sure there was fresh coffee or an ample supply of beef sticks. Once Dot told me they were out of beef sticks and wouldn’t get any until the truck came, but when I stopped by after church for a cup of coffee the hopper of beef sticks was full. I asked the day clerk (the owner’s son) and he told me there were plenty of beef sticks but they were stored on the top shelf and the night clerks were too lazy to get the ladder out to get them. Last year an older guy who I nicknamed ‘Slappy’ came on the night shift. Slappy was on top of his game and always had fresh coffee and beef sticks, his only quirk being that he always had the bathroom locked with an ‘out of order’ sign. But other than that Slappy was a good guy who liked Daisy and Baxter and would give them some extra treats from time to time.

  After Slappy left, Cody took over the night shift. Cody is a young guy who has a fiancĂ© and a couple of kids at home that he is working to support. He does roofing during the week and Jiffy on the weekends. He always has fresh coffee, an ample supply of beef sticks, and the bathroom is never out of order. He comes out for a cigarette when he can to pet Daisy and Baxter. I like Cody because not only is he a hard worker, he has a good humor about him. Lots of times I head into the Jiffy and there is some crack addict begging Cody to use his phone or borrow his coat or loan a dollar or two and Cody almost always does it because he is just a good guy. One time he loaned his coat to an addict to go have a smoke outside and she left and took his coat. Cody doesn’t have a car and had freeze his way home. Speaking of Easter, if that isn’t Christ-like to give your only coat away on a freezing cold day, I don’t know what is.

  Cody’s fiancĂ© got a promotion at her job that is going to keep her working late on weekend nights so Cody is giving up his Jiffy job and going to try to get some handyman work on weekend days so he can be with the kids at night. I wish Cody the best of luck because he is too good of guy and too hard of a worker to be a weekend convenience store clerk, but I know I’m going to miss him a lot the first time I walk through a garbage-strewn Jiffy lot (Cody always has the lot swept up) to get a cold stale cup of coffee and have to give Daisy and Baxter some Slim Jims when the new clerk tells me they are out of beef stick treats.

“Economy Speak” - 2 Thumbs Down
  In case you think I was joking with the “hurtling towards the totalitarian future that 1984 portends” line let’s check out some of the recent news out of the government and how up becomes down and left becomes right and the stock market just keeps reaching new highs because all the talking heads say the economy is improving. On Friday, the monthly jobs report revealed that while the economy added 88,000 jobs (less than the 125,000 needs to keep up with population growth) the unemployment rate declined to 7.6% from 7.7%. The decline in the unemployment rate was attributed to HALF A MILLION PEOPLE deciding to stop looking for work. Now these people didn’t disappear, get jobs, or win the lottery: they just stopped looking for jobs and THAT brings the unemployment rate down. Also on Friday, President Obama unveiled a plan to reduce the deficit by 1.8 TRILLION DOLLARS over ten years by increasing taxes and reducing the growth in entitlement programs like Social Security by coming up with a new formula to calculate the annual cost of living adjustments. This is more government ‘newspeak’: Instead of saying benefits will be cut or raised at .75 or the normal adjustment, the formula will be ‘adjusted’. And it’s not really a deficit reduction: There just won’t be as much deficit as before. This is as much a reduction as your overweight co-worker cutting back to 6,000 calories a day from 8,000 and claiming to reduce their weight when in fact they will only be gaining an extra 30 pounds a year instead of 40. The President’s proposal would have a chance of passing the Republican House if he can find a way to call the tax increase something else like when Reagan called higher taxes ‘revenue enhancement’in the 1980’s.

“Coconuts (NO - NOT THE MARX BROTHERS MOVIE)” – 2 Thumbs up
Some of the many coconut and other juices available at the Asia Grocery Store on N Center St.
in Marshalltown, Iowa along with last Sunday's haul on the right.
  When I was a kid growing up in Hillside, New Jersey there were a lot of Irish and Italian mom and pop grocery stores that would make sandwiches and sell a few grocery items, fruits and vegetables that were in season, and soda and candy for the kids. The mom would run the counter and the pop would cut meat if needed and run numbers and the card game in the back. The supermarkets put all these mom and pop stores out of business by the late 1970s but over the last ten years in Marshalltown there’s been a resurgence of small ethnic grocery stores. They’re not Irish or Italian stores, they’re mostly Mexican and don’t seem to have card games in the back, but a few months ago an Asian grocery store (the owners are from Myanmar – formerly Burma) opened 4 blocks down the street from my house.

  After walking past the store a dozens of times on walks with Daisy and Baxter and seeing all the different kinds of 50 pound sacks of rice in the front of the store I noticed some coconut juice in the cooler by the register. I’ve written before about my positive experience with coconut water (with pulp) at the Big Money Blitz tournament in Ankeny in 2011 so a couple of months ago I walked in and got a 17.6 ounce can of coconut juice (with pulp).

  The coconut juice was much better than I remembered the coconut water being and I experimented with some of the other coconut juice varieties on sale. I didn’t care for the Roasted Coconut Juice at all and found the Young Coconut Juice too sweet so I’ve stuck with the plain old coconut juice. Once a week or so, I’ll stop by on our walk and pick up 3 cans at $1.29 each. One day I decided to explore around the store to see all the different vegetables and canned goods. I saw a bag of coconut candies and bought them. The candies are chock full of sugar (50 calories each!), but they have a great coconut taste and are almost as good as my favorite all time candy ‘ZotZ’. Now I’m buying coconut candies in addition to coconut juice and you could say I’m a coconut addict, but I’ll hold off on that judgment until I start loading up my car with coconut juice and candy and start selling them to support my habit.

“The Road to North Liberty” - 1 Thumb up/ 1 Thumb Down
  After spending 17 of the past 19 years commuting to Des Moines form Marshalltown (100 to 105 mile round trip), I have finally found the secret to making the drive seem short: get an assignment where you have to drive a 165 mile round trip. For the foreseeable future I am driving to far-away North Liberty IA a few days a week to perform an assignment on site for a customer. The reason I’m not giving this assignment two thumbs down is that I am paid for my travel time and also receive a generous mileage stipend from my company (when I commute to the office in Des Moines I receive no stipend nor get paid for my drive time). On the other hand, driving 83 miles into the sun is tortuous and after doing this drive Monday and Tuesday last week, I was exhausted and irritable the entire week. Since the company I work for has an office with programmers just a few miles from North Liberty, I may be the best programmer in the world…or I am getting a subtler kind of message.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New (to me) Technologies

  My son Ben got an Amazon Kindle for Christmas last year. The Kindle fire is a tablet device that is specifically designed to display eBooks and movies purchased from Amazon. Most chess eBooks are nothing more than PDF versions of the print copy. For example, in a fit of nostalgia I recently purchased the entire run a magagine I subscribed tp years ago, the 1988-2000 Inside Chess on a DVD in ‘searchable PDF format’. The entire format is unwieldy. Each issue is in an individual PDF and must be opened separately. The PDFs themselves are blurry as if they were scanned in and on some of the pages I can see the imprint of the previous page. It was a disappointing experience.

  When Tim Brennan published his Tactics Time Kindle eBook I was sorely tempted to get it since I enjoy his Tactics Time ChessBase product so much. Tim has a handle on the new capabilities that can be obtained from chess eBooks. His eBooks puzzles have the answers on the next screen (instead of at the back of the book) and provide an internet link to the game the puzzle came from. I knew from Tim’s promotional materials that there are Kindle readers for PC’s and tablets but I was still lazy about getting the book though it only cost 4.99. But Tim borrowed a tack from most of the successful drug dealers I’ve known and offered a free eBook with 300 very basic puzzles. Before you think I'm knocking Tim or drug dealers, I would point out that I've also used the 'free taste' technique by waiving the entry fee in the last 3 chess tournaments I've held on National Chess Day.

  I had some spare time on Saturday and downloaded the free book as well as the Kindle reader for my PC and iPod. Tim’s eBook is well designed for the medium and while I don’t especially care for the Kindle interface and the lack of physical contact with a book, I’m sure it will grow on me just like typing email on my iPod and Windows 7 and Windows XP and Windows 95 and DOS. I was impressed enough to buy the Tactics Time eBook and another one for 99 cents called ’Chess Patzer to Master – How an Everyday Joe does it’ by Paul Powell. It is a short little book by a National Master with a handful of his games and some generic practical advice about how to go about improving practical results. At 99 cents, it is a nice little read but if I had to pay more than five dollars for a printed copy I would feel cheated. The problem I see with all the digital chess books on Kindle is the lack of an interactive game board to play over the moves, but I have no doubt it will be solved in due time. The great thing I see about eBooks is that since the publishing cost is minimal, authors with new publishing ideas like Tim and Paul Powell only have to invest time and effort to publish and sell their books and the chess public can decide whether they will be unknown authors or join Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Pandolfini on the top shelf of prolific chess authors.

  While I’ve dipped my toe in the eBook pool, I’ve jumped headfirst into the deep waters of another newish technology, the podcast. I’m in the habit of listening to the local sports station KXNO on my drive into work and while at work, I’ll either listen to music on my iPod’s Rhapsody application or sports from KXNO, Chicago’s WSCR, or New York’s WFAN. The only podcast I’d downloaded was Joel Osteen’s weekly inspirational message but when I heard Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King mention his podcast during a radio interview, I decided to try to find it on my iPod and sure enough there it was. Peter King’s NFL podcast was on every Monday or Tuesday for the first half of the football season and contained a couple of interviews with players, executives, or coaches. It was a good show to look forward to but in December it started showing up later and later in the week and then the last week in December was missed and another week was missed in January and then the podcast ended without even a Super Bowl wrap up show. That underlines the big problem with podcasts as opposed to radio: radio stations have to broadcast, but podcasters don’t have to stick to any schedule even if they are a nationally known brand like Sports Illustrated.

  There aren’t any chess podcasts on iTunes that have been updated in the past year and I'm certain there is a niche for one, but there is plenty of chess content on YouTube that can be subscribed to for free and if you insist on paying, there are regular programs on the Internet Chess Club or I subscribed to Daniel King’s power play channel and been treated to the GM’s analysis of the game of the day from the recently held Candidates Tournament in London. Given that a chess podcast needs to have an animated board of some type to show games, YouTube may be a better medium for chess podcasts then iTunes but I suspect it's the ads that draw the chess content providers to YouTube because iTunes doesn’t allow ads. Most podcasts on iTunes are used to promote other products by the publisher while YouTube publishers generate revenue by ads.

  Despite the lack of chess content on iTunes, there is plenty of sports content and I’ve found four other sports podcasts that I enjoy. Every Wednesday I get legendary sportswriter Frank Deford’s three minute segment from National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program. Deford’s commentaries are short but dependable and very interesting.

  To take the place of Peter King’s on-again off-again NFL podcast, I’ve subscribed to the Rich Eisen Podcast. Rich Eisen is the lead anchor for the NFL Network and understandably gets the top players and executives as guests. The podcast is on only once or twice a week (and sometimes not at all) which is too infrequent for my taste but when it is on it is generally at least an hour and a half long.

  An infrequent but excellent podcast is 'Inside Sports Illustrated'. Every week or two or three, host Richard Deitsch interviews a SI writer to talk about an upcoming story in the magazine and share some insights on the subject. Lance Armstrong, the 2014 Winter Games, and the 20th anniversary of the dream team were the subjects of some recent podcasts. Occasionally Deitsch does an interview with a sports celebrity. Last year there was an hour long interview with Al Michaels and yesterday I was treated to a half hour interview with Mr T. who talked about his wrestling experiences, playing Clubber Lang in Rocky III, and being a bodyguard for Leon Spinks and Muhammad Ali. This podcast is so excellent I wish it could be heard on a regular basis.

  By far my favorite podcast is the CBS Eye on Basketball podcast, where the CBS NBA bloggers Zach Harper and Matt Moore spend anywhere from a half hour to an hour each weekday talking pro hoops. They go over the previous night’s games, the upcoming night’s games, and whatever else is going on in the world of the NBA. Earlier in the season they spent a lot of time discussing the soap opera that has become the Los Angeles Lakers season and the last month was devoted to the Miami Heat’s near record winning streak, but in between they discussed the year’s top rookies, playoff scenarios, and pay special attention to players that normally escape national attention like J.R. Smith of the Knicks, JaVale McGee of the Nuggets, John Wall of the Wizards, and Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pecovic of the Timberwolves. The reason players from the Nuggets and Timberwolves are featured prominently in the podcasts is that Harper is based in Minneapolis and Moore is in Denver. Their intimacy with the nether regions of the NBA provides a nice contrast to most of the other national coverage of the NBA that tend to focus on the top five or six teams and pretend that the other two dozen teams in the league don’t exist. I look forward to this podcast every day and listening to it on my drive home from work makes the hour pass a lot quicker than it did before and I’m learning a lot about basketball.

  Although I’m enjoying the CBS NBA podcast a lot, I may have been better off spending my time paying attention listening to college basketball. After leading my office NCAA tournament pool going into the round of 16, I had five of the final eight teams heading into the round of eight and on Saturday afternoon, the first of my final four selections made it when Syracuse beat Marquette. But then everything went wrong when Ohio State lost to Wichita State, Florida was demolished by Michigan and Duke (my championship pick) looked like a bunch of slow old men in losing to a blazingly fast Louisville team. Despite my miserable weekend, I’m still in the lead of my office pool but can only win if Wichita State beats Louisville and Syracuse beats Michigan on Saturday, which is not very likely. I think that before next year’s ‘March Madness’, I’ll bone up on some February NCAA podcasts.