Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 20th, 2007

Rats! Checkers has been solved

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According to the NY Times:

A computer program named Chinook vanquished its human competitors at tournaments more than a decade ago. But now, in an article published Thursday on the Web site of the journal Science, the scientists at the University of Alberta who developed the program report that they have rigorously proved that Chinook, in a slightly improved version, cannot ever lose. Any opponent, human or computer, no matter how skilled, can at best achieve a draw.

In essence, that reduces checkers to the level of tic-tac-toe, for which the ideal game-playing strategy has been codified into an immutable strategy. But checkers — or draughts, as it is known in Britain — is the most complex game that has been solved to date, with some 500 billion billion possible board positions, compared with the 765 possibilities in tic-tac-toe.

Even with the advances in computers over the past two decades, it is still impossible, in practical terms, to compute moves for all 500 billion billion board positions. So, the researchers took the usual starting position and looked only at the positions that occurred during play.

“It’s a computational proof,” said Jonathan Schaeffer, a professor of computer science at the University of Alberta who led the effort. “It’s certainly not a formal mathematical proof.” That means it is impossible for anyone to check every calculation the computer has performed.

Because of the vast calculations, the researchers had to keep painstaking track of the data. Miscopying a single bit — a glitch that did occur every few months — could render their result incorrect if not caught and corrected. When an error was caught, calculations had to be restarted from that point. A checkers hobbyist has independently verified major components of the proof with another computer program.

Dr. Schaeffer began his quest in 1989, aiming to write software that could compete with top checkers players in the world. In April, 18 years later, he and his colleagues finished their computations.

“From my point of view, thank God it’s over,” Dr. Schaeffer said.

For an exercise in futility, anyone can play a game against the perfect Chinook at http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/play/. (It is limited to 24 games at a time.)

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Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Games, Software, Technology

Improving US broadband has powerful ally

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None other than President George W. Bush, who apparently has been working on this since March of 2004. Kevin Drum:

 President Bush, March 2004:

This country needs a national goal for broadband technology, for the spread of broadband technology. We ought to have a universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007.

Yeah, cheap universal broadband would be great. So whatever happened to that? Robert McChesney and John Podesta told the story last year in the Monthly:

[Bush and FCC chairman Kevin Martin] have made no progress toward these goals; in fact, they have rewarded their corporate cronies for maintaining high prices, low speeds and lackluster innovation. Federal policies have not merely failed to correct our broadband problems, they have made them worse. Instead of encouraging competition, the FCC has allowed DSL providers and cable companies to shut out competitors by denying access to their lines. And whereas the Japanese government encourages individual towns to set up their own “Community Internet,” Washington has done nothing. Fourteen states in the United States now have laws on the books restricting cities and towns from building their own high-speed Internet networks. No wonder America is falling behind its Asian competitors.

Huh. Imagine that. The incumbent captains of industry didn’t like the idea of cheap broadband so the White House decided not to do anything about it. Shocking, isn’t it?

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 3:56 pm

“Accountability? We don’t need no steekin’ accountability!”

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Bush wants everything. Checks and balances? “Inoperative.” Congressional oversight? “No, thank you.” He has crowned himself king. And see what Glenn Greenwald says about this.

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.

Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, “whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”

But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.

“A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case,” said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. “And a U.S. attorney wouldn’t be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, added: “It has long been understood that, in circumstances like these, the constitutional prerogatives of the president would make it a futile and purely political act for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys.”

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration’s stance “astonishing.”

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Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 2:53 pm

Jheronimus Bosch action figures: collect ’em all

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Bad earDevil in high chair
From a reader, this collection of Jheronimus Bosch figurines, which she says are even scarier in 3-D. A perfect gift for little tykes worried about monsters in the bedroom at night: let them know what those monsters might look like! More about him here.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Toys

Friday cat blogging

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Megs on floor

Went through the living room and Megs was lying on her back and looking so very cute, so got the camera in the study, turned it on, and started back to the living room, only to find Megs trotting down the hall to meet me. So it goes.

But then she  settled just outside the study door, near the entry way, and did some exercises. So I did get a photo…

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Cats, Megs, Uncategorized

Whatever happened to the War Czar?

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Remember what a big deal that was? Remember how important it was to have a War Czar, some to act as Commander-in-Chief, since the one we had wasn’t working out very well? Remember how the War Czar would serve as the scapegoat take over, coordinate, and everything would work out?

Well, where the heck is he? Carpetbagger Report:

An AP report this morning notes that the White House is continuing to lobby lawmakers on Iraq policy, in part by offering access to top officials responsible for implementing war policy.

The White House is pushing hard to buy time for its Iraq strategy, offering Congress unusual access to President Bush’s top military and diplomatic advisers.

About 200 lawmakers were invited to the Pentagon for a classified question-and-answer session on Thursday with [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The two men were to brief lawmakers via satellite from Baghdad.

Bush’s new war adviser, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, also was to be in the room.

That’s a rather passive way of describing the war czar’s role, isn’t it? He “was to be in the room”?

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Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 8:30 am

Joaquin on Libertarianism

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I thought this comment should be more readily visible. I append a few comments afterwards.

… To address some of your questions, though I probably am not equipped mentally, nor do I have “authority” to speak on behalf of all libertarians, as it goes against the very notion of libertarianism, IMHO….

Lead poisoning. OK, I have avoided for the most part this particular topic (I am sure you have noticed) when you have questioned it, because of a number of factors. Mostly, I don’t really have the answer, and I hate answering something I know nearly nothing about. If pressed, I would state the following, as I know it.

First, our own country came into its present state through a “not so steep” learning curve. Years and years of leaded gas passed through countless human tissues, corrupting and mutating countless genes. We had our illnesses from it to be sure, but we were not too particular about it until we came to possess knowlege about it. Now of course, we are very understanding of environmental issues.

But how did we get to the point of that knowledge?

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Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 8:25 am

Posted in Business, Government

More new shaving products

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RazorandBrush has considerably expanded its range of offerings. (They are the source of the large sampler pack that contains the Treet blades that I call the Black Beauty—and, of course, they sell the Treet Black Beauties by themselves: $11.50 for 100 of the little jewels.)

I was surprised to see the following products. Those that I’ve know about before, I’ve had to search for elsewhere, not knowing that RazorandBrush had them:

  • Raw Vanilla aftershave and cologne (by Coty)—very nice when you’ve used a vanilla shaving soap, like Mama Bear’s Vanilla Cream or Honeybee Sue’s Vanilla Oak or QED’s Vanilla—or, for a twist, after using QED’s chocolate soap
  • Full range of Tabac: soap, mug, shaving cream, aftershave
  • Valobra shaving stick and the soft shaving soap in almond and in menthol
  • Several aftershaves new to me
  • Arko shaving stick: great lather for $1.49.
  • The range of Merkur razors but also quite a few razors I don’t (yet) know.

The site is obviously adding new products at a good clip, so it’s worth bookmarking so you can check it from time to time. Navigation is not always easy on the site, and the display in Firefox requires scrolling horizontally to see the full line, but the products there make the effort worthwhile.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 7:55 am

Strangely absorbing photo

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This photograph is strangely mysterious and evocative. It looks sort of like a collage, or as if it were staged, which the photographer says it wasn’t. It takes time to unravel the bits, and it has a strange dream-like quantity. Just 5 persons in the photo, glimpsed at an instant in time when coincidence and random happenings have brought them into momentary juxtaposition before (we feel) that go their totally separate ways. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 7:31 am

Posted in Daily life

Blenheim Bouquet & Black Beauty

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I liked the shave from the Treet carbon steel blade so much I had to give it another go. The result: another exceptional shave. Those blades are (for me) simply great.

The route to the shave: the Musgo Real Glyce Lime Oil Soap as the pre-shave wash, Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet shaving soap making a fine thick lather courtesy of the Rooney Style 3 Size 1 (Small) Super brush. The Treet blade, still residing in the Gillette NEW, slid quickly through the whiskers. Three passes, rinse, and Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet aftershave.

A wonderful shave. Shall I keep trying blades? or stop here? They’re 11.5¢ a blade, not a bad price (especially not compared to a disposable Gillette Fusion cartridge for $3.50—even if the claim is made that the price is for 6 blades, that’s still 58.3¢ a blade, 5 times the price of the Treet. And, realistically, the Fusion cartridge is more than 30 times the cost of the Treet—just one example of the money you can save with traditional shaving. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2007 at 7:26 am

Posted in Shaving

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