Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Melissa and I have begun reading Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. After I finished the second chapter, I had a few thoughts regarding the role of fertilizer in the production of corn and the role of corn in the production of fuel energy.

Pollan discusses the Haber-Bosch process that is used to convert nitrogen and hydrogen to ammonia. This is a high-energy process that requires fossil fuels to produce ammonia-based fertilizers. I am not sure what percentage of corn in the United States requires fertilizers, as farmers also grow corn by alternating fields with nitrogen-fixing crops, such as soybeans or alfalfa.

So, food for thought: So, what is the overall benefit of ethanol production when large amounts of fossil fuels are used to provide the necessary nitrogen for the plants?

I am very glad that what does not become food will become fuel. However, I think Pollan did a good job of highlighting the energy intensiveness of the production of corn.

Tags: Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, corn, ethanol

Monday, January 29, 2007

Some chess items, including a Jeremy Silman review

Minnesota native and IM, John Bartholomew, has just started a chess blog, Johnny B's Chess Connection. Please check it out.

Beep...plunk...scritch. On Saturday morning I heard the sounds of the chess clocks, chess pieces, and students quietly notating their games at a local scholastic tournament run by Alex Adams. This may be an event I run next Winter, so I got a good preview. The coaches and junior high students are serious, and they had many good games. I hope Alex posts a copy of one of the games which featured two players locked in duel checkmating attacks. I was quite impressed with that game!

Finally, it looks like quite a few people have found my blog through searching for Jeremy Silman's Silman's Complete Endgame Course. Since I have read through the first four sections, I'll give a review here.

First of all, I will state my perspective as a reviewer. I started reading Silman's Reassess Your Chess books a few years ago when I started playing rated chess. I found the pair of Reassess books helpful in orienting chess as a book about planning and imbalances. (When I started playing rated chess, I thought I would have to memorize many opening lines. Silman helped me appreciated what chess was really about.)

As I prepare for the Minnesota Open next month as a competitor in the Reserve (U1700) section, I think the Complete Endgame Course will be quite helpful for me. I just crossed back into class C territory. I started reading this book last week, and it is organized into sections of knowledge based on rating.

So far I covered Endgames for Beginner (Unrated-999) as well as Endgames for Classes E, D, and C. (I'll be rereading through the Class C material, as well as study the Class B material in preparation for my opponents at the 1600+ range.) What I found through this reading is indeed a guide of what material is helpful at each of these rating levels.

When I have run tournaments for some beginner students, I will often see one player overwhelming the other in material, but not know how to finish off the game simply and painlessly. I will see random moves by the materially-stronger player which lack direction and coordination. Any student who is at this level will find what they need to easily complete the checkmating tasks expected of them at the <1000 level.

The next two sections cover opposition first at the elementary level and then at a more sophisticated level. This is crucial to understanding how to flex the muscle of the King at the end of the game. This is combined with some King and Pawn endings and a few other elementary endings that are common and easy to understand.

Finally, I read all the material for the class C level. Much of this is new to me (such as the Bishop and Rook-Pawn endgame and the Queen vs King and Pawn.) I had some familiarity with the Lucena and Philidor Positions common in Rook vs Rook and Pawn endings, but rereading this material here helped solidify this knowledge. I plan to commit this to memory so that I do not have to struggle through well-known endgame problems.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone serious about improving their chess who needs to improve their endgame. Silman's writing is clear and witty. There are a sufficient number of examples and diagrams included to illustrate his points.

Tags: chess, chess blogs, endgames

Saturday, January 27, 2007

My win against Norm...

In case you did not get to my game against Norm from the review of the Thursday Knighter I on the Chess Castle of Minnesota blog, it may look a little weird that I was able to win being three pawns down.

The key was time pressure! Sometimes there is not enough time in a game to solve the problems and win. In my case, I was holding out for a draw, but won.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Keeping my mind sharp!

Today has been a productive day. I posted for two positions earlier, then I headed out to Barnes & Noble for lunch and to browse for some books. My parents got me a gift card for Christmas, and it felt like a good day to look around.

I came home with three purchases. I got into sudoku a year ago at the Minnesota Class Chess Championship. I purchased Kakuro Presented by Will Shortz. I also picked up Jeremy Silman's Complete Endgame Course. (I've benefited from Silman's Reassess Your Chess series, and since I am concentrating on my endgame, I thought this book would be very helpful!)

Finally, I purchased The Omnivore's Dilemma. I heard this interview with Michael Pollan on NPR last year, and Melissa and I watched this interview on Colbert. It should be a book that we will both enjoy.

A partial review of DSO...

...since I did not stay the entire time. (This had nothing to do with the music.)

I went to see DSO for the first time last night. I got to the Cabooze shortly after 8, so I didn't have a long wait before I got inside. I walked up to the stage and noticed a few things. There was one drummer, so I knew this was going to be from the period in which Mickey took a break from the band. (Here is a timeline.) This would make the show somewhere between 1971 and 1974.

I hung out with a couple of friends. One pointed out there were four microphones, so Lisa would be singing Donna Godchaux's part. This narrowed it down, and l guessed 1972 or 1973.

I am not an expert on these things, but my perusal of DeadBase did help me a bit with the identification of last night's setlist. Both the number of songs and some of the song selection verified that it was from this time period.

The show started out with:

Promised Land, He's Gone.

That was definitely early Dead, because by the time I started seeing them in the mid-80's, He's Gone was a second set song.

It continued

Box of Rain, Wave That Flag

(The lyrics were different than U.S. Blues, as it was an earlier version.)

By this time, one of my friends talked with a friend who had access to Deadbase, so he knew what show it was. I guessed February or March 1973.

The rest of the set went

Mexicali Blues, Bird Song, Beat It On Down The Line, Loose Lucy, Me and Bobby McGee, Stella Blue (!!!), El Paso, They Love Each Other, and Playin' In the Band (I'll give that another !!!)

The other friend I was hanging with had heard the show before, and he figured it was the St. Paul Auditorium show from February 17, 1973, which it was.

The band was quite good. The gents playing Bobby and Jerry's roles had very good voices reminiscent of the originals. They jammed well together, which is especially obvious in songs like Bird Song and Playin'.

I wish I had stayed through the remainder of the show, but that is how it goes sometimes. Either way, I am glad that I went, and I would definitely see DSO again.

Here is the info from DSO's site:

Show #1,347 - Wed, Jan 24, 2007 at Cabooze, Minneapolis, MN
Performing 2/17/1973 Auditorium, St. Paul, MN

1:Promised, He's Gone, L. L. Rain, Box Of Rain, Wave That Flag, Mexicali, Bird Song, BIODTL, Loose Lucy, Bobby McGee, Stella Blue, El Paso, TLEO, Playin
2:Truckin, Row Jimmy, Big River, You Ain't Woman Enough, H. C. Sunshine> China Cat> I Know You Rider, Around, NFA> GDTRFB> NFA, Saturday Night
Encore: Casey Jones
Filler: Race Is On*
with special guest Dan Klepinger - One drummer (Rob) - *with Dino on drums

Tags: Dark Star Orchestra, DSO, Grateful Dead, music, music review

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dark Star Orchestra tonight!

I'm getting psyched for this evening's show at the Cabooze. Dark Star Orchestra, the band who recreates Grateful Dead shows, is playing. I haven't seen them before, so I'm very interested in the experience. They could make up an original setlist, play a classic Dead show, perhaps even play a show that I've been at. Who knows?!

A very nice cup of coffee this morning

I drove out to a Caribou in Brooklyn Park this morning to meet with my friend, Brian, who I have not seen since our wedding in June.

It was great seeing him! We talked about many things, including chess (of course!), work (he works at a wonderful non-profit), and life in general. He was surprised to see me with my hair cut much shorter, and asked me if it was traumatic.

(For those who are reading this from the Minnesota chess community, Brian says hello to you!)

Brian is a very nice guy who inspires me. It is great to see him and see his joy for what he does!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I watched Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, twice in the last week. Melissa and I watched it the previous weekend, and I watched it with my daughter on Saturday night as part of a public screening. She has been asking questions about global warming over the last month, so it seemed like a good time to watch the film with her.

I found the movie to be well made, considering that most of it is simply him talking and illustrating his points with photographs and charts. It is apparent that Gore has plenty of passion for the subject. I'm sure he was disappointed that he couldn't do more by being president. However, I am thankful that he has focused his energies in getting this film out and speaking.

The end of the film presents us with a list of different things we can do. Although this was not specifically mentioned, I am considering getting TerraPasses for both driving and flying this year to help cancel out my contribution to producing greenhouse gases.

There were parts of the movie that my daughter did not understand, but she did get that this is a serious issue. It was a bit tough watching it with her, as I definitely feel that I have a role as steward for the planet and as her father. I want to do as much as is possible to help hand over the reins of leadership to her generation knowing that we as a global community have worked earnestly to solve this problem.

Tags: global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, environmental stewardship, Al Gore

Sunday, January 21, 2007

2007 Rochester Grand Winter Open

The Rochester Chess Club is sponsoring a tournament the weekend of February 2 and 3.

The details for the tournament are here.

Tag: chess

Friday, January 19, 2007

Correspondence Chess

Most of my chess play is broken out between OTB and some online chess; most of that is on Chessworld. (Occasionally I'll play a quick game on Yahoo.) The practice I get between the over the board and the slow games over the Internet on Chessworld are good for my development.

However, I still appreciate playing chess through the mail. I played it for a while through the USCF, but it did not have the staying power for me. The one person I have been playing for quite a while through the mail is my dad.

I have not lived in Ohio for over a decade, so playing chess through the mail is a good way for us to keep in touch. We do talk on the phone, but the short notes that we include with our moves are a good way to capture moments in time.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the two current games we are playing (we started these in 2005), I have not entered the games in electronic format. I am doing that now so that I have the option of bringing up the current position without having to play through every move in both games.

Tag: chess


I have been happy with the way this new year has gone so far. Since visualizing some of the changes I would like to see, I have taken action. I've been working on my plans to finish my graduate program, I have gotten a much needed haircut, I have been interviewing for positions, and I have been much happier.

Towards the end of last year, I was still in an emotional rut over the death of my brother. I realized counseling would probably help, and I have found that the heavy grief that was still around was able to finally move so that it didn't impede me. In fact, we had just gotten through the third anniversary of Michael's death, and I felt much more at peace than I have before. I still miss him, but I don't feel the heaviness of missing him.

Realizing that I was stuck and that I have choice to move from that inertia has been liberating. Yesterday I went to an interview, and I felt good about it. I think this picture shows the lightness I've been feeling lately.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Charlie Rose - Kiefer Sutherland / David Gonzalez, Richard Rodriguez, Dale Irvin

Segment 1: Actor Kiefer Sutherland talks about the new season of "24".

Segment 2: A conversation about the rise of Pentecostalism among the Latino community in the United States with David Gonzalez of The New York Times, author and journalist Richard Rodriguez, and Dale Irvin, Dean of the New York Theological Seminary.

Monday, January 15, 2007

One of my favorite T-shirts (for my favorite show)

I will not talk of any particulars, as many people have recorded, but haven't watched the first two hours of season six of 24 yet. Melissa and I watched it last evening, and we will watch the next two hours tonight. I love this show!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bacon... eggs.

In memory of my brother, Michael, who passed away three years ago this week.

I went camping with my brother and his friends in the summer of 2001. He introduced me to his friends as "this guy I picked up hitchhiking." At least one of them believed it! LOL!

For breakfast they cooked bacon and added scrambled eggs in the bacon fat. I made it today. The eggs cook almost instantly in the fat, and they taste very good.

Twin Cities Chess League, Round Five: A good night

Last night we played the very tough b2 or not b2 in the TCCL. The lineups were:

Chris Shomenta (1828) v Kelly
Joe v
George Paulik (1767)
Aldaberto Yanes (1715) v John
v Bruce Winters (1538)

Obviously we had our work cut out for us. The average difference per board was about 400 points. Yeah, that's always fun.

I had a Closed Sicilian against George. I decided to veer from the more open lines to learn something new. I took plenty of time in the early middle game, using about 35 minutes for my tenth through fourteenth moves. I didn't have much time to look at my teammates' games with the exception of Kelly's game, as he was sitting next to me.

John got up about halfway through my game, their game having finished. I didn't have a chance to ask him about the game, as I was splitting attention between my game and checking out Kelly's. He was a piece down, but he had chased Chris' king out into the middle of the board. I thought Kelly had a win going. It was a very interesting game.

When I finally had a chance, I asked John. He won!!! I thought Kelly might win his. Mine was okay, but I didn't feel great about it. I was pretty sure I would have to fight hard for a win.

Kelly was running low on time, and where I thought he had a forced win, he did not have time to execute. Kelly lost, but a brief analysis showed a draw for Kelly. I was feeling a bit sad for Kelly, but he played an excellent game.

I lost mine next, and I thought out of the three of ours--John's, Kelly's, and my own, I had the worst of them. It wasn't ugly like my game the night before at the Castle, but I made at least one strategic error that shut me out from getting at least a draw.

When I stand up, Blaine and Bruce are still going. It was Rook and King for Blaine against Bishop and King for Bruce. "Should be drawn," I thought. Blaine played like a very tough SOB and managed to win the Bishop. With that, we drew the match!!!!

I was very excited for our team! We have a score of 2.5 (2-2-1) for the season, with just two more to go. We have no shot of first place or anything like that, but what we don't have in our established ratings, we make up for at the board. All of us have had some exceptionally strong games this season. With the Winter and Minnesota Open coming up, I think all of our ratings should improve in time for next September, and I am very satisfied with our team!

Tags: chess, Twin Cites Chess League

Friday, January 12, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson, RIP

I was just checking out my buddy Javen's blog, and his most recent entry contains the news that author Robert Anton Wilson passed away yesterday. The Illuminatus Trilogy is one of my favorite books. He had a combination of skepticism and inquiry that made him a searcher for truth, however weird it may be.

I didn't realize he wrote a blog in the last month of life. It is found here.

Round Two: Joe v Roger, Thursday Knighter I

"The sweet smell of oversight"

Yesterday I listened to NPR for a few hours of the debate on the Bush administration's Iraq strategy. It was great to hear the sound of people's feet held to the fire and having serious questions asked in a public forum, when that oversight was obviously lacking before. It gives me some hope that we will as a country make wise decisions due to power being checked.


Due to the unusual occurrence of our son having a bad night of sleep, and hence, Melissa and I having terrible sleep, too, I was not able to accomplish much of anything of a mental nature yesterday. As you can see from my output, I posted these two celebrity lookalikes yesterday. (1) (2)

Not that it was an entirely disappointing day or anything. Our contractor came back to finish the cleanup from the tree trimming. (I swear, contractors are not very considerate in terms of keeping clients apprised of the time they will show up. I felt like I was on hold before I finally left to get lunch. He finished while I was at lunch and came by to pick up his pay.) I am happy to say that he did a good job!

Lunch was excellent. I went to the Longfellow Grill Restaurant and had a mind-blowingly great Reuben sandwich. It was on their specials menu for the day, but I hope they add it to their regular menu. It was appealing
both in taste and sight. They used red cabbage instead of sauerkraut, the meat was tender and packed high, and the bread was delicious. My helpful waitperson suggested the battered green beans instead of the fries. (I think that was good advice, as the green beans were lighter and complimented the heavy sandwich.) I was all smiles while eating.

Last night was the second round of the Thursday Knighter for January. I played Roger, a very nice guy who was just starting to get back into rated chess. Thanks to my friend caffeine...

...I was able to play a halfway decent game of chess and win. It was not as sloppy as last week's game, but the computer analysis said that our game was rife with errors and misplays on both sides. (I'll post it shortly.)

Fortunately we all slept well last night, and I am hoping to make progress on some job applications during our son's nap.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

24 cast on Larry King last night!

We watched Larry King interview the cast and other staff of 24 last evening. As many may know, 24 begins its sixth season this Sunday and Monday with four hours of programming. (I'm thankful they made this change, as it allows for the series to run without breaks until May! They did this last season, too, and we appreciated that.)

What they emphasized was that this thriller works because it is based on characters that you become attached to, whether you love them, hate them, or can't always understand their motivation.

Aside: Contrary to what crazy commentator Laura Ingraham has said, just because some of the characters use torture on this show, it is not a referendum on our official use of torture. (On the wall of the Chess Castle we had an article by chess player and conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer on the morality of torture. It certainly is much more an intelligent and discriminating take on this issue than hotheads like Ingraham.)

Okay, with that political comment finished, the show works because it is complex, it is emotional, and it helps to deal with issues that we all think about. I didn't realize this, but they said that the show has great popularity outside of the United States.

I read a piece by Stephen King on the official website yesterday, and it further discusses why this show works.

Only four more days!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

It felt great!

I woke up very early Saturday morning, anxious about getting my dreads cut. I've had them for over 18 years. But, I felt it was time for an update. Shaving them off felt too radical a change, but cutting them to a comfortable length seemed right.

My stylist at Hair Police did
a quick, but excellent job on the maintenance, which was done first. When it was time, I told her the length I was interested in having. She cut two at first to give me an idea. I had the combination of cringing and grinning at the same time. I was pretty excited. When I confirmed that the length was great, she cut the remaining dreads off one-by-one. I got out of the chair and felt wonderful that I got this done.

I feel lighter, happier, and I think it looks so much better now that I have it done. I've had such a busy life, I hadn't spent that much time in contemplation about it. I think the quiet holiday season gave me time to think about it, and I'm glad I didn't wait long in this year to get it done!



Friday, January 05, 2007

Tomorrow a good chunk of my dreads are going bye-bye...

Today is the last full day of my hair at its long length. I'm heading to Hair Police tomorrow for some dread maintenance, and, more significantly, dread removal. I'm planning on cutting about half the length. Nervous? A bit. Excited? Yeah. I'm ready for some change. :)

More to follow in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The New Year

Over the last couple of days, I decided that I want 2007 to be a terrific year! On Saturday night I thought over how this year can be better than last year, which itself was quite a good year.

I am looking forward to finding the right job that takes into account my strengths and work experience. I have been applying for various IT jobs recently, and I think I will find the proper job soon. One of the changes that I want to make to help that out is to freshen up my look. I have had dreadlocks for many years, and I want to keep them for a bit longer. However, I am thinking about getting them cut to a comfortable length for myself as an individual and as an employee.

I also want to finish up my graduate degree. I have a couple of important items to take care of to help that process along.

Also, I want to improve my chess playing over this year. I am just shy of 1400 right now, and by the end of the year, I would like to improve to at least 1600. After the Minnesota Class Championship I felt like I had made marked improvement in both my understanding of chess and in OTB play. I want to build on that.

I did not plan to make any specific resolutions at the end of 2006, but those ideas made their way forward. I am grateful for the clarity of mind to focus on the right things for the next year. I have talked to some of my friends who are likewise focusing on the right things in their lives. Hopefully we will be successful at this!