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Month: September 2012

Chess – Hannifin vs Casazza 2004

I mostly wanted to try out this nifty WordPress Chess plugin. I haven’t played any serious tournament chess since my senior year of high school in 2004. So here’s a game from the 2004 Virginia State Championship (where I placed 38 or something terrible like that). I never became that great of a player, but for scholastic high school tournaments, the standard game time is 30 minutes. I’m a slow analytic thinker, so I performed much better when I had at least an hour, as I did in the state tournament.

(I’m analyzing this game eight years later after having played hardly any chess, and I wasn’t that great to begin with, so take the following analysis with a grain of salt.)

In this game, I play white, and defend against the Sicilian opening with the Smith-Morra Gambit. I was rated 1030 and my opponent 1559. He really shouldn’t have succumbed to the gambit, but he was, fortunately for me, having an off-day and must not have been very familiar with the gambit. Typically higher players will not go for it. But it’s what I had studied against the Sicilian, so I probably would’ve played it against anyone.

The opening is a gambit for white because I sacrifice my d4 pawn immediately. Black takes. I’m down a pawn. I offer up my c3 pawn as well. Black takes the bait. After 4. Nxc3, just look at how open white’s position is compared to black, who has only moved one pawn so far. Is it worth sacrificing a pawn for such position? Of course. That’s the point.

Black makes small moves, trying to build up a defense, while I prepare for an attack on e5. When black tries 9. … Qc7 to try defending against the attack, 10. Nb5 quickly puts him back in his place. And with 11. e5 the attack begins, and it’s pretty much all downhill for black. After 19. Ndxf7, black resigns. Both his queen and rook are under attack, and he’s bound to lose the exchange no matter what. My pieces are breathing down his neck and his demise is only a matter of time.

Again, I was very fortunate with this game; I don’t think a 1500’s player would typically take the gambit. But not only did my opponent take the gambit, he allowed me to setup my attack exactly as planned. It’s definitely one of my greatest victories with the Smith-Morra gambit, but the victory was more a matter of luck.

Anyway, I think this chess plugin is quite nice. Perhaps I’ll post some other old games; it’s fun to look back on them, even though some of them are a bit over my head now that I’m so out of practice.

The adolescent brain?

Blakemore says: “Adolescence is defined as the period of life that starts with the biological, hormonal, physical changes of puberty and ends at the age at which an individual attains a stable independent role in society.”

I’m not sure I understand this definition. The onset of puberty is pretty objective, but how do we define what a “stable independent role in society” is? Isn’t that what modern society actively tries to prevent teens from having by forcing them to spend their days with high school and homework, with the only adults they know being figures who are telling them what to do?

In other words, the definition seems to say: “Adolescence starts with puberty, and ends when we adults decide it ends.”

Blakemore discusses a behavioral study in which a subject is asked to move objects around from the point-of-view of someone else. Studies show that, on average, adults are better at this task than adolescents. That is, adults make fewer errors. The conclusion is that, Blakemore states, “the ability to take into account someone else’s perspective in order to guide ongoing behavior, which is something, by the way, that we do in everyday life all the time, is still developing in mid-to-late adolescence.”

I’m not convinced this task so simply represents one’s ability to “take into account someone else’s perspective.” Nor would I imply that a lower error rate on this task necessarily correlates with better social behavior, such as the ability to control one’s anger in the face of hostility, or the mistake of perceiving someone else’s comments as personal attacks when they are not. I’m not sure these test results tell us anything useful about teenage behavior as a whole.

We could easily imagine someone practicing this task to such an extent that they attain an error rate of 5% or less. But who would argue that these people would thus behave better in emotional social situations? (And how would we define “better”?)

Blakemore goes on quote Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale:

“I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting. … Would any but these boiled brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt in this weather?”

This, to Blakemore, is evidence that adolescence is not a recent phenomenon.

Firstly, in the big scheme of human societal development, Shakespeare is quite recent. But I think it’s important to note that there is a difference between perceptions of there being an “adolescent” stage of normal human development (and that we should, as a society, take measures against it), and the notion that your own generation, and your own status within it, is the best, or at least not the worst. To think that the “young people (or any social group of which I am not a part) of today are not as skilled, or as intelligent, or as decent as me” is certainly not a new thought. What is the difference between the socially-defined stage of “adolescence” and classic human age-ism?

Blakemore goes on to discuss risk-taking and the role of the limbic system, concluding that teenagers take more risks because the rewards from the limbic system are hightened. But how do we define whether or not a task is “risky”? Does the limbic system’s rewards only respond to tasks that the rest of the brain has come to understand as “risky”? Does peer pressure make a task seem less risky? What if this has nothing to do with risk at all? We really gain nothing from this point.

Finally, Blakemore tries to relate this all to education, saying: “40% of teenagers don’t have access to secondary school education. And yet this is a period of life where the brain is particularly adaptable and malleable. It’s a fantastic opportunity for learning and creativity. So what’s sometimes seen as the problem with adolescence, heightened risk-taking, poor impulse control, self-consciousness, shouldn’t be stigmatized. It actually reflects changes in the brain that provide excellent opportunity for education and social development.”

It’s a bit of an empty statement, as we don’t know what exactly she’s defining “education” to be. Are we meant to conclude that today’s education system is doing unseen good for teenagers? Are we meant to conclude that older people lose their ability to learn because their brains aren’t developing in the same ways? Are we simply meant to feel inspired? I don’t know.

(Unrelated digression: Blakemore mentions that the prefrontal cortex is proportionally much bigger in humans than any other species. I imagine the point of mentioning this is to imply a correlation between prefrontal cortex proportional size and intelligence. But we judge how intelligent other living things are by how their behavior compares to ours. We assume we’re smarter than any species that can’t talk, or can’t solve problems in ways we can understand. But is that assumption valid? Can intelligence be plotted linearly, and therefore be easily judged with greater-than, less-than comparisons? I don’t mean to imply that I believe humans don’t have unique brain powers among all the other species on our planet. I only mean to assert that intelligence is not a simple matter of comparing abilities (or, by correlation, brain properties, like the proportional size of the prefrontal cortex), because we can only compare abilities that are within our power to understand, and for something to be beyond our intelligence does not imply that it is somehow more or less intelligent; simply that it is a different intelligence.)

ParaNorman review


I saw ParaNorman in 3D the other day.  He’s my short review.

The animation was incredible.  I have never seen stop-motion so fluid and life-like; it was beautiful.  They even got blubberous body fat to move realistically (well, realistically for a stop-motion puppet).  After seeing so much pure-CGI, it’s so refreshing to see not only something with a different texture, but something that really pushes the state of the art forward.  The bar for stop-motion animation has just been set quite high.

The humor was a bit raunchy for me, which is quite odd for PG movie.  But references to or mentions of irritable bowels, diarrhea fascination, f-word swearing, itchy genitals, same-sex relationships, steroid use, butt-sniffing, butt-pausing, butt-grabbing, and more just seemed awkwardly out of place, as if the filmmakers were either trying too hard to be "edgy" or just had awkwardly dirty minds.

The story itself was a mix of weak and strong elements.  The opening scenes, establishing the character of Norman and his abilities to see and talk to the dead, were wonderful.  It was easy to become immediately sympathetic to him.  Also wonderful were the film’s final scenes, when Norman faces the antagonist face to face and sets things right.  I thought it was powerful and touching.

That said, the rest of the movie felt like a lot of boring filler.  Nothing very important seems to happen between the opening and the climax, and just about all the characters except for Norman and his Grandmother are portrayed as extremely and annoyingly stupid.

Norman’s parents especially made no sense.  The father hates that Norman claims to be able to talk to ghosts, but why it makes him so angry is unexplained, so we can’t relate to him.  (And why doesn’t Norman keep his ability a secret in the first place?  I don’t know.)  The mother tries her best calm the tension between her husband and her son, but she has no real insight to offer.  At one point, after the father erupts in anger and storms off, the mother says to Norman something like: "Sometimes when people are scared, they say things that can seem really mean."  Normal replies: "He’s my dad, he shouldn’t be scared of me."  The mother replies: "He’s not scared of you, he’s scared for you."  Does she mean: "He’s scared that you might be just as crazy as you sound"?  That’s how it comes across to me, and I don’t know how saying that could possibly help the situation.  What the mother should’ve said is: "Look, Norman, if you can really talk to ghosts, you’ll just have to understand that since most people can’t, they will find the idea that someone can to be crazy.  You’ll have to accept that and live with it."  The father, unfortunately, just seemed unsympathetically crazy.

Finally, the voice work was great for the most part, but it felt like some characters, especially Norman, had trouble with the more energetic lines, as if they were afraid to raise their voices.  It made some parts a bit annoying because the timidity of the voice didn’t match the energy of the animation.

Overall, the film was a mix.  I can’t judge it overall.  It had some really wonderful elements mixed with some really awful elements.