By Katie Engelhart - Friday, January 4, 2013 - 0 Comments
A conversation with the best-ranked woman chess player
Judit Polgár is the best-ranked female chess player in history. Born in Hungary in 1976, she earned grandmaster status when she was 15. She has played, and bested, the likes of Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. She is now the only woman on the World Chess Federation’s top 100 players list. Maclean’s caught up with Polgár in London, where she was playing in the London Chess Classic.
Q: Are you nervous?
A:It’s not about being nervous. It’s about preparation.
Q: How do you prepare? Do you have a morning ritual before competitions?
A: Well, I wake up around 9:30 or 10 a.m. Then I go to the gym and have some breakfast. But then I’m preparing for my specific opponent. I study how he plays, his repertoire. You see, in chess we have styles—like in any other field. There are also fashions in the kinds of systems that people play. So I’m trying to know my opponent as much as possible. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 1:52 PM - 0 Comments
There I was at home last night, getting ready to tweet smack about Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democrat convention, when my emailbox commenced to overflow with a little somethin’ somethin’ from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. It was a few paragraphs of quotes from the minister, faithfully transcribed by his communications director and forwarded to the office of the Parliamentary Press Gallery at 5:35 p.m.
Basically the email said the government was doing what needs doing, but that the NDP would ruin it all if Canadians let them. Nut graf:
“Despite our economic strength as a nation, Canada is not immune to the fragile global economy. That is why the dangerous economic schemes and the higher taxes proposed by Thomas Mulcair and the NDP would be damaging to the Canadian economy and have the potential to hurt businesses and kill the jobs Canadians need to provide for their families.”
This was striking, because Media Party blackberries have been buzzing all week with handy quotations from the government about the NDP. On Wednesday it was Joe Oliver: Continue…
By Zoran Milich - Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 12:22 PM - 0 Comments
Since 1986, Chess-in-the-Schools has taught more than 400,000 underprivileged students how to play
Chess-in-the-Schools is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to improving academic performance and building self-esteem among inner-city public school children. Since 1986, Chess-in-the-Schools has taught more than 400,000 students in Title 1 New York City public schools.
Through structured classroom, after-school, weekend, and summer programs, they use chess as an educational tool to promote learning and to help young people develop skills in critical thinking and problem solving.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 9:57 AM - 1 Comment
The fatheads who resent the war on fat, plus Quebec announces a new anti-corruption unit
Fatheads resent war on fat
The latest conservative smear campaign against the White House circles around Michelle Obama’s waistline. According to radio host Rush Limbaugh, the first lady could stand to lose a few, particularly since being seen munching on braised short ribs while on vacation in Colorado. Limbaugh, who is no Adonis, suggested Mrs. O is a hypocrite for not following her own dieting advice. “Our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue,” he said. Sarah Palin has ridiculed Obama’s anti-obesity efforts, too, arguing she has no business in America’s kitchens. Meanwhile, Andrew Breitbart’s website ran a cartoon depicting a double-chinned first lady hoarding hamburgers while mouthing pro-health slogans.
The simple life of an Amish schemer
Unlike fraudster Bernie Madoff, Monroe L. Beachy lived a simple life among his fellow Amish in the quaint village of Sugarcreek, Ohio. But the Securities and Exchange Commission alleges Monroe, 77, ran a Ponzi-style scheme for 24 years, costing his largely Amish clients millions. It began to unravel after Beachy declared bankruptcy last June. (A horse, buggy and harness are among his personal assets, the Washington Post reports.) By then, less than US$18 million of the original $33 million invested remained. Ironically, some of the loss resulted from the dot-com bust, a shock to his investors, who shun modern technology. Investors don’t want to pursue the claims in court, saying it’s a matter for the church. “Members of the Plain Community love and trust one another in all their relationships,” an Amish creditors group said.
Where have we heard that before
Maclean’s took a thrashing last fall for calling Quebec “the most corrupt province” in Canada. While we don’t wish to reignite that debate, it’s refreshing to see the announcement last week of a permanent anti-corruption unit in the province. It will have a $30-million budget and 189 investigators and support staff, said Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil. He called it a better anti-corruption strategy than the public inquiry demanded by the opposition. “We want to have these criminals in jail, not on television,” he said. Stéphane Bergeron, public security critic for the Parti Québécois, conceded the unit “wouldn’t hurt” the corruption fight. It’s “also an admission that the problem is bigger than [the government] has been willing to admit,” he told reporters.
What would Jack Bauer say?
Kiefer Sutherland is considering a return to TV after his break from eight seasons playing CTU agent Jack Bauer on the hit series 24. The Hollywood Reporter says he’s in talks for the lead role in Touch, by Heroes creator Tim Kring. He’d play the dad of a mute, autistic son who predicts the future. Meantime, the past of his real-life grandfather Tommy Douglas resurfaced in declassified documents, the Canadian Press reports. In one curious item, the former RCMP security service claimed Douglas, then NDP leader, met with actress Jane Fonda in 1970 about efforts to stop the Vietnam War and to bring Vietnamese to Canada for a public inquiry.
And baby makes four
Little Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen has an impressive parentage. “Katherine” honours her father Rufus Wainright’s late mother, singer Kate McGarrigle, and “Wainright” his father, Loudon Wainwright III. The other “proud parents” are “Deputy Dad” Jorn Weisbrodt (Rufus’s romantic partner), and Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen. No pressure to deliver on a dazzling musical career, kid.
Party for one!
Kim Jong Il usually uses his birthday celebration to instill confidence in the North Korean people by giving them at least a day’s worth of rice and corn. This year, though, the Supreme Leader failed to carry out the ritual, since food shortages are crippling the country, with the UN predicting shortfalls of more than 500,000 tonnes of grain. Even senior officials felt the pinch, reportedly receiving knock-off celebratory Rolex watches and Gucci bags in lieu of real ones. But the day wasn’t all for naught: Jong Il went home with presents including a fleet of Mercedes Benz automobiles and a US$16-million yacht. And heir apparent Kim Jong Un was named vice-chairman of the defence commission on the eve of his proud papa’s birthday.
Tears of a clown
Coming from a world of squirting flowers and joy buzzers, Brazilian clown and newly elected congressman Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva would surely be adept at pushing buttons. But last week Silva, a.k.a. Tiririca, generated more groans than laughs when he blew his first congressional vote. He’d pledged to back the government’s austerity measure for a new minimum wage. But he pressed the wrong button on the computerized system and backed an opposition motion for a much higher wage. Tiririca had outpolled all candidates by admitting he knew nothing about politics. But his slogan, “It can’t get any worse,” apparently underestimated his abilities.
High art with a very low brow
Fallen women tend to figure in opera—think of Violetta in La Traviata. But most divas haven’t fallen this far. The Royal Opera House in London dressed itself in sequins and hot pink this week for the premiere of Anna Nicole, an opera about Anna Nicole Smith. Richard Thomas’s libretto—called “caustically witty”—follows the life of the late Playboy model who married an 89-year-old billionaire, then died of a drug overdose. Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage said people will be “surprised how seriously we’ve taken the subject,” and soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek was hailed as sensational. Not all critics were moved: the Financial Times said the opera “belongs in the same genre as Jerry Springer, strung along a clothesline of lewd ditties and frothy choruses.” But the masses gobbled it up: all six performances sold out.
Ye can’t fight city hall, matey
Rodney McGrath calls his backyard—with its homemade two-storey pirate ship and “Mohawk Mountain,” a sculpture of tires and concrete—an “enchanted kingdom.” But what city inspectors and many of his neighbours on Midwood Avenue see is an unsightly safety hazard. Last week, after a two-year fight, councillors issued a demolition order for both ship and mountain. City engineers say the structures are unstable and aren’t built to code. Pirates, of course, aren’t big on rules and codes. “It’s beautiful,” McGrath says of his land-locked ship. “When the sun comes up in the morning it… reflects on the whole structure,” he told the CBC. “It comes alive.”
The new Wonder Woman
It wasn’t enough to possess superpowers, fight crime and look impossibly good in satin granny underpants; in a TV remake starring Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights, she also has a power career and work-life balance issues. The new show departs from the old, but apparently Lynda Carter approves.
Home, sweet KABOOM!
Steve Jobs ended a decades-long battle to tear down his own house. In 1984, the Apple CEO purchased a Spanish-style mansion in Woodside, near San Francisco, in the hopes of demolishing it and building a new residence. But Jackling House was the 1920s dream abode of copper industrialist Cowan Jackling, and Jobs faced legal challenges and cries for preservation of the manse. When he finally obtained a demolition permit this week, Jobs’s demo team destroyed the house in a single day, prompting Wired magazine to note the move was consistent with Jobs’ career: “He doesn’t have any doubts about deleting the past to create the future.”
Unlikely queen of queens
At age 15, Phiona Mutesi may be Uganda’s best female chess player. She’s certainly the unlikeliest, living in a Kampala slum, and just learning to read. She was attracted to the game at age nine, after her brother learned it from Robert Katende of the U.S. charity Sports Outreach Institute. Soon she was beating Katende. By 2009 she’d won regional tournaments. Last fall she travelled to Siberia for the Chess Olympiad, where she was beaten by Dina Kagramanov, the Canadian champ, who gave her advice and books on advanced chess. Mutesi continues to improve. “In chess, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” she said, “only where you put the pieces.”
Another day for the Jackal
The French aren’t finished with Carlos the Jackal, one of the world’s most hunted terrorists pre-Osama Bin Laden. The 61-year-old Venezuelan—real name is Ilitch Ramirez Sanchez—goes on trial in Paris in November for a series of bomb attacks that killed 11 people in France from 1982 to 1983. He’s already serving a life sentence for a run of deadly crimes, including an attack and hostage taking at the Vienna headquarters of OPEC in 1975.
It’s all in the mail
A forensic scientist and a student from Simon Fraser University may offer the best hope of solving one of aviation’s great mysteries. Amelia Earhart vanished in 1937 while circumnavigating the world. Donya Yang hopes to collect DNA from the envelope glue of four letters written by Earhart to see if it matches a bone found on the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro. The letters came from a collection held by student Justin Long’s grandfather, Elgen Long, an Earhart scholar. The letters are personal: “One was written by Amelia on airline letterhead while waiting for a flight—so we can be fairly certain that she is the one who sealed the envelopes,” says Long.
By Brian Bethune - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 9:11 AM - 1 Comment
By Frank Brady
While aficionados and detractors will argue over the cause-and-effect nature of the matter, it remains true that chess’s greatest players—grandmasters and world champions—have suffered mental breakdowns at statistically implausible rates. But even among his peers the American world champion Bobby Fischer stood out, particularly in two stages of his life. The first was in 1972 when, against all odds, Fischer made chess not just front page news but actually, preposterously, cool.
The excitement over Fischer’s world championship battle with Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky was sparked by Cold War fever, of course—Americans would have become absorbed in a knitting contest, so long as one of theirs was challenging a Russian—but it was fuelled by Fischer’s character. As petulant as any prima donna, he would harp endlessly about tournament playing conditions, and how his mostly Soviet competitors were colluding against him; if he was unhappy he often wouldn’t show up for matches. The months-long negotiations required to get him to Iceland to play Spassky were Byzantine, partly because Fischer was demanding what, in chess terms, was an impossible purse. Fischer looked like a crazed egomaniac at the time, but Brady, who first met Bobby when he was a 10-year-old prodigy, argues convincingly that Fischer was—then—crazy like a fox: keeping the Soviets off balance while successfully ratcheting up the prize money.
The same can’t be said for Fischer’s weird and disturbing later life—in chess terms, his own personal endgame. His anti-Semitism became vicious, and increasingly linked to his hatred for his own country. Within hours of 9/11 he phoned a Philippines radio station to exult in the situation and urge “sane” military people to take over the U.S. and “execute several hundred thousand Jews.” He died in Iceland in 2008, still paranoid, bitter and inclined, as always, to turn on those who had previously helped him. Endgame is marvellously thought-provoking, the sad and inexplicable life story of possibly the greatest ever practitioner of the game that, in the words of King James I, “filleth and troubleth men’s heads.”
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 5:47 PM - 48 Comments
Having lived through the hype over IBM’s 1997 Deep Blue challenge to human chessplayers, I find myself intensely irritated at IBM’s 2011 assault on Jeopardy! The Globe’s tech reporter leads off his rumination with “On the surface, it has all the makings of a gimmick…”. So did Deep Blue; but let it be recalled that in the fullness of time, after public quarrels and investigative reports and documentaries allowed us to attain a historical perspective, the project actually turned out to be…a gimmick.
IBM didn’t exactly cheat in the Deep Blue showdown, but the company refused to let Garry Kasparov study the computer’s games the way he could have for a top human opponent. When Kasparov nonetheless figured out how to lead the computer into traps by studying tactical weaknesses of artificial intelligence, the company, fearing for its prestige, brought in human chessmasters—ringers—to tweak the program’s position-evaluation algorithm and prevent an awkward defeat. Ken Jennings is joining battle, not with an artificial mind, but with a coterie of corporate drones to whom sportsmanship comes second.
The general arc of computer-chess development, and the perpetually disappointing history of AI, were largely unaffected by the Deep Blue-Kasparov contest. Indeed, the main influence of the exhibition was probably the way it intensified research into anti-computer chess styles. Human-versus-computer competition basically reached a stalemate after 2002′s 4-4 draw between Vladimir Kramnik and Fritz, in which the inherent intellectual limitations of the machine and the physiological and nervous ones of the man more or less ended up cancelling out.
Every article about Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy!-playing device, should really lead off with the sentence “It’s the year 2011, for God’s sake.” In the wondrous science-fiction future we occupy, even human brains have instant broadband access to a staggeringly comprehensive library of general knowledge. But the horrible natural-language skills of a computer, even one with an essentially unlimited store of facts, still compromise its function to the point of near-parity in a trivia competition against unassisted humans. Surely this isn’t a triumph for artificial intelligence, or for IBM, so much as it is a self-administered black eye?
Jeopardy!, after all, doesn’t demand that much in the way of language interpretation. Watson has to, at most, interpret text questions of no more than 25 or 30 words—questions which, by design, have only a single answer. It handles puns and figures of speech impressively, for a computer. But it doesn’t do so in anything like the way humans do. IBM’s ads would have you believe the opposite, but it bears emphasizing that Watson is not “getting” the jokes and wordplay of the Jeopardy! writers. It’s using Bayesian math on the fly to pick out key nouns and phrases and pass them to a lookup table. If it sees “1564″ and “Pisa”, it’s going to say “Galileo”.
So why, one might ask, are we still throwing computer power at such tightly delimited tasks, ones that lie many layers of complexity below what a human accomplishes in having a simple phone conversation? The Globe‘s Omar el Akkad tells us, in a sidebar, that the University of Alberta’s world-leading poker software “can beat pretty much the best”…but in a two-player limit game, i.e., an unrealistically pure test of odds calculation that is to no-limit hold ‘em what a grade-school track meet is to a Formula 1 race. (The roots of that U of A research program go back almost 20 years.) Meanwhile, “Computer chess players can now beat all but the very best humans”—but that was more or less the state of affairs already attained in 1997 when Kasparov fought Deep Blue. And the obliteratingly total lack of progress toward the gold and silver Loebner Prizes (annual implementations of the famous Turing test) is such an embarrassment that the jury has been quietly adjusting the bar from year to year to keep things interesting.
El Akkad’s claim is that “Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs keep pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence”, but it would almost certainly be more accurate to state that, as Hubert Dreyfus predicted, they keep smacking into those limits without ever breaking through to the accurate imitation of mindlike activity. Dreyfus is, professionally, a specialist in incomprehensible European nonsense; but he was for decades the leading figure among artificial-intelligence pessimists, and his career has effectively been a long series of successful bets against fast AI development. It is rare for a philosopher to be able to claim strictly scientific falsifiability grounds for a finding, but Dreyfus and other AI skeptics arguably can.
Hey look: Rights and Democracy and the bigger picture (featuring one of my trademark Harper-is-a-brain-in-a-jar bits)
By Paul Wells - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:40 AM - 109 Comments
From the print edition, this week’s column offers what may — may — be a coda to all this Rights and Democracy foofaraw (see Inkless passim, ad nauseam). Actually it probably won’t be. About two hours after I filed this column, which rather daringly assumed the fight was going out of the new board majority’s opponents, I got word that the Globe was breaking the news of the Saturday burglary at Rights and Democracy. (This morning’s Citizen contains a tribute to former R&D president Rémy Beauregard, written before the new board chairman put a gag order on his staff.)
But this column is about the bigger picture, which is that a government with a minority in the House and a shaky command on public opinion is still the government. And if it is patient and aware of all the many ways it can exert influence, very few of which will even be noticed by the Parliament Hill hivemind, it can shift a society. Not by revolution, not even really by evolution, but essentially by erosion. Which is the way mountains generally move.
In trying to take the measure of this change, it is asinine to reduce conservatism, as some of my colleagues like to do, to the single question of budget balance, a test Ronald Reagan would have failed utterly. Chantal Hébert got closer to the truth when she wrote a very good line early in Harper’s first mandate, to the effect that whereas a lot of Canadians like to claim they are socially progressive and fiscally conservative, Harper’s government does things the other way around: It is fiscally profligate and socially conservative. What Chantal didn’t add, because it wasn’t yet clear, was that this stance, so at odds with what Hill lifers are used to, works for Harper and is just popular enough to keep him in office, which is all the popularity he needs.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 11:59 AM - 60 Comments
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian Department of Finance announced it will hold a technical briefing on Thursday for reporters prior to a speech by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, suggesting an important announcement is coming.
The technical briefing will start at 2:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) and Flaherty’s speech is scheduled to start at 3:50 p.m. (1950 GMT) in Victoria, British Columbia.
Our sentiments exactly, Reuters colleagues. A requirement that reporters sign a non-disclosure agreement before receiving embargoed information is something we’re more used to seeing with budgets… or mini-budgets. Which is what leads us (well, me) to suspect that while the Prime Minister has had his parliamentary secretary and HRSD minister stall the blue-chip-ribbon EI panel, he’s been preparing another shoe, which will drop this afternoon.
By Paul Wells - Monday, June 15, 2009 at 1:00 PM - 92 Comments
Well, you still really don’t walk away from a half-hour with Michael Ignatieff marvelling at the clarity of his expression. But the Liberal leader accomplished something interesting this morning at the National Press Theatre.
Over the weekend, one Liberal admitted to me that Ignatieff was in imminent danger of going from being “lionized to Dionized.” Which is to say, the big guy’s been getting fewer and fewer glowing reviews about his strategic prowess, and he faces more and more questions about his skills as a strategist and, more fundamentally, about whether he has any guts. He cooked up this probation thing. He determined its schedule. Its central understanding was that if the government failed probation, the Liberals would withdraw confidence. So would Ignatieff force an election which “nobody wants” — an eternally meaningless phrase — and for which the Liberals remain “pathetically unready” — a more interesting state of affairs, and one I’ll get back to? Or would Ignatieff cave in?
Then he strolled into the National Press Theatre and talked a lot, and the gist of it was this: Continue…