Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sneak Peek: GoBox Invincible


Just as the weekend started, Pong Yen at Yellow Mountain Imports (YMI) shared with me photos of their latest Go accessory, GoBox Invincible.

Handle extended.

Some of you might recall that I got a preview and later acquired the original GoBox. It was rather functional but one of the oft-heard criticisms of the original design was that it was unlikely to survive the brutal abuse of airport baggage handling. YMI took those into account with the development of GoBox Invincible.

Bottom view

There was some talk by collectors of using the GoBox to ferry valuable gear from Japan. This new version looks very much suitable for that job.

Deeper design and ...

... looking down. Is that a floor goban inside?

GoBox Invincible will fit a floor goban that is 7cm thick (13cm with legs). As you can see from these photos, it will also fit extra-tall bowls (I recognize those as the rosewood Super-Yunzi bowls), a timer and books.

This is a quantum-leap improvement over the old GoBox and I'm sure that it will appeal to a specific group of players and collectors who greatly prize their equipment. It is expected to retail for $255.

The case is manufactured in the USA by Storm Hardigg and is model iM2875. Storm Hardigg makes some of the best industrial-use cases on the planet. I suspect that no one is going to question their credentials or the robustness of their cases.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Update from Yellow Mountain Imports

The super-Yunzi tested negative for lead.

This morning, I received the update below from YMI on their own tests for surface-accessible lead content in their Yunzi. I really admire their efforts to look after their customers and keep the communication lines open.

The following stones have been tested and do have lead:
  • Double Convex, New Yunzi, size 32 9.2mm
  • Old Yunzi, all sizes

The following stones have tested negative to lead content:
  • Single Convex, New Yunzi, all sizes
  • Double Convex, New Yunzi, size 38 and 42, 10.7mm and 11.9mm

In addition our marble stones, ceramic stones, melamine stones, and anti-bacterial stones are negative for lead. I will have results for the Jade Luster Yunzi tomorrow.

Thanks for bearing with us! We trying our best to resolve the situation to the satisfaction of all our fellow Go players.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Go community collaborates on analyzing the Yunzi lead risk

Some specialists have begun providing their feedback on the Yunzi lead content issue on GoDiscussions.com.

You may want to examine the discussion by clicking here.

As of today, the consensus seems to suggest that the risks may be insubstantial.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Lead check for Yunzi stones

A Lead Check kit from Home Depot for about $6.

I was recently alerted by a reader about the surface-accessible lead content (chemical symbol = Pb) of his Yunzi stones that he had purchased in October of 2007 from Yellow Mountain Imports. All the hullabaloo about lead in children's toys from China piqued his curiousity so he initially tested his stones with a kit similar to the one pictured above. The test came out positive.

The old recipe for Yunzi included lead oxide which helped reduce the brittleness of the white stones but current formulas are no longer supposed to use this.

My reader had access to x-ray fluorescence testing to confirm the kit results. The white stones contain almost 200 times the amount of lead allowed by US law in paint, and the black stones about 5 times.

My Own Test

I picked-up a Lead Check kit from the local Home Depot to do my own test. As some of you might recall, I had purchased my set in late 2005.

Sadly, the results were positive and showed that my stones did have surface-accessible lead.

Here's a close-up of the test-swab which turned pinkish-red after being rubbed on a white Yunzi stone for less than thirty seconds.

Educating yourself on the risks of lead

The risks from dermal contact (through the skin) are low. Children under the age of six are the most vulnerable to lead exposure because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing rapidly and because they are most likely to place objects in their mouths (thus maximizing exposure).

To better understand the risks and concerns of lead, please see the following links:

YMI responds to take care of its customers

The reader and I had corresponded with YMI regarding these findings. YMI was caught off-guard as they had received assurances from the Yunnan Weiqi Company (YWC) that their shipments of Yunzi were lead-free. The images below are from documentation provided in 2006 certifying that the stones had no lead content.

Certification from the Yunnan Weiqi Factory showing zero lead content.

Test results from the Yunnan Weiqi Factory

YMI conducted its own tests and found surface-accessible lead on samples of their Yunzi.

YMI brought this matter up with the Yunnan Weiqi Company. The YWC received two new official lab results of the most recently produced Yunzi, confirming 0.19% lead in the white stones and 0% in the black. They were rather baffled because they had taken lead out of the formulation in early 2006. The lead had occurred somewhere in their supply chain and they eventually narrowed it down to their zinc supplier. The zinc supplied for use in the Yunzi contained lead. The YWC will be switching zinc suppliers and will also try making Yunzi without zinc.

In the meantime, YMI is working to put together an exchange program for their customers who have concerns about surface-accessible lead. Obviously, because the YWC is still sorting-out its sourcing, it may take as long as a month before YMI has lead-free Yunzi available. Pong Yen at YMI has advised that if anybody is immediately concerned and does not want to wait until then, they can send in their set of Yunzi stones (without their bowls) and YMI will send them a set of marble stones as a replacement.

A complete set of stones and shipping address should be sent to:

Yellow Mountain Imports
Yunzi for Marble Exchange
227 S. Raymond Ave.
Alhambra, CA 91801

You can also contact them via their website.

ADDENDUM (Jan 3, 2008):
Yunzi stones from the Yunnan Weiqi Company are sold all around the world by many vendors. If you did not acquire your stones from Yellow Mountain Imports and have concerns about the stones' lead content, please contact the vendor who sold you your set. Regretfully, other vendors may have their own policies with regards to safety-issue exchanges.

A discussion on this matter is also active on GoDiscussions.com. Click here to go directly to that topic.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Kyu Review: YMI's "Jade Luster" Go Stones

Click on image to enlarge.

"Jade Yunzi!" exclaimed my friend when I popped-open the reed basket. "Those must be expensive!"

As I explained to him, these Yunzi are not made of jade but they do appear as such, complete with subtle patterns. The "Jade Luster" Yunzi are among the latest additions to Yellow Mountain Imports's Go product offerings.

The light stones have slight variegations that resemble jade. Click to enlarge.

Contrary to my friend's first impressions, these stones are not expensive. They sell for US$45 which is just $13 more than their regular single-convex Yunzi.

Middle Kingdom Theme

We all choose our Go equipment to suit our tastes. Back in 2005, when frankiii and I were exchanging notes about gear, he expressed a strong preference for single-convex Yunzi for a couple of reasons:
  • Flipping the stones over made it easier to study variations.
  • Single convex Yunzi reminded him of China, where Go originated.

The game is Shusaku (B) versus Shuwa (W). Black has a 2-stone handicap. Click on image to enlarge.

If you want a set with a more Chinese theme, then single-convex Yunzi would be your first choice. However, the "Jade Luster" Yunzi really drive that theme home because few things shout "Middle Kingdom" the way jade does.

I wasn't sure if the light green shade of these stones would look alright on my board but, as you can see from the photographs, they work just fine. The flash and my digital camera tended to wash-out the lighter-colored stones so I took another photo outdoors.

Looking a little greener but still a somewhat washed-out. This is the set photographed outdoors. Click to enlarge.

The photo above better captures what the stones look like in natural light. Indoors, the stones have a deeper jade color which is pleasing and easy on the eyes.

I think the looks of these stones would be enhanced when played on a slightly darker surface like YMI's bamboo boards. YMI also had a laminated dark-cherry board at one time but it looks like they're currently out of stock.

Another Option: Old Yunzi

Today's Yunzi with whiter stones.

Old Yunzi with a yellow tint to the white stones.

Afficionados of course know that the original Yunzi had a slight yellowish tint to the white stones. These are now called "Old Yunzi" and YMI sells sets of these also for US$45. If you'd like to theme your set along traditional lines, these are an option to consider.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Now, ... where was I?

I'm looking forward to the the 6th of August as I'll be declaring my Go sabbatical to be officially over. I don't think the time-away has improved my game, but I think it has given me an opportunity to re-evaluate how I want to spend my time improving at it.

Coming-Up: A review of YMI's "Jade Luster" Yunzis

The stones were yet unwashed, but my immediate reaction upon opening the shipping box was, "These are too nice for reed bowls!"

I'm talking about Yellow Mountain Imports's new Jade Luster Yunzi stones (US$45). I received a set about ten days ago but was in the midst of certification exams and was too tight on study-time to write a review into my blog. I'm hoping to finish it before the end of this week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Spoiler" for The Last Potter Book

I'm in the midst of a certification exam right now but I know that some of you are Harry Potter fans and I just wanted to do a quick off-topic post on the last book.

For those of you who shop at Borders, you'll probably get the joke of the image below. If you want the image to print on a T-shirt (to wear on the night of the book release), you can find it here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Photos from the Philippine Go Association

I very much enjoy seeing how Go is enjoyed in different parts of the world. Pong at Yellow Mountain Imports recently shared with me these photos from the Philippine Go Association in Makati, Metro Manila.

I noticed the Hangul (Korean) in the sign which suggests that the club is probably partly-supported by members of the local Korean community. (Expatriates, perhaps?)

These photos were take by Alvin who works with Pong in YMI. That's him in deep thought.

Here's his board position. It still looks reasonably balanced in the chubansen.

Alvin's opponent is also in deep thought. Behind them, we see ...

... a game in its counting stage.

There's a good deal of activity at this club.

And another match goes into the middle-game.

I just noticed that the ladies are almost equally-represented at this club. That looks like a clock on that table.

These two seem to be building the pinwheel fight-pattern after someone played on tengen.

My thanks to Alvin and Pong for sharing these photos with us! It was great to have a virtual club visit and see how Go is being enjoyed in the Philippines. I hope the club members get to see their photos, leave some messages, and join the online community at GoDiscussions.com.

I also discovered that they have a video on YouTube and have embedded it for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Summer reading: YMI gets its Chinese books in

Pong had informed me months ago that they would soon be importing some Chinese Weiqi books and I'm happy to report that they've arrived. I would recommend that you drop by Yellow Mountain Import's Go book section.

I imagine that collectors will want a copy of the complete games of Honinbo Shusaku (pictured above, US$45).

The more practical choice, in my humble opinion, would be the collection of Lee Chang Ho's life-and-death problems (US$45).

Keep in mind that these books are written in Chinese but, as is the case with kifu and tsumego, they are usually not difficult to understand even if you can't read the language.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Reminders of how uninviting online Go can be for newcomers

It was 8:30pm one night and I was awaiting a critical report from our company's subsidiary in Japan. It might come within 15 minutes. It might come in two hours. I thought I could instead be playing a game of Go, but the likelihood of a sudden interruption gave me pause.

"Why not play a game of Go with your 'anonymous' KGS account?", I thought.

As I discovered, my anonymous account had floated to "5k?"; its rank destabilized from months of idleness. So I put up a game with a remark that I was actually 7k and that I would gladly adjust the handicaps as needed.

Games 1 & 2: A Hostile and An Escaper
As expected, hardly anyone wanted to play with me since I didn't have an established rank.

The first challenge came from a KGS guest (no rank and no games) after almost 20 minutes of waiting. My opponent proceeded to criticize my moves and taunt me with remarks that were occasionally laced with expletives. It was clear that he was notably stronger than me. I didn't care for his demeanor so I resigned early in the game.

"Had enough, eh?", he remarked just before I exited.

The second challenge came from a player with a similarly unstable rank. The game did not go very well for this opponent and it quickly degenerated into a losing blitz. The opponent escaped.

The good ol' days weren't always that good
As you advance in rank and become better-known to the online Go community, encounters with discourteous players become less frequent; but they still occur. On GoDiscussions.com, it's not uncommon to read the laments of new players about rude opponents.

These two games brought back memories of less-pleasant matches of online Go. In my early months, I had my share and blogged about a few; and these were the tip of the iceberg. As time passes, you learn to regard these encounters as anomalies and move past them quickly. I imagine however that they can discourage one from further play. Beginners and those without an established rank generally have it worst.

I wasn't discouraged in my early months because I had a strong desire to advance which was aided by the passion of imagined rivalries and the encouragement of many volunteer mentors and friends. After having been on this journey for two years, I can't help but wonder how many others might have chosen to not continue playing (or to play less) because of encounters with rude players.

Sometimes, real life isn't any better

Coincidentally, chid0ri captured a similar perspective in the 21st cartoon of EmptyTriangle. The difference was that it was from a woman's perspective and based on an in-person incident.

... perhaps it is not the reason why such a few girls are playing go (it could be the consequence; who knows), but it certainly might be the reason why a girl would quit playing - or, at least, stop attending tournaments
- chid0ri

Social ineptitude can be found anywhere.

Games 3 & 4: The faith restored
My data arrived from Japan shortly after the second game. I was actually relieved to have to get back to work.

Still, I was intrigued by what had happened. It's not everyday that I get to be a pseudo-noob on KGS. I thought I should carry on after my work was done and turn my evening into a social experiment.

My third challenger was a solid 6k. I got the impression that this person was in his early teens. He was refreshingly polite and cordial. He lost the game because of a couple of errors and we did a short review. We probably thanked each other for the game at least three times before we said our final goodbyes.

My fourth challenger was an active member from GoDiscussions.com and also a solid 6k. True to his form, he played a thoughtful and polite game that went into byo-yomi. I was surprised to have won by a small margin. There was no end-game review or long goodbyes, but there was his usual and fully-typed "Thank you for the game".

And so, the night ended with four games with rude players claiming 50% .

Maybe I'll try this experiment again on another evening.