Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Erratum: Drago doesn't yet have a direct-to-PDF capability

This is a correction to my last post. Drago has the ability to export directly to Microsoft's RTF format but Gilles hasn't yet coded-in the ability to export to Adobe PDF.

This ability won't be in the upcoming version 2.0 either, but we may see it in later versions as early as March 2006.

RTF competes with PDF in cross-platform document exchanges but the latter is more commonly used these days.

In the meantime, there are several freeware drivers and apps available that you can use to print to PDF.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Lessons in PDF and a hot 21cm goban on eBay

shygost's lessons in PDF

Drago's Print Preview

Someone had suggested that sduff's transcriptions of shygost's lessons should be made available as Adobe PDFs.

Drago , a popular (and free) SGF editor, can export to PDF and I thought I might try it. Unfortunately, I ran into the following problems.
  • sduff's transcriptions, while ideal and well-suited for their purpose, are an unorthodox use of the SGF format. The files would need to be modified for them to be printable.
  • Gilles Arcas, the creater of Drago, showed me how the files could be modified and he generated a PDF of the third lesson for me. The resulting 33-page document (with four board positions per page) comes to a bandwidth-hogging 1MB in size versus the 24KB SGF! (nannyogg was kind enough to host the PDF for me.)

If you would like to modify the files yourself to print at home, here is Gilles's guidance:
  1. Drago relies on moves to find the points in the game where to print (every n moves for instance). In these files, there are lot of nodes in the game tree, but no moves.
  2. The work-around is that, if there are no moves, just add them. Replace each semicolon
  3. by ";B[]", this will add a Black pass move on each node.
  4. After that, export to a PDF in Drago with 1 figure on each move.

I won't get it. Maybe you will.

21cm New Shin-Kaya Goban

eBay seller Japanese_Go is auctioning a new 21cm shin-kaya goban. I'm saving up for a set of Kuroki Goishi Ten stones so I won't be able to bid on this. Maybe one of you can get lucky.

The auction ends on Jan-24-06 20:54:05 PST.
You can refer to one of my previous posts for auction-sniping tips.

For this goban, surface freight to the US is $127 (insurance included). The auction information includes shipping costs for US, Europe and Asia.

An 18cm shin-kaya goban from this same seller went for about $173 last month; for a total shipped cost of $300 to the US via surface freight. A 17cm shin-kaya goban from Kuroki would cost you $543 alone without the shipping.

Keep in mind that this goban may be slightly less than 21cm since the Japanese sun unit of measurement may not align perfectly with whole centimeters.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More about eBay shopping & Iceman

eBay: When the vendor is overseas

A reader from the Netherlands emailed me about his experience ordering a goban from Yellow Mountain Imports. His product experience was satisfactory, but the shipping charges and European value-added tax wound-up doubling his total cost.

It's a good idea to always contact the vendor about shipping costs before submitting a bid; particularly if these costs are unclear in the auction write-up. Depending on what you're getting (book, stones, goban) and how you're shipping it (surface, air), you could easily be looking at shipping and handling fees ranging from about $25 to $400.

When possible, also investigate if your country charges a duty on imported goods.

eBay now allows communications between all buyers and sellers, regardless of whether they are involved in a transaction or not. I've been taking advantage of this to get in-depth reviews from buyers about their experiences with certain sellers. This was part of the research I did before buying my set from YMI.

Using this method for research, I've discovered that folks in the US didn't have to pay any duties on merchandise that shipped from vendors overseas.

Chinese Wei-Qi vendor: SLQP

Wow! 22 centimeters thick!

Speaking of Yellow Mountain Imports, they had informed me that they would be visiting SLQP next month in Henan. This vendor manufactures that 22cm piece of eye-candy pictured above.

Regretfully, YMI will probably not add this emperor-sized floor goban to their inventory for 2006. Given the softness of kaya and shin-kaya, a board of this size and weight would be too costly to protectively pack for shipping.

New items that they expect to offer by the end of February of this year include:
  • Size 36 (10mm) glass stones
  • Go Seigen bowls
  • Large magnetic teaching wall boards with magnetic pieces
  • Beginners' 9x9/13x13 reversible boards

The Iceman teacheth

Some of you on Kiseido Go Server might encounter a new player by the name of Iceman; currently ranked at 24k.

While his login name might suggest some taciturn nature, this gentleman is, in fact, an elementary school teacher who is working to introduce Go to children from 3rd to 6th grade. I really envy what he's doing and am glad that he was able to get even a small grant to start this project.

Iceman's gobans. Looks like he still has a bit of work to finish.

That's a nice home-made floor goban.

KGS has been, by and large, a friendly and supportive community for me. I hope Iceman gets an even warmer welcome to help him with his learning and teaching efforts.

In other news

Huzzah! ChiyoChan topped the second round of her school's spelling bee and will be moving on to the district finals. Her 5th Grade classmates were cheering and excited for her.

She was mildly shocked when the announcement was made via the school's classroom loudspeakers today. She entered the competition on her own "just for fun", although she did ask me to give her four 1-hour practice drills last week.

The next round will pit her against other children up to middle-school (8th Grade). Our district tends to field very strong competitors that have made it all the way up to the national finals. My understanding is that no district representative has ever come from below 8th grade for the past six years.

Given the nature of the competition, I've counseled her to prepare as she wishes, but to also adjust her expectations. For me, it's already enough that she demonstrated initiative and drive for the first two rounds. I'm very proud of her!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

One of the strangest eBay Go auctions I have seen

The cursed goban: Irrational psychological association or
marketing hyperbole inspired by Hikaru No Go?

I came across this eBay auction for a cursed goban. The seller claims that the goban is made of Hyuga Kaya. It was originally purchased for $10,000 and was offered at auction with a starting bid of $2,000. There were no bidders.

Here's the key excerpt from the item's write-up. The red font emphasis is mine.

This is a unique set, assembled in consultation with an experienced Nihon-jin go-player and tastemaker. The set is a joy to play and a marvel to see; ready to be admired for a lifetime and willing to be played every day. Yet, because this goban is honto Hyuga-no-kuni kaya from Miyazaki, Kyushu, it will only rise in value over time. There is an annual quota for the ancient trees (torreya nucifera) of which a one piece board like this is made, available only at auction to the licensed craftsmen who form these treasures by hand. That quota is smaller each year as climate changes and market forces take their toll.

This set of goban, goishi and gosu is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the serious collector or Go afficionado.

That statement perhaps begs the question why I am selling an object with which I am so clearly in love. The simple fact is that this board is cursed. From the moment it entered my home my life went south. There are people out there at the close of this annus atrox that need your sympathy more than I, but let me tell you, I have had a string of bad luck, karmic retribution and hellfire from that day forward. If there is kami in this board it is baaad kami. And there is big kami in this board; I did not lose a single game I played on it. So trust me on this, if it is not a demon escaped from the nine hells, it is the hungry ghost of the Nabeshima Bakeniku. That, or whoever made this thing was a bitter man, if man he be.

And if it wasn't cursed when I bought it, I can assure you it comes with all the mojo jojo juju I can muster. I hope you get cancer. Thanks, and happy bidding.

All this brings a couple of quotes to mind.

Thirteen at a table is bad luck if the waitress only has twelve chops.
- from The Marx Brothers

If my life goes south after I bought a $10,000 goban, it would probably be because ChiyoMama found out that I bought a $10,000 goban.
- ChiyoDad

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Kudos to sduff

I wanted to recognize sduff for his transcriptions of shygost's KGS lessons. He's really done quite an impressive job in a style that reminds me of Fujisawa Kazunari's editorial work for the Nihon Ki-in's Easy Guide Series: Fuseki.

Those transcriptions could even be used as the basis for a book.

Many thanks!

ZGo in Blogger

This board is live.

I know that other Go bloggers are looking for more tools to help illustrate matches or concepts. As I had mentioned before, Drago's Export Position command is the fastest way to generate a JPEG image of a game position. If you want a dynamic board that can read a SGF, you will need something else.

Leonard Dragomir of the Warriors Go Academy had suggested the Java applet named ZGo for replaying SGFs in a web page. At the start of this section is shygost's second lesson presented with ZGo; visible if you have Java installed on your system. Yes, that board is dynamic and you will be able to move through the SGF and read sduff's transcriptions.

You can also click on the banner below the goban to launch a pop-up window which is larger and easier-to-read.

Let me know if you encounter any problems with it. I've only tested it with MS Explorer and Firefox under a Windows XP environment.

In other news

I expect to be back playing rated games sometime after February 3rd. Too much is going on at work and with ChiyoChan's extracurricular activities for me to concentrate and apply myself to my matches.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The goban becomes the world

I tried playing three rated games on my wife's laptop while watching American Idol in the living room. I was also bothered that evening by a series of batch jobs that had failed at work. I figured that I would play to get my mind off things.

The result was three consecutive resignations and a frustration about not thinking even two stones deep.

In any endeavour, the ability to focus and to have the mind fully connect with the current activity is important. I recall a particularly bad practice day in my first year of kendo. Things had not gone well at the office and my troubled mind couldn't let go of all the issues I would need to face the following morning. Our senseis saw that I was performing very poorly.

"You can't practice kendo when your mind isn't on kendo," said one of the teachers. "When you step into the dojo or go into a competition match, you must leave everything behind. Munen Muso. No mind, no thought. You will learn faster and perform better."

Modern sports psychology has translated some of this into the concept of "flow". It is a state that is most easily achieved when:
  • You perceive that your skills are good enough to match the perceived difficulty of the contest.
  • The competition is not so easy that you become bored and do not concentrate.
  • You have distraction under control
  • You are paying full attention to the performance, with no analysis of errors or technique
  • You are relaxed and alert
  • You are thinking positively, and have eliminated all negative thoughts
  • It is allowed to develop, and not forced
  • You have practised and trained attention
My understanding is that, among top performing athletes, musicians and dancers, entering a state of flow has been practiced so much that it can become almost as easy as flicking on a switch; one simply enters the state. On the other hand, beginners and amateurs have to develop the art of entering flow. In traditional martial arts, this development is part of one's training.

Kendoka sitting in seiza

Before and after each practice session in kendo, we would all sit in a classic seiza and meditate silently. This ritual served many purposes but it also heightened awareness of the entry into and exit from the state of flow. By this ritual, you were leaving the outside world behind and entering the dojo both in body and mind. One of the meta-messages of this ritual was that, for an hour and thirty minutes, the dojo was the world.

Flow applies to Go as well. I doubt that we need any such rituals, but it can only improve the quality of our play when we take the time to settle our minds and fully commit them to the game.

Snakeeater receives his replacement goban from YMI

Image courtesy of Snakeeater On Go

Back on December 15th, I had blogged an overall assessment of my purchase experience of a kaya table goban from Yellow Mountain Imports. Snakeeater provided some of the late input and an image for that analysis. He had bought a shin-kaya set from them.

Well, it looks like he finally received a goban with no dings or warping. You can read about his consumer experience in his latest post.

In Memoriam

My grandmother in an undated photograph

I learned this morning that my grandmother had passed away. She would have been 101 years old next month. She had four sons and one daughter. She is survived by her two remaining sons (one of whom is my father) and her many descendants.

Contrary to her demure appearance, my grandmother was remarkably hardy; chopping wood all the way up into her 80's until her vision began to fade. It was only a few years ago that I heard she even needed a cane or a walker. She was strong in her Catholic faith but never proselytized. I recall her being such an even-keeled and practical woman; a character befitting one that had seen much joy and hardship.

She had lived through interesting times with my grandfather who passed-away in 1969. He was also a Catholic, a Mason since his younger years (something I recently learned), and a self-made and successful businessman. He was a descendant of the house of Que Bue Ching in Fujian, China (the birth province of Go Seigen, aka Wu Qingyuan).

She is at peace and they are together again. Those of us who remain will miss them both but shall always thank them for the gifts of their lives and their legacies.

Monday, January 16, 2006

An invitation, Drago 2.0 & KGS statistics

Well, now. I can't turn that invitation down.

Caroline Young's "Timeless"

Back in September, I had expressed a wish that Caroline Young might someday depict the game of Go in one of her works. A schedule conflict kept me from attending her Fall exhibit.

Well, just a few days ago, I decided to send her an email to express my admiration for her work and suggest the idea. She responded and invited me to her Chinese New Year exhibition in the San Francisco Bay Area next month. I guess I'm definitely going this time and I'm thinking of getting an autographed artbook from her.

She told me that she had once rendered a picture of a little girl and a panda playing the game of Go as a miniature on silk paper. I couldn't find it in the originals section of her gallery though.

Drago 2.0 now in beta

I'm guessing that a few of you are also beta-testing Gilles Arcas's Version 2.0 of his versatile SGF tool, Drago (currently at V1.46).

I just installed it this morning. I don't want to steal Gilles's thunder so I'll let him speak to the new version's features when he's ready to release his update.

Examining my record on KGS

Table of Monthly Statistics

Chart of Monthly Activity
January, April, July and October will always be the worst
months for "Average Games Per Day".

I learned from nannyogg's latest post that joncol's KGS statistics calculator is working again.

I tabulated and charted my monthly activity but I don't know that these can give me much feedback to improve my game. Unlike manufacturing operations, learning Go probably can't be improved with statistical process controls.

All that I can read from my chart right now is the cycle of how playing Go cedes to the higher priorities of family and work.

shygost's lessons are going well

Transcription of the first lesson as viewed via Drago.

shygost's first two lessons on KGS were well-attended. The Tuesday morning session had more than 80 participants; probably because folks in Europe were able to attend. The Friday evening session had more than 50 participants.

Sadly, I'll be missing this Tuesday's session as I need to host a conference call on behalf of one of my coworkers. I'm hoping that the lesson will quickly be posted to tengen.bur.st so I can review it.

Re-oiled my Yunzi stones

Felt sheets (available at most craft stores) line the inside of the
bowls and cover the stones. These help protect the stones during transport.
The top sheets double as coasters for the lids. This was a suggestion that I
shared with
LaTomate at the bottom of a Sensei's Library discussion.

My Yunzi stones from Yellow Mountain Imports finally lost their oil scent and that made playing with them a little less invigorating. All I could smell was the scent of the wood laquer.

I re-oiled them with a new, slightly more floral, scent from the Body Shop: Green Tea. For some reason, it brings back memories of Hua-Hin, Thailand, where I briefly worked as an expatriate.

Wolvie gets hers

Samarkand's jitsuyo stones
(Photo courtesy of Samarkand)

Late last night, I learned that Wolvie got an Agathis table board, Shin-kaya bowls, and 7mm jitsuyo clam stones from Samarkand. Not sure if they gave her a package deal but I'm guessing that everything probably cost about $350 out the door. Samarkand's prices for these are:
It's a very nice set and you should have a look if you're in the market at about that price-range.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

First Impressions: Dictionary of Basic Joseki

In my previous post's comment section, reader JMP noted how Janice Kim's first three volumes of Learn To Play Go had a lot of breadth but lacked depth.

Please note that I consider Ms. Kim's books to be excellent learning materials (else I would not have recommended Vol. 1 in my 2005 Holiday Gift Guide); I just disagree with that text box that implies that a typical reader would be 12k in strength after reading the first three volumes and having "a little experience". In my humble opinion, 25k-to-20k (as measured on CyberOro, IGS or KGS) would be a more realistic measure of achieved strength.

Anyway, today I'd like to give you my first impressions of three other books that are narrow in scope but go very deep.

Dictionary of Basic Joseki: Volumes 1-3

Ever a sucker for bargains, I bought all three volumes of Yoshio Ishida's Dictionary of Basic Joseki at Kinokuniya back in late September. Each was priced at just $12 (40% off their normal price of $20). Back then, I had absolutely no idea how or even if I would use them.

In fact, my first thought was, "These must be underpriced because nobody wants to buy them."

Well, I'm finding a lot of use for them now. Ishida does a wonderfully in-depth job of explaining joseki, including:
  • What variations can arise
  • How some variations may be used from a whole-board perspective
  • Why one variation may be preferred over the other and why you may not want to play the variation or the joseki
  • Whether one may lose sente by following a variation and, in some cases, how to retain sente
  • Which variations are slack or aggressive
  • Why the stones must be played
  • What critical points for either color arise as the shapes evolve
  • What weaknesses exist that can be exploited
  • What countermeasures and tesuji can be applied to the shapes
I've only read about 30% of his write-ups on two common joseki (that's less than 1% of the total content of all three volumes) but I'm finding his writings to be very helpful in the study of shape, life-and-death and tesuji.

I've been using the dictionaries in conjuction with my other Go books; almost always taking one the basic books and one of the dictionary volumes with me when I sit down for a good read. On more than one occasion, I wound-up spending more of my time reading the dictionary. I get caught-up wondering what develops with each variation and the "why" behind each move.

Regular Go books will often mention a simple variation of a joseki and (sometimes) note just a few critical points to watch out for. As a result, you wind-up lost or stupefied when your opponent chooses to not follow the variation that has been presented.

Thrice in actual games, Ishida's write-ups helped me immediately recognize when my opponents' departures created exploitable openings; giving insight on where to play, in what direction, and what tesuji can be used. This has given me more confidence in applying (and in choosing not to apply) the two joseki that I've been studying to date.

Overall, the books impress me as good references when you truly want to understand what make these moves optimal and time-tested. I think that qualifies them for the study (as opposed to memorization) of joseki, and helps guard against "joseki poisoning" which Go Seigen warns of in his book, A Way of Play for the 21st Century.

Certainly, joseki are only part of one's arsenal. Whether they are worth studying in the lower kyus is the subject of much debate; but Toshiro Kageyama himself, 7P and author of the bestseller Lessons In The Fundamentals of Go, considered the proper study of joseki as "one of the first steps in getting stronger".

For me, joseki are an interesting area to explore and a great jumping point to other areas of Go; particularly when using Ishida's dictionary. Perhaps they may not be the express route to shodan (tesuji probably claims that distinction), but they certainly qualify for the scenic route.

My impulsive $36 purchase is looking like an even better bargain today. I don't know if Kinokuniya is still selling these at just $12 each but keep your eye out for them if you should visit one of their bookstores.

A free alternative to consider would be Kogo's Joseki Dictionary. This is a large SGF which can be read using a tool like Drago (my preferred SGF utility). I didn't find it as thorough in explaining the whys and hows of each joseki and it notably lacks the enlightening quality of Ishida's writing; but, for those of you on a budget, it's an option you may not want to pass-up.


I learned that Fridgeplay in the UK had released a 9x9 magnetic Go board suitable for refrigerator surface play (or anywhere else you can stick it to). My understanding is that it was developed with the assistance of the British Go Association and instructor Peter Wendes. The cost is about £10 (US$18).

Fridgeplay sells its products in the US but I haven't seen this set anywhere locally. You can find them sometimes on eBay but you may also be able to order them directly from Mr. Wendes.

I'm sure the 9x9 grid will be satisfying for some. It's ideal for introducing newcomers to the game as can be seen in most of the workshop photos from ZenMachine (turn down your audio, this site has background music).

For myself, I only wish that they had expanded the grid to 19x19.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Three books = 12 kyu?

I was browsing through the second edition of Janice Kim's third volume of Learn To Play Go(1998) and I came across this text box on page 103.

How To Improve
If you study Volumes I-III in this series, with a little experience your strength should be about ten to twelve kyu (in other words, you would receive about five handicap stones from the six kyu who played Black in the last chapter). If you have a lot of experience, you may be even stronger.

Far from it of me to question the wisdom of a woman who has been awarded dan rank by the Hankuk Kiwon; but it strikes me as a bit optimistic to say that 12 kyu can be achieved with three books. Even taking Ms. Kim's qualified definition into account (i.e. being able to take a five-stone handicap from a six kyu player), I don't think that many would agree to that as being a true measure of 12 kyu strength.

I've exchanged emails and chatted with several of you who have studied even more extensively and/or played many more games than I. My impression was that 12 kyu cannot be achieved with just three books and "a little experience". Some of us (yours truly included) even find that our ranks drop by at least four when playing on the Korean servers, DashN and CyberOro.

Of course, there's the possibility that Go world may also have changed dramatically since 1998.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Shygost to offer 30 public lessons

I just read that Shygost will be offering 30 public lessons on Kiseido Go Server beginning January 10th, 2006, according to the following schedule:
  • Tuesdays, 8:00-9:00AM PST (Morning class)
  • Fridays, 7:00-8:00PM PST (Evening class)
WorldTimeServer can provide you with the local time here in California.

From the lessons that I've sat-in on, Shygost does a nice job of giving in-depth explanations of the "why's" behind moves. It'll be interesting to see how these sessions go. I'm assuming that he'll be using audio.

The lessons will take place in the LGD room (Lance's Go Dojo) which can be found under the Lessons category in the Room List.

KGS rank feedback

KGS ranked me as 18k for a few hours on December 30th after a short string of wins. To me, it meant nothing yet because I knew there was no improvement in my play that merited the gain of one rank.

My "reading ahead" is still much too shallow and I won't see real progress until I build up the discipline to do so. I played several games afterwards and my rank adjusted back into 19k.

Like all amateurs, I have my "+2 stones" moments and my "30-kyu" moments. The element of consistency in my play obviously factors into my rank. Dan-level tactics plus Doh!-depth thinking won't take me beyond 19k.

I haven't done much tsumego for at least four weeks already and my copy of Graded Go Problems for Beginners is gathering dust. After the hectic pace of work slowed, I've, of course, been enjoying some of my holiday time with the family, alternative readings, and my new board.

It's time to restart my regimen of even a few problems each day.

In other news

ChiyoChan's Acrobot

ChiyoChan built the Lego Mindstorms AcroBot (Stage 2 challenge) by herself this morning. She hasn't yet programmed it but I'm looking forward to what she'll be able to make it do. Late last week, we together built the InventorBot (Stage 3) but it didn't seem as exciting to program as the RoverBot (Stage 1).