Day 6: Serious Games

Today went as planned, except that I did not expect to meet Gene, and I thought I’d be home before midnight.

It started with a battle of wills at Delessio. I wanted a cup of coffee, but the pastries fresh from the open kitchen that morning wanted me to eat them all. We settled on a flaky butter croissant, but it’s not over.

I walked a few miles further, and met up with a new friend at the Fog City Diner. Jay is starting a company called MoonShoot, with the goal of using computer game technology to improve worldwide literacy. I’ll be introducing him to two of my personal heroes and good friends:

Patricia Wilson is the Executive Director of Make-A-Wish in the Bay Area, and Ben Sawyer is the co-director of the Serious Games Initiative. I had the good fortune of meeting Patricia, Ben and the Dalai Lama all in the same year, through a project called Ben’s Game (the brainchild of another one of my heroes, Ben Duskin). If you’re looking for role models, this paragraph is a good list.

Here’s where the day deviated from plan. Instead of walking home directly, I wandered through Union Square. The gentleman with the wooden cane is Gene, and he’s out here almost every day playing jazz records and chess. He and his opponent clearly play together regularly.

I realized that I’ve actually got time for things like this today, so I sat and watched the whole game, which did not go well for Gene. His opponent cleared out his strong pieces and closed in for the kill.

Geek details: At the end, Gene was down to a rook and a few pawns, and his opponent had one of each bishop/rook/knight plus some pawns. Gene was easily blocked from crossing the board to recover his queen, but then pulled off a surprise capture, calling the lady in and causing a reversal the whole game.

I didn’t see it coming, and his opponent didn’t see it until the captured piece had left the board. Gene sat still while his friend across the board from him stood up, sat down, stood up, lit a cigarette, and said “I concede you the game.” Gene borrowed the cigarette to relight the one he was keeping behind his ear.

I guess I must have said something out loud, because Gene turned his head toward me,

“You play?”
“Not really. Just casual.”
“Then I’ll play you, for money.”
“So the lesson stings a little.”
“You know they do.”

I think I’ve found a new teacher. I’ll let you know what happens.

On the way home I picked up an album by Carla Bruni, who has a sexy voice and a very interesting life.

I had dinner with another good friend (and one of the best hardware hackers I’ve ever met). If you ever need to pull a difficult heist, you want her involved. Myriam (a.k.a. tnkgrl) has a talent for making technology work the way she thinks it ought to. For example, it takes more than a sharp mind and a steady hand to pull something like this off.

After dinner, I went to the TechShop and took my very first class in working with carbon fiber.

The class was two hours (with only one other student, a guy named Ray Oppenheimer). I made a few rookie errors, but the instructor, John, is patient and experienced. Even on my first attempt, the test panel I made looks great, is more than strong enough for what I need, and it weighs barely a third of an ounce.

The class ended at 10:30, but John had an experimental project he wanted to try out with the vacu-forming equipment, and it’s not a one person job. So Ray and I stayed until after midnight, getting what amounted to an extra lesson and some great trial-and-error experience.

On the way home, my muse called to flirt from Taipei (it was 1am for me, but 4pm for her). She gets back Saturday morning. That’s what I’m looking forward to, more than anything else.

Lesson learned: Finding two new teachers in one day will wear you out.

Random Assertion: As role models go, one Hedy Lamarr is worth three Thomas Edisons.

Steganographic data: 1870/9.4

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