Day 62: Zombie Phones and Baby Alligators

While my phone was busy finding the limits of the text messaging infrastructure, my muse’s phone has decided to turn any battery placed inside it into a lump of coal. Two so far this month. I want to stencil little battery icons on the side of it, like mini kill-trophies.

She’s giving me that look.

Side note #1: When her last phone died a few years ago, I took it apart, soldered in a bypass for the charging circuit, and kept it running for a full year. Yay zombie phone!

The look She’s giving me now says “Oh no you’re not.”

Might be time for a new phone.

Today I’m getting a lot of work done on Secret Plan 161, but instead of finding a sensible quiet desk, I’ve walked to Delessio at Market & Valencia.

Delessio is right next to Flax, an excellent art supply store. Mmmmm.
DSCN0791 DSCN0795

After a few hours of heads-down work, I decide to go find Gene for a chess lesson. I walk down to Union Square, and there’s an art festival going on. It’s fun; I sit with a book for a while to see if Gene shows up.


Twice in the past week I’ve seen him right here, but not today.

If I can’t predict when he’s going to be here, I don’t stand a chance of beating him at chess. There are rules which determine when he comes here, where he sits, and how his pawns move as the game opens. I’m going to try to figure them out, rather than relying on luck. Next time I come, he’ll be here. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Side note #2: A few years ago, I taught my muse to play chess.

You know how baby alligators are so cute, but then they grow up and become unstoppable predators? That’s basically what happened. I haven’t beaten her at chess in a long, long time.

Fond Memory 1: A place called Beaulieu-sur-Mer in the South of France, 2003.

A gentleman brings us drinks as we sit facing each other over a beautiful marble chess table. He pauses, chuckles, and softly says “Elle va gagner.”

If the waiter can tell you’re getting your butt kicked, then you might have taught your student too well.

Fond Memory 2: San Francisco, 2006.

After trash-talking and wagering ourselves into an epic battle, the game begins. A few moves in, she gives me that look: “Oh no you’re not.” …and it’s all over.

Her queen must have been sleeping with with one of my pawns, because she just showed up behind the whole line, and left a trail of carnage on her way to the king before anyone could even find the emergency exit. Ow.

(It doesn’t mean she’s ready for the pro chess circuit, just that she specifically knows how to beat me. That’s comforting.)

I guess I’m lucky. Most people don’t get to keep the baby alligator once it becomes dangerous. And it doesn’t usually look this good.

Random assertion: There are no dice in chess, which does not mean there are no surprises.

Steganographic data: 1862/6.7

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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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