AlphaGo

“Don’t blame you,” said Marvin and counted five hundred and ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a second later.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve been trying to break my habit of wasting time sitting around watching a bunch of YouTube videos after work. I should break this habit by writing, or reading, or riding my bike – but I am so damn tired and need to decompress before doing anything even vaguely useful. So I try to at least watch one thing – a movie or something like that (like one off my Criterion Channel List) instead of a series of short things. You know how it goes – you see the clickbate description and think “I HAVE to watch that” but then a half hour later you can’t even remember what it was that you watched.

So tonight my son walked in and asked if I’d seen AlphaGo and I said I had no idea. It is a documentary, on YouTube, but complete and in the whole. So I watched it and it was good… and interesting… and maybe even a little educational.

It is the story of a group of AI computer developers attempting to design a system that plays the ancient game of Go (the oldest board game in continuous play in history – at least on earth).

I played a little Go when I was younger – though I was always a chess player first and foremost (I gave up chess in college when I began to give a damn about how well I played. That made the game too stressful). Then, a few years ago, I read about people trying to program a computer to play Go. They said it was impossible – they considered the game too simple, too complex, and too subtle for digital mastery.

But now, using neural nets, AI, and machine learning they have done it.

The documentary is about a challenge between the system AlphaGo and the world’s best player – best of five.

It is a very interesting lesson on the rise of the machines and the promise/danger of sophisticated AI.

But the best part is the glimpse into the character of the humans. There are some fascinating people involved. Especially Lee Sedol, the Go master as he wrestles with the pressure of not playing for himself, or his country, but for his species.

Good stuff.

Chungking Express

We’re all unlucky in love sometimes. When I am, I go jogging. The body loses water when you jog, so you have none left for tears.

—-Chungking Express

I saw an interview with Martin Scorcese a while back where he described the Marvel movies as “Theme Park Movies.” He went on to say that if you enjoy them, good for you, but don’t let them crowd out “real” movies from the limited screen real estate.

I agree. I am superheroed out. Maybe, some day, I’ll watch another comic book movie… but right now I don’t think I could make it all the way through. Life is too short.

Luckily, I have The Criterion Channel. And a list.

Yesterday I made time to sit down and watch Chungking Express – a Hong Kong comedy/drama/romcom by director Wong Kar-wai. I’m not going to write a full review, mostly because a review pretty much always contains spoilers and in my latter years I try really hard to see films spoiler-free. I want to give anyone coming to my site the same consideration.

I knew nothing about Chungking Express (for some reason, I thought it was about a train) and was very, very pleasantly surprised. It has a unique structure – it is not a theme park movie – yet it is very enjoyable and not hard to watch.

It is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies (the structure has some resemblance to Pulp Fiction). He has an excellent YouTube video about the film – it’s divided into two parts. You are supposed to watch the first part before seeing the film, then come back and watch the rest (though even the second half is pretty spoiler-free).

A great movie – and Tarantino does know of what he speaks.

After seeing this movie I’ll never buy a can of pineapple without looking at the expiration date… and never listen to California Dreaming the same way.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, VHS by Bill Chance

“More pathetic than the digital age is the people who love it. They buy right into the “newer is always better” ideology and they can’t seem to grasp that the fun of VHS tapes, super 8 film, darkroom photography and vinyl records is far more worthwhile and human than the cold, high-tech atmosphere of everything being digitized. As the 21st century progresses, yeah, we’ll have our Netflix and our cellular phones and our artificial intelligence and our implanted microchips – and future generations will have lost something valuable. Sadly, they won’t even know what they’ve lost because we’re taking it all away from them.”

― Rebecca McNutt

Recycled Books, Denton, Texas

VHS

Gerard was not a neat person. Far from it. He sort of wanted to be but couldn’t get his head around how to pull it off. His apartment was always a terrible mess – clothes thrown in the corner, sink full of dirty dishes, and he could never remember which was trash day.

He did have a decent TV – a 19 inch Zenith. He had a VCR. A coworker had tried to talk him into buying a Betamax but he had settled, for no real reason, on VHS. The thing had cost him a week’s salary – but it gave him his money’s worth.

Gerard loved movies. He watched one at home almost every night. He worked in a downtown skyscraper and every day, at lunch, he would take the elevator down to the street, cross at a pedestrian light in the middle of the block, and enter the lobby of an ancient limestone building. It had an old-fashioned hallway going front to back lined with little stores – a newsstand, a candy store, a high-end luggage store, a coffee shop – the sort of things that catered to downtown office workers. It also had one of the early video rental places – a small private shop – common until Blockbuster came along and drove them all out of business. It had a meager selection, the boxes displayed on shelves behind the glass counter. To get an actual movie, you had to ask and the clerk would rummage around in drawers, click the cassette into its holder, and then deliver your plastic box by hand.

Purchasing tapes was expensive and they could only afford one copy of any title – so they were usually out of the movies Gerard wanted to rent. Looking through the loose-leaf notebook on the counter, he would have to ask over and over until he stumbled on a title that they had in stock. It was a bit of a pain, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind at all.

The clerk was beautiful. To Gerard, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Pale, quiet, with a thick mane of fire-red hair – Gerard would stare as she rummaged around looking for a tape. This was the high point of his day. He was actually disappointed when she had one for him on the first try.

He was a very busy man and sometimes he had to take work home. On those days he knew he would be too busy to watch a movie but he’d rent one anyway – simply to spend a few minutes with the clerk. He also had to travel, often on short notice.

There were two women living in the apartment across the hall from him. He had helped the two out when they were in trouble with a couple of angry, violent boyfriends and they owed him a huge pile of favors. They were attracted to that kind of men and weren’t interested, romantically, in Gerard, but would help him out when they could. One, a beautiful, tall brunette, also worked downtown, only two buildings away from him. When he had to leave town, he would give her his videotape to return for him.

He wondered what the beautiful clerk in the video rental store thought of this woman coming by every now and then and returning his videos. She told him she never said anything to the clerk – just left the tape on the counter and walked out.

Gerard wanted to talk to the redhead so bad but he could not think of any way to do it without looking like an idiot. He was only a customer, one of hundreds. He was sure a lot of them hit on her. He didn’t want to be that guy. He thought, and thought, and thought, then had an idea. He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled away for a while. Then he grabbed a pen, an envelope, a spare key, and another piece of paper. He went next door to see the girl that sometimes returned his tapes.

“Hey,” he said, “I need you to do me a favor, no big deal.”

“Sure, you have a tape.”

“Yes, I do, but I need another favor and I want you to drop something else off there for me too. First, I want you to copy this – in your own handwriting.”

He handed her the pen and two pieces of paper. She read the note.

“This note says I’m breaking up with you. And returning your key.”

“Yup.”

“It says I’m leaving and you are not to look for me.”

“Of course.”

“It is vicious, it makes me look awful.”

“Sorry.”

“Why the hell?”

“Don’t worry, I have my reasons.”

The woman thought for a minute, then broke out in a smile. She had noticed the clerk, of course.

“OK, sure, I’ll do it.”

She copied the note and Gerard sealed the envelope up with the key.

“Ok, tomorrow take this by the video rental shop and give it to the clerk. Be sure and tell her it’s for me. Oh, and here’s a tape, too.”

“Sure. But only one thing.”

“What?”

“I guess you’ll have to find someone else to take your tapes back when you’re out of town.”

“A price I’ll gladly pay.”

Gerard waited two days before he went down to rent another tape. He was so excited, he could barely breathe on the walk over. He planned to open the envelope, read the note right there, and maybe even cry a little bit. No way the clerk wouldn’t be moved by this. He could talk to her as a person, not a clerk and customer. He would ask her to go for coffee or a drink after work, to “help take his mind off his troubles.” No way could she refuse.

But nothing happened, she rented him the tape, same as always. He wanted so say something, “What about my note?” but realized that he couldn’t.

The days went by and he kept renting and returning and she never said anything. It was getting to be humiliating. He began to think he would have to find another video rental shop. He was even worried about the key. Why did he use a real spare key? The store had his address from the extensive form he had to fill out as a member and customer of the shop. Did somebody else have the note? Would they rob him? He wasn’t really worried though – other than his TV and VCR he didn’t own anything worth stealing and was thinking about new models of each anyway.

Gerard was relieved when a job came up that would take him out of state for a whole week. He dropped his last tape off.

“I won’t be renting for a week, I’m going out of town on business,” he said to the clerk. He hoped she might have some reaction, but only nodded. He decided that when he came back he’d move to another video shop a couple blocks over.

The week out of town was exhausting drudgery. His failure with the video store clerk weighed on him more than it should have. If she would have turned him down, that he could have dealt with, but this, her completely ignoring him, was so much worse. He imagined her throwing his letter in the trash with a sneer.

Gerard returned on a late flight and took a cab home. He was so tired and glad to be home, but he almost dreaded opening his front door. He pulled his suitcase through and turned on the light.

It was a shock. Everything was clean and neat as a pin. His dishes were washed and put up, his garbage was gone, and his dirty clothes had been done and neatly folded. His ratty old shower curtain had even been replaced with a new, fashionable one.

Once the shock had begun to fade, he saw that there was a note taped to the front of his TV. It said:

“If you want me to come over here and watch a movie with you, I will, but I wanted it to be a bit cleaner first.”

At the bottom of the note was stapled a “Free Movie Rental” coupon from the place downtown.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Horsemouth and Aquariumhead by Elizabeth Turner

“Magic

Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,

Eddie touched a troll,

Laurie danced with witches once,

Charlie found some goblins gold.

Donald heard a mermaid sing,

Susy spied an elf,

But all the magic I have known

I’ve had to make myself.”

― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

Fish on the sidewalk, Governor Nichols Street New Orleans, Louisiana

And today’s flash fiction:

Horsemouth and Aquariumhead by Elizabeth Turner

from Lost Balloon

Elizabeth Turner Twitter

What I learned this week, April 2, 2021

Found by a photobooth, Molly’s At the Market, French Quarter, New Orleans

Don’t Follow Your Gut

How should we make decisions in life? Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist, says that whatever you do, Never Go With Your Gut. It’s such bold advice that Dr. Tsipursky decided to make it the title of his latest book. In this interview, Dr. Tsipursky discusses his unorthodox approach and warns against the dangerous mental blindspots that lead to decisions we later regret.


(click to enlarge) Sixth and Camp in New Orleans – a beautiful row of Camelback Shotgun Houses

The Case for Rooms

It’s time to end the tyranny of open-concept interior design.


Sleep
Sleep

Why You Stay Up So Late, Even When You Know You Shouldn’t

There are certain traits that lend themselves to “revenge bedtime procrastination.” There’s also a way out.


Drinks menu… the coffee looks good, but “Treats from the Teat” – I don’t know if that’s as catchy as they think it is.

How To Make Starbucks-Style Cold Brew Coffee at Home


I wonder what this guy was thinking… “Wow, there are too many people here! I give up!” or, more likley, “Hey! Quit staring at my penis!”

Hypocrites: How to Survive in a World Full of Them


Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Can Introverts Be Happy in a World That Can’t Stop Talking?

Acceptance is key to the well-being and authenticity of introverts


Paula & Lucky Santa Fe Trestle Trail Dallas, Texas

Don’t Tell Your Friends They’re Lucky

Luck has a lot to do with success. We just don’t want to admit it.


Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Context! by Jose Hernandez Diaz

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”

― Frida Kahlo

Nick on his skateboard.

From my Online Journal – May 12, 2002

I live is such a mind-numbingly boring place going for a walk is great practice at observation. I have to be very good at it to find anything remotely interesting to see.

Across from the school a clumsy fat kid stumbled down the sidewalk on a skateboard while cradling a tiny black-and-white kitten in his hand. The house he emerged from still had its Christmas lights hanging from the eaves – the popular complex strands of white, icicle lighting; the lights on the roof had come loose and were tangled up in a mess. Though all the houses in my neighborhood were once equipped with central air, this one had a small window unit in a living room window – it was making an unpleasant clanking racket – it won’t make it through the summer.

And today’s flash fiction:

Context! by Jose Hernandez Diaz

from Lost Balloon

Jose Hernandez Diaz Twitter

Jose Hernandez Diaz page

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Spines and Tiny Hearts, by Rupert Dastur

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Fireworks from Reunion Tower, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

From my Online Journal – November 13, 2001



despite the spitting rain the traffic flies, I fly down the onramp and merge, merge with the flow, become one with the nighttime red twin corpuscles of tail lights, screaming on slotted concrete, screaming tires under gangsigned overpasses, I’m grinning to an oldies station – Good Luvin’ pumping out loud, glad to get home on time for once. But a sudden sea of brighter red brakelights and it all falls apart, slows to a crawl, slows more to a stop, I watch the concrete bridge piers creep by inch by inch only inches outside my window and fantasize leaving something there, I’d have the time, cute girl in a red sportscar – ponytail, giant smoking bus, hugely fat guy crammed in a white Honda with his seat leaning back and tattered Old Glory plastic pole hooked to his window, grocery truck with the word FISH on the back, one lane moves a little then another, slow slow, slower, line of cars give up, bail out, creep up the steep shoulder to the frontage, all the SUV’s pull this off, but where will they go? Finally around a bend the flashing red and blue lights, line of crimson flames and wax coated sticks of flares in the road, everyone crams together into one lane, comes a time when you have to simply not look and move, then a diorama of towtrucks pulling piles of twisted metal onto flat trailers, Ambulance with open doors, groups of people standing, someone covered with a blanket, it is human to look for a few seconds though I understand how that look gets multiplied for the thousands waiting, then free, open, time to accelerate, get home, get home, get home

And today’s flash fiction:

Spines and Tiny Hearts, by Rupert Dastur

from Reflex Fiction

Rupert DasturTwitter

Rupert Dastur homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, One Milky Window, by Tara Isabel Zambrano

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

― Marilyn Monroe

Mural on construction fence, Farmer’s Market, Dallas, Texas, Derrick S. Hamm

From my Online Journal – August 2, 2002, written on the beach during a trip to Nicaragua:

In the hammock, looking at a fallen coconut, I fall asleep and dream and wake up not knowing where I am.

Usually when I steal a few moments in a hammock, it is to dream I am tied between a coconut tree and maybe a mango tree, along a tropical beach, with the Pacific breakers crashing in a steady roar. It is disconcerting to wake up from my dream and realize I really am there.


The sea foams
orange
with plankton, algae
and diatoms

a shark thrashes
in the breakers
its prey caught
and bloody

the beach is littered
with
tiny slivers of shells
crushed by the surf
against the rocks
like broken heart-bones


At night on the beach, the brilliant unfamiliar Southern constellations, brief flashes of shooting stars, giant tropical thunderstorms on the ocean horizon throwing distant brilliant flashes of heat lightning – all up against the inky dark.

And today’s flash fiction:

One Milky Window, by Tara Isabel Zambrano

from The Forge

Tara Isabel Zambrano Twitter

Tara Isabel Zambrano homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, A Quick Dip, by Neeru Nagarajan

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

The river and the Hwy 90 double bridge from the Crescent Park Bridge, New Orleans

From my Online Journal – July 3, 2000 (almost twenty years ago – yikes! – my kids were nine and ten at the time) written during a camping trip at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas:

We came back down to Balmorhea in the late afternoon and decided to go swimming. We talked to Lee about his fear of the fish in the pool and, as I suspected, it was mostly that he was tired and hungry yesterday. Some rest and some food and he was ready to hit the water.

He didn’t really do any swimming. What he preferred to do was to put on his goggles and stretch across his inflatable inner tube and let me swim and pull the tube around the big pool. He’d take a deep breath and stick his head into the water and look at the bottom. The pool is very large and there was a lot to look at. He would have requests like, “Swim me over to that end,” or “let’s go out to the deep part,” and I’d oblige. He’d plunge his face and come up with a report of what he saw: a school of fish, or some rocks, or a turtle, or a place where some kids had inscribed their names into the algae growing on the bottom.

After the crowded holiday that day before, only a handful of swimmers and some scuba divers were there. As I pulled Lee around Nick dove off the high board and swam until it was his turn. Lee wrapped up in a towel and walked back to the campsite. Nicholas put on his goggles and I started swimming him around on his tube. We went into the deep end to try and spot the place where the copious flow of water erupted in a bed of white bubbling sand.

We came up against the stairs on the far side. I was getting tired and cold, the spring water is very chilly, it was late, I’d been swimming a long time and it was taking its toll. I asked Nick if we should walk back, around the pool or swim across. We did have his inner tube – I felt confident we could make it across one more time. We decided to swim. It was a mistake.

Nick looped his goggles around one shoulder and took hold of one side of the tube while I grabbed the other and we started to swim. Not too far from the side, but at the deepest part, maybe thirty feet deep, Nick called out, “Oh, oh, there go my goggles.” In retrospect I should have let them sink; but I took a big gulp of air and took off underwater, diving as deep and as quickly as I could. Maybe twenty feet down I saw a sinking orange blur, frog-kicked over to the goggles and grabbed them. Then I swam back up to the surface.

When you start reaching well into your forties, like I am, there is a fundamental change in the relationship between you and your body. What has been a good friend over the years, a partner, something you are… well, attached to – suddenly turns traitor. Abilities you have taken for granted for decades disappear. No one tells you about this. As a youth I could swim underwater with the ease and comfort of walking across a field. I took this for granted, the ability to hold my breath, come up for air and refresh myself. I discovered tired, and cold, and old, and fat… this is no longer true.

When I came up and handed Nicholas his goggles and put one hand on the inner tube and started kicking and swimming I realized that I was not going to be able to catch my breath. It came on with awful speed. No matter how hard I tried, my breathing became more and more labored, shallower, moving my arms and legs in the cold spring water was becoming extremely difficult.

It was horrifying.

With amazing clarity of thought, I knew I was not going to drown. I did have that inner tube for a float, even though I was rapidly becoming so weak I could barely hold on to it. There were some scuba divers in the pool that had finished diving and were sitting on the steps talking over the day’s sights and I knew I could call to them and they would haul me out of the pool. I came within a hair’s breadth of doing that.

The main fear I had was I thought I might be having a heart attack. I had never felt like this before. There was no pain, but I simply could not breathe, I could not get enough oxygen into my body to keep my arms and legs moving.

I don’t know what Nicholas thought, holding on to the other side of the inner tube, my son’s face only a few inches from mine. I must have scared him a little because I know I was flopping more than I should, trying to hook my arm into the tube and was unable to get it done. I didn’t want to frighten him unnecessarily so I kept my rising fears to myself.

Slowly, we continued to move across the wide pool, and finally I was able to reach down with a toe and touch the bottom. That didn’t help as much as you’d think because I was too weak to stand in the water and the energy used to hop and get my face above water made my breathing more impossible. Finally, the floor became shallower and shallower and before I knew it I was on the steps.

I released the tube and the brisk wind blew it away. “Could somebody get that please,” I asked, and a scuba diver caught it with a couple strong sure strokes and brought it back to me.

I didn’t have to sit beside the pool for very long before I felt fine. The fear and panic quickly drained away and left me with a slight elation even though I was still a little tired. I told Nicholas to take his towel and walk back to the popup at the campsite, I’d catch up in a minute.

Looking back on it now, I realize what I was feeling, in addition to simple exhaustion, was hypothermia. The spring water was cold and I had been in it for hours.

Walking slowly back to the camp, enjoying the last purple glow of the set sun, following the channels that the water followed as it coursed out of the pool, roaring down the irrigation ditches on out of the park, I felt fine. But the memory of those minutes of fear, the feeling of helplessness and drowning, are still with me. I had never felt like that before and I don’t look forward to feeling like that again. Unfortunately, I’m sure I will.

And today’s flash fiction:

A Quick Dip, by Neeru Nagarajan

from Middle House Review

Neeru Nagarajan Twitter

Neeru Nagarajan homepage

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Charity Auction by Bill Chance

sound of a cicada
Shape of the Spitfire’s wings
yellow firefly light
taste of daycare peanut butter
industrial grape jelly
sanding dust from balsa wood
beige and fine
light as air
pins in cardboard
white glue
a path through the nettled woods
ending at a rope swing
over a dry creek bed

—-Armando Vitalis, From Hell’s Heart I Stab At TheeShape of the Spitfire’s Wings

I donated five dollars to the North Texas Food Bank. You swipe your credit card, push the button. There’s an artificial splash and the cash projected on the fountain swirls around in a virtual splash

Charity Auction

The two kids, Sandy and Simon had a charity auction for the new Quest program at their school.

“We’re supposed to bring stuff from home in to auction off,” said Sandy.

“It’ll be really cool,” said Simon.

A week before the auction, their mother helped them pick out possessions they didn’t play with anymore, digging around in their closets for old toys. There were plenty to choose from. They each filled a small cardboard box and off to school they went, proud and excited.

The day of the auction their mother gave each one a ten-dollar bill to spend at the auction. Sandy immediately lost hers (it turned up a few days later in a never-used pocket in her backpack) so Simon gave five to his sister. He was not happy.

They were able to buy some stuff and were anxious to show off their purchases to their parents.

“I bought this Darkwing Duck movie!” said Sandy, “I remember seeing it years ago and liking it!”


“Sandy, that’s your movie, you donated it last week,” her mother said.


“I bought all these Batman Action figures!” boasted Simon.


“Simon, those are all yours, you donated those too!”


“I know, but I remembered how much I liked them and figured they were in there by mistake.”

The two kids had bought the same stuff they had donated to the auction.

Their parents explained they didn’t really understand how a charity auction worked. They suspected that a lot of the kids had bought their own donations.

But later, thinking about it, they decided that the kids understood more than it appeared, maybe they understood more than their parents or their teachers.