Saturday, March 12, 2005

Long-reigning Champion Chess Grandmaster Kasparov Retires... for Politics

I saw this article in my local paper this morning. I'm always fascinated by the game of chess. I'm familiar with the pieces and the rules of engagement, though I could never fully grasp the all-important mid-game strategy (planning three, four, six, eight moves ahead). It makes my head hurt to think that far ahead. Though I always enjoyed following the "big matches," and Kasparov has been the best for a very, very long time.

I wish him luck in his political future in Russia. He certainly has the mind for it. And it appears that he has the passion, as well. Putin may have met his match (pun intended):

MOSCOW - Garry Kasparov, the brilliant and aggressive tactician regarded by many as the greatest chess player of all time, announced his retirement from professional play. He said he plans to write books and become more active in the politics of Russia, a country that's "headed down the wrong path."

The 41-year-old Kasparov has been ranked No. 1 in the world since 1984, dominating chess for two decades with formidable energy, discipline and intellect. His announcement came shortly after he won the 14-match Linares tournament in Spain.

Kasparov's mastery of chess seemed sometimes to be superhuman, and perhaps his most famous loss was a 1997 match against IBM supercomputer Deep Blue.

Shay Bushinsky, a programmer behind another chess computer, told The Associated Press that as a chess player Kasparov was "the closest thing to a computer that I know as a man. Sometimes I think he has silicon running in his veins."

But Kasparov also became famous for his colorful and vibrant personality. He was seen as an especially vital and well-rounded person in a pursuit where top players often have the image of not having interests besides chess.

"He isn't just a pawn; and he isn't just a database, either, an inflated cerebellum, a throbbing maniac in the closed system of 64 squares," novelist Martin Amis wrote of him in a 1993 essay.

Among Kasparov's interests is politics. A Russian citizen, Kasparov has emerged as an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and is playing a leading role in the Committee 2008: Free Choice, a group formed by liberal opposition leaders.

But he was increasingly exasperated with the politics of the chess world, which has been bitterly divided since 1993 into two rival federations with rival champions. In his retirement announcement Thursday, he reiterated that he was disappointed with a failed campaign to reunify the title.

He also said part of the reason he was retiring was that he saw no real goals in professional chess.

"As a chess player, I did everything I could, even more. Now I want to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics," Kasparov said Friday in a statement cited by the Interfax news agency.

"I believe that at the moment the country is moving in the wrong direction, therefore it is necessary to help Russia, to help Russian citizens to make the country comfortable, just and free," he said in the statement.

"I will do everything in my power to resist Putin's dictatorship," he said. "It is very difficult to play for a country whose authorities are anti-democratic."

Kasparov said he would continue to play chess, write books about it and take part in tournaments, such as events in which he plays many opponents at once, or in speed-chess games.

Alexander Roshal, chief editor of a popular Russian chess magazine called 64, said Kasparov had no peers in the chess world.

"There's no one else of his caliber. No one comes close. He saw that, and said 'you go on without me,'" he said.

Kasparov evidently was thinking about retiring for a long time after it became clear the reunification title match would not happen soon, Roshal said.

"He won more than 40 super-tournaments and in a month he'll be 42," Roshal said. "For chess, that's not young, and he has no reason to waste time preparing for another tournament. He's not going to be greater than he was or is."

Born in Baku in the then-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, Kasparov is thought by many to be the best chess player in history. His defeat by Deep Blue was seen as a watershed moment in technological advancement, but in 2003 he averted a similar defeat when he agreed to a draw in the last game of his series against Deep Junior, which could process 3 million chess moves per second.

"Kasparov has the most incredible look-ahead and memory capabilities I have ever seen," said Bushinsky, one of two Israelis who helped design Deep Junior.

Kasparov's chess talent was apparent at an early age. At 12 he became the youngest player ever to win the USSR Junior Championship. Four years later, he won the World Junior Championship, and achieved the title of grandmaster on his 17th birthday.

His first title match, from September 1984 to February 1985 against Anatoly Karpov, was the longest in chess history. After 48 games, the psychological and physical strain on Karpov, who was leading but appeared likely to lose, caused chess authorities to end the match inconclusively amid controversy.

Kasparov won a rematch six months later, becoming the youngest world champion ever. He defended his title against Karpov in 1986, 1987 and 1990.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Is 3-D TV on the horizon?

Since holography (as a field of study) was my first love, (although this isn't technically "holographic" television), I wanted to post this recent article:

New 3D Screen Requires No Special Goggles

HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - A German research institute has developed a screen that requires no special glasses to display three-dimensional images and can be viewed even from the side.

The display is meant to help architects and engineers visualize their designs or to make flight simulators more realistic. Doctors at the German University of Tuebingen have used it to train for minimally invasive surgery.

The screen, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications and displayed at the annual CeBIT technology fair in the German city of Hannover on Thursday, generates two slightly different images to make objects appear three-dimensional.

A lens in front of the display directs one beam of light toward the left eye of the viewer and a second beam toward the right, making 3D goggles unnecessary.

If the viewer moves to the side, a camera at the top of the display registers the movement and adjusts the lens.

The Berlin-based Fraunhofer Institute also shows a "3D kiosk" that uses the display, intended for high-tech showrooms.

The screen is mounted on a table that has cameras and infrared sensors hidden below the surface, which pick up on gestures, allowing the viewer to skip through images or rotate a three-dimensional object by pointing and moving the hand.

Consumer electronics companies Philips from the Netherlands and Sharp from Japan are also developing 3D displays that do not require special glasses. But because they do not yet track the viewer's movements, they require a viewer to choose the best position and remain there.

More articles and websites can be found here, here, here and here.

Laser co-inventor wins religion award

As someone who initially studied physics in college before turning to the arts (after hitting a brick wall named calculus), I found this article not only intriguing but also heartening. My passion in physics at the time was in the fields of holography, lasers and optics.

Laser co-inventor wins religion award
(AP - March 9, 2005)

NEW YORK - Charles Townes, co-inventor of the laser and a Nobel Prize winner in physics, was named Wednesday as the recipient of a religion award billed as the world’s richest annual prize.

Townes, 89, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, won the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. The award is worth 795,000 British pounds — more than $1.5 million — and Townes was honored for talks and writings about the importance of relating science and religion.

He first addressed that topic in 1964, the same year he shared the Nobel with two Russians for research on principles underlying the laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) and maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation).

Townes said in remarks prepared for the announcement that his first talk about religion, to the men’s Bible class of New York City’s Riverside Church, was later published in IBM’s Think magazine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni magazine.

After the second article, a prominent alumnus threatened to cease all involvement with MIT if anything like it were ever published again, Townes said. He also recalled that, years before, his doctoral adviser at California Institute of Technology “jumped on me for being religiously oriented.”

“Many people don’t realize that science basically involves assumptions and faith. But nothing is absolutely proved,” Townes said. “Wonderful things in both science and religion come from our efforts based on observations, thoughtful assumptions, faith and logic.”

He has compared his flash 1951 discovery of maser principles, while sitting on park bench in Washington, D.C., with the revelations depicted in the Bible.

Townes said that, with findings of modern physics, it “seems extremely unlikely” that the existence of life and humanity are “just accidental,” which inevitably raises religious questions about whether the universe was planned.

A native of Greenville, S.C., Townes graduated from local Furman University before earning graduate degrees at Duke University and Caltech. He was a Bell Labs radar researcher during World War II and taught at Columbia University and MIT.

In 1961, Townes began another long-running interest, using optical searches for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Townes receives the prize May 4 in a private ceremony at London’s Buckingham Palace.

He plans to donate a major portion of the money to Furman University, the Pacific School of Religion, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Berkeley Ecumenical Chaplaincy to the Homeless and Berkeley’s First Congregational Church.

The Templeton Foundation of West Conshohocken, Pa., which sponsors various projects on science and religion, was founded by mutual funds entrepreneur Sir John M. Templeton.

Until 2002, its annual award was known as the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The first went to Mother Teresa in 1973.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

EC:WC FCA - The Notebook

a West Coast Critic review

I had the pleasure of renting and watching the DVD release of "The Notebook" - a touching love story set in '40s flashback. Don't let the fact that Nick Cassavetes is the director of this film dissuade you. Although he's better known for such harsh films as The Wraith, Blind Fury, Face/Off and Blow, he divested himself of his previous directorial incarnations and has handled this wonderful story with proper care.

This is the third movie to be made based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (the others being Message In A Bottle and A Walk To Remember). Sparks' success came out of nowhere fast, having bolted out of the blocks running with his first novel (The Notebook) - a manuscript that caused Warner Books to offer him one million dollars to publish (a fledgling writer's dream come true). Ten years later, his success continues to gain momentum.

I have not read any of his novels, so I cannot compare the book to the film. But The Notebook is a tender story about summer love between two wild-eyed teens from opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Noah is the humble yet daring lumber mill worker who becomes smitten with Allie, a bright and spritely girl who's family comes from old southern money.

It's your typical boy-wants-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-get-girl-back kind of story that has been well-worn in story after story. But there's a certain freshness to this retelling. In part, it's due to the wonderful performance by the young lead actors: Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. But what really helps give this story fresh legs is the "present day" performances by James Garner and Gena Rowlands. Garner plays the character of Duke, who reads to the bewildered Rowlands character who is suffering through the end stage of dementia - a debilitating mental disease similar to Alzheimers. The tender love and care and eagerness that Duke displays as he takes his time reading to Rowlands, attempting with unshakeable hope to reawaken her lost memories, is a testament to the kind of love and sacrifice that is all too often missing in today's culture (certainly in today's movies).

There are some weaknesses to the movie. One being a certain amount of predictability to the story. A second being Cassavetes' attempt to throw up some half-hearted red herrings to keep you guessing who the older characters really are. You pretty much know from the get-go who is who, and the film at a certain point actually pretty much tells you straight out. So the red herrings weren't really necessary.

Also, the way Cassavetes attempts to end the film felt a bit clumsy, as though you were brought to what you thought was the end... then it continues a bit further... and when you thought it had then reached it's denouement... it went just a little bit more. The ending itself is not bad. It's actually very poignant. It just wasn't as well executed as I would have expected given the wonderful pace of the rest of the film.

I'll be generous and forgiving, and give this warmhearted yet forgotten film 4 out of 5 wine bottles. Keep a box of Kleenex handy.