Unorthodox Chess From an Odd Mind

Weird as he may be and anathema to most serious chess players, Bobby Fischer’s variation on chess is attracting attention in the tournament world. In the game, the ranks of pawns are lined up as always, but white player gets to arrange the other row of pieces behind the pawns in random order (except that the king must be between the two rooks and the bishops must be on opposite colors). The black pieces are set up to mirror the positions of the white. The point is to free chess from the rote play of memorized openings, since there are 960 possible starting positions for the game (thus, the game is sometimes referred to as Chess960; it is also known as Fischer Random Chess). “Competitors live and die by skill alone from the very first move.” Fischer had proposed the game in 1996 and it finally caught on in Europe in 2001. As this Wired coverage points out, it also holds strong appeal for chess programmers for the same reason; chess programs’ analysis of the openings in a conventional game relies on a digital lookup table version of an opening book. It is not clear yet if the game tips the odds toward either human or computer in a person-machine match, as compared with conventional chess. Fischer, now in jail, continues to publicize his chess variant, and announced he does not play conventional chess any more. Anatoly Karpov has just publicly challenged Fischer to a match at his own game. (A rudimentary chess player, I would do as well at Chess960 as at conventional chess, since I have memorized exactly zero standard openings…)


‘Open Source’ Scientific Journals

“The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a public resource.

Our goals are to:

  • Open the doors to the world’s library of scientific knowledge by giving any scientist, physician, patient, or student – anywhere in the world – unlimited access to the latest scientific research.
  • Facilitate research, informed medical practice, and education by making it possible to freely search the full text of every published article to locate specific ideas, methods, experimental results, and observations.
  • Enable scientists, librarians, publishers, and entrepreneurs to develop innovative ways to explore and use the world’s treasury of scientific ideas and discoveries.

We have launched a nonprofit scientific publishing venture that will provide scientists with high-quality, high-profile journals in which to publish their most important work, while making the full contents freely available for anyone to read, distribute, or use for their own research.” [thanks, Seth]


Leave My Child Alone

I have previously written about this here, but August and September are crucial months for organizing around opt-out issues:

“Buried deep within the No Child Left Behind Act is a provision that requires public high schools to hand over private student information to military recruiters. The purpose of this invasion of family privacy is to allow minor students to be recruited at home by telephone calls, mail and personal visits. If a school does not comply, it risks losing vital federal education funds. The only way to keep your children’s contact information from military recruiters, is to submit an ‘opt-out’ letter in writing to your school district’s superintendent.

…Working Assets convened the Leave My Child Alone! campaign in partnership with The Mainstreet Moms (The MMOB), and ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).”


New world found in outer solar system

Rivals Pluto: “Astronomical detective work led to the stunning discovery of a large new world beyond Pluto – and hiding in plain sight. The object could be the biggest in the Kuiper belt of rocky objects that orbit the outer reaches of the solar system.

The first data made public about the object suggested the object could be up to twice the size of Pluto, but newly revealed observations indicate the object is about 70% Pluto’s diameter.

The find suggests more such objects are waiting to be discovered and is likely to reignite the fierce debate about what constitutes a planet.” (New Scientist)


Physicians and Military Interrogators

M.G. Bloche and J.H. Marks (New Engl. J. Med. 2005 353:6): The International Committee of the Red Cross and others agencies charge that the aggressive ‘counter-resistance measures of US military interrogators at Guantanamo constitute cruel and inhuman treatment and torture. A number of studies are starting to explore the complicity of medical perssonnel with such abuses. One aspect of the violations of detainee rights has been the sharing with interrogators of the confidential data on prisoners’ health status (gathered by healthcare workers either in the course of healthcare of the prisoners or explicitly for intelligence purposes) to shape interrogation techniques. Sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, sexual provocation and humiliation, displays of contempt for Islamic symbols, beatings, and feigning (or real!) efforts to kill the detainee are among the approaches which might be chosen or shaped by health and mental health data on the particular prisoner.

Although denied by the Pentagon, evidence exists that interrogators did in fact use detainees’ health data to design their interventions. An inquiry by the inspector general of the US Navy found that access was supposedly carefully controlled at Guantanamo but interrogators sometimes had easy access to health data of their prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Bloche and Marks’ study found that the claim that medical confidentiality of Guantanamo detainees was shielded is sharply at odds with the facts. A policy statement from the military command with jurisdiction over GTMO instructed health care providers that communications from enemy detainees were not protected by medical doctor-patient privilege, and that providers had an obligation to convey any information germane to US ‘national security objectives’ obtained in the course of their work to security personnel. Behavioral science consultants had ready access to health records and also helped shape and implement interrogation techniques, in effect acting as a bridge between privileged health data and intelligence agendas. I have also heard from a different source that, to evade the stringent standards of physician-patient privilege, other non-MD health professionals with less explicit codes of ethics were used in their place or alongside the doctors ministering to these prisoners. Interrogators themselves have in fact had access to health data on their prisoners, and psychiatrists and psychologists participate in designing and implementing interrogation strategies with resistant prisoners involving extreme stress.


On Geography and Skin Color

“The most obvious — and most discussed — aspect of human geographical variability is skin color. Most people would say that skin color becomes darker towards the Equator to give more protection against tropical sunlight. But that claimed correlation of skin color with latitude is riddled with exceptions, and that functional interpretation of the correlation is debated. Most scientists shy away from the whole subject because it so interests racists, and the motives of scientists studying it become suspect.

Jablonski and Chaplin have brought order to this confused field, starting with quantitative measurements of skin color and sunlight. By convincingly identifying the strongest correlate of skin color, they open the door for anthropologists to explore other correlates and exceptions.” (Science Week)