Saturday, December 10, 2005

World Heritage: Year In Review

2005 is drawing to a close, so I decided to update my World Heritage page with the sites I visited this year.

I made it to five more sites, starting in February, when Christina and I went to Paris. Paris itself is a World Heritage site, for a number of reasons, including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, both of which we toured. (Christina made it to Versailles, but I was stuck in conferences and unable to join her.)

The first three quarters of this year were busy, but not from a World Heritage perspective. In October, however, we took a vacation to San Juan, Puerto Rico, whose Spanish fortifications constitute a World Heritage site.
In November, we spent two weeks in England, which allowed us to visit two more sites -- Blenheim Palace and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Those are the ninth and tenth UK sites I've visited -- over one third of my total sites. You'd think the US would be top of the list, but I've made about twelve visits to the UK since '93 and really enjoyed touring it. The US is a little bit harder to tour around -- and we have six fewer sites.

My final World Heritage site of the year was Mahabalipuram, which I visited during my recent trip to India. (More pictures to follow.) These approximately 1300-year-old sculptures were some of the farthest away sites I've visited, but oddly reminded me of some Mayan ruins.

I've now seen 29 sites -- less than four percent of the total. They're adding sites faster than I can see them. So unlike my Nebula project, the end is not only not in sight, it is absolutely impossible. (Until I become fabulously rich and spend several years doing nothing but globetrotting to these sites, I suppose.)

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Movin' on Up

As previously mentioned, I am learning the game of Go. It's a very complex and intricate game, despite its simple rules.

One of the attractions of the game is having a clear ranking system. The top amateur players are dan (pronounced "dahn") ranks. These roughly correspond to "greater than black-belt" ranks in martial arts. They range from 1 dan all the way up to 6 dan. (Professional ranks are confusingly also dan, although a professional 1 dan is better than an amateur 6 dan -- most of the time.)

Below the dan ranks are the kyu ranks. 1 kyu is the top sub-dan rank, and the higher the number, the worse the player. Different on-line ranking systems have different upper limits -- I've seen 22 kyu to 35 kyu. My favorite go server puts the most novice players at 30 kyu.

One of the great things about Go is how easily it can be handicapped between players of different abilities. For every difference in rank, a player gives (or gets) roughly 1 handicap stone. So a 2-dan player would give a 4-kyu player 5 stones handicap, a 24-kyu player would get 3 stones from a 21-kyu player, etc. (Beyond 9 stones, the difference in rank is generally too great to handicap properly.)

I probably should have started out as a 30 kyu player, but based on my reading of the instructions, I set myself at 27 kyu. As you can see from the graph below, it took a couple of months of losing games for me to end up at 30 kyu. Fortunately, my stay there lasted less than half a day. Ever since then, I've been climbing, if unsteadily. Right now, I'm 24 kyu.

These ratings are based on the results of games versus other players on-line. They fluctuate as I win and lose. One of my biggest jumps came when as a 28 kyu, I beat a 26-kyu player. My biggest drop came when as a 27 kyu, I lost to a 29-kyu player. These ups and downs diminish as time goes on, and the server gets a more definite idea of my ranking. They also depend on the handicap in the game. If a 25 kyu beats a 20 kyu, but has gotten a 5 handicap -- that's expected, so the drop is not as great as if it were an even game.

As of today, I'm 24 kyu. On the one hand, I'm happy -- that's definitely much better than where I started. On the other hand, I've put a lot of effort into trying to get better, and still haven't moved beyond the "beginner" ranks. " usually thought of as 20k or weaker."

I just started up a bunch of games...almost 20 in the past week. So my rating will fluctuate even more in the coming weeks. Hopefully more up than down -- eventually. I can already see several games in which I am in clear jeopardy, so I fully expect to see 25 kyu again before I hit 23 kyu. So I'll play some more games, read some books, and try to get better.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Recommended for You: Lead Poisoning

So I'm going through my "Recommended for You" list ("New Releases" section), and I come across this gem. "Recalled Item: Old Century Dread Pirate" is its name, and call me crazy, but any product with "recalled item" in its name doesn't seem the most promising. Sure enough, "Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed. " "Hazard: The surface coating and the metal in the ships contain lead and pose a risk of lead poisoning to young children."

Thanks, Amazon! For trying to poison me! (Or technically speaking, any young children who may visit my house.)

Although, you know, the game does look kind of cool... Maybe it's available on eBay.

(Bonus nerd content: one of the reviewers who recommends the game is Tracy Hickman, one of the original Dragonlance authors.)