Not everyone can be smart

If something is difficult to learn, it is good to have someone to explain it to you. I wish I could do that sometimes. 

Certainly a lot can be done to improve our thinking, and perhaps most for those who start out with less, as I mentioned yesterday. But it is also a fact that we are born with different resources of the brain, just as with the body in general. Some are stronger, some are faster, some have more endurance, and some aren’t really good at sports even if they work at it. Everyone can improve, but not everyone can become a master, and certainly not without the most extreme effort. In the same way, some simply learn faster and think more quickly, and there are various other talents as well.

Reality is not a democracy. We are not all given the same number of “points”, like in some role playing games, where you just place them differently. In real life, some just start out with less. The world is not a level playing field. But that is not a reason to quit.


Let me take an example. After buying the Go board that I wrote about a few days ago, Amazon wanted to follow up by selling me some beginner books about Go. I don’t think that is necessary, as there are so many resources on the Internet. But the books exist and some people buy them.

Reading reviews of the books, I noticed that people had different opinions. Some criticized the classic Go for Beginners by Iwamoto, saying that it was hard to read, it was not suited for real beginners, you should read an easier book first such as for instance Learn to Play Go by Janice Kim. And what do you think people said about the first book by Janice Kim? It is too little substance, it is very friendly and easy to read but where is the beef? Is the author trying to earn more money by writing four books instead of one? You would be better off with a less fluffy book, like Go for Beginners by Iwamoto…

So that is how it is. For some people, learning Go is fairly easy, so they find a book “for dummies” to be fluffy, patronizing and a waste of time and money. For others, learning Go is hard, and they get lost and disappointed when the book treats difficult problems (for them) as something obvious.


It is good that there are many different books, then, and not just about Go! A book that is too hard for one, may be just right for another. And if you have to give up on one book, you may read another and then perhaps return to the first when you understand more.

This is not just for “dummies”. I could read newspapers and books before I started school, and used to read my school textbooks soon after I got them. Decades have passed with me being like that, and there are still many books that are hard for me to read. Indeed, some of my favorite books are so compact, half a page can be enough for me to digest in one session. And there are some books I think highly of, but which I only understand bits and pieces of, even though they are in English. But I have also experienced that after reading more on the topic, I could come back and read in the book again and gain more from it. There are books that may require several reads even for me, and I am not just talking about holy scriptures. These books would be out of reach for many gainfully employed people, unless perhaps they dedicated decades of their spare time to studying them.

But as I said, luckily there are books that are not written for scribes and professors. Some people have a gift for writing luminous prose, and some have trained themselves to keep the ordinary or even simpleminded reader in their thoughts when writing. I also do this when I take the time. I often go over what I have just written and replace words with more simple and common ones. Some detail is lost, but perhaps more people can get the gist of what I write.

I have left MSN as the start-up page on my Internet Explorer, so that I can be reminded each time I start it about the plight of the simpleminded. Not everyone can be smart, but they should be spared the indignity of being preyed on. Even if you are not smart, you are still human. The truly important things in life and death are the same to all of us, and it is not fair to distract people with breasts and dresses all the time. Not that there is anything wrong with breasts and dresses as such, but you should not need to be a sage to look for something deeper. Not everyone can be smart, but we are all human. We all deserve a chance at understanding ourselves and the world where we live.

Sanity for the simple

Many people have admirable aspirations, but lack the mental resources to achieve them. I feel that something should be done to help them, starting from the very basics of understanding the human mind. 

I had a brief interchange on Google+, where I mentioned that there are days when I wish I could upgrade the brain of everyone with improved software. One of my online acquaintances replied: “You never know whether that would crash them completely (RAM problems)”.

But I have already given that some thought. I believe that, in fact, it may be more gain from upgrading the “program code” of brains that have less memory and less processing power. I certainly think this is better than the modern path of just adding more and more data to them.

Today, education just goes on and on. Whereas my grandfather went to school for 7 years – and I believe 3 days a week, at that – and I took a few college courses after high school, young people today need 3-4 years of college to get a job, and sometimes stay in schools until they are closer to 30. That is not in and of itself a horrible fate, but if you have “RAM problems” – not very good memory – it must be a taste of purgatory. To know that you either have to cram all that knowledge over and over, or face a life as an outcast, unable to win your own bread.

This cannot be necessary. There must be better way to teach people to think than to just throw books at them and hope that the information overload will make their brains shift into a more effective way of thinking to deal with it. I acknowledge that in our information age, younger people seem to become steadily more intelligent (the Flynn Effect), but I don’t think the excessive schooling is the cause. It starts too early in childhood for that, and it also started before the current “education bubble” – we can trace it back to right after World War I. It is more likely that the Flynn Effect has opened the way for the education society. But not everyone fits in that mold. And frankly, it seems a bit of a waste of time and resources.


I think we should still teach basic skills like reading, writing and basic maths. But rather than trying to teach everyone a whole lot of knowledge they most likely won’t need, the next stop should be to teach basic thinking skills. And not just logical thinking, but brain use more generally.

Mediation. Self-control, how to get along with basic instinct and primitive emotions. How to deal with insomnia.  How to avoid destructive stress behaviors like overeating, booze and drugs. Self-reflection, seeing oneself as if from a neutral person. And yes, basics of logic, the use and limits of generalization and prejudice.

Study techniques: The different types of memory, how to learn by spaced repetition, association, triggers, involving more senses. How to sort what is most important to remember, and when we can wing it. This can help prevent cram purgatory and the despair of forgetting anyway.

This does not need to take decades. And it would pay off for the rest of their life, for them and for those around them and society at large. The more people we could get onto this, the greater the benefits for their families, their neighborhoods, their country and the world.

Even learning mind skills poorly is a huge improvement from not even knowing that they exist. And it is particularly valuable for those who haven’t picked up these skills at home or figured them out on their own. The current situation causes a lot of suffering. It needs not be that way.

Go: Adventures in kifu

Felt tip coloring pencils are not ideal for writing game records, but they will do in a pinch, at least for short games.

Today’s newbie Go player report is from the mysterious land of “kifu”. The word means a record or map of the game. It is usually drawn on a simple picture of a Go board. On each intersection you write the number of the move. The first move is number 1, the second move is number 2 etc, and you write them on the map where they were played on the board. That way you can easily reconstruct the game later. Seasoned players can even read the game directly from a kifu as if they had watched it, more or less. I am not one of those. Definitely not.

Do you need a kifu? Not if you are just playing for fun. You can play the game and forget about it. Well, you may want to reflect on particularly stupid moves so as to not do those in the future, or on particularly clever moves of the opponent if you can figure them out. But apart from that, it is all water under the bridge.

But if you are studying Go, and want to get better, there are two obvious uses for kifu. You can record your own games so you can reflect on them at your leisure later. Or you can use kifu from better players to replay their games. This is one of the time-proven methods of getting stronger at Go. Even young professionals do it, so I hear. I am definitely not one of them, though.  Still, I wanted to try it.

I did a Google search for “kifu paper”. There are a number of web sites which are eager to tell you to not use the phrase “kifu paper”. It is called “game record form” in English. But that is not a good search term as you will get lots of irrelevant hits. If you search for “kifu paper”, you come straight to the places where these sites tell you not to call it “kifu paper”, which happens to be right where you can download the form as well. ^_^

I picked the one from, it was simple and to the point. Some have circles to write in, but I find it more natural to just write on the intersection. As recommended, I write the black moves in black (blue is fine also) and the white in red. It makes a big difference to how easy it is both to write and read. With this, you will not lose track easily or accidentally write 69 two times in a row. The black numbers are always odd, the red always even. Pure genius.

My first was an attempt to kifu an amateur match between a 9-dan and an 8-dan on the Internet Go Server. When you play yourself on the IGS, you can save a kifu that is made automatically, and download it at your leisure. It is possible you can do this with games you watch too, but the voices in my h… er, I thought it might be a good idea to write it by hand, involving other parts of the body and brain in the process.

I found out that fiber-tip coloring pens are not ideal for writing kifu. Who would have thought it? It worked, for the most part, up to 99. After that things became iffy.

Next out was coloring pencils. These worked well enough, although you may want to have a pencil sharpener around after a while. And who has pencil sharpeners in this age?

Eventually today I caved in and bought a red and a black Pilot V5 Hi-tecpoint 0.5. Because the quality of your Go obviously depends on the quality of your stuff. Well, to humans that may actually be true, since science has proven that people borrowing cheap imitations of brand sunglasses tend to cheat and not act with the dignity of those who borrow the real thing. So it is entirely possible that having an expensive Go board in real kaya wood, and writing your kifu with a quality fountain pen on original printed kifu forms will make you take your Go more seriously. But I like to think I am not like that. I am not saying I am not human (although sometimes I have wondered), but hopefully I am human in a different way than that. Still, a good pen is nice to have around. I haven’t had one in the Chaos Node for years.

So that’s my story. I am kifuing, as I call it, mainly to involve other parts of the body and brain, to improve subconscious learning. But is learning Go a good use of the sunset of your life? The Japanese certainly seem to think so, it is very popular among the elderly there. Millions of Japanese can’t be wrong! OK, they can – millions of Japanese were wrong during World War 2. But not about Go. In fact, if they had come to Pearl Harbor with Go boards, they would probably have won…

#go #igo #baduk #weiqi #kifu

Mysterious illness

As mentioned in my slice of life journal, my pulse is 25-30 beats above normal this evening, after having been some 15 beats above normal for over a week. I have not been able to exercise during this week, or rather I have quickly become stiff and tired even from walking. Apart from that, the symptoms seem to vary randomly. Something is happening inside this body, but I have no idea what.

This is just a heads-up, really. Sympathy (or antipathy for that matter) won’t make a difference, my body will have to handle this on its own. Right now it is too vague to even involve a doctor. (Besides, it is extremely few times in my life that a doctor visit has led to anything at all besides spending time and money. It has happened, but it is not the rule.)


Instead of the traditional bowls to hold the playing stones, this goban (Go board) has a slide-out empty triangle to keep them in. Not recommended for families with small children, as the lightweight plastic “stones” are almost exactly like M&M.

I finally bought a Go board – or goban as they are called in Japanese – from This board was made from cheap and lightweight wood, not something a professional would want to be seen with, but better than just printing out the board and playing with buttons. Of course, I have used computers (and tablet) up till now. I just felt that it would capture the feeling of the game better if I could have a physical board. I was thinking of replaying other people’s games on the board.

I am not sure it was such an awesome idea, but it seemed reasonably harmless. A healthy hobby, at least by my standards. Now that I am sick with Mysterious Illness, I am no longer so sure this was a good investment. Good thing I bought the cheapest model I saw. (It does not seem to have any problems beyond the stones being more lightweight than I had expected. So, tentatively recommended, unless you have small children. Choking hazard, swallowing hazard etc.)


“It is fine. I am a solo player.” But is that really fine in itself? Isn’t that the problem? Is it OK to be happy alone and tell the world: Come as you are and become like me?

I have given a good deal of thought to the Llama’s outburst. A Norwegian proverb says that one should listen to children and drunk people, they tell it as they see it. And I think he may be more right than he knows, or perhaps rather, he may be right in other ways than he knows.

There is no denying that playing City of Heroes relates to actual heroism much like masturbation relates to lovemaking. Nobody else benefits from it in any way. (Of course, the benefits of lovemaking are also somewhat exaggerated in contemporary culture. Still, the comparison is apt.) The same may be said for the rest of my benevolent gaming: Helping small neighborhoods of Sims living happy and fulfilling lives is just smoke on the wind, although I am kind of happy that I’m not among the simmers who remove the door and set the house on fire, or remove the ladder while their sims are swimming. I have this vague idea, to treat my Sims the way I want to be treated by my own higher-dimensional overseer. But it doesn’t really bring a lot of happiness to the world, which needs it.

Generally it is through my work and through my journal that I try to make the world a better place, each in its own way. Like most people, I have a job that basically consists of helping people. After I reflected on this a couple years ago, I now consciously go to work with the intention to help people and give back to society in this way. But in practice I am not very good at it. And probably not at journaling either: After all these many years, I don’t see a lot of people having become happy and healthy and wise by learning from my writing. A phrase comes to mind by my great hero Jesus Christ: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they are not going to listen even if someone returns from the dead.” Why do I think I can make a difference?

Still, I have at least tried, some of the time. I don’t really know what was the secret ingredient, so I have tried to cover most of the bases. But it became too much, I guess. Nobody these days has time to read through the story of a life. It is the age of soundbites, of slogans and aphorisms. Jesus was actually good at those too. But if we look at Christianity today, it is disheartening how little has come of it. And if we look at me today, it is also disheartening how little has come of it.

And yet, I am not packing until I see the ferryman coming, or that is my resolution.

Opening a can of worms

When confessions go wrong.

One of my few recurring readers has a comment on a perhaps randomly chosen entry recently. I’ll reprint the comment here to give it the attention it deserves. ^_^








Oh dear, I can hear the Internet filters slam shut at schools and libraries everywhere. Oh well. The important point is, he is wrong. I am not a worm. He should know me well enough by now to realize that I am a can of worms.

Playing worm, praying worm. Walking worm, talking worm. Sleepy worm, creepy worm and (once or twice a year) weepy worm, they are all me. Happy worm, sappy worm, crappy worm. There is a worm for every occasion. If you have read the ten years or so before I moved to WordPress, I used to color code my entries in different colors depending on the main content: Green for slice of life, blue for games, gray for science and philosophy, white for religion, azure for fiction writing, yellow for indecent or profane, red for adults only. All these different worms were me. It is the same now. Video games, philosophy, psychology, health and exercise, book reviews, computers and gadgets etc etc. It’s a huge can of worms of various colors and sizes.

This, unfortunately, is the human condition. When people think of themselves as a pearl of great worth, it is invariably because of delusion. People vary wildly from time to time and from place to place, depending on who they are with or whether they are alone. To think otherwise (unless perhaps if one has been through a decades-long war of extermination) is pure delusion, or more charitably ignorance, ignorance so deep that one is ignorant even of one’s ignorance. This seems to be the default condition.

In so far as I have indeed glimpsed the Divine, it is exactly in this that somehow Heaven has opened the can of worms. As Leonard Cohen so precisely sings: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s where the Light gets in.” This is the great miracle without which nothing much can happen. Some event or practice has unexpectedly pried open the can of worms just a little so the light shines on at least the uppermost layer of wriggling worms. From here on, we have the option to try to close the lid and hope that it all never happened, that the can actually contains only a single pearl of great worth. This option probably remains for a long time, but the longer the lid stays at least a little ajar, the harder it gets to get everything back to the way it used to be.

Even in Daggerfall, I cannot feel entirely safe from the rays of the Light. And conversely, even in prayer I cannot feel entirely safe from the daggers of my lower nature. The worms shift in response to every major movement, seeking to maintain the precarious balance of their environment.

If there is in a human a pearl of great worth, it is buried deep in a manure-laden acre teeming with earthworms. Love them anyway, but carefully. ^_^;


That said, I can assure y’all that I do go out pretty much every day, if nothing else then to bless my homeland through my work. But no, I am not going into the traveling preacher business anytime soon. Those who need me can find me here.


My subconscious and I

In the anime Hikaru no Go, the boy Hikaru can actually see the great Go player that resides in his subconscious. No one else can see him though. I can’t even see mine. It’s OK, he is probably not as good as Sai – just better than me, and that doesn’t say much.

I sometimes say to my subconscious: “There is a reason why you are the sub.” But this is not one of those occasions. Sometimes it just shows off. This was one of those times. Make that TWO of those times.

On my bus commute, I took the opportunity to watch a Go match on my Android tablet. It was a 7-dan player against a 6-dan. For me, that is comparable to a first-grader watching two English majors debating Shakespeare. While I find it vaguely interesting, I don’t really aspire to understanding a game on that high a level. My subconscious may disagree: At a certain point, it basically said “Black is going to play there”, pointing to a spot on the (virtual) board. Plop! Black put down a stone right on the spot.

I looked closer at that particular move, and actually it was pretty clear that bad things would have happened had black not secured that spot right away. But the thing is, I had not seen that by thinking logically and reading ahead. Rather, some corner of my pattern matching brain must have picked up enough Go to expect the next move based on what it had already seen of successful (and, in my own case, utterly failed) games. Now, as high-level games go, this particular move was one of the more obvious. But the fact remains that I did not see it with my rational conscious mind, but instead a “voice in my head” (not literally, but more like an independent thought) spotted it straight away.

Later in the day, I took a look at the opposite: A lowbie game, still on the Pandanet-IGS (Internet Go Server). A 17-kyu – the lowest rank on IGS, but still way above me – was playing someone in the Beginner Class. As it happens, the beginner was in the process of winning when I arrived. Looking over the board, I quickly spotted a large group of white stones that were dead as a doornail. (We say that a group is dead when it can be caught by the opponent and there is nothing to do about it.) In this case, black could kill it in three moves, and there was nowhere else on the board where such a big opportunity existed. (Or if it was, neither I nor they found it!) I watched intently, but neither of them seemed to pay the slightest attention to the huge group, 15-20 stones by my counting. In the end, they both passed, which ends the game. They counted the territory, and still no one of them made a move to remove the dead group.

It was glaringly obvious to me as an observer, so I thought by myself: “If a 17-kyu player does not see something as obvious as that, and I see it, I must have made quite a bit of progress.” So I fired up the Go-playing robot program in my tablet. It crushed me again, just as badly as it usually does. I had made no progress at all.

And this, dear congregation, is the story of my life. I can see things that are above my play grade, with the help of the imaginary voices in my head. But when it comes to myself, I seem to make no progress at all.

Talk to your toaster

I also used to be excited about the future, but now that I live here, I take it for granted.

NaNoWriMo – national novel writing month – is approaching once again. (“The month formerly known as November”, as I like to call it.) The forums for 2012 are up and running, and in the technology section there is as usually a thread dedicated to speech recognition, or more specifically Dragon NaturallySpeaking. (I would not mind a more general thread, since Windows also comes with speech recognition built in. Hopefully we can have more threads later.)

One thing I wanted to say early on was that it is not enough to be able to use speech recognition in a technical sense. The next challenge is to be able to tell a story to the computer. This is a very different thing, especially for us who have been writers for many years and are used to thinking with our fingers. It also doesn’t help to have been a grown-up for many years, during which you have not been able to tell long, obviously made-up stories to people without them looking at you very strangely. I suppose there are some families in which this problem does not exist, but I am not sure whether it is a good thing or not… ^_^;

So I recommended that people start telling stories to their computers already now, all through October, so that they have gotten over that hurdle, that shyness or awkwardness of telling imaginary stories out loud to inanimate objects. In fact, I recommend practicing on the toaster as well, and with blatant nonsense. The purpose is not to deliver the Great American Novel to your amazed toaster, but to get yourself to accept the unreasonable fact that it is possible to tell stories to home equipment. Such are the times in which we live. I could not have made it up in a sci-fi novel. Magic fantasy, perhaps, just perhaps.

I ask you, gentle reader, to consider this: Not only do I occasionally talk to a machine without being insane (or more so than those who don’t). I also carry in my shirt pocket a telephone, my own library with dozens of books, a bookstore with millions more, thousands of newspapers from all over the world, millions of songs and an unknown number of movies, and enough cat pictures to last the craziest old cat lady for a lifetime.

You can probably add to this, but the point is: I do this almost every day without giving it a second thought. I don’t wake up each morning thinking: “Oh my God! I live in a miraculous, magical world filled with amazing wonders that I would not have believed were possible when I was a child – what should I do today to take advantage of this to the fullest?”

If I did, and if my conclusion was that I should start the day by talking to my kitchen equipment, that might not be the worst thing I have done in my life.

Watching, doing, learning

By closely watching a master, following instructions before fully understanding them, and copying masterpieces you could not have thought of yourself, you gradually absorb the skills of the master – they live on inside you. This is the ancient tradition of apprenticeship or discipleship.

The blog of secular wisdom, Farnam Street, has another short masterpiece recently: “What’s the best way to begin to learn a new skill?” Somewhat surprisingly, the answer seems to be: 1) Watch someone else do it, but watch very closely, as if imagining that it was you doing it. 2) Repeat what experts have done, even if you could not have done it on your own, because it builds a mental blueprint within you which you can draw on later.

Well, surprisingly if you have not watched the motivational anime Hikaru no Go, about a sixth-grader who encounters the ghost of a long dead master of Go (igo), the ancient Asian strategy game. The ghost attaches itself to the young boy and badgers him to play go. Hikaru finds the game tolerable once he has won a couple times by simply following the instructions of the ghost, but he understands very little beyond the basic rules. (Kind of like me, regarding Go at least!) But then as summer vacation starts, he begins to spend his days at an Internet cafe, playing Go over the Internet. The ghost tells him what moves to make, but it is the boy who has to actually use the mouse and keyboard. They do this every day for most of the summer. When fall comes, Hikaru has actually become a decent Go players – by high school standards, at least – simply by focused observation of hundreds of hours of well-played Go.

Later in the same anime, we learn that young Go students aiming to become professional, often spend time replaying great games from the past, trying to understand why each move was made, slipping inside the mind of the masters. This is an actual practice, and I see from the quote in Farnam Street that chess players do the exact same thing. By repeating the decisions of others, while paying constant attention, they absorb the skills subconsciously even if they could not have figured them out for themselves, or at least not for a long time yet. The subconscious absorbs skills in a different way from how we talk and think logically.

That sounds quite useful, because beginning is often hard. Even I, who used to be pretty smart, constantly fail to learn to play Go well. Perhaps I should give it another Go…?