February 14, 2008

New Zealand, Webstock and Backgammon, oh my..

Yep, I'm on a plane again. This time on a flight from Sydney Kingsford to Aukland (and later to Wellington for webstock). Air New Zealand is plying me with red wine, which is nice, and lamb, which is nicer and it strikes me that a little over 16 hours ago, I was in SFO boarding a similar flight to Sydney.

Why it strikes me is that I was worried, having not flown internationally for about three months, was that I might have lost the knack for long flights. There was a little bit of dread going on in my head when considering the 15 hour flight, then a 3 hour flight to NZ.

But it was cake. I even managed to sleep for 6 or 7 hours (in one hour chunks, mind you), I caught up on the new terminator show, which is just barely okay enough to watch, and some other TV, copied from the Tivo, and managed to get nothing else done. It was mostly about consuming media. I didn't even play any games, modulo a few games of backgammon against the computer.

I find backgammon against a computer to be a very deterministic thing. Depending on the rolls, I can tell within the first turn or two how likely it is that I will be able to defeat the computer. Hoyle Backgammon is a pretty crappy program, too, but it is good enough to beat you if it rolls well. You can definitely beat it points-wise, though, as its risk algorithm that decides whether or not to accept a doubling is flawed and it tends to accept it when only a flop-sweaty drunk would do so. But it keeps my 'gammon skills sharp for that inevitable day when I must play to save the world against an unseen alien enemy from beyond.

Okay, so maybe that won't happen. But it's nice to not be terrible at it. I want to be not terrible at chess too, so I've been noodling with chessmaster when on planes. The latest patch to the 10th edition is a no-cd patch, thank you very much, and so I don't need to whip out the portable dvd-rom drive to start with the chess learning.

Here comes breakfast. More later...


I'm now in Wellington , approaching day 2 of webstock. Webstock is just about the best show I've been to in a long time. They treat speakers very well and the speakers are almost universally interesting and compelling. Totally worth the trip, time, and sponsorship dollars from mother company. For you New Zealanders, you should make time for this next year.

Wellington continues to charm, too. It is a very small city, incredibly walkable and sweet. It reminds one of a smaller version of San Francisco, but with a more European/British flair to it.

More later :)


Andrew Chilton said...

Welcome to Wellington Chris. I'd wished I could have gone to WebStock but unforunately it wasn't to be.

I must admit, after visiting San Francisco a few years ago, I've said to a number of people that Wellington is similar. It just had that kind of 'interest' about the place.

Dan Lewis said...

There's a great GPL backgammon program called GNU Backgammon at http://www.gnubg.org/. It is the only world-class software that is free. It's a spiritual descendant of TD-Gammon. It rates your performance afterwards, doubles mercilessly, and contrives to win in some strange situations.

I usually sweat to take a best-of-seven with it. If I'm not on my game, I lose all the time. Maybe I suck.

Here's a review from an aficionado. It was easy to find similar commentary all over the web.

"Finally, there is GNUBG. GNUBG is free, and might be the strongest of the 3. If GNUBG had been written first, the others would not exist. At this point (2006), I don't know of anyone who would buy Snowie or Jellyfish when they can get GNUBG for free.

Having one of these programs is imperative for any serious or semi-serious backgammon player. The play level in backgammon has improved tremendously in the past 10 years, because of the availability of these programs. You do have to take it somewhat seriously though. You have to not just play, but also think about what the program is doing and why. Many cube decisions and checker plays have a lot to do with the match score. If you don't understand, for example, why the program plays very aggressively for a gammon in some situations and doesn't care about gammons in others, or why its doubling decisions are very different depending on match score, you'll miss a lot of the value."

Disapproving Asshole Vampire said...

Good to see you up in Auckers, Chris, and glad you enjoyed your stay.