Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Puzzles, Piotr, and Pussy Cats

Ever since I was young, I loved playing games of skill and solving puzzles. The former was manifested by becoming a serious chess player (master level) and competing in bridge and backgammon tournaments. I still play games today, but mostly for social reasons (i.e., non competitive).

I greatly enjoy solving puzzles. I never was interested in Rubik’s Cube, except as a challenge for a computer program. Today I love to try my hand at crossword puzzles (I suck at the weekend New York Times puzzles), Sudoko (I can usually solve the most difficult level, if I am careful), and Ken-Ken (not as popular but still entertaining). I have a collection of physical puzzles that I like to use to challenge myself. A couple of them I have not yet solved, something that really irks me.

Many years ago I read an article that competitive game players (and presumably the same for puzzle solvers) had a much lower rate of mind diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The argument that was made, roughly speaking, was that games (and puzzles) were like exercise for the mind. Just like the body, exercise was a useful way of keeping in fit form and building strength against disease. Today, the jury is still out but there is evidence that mental activity can be beneficial for your long-term health (for example, the American Academy of Neurology). So, I go on long runs to strengthen my body and solve puzzles to sharpen my mind.

In November, members of the University of Alberta community were saddened by the unexpected passing of Professor Piotr Rudnicki. I knew Piotr for over 25 years. Although we had not interacted much in recent years, we had worked together on courses (CMPUT 415: Compiler Construction), served on committees together, and pushed each other at squash (Piotr was the much better player).

Piotr Rudnicki (from his home page)
In 1996, I was invited to MIT to give a talk. Afterwards, I was walking on a street nearby and found a games store. Inside I was intrigued by a puzzle that I had not seen before. It was a bottle with a ball in it: the ball was on the bottom of the bottle and the challenge was to get the ball to the top, touching the cork. In between was an obstacle that prevented all the obvious solutions. I solved the puzzle later that day, but was not happy with how long it took me to find what was, with hindsight, an “obvious” solution.

About a year later, I had this puzzle in my office when Piotr came by. He latched on to it and tried all the instinctive ways to solve it. Nothing worked, so he asked to borrow it. The next day he returned the puzzle with a story.

Piotr was able to solve it only after his cat solved it.

Piotr told me he had been working on the puzzle, got frustrated, left the puzzle on a table, went off to make dinner, returned some time later, and discovered that the puzzle had been solved! Since the only other living entity in the house during this time was his cat, Piotr surmised that he had been out-smarted by a cat. I won’t give the solution here, but all you have to do is imagine what a cat might do with a bottle.

Piotr often challenged people by asking them: “Are you as smart as a cat?”

Visiting Tokyo (part 2)

I wrote about my impressions of Tokyo in an October 4 posting. Last month my wife, Steph, went to visit our daughter, Rebecca, a full-time student at Waseda University in Tokyo. Steph brought back many stories of her travels, but three seemed to fit in nicely with my earlier post.

Automation (part 2) 
The following picture shows automation gone amok. The toilet seat, installed in a lady’s rest room, has numerous push-button controls, including a bidet/spray setting, water pressure adjustment, water temperature customization, heated seats, deodorizer, music controls, and so on. I never saw such “convenience” in the men’s bathrooms that I visited. Possibly a case of sex discrimination.

The deluxe toilet seat
Think of the business opportunity! The Edmonton clientele eagerly awaiting this marvel of human ingenuity.

Of course, if the above was not to your liking (is that even possible?), then some places gave you a choice. You could squat over a hole in the ground. At least these facilities had an automatic flush and toilet paper (unlike such bathrooms in India).

Cat Café
Need a break from the hustle and bustle that is Tokyo? Need some relief from the stress of your job? Or, in Steph’s case, need a cat fix because you miss your pets from home? The answer is to go to one of the numerous cat cafés in the city. Here you get to spend quality time with friendly felines. Can you spot the five cats in the following picture? 

Five furry friends for fun
The cost of the café that Steph visited was 600 yen (roughly $8) for one entry. You could stay for as long as you liked, but the lack of food, drink, or bathrooms effectively imposed a limit.

Air Canada (part 2)
Steph flew from Edmonton to Chicago (Air Canada) and from Chicago to Tokyo (United, Air Canada's major partner). The flight to Chicago departed and then the economy passengers discovered that the toilets weren’t working. The crew told passengers that if someone was desperate then access to the first-class bathroom could be arranged. Two choices were presented to the travelers: set down the plane to fix the problem or speedup and get to Chicago sooner. The plane arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

The flight to Tokyo is very long: over 13 hours. Once the flight was well under way, the cabin lights were dimmed allowing passengers to sleep (if so desired). Steph (and others) wanted to read, and so they attempted to turn on their reading light. Surprise! A light turned on, but it was random. Steph could control the reading light of the passenger two rows behind, but never did find out whose switch controlled her light. She did all of her reading to the glow of her iPad.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Spirit of Giving

I confess that my greatest fear before becoming Dean was the role I would have to play in fund raising. Although I still don’t feel comfortable wearing a suit and tie, after four months on the job I have discovered that fund raising can be a personally satisfying experience. In a few short months I have met numerous people with generous hearts and amazing stories to tell. I enjoy interacting with them because they are passionate about supporting and enhancing the University of Alberta experience for today’s and tomorrow’s students, staff, and faculty. It is a humbling experience.

Recently, the Canadian Senate passed Bill S-201, recognizing November 15 each year as being National Philanthropy Day (NPD). NPD was created to recognize the great contributions of philanthropy -- and those people active in the philanthropic community -- to the enrichment of the world. On Friday, November 16 I represented the Faculty of Science in Edmonton's Philanthropy Day celebrations that recognized the individuals and organizations who have given much to improve quality of life in this city. While many donors were represented at the luncheon banquet, the room wasn’t big enough to hold the many people who contribute to the Faculty of Science, or the innumerable supporters of the plethora of charitable organizations that thrive here. Therefore, I am using my blog to give a special thank you to each and every donor to the Faculty of Science, and to the University of Alberta.

Over the last several months I have enjoyed watching the Faculty of Science receive thoughtful philanthropic gifts from grateful alumni and valued university friends. This exposure has opened my eyes to both the process of giving, and the responsibility of the receiver to use these gifts wisely and productively. Generous donors have created scholarships, initiated awards, supported research, enhanced student experiences, improved physical spaces, and contributed to a myriad of opportunities that continue to enrich the lives of all who pass through our halls. Their benevolent acts have transformed and continue to transform our Faculty into a living, vibrant campus.

The Faculty of Science take seriously the role of stewards for the gifts bestowed upon us. It is vitally important to use accepted gifts as donors have requested. This has to be a symbiotic relationship – both the giver and receiver must benefit.

We are grateful to each and every one of you.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Betting on the Future

Last week I released a memo to members of the Faculty of Science. It announced that the Faculty was taking a loan from the University of Alberta to allow us to grow the professoriate. Some of the justification was given in the memo:

“Now is the time to be hiring. Across North America, the number of open academic positions available is incredibly small, a reflection of the difficult financial times. It is a buyer’s market – departments who are fortunate enough to be hiring can pick and choose amongst the very best Ph.D. graduates from the very best schools. In a few years, this situation will reverse itself into a seller’s market. When financial stability returns, there will be massive hiring across the entire academic spectrum, the consequence of many years of a forced hiring diet. That is exactly when we should not be competing in the market.”

Because of budget reductions over the past four years (13%), the Faculty of Science and the Department Chairs have largely concentrated on damage control. This has to end. The first step was announced in the above-mentioned memo: stop the decline by having the Dean’s Office absorb the entire 2013/2014 budget cut. The second step is to reverse the direction and start growing. How do you do this when your budget is being reduced? Get a loan.

The case for a loan was made to the President and Provost based on the argument that the University of Alberta would be wise to take advantage of the current job market situation. There was no possibility of getting a loan to offset the upcoming budget reduction.

With a loan, the Faculty of Science can resume being proactive on a number of fronts:
·    We can grow. In 1999/2000 the professoriate numbered 288, in 2003/2004 we peaked at 300, and today we are down to 292. During the same time, Science Faculties at many of our peers have grown significantly.
·    The University’s total NSERC funding has fallen from second in the country into a pack of several universities vying for a distant third place. Although the total dollars going to Science has stagnated, our funding per faculty member remains strong. In other words, a large part of our fall has been due to the quantity of faculty members, not the quality.
·    A paucity of hiring over an extended period of time is unhealthy. For example, consider the Department of Computing Science, which is top heavy with only one junior Assistant Professor. What state will it be in after a few more years of little or no hiring?
·    There are opportunities to hire outstanding researchers, potential chairs or award winners. We need to be able to take advantage of such opportunities when they arise.
·    There are research gaps that need to be addressed. For example, adding the right person to a research team might elevate it from “Canada class” to “world class”.
These new positions are not business as usual. These positions are precious and need to be carefully thought out. They must be strategic. There are no preconceptions where they might land. At one extreme, it is possible that they all end up in one Department.

A few people have criticized my decision to ask for a loan on the basis of the potential risk and additional cost (interest) to the Faculty of Science. There are several responses to such an argument, but the one I prefer is personal. I never would have owned my first car had I not received help from a bank loan. Similarly, I would have been living in an apartment instead of a house for an additional 8.5 years had I not asked for a loan. Yes, loans incur risk and cost money. However, if thought through carefully the advantages should outweigh the disadvantages. In my case, the freedom to drive wherever I wanted whenever I wanted meant a significant improvement in my quality of life. A similar case can be argued for the purchase of my house. And, for Science, being able to take advantage of an opportunity (the current job market situation) might pay huge short- and long-term dividends. Is it a guaranteed win? No, but the odds are probably strongly in our favor.

I would argue that the risk is low in that during the timeframe of the loan (five years) there is a very good chance that the economy will improve. Even if that does not happen, there are other sources of funding that might offset some or all of the costs. An obvious example is donations – a large part of my job is working with donors to help strengthen the Faculty of Science. Another example is our annual one-time sources of money. Many of these funds are highly reliable from year to year. If they continue to grow at the current rate, then they can cover most of the loan.

To some people the idea of a loan looks odd – adding new faculty members at the same time as dealing with a budget reduction. We have no control over the latter, but the former represents an opportunity that will help energize the Faculty of Science and position us well for the future.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Visiting Tokyo

A few weeks back I had the privilege of spending a week in Tokyo. My daughter, Rebecca, was going to study for a year Waseda University in Tokyo. She is doing a double major in Creative Writing and Japanese, and the chance to immerse herself in the Japanese language and culture was too much for her to resist. My role was to help her get settled.

I have been to Japan several times in the past but my previous visit was way back in 1999. Since then, based on my dim memories much has changed. The following text gives ten observations of Japan and one personal pet peeve.

I pride myself on being a good navigator. Put me in a new place and I can quickly find my way around. But in Tokyo I made some mistakes and resulted in me walking the wrong way and losing time. I was annoyed with myself until I discovered the source of the errors. The maps in Tokyo are not standardized: north can be pointing in any direction. Once I clued in, then navigation was easy. For example, I was looking for the book district of Tokyo. I knew I had to go east, but the map I consulted at an intersection suggested I should go south. My interpretation of the map was wrong because north was pointing to my right, not to the top as is usual in North America. I started walking in the right direction but then checked my progress with a map a couple of blocks away. It visually suggested that I was going the wrong direction – in this case the map had north pointing to my left.

Many fastfood restauarants handle no money. All financial transactions take place through a machine. You look at a menu, enter your order into a machine, pay the machine, take a seat, and then wait for your food to arrive. Efficient and fast. I have yet to see widespread use of that technology in Canada.

Vending Machines
You cannot go more than a block in Tokyo without encountering a herd of vending machines nesting at the side of the road. All the machines that I saw dispensed drinks or cgarrettes. The former was especially welcome given the heat (over 30 degrees) and humidity (near 100%) during my entire stay.

A typical street in Tokyo.
Food Displays
As is well known, many restaurants display plastic models of their meals in their windows. The 3-D model looks deceptively realistic and much more appealing than a 2-D picture. I stumbled on a store that sold plastic food. It was impressive to see thousands of different food pieces for use in creating culinary art.

Sometimes one had to look twice – is it real or fake?
Tipping is strongly discouraged in Japan. Excellent service is expected and considered the norm. It is usually regarded as an insult to leave a tip, given that the only reason one might want to highlight service is when it is bad.

The Japanese love to smoke, yet their cultural attitude towards smoking seems confusing.  At one extreme, smoking is permitted in restaurants. It seems a throwback to the way it was in Canada a couple of decades ago but some restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections, with nothing separating the two. Do they really think that the smoke will stay in the smoking section?? At the other extreme, as shown in the picture below, some sidewalks are designated as non-smoking. It was nice to walk on clean streets that were free of the usual cigarette butts.

No smoking sidewalks.
A year and a half ago, a tsunami devastated the northeast coast of Japan. The Japanese people are struggling with the enormous financial and societal burden of having hundreds of thousands of people’s lives and livelihoods disrupted. Physical recovery (such as infrastructure) will take a decade, but the emotional impact will take much longer. To help pay for rebuilding the affected areas, all civil servants took a 10% salary cut. This measure will be in place for at least two years.

Like so many other places in the world (especially Europe), Tokyo has a fast and efficient subway system that spans the entire city (if only we had something like this in Edmonton). This is critical to the success of the city, as many people have long commutes from the outskirts of the city to their downtown office. Spending over an hour commuting each way every day seems to be the norm.

Tokyo has a reversed sense of space compared to Edmonton. In Alberta, land is cheap so we tend to build out. In Tokyo, land is expensive so they tend to build up. I visited NII, a premier academic computer science research center in Japan. Their faculty and graduate students are housed on the top 12 floors of a high-rise building in the heart of Tokyo, overlooking the Japanese Imperial Palace. It is a spectacular location. Imagine being a graduate student with quality office space and location that made you feel like a Manhattan business executive.

Compared to a decade ago, the North American influence on the under-30 generation is striking. Dyed hair. Tattoos. Stylish clothes. High heels. Sun glasses. It appeared to me that today’s youth have rebelled against their parent’s conservative attitudes.

Air Canada
I had a wonderful time in Tokyo, so I hate to end this posting on a downer. My “love” for Air Canada is well known, but the airline knows no boundaries. Even in Tokyo they haunted me. On a Saturday I was due to fly from Tokyo to Vancouver, departing at 5:00 PM Tokyo time and arriving the same day at 10:00 AM Vancouver time (the odd time difference is due to the International Date Line). I was then going to depart at 1:00 PM for Edmonton.  At noon on the Saturday, Air Canada sends me a text saying that they have changed my Vancouver-Edmonton flight to an 8:00 PM departure. Needless to say I was upset – why would I want to sit around in the Vancouver airport for an additional seven hours? So, I called Air Canada. After 55 minutes on hold (yes, I timed it – I always do because the delays are almost always quite high) I spoke to an operator who told me that my departure from Tokyo had been delayed five hours – leaving at 10:00 PM. Bummer, but why didn’t they tell me this by text?
It was a blessing in disguise since I was able to spend more time with my daughter before taking the train to the Narita airport. But a few hours later Air Canada sends me a text saying my flight to Vancouver has been cancelled and to call one of their operators. So, I am on the phone again, this time waiting for only 50 minutes. I finally get through and am told that I will now depart the next day – Sunday – at 2:00 PM. No explanation was given for the cancellation. But, I am told to go to the airport now so that Air Canada can make accommodation and food arrangements for me. Soon afterwards I get a text with my new itinerary. It now shows me leaving on Sunday (sigh) but going to Edmonton on Saturday (huh?). So, yes, I spend another 50 minutes on hold. Air Canada had not rebooked my Vancouver-Edmonton connection.

I ended up having an extra day in Tokyo, sort of. I spent almost three hours (!) trying to talk to Air Canada to get my travel arrangements sorted out. I completely lost the Saturday evening (Air Canada required me to go to the airport) and Sunday (I had to return to the airport before noon). The next day I finally arrived home, but Air Canada continued to reinforce their reputation. The flight from Tokyo left almost two hours late but fortunately it did not affect my Edmonton connection -- it was over an hour late departing.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Worst (Research) Day of My Life (Part 3)

In previous posts, I described the agony of August 22 in 1992 and 1994. But August 22 was not quite finished with me. In 1995 I started writing a book on the Chinook story (eventually published as One Jump Ahead in 1997, the predecessor to the 2009 edition). I signed a publishing contract and then...

… work began in earnest on the book. I had lots that I wanted to say, and the words seemed to effortlessly flow from my mind to the printed page. But there was one chapter (or more precisely, part of a chapter) that I kept avoiding, one story that I just couldn’t find the inner strength to write. Every time I tried to compose the words, I felt a deep sense of unease and would put it off to another day. Eventually another day came. It was the last chapter; I had to write it.

[August 22, 1992.] Game 18 of the 1992 Tinsley match. Infamous game 18. Forfeit.

I can vividly remember every detail of the closing moments of that game. I remember the stage, the board, Tinsley, the audience. I remember daydreaming about a possible win—going up three wins to one in the match—and then the abrupt reality check as Chinook revised its assessment downward to a draw. I remember being angry with my disappointment at the likely draw outcome. I remember the surge of adrenalin that I felt when it dawned on me that there might be a problem with Chinook. I remember the horror as I helplessly watched my much-loved creation forfeit. But most of all I remember the whispers. I remember the murmur from the audience as spectators talked to each other in hushed tones. “Why isn’t the program moving?” Someone in the audience said exactly those words, just loud enough that I could hear them. Those words, barely rising above the din, became permanently etched in my mind.

I can recall the sound in the room slowly rising as more spectators started whispering, wondering what was going on. It was like an orchestra, which reached a crescendo the moment Chinook’s flag fell signaling a forfeit. During all of this I can still recall—no, feel—the sense of helplessness that overcame me as I sat on the stage with 200 pairs of eyes staring at me with confused and concerned expressions. I can recall so much of those final minutes. It’s all indelibly seared on my brain.

Then the nightmares started. The first one came two months after returning home from London. I would relive the final minutes of game 18 in all its excruciating detail. Most of all I remembered the whispers, the murmurs: “Why isn’t the program moving?” I would awake with a start, with my heart racing and my breathing rapid and shallow. I had great trouble falling back asleep. The nightmares happened several times a month. I don’t know what triggered them or why they were so intense. All I knew was that game 18 had a profound impact on my subconscious psyche.

When it came time to write One Jump Ahead, I found it difficult to turn my feelings about game 18 into words. Eventually, I had to do it. I sat down at my desk, took a few deep breaths and forced myself to confront my emotions. What seemed like a few minutes later, I paused to get a coffee. To my surprise I had somehow managed to write many pages of text. The floodgates had opened, and words just kept coming. I finished the first draft of the text that day, and it went through very little editing to reach its final published form (unlike most other chapters).

Since that day my nightmare hasn’t reappeared; I’m cured! Writing that fateful text turned out to be therapeutic for me. I wish I had known that when I started work on the book; game 18 would have been the first chapter I wrote, not the last.

The Worst (Research) Day of My Life (Part 2)

In a previous post (August 27), I related the story of August 22, 1992, when the checkers program Chinook forfeited a critical game in the World Checkers Championship. We went on to lose that match by a narrow margin, but I will always be haunted by the “what if” question.

In 1994, Chinook met Tinsley again in a rematch for the World title. The venue was the Computer Museum in Boston (since moved to Silicon Valley). After six drawn games, Tinsley resigned the match and the title to Chinook. He was not feeling well (he claimed it was a case of “Chinookitis”) and did not want to continue playing. Yes, we were now the world champion, but we achieved this milestone in the worst way possible. A match was hastily arranged with Don Lafferty, the second strongest human player in the world. Don was open about his match strategy: play cautiously and wait for the computer to make a mistake. His strategy seemed to be working.

August 22 would prove to be a fateful day in 1994. The following comes from my book One Jump Ahead (Springer-Verlag, 2009).

Monday, August 22, had four more games. Rob was operating Chinook in the first game while I was in the next room being interviewed live by an Edmonton radio station. The interview was nearing the end when the door burst open and Rob yelled, “The Challenge has crashed!” [Chinook was running on an SGI Challenge computer.] The door slammed shut, and he was gone.

Yes, thousands of people back home were treated to Rob’s background vocals. The Challenge computer was dead and couldn’t be restarted. As in London we had a backup machine available. The backup had fewer processors (four instead of sixteen) and less memory (256 megabytes instead of 1,024). I quickly started Chinook running, set up the board position, and computed our next move. Rob finished operating the game without further incident. Paul and I tried to revive the Challenge. We sent out a call to Joe Gilberto [the computer hardware expert], and he was on-site within the hour. The spectators missed out on quite a spectacle. While Rob finished the game on the backup computer, Joe performed surgery on the Challenge, removing its vital organs one by one, trying to isolate the offending component. How many more victims of Chinookitis would there be?

After an extended pause to see whether the Challenge was usable again (it wasn’t) we began game eight using the backup computer. Twenty minutes later Joe told me he’d found the problem: one of the sixteen computers in the Challenge was faulty. He replaced it and was able to start the computer successfully. I restarted Chinook and fed it the current game position. Over the next few moves I had this version of Chinook mirror what was happening on the backup computer, convincing me that Joe had indeed found the problem and the computer was one-hundred percent again.

Chinookitis struck one more time that day. Don’s ninth move surprised us— it wasn’t in our book and involved Don sacrificing a checker. Finally, we had an interesting game. Chinook did a deep search, grabbed the checker, and returned a +25 score. These were the most dangerous types of positions for Chinook: we had the checker, but Don had the positional advantage. We got into trouble in this very type of position against Tinsley in the [1994] U.S. championship, and we had lost or almost lost similar positions against Tinsley at Tupelo in 1990 and Lafferty in the 1992 Southern States event. I was scared.

On move 12 the advantage dropped to equality (-4), but this didn’t look right…. The slow, steady slide to reality began. Move 14, -27. Move 17, -67. Move 19, -143. I resigned. Don was the hero of the day. When I was interviewed by the Boston Globe, my reaction to the game was, “We felt like a boa constrictor was attacking us, and we slowly realized we had lost.”

Our incredible streak had come to an end. When was our last loss? Game ten against Martin Bryant’s Colossus program over a year ago. Since then we hadn’t lost in the last forty-four games of the Colossus match, twelve games against [Grandmaster Derek] Oldbury, forty-eight against commercial programs (practice matches in Maastricht), eighteen in the first Lafferty match, thirty-two in the Southern States championship, thirty-two in the U.S. championship, six in the Tinsley match, and finally, the first seven games of the second Lafferty match. An astounding total of 199 consecutive games—almost all against grandmaster opposition. Okay, so maybe I should ignore the 1993 games and the practice games against other computer programs. That still meant that the “new” Chinook had gone 107 games without a loss.

Is it really necessary for me to describe how I felt as I watched my offspring thrash around in its death agony? Things had gone from bad to worse to awful. By defeating Lafferty in this match, there was the hope of salvaging something from the Boston debacle. Now there was a real danger that we were going to lose the match. I wanted to go home.

The media trumpeted the resounding victory for man over machine. Oliver Strimpel, executive director of the Computer Museum, summarized the satisfaction that many felt about Lafferty’s victory: [It] shows that knowledge and experience still count for an awful lot against the brute strength of a computer, which follows rules without imagination or intuition.”

After the game, I took Steph and Rebecca to the adjoining McDonalds for a late lunch (for the record, Rebecca chose the restaurant). It was the longest lunch I’d ever experienced. I had nothing to say; I was alone in my depression. Steph wisely kept quiet. Rob and Martin’s lunch was no better. Rob Lake writes:

“This was the first morning I recall in Boston that we had poor weather. It was overcast and pouring rain. During the drive into Boston, I recall thinking what a gloomy day this was. It only added to the lackluster feeling all of us were experiencing from Tinsley’s withdrawal the previous week.
Anyway, somehow in a sadistic way, it seemed appropriate that Chinook should lose that morning. After all, what else could possibly go wrong for us in Boston? Here we are, fending off the hounds on the Internet accusing us of poor sportsmanship for taking the title from a sick old man, and with only twelve games remaining, now found ourselves down one game and in danger of losing to Lafferty. Never mind the title we have and that we were originally playing Tinsley for the World Checkers Championship. We can’t even beat Lafferty. We’ll be making [artificial intelligence] history, but not the way we intended...
After the loss it was time to go for lunch. It was still raining fairly hard. Martin and I decided to go for lunch at the Dunkin’ Donuts down the street. I just wanted to get away from Don for a bit—I was annoyed at him for the illegal-move incident the day before and now we had just lost a game to him. With only six chances left on the strong side, I felt it was extremely unlikely we would win a game from him. I thought Dunkin’ Donuts would be a good place to go since it was hopefully far enough away in this wet weather that Don wouldn’t come there. I couldn’t think of a more depressing moment and I was wondering what could happen next to make things worse. While I was occupied with my thoughts, I noticed the coincidence that this loss occurred exactly two years to the day of our infamous game 18 forfeit to Tinsley. If we ever have another match, we should set August 22 as a rest day. I’m not superstitious, but why take chances?
As I was sitting with Martin having my sandwich, who should enter... Don Lafferty! He walked up to Martin and myself and asked if he could join us. Of course we couldn’t refuse, but the question I was just asking myself had been answered. We ended up having lunch together and chatting for about 30 minutes. I don’t remember anything about what we talked about as my mind was only half in the conversation. I then excused myself under the pretext that I wanted to do some database work. On my way back to the Computer Museum, I noticed the skies were beginning to clear. Well, at least now things are looking less depressing... Might as well see what happens with the games this afternoon.”

I will never again play a competitive game of checkers on August 22.

There are two interesting postscripts to this game. First, Don later revealed that the sacrifice was a Tinsley line specially prepared for Boston. It turned out to be a known line from the early 1900s, but I think he was counting on its surprise value (i.e., it wasn’t in [the book] Basic Checkers). Second, I found out why we lost this game. In October, 1994, Warren Smith of NEC asked to use Chinook for a research project, and I obliged by sending him the code. Two weeks later Warren reported that he thought he had found a bug in the program. He was right. After round one of the U.S. championship match with Tinsley [a few weeks before the World Championship match], I “fixed” Chinook. Recall that I found two problems. The second one I fixed correctly. The first, well, I goofed. I included code to test whether two conditions were true. The code tested whether either one was true, not both. It was as simple as an “or” condition that should have been an “and.” I spent a lot of time testing Chinook in Maastricht. I get back to Canada and have to fix two bugs. What do I do? Fix one and introduce another. And since things were so hectic then, I didn’t adequately test my change. I paid dearly for my simple mistake.

And if this wasn't bad enough, August 22 wasn't quite finished with me...