Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Wars

Just saw Revenge of the Sith this past weekend, closing a chapter in my life opened when my dad took me to see the original Star Wars in the theater.

When leaving the theater Saturday, I almost fell to my knees and proclaimed, "It's over! Over! Thank you, thank you!" In a very real way it felt like a release not just for me, personally, but for science fiction in general.

I don't really want to get into a criticism of the movie per se but am more interested in criticizing the series as a whole. So let me just agree with most everyone else that it's again better than its predecessor in the new trilogy, as that was better than the first "new" movie.

H0wever, I'd like to use a question posed by M-----'s mother to point out some serious flaws I can't seem to get my inner geek to accept.

She hasn't seen any of the movies in the Star Wars saga, and asked if she should see this current one.

Damn good question!

In the original movie Star Wars George Lucas wanted to make a new version episode of a classic theater serial, with new fancy special effects. This is originally why it was called "Episode IV", because like classic serials, you were never expected to see every one of them, and you could start watching in the middle. Therefore, all characters and plots were easy to grasp and understand from any point in the storyline.

Lucas chose characters, themes, and plots from classic legends and mythology, because these are almost universally understood, and were the same types used in earlier serials. Everyone gets it, and everyone likes it.

Everyone got Star Wars, and everyone liked it!

That was the problem... it became too successful, too profitable, and there became too much money involved for new "episodes" to be treated as casually. Instead of continuing in the tradition of independant episodes and universal plots and characters, Lucas created a storyline based upon the original movie, locking everything else in place orbiting around the assumptions of what was supposed to be generic and universal.

Every movie after Star Wars suffered from this, although the immediate successor, The Empire Strikes Back, still seemed to cling to some of the classic cliffhanger type plot twists of the original genre, which Star Wars couldn't explore as a one-off. And it's a great movie, if you've seen the earlier one. So it suffers if looked at as a serial episode, which should be more-or-less independant.

However, the "new" trilogy starting at "Episode I" seems to be fatally flawed. Its whole point seems to be creating the characters of the original movie, and therefore all of the movies are forced to draw upon the energy of Star Wars and miss opportunities to create energy and enjoyable experiences on their own. Again, everything points towards Star Wars and all would have been better if they'd followed the premise of the original and tried to be movies self-contained enough to be enjoyable on their own, but with rewards for fans following the whole series.

None of them are powerful enough to change your perceptions of Star Wars, which would have been incredibly cool. Instead of these three newer movies being arrows pointing at the original, it would have been nice to treat these movies as actually having been released before Star Wars, and there being mysteries in SW which only made sense having seen the earlier flicks, and the meanings actually changed so as to have arrows pointing backward from SW to the new trilogy.

In the original trilogy, we get all of the characters from the first time we see them, and are happy to follow along in their adventures.

In the new trilogy, the only character which matters is that of Annakin, and he isn't developed so much as rationalized. And it takes three bloody movies to do this little character study!

It would have been nice if the six movies' overreaching arc was the rise, fall, and redemption of Annakin/Darth, but the newest three never seem to get the audience to care about him. Instead of a good and loving man whose fall and redemption we'd care about we get an annoying and arrogant little snot whose fall to evil is just an aside.

I originally thought the whole point of the new series was to expand the implicit story of Luke as central character into a more multilayered story of Luke-and-his-father mirrored in the story of the fall of the Jedi and with lots of references to classic father/son power dynamics and some great obvious but hearty metaphors. Classic stuff.

But, no...

So, if you haven't seen any of the other movies, Revenge of the Sithis wonderful theater and is visually spectacular enough to merit seeing big even if you don't care about anything else. It's great space opera. However, you'll miss some of the references and be prepared to not get the last half hour which is just a hasty checklist connecting these most recent movies to the three which ostentably come after them.

It's the most fun a SW movie has been in two decades, so, sure, go see it!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

First Annual Spot the Flaw in the Liberal Rhetoric Contest!

In the grand time-honored tradition of inflammatory political rhetoric, I was able to prove my point about paying some teachers more by ignoring a key fact of mathematics. No one's commented on it so far...

First reader to spot the mathematical flaw in my reasoning about teacher salary wins one free bar of home-made soap. The first person to show that it's not really a flaw, but a feature of the idea wins two bars!

Hint: no, it's not about the rounding, estimating, or outright guessing that I did with numbers. I did cop to that in the original post, yes? It's more fundamental.

Yet I believe the argument still holds water.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Paying teachers more can pay for itself?

If they're the right teachers, yes.

I was going to put this as a response to a comment in my previous post, but I noticed that I was rambling on, so let's just make it a front-page entry. I want more people to look at this.

JMG wrote:
How about a law whereby teacher salary is *inversely* proportional to school achievement? And a strong enough inverse that working in the worst schools is *very* profitable?

but then wouldn't there be a disincentive to actually make the school better? JMG

I can see why you'd think this but honestly, I don't think so.

You seem to be seeing the following process: if teachers earn less the better the school achieves, then they have an incentive to do less in order for their students to succeed less, and therefore get paid more.

Do you think any parents or schoolboards anywhere would put up with this, for one thing? I'm sure more "successful" schools would be very keen on teacher accountability, seeing as how they are the districts with the most affluent and therefore active parents. We can weaken tenure, for one. If you suck, you're out.

Or how about a bonus program where your pension is based upon the earnings of the students you teach?

Secondly, let's link "success" to something which can't be faked so schools can't tell kids to do poorly on standardized tests for the sake of an easy A.

My idea is based upon the notion that an easier and more positive teaching experience is worth more to most educators than relatively small amounts of money.

I offer that the current system offers a doubly powerful incentive for teachers to choose rich school districts, and my modest suggestion is an attempt to provide a bit of balance.

You know New Orleans, JMG. Why is it that private schools can charge what they do but pay teachers almost a third less? Yes, there are powerful racial issues here, but where would you prefer to teach high school bio? What if I offered you twice as much to teach in a disadvaged school?

However, I think a different criterion than standardized test scores should be used for how "good" a school is, like the percentage of the students who go to college, weighted by the cost of those institutions. One Harvard is twenty trade schools or seven state schools (guessing).

I think many extremely talented and / or experienced school teachers would finally be persuaded to teach in underperforming schools if they were paid twice as much. But many others would still choose the excellent classroom experience an affluent district provides, and these districts could probably still pick and choose candidates.

One thing I really need to say is that I'm not suggesting lowering the salaries of any teachers, only increasing those for disadvantaged schools, and it would probably provide less chaos to have this gradually phased in.

Honestly, I think it's not so much socialism as good government, and in the long run would easily pay for itself. Better educated people earn more money and pay more taxes. I think most social programs can pay for themselves if they're structured properly.

Here are some estimates, very rounded to whole amounts, but I'm sure in the correct ballpark, for example:

Let's see, your average teacher teaches, say, five classes of twenty students, or 100 students a year.

Pay her, after taxes, an extra $20,000 a year to teach poor kids.

So, those 100 kids each need to get jobs after graduation (not weighted for inflation, humor me) which pay...

wait for it...

$200 a year more in taxes per kid, or an extra $2000 a year earned in a moderate tax bracket...

Competence in basic math and literacy is worth about an extra $10000 a year, on average, and illiterate or math-less kids tend to be in the lowest brackets, which pay the least or no taxes, so upward trends in earnings pay even more taxes.

I rest my case.

Except to say that I honestly believe that paying teachers more to teach poor kids might one day actually earn the government a profit on future taxes collected comparatively. I was being modest in my calculations.

When government invests in it's citizens, everybody wins.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Okay, it seems like Blogger doesn't want me talking about an odd mathematical coincidence I've happened upon.

I've tried thrice to write about how there is a funky connection between the Number of the Beast and the Golden Mean, but each time I seem to accidentally hit a key wrong and my entry is erased...

Perhaps someone is unhappy with my insight, or I just need to save more often when I'm writing late at night and prone to mis-striking the keyboard, which seems more likely.

In the meantime, there are a few things I'm angry and unhappy about, all of which seem to include things which are situation normal for our society, but which are to my mind making things worse due to inherent contradictions.

For-profit hospitals:

Is there not an inherent contradiction in the Hippocratic oath and running a for-profit, publicly-traded, hospital or care facility?

Seems like the laws of publicly-held corporations are pretty clear: one must do anything which maximizes shareholder value, and if you don't you can be sued and replaced by boardmembers who will, and you might be liable for imaginary profits lost because you weren't profit-maximizing in the meantime.

In a care facility, oaths require one to do as much as possible to care for the patient, being reasonable and respectful for the patient's wishes. So you must maximize the care given within reason.

In a for-profit corporation, one must maximize profit, which means in a medical situation charging more for care and/or providing less care. Charging more quickly leads to less business or greater insurance cost, so providing less care becomes the easiest option when that balance tips.

I see a contradiction, and propose that for-profit medical care is contradictory to the fundamental goals of, well, medical care.

Related, churches.

Any church which posts a profit in excess of 50% of donations should lose not-for-profit status. Or perhaps, NFP status should only be for organizations which lose money, and there be a separate, but generous, progressive scale of taxation for profiters to net those shady churches and charities which seem to be raping the current system.

Secondly, education and why the best teachers aren't in the schools which need the best teachers...

In education, the kids who need the best teachers are in the poorest districts.

In education, the districts which pay their teachers the most are the richest discricts.

In education, the best districts, which are the easiest to teach in, are the most affluent. Rich kids know they need to do well and pay better attention. Rich kids are easier to teach, to sum up, and provide the most rewarding experience for educators. (for the most part, because one gets the most positive response for the least effort)

This is why private schools get away with paying less but advertising better teachers. And this is a strong signal to public schools: better experience is worth more to teachers than better pay.

In education, the best teachers gravitate towards either the most rewarding experience or the experience which pays the most. The teachers with the least experience go to the positions which are most demanding and most in need of experience.

Having the easiest and most rewarding teaching experiences be the same is a guarantee that the best teachers will almost always go to the richest districts. And, that the least capable and least experienced teachers will go to those districts which are most difficult and pay the least.

There are *R*A*R*E* teachers who seem to get the most reward by spending the most effort. These teachers are rare enough that documentaries tend to get made about them. And all of them talk about how they turn down rich job offers from rich districts for the sake of their teaching vision. And all of them seem to work other jobs to pay for the teaching aids they need but can't get funding for.

How about a law whereby teacher salary is *inversely* proportional to school achievement? And a strong enough inverse that working in the worst schools is *very* profitable?

Teachers in the least achieving districts get the most money?

A teacher can choose easy or profitable, with a strong weight towards difficult and profitable. Perhaps this might get more talented teachers where they seem to be needed most.

Inflation and interest rates:

The current model which drives interest rates seems geared towards the people who make the most money.

When inflation rises, the Fed raises interest rates, making money more scarce. This seems like a fine, fine, thing if you're a person rich enough to care about basic lending rates.

The Fed's model seems to assume that the econonmy is rich people, or people who's economy is most tied to fundamental interest rates: again, rich folks.

Poor people need *more* access to money and loans when times are tough and inflation is bad!

When inflation is large, making low-interest loans to ordinary folks makes it easier to pay off loans, makes it easier to start business, and makes it easier to buy goods. In a recession, poor people need more governmental help. It follows that the amount of social help necessarily follows inversely with the strength of the economy.

In a poor economy, providing more money to education and health care seems to make more educated and healthier workers, who work more and pay greater taxes for their more educated jobs, which makes for a stronger economy.

However, in the same situation, you certainly *Don't* want to make easy money available to rich folks, who will just hoard the money in investment shelters. Access to money in a healthy economy seems to be inversely proportional to your status in the economy which is inversely proportional to the rate of inflation in that economy.

The current situation assumes a strict inverse relationship, while I propose a two-valued relationship, needing a balance.

How to create a lever which one swings between rich and poor to drive the economy, instead of just goosing the rich?

Fun questions!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Making soap


I'm making soap tonight.

Some of you may have received a couple of bars for Ambiguous Seasonal Holiday, which was the second batch I made. Tonight is the fourth batch, which is about exactly the same as the third, except that I threw out the distilled water by mistake a couple of months ago, and am just using Brita since I realized this at 11:30 tonight. Which shouldn't make a difference, but one never knows when chemistry rears its complicated head.

I've had one feedback review of the Holiday Soap, and it was positive. Mike and Family ran out of soap, and discovered to their dismay that my soap was the only thing on hand. With great trepidation they used it and, like many things people approach with initial trepidation, discovered that they quite liked it.

They've been fans of Dr. Bronner's soaps for a while, so the lack of lather of homemade soaps wasn't really a problem. Although I'm sure that the lack of text included with my soap led to a less interesting shower than that provided by the Good Doctor's verbosity. Do you know that the stuff they put into soap to make it lathery also makes it dry out your skin?

The lather problem has been ameliorated, with the happy addition of coconut oil to the mix, which adds lather but slight skin drying, which I counter with more olive oil in the superfatting stage...

Although tonight it freaked me out when I opened up the coconut oil tub and it was liquid. Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees, and the last time I made soap it was Winter, when coconut "oil" was a weird, flaky solid which I had to spoon onto my scale or into my pan for making popcorn. Coconut oil makes the world's best popcorn, by the way, which is also another reason to buy it if one is dismayed with having to buy a 32 oz. tub when only needing eight ounces for making soap. Like most "tropical oils" it'll kill you if you eat too much of it, since it's a pretty saturated fat, but it makes great popcorn. And great soap, since the trace elements in it help steer water towards that magical surface tension ratio which makes for bubbles, and which has little or nothing to do with soap's actual cleaning ability.

Really. Bubbles do not equal cleaning and are just a trick of surface tension physics. Bubbles and soap are merely an aesthetic pairing, and do quite well on their own.

I make soap using the Cold Process, or the "easy way" as I think of it. We used the other method in high school chemistry, and only one person in the class made useful soap in that lab!

Cold-process soap is pretty simple chemistry, needing just fat, lye, and water. The lye dissolved in water reacts with the triglyceride fat molecules to form soap and glycerin. The delicate part is in the measurements, as each different type of fat or oil requires a different amount of lye water to produce a particular soap result. Fortunately this is all pre-calculated.

Interestingly, in commercial soap they take out the glycerin, so that the soap hardens more quickly, but then they have to add skin softening agents so that the soap isn't too harsh. It's odd that "glycerin" soap is expensive stuff with glycerin added to the process later to make it clear instead of just leaving it alone!

I prefer a soap which has a decent amount of residual oil left un-transformed, which produces a soap which feels very nice on your skin. It is softer, however, and doesn't last as long. Did I mention that hardening agents also dry your skin?

All the stories about pioneers and harsh lye soaps are all the result of soap which wasn't made with careful attention to chemical balances and wasn't left to age properly. The saponification reaction takes about a month or so to complete after it solidifies into a bar, if it ever does. Most pioneer soaps were actually liquid! And you can make mild liquid soap if you want to, like Dr. Bronner's.

Any soap you use before the reactions are complete, however, will have unreacted lye left in it, which you really don't want in a soap that's getting anywhere near your skin.

It is nice, however, for soap you want to use for cleaning and disinfecting, and can be calculated thusly should you so wish. Harsh lye soap is great for scrubbing and disinfecting! Better than the horrific "antibacterial" crap which may end up killing us all...

When you're getting lye water by dripping ashes, and just boiling on the stove without measuring or weighing anything, it's easy to see how much of the early pioneer soap was still swimming with harsh lye, since if you didn't use enough lye it was like rubbing oily fat on your clothes and skin. Best err on the side of making actual soap.

However, today you can buy pure lye at most any grocery store in the drain cleaning section, and the ratios for nearly any fat or oil you can get are calculated to a far more accurate degree than the postal scale I use, so it's pretty easy to make some wonderful soap.

We've been using soap of the third batch here, and I really like it. It doesn't lather like commercial soaps but there are some small bubbles, yet I feel clean and my skin feels better. One nice thing about homemade soaps is that the glycerin is still in them. In commercial bar soap the glycerin is removed so that the bars solidify more quickly, but this removes one of the skin softening agents, so they have to add other stuff...

One curious thing... the commercial bar "Dove" really isn't soap! In their commercials where they say something like, "Dove isn't soap, it's a 'Beauty Bar'(tm)" they aren't lying. I'm not sure what i is, but it really and truly isn't soap. Dove has a pH of exactly 7, and the mildest soap possible is well above 8. Explains why when I've used Dove I never feel clean, just coated and perfumed. Yet nicely moist.

One of the most fascinating facts I discovered while learning about soap was the origin of shortening and other hydrogenated oils.

One of the biggest realizations in the health world has been that saturated fats are far worse for you than unsaturated fats. And lately artificially saturated fats seem to be even worse than the naturally saturated ones! Anything with "hydrogenated" in it will definately kill you.

When fats are "saturated" or "hydrogenated" they're processed so that they solidify at lower temperatures. Solid or more dense fats are more satisfying to eat, according to just about everyone. The only real difference between an "oil" and a "fat" is its consistency at room temperature, or whether it comes from a plant or an animal.

Interestingly, the process of hydrogenating oils to make them into solid fat-like stuff was created for the soap industry. More solid fats make better soap, and as the country grew in the 19th century, there wasn't enough solid fat to keep up with the country's cleaning needs, so some bright boys figured out how to make vegetable oils into solid fats for the soap industry.

The stuff wasn't considered fit for human consumption until the great depression, when real fat became too expensive for the utterly destitute, who turned to the far cheaper fatty oils produced for the detergent industry. Since capitalism siezed control after WWII ended, the cheapest solution for food fats has become the usual solution, leading to many current health problems according to current thinking. Looks like the original soap chemists were right when they considered the stuff not fit to eat. Still makes great soap, however, and quite cheaply.

From what I read, animal fats make the absolute best soap, but I've never tried them. Lard is actually the best soap making fat according to everyone, and is only slightly more expensive than vegetable shortening, but for some reason rubbing my body with dead animals makes me feel way less clean than with veggies. So I'll stick with vegetable shortening.

I still eat meat, though, but I'm working on that. I've worked down the evolutionary scale to flying lizards mostly except for pepperoni, having tried to forego mammals and seafood.

You'll get my pepperoni when you pry it from my cold, dead pizza.

Which sounds great except that my favorite pizza is mushroom, black olive, and garlic. Onions, green peppers, spinach, tomato, and artichoke are also groovy, but not essential. Anyway...

Tonight I'm making the soap about the same way I did last time, as it worked well, but I'm pouring it into different moulds.

Previously I've used two 18 x 6 x 2 plastic trays which worked well when cutting the soap into 12 bars per tray for nicely sized bars. However, I really like rounder bars which work better for softer soap since they last longer than rectangular bars. Actually rounded oval bars last the longest, but that takes individual moulds for each bar.

This time I'm using Pringle's tubes for circular soap. They're lined with plastic and sealed already, and I can just peel them off the soap cylinder after a couple of weeks of aging before cutting off round cakes of soap which I'll let dry for another month or so. Or at least that's the theory. I guess we'll see.

There's a lot to explore in the soap making universe, and you can start out like I did by typing "soap making" into google, which is recommended. I learned a lot by just digging around. Here are some links I've bookmarked but may not actually be the best pages for you to start out from:

Cold Process Soap for One 12 ox Can of Lye

Elaine's Soapmaking Pages
How to Make Cold Process Soap
Soap Problems
The Complete Guide to Soapmaking
Making Soap!

And the most useful link of all:

The MMS Lye Calculator
which allows you to mix 'n' match different oils and fats, then click and get a chart of how much lye to use to get varying soap results.

I find 8-10% oil remaining produces a wonderful bath bar.

I've been using a 48 oz tub of vegetable shortening
17 oz bottle of olive oil (pure, not virgin, as the cheap stuff makes better soap, and 17 fluid oz is 16 oz by weight)
8 oz coconut oil, available in the oils/shortening section

Since cheap shortening is usually a blend of hydrogenated soy and cottonseed oils, I ran the numbers using a 25/75, 50/50, and 75/25 ratios of each oil, and just really went with the 50/50... the various percentages were less than my scale could measure anyway, so I just went for 9 and a bit less than a quarter ounces of lye.

I mixed the lye and VERY cold water in the plastic tub the shortening came in, after washing it out. It's non-reactive plastic, and I was going to dispose of it anyway!

Use the larger amount of water, as you need to be an expert to use less. The lye and water mixing can make the water boil and splatter with less water, and you don't want that. Do work outside or in a well-ventilated area when pouring the lye into the water, as the fumes are nasty.

Save some olive oil to add after you've mixed the lye water and oils together and have mixed for a while. This is called superfatting and helps guarantee that much of the leftover unreacted oil will be olive oil, which is nicest on your skin. You want the shortening and coconut oils to react the most.

Then you mix the soap, which takes a long while if you want nice leftover oils. You can stir for hours and hours, or use an electric mixer. The soap fluid is dense, and the chemical reaction needs mixing... Seriously. Use an electric mixer, because stirring a superfatted soap by hand can become endless. Use a mixer.

After a long while if your soap has leftover oil, when stirring produces a "trace" which lasts in the mixture, you're about ready to pour the soap into the mould. Add the fragrance oil, if used, at this last stage. Adding essential oils earlier just allows their expensive essence to be turned into soap!

I like lavender.

You can also get soap colorings. Michael's or any good crafty place should carry them, along with soap moulds if you want to get fancy.

I've just touched on the process, so please ask if you want more detail!

Happy saponification!

So why am I doing this, you ask?

For some weird reason, I really enjoy learning about the basic fundamental processes which underly our complicated civilization. I love learning how things work, how things are made, and how to make them myself.

Like soap.

I adore the Foxfire series of books, and similar tomes like How Things Work and so on.

It's interesting to me to learn how the process of something like soap came to be, and what's been gained and lost in that process.

I love computers, and I bought an early single board system to learn how to program in binary and hex, and programmed a clock to make the darned thing useful in today's world. I really enjoy the graphical interface and associated magic which allows me to create and you to read this blog, as well.

My ultimate goal is to make my own wire. At that point I'll feel comfortable that I could begin recreating civilization from scratch if need be.

Seriously. What do you think is the most fundamental technical process necessary for maintaining today's technology?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Go Figure

I've been getting into the game of Go recently.

Go, known as Weiqi in China, is perhaps one of the most popular games in existence, and is probably one of the oldest, being three to four thousand years old verses chess's thousand or so, but is still not very well known in the west. In the east it's much more popular than chess is here. That is to say, many people in the east actually do play go, while most of the people who know how to play chess here in the west actually don't play much, if ever. Chart fancy chess sets owned compared to chess games played...

It's perhaps the supreme example of a deceptively simple strategy game which unfolds endless complexities as one learns it. The rules of play can be explained in a few minutes, and are intuitive enough that people have theorized that go might be played by aliens, because the rules are so simple and geometrically elegant that they would of course be discovered by anyone anywhere.

A tutorial.

The game Othello, beloved of M-----, was advertised by, "A minute to learn. A lifetime to master."

Go is similar, but no promise of mastery is ever implied! Go is never mastered, and "masters" constantly are surprised by new playing styles of bold innovative players.

I was a "smart" kid, got into the "gifted" program at school, and so on. My dad taught me chess at an early age, and I enjoyed the game but let it pass as I grew older. I never really got hooked by chess, but always assumed that it was "smart" and that chess skill somehow reflected intelligence. I never got interested enough to become really talented at the game, but I could hold my own and not play like a complete idiot. M----- actually has an attitude against the game, from when her supposed teacher in the gifted program she endured made everyone play chess because that's what smart people did. eek.

In high school I learned how to play bridge, and quickly learned that bridge is by far the most complicated card game ever. So far as ordinary strategy games went, I always assumed that chess was the ultimate board game, and that bridge was the ultimate card game. Other games were certainly interesting but in comparision were ultimately lacking in depth of possibility. Yes, I became an annoying little snot in many ways.

Both bridge and chess are complex and involved enough to provide a lifetime of interesting discovery, the hallmark of a truly great game.

Actually, that's the hallmark of a truly great anything.

But when I learned go, and studied it a bit, all other games suddenly became simple to me. The level of possibility and complexity that go provided was inexpressibly more rich than any other game I'd ever encountered. The variety of possible chess or bridge games seemed to shrink down to niggling variations, while the possibilities of go experience seemed wide open. Go is both global and local, requiring play of subtle broad and long term strategy yet offering vicious tactical local interaction. Chess is ultimately local, since nothing is ever more than eight spaces away from anything else, and all play focuses upon the kings.

The smallest go game anyone takes even remotely seriously is 9 x 9, and that's commonly referred to as a teaching board. The standard game is played on a 19 x 19 board.

One interesting thing to note is that chess has effectively moved into the realm of computers. Chess has been analyzed to such an extent that chess programs can beat all but the best of human players, and those the programs can fight to a draw. Just today I read that a new go program running on a network of 75 new computers was beat 8-0 by mid-level go enthusiasts. Amateurs, not pros. This is typical.

Go is so much more possible that the very best programs can't even beat decent amateur players. Professional go players don't even deign to bother with computer programs. Go has been "completely solved" as the game theorists like to say on a 5 x 5 board, and athe 9 x 9 "teaching" size is certainly well beyond modern game theory or computer science.

All that I'm trying to say here is that chess seems to be becoming less popular now that the goal of mastering it is now dominated by computer programs. Why bother?

Go remains an art which is truly an art, as it's not subject to any logic, and mastery of which is most effectively transmitted by spending time with a master. An average person with effort can become better than the best computer program out there. Really. Go is at its heart a fundamentally human game.

Go has been a feature of movies lately, like in A Beautiful Mind and Pi. In A Beutiful Mind the artistic aspect of go is noted when Nash plays a "perfect game" and still loses!

I'm also finding that it's just a much more beautiful game to experience. The patterns of form that the game evolves are some of the prettiest to be found in the game world. Get yoruself a full-sized wooden board and some nice stones, and just playing at all becomes a wonderfully satisfying aesthetic experience. Meditative and centering.

My favorite Go equipment dealer is Yutopian. I bought my board and stones there and a gift board with the same stones for my friend Mike which he loves, all quite reasonably.

If you'd like to find a go group in your area, try the American Go Association.

If you'd like to play me, I'm fatoudust on Dragon Go Server.

Sensei's Library, linked to above, is a fantastic source of information, but feel free to ask me and I'll do my best to answer any questions. Go's an amazingly friendly game!

Other thoughts on Chess verses Go: here and here.

Go vs. Chess is oddly similar to my recent discussions about Linux vs. Windows, and I think it's an interesting comparison. Seeming complexity and power verses actual complexity and power.