1: Preparing the Ground
"History is bunk" said Henry Ford, to which Santayana replied: "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it". I have a feeling Santayana was not the first to mention that tautology, but he became famous for repeating it. There is a long long line of philosophers and entrepreneurs doing well out of stealing other people's ideas, including such notables as Archimedes (who stole the idea of using a screw to lift water from Sennacherib's ghost-writer, who in turn may have got it from a snail), Copernicus, (who plagiarised al-Hazen) James Watt (who got the idea of using the motive force of steam from Thomas Newcomen, who got it from someone else), Alexander Graham Bell (who stole somebody else's patent and put his own name on it) and William Gates (who copied an idea that Steve Jobs "borrowed" from Alan Kay, which he only got away with because the Parc execs were too myopic to see their frog was a Prince and failed to protect it).
When it comes to Go, the flow of new ideas is rather sluggish, including a few red herrings like Move 37. And in the case of my own Go, it is almost stagnant, having not noticeably changed much over the last 41 years, causing my rank to have the flaccid shape you see in my avatar. And yet, and yet, there may be a lesson in that for others, lest they be so shallow-minded as to jump on today's bandwagon with no thought of tomorrow, let alone the wisdom of the sages down the ages.
Or even if they do - it hardly matters.
Reading is the penultimate escapism - the reader can escape their own mundane and dreary existence by entering the virtual world of the imagination of another, who in writing is escaping their own dreary and mundane life by imagining one more titillating, or dramatic, or dreary, or pathetic, by which comparison their own mundanity doesn't feel so lacking in dopamine. I expect my journal will fall into the latter category, so if nothing else it may give you comfort to see that however hopeless your own Go future is, at least it's not that bad.
My Go journey so far has taken a little over eighty days, and is more of a zigzag than a circumference, and although i haven't quite ended up exactly where i began, the question "Was it worth it?" is one to which the answer is all too predictable, if one could be so bothered as to reinforce concerns about spilt milk and lost opportunities, but as i said before, it hardly matters.
Every seed's life journey begins before the seedling's emergence into the cold light of day, and in my case the soil of Go was prepared by the only course that caught any of my attention during a 4-year trial by very trying teachers, most of whom shouldn't have tried, and quite a few who should never have been let out of their cages. It was called "Non-numeric Computation" and it tickled my fancy that you could do maths without numbers, reminiscent of the only thing at school that wasn't boring beyond belief, which was that you could count in twos instead of tens, and a welcome relief from the tedious humdrum of having to rote learn absurd nonsense about surds and COBOL just so you could regurgitate it in the exam to get the hell out of there with the magic scrap of paper; a scrap that used to promise promise, but which has since become so costly and so dilutedly worthless at one and the same time that i can only say with relief thanks be to She who must be obeyed that i wasn't born with a plastic spoon in my mouth yesterday.
.. to be continued, or burned by Bradbury's Firemen, as have several of my more precious pearls; i couldn't help smiling at Norman Mailer's exhausted outburst: "Some critics should be shot!".
"What's for breakfast?" asked Pooh.
2: Sowing a Seed
The phone rang. Out of the blue, it was Liz's boss, John.
"I hear you're expert at Go" he said.
"Go?? Sorry, no - I've never heard of it"
"Really? Oh, it's a game of strategy. I think you would enjoy it; there's a small group that play every Tuesday evening at the XYZ cafe. You should come along".
Soon after Liz started to work at his company, John invited me to a pro-am golf jamboree hosted by ICL to sweeten their big client deals. I was nowhere near a VIP, so he had listed me on the tee-off schedule as David Brown of 'David Brown Gears'. It's funny how so many people, on being told my name, come up with: "Are you THE David Brown? - Haha!". I suppose if James Bond hadn't driven an Aston Martin, i wouldn't have had to smile politely so often.
Our four-ball won the pro-am, and the three of us each got a fancy briefcase as our prizes - the only prize i ever won, apart from a box of balls once from a couple of schlenters, after which the Secretary hauled me in, gave me a wigging about taking balls off his members, and cut my handicap from 15 to 8.
Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but i didn't know that then.
So i looked in at the cafe, and discovered that this Go thing was something i had a few years before glimpsed a fellow student explaining to another; the demo involved a ladder of stones stretching across the board. It looked like a pretty infantile puzzle, and i hadn't given it a second glance.
That student was a streetwise character, with a blossoming enterprise in recycled vanity plates, famously renting PEN 15 on a white Rolls-Royce to Linda Lovelace for Andy Warhol's film's London debut. He was constantly being stopped by the police for shaving off the corner of the 5 to make it more obvious. He never graduated, dropping out soon after when he left the country to avoid the tax hounds. i bumped into him several years later in a faraway place, where he was still operating below the radar, although less fruitfully than he had been in London.
Everyone at the cafe was friendly and helpful, so i hung around and started to sort of get the hang of it a bit. I even bought some books, and when a position in one of them turned up on the board and i repeated what i had read, my opponent exclaimed: "That's the finest corner play I've ever seen!".
Of course, John never showed up at the cafe. Had i been any good at arithmetic, i might have been able to put 2 and 2 together, especially when a few months later Liz said she didn't want to go to his wife's birthday party, to which we had received a fancy formal written invitation. But i'm not, so i didn't, and we didn't. To this day, i will never know whether Liz had become a silent member of the Me Too Club.
At its heart, Go is a game of trickery - of who can outwit whom by leading them up the garden path, especially attractive to tricksters like the plate salesman. The only consolation for the patsy is that death on the board doesn't hurt quite as much as becoming collateral damage of imperialist warmongers or suckered into a Ponzi scheme - but Go lures the lamb in deeper and deeper as it has yet another go at trying to prove to itself that it is better than it thinks its father thinks it is.
Go is an addictive opioid; cheaper than heroin, but just as damaging to the soul.
Niels surprised me once by saying that he found my naivety endearing - i hadn't known i was naive - but i must be, for i too was easily duped by the smorgasbord of red herrings on doctored video pretend live news simulcast on telly around the world in 2001, just as they had done in '63 only with more technical pizazz. Until 2013, that is, when on enquiring about 1963, Google pointed me to the mountain of forensic evidence about 2001 that others had piled up but which somehow hadn't made it onto the Gogglebox.
I was duped again in 2004, and it wasn't until 7 years after 2008 that the straw started to slide from my eye as i began to start to unravel the elaborate web of skullduggery that has been going on for at least 6000 years, ever since the first ziggurat was built in Sumer, essential survival knowledge that somehow hasn't made it into the school maths syllabus.
It's old news that truth is stranger than News, old or new. Even the golden anniversary spun the same old Bernays tale about 1963. Any evidence recorded about Kelly has been sealed for 80 years, and your great-grandchildren can expect it too to be so redacted that it will be content-free.
John got a gong from the ziggurat gang, which appears to be almost exclusively populated by obersturmführer adherents to Kissinger's maxim that power is the best aphrodisiac. It is said that power corrupts, but it's more likely that only the corrupt get to climb the stairway to power heaven, to which the heavy-handed gauntlet of censorship and spin is testimony, dramatised in Bradbury's Farenheit 451, Orwell's 1984, and press reports on Paris tunnels.
1+2 = 3: Gestation
My thesis on machine learning was a walk, getting home nine months before the required minimum period, so i had to wait for the one salary increment the ticket would get me. When it came, i had my new title printed on my cheques to encourage shopkeepers to accept them. The bank manager was effusive, rubbing his hands with glee at getting them on a doctor's salary - he didn't know i wasn't a medical doctor!
Doctors and lawyers - the prime targets of the squadron of Kugels, girls who catwalked around Uni in full warpaint and designer outfits, pretending to study "Fizz, Sick and Sock" (Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology) for a year or two until they netted their mealticket. I never saw the like of it before or since - except once, at The University of Tokyo.
Although happy to have got it done, i was dissastisfied with my algorithm, because although it could learn to diagnose liver disease and bid at Contract Bridge, it only learned "what" to do, not "why" to do it.
It had begun as my enquiry into language learning, jumping off the springboard of my undergraduate programming project on Contract Bridge bidding, which all my lecturers had said was impossible and none wanted to supervise, but i'd gone ahead and done it anyway, translating "Sound Bidding at Contract" by Fox into Algol-60. Only thing was, the book had rules for the first two or three rounds of bidding, but after that you were on your own, so i had to invent what i called a "heurbid" procedure, which guessed the numbers of tricks you and your partner could make based on your hand and his bids, and the number of tricks you could figure to lose, based on opposition bids, and bid accordingly. It was a bit slapdash, but i got a 'B' grade for my project and surprised all my lecturers by passing the finals (i had nearly been thrown out in the previous year for failing to attend lectures).
Having written a program to bid at Bridge, it was obvious to me that my thesis should be a program to learn to do it, as machine learning had caught my attention in Alan Bond's AI course which he made me take because, unusually for a PhD candidate, i didn't have an MSc. I guessed that children acquire language first as a kind of linear grammar of simple associations, to which they gradually glue on self-inferred recursive context-sensitive rules. It was clear as day that Chomsky was spot on that nowhere in a million years could English possibly be the context-free language taught in school. Content-free, often (especially in the mouths of politicians), but never context-free.
But learning context-sensitive rules algorithmically is tricky, as it requires domain knowledge, so it was easier to generalise the other way, and write a program to learn anything, not just Bridge bidding language.
I liked Don Waterman's method of learning poker heuristics, but it did have the flaw of relying upon arbitrary thresholds, so i resolved to go one better and find a way to avoid having to have any such artificiality in mine.
My basic idea (like all my basic ideas) was simple, even simplistic: suppose you are told that this French cheese is stinky, and so is that one, then you can infer that if a cheese is stinky, it must be French. But then along come the counterexamples of a French cheese with holes in it that isn't stinky and an Italian cheese that is. To make sense of that in the context of what you already know (ie, what you think you know), you can divide the spectrum of stinkiness into three parts, so as to exclude the negative example in the middle. And so on and so on, ending up with a set of context-sensitive rules in conjunctive normal form.
That's all very well for cheese, or medical diagnosis, but it doesn't tell you "why" anyone would want to bid 3 Hearts. Decisions aren't just decisions; they are made for a purpose, to achieve a goal.
So i started reading up on goals and plans, and how to make them. Like many others, i was much taken by SHRDLU, and when i noticed a mistake in its planning algorithm, Winograd replied that he had been more focussed on the language side of things. Earl Sacerdoti showed a way around SHRDLU's problem that achieving one subplan could upset another when things you've thought about in parallel have to be done in sequence: you could make planning rules conditional - ie, context-sensitive.
And right in front of me was a microworld that would serve as a suitable testbed domain: Go doesn't have any of the messy noise of real world data that complicates things - and it sure looked like a game of strategy, just as all the books say it is.
In the world of journalism, you publish and perish, but in the world of academia, you either publish or you perish. Despite the irritation of having to pander to the pedantic obsessions of ignorant peasants who endlessly whine on about crossed eyes, dotted tees and omission of mention of all the few names they have ever heard of, research was a recreation, so much more intriguing than the obligatory chore of spoonfeeding, except when there was a studious-looking student just two years my junior sitting in the front row of my very first class - the exact opposite of "Is that nice?" heartbreaker Lindsay. Yes, Liz got me on the rebound. It happens.
i'd already moved on from my thesis when Don sent me an invite to a jamboree in Hawaii, which he and Fred had thrown together to use up leftover RAND budget: "Because of the importance of your previous work, blah blah blah". It was a bit over the top, especially because i only had one piece of previous work and it was hardly important, but Don had said nice things about it in his role as external examiner. They would pay for everything, and Hawaii was a long way from Johannesburg, so i decided to make a meal of it and buy a "Visit USA" multi-stop airfare, which was pretty much the same price as a simple return trip. The only constraint was no backtracking, so i came in at Philadelphia and left from Houston, going anticlockwise via anywhere that would pay for a seminar by me.
My first step on USA soil was an eye-opener. It started at the airport, where there was a scrap of paper waiting for me on which was crudely scrawled the name and address of the hotel the University of Pennsylvania had booked me into. The airport signboards offerred a choice of land transport: taxi or limousine. RAND had given me a tidy lump sum, but i was spreading it out over 6 weeks, so i opted for the taxi, because no way could i afford a limousine on my paltry salary. It was only afterwards that i learned that 'limousine' is American ad-speak for 'minibus': a tattily-upholstered stretched-out gas-guzzler into which they pile several people, so the unit cost to each is cheaper.
The taxi was a shock - painted standard yellow, a bit the worse for wear, it had a thick steel grille between me and the driver, making me wonder what species of vertebrates had sat there before me.
I showed the scrap of paper to the driver. "Never heard of it" he said. Off to a good start..
"Really?" i said in suprise. I took another look at it. "It's called The Hilton".
"Oh! The Hilton!!" and the cash registers in his eyes positively lit up.
More shocks were to come. It turned out that i had to pay for the hotel myself, and 6 weeks of that room-rate would hoover up all my budget. The room service menu wasn't encouraging either: "Two eggs, any way you like" for $5. This was in 1977, and $5 was a lot of money to me back then. So the first thing i did was get on the phone to the Uni and ask for a cheaper hotel. The secretary was surprised at my request, saying that the Hilton was only a mid-priced hotel. She hummed and haa-ed for a minute, and then said she would ring round to see if one of the faculty would put me up.
i decided to take a stroll before dinner, but the doorman stopped me and said "You shouldn't walk around here; it's not safe!". I couldn't believe what i was hearing, but the memory of the armoured taxi persuaded me to take his advice, and i went back in.
Next morning, someone came to get me, with the news that he and his wife would be delighted to host me for a few days, so i packed my bags and said good riddance to the dangerous and pricey Hilton.
Next stop after Philadelphia was just up the road in Pittsburg; CMU wouldn't pay for a seminar, but they did offer me a tour of whatever it was they were proud of at the time (forget what it was, now). I asked to look in on my hero Herbert Simon. He was working from home that day, telecommuting. I hadn't known what that was until then, but it sounded like a jolly good wheeze and decided there and then that that's what i wanted to do too; the daily grind of riding the underground in London had been one reason to switch to the leafier suburbs and sunnier climes of Jo'burg. Although i never became grand enough to be given the choice, i was, decades later, able to work from home a bit by stringing timetabled homeworks together into a single term project; the students liked it too, just as i had enjoyed doing my own project back in Stafford. Seems to me that if you give students the chance to exercise their creativity, they will do so; so the standard pedagogy of making them jump through pre-determined hoops is exactly wrong.
Simon agreed to come in the next day, perhaps curious to see the nitwit who had come such a long way just on the offchance of seeing him without an appointment. His office was as modest as mine; spartan bog-standard furniture and a blackboard on one wall. As i entered, even before saying "Hello", he gestured to the blackboard and asked me to correct the spelling on it.
There were just two words, one under the other:
I hesitated - was this some sort of IQ test? Would he even speak to me if i got it wrong? I looked enquiringly at him. He waved his arm at the chalk tray and said, "Just correct it". So i picked up the chalk and switched the U and R, wherepon he waved me to the chair in front of his desk.
As i sat down, he remarked "You could have switched the N and S instead".
Oh! i grinned nervously. "What does it mean?" i asked, "Do many people miss the other solution?"
"It's just interesting" he replied mysteriously, "I ask everyone who comes in to do it", and turned the subject to the purpose of my visit.
I told him about my ideas for plans and goals in Go, and asked his advice. Perhaps i shouldn't have been, but i was a little disappointed when he only said what i could have told him he would say: that the toughest problem was how to heuristically constrain the search**. That was his "bag", on which he had written extensively.
I was to have the same experience with everyone i talked to during my circle around the States - everyone only told me what i already knew they knew from their papers.
Until i heard Walter's talk in Honolulu...
* many years later, i figured out what Simon's toy experiment had been about: he was just playing with his psychological theory (the one that got him the Nobel Prize in Economics) that faced with a decision choice, most people do not optimise, OR-style, but "satisfice" - ie choose a solution that seems to them satisfactory and sufficient. It's certainly how i play Go, but more often than not for that game it seems to be not good enough; my opps regularly come up with what look to me like "all or nothing" overplays, but due to my lamentable reading ability, trick me more often than not. Although, if you can read deep enough, honte still works, as Alfiezero has demonstrated.
** looking back on it now, i see that i could have answered that search space reduction is what (heuristic) goals and plans do: they limit the search (as does Alfie's policy net, but without being able to explain why it makes the choices it does, beyond a handwaving win% you can't drill down into, except by laboriously crawling around the monkey-puzzle of her probability tree).
...The star of the Honolulu cabaret was a sparkly young woman wearing a white teeshirt with the sparkly inscription "If you can't Dazzl'em with Brilliance - Baffl'em with Bullshit!"
There was plenty of bullshit flying around that workshop, but a fair dollop of brilliance too, notably from a young fellow called Doug Lenat, who would go on to become an AI superstar. I'm sorry to say my own unrehearsed effort (all my seminars had been about my plans for plans for Go) was a very dull brown, exciting little audience response except for a rustle around the room when i put up a slide about context-sensitive rules; no-one else it seems had previously thought of that in relation to what were to later become called "Expert Systems" by the elderly husband of the young woman, who had a flair for soundbites to suck in investment money, riding on the back of the buzz about a seminal piece of work called "Mycin" done by one of his colleagues' students, that lit up the stage for a decade. One of Mycin's original contributions was its use of probabilistic reasoning to navigate a decision space - that set the scene for much later work, including Alphago's use of a related technique.
I was delighted by Walter Reitman's talk about his Go playing program, for here was someone else thinking about the same sort of thing as me, and in a similar sort of way. A few years later, Walter visited me in Ohio and i him and Judy in Michigan, where we spent the evening in his basement, sheltering from a passing tornado.
Whereas Columbus' claim to fame is that the OSU football coach punched out an opponent player, Cleveland's is that it's river once caught on fire. Now that's what i call Pollution, American-style.
Back in Jo'burg, a friend told us of children being admitted to hospital with bullet-wounds in the back, but there was nothing about it in the papers. It came closer to home one Friday afternoon when i received a phone call at work from Anna - her 14 year-old cousin had been picked up downtown for not having a Pass and could i do anything? I hadn't even known what a Pass was, nor that blacks were't allowed in white areas without an ID card, nor that they couldn't even get one until they were 16.
The voice at the cop shop said he had been sent to prison, but i could bail him out. So i rang the prison, but they told me that the bail officer had already gone home for the weekend.
So a 14 year-old boy had to spend the weekend in prison, just for being in the city. It threw me into a tailspin. I had naively believed the blurb on the job ad: "The University does not discriminate on the basis of race or religion" so i had thought that by going there i would be doing my bit for social reform. But i now saw how dumb that rosy pinko notion was and felt helplessly adrift, boiling with indignation at the injustice and chagrined at my impotence to do anything about it. Against the counsel of others, i visited the family in Soweto, who insisted upon sending someone with me to see me safely back to the edge of the township. I was glad of his protection when we got dirty looks from a few youths along the way. I can't blame them for that; in their shoes i would have felt the same, not knowing that all whites weren't tarred with the same brush and probably suspecting me of being a plain clothes policeman, because ordinary white men were never seen in Soweto.
My distress was abject; it affected my entire outlook on everything in Jo'burg, including my marriage. Long story short, within a few months i left Jo'burg alone, leaving behind my wife, my house, my job, my MG, my golf clubs, half my life savings, and my Go board.
Nine months later, via Mt Everest, the Khyber Pass, the vast salt desert of Iran, and the salty Eye of the Wind in the Adriatic, i landed back in Blighty, to be greeted by parents aghast at my callousness in deserting the girl they adored.
I'd fallen off my pedestal once by coming home drunk when i was 16, been put back on it at 25 when i married Liz, but was now an indelibly-inked black sheep. I still feel guilty about leaving Liz, little ameliorated by her ability to recover quickly, which came to light a decade later.
I parachuted into Middlesborough, a big step down careerwise, but a port in a storm not quite as bleak and dreary as its reputation.
En route to 'Boro, i looked in at the London Go Club. Stewart introduced me to the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and knocked my head around the block on the board, at one point exclaimimg in astonishment: "Didn't you read that out?!"
I had another game with another chap about my strength; a young boy strolling past glanced at our board for half a second and casually remarked: "The corner is ko" and strolled on. My opp and i looked at each other open-mouthed. Stewart told me the boy was Adum Pirani, junior champion of England, who was to give up the game because it was too easy for him.
Stewart asked me about the size of the Go tree, which he wanted to mention in an article for New Scientist. I made a hasty back-of-the-envelope calculation and offerred to co-author. We wrote half each.
My byline mentioned Teesside, and shortly after the magazine came out, a local rag newshound came knocking, wanting photos of my program and an interview. i explained to him that it was just as idea; there wasn't any working software. He pointed to a pile of computer printout: "We could take a photo of that - no-one will know the difference..". i declined.
"Ancient Oriental Game Baffles Computer Boffin" was the yellow headline of a double-page spread, his take on my remark that our program wouldn't present any threat to the world's champions.
That got me my 15 minutes of fame, which Warhol says everyone gets once during their lifetimes; i was even asked: "Are you THE David Brown?" For the first and only time ever, i could say "Yes" :)
8. Back in the US of A
I had a job lined up in London; as it was out of academia i figured there would be no turning back, so with Logica's permission, i put off my start date to squeeze in another "gap year" while i still had the chance. Some place i'd never heard of said yes; i looked them up but all i could find out was that their football coach had punched out a player on the opposition team; "Go, Bucks!" was a pinnacle of American high culture.
Lynn insisted on coming with me to the airport, 200 miles from 'Boro, but before my flight date came around i got a call from my mother saying father had had another stroke. From her tone, i knew that this was the big one, and rushed over to Ireland with Lynn in tow. Mother was horrified - "She can't stay here; you're not married!" Luckily, a neighbour agreed to put Lynn up. Days went by, and mother became more and more drawn. One night, very very late, the hospital rang. I took the call. Mother had insisted on staying up late, very unusual, but my naivety didn't make me ask why. It was only years later that i learned from a distant relative that Mum had told them to turn off the machine; but i think she was right to do so, for Dad wouldn't have enjoyed becoming a vegetable. Dad's death was as traumatic for me as the death of a parent is for anyone, but Lynn got me through it, and back we went to London, where she persuaded me to take her with me to America. She already had her passport with her. So off we went.
New York was as unwelcoming to Lynn as my mother had been. "She can't stay here; she can't support herself" said the immigration officer. "I'm going to support her!" i exclaimed, in frustration, for we had already missed our connecting flight. "You can't support her - you're not married". For fuck's sake!!
Eventually, after a lot of arguing, they condescended to allow Lynn a temporary tourist visa and she could apply for it to be renewed later.
So we were forced to overnight in New York, at Lynn's insistence spending the next day doing the touristy thing, including shopping at Macey's - but i thought that the best bit was that we could watch telly in bed in the morning, something unheard of in England.
So when our Columbus meet'n'greeter asked how we liked New York, i chattered about morning telly.
"Good Morning, America?"
"No - Tom and Jerry!".
His attentive smile dropped a foot! :)
It turned out that the only reason i had got the job in Columbus was so i could teach his class on Information Retrieval for him - sort of like being a housemaid, doing the chores the master of the house can't be bothered with. They made me teach Fortran to 450 Business freshmen as well (poor bastards, the class was only in there to act as a filter to keep the number of sophomores down and the Business Faculty wouldn't get the blame for failing freshmen in droves). Weeks after their finals, one came up to me and said "Hey, Professor, i really loved your lectures, but i never did get all that stuff about the knots and ones"! I hadn't know that "nought" meant nothing to Americans.
And "Computers in Society" - all the junk no-one else wanted to do. To try and give it a flavour of the real world, i brought in a fellow from Batelle, a nearby think-tank, for a guest lecture. He didn't want to know anything about the aims of the syllabus, etc, and just stood at the front and asked the class about what they had done for their projects.
One student was keen to talk about his - about how the computer is the instrument of the Devil because some IBM machine had 666 written on it somewhere. I was surprised that our guest didn't pooh-pooh this stuff and nonsense, but instead charmed the nutter along. The class learned nothing about computers in society from our guest, but they all loved it, and him, and i saw for the first time how to manage people - butter them up! *
One day, a dozen of us from the Department went to lunch at a Pizza parlour, complete with huge jugs of piss-weak tasteless beer. When the waitress came to take our order, she couldn't help giggling. "What's so funny?" demanded one. "I'm sorry for laughing,." she said, "..It's just that you're all wearing glasses!". We looked at each other. We were. Reading is bad for your eyes.
Looking around the corner to my future with Logica, Go AI was off my agenda, but OSU had a Go club, so i dropped in for a look-see. Everyone there was Japanese, and they were the most delightful people i have ever met. There was one slip of a girl with an Afro hairstyle that caught my eye, but i belonged to Lynn, so i just chatted with the chaps.
At the start of my first game, my opponent bowed slightly and said "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu". I asked him what it meant. He cast his eyes up for inspiration and sucked in his teeth, as he thought long and hard (i could almost hear his brain working). Eventually he said: "It means: 'Please be gentle with me'". What a wonderful way of saying "Let's play"!
Yoshimitsu was a very gentle gentleman, and his wife Yachio was a gem; Lynn took to her immediately. Yoshi and Yachi had brought their rice-cooker with them to America, because they didn't know whether the savages were civilised enough to know about such things. They were appalled when i told them about English rice pudding, because rice is the food of the Gods, but milk is the excrement of a cow!
Yoshi became my Japanese teacher; from him too i learned the meaning of the august genuflection that Japanese people ceremoniously make before eating: "Itadakimasu". It was said with such reverent tone and body language that i figured it must be a deeply religious Shinto equivalent of Grace, said at table in middle-class England. Again, Yoshi rolled his eyes, sucked in his teeth and came up with: "I take this"!
* Unfortunately, 35 years later, i found out the hard way that i hadn't learned from his example.
30 is a dangerous age for a woman, and Lynn was getting close to it, and she wanted a baby. But for a host of reasons, no doubt subconscious ones too, i wasn't ready for that. A few weeks later, she punched me in the face and left.
Osamu was a keen golfer, and the weather was starting to get warmer, so i bought some new old clubs and we had a game. The fourball behind us on the 1st tee were gobsmacked by the Japanese "Jan...Ken...Po!" way of deciding who would have the honour of teeing off first.
I'd pretty much lost interest in Go, but gained new interest in Japanese people, their cuisine, and their culture, so i enrolled in a Japanese 101 class - but i'm a poor student at best, and besides, all my new Japanese friends spoke good English.
November drew near, and my gap year was almost up, when Osamu invited me to a party. As i entered the room, the girl with the Afro hairdo came forward, bearing a tray on which were little cuplets of tea. The next day, we went on our first date, and i fell in love: hook, line and sinker.
"Are you selious?!" she asked, and i nodded. Naomi paused; "Okay, i will marry you when i finish my PhD". She was doing inorganic biochemistry - i'd never known there was such a thing, something about metal enzyme catalysts; it was all Greek to me.
The Department agreed to let me have another 3 months - all that the J1 visa would allow, but it was enough.
Osamu was being chased by a very pretty girl, but confessed to me that he was sweet on Naomi too. He was convinced he was of Samurai stock (his grandfather had been an army General), and told me about the Samurai code of Bushido: "We will compete for her, but we will remain brothers no matter what happens".
Naomi came for a holiday to England. On the bus ride to London from the airport, i asked what were her first impressions of the country. She gazed out of the window at the misty English landscape, straight out of a Sherlock Holmes movie, and said: "It's full of murderers"!. She had the most wonderful sense of humour, ever. After my MG was snatched by the traffic cops in Columbus, she gave me a handwritten greetings card, with a drawing of me in my tramp shoes, as she called them, with the dedication: "For his tireless efforts to smash the system by causing the issue of thousands of parking tickets"!
One day during her visit, i came back to the share-house i was living in, where Naomi was chatting with the others in the dining-room. As i entered, she stopped talkng mid-sentence and stood up, causing the others to gape. "You've got your little slave-girl, then" one said afterwards. Little did he know that in Japanese culture, the woman defers to the man in public, but in private it's the other way around!
Middlesborough hadn't been as dreary as its reputation, and London wasn't as exciting as its propaganda. The tube trains were as dirty and noisy and smelly and full of sweaty bodies as ever, and the traffic even worse. I ached from the call of the sea; The Eye of the Wind had turned my heart as well as my head. So when i heard that Spider was looking for a hull to follow in Tiger's footsteps and rebuild a square-rigger, i begged to join. There were five of us; the Eye team had done it on a shoestring; could we do the same?
But three dropped out, so Spider looked for sponsorship of a sail training vessel rather than a private peccadillo. He got an appointment with Kerry Packer and i wrote to Prince Charles. The Palace reply came promptly, hand-signed by Charlie. Yes, he would be pleased to be associated with our endeavour, just as he had with Operation Drake... But only after we'd first built the ship.
Charlie's letter came on top of Spider's news that Packer had had the cheek to have a heart attack and no way was he going to think about sail training. Spider's appointment was cancelled.
Now there are fools, big fools, and total idiots. I was so disappointed i chucked Charlie's letter away, oblivious to its value as a golden "in" with potential corporate sponsors. At 30 years of age, i was still wet behind the ears.
And in another tailspin.
Logica sold me to MoD as their Ada expert, just because i successfully managed a small project on a human factors evaluation of the APSE Ironman design (Ada Programming Support Environment), with a couple of juniors to do the prototyping. "But i'm not an Ada expert!" i protested. "Tt's not starting for 6 months; by then you will be" was the casual reply. I didn't like the sound of that. I didn't want to become a programmer again. I had enjoyed programming when i was 16 at Marconi, when it was a new toy; i'd enjoyed my undergrad project; and even the 365 pages of my thesis wasn't hard work - but programming had become for me the way Wordsworth felt about taxonomic classification, all the rage in his day:
"Up, up, my friend,
And clear your looks.
Why all this toil and trouble?
Hark, hear the throstle sing,
Upon my word,
There's more of wisdom in it
... Let Nature be your Teacher"
Despite Johnson's quip, when a man is tired of London, he is eager for life! The sea beckoned, but i couldn't afford to ride the Eye for the year's apprenticeship Lesley required before i would be considered for a crew position, so the next best thing was to live near the sea, where it was warm enough to swim in.
So i went to Singapore.
11. Goodbye Go
Naomi refused to come to Singapore, believing she would be hated there because of WWII, which i thought silly, because i wasn't as smart or worldly-wise as she. She wanted to live in a little house in Japan, but i wanted the open sky, and a star to steer her by. It looked like our chapter had turned the page.
I hadn't bothered with Go much during my London stint, but i turned up once at the Go club in Singapore. The Japanese Go players i had met in Columbus were darlings; the English ones a bit oddball, but one of the Singapore ones was a total arsehole. In general, Singapore people are as nice as Japanese, albeit some still a bit edgy about having been under the thumb of the English before they were born, but Go seems to attract the worst bully-boy types. I didn't go back to the club.
It was too hot for hockey; too hot for tennis, too hot even for golf, so i took up catamaran sailing to fill in the time between the waterfall of girls on offer, so much more feminine and sexy than their Caucasian sisters.
12. A gaijin for Christmas
3 years later, i was shipwrecked. Literally. Off the coast of Australia. At night. It was my fault; my incompetence; i was the skipper of a small yacht with two green crew. Hours later, I and Bruno were separately washed ashore, but Alois was never found.
I didn't know where to go; i didn't know what to do. After months of drifting, i ended up in Fiji, headed for Japan, and Naomi.
When i had told people in Fiji i was going to Japan, they chorused "Oh! You're so lucky! - It's so much better there than here!!".
And in Tokyo, to the invariable question "Where are you from?" i replied "Fiji", whereupon they all said "Oh! You're so lucky! - It's so much better there than here!!".
Naomi took me to her brother's house, where she was living. After dinner, her brother's wife said to me: "Debido-san, ofuro, dozo". Naomi explained that i should take my bedtime bath.
But i wasn't tired. Economy class on the flight from Nauru to Tokyo had been full of tourists, so the check-in girl had bumped me up to First, where i had had a restful sleep in a comfortable chair. And it being winter, Tokyo was refreshingly cool after the heat of the tropics. And there was Naomi, so i said to my hostess: "Oh, i'm not sleepy yet, thank you".
"Debido-san, ofuro, dozo".
Naomi explained gently that her sister-in-law was following the etiquette that the house guest is offerred the first bath of the evening. An ofuro is a sitting tub of piping hot water used after a shower to warm you through to your bones, of which it does a perfect job. To save energy, everyone in the family uses the same ofuru water. Evidently the lady of the house wanted to retire, and was being polite in offering me to bathe before herself. So i returned her generosity of spirit, saying "Oh, i see! That's all right, you go ahead - I will take my bath later."
"DEBIDO-SAN! OFURO!! DOZO!!!".
i took my bath.
Naomi and her brother both worked every day, so i was put under the charge of her sister-in-law during the daytime. It turned out that she spoke English perfectly well...
... but my Japanese 101 wasn't quite up to scratch. On one occasion, i phoned Naomi's laboratory at Ochanomizu University. i had learned in class that the Japanese for 'please' was 'kudasai', so i said to the operator: "Naomi-san, kudasai". Later, at home, Naomi told me they had all had a good laugh at my telephone technique - "You said: 'Give me Naomi' - it's what a suitor says to the father of the daughter he wants to marry!". i grinned and said "Yes. That's what i meant".
We went to her sister's house in the countryside for Christmas. Few Japanese are Christian, but they all celebrate Christmas. Her sister's husband was a village official, and it was the tradition of the council that they had a Christmas party at a member's house. This year it was her brother-in-law's turn to be host. Naomi and her sister worked all day preparing food, and when the guests were about to arrive, i was ushered into a side room and told to stay quiet. The party was for the council members only.
I twiddled my thumbs for hours, listening to the raucous festivities in the next room. Then Naomi came in, and said i was invited to join the party. They were all pretty drunk by then. They gestured to me to sit down, and pressed food and drink on me. After a while, the leader of the group got unsteadily to his feet, to make his speech, in English: "We are very lucky! This year we have a gaijin for Christmas! Maybe next year we will have an isejin!!". They all roared. After the party, i told Naomi the story and asked what 'isejin' meant. "It means 'spaceman' she chuckled.
After Christmas, Naomi had to go back to work, and her brother's house wasn't big enough to accommodate me longterm, so i went on a hoparound. First stop, my Japanese "brother" Osamu, whose mother was right up there with Jean-Guillaume's mother Nouky, the absolutely best cook in the entire world, ever.
Osamu took me to a little noodle shop, whose owner had once been the Mie prefecture Go champion. He quickly demolished me with a 6-stone handicap, apologising that he had shown me respect by playing his best, whereas he usually let his customers off lightly. It made me think, that a Go player so strong would have to sell noodles for a living.
Yoshi and Yachi lived in science city Tsukuba, where Yoshi's job was measuring the curvature of the Earth, so they could tell when an earthquake was going to happen. Yoshi mentioned that there was a fellow around the corner who was also interested in computer Go. I went to see Noriaki Sanechika. In the course of our conversation, he said, heartfeltedly, that computer Go was his life's work. That produced in me conflicting feelings: on the one hand, it was nice work if you could get it, and being paid a very decent salary for it too; but on the other hand, what a waste of a life to spend it programming Go!
13. Tokyo Nights
Back in Tokyo, i found lodging first by house-sitting, and then getting a bunk-bed in "English House", a backpacker-style setup with a truckload of young Japanese and a couple of gaijins, who got free board and lodging in return for teaching English to the Japanese clients. On the side, i did some other teaching at a couple of Tokyo's innumerable private language schools, where most of the teachers had white faces but could barely speak English themselves; and a spot of freelance post-translation editing (from Jinglish to English) - motorcycle manuals and the like. As no doubt many of my fellow freelancers were probably as illiterate as the English teachers, it was no wonder that back then instruction sheets for Japanese gizmos were as Double-Dutch as Chinese ones are today.
Ishii Press was in Tokyo, so i looked them up. The extravagantly eccentric Richard brought me to the Nihon Ki-in, whose International Director made me an unofficial shodan, more i think out of politesse than merit, although i was able to hold my own as shodan throughout my nine months in Tokyo.
Except when i played Rob van Zeijst, who demolished me with the same ease as had the Mie champion, bursting out laughing: "You have no idea what's going on!". He was right - i didn't :) Rob was a failed Insei, making me realise just how shallow my own game must be. But his girlfiend was a peach; my eyes popped when she drew the kotatsu* over both our knees - i knew then why Japanese salarymen spend so much money in hostess bars.
I don't remember exactly what happened between me and Naomi, or why; i only remember a friend standing with me late one night on the ultra-clean Tokyo subway station platform protesting "But i don't know 'Bloody Naomi'!" Looking back, whatever it was, it could only have been my fault; it always is. The biggest error of my life, apart from failing to consider the possibility of an uncharted counter-current off the Australian coast when dead-reckoning for 2 days and nights because there were no stars in the storm-laden sky for a sextant fix and we didn't have SatNav.
The one thing i did learn from Tokyo is that "Igo o dekimasu-ka?" is a useless pickup line, as the invariable reply is "Nani?? Sorry, no... That's an old man's game". The more genteel ones say "Muzukashi, desu-ne?", but it means the same thing.
*kotatsu = a woollen blanket under a table, under which a brazier of coals in a pit roasts your knees red hot whilst your aching back is freezing cold as you squat on the floor, not sit in a chair, and they don't have central heating.
14. Recycling around the world
Lost again in England after a train ride across Siberia, where there was snow on the ground in May, and on through Finland and France, i remembered how easy it had been in Sydney to make a few bob - in just 10 weeks of IT freelancing i had made enough to live on for a year - so i applied for a resident's visa for Oz. It took the immigration interviewer 2 minutes to make up his mind, but the bureaucracy 9 months to decide that my PhD was an acceptable qualification, and then they only gave me 3 months to get there, so i had to move fast, espcially as i wanted to take in Raivavae on the way, which from the charts looked like the perfect place to anchor; just out of the tropics, you could grow both tropical and temperate crops, and the island was a perfect crescent shape with a lagoon protected by a reef, an ideal cyclone shelter.
i hitch-hiked across the Atlantic, including rescuing a French family who had given me a lift from Gibraltar to the Canaries when a sudden storm blew in, making Philippe too sick to cope, so i stepped up and brought us to Huelva with the aid of a hand-drawn chart sketched from radio information from a passing ship's navigator incredulous that we didn't have a chart of the Spanish coast.
Raivavae and Tupuai ("Our island is so much better than theirs") were everything they promised, except that the French paid the locals to not cause trouble about Muraroa, so everything was very pricey and i would have had difficulty making a living there as nothing i had to offer was anything anyone needed. Another dead end.
I did ok at BHP, until the Research Lab Director decided that if i got contracts 50 weeks a year, my daily rate would give me as much as his salary, and no way was he having that. "$50,000 - take it or leave it". I had no choice.
I started writing papers again, one of which took me to a Conference which Sanechika-san also happened to be attending. He always travelled with his Go board, so we had a game. You will notice his straight back, whilst i'm crouched over, peering at something small, whilst he calmly surveys the whole scene. He's right; i'm wrong. I see i'm still wearing the woollen jacket i bought in Kabul (because the wolfskin one was too small), 3 days before the Russians invaded, so it must have lasted 13 years.
The highlight of the workshop was when the lights flickered and the room swayed. The other gaijins and i looked at each other nervously while our hosts just smiled; i later learned that Japanese people smile when they are embarrassed, not when they think you are, as happens in Western "culture".
Earthquakes with Bruce, and tornados with Walter - Michigan folk live life on the edge!
15. Another recycle
[skip forward 6 years]
The only constant thing in life is change: day turns into night, and January into December. And in my case, the rug cycles back and forth under and out from under my feet like a pendulum. Half the time it's my own doing; the other half the doing of some cunt who either sees me as a threat to their ambitions, or just because they enjoy killing, or both.
Like Zebedee, i boinged in and out of spider's traps from New Zealand to Belfast, where i came across Tony Goddard, one of the second-smartest people i ever met (Naomi was the smartest). i asked Tony his opinion as to the most efficient way of capturing the sun's energy: "Grow wood and burn it!" was the wry answer :)
I sometimes have trouble with thugs, but Tony was a constantly victimised soul; i guess his sartorial style and politics didn't help. But on the board, he was a magician; not as strong as Rob, but still light-years ahead of me. We would play, i would resign, then we would switch colours, and before very long i had to resign again! Tony had a habit of putting a stone down in just the right place to catch me unawares a dozen moves later.
I never learned to follow Tony's example, but Paul did, shooting past me from nothing within a year, and although he too seemed to stagnate at that point, i still had to take black more often than not.
Ireland couldn't last (it was only a 2-year contract) and with no better idea, it was round the merry-go-round again to a windsurfing safari around Oz and a peek at organic farming and off-grid "alternative" societies inhabited by alluring girls, challenging men, and matriarchal dragons.
At 21, finding a job had been easy; at 41, a little difficult; but at 51, impossible. So i went for a busman's holiday in China. Not long there, i got a letter from Bunei asking me to come for interview in Sydney. I rang them up:
"I'm in China"
"Oh well, never mind then"
"...But i could come to Sydney..."
"Okay; we'll send you an air ticket"
The interviewer was a tiny fellow, very self-assured. He was the Vice-Chancellor, accompanied by a henchman. We chatted for a bit, and then i happened to remark "I don't want to live in China" at which he laughed like a drain and said "Ok.. You're a man of the world; we'll see how you go in a Muslim country".
One day my dive-buddy Eng brought along a tourist; an interesting fellow - so interesting that i invited them to my house, where on the spur of the moment, i decided to interview him on camera about what he was doing. I had the camera, so why not?
i enjoyed the video production experience, but Brunei TV didn't respond, so i stuck it on YouTube with a few vids of my own.
[skip forward 9 more years]
Washed up again in Oz after being ethnically cleansed from Brunei in a flurry of "localisation", i came across an old bone when looking for material to decorate my idea of revolutionising school maths to make it accessible, meaningful, interesting, and most of all: relevant to the impending adult lives of ordinary children.
The number on the bone made a penny drop and i was distracted away from maths, hot on the trail of God, something that had from time to time intrigued me ever since my revelation* on the road to Ramsden Heath.
*Liam's Book http://lcipm.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/the-material-of-spirit.html
The trail was better signposted than i would have guessed, and i soon discovered the line of paving-stones that leads from Sumer to Rome,
I was pleased that the first god man invented was a woman, and i thought information on the memetic lineage was important, for if it became common knowledge, there would be one less thing for people to fight about.
But my vids explaining it didn't exactly go viral, probably not because i forgot to put a cat in the picture.
That done and dusted, then maybe bored, or for whatever reason (probably Dhian),...
... i found myself thinking about Go again. There were several people talking about Go on YouTube, but none of them ever got around to explaining what they could see, apart from: "if i go here, and you go there, etc".
My pubescent fascination with AI had long ago dessicated, but as i'd not long ago figured out how all living things are Intelligent Plastic Machines*...
* Undressing the Magic of Being http://lcipm.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/request-for-reader-feedback.html
.. i set off on a Don Quixote quest to seek the Holy Grail of what the Mie champion and Rob could see that i couldn't.
The response to my ruminations was blunt:
I'd forgotten the cautionary advice of "The Tao of Bridge".
Six months later, i foolishly poked my head over the parapet again and was excommunicated. It was no consolation that the same thing had happened to Galileo for the same crime of heresy. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
The past isn't bunk, even if history is written by the winners.
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