March 2013

March 28, 2013

The Beauty of Chess: Medieval and Modern

Chess problems have been around for about as long as the game itself. Murray documents over three hundred chess problems (or, Shatranj problems) in various Persian and Islamic manuscripts dating from the sixth century.

The beauty of the game lies not only in its material properties—such as golden chessmen or ornately jeweled gaming boards—but also in the game’s complexity. With over 10^120 possible chess game variations, the game’s elegance also lies in its logic, geometry, and computation. For chess problems, the most aesthetic are also sometimes the most deceptive: a simple-looking problem can prove to be the most difficult, as in the case of Richard Réti’s famous end-game problem first published in 1921:

Richard Réti's Famous Endgame Problem

Richard Réti’s Famous Endgame Problem

 

Sometimes called “The Hunt of Two Hares,” this problem presents a chase scenario, where a king can make multiple threats and move in a variety of ways.1

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  1. This problem has been published numerous times in problem book and is, arguably, the most famous chess problem. []
Cecil Court, London, UK
March 24, 2013

(Ten of) London’s Antiquarian Bookshops: Part I

I am a huge fan of antiquarian bookshops. Rummaging through aisles (and oftentimes stacks) of discoveries waiting to happen, reveling in the smell of a nineteenth century pulp book (or better yet: a vellum manuscript), and rationalizing whether one (actually) needs to buy the newly-found text are all common experiences for me and other fellow bibliophiles. Some of my favourite bookshops manifest as the most random, disorganized, and cluttered places, with friendly bookmongers waiting in the wings and happy to help locate your desired treasure—certainly not for the claustrophobic, but perfect hunting grounds for the ambitious booklover.

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March 21, 2013

On Packing

When I was packing for my trip abroad I wanted to be as thorough (and light) as possible, so I consulted various travel blogs about how to pack for long-term (e.g. 1+ month) trips. While there were similarities in each list, I found that they differed in significant ways and did not quite meet my criteria as an academic travelling abroad. Many blogs suggested taking things such as bug repellent, travel cutlery, and netting. I doubted these would be useful in rainy London (or, Europe in general).

I wanted to write a post on packing after a few weeks abroad to see what items have come in handy and what items are still sitting in my luggage bag. So, here is a breakdown of what I packed.

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March 2, 2013

London, thou art the flour of Cities all

After roughly seventeen hours of travel, I have finally arrived in London. The title of this post, which belongs to the sixteenth century poem “To the City of London” often ascribed to the Scottish makar William Dunbar (b. 1460), describes my experience well so far (though I think Vancouver, like many other wonderful urban centres around the world, presents an admirable rival for being “Soveraign of cities”). Indeed, London has proven to be a most welcoming and inviting city; I have chatted with quite a few folks on the streets, shared a glass of wine and good conversation with my new flatmates, and had a few people not only help me find my way around labyrinthine Paddington station, but also carry my heavy luggage bag up an entire flight of stairs. The immigration officer, an older gentleman, didn’t even ask me any questions at the border. Upon hearing I was a PhD student, the officer immediately perked up and revealed he had also once been a PhD Candidate (and then proceeded to reminisce about his long-abandoned PhD dissertation on a modernist Swiss writer).

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