Einstein plays chess (22 January 2009)
There seems to be little doubt that Albert Einstein (1879-1955) could play chess. But there may be some discussion about the question how well he played.
Some Internet pages suggest Einstein was an active player and always had a chessboard set up at his home (click).Einstein seems to have known Emanuel Lasker, but there is no proof that they ever played chess together.
As far as I know, only one game has been preserved that is attributed to Einstein
The game seems to have been played in Princeton, USA in 1933. On the 24th move, Robert Oppenheimer, who played with black, resigned.
Judging from this game we may safely assume that Oppenheimer was not a very strong player. This is confirmed by another game (click).
Einstein's game does show that Einstein was not a beginner, but how strong a player he was is difficult to conclude from this one game.
* * *
A few months ago, Excalibur Electronics produced a chess computer by the name of Einstein Touch Chess. The computer has a slick-looking rectangular housing and sports an LCD touch screen. It is small enough (11 x 8 cm.) to carry around so that it can for instance be used on the train or in a waiting-room.
If you want to replace the batteries, you'll have to unscrew two compartments, for the two AAA batteries are housed separately on either side of the screen.
Needless to say I wanted to see if the computer played like the genius it was named after.
White: Fritz 8 (1 ply)
White: Fritz 8 (1 ply)
In fact, the computers played four games; half were won by Einstein, and Fritz-one-ply won the other half. If you want to see all the games, just click here.
Four games is not enough to judge the Elo rating of a computer, but I would think it would be somewhere between 1400 and 1500.
Probably nice enough for most occasional players. But not a genius!
Customer-friendly (19 January 2009)
I received a friendly e-mail from Ray Vermey, who lives in a Dutch village named Nieuw Vennep. He wrote that he enjoyed visiting the website. Needless to say I was much pleased to hear this.
He also wrote me about something that had taken place twenty-eight years ago when as a boy of seventeen he was a keen chess player living in Leyden.
For a long time he had been saving to buy Mephisto's latest chess computer. But when he visited the shop to buy the object of his desire, the shopkeeper had a disappointing piece of information: the computer that he wanted was sold out. 'But you can take a Fidelity Challenger if you like, which is four hundred guilders cheaper.'
As Ray had been saving so long, he responded that he'd rather have the Mephisto. 'Well,' the shopkeeper answered: 'It's your choice, of course, but you may take the Fidelity and when the Mephisto computer arrives, you may just bring the Fidelity back and then you can still buy the Mephisto.'
'But I'm sure I won't see you back for it,' he added.
After some consideration, Ray accepted the offer, and he liked the Fidelity so much that he never returned for the Mephisto, thus saving himself four hundred (undevaluated) guilders.'
According to Ray, the name of the shop had been Van Brussel. Of course, I immediately googled the name, but it looks as if there is no longer a toy shop in Leyden by that name. I don't know why it went out of business, but I'm sure the reason can't have been that it was not customer-friendly!
THE WEAKEST EVER? (13 December 2008)
As it was a computer the Overtom museum did not yet have, I ordered it, and this morning the postman delivered the parcel to my front door. The whole transaction had cost me 14 dollars (13.99, to be exact), which included shipping. Not really an amount to cause bankruptcy, not even in times when the credit crunch is increasingly being felt.
The first surprise was the fact that the computer did not work. Whatever buttons I pressed or parts of the screen that I touched, it failed to produce anything that looked like chess. I measured the batteries, which were OK. But after bending and cleaning the battery clamps, the machine started to display some kind of activity, but it's up to you to decide whether this can really be called chess.
The second surprise came when I tried to find the name of the computer. The caption on the box was Touch Chess, the manual called it e-Chess Express, the name on the front of the computer was LCD Chess and on its back I found the name LCD Chess Express. Since the museum already had computers with all these names, I decided to stress the fact that it had so many names by dubbing it Hybrid Chess.
By the way, the box looks so much like the one which houses Excalibur Touch Chess that only a blind person can seriously deny the similarity.
You may wonder how this multinominous contraption played. Well, it played four games against Fritz-one-ply:
I think this computer may be the ultimate candidate for the weakest chess computer ever! If you have Java installed on your computer, you may click here to see the games.Finally, if you're happen to have a nephew with an IQ of 50 or less, this may be the ideal Xmas present to give him
Original? (13 november 2008)
What a cool and stoic man, I thought, when at Joe Leno's show I heard McCain say: "I've been sleeping like a baby". Gosh, he's quickly shaken it off, one tends to think -- until he drily adds: "I sleep two hours, wake up and cry. Sleep two hours, wake up and cry ..."
Remarkable statement, so remarkable that when that same day I look up "wake up and cry" + "like a baby" in Google, the first five pages are filled with McCain's trouvaille. Also the Dutch and Belgian tv repeat the joke.
But somehow I have a feeling I've heard this one before. So once again I turn to to the ultimate resort of the uncurable curious, Google, and type: "wake up and cry" + "like a baby" -mccain. As you may know, that's the way to find places where McCain is not mentioned.
And lo and behold, there is an earlier one in the Jewish World Review about the elections of four years ago.
One wonders if McCain's team really couldn't have found him a more original text than a recycled one by Bob Dole from twelve years ago?
Trusted site? Forget it! (5 November 2008)
Do you ever buy things on the Internet? The following story story demonstrates that not all the shops operating on the Internet can be trusted. It also shows that the word Trusted may mean exactly the opposite of what you would expect.
If you ever read my weblogs, you may know that I'm a sucker for small devices and very much interested in languages. In fact, for thirty years I've been teaching both computer and human languages.
You won't be surprised to hear that a few years ago, I bought a translation computer called Franklin Bookman. But this was not just a cheap average translation computer.
The computer was sold with the argument that the cartridge on the back could be replaced by other languages, encyclopedias or even the Holy Bible.
But how to get a new cartridge?
I wrote an e-mail to Franklin, the manufacturer, and received an e-mail that they only shipped within the United States, Canada and Mexico.
After a few days, PrinterNetz informed me that they had ordered the cartridge, but the delivery was somewhat delayed. Could I please exercise a little patience? I am a friendly man, so I waited a while.
After more than a month, PrinterNetz telephoned me and claimed my "address was incorrect". I sent them a page of the telephone directory, which showed that the address I had supplied was 100% correct.
From that moment on, the guys at PrinterNetz seemed to think they had done enough and did not respond to any of my e-mails. They never sent me the cartridge, and I'd simply lost my 49,35 Euros.
Printernetz is part of a chain of shops named Trusted Shops. So I wrote an e-mail to Trusted Shops with a complaint about PrinterNetz. What do you think their response was? Well, you might have guessed ... NOTHING!!
You will agree that the name Trusted Shops must be a joke! And you'd better think twice before ever ordering anything from
A friend asked me: "You paid via PayPal, so why didn't you apply for buyer's protection? Well, I did, but through all the delays caused by Printernetz, the term for applying for this protection had been exceeded! So far about PayPal's famous Buyers Protection!
Finally -- being a language fanatic -- I'm wondering about the question whether PrinterNetz should be called crooks, criminals, defrauders, emnbezzlers, swindlers, cheaters, tricksters, fraudsters, con men, larcenists, purloiners, filchers ... or just ordinary petty thieves.
Departure from Oostende (31 July 2008)
The council of Oostende uses threats of hefty fines if the public dare to dispose of their waste in another way than by putting it in the prescribed bags on the pavement on the prescribed days. But today is not the day the venerable council of Oostende has prescribed. And we are stuck with two bags of domestic rubbish.
Of course, the council of Oostende has cleverly devised a solution to this
problem: near the yacht-basin two receptacles have been placed which --
after insertion of a fifty-cent coin -- should allow the public to dispose
of a quantity of trash, at least that's the theory.
After we have loaded our luggage into the car, we top it up with two large, foul-smelling bags, and we drive to the port. When we come at the first waste receptacle, I get out of the car and push the prescribed coin into the slot. When I've pushed it all the way, I can still see it sitting in the slot; it appears to have got stuck, and the municipal installation refuses to accept my refuse. The money is gone and we're still stuck with two full bags.
We drive to the second receptacle. From afar we see heaped up rubbish bags which suggest that this piece of machinery is not functional either. It's the hottest day of the year. We leave Oostende in the company of a pair of foul-smelling waste-bags.
At the first petrol station we see a picnic site that sports a few dumpsters. We stuff the the bags into them so that we don't have to drive three hundred kilometres with two stinking bags on board.
DOES DIT PAY TO BE STUPID? (2 July 2008)
Before I became a teacher, I worked a few years in the damages department of an insurance company.
Whenever people filed any damage claims with the company, my colleagues and I had to find out whether the claim was justified and assess the extent of the damage.
I remember one day a guy with a French nobleman's name like Rothschild, Fabergé or Merde made a fall in his hotel bathroom and broke his anklebone.
If such an accident happened to you or me, we would probably attribute it to our own carelessness. After all, if nobody else has ever slipped or stumbled in this bathroom, we may safely assume there's nothing wrong with it.
Well, watching one's step may be a thing to be observed by the common people. The nobility, in this case the bloke with the posh name, seemed to entertain the rather childish notion of "I cannot possibly be the one who is to blame".
So one day a letter appeared on my desk in which the aforesaid grandee claimed thousands of dollars of damages that his lordship had suffered as a result of his infelicitous frolic.
As is usual in cases where claims are made without any proof, I wrote a polite letter in which I stipulated that his claim would have more chance of success if his highness could provide some evidence that the damage was caused by any wrongful doing of our client (the hotel).
Instead of being provided with the required evidence, we received a letter in which the above-mentioned member of the gentry accused the insurance company of the gross insult of not believing him offhand. Our amateur tumbler threatened to sue the insurance company for libel, slander and a handful of other wrongdoings dreamt up by cunning lawyers.
Well, you can imagine the Pavlovian response of those placed higher up in the ranks of the insurance company. The file was transferred to the kind of lawyer who charges a hundred Euros just for picking up the telephone and ... I was happy to get the pedigreed bastard out of my hair.
Unfortunately, I have never heard how this case was concluded, so I cannot satisfy your curiosity -- however justified it may be.
Since that time, however, I have occasionally been wondering whether it even pays for the aristocrats to be stupid.
PECULIAR SHOPKEEPER (14 November 2007)
When people sometimes congratulate me for living in such a pleasant street, I usually tend to agree: the Overtoom has pretty houses and nice shops. But are all the shops as pleasant as is suggested?
This afternoon I was going for a walk down the Overtoom, when off number 412, where a new shop seemed to specialize in gear for people who want to 'live hip' -- whatever that may be -- I saw my way blocked by a van which occupied about eighty percent of the pavement width. The Overtoom may be a nice street, but the roadway is used intensively. Consequently, leaving the pavement was not an option I considered, so I squeezed through the narrow passage at the side of the van.
When I had nearly negotiated the length of this constriction, however, further progress was impeded by the door of the van. Since I had come this far, I decided to push the obstructive door out of my way.
With my view no longer blocked, I discerned a few figures at the back of the van who appeared to be in a state of frenzy. One of them was so excited that he deemed it necessary to start thumping me. As I didn't fancy the prospect of being mixed up with a punch-bag, I entered the shop, vainly hoping for a little more reason. After all, the Overtoom is a respectable shopping street, and I assumed the shopkeeper was unaware of the fact that his staff were harrassing passers-by who wished to use the pavement for what pavements are meant for.
Unfortunately, this function of a pavement appeared to be beyond this dim-witted shopkeeper's comprehension. What an idiot was I not to understand that vans had every right in the world to block pavements! Why couldn't I continue my walk via the roadway?
You won't be surprised to hear that this moron was soon confronted with a lack of arguments, which hardly seemed to hinder him, for presently his reasoning concentrated on irrelevant details like the unmistakable fact that my scalp is not exactly adorned with an abundance of hair. I understood that hopes for any serious discussion with this buffoon would be futile. And while I proceeded on my walk, I heard my new acquaintance shouting things that were probably meant to insult me. Most of it was unintelligible, but with some effort I could discern Dutch words meaning shit or crap.
Well, so far about this new shop. Needless to say that if you happen to come near it, I advise you to observe a degree of caution.
Finally the question whether this shop (and its staff) should be considered an asset for the Overtoom - I'll leave that to my readers to judge.