Learning to Play and Lose at Go

Go is Hard!

This may sound obvious to experienced players, but it’s difficulty caught me by surprise.. I’m talking NES hard. I was visiting some good friends in Boston a two weeks ago when I was introduced to the game. I challenged my friend to a game of chess and scoffed at the idea that some of them didn’t even know how to play. From my handmade pedestal I laughed as he told me that chess couldn’t compare to Go, an ancient Chinese board game with only 2 or 3 rules. Intrigued, I had him teach me this seemingly simple game, and planned to beat him before the nights end. On move 3 of my 4th or 5th game with him, he said the words I’d heard 100 times in one night.

“Bad move!”

He mopped the floor with me, over and over and over. After he finally went to bed, I watched videos and read some articles, and in the morning I was rewarded with a new phrase.

 “Oh, that was good… but still a bad move.”

 I then lost again. Since then I’ve been playing SmartGo on my iPhone, practicing and reading, and still losing. I’ve yet to win a single game, even on the simple 9×9 board (the full board in 19×19). So if you’re looking to sink your teeth into a real challenge without a lot of commitment, pick up the game of Go. It has kept me busy for at least 2 weeks, and it looks like I have a long way to go before I’ve even scrapped the surface of the content available on it.

But, among the frustrations (very vocal frustration at that) I have learned a lot in the last two weeks:

  • I’m impatient
  • I don’t know how to build a proper architecture for long-lasting growth
  • I’m easily enticed by quick wins (often at the detriment of the long game).

But I’m working on those!

Learn Japanese, My 100th Kanji

The fact that people can communicate in multiple languages has always left me with a sense of awe.  But once I started traveling internationally, I felt quite lazy when I realized how many other people had taken on the huge challenge or learning English as a second language, while I was just sat around butchering it; much less learning any other language. 

To top it off where I’m from (southern US), our culture resists language learning of any kind, and immigrants are expected to “learn the language before they come here.”  Often times these comments go so far as to imply that someone who doesn’t speak perfect English must be unintelligent.  Needless to say I was never a part of this camp, but now that I’ve learned some Japanese I realize just how bright and dedicated a person has to be in order to convey any thought, no matter how small or broken, in another language.

Unfortunately for myself however, I choose the language that interested me most, but was also ranked 5th hardest language to learn for native English speakers.  I would be venturing into a realm where neither letters nor spaces between words existed.  A place where I would have to learn not just another alphabet, but two plus a pictorial one with thousands of unique characters and conjugations. 

And that third one is pretty scary.  Take for instance the word for “today”, “kyou” pronounce “key-yo” and looks like 今日.  You can write this word correctly in 2 different ways, one with kanji as shown, and one with hiragana as such きょう.  In kanji form however, the word is the summation of two separate characters that when used separately sound neither like “key” or “yo” but instead are “ima” 今 and “nichi” 日 (“nichi” can also be pronouced “hee”).  To illustrate, imagine if the word “homeland” when split apart was pronounced “origin place” but was still spelled as “home land.” Yeah, this goal is going to be a hard one, but arn’t they all?

But I’m making progress.  I started getting pretty serious with Rosetta Stone in January of last year, while I prepared for my trip to Tokyo.  I studied using RS and made friends online to practice language exchange as well.  This got my through Tokyo with ease (but wasn’t actually needed to be honest), and after just three months, and armed with a dictonary app on my phone, I was conversing over dinner with a friends cousin who didn’t speak English short of a few words.  Upon returning home however, I promptly abandoned my studies.

Then several months later, I decided to finally tackle what I had been avoiding: kanji, the pictorial alphabet that has thousands of symbols and at least two different ways to read/say each one.  So I bought a book on November 11th, 2013 entitled “Reading Japanese,” and published by Yale back in the 70’s.  Since then every day I’ve been making slow progress through the book, and now, over 3 months later I hit a big milestone.  I can not only fluently read and write both syllabic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) but also 100 kanji! 

As of 3/13/14 I've copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book!

As of 3/13/14 I’ve copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book! Also, if you notice, there’s another goal lurking in the background 😀

Yes, this is only a small, miniscule step in the process.  I have a very long way to go (1900 more to be specific).  But with 100 kanji under my belt, I’m immensely excited, and have a huge boost in confidence that I can actually achieve this goal.  My newly formed routine is practically set in stone at this point.  Every morning I arrive at work an hour early and copy new kanji, example sentences and reading drills.  I haven’t missed a day where I don’t write something or read something in Japanese and as such, I look very forward to it each morning.  I doubt I’d ever be successful if I didn’t.

In the next few weeks I’ll start posting entries of my individual study sessions, realizations, and milestones!  Any motivation or words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated :D.

Bike to work, the 7 mile mark!

Psshh, the source for this said this is a girls only poster! Well too bad :P

I want to be able to bike to work.  But as a consultant, it’s rare that I’m ever actually in my home office (5 miles from home), and instead find myself at a client site much further away.  But that won’t stop me this time.  However, the distance may slow me down just a bit… It’s 16 miles each way!

So I’ve broken this seemingly impossible goal (to go from 0 miles a year to 32 miles a day via bicycle) down into stages.  I’ll ride each day, and little by little increase the distance until I hit the numbers I’m aiming for.  And this week I hit a great mile stone, 7 miles in 40 minutes!  At this rate I’ll be at work in an hour and about 2 hrs… Still, it’s progress. 

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

At 26, I’ve never walked, ran, or biked a distance of 7 miles in my life.  In fact, since owning it I’ve riden 4 times.  I’m slowly trying to gauge where max distance is over time, hopefully minimizing the chance for injury by easing into it as well as learning the bike itself.  So far each ride has left me pretty tired, and my legs feeling like half set jello, but there has yet to be any intense soreness the day after.  I am however aware of the strain I’m putting on my body, and have no intention of jumping up several miles each run.  Which leads me to my first biking tip ever: creating a distance menu!

The Menu

First I started with a chart with 2 columns, one labeled ‘Miles’ and the other ‘Route’.  I then added rows from 1 to 16 with half mile increments starting after 9 miles (since I’m guessing I’ll have to slow my progression about that distance).  Each route starts and ends at my home, and the chart was emailed to my phone for quick reference.  When I’m walking out the door, I can decide how I feel that day and have a quick route planned out to match.  So if the Sun is going down and I only want a brief ride in I can follow the route for 2 miles and be all set!  In a few days I’ll try my 8 mile route when I think I’m ready.

Building Your Routes

Using routebuilder.org  I was able to easily click my way across a google map and get a great estimate on the distance.  It took me about an hour or two to map everything out (I have over 16 routes mapped after all), but now that I have them all mapped out it’s a peice of cake.  Each route starts and ends at my house, and some share the same first few starting streets to speed up the route mapping process as well as give me  some options should I change my mind early on.  The site offers a saving feature, but if you don’t start over each time it will overwrite the last one, so I just gave up and built a simple route reference system.

Route Shorthand

I used the following format for jotting down my routes so that I could easily read it on my iPhone:

(L)COBB-(R)PEACHTREE SE-(R)XMPLSTRT…

Since all my routes start at home, I skip the first road most times to save space.  In this example I turn left onto Cobb Parkway, then right onto Peachtree St SE, and finally right on to Example Street.  The first time you try a longer route, you may need to check half way through, but after a while you’ll easily remember the path you plan to follow with a quick glance.  I usually try to leave out vowels or use nicknames for really popular streets with long names. Like PTREE for Peachtree.

Mix it up!

I decided to try and get each route to take me somewhere new.  If I want to do 3 miles, I’m not planning on riding the 1 mile route 3 times, which would be far too boring.  Instead, I want to ride the 3 mile route, and if I’m in the mood can ride the 1 mile route to top it off at the end.

Let’s Ride!

After that it’s back to peddlin’.  For now I’m focusing on slowly working my way up to that magic 16 number.  But first on my list is mile 11, because that’s the distance to the closest train station from my house.  Thus allowing me to bike there, and ride the last few miles on the train, which should be a great sub goal!  Wish me luck!