Go go, gadget Go! Time to play Baduk!

If you know me,  you know that I love the ancient Asian board game,Go (also called Baduk in Korea and Weiqi in China).  So today I’ll try to convince you to give it a shot.

Why should I care about Go / Baduk / Weiqi?

  • First, it’s the most infinite board game we know of, which has made conquering it the holy grail of AI research. In fact, human professional players used to be considered unbeatable by computers because they played on intuition, which computers just couldn’t do.
  • In 2016, Google DeepMind created a AlphaGo, which for beat a human prosfor the first time. Consequently, this means a board game will end up changing the world at a fundamental level!
  • Hey, did you know it’s is the oldest board game we know of that is still being played? Cool, huh?
  • I’ve written a couple of cool stories about it, but they’re not published yet. You can check out my go-less bibliography here.
  • It takes 5 minutes to learn the rules if someone shows you. If you have 25 minutes free, you can get a pretty detailed course here. 
  • Othello is based off of it
  • Child prodigies in Asia study from the age of 6 in full-time academies in hopes of going “pro”. Only 10% of child prodigies that try to go pro ever succeed.
  • It’s pretty damn fun for us non-pro, normal mortals
  • Hey, there’s even an anime about it! Check out Hikaru no Go.
Go / Baduk Anime!
Hikaru no Go

What I’ve been doing

Well, I’ve been focusing on improving my ability to read ahead and improving my opening moves, and it seems to be paying off.  In fact, For a while there my rank shot to 6 kyu, which is amazing for me. (Ranks in Go start at 25 kyu and go down. After 1 kyu they start over at 1 dan and reach as high as 9 dan. This is very similar to the belt system in Karate.)

To get there, I did lots and lots of problems. All sorts of riddles.

In other words, I did drills! Deliberate practice. Look at me, a broken record!

Tsumego for You!

The Japanese call Go riddles “tsumego.” C’mon, check this one out! Black to live:

Go riddles!

Once you get into go (baduk, weiqi), the game just gets deeper. There’s a point where the board seems suddenly smaller and less intimidating, but that’s when you realize just how infinite the game really is. It keeps going and going, neverending.

On this board, whole universes are created and destroyed.

I keep seeing a statistic that shows there are more possible board combinations than there are atoms in the known universe. While I have no idea if this is true, the factoid pops up all over the place. That no one’s questioned it should give you a clue about how vast the game really is.

Enjoy, and have a good day writing!

My Korean Language Journey

Over the past year or so, I’ve been studying the South Korean language (not North Korean; that’s way different) and it’s been going well!”Why Korean?” I hear you ask.

I could tell you that I had a love of Korean dramas. Or that Korea is breathtakingly beautiful and I want to go there. Or that I love the food. And all of that is true, but it came later.

The whole place!
Jeju Island is a Word Heritage Site

Honestly, the answer is a little odd. I’ve always studied random languages (usually learning nothing in the process), hoping one day to be a polyglot. I just happened to be on Korean when I finally figured out how to get good at learning languages.

Rather than drop Korean and move to another, day-to-day useful language and have to start over from scratch, I decided I’d go down the rabbit hole as far as I could. I mean, why not learn one of the most difficult languages on Earth, when you have no particular reason to , have never been there, don’t plan to go, and you don’t know the culture? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, How’d Your Language Adventure Turn Out?

I’m reaaaaally glad I did it.  I heard a lot of advice not to pick a language where you don’t know about the culture. But I ended up learning about the culture along with the language, so it turned out great.

The people I’ve met so far are kind, polite, and diligent, and I love them all.  They are very good, if very busy, friends. The food is exotic and great, even if it takes a little getting used to. I’m a sucker for all sorts of Korean dishes now. Especially Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkum.

Learn a language to eat better food!
Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkeum

Here’s a recipe.

The culture of South Korea, as I said, is fascinating, if sometimes tragic. All cultures are tragic, I suppose. I know the U.S. certainly is. Utopia means “no place” for a reason.

South Korean Culture – Oh, the Humanity!

South Korean are probably the most capitalistic society in the world. It’s really survival of the fittest, with barely any rules to level the playing field.  Most of the population lives in Seoul, which is just… so unimaginably big to me. Wow. It’s huge.

Seoul at night.

In South Korea, like the US, you have to work extremely hard just to get an interview for a good corporate intern job, but if you get it, you are expected to get certain promotions at certain ages. Most people in corporate jobs get to 39 or 40, and then miss the promotion to executive level. They’re out on  their ear, and have to work menial jobs for the rest of their life. It’s pretty unforgiving.

That means South Korea has the most highly educated and business-skilled janitors in the world! And the thing is, even if you’re one of the very few to get to the executive level, and you’ve focus your entire life on it — you’ll never get to be a C-level. All the major corporations in Korea are family owned, and all top level positions are inherited. Because of the family aspect of corporations in Korea, there are always sex scandals and government bribery scandals. Never a dull moment!

That said, South Korea is the only country in the world that I know of to use it’s legal system to oust a corrupt President. So they do have that going for them. And their health care is very inexpensive, unless you go for their gene therapies (which are some of the most advanced in the world).

Epic Koreans

I find it ironic that North Korea is the most Communist country in the world while South Korea is the most Capitalistic. My take away is this: Koreans don’t do anything half way.  They are truly epic!

Also, if you haven’t watched a Korean drama and you like romance, check it out. There’s a joke among Koreans that all their TV dramas are romances, and it’s pretty much true. Series are usually 1 season long, 16 episodes each, with a full, completely wrapped-up plot arc.  Usually episodes are 45 minutes long.

You don't need to speak the Korean language to get there, but it helps
Epic, beautiful nature!

So, How are You Progressing with the Language?

I’m getting pretty handy with rudimentary conversation, and  I have over a thousand words in my working vocabulary. But I have a long way to go to be fluent or even to understand a TV show (I can understand about 25% of one right now!). Korean’s a fun language, and I’ve made some fascinating friends and learned a lot about South Korea.

I can talk with folks about a lot of stuff, though. So I guess I’m bilingual now. I never in a million years would’ve thought my second language would be Korean. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Soon it’ll be time to dig in deep on Japanese. I’m already messing around with it. I know hiragana, katakana, a handful of kanji, and a few dozen words, but the way I’m going at it won’t ever work. I have to shift into high gear for a few months so I can get a solid foundation to build on.  Then, if I’m lucky, maybe after a year or two of consistent work I’ll get my polyglot unlock.

Maybe by then I’ll get a novel sold to a big publisher, too! (Cross fingers)

If you’d like to see some of my fiction, check out my bibliography here.

This Learning Life: The Ming Dynasty of China

One of my passions is learning — languages, history, strange esoteric subjects, how to clip bicycle pedals in, it doesn’t matter — everything is fair game. Since learning new things and random research tend to take up a significant part of my life, I’m starting up a new feature on the site: This Learning Life.

Because to me, life is all about learning. Staying interested. Making unexpected connections.

So what did I learn today?

I learned about the Ming Dynasty in China.

Now, I’d known OF this dynasty for quite some time — I mean, who has never heard of a Ming vase — but, man, I really knew nothing.

If you already know something about China’s imperial dynasties, just in general, there’s much the same — the Confucian Scholars/Literati/Aristocracy (the Shr class) run the bureaucracy of government, the Eunuchs run most of the stuff in the court (and, later in the dynasty, when things start to get corrupt, the Eunuch lead the way in decadence and corruption, as normal). This is the great cycle of Chinese Imperial Dynasties, the “circle of life”, as it were, and it still holds true for the Ming.

But the Ming have a lot of new innovations going for them — a lot of new mechanisms of state that help hold things together — and that’s one reason that the Middle Ming (the middle period of the dynasty) is considered one of the golden ages of China.

So what’s so cool? Infrastructure. Post roads to be precise. What? Hold, on let me explain.

You see, the first Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, also called the Hongwu (“vastly martial”) Emperor, also called Taizu (“Great Ancestor”) of Ming, was paranoid and more than a little bit crazy. When one of his Shr class advisers started to get a little too powerful, he would automatically assume a plot to overthrow the dynasty and purge:
– The adviser himself
– The adviser’s immediate family
– The adviser’s entire family unto the 9th degree (this happens a lot in China — I’ve hard a rumor there is a dedicated verb for exterminating a family unto the 9th degree of relation)
– Anyone the adviser was known to have talked to or write letters to.

For the first adviser purged, Hu Weiyong, the Hongwu Emperor killed roughly oh, say, 10,000-15,000 people. Now that, my friends is some serious killing. By the time the first Ming Emperor had died of old age, he’d killed roughly 100,000 Chinese in these purges. Nice guy, right?

Well, being paranoid, Hongwu wanted to control everything. He abolished the position of Chancellor, for instance, and took all the powers on himself. But to control everything, my friends, you must KNOW everything as well. So Hongwu had the post road system developed.

A network of postal roads, garrisoned with soldiers, with rest stops for postal couriers and fresh horses at evenly spaced intervals was put in so that information could flow from all over China right to Hongwu’s door. And it was fast too, 15 days, I believe, to the farthest reaches, but don’t quote me on that, I can’t find the citation for that (yes, I’ll warn you when I might be blowing smoke — nice, isn’t it?). Now remember, this was before telephones, the internet, before cars even — 15 days over those huge distances is FAST. A few previous empires, like the Zhou, had collapsed because they hadn’t been able to solve the communication problem and had doled out authority to local strongmen whose kids, after a few generations, came to challenge the throne. So just on this point, this is a major step forward — Hongwu can send and receive information rapidly at vast distances, and this means he can rule outlying regions as if he is right there.

But that’s the SMALLEST part of why this is cool. To understand the next part, lets do a little bit of roleplaying:

Imagine you’re a Chinese Merchant. You keep getting robbed on the main roads to everywhere because, well, there are bandits. But hey, that postal road has troops on a regular basis, guarding the imperial post offices… You put one and one together and what do you decide to do?

You start using the postal roads, of course! And trade moves swiftly through them, and safely, and robbery goes WAY down. Awesome! Now you can grow your business.

Now… Imagine that you’re a peasant whose tired of farming, and you see all these merchants on this postal road, and they are always hot and thirsty and starving after a long day’s march… So you come up with the idea to open an inn there, and offer beds and food. And you get rich!

Well, this happened all over. The economy went wild due to the secure infrastructure — it added more roads, better roads, and improved safety, so trade flourished and the population increased from roughly 100 million at the beginning of the Ming to 300 million at the end, and a large proportion of those people had better lifestyles.

Why does this matter to you?

Well, think about it — cities do this all the time: they broaden the major roads, make new highways, and repave roads to make trade travel easier. They (should) staff a good police force to keep crime down (yeah, we see how well that works in Dallas!)

In a high-demand area:
New Infrastructure + Security = Growth

Next time that local bond comes up talking about broadening a highway or It applies to us as much as the Ming!

…Now if we could just get rid of the private tolls on the tollways — I strongly believe this is just a way for the friends of politicians to get rich. Now how did the Ming Dynasty fall again? Corruption?

You can find a timeline of the Ming Dynasty here.