Robot World Chess Match

As a child, I had a variety of chess programs on hardware ranging from Atari, Amiga, and Windows PC. I played them against each other regularly – in tournaments and in “championship” matches. I recorded everything and even tried to approximate their Elo ratings.  Yes, I was a little geeky…back then.

All the moves had to be entered by hand on my part from one program to the other.  Of course if I had a setup like this, it would have been a lot more fun.

Myotis lucifugus

It’s been so hot this past week that I’ve taken to walking at night for exercise.  Three-three-three:  three miles, at three miles per hour, at least three times a week.  These “midnight constitutionals” have been a time for me to get into better shape, enjoy the outdoors, and gain a little knowledge listening to books on my .mp3 player.

Last night, however, I returned home to more excitement than I bargained for.  As neared home, I thought it was odd that the entire backyard was glowing.  Every light in the house must have been on!  Angie greeted me at the door, which was strange because she had gone to bed before I left.  She was speaking so fast I had trouble understanding her.  I finally made out that she thought there was a bat in the house, and that she had trapped it in the bathroom.

I needed some water, lots of water, and a few minutes to dry off all the sweat from my walk.  As I proceeded to do both of these things, Angie continued on with her narrative.

She started hearing the bat right after I left, so it had probably flown in the door as I went outside.  She got up to see what the banging was, and the bat darted past her into the bedroom and ultimately into our master bath where she turned the lights on and slid the door closed.  Then she went to her computer to research about what to do about bats that enter homes.  She found out that they tend to get confused when they are in a lighted room, but will soon “roost” or find a high place to settle and rest.  She found that you could throw a towel over them to catch them and take them outside, or you could find a wide-mouthed container to catch it in.  She had gone through our recycling bin to find two such containers – a big plastic peanut container and an Oxyclean tub.  She even found a video on YouTube of someone catching a bat in such a container.

I had finished two glasses of water and soaked my workout towel drying off by the time Angie’s elaboration had slowed down to, “what are you going to do about it?”  I told her I thought I’d take a look.  “It might just be a really big moth,” Angie finally said.  I opened the door and immediately saw it roosting above our shower.  It was clearly not a moth, but a small, mouse-sized, furry brown bat.  It wasn’t moving much at all.

“Okay,” I said to Angie as she closed the bathroom door behind us.  “Did your research come up with any advice about how to do this?”  “Yes – stay calm,” she said, her voice clearly not calm.  I turned back to the bat, empty tub in my hand.  I slowly, slowly, closed on it and covered it with the tub.  I heard a little flutter, but not much else.  I slid the lid up between the opening and the wall where it had roosted until I had it enclosed.

“Yes!” Angie shrieked with excitement.  We both proceeded outside (far away from the front door) to release the mosquito-eater back into the wild.  I took it to the base of a tree, opened the lid, and let it gently roll out to the ground.  Almost immediately, it fluttered back to life and took off.

So I guess that’s the happy ending to our midnight adventure!

Myotis lucifugus = little brown bat

Mr. M. Balmer

It’s uncomfortable to think about one’s own mortality.  However, there are moments in our lives when the subject is unavoidable.  I had one of those moments last weekend at Silver Dollar City, in Branson, Missouri.

No, the “moment” didn’t happen on the death spiral of a roller-coaster, nor did it come by way of heat exhaustion from the blazing temperatures.  This life-shaking moment came as I stepped off a main pedestrian thoroughfare to consult a map of the theme park.  A terse voice surprised me, “What … are you looking for?”

I looked up to see a neatly dressed undertaker, complete with measuring rod and top hat.  He was eyeing me intently.

Slightly startled by this “character,” I tried to collect my thoughts.  I looked around for Angie, who I noticed was keeping a healthy distance from us.  I stammered a bit, but finally managed a, “I might have forgotten where I was going.”  Without missing a beat the perfectly serious undertaker quipped, “I wonder why?”

Another glance over at Angie, and she was clearly a couple of steps further away than last time.  I was going to have to handle this on my own.

Ah, yes!  The glassblower!  I remembered we were going to see the glassblower.  I proudly shook off my “flusteration,” and told the undertaker, “We are looking for the Glassblower.”

“Now listen carefully,” he said in a hushed tone after leaning in toward me.  “Go down this street.  Take the first major right.  Follow it.  At the end of that street, you will find the glassblower.”

Finally regaining my composure, I thanked the undertaker for his help.  He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a small piece of paper.  “Here’s my card… in case you need my services… at a later date….”  After a quick nod at both myself and Angie, he turned and walked away.

He’s right – I will need his services at a later date, but today I simply enjoyed the moment.

Saturn up close

Years ago, when I was just dabbling around trying to find my blog voice, I wrote a small entry about my excitement for the Cassini mission to Saturn.  I’ve come across this short film a couple of times over the last month, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you (and posting my first video to the blog at the same time).

I hope you enjoy it!

CASSINI MISSION from Chris Abbas on Vimeo.

 

Home-blogging

If you know me, you know that during the winter months, I dive in and invest the lion’s share of my time and energy in teaching.  My wife and I have discovered that you simply can’t achieve optimal student outcomes unless you approach their education with a sense of urgency.

That means time has been pinched for performing projects on our new home.  I haven’t done as much as I wanted to do in my first year here, but there are a few months left.  Here are a few odd tasks already checked off the list.

When we first moved into our new space, we prioritized a few areas of furniture needs.  As economically as possible, we chose a few quality pieces.  Economically may be translated as “assembly required.”  After many hours of slow, deliberate work, we have a couple of nice desks and a highboy.

One thing that I hate to do is put holes in the walls, and one thing that girls want is lots of stuff on the walls.  So, after finding out where she wanted things (actually that was not difficult, I just listened to her showing the house to visitors and telling them where everything will go), I surprised her by hanging some stuff, including her picture calendar, a kitchen towel holder, her ship’s wheel clock (one of the first presents I got for her when we were dating), and the lighthouse key holder.

What a winter to be initiated into the Society of Driveway Shovelers!  Three major snows are one thing, but when the sky dumps over 22 inches that I have to remove in strata like an archeological site, that’s what I call a “baptism by fire.”  I got everything off in plenty of time to go back to school after the snow days.

Flash forward to Spring, and I’m mounting a “Topsy Turvy” tomato growing contraption on my deck, along with a rain gauge.  Getting a working mower was a different problem, as I invested many days working on two candidates with no luck.  For my first mowing of the lawn, I had to borrow a mower from a friend.

Most psychologists agree that mowing your lawn is excellent therapy for the troubled mind.  Okay, I’m not sure if that’s a universally true statement, but it sure fits for me (my apologies to Linus VanPelt).  It’s hot now, 90 degree days, so I don’t mow the whole yard, front, back, and sides in one sitting, but I still find a certain catharsis in the activity.

Star Hustler

Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium.

Some people hustle pool,
Some people hustle cars,
But have you ever heard about
The man who hustles stars?

I don’t stay up as late as I used to, but when I was a teenager, I watched Jack Horkheimer regularly and planned my week’s nightly sky observations accordingly. Always presented with his trademark panache, his passion for astronomy was infectious. He will be missed.

A maze-ing

CALLAWAY CO., MO, – Against tough opposition and seemingly unending waves of corn, we came out victorious against this year’s Shryocks Callaway Farms Corn Maze, shattering our personal record in the process. Our completion time of one hour and twelve minutes marks the first time we’ve completed the maze in under two hours.

Our plan of attack this year was simple. We allowed each team-members’ strengths to shine: her, with her intuitive nature and tendency to pick up on non-maze specific details like, “There’s a lot of talking coming from that direction…I’ll bet there’s a checkpoint there.” Me with my methodical mapping of every corn corridor we traversed. We kept our focus, stuck to our game plan, and immensely enjoyed the afternoon together until we reached all the checkpoints. Then we picked out a pumpkin together and basked in our accomplishment into the evening. Together, the totality of our victory exceeded the sum of our individual contributions.

Where the heart is

If you’ve read this little blog off and on, you could probably piece together that this summer was my fifth wedding anniversary. And if you did happen to notice that, you should have emailed to remind me, because I have a tendency to forget dates. I did not forget this one, however.

After some consultation, we decided to do something a little out of the ordinary this year. You see, the traditional gift for the fifth wedding anniversary is wood. I immediately nixed the idea of the big wooden fork and spoon to hang up in the kitchen of our duplex. We started thinking about houses. We have actually talked about them for a long time; we even designed a beauty of a home using some architectural software. Things just have never been right for us to take that plunge.

There was no putting it off this year, though. Conditions have never been better to purchase a wooden anniversary structure (with three bedrooms, an unfinished basement, and a nice lawn). So it happened that our present to each other was a home.