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Chris Irwin
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Chris Irwin

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I'd like to offer up some perspective on the Ukrainian Crisis.  I've been studying Russian history, my wife is Ukrainian, and my in-laws are living very close to a lot of the unrest that is happening now.  My understanding probably only scratches the surface of the complexities here.  But I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about the recent events in Ukraine.  

Ukraine has a long history of being conquered by surrounding nations.  The word Ukraine is actually derived from a Russian word that means borderland.  The past ~20 years, after breaking away from the Soviet nation and declaring its independence, has been the longest period of Ukrainian autonomy to date.  The last attempt at independence was at the end of World War I, during the Russian Civil War.  Ukraine declared itself independent after being conquered by the Germans, and liberated by the Russians.  But later it was absorbed into the Soviet Union, which ended its bid for independence.  Since the USSR fell, Ukraine has had difficulty forming a national identity.   It is heavily economically dependent on Russia, but the Ukrainian elections have swung policies back and forth, away from and toward Russia, causing economic problems.  This has had the effect more than once in the past 10 years of inciting revolutionary activities from the Russian interested east and south and from the European leaning west.  

Putin is obviously not being truthful about his actions or the reasons for them.  He initially denied any military action in Crimea.  He later claimed he was only protecting Russian interests when he took over the Crimean military bases. The speech after the annexation showed that he felt Russia had a right to claim the territory.  He later admitted that the Russian military was behind the whole story from the beginning.  What is he really up to?

My theory for the reasons behind all of the recent Russian military activity are as follows.  

First, historically, Russian rulers have been remembered by how they contributed to the growing empire, or despised by how they lost territory and/or power.   And Putin isn't getting any younger.  So he is thinking about his legacy.   

Second, Russia's source of power lately has been its riches in natural resources.  The centrally owned and operated natural gas monopoly Gazprom has proven to be a valuable commodity and weapon.

Lastly, both Crimea and the Donets Basin are resource rich regions.   The sea surrounding Crimea is a natural gas gold mine, and the Donets Basin has always been a valuable coal mining community.  

A result of the last Ukrainian revolution (when Yanukovich was forced out of office early this year) was Russia realizing the opportunity was ripe for gaining (back) some valuable territory.  The interim government is weak.  So it makes perfect sense to take advantage of this situation. Nevermind that this is all completely illegal.  So was the transition of power after the Euromaidan revolution.  

Many people in the Donets Basin are fine with becoming independent or joining Russia, just like Crimea was.  Others want to remain Ukrainian, but they are a minority.   I get the sense that the feelings aren't too strong either way, (except from the protestors themselves) because the people understand that their lives won't change too much for the better or worse no matter which side of the border they end up on.

The recent call by Russian and Ukrainian authorities for the protestors to disarm themselves leads me to optimism.  However, Putin is not taking military action off the table.  He still is waiting for an excuse to "liberate" the area from the west.  

I have to commend the Ukrainians for the relative calm that persists among the people not participating in the revolution and the protests.  Waiting for people to calm down is a much better reaction that fighting against them.  People are controlling crowds of protestors in Kiev by telling them that chaos is exactly what Putin wants, and they calm down.  The unrest exists only as small pockets, while the rest of the country tries to get on with life as best they can.  
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I decided to check the myth that the word stewardesses is the longest word you can type with only the left hand.  This word has 12 letters and, yes, it is impressively long.   

However, A short python script using an English word dictionary from the publisher of Letterpress came up with two words that beat it.  _sweaterdresses_ (14) and detractresses (13) are both longer.  

Also equally as long as stewardesses are 19 other words: abracadabras, aftereffects, aftergrasses, decerebrated, decerebrates, desegregated, desegregates, extravagated, extravagates, extravasated, extravasates, reaggregated, reaggregates, resegregated, resegregates, reverberated, reverberates,, sweaterdress, and watercresses.  

As long as I'm checking the left hand, I might as well check the right too.  And as expected, since the right hand has fewer and less popular letters than the left, its top list is less impressive: _hypolimnion_ (11), homophony (9), homophyly (9), monophony (9), monophyly (9), myiophily (9), nonillion (9), pollinium (9), polyomino (9), polyonymy (9), polyphony (9), unununium (9),

Here's the list for the top row of the keyboard: _rupturewort_ (11), peppertree (10), pepperwort (10), perpetuity (10), perruquier (10), pirouetter (10), prerequire (10), proprietor (10), repertoire (10), repetiteur (10), typewriter (10)

the home row only: _haggadahs_ (9), halakhahs (9), aggadahs (8), alfalfas (8), ashfalls (8), haggadah (8), haggadas (8), halakahs (8), halakhah (8), halakhas (8), halalahs (8), shahadas (8)

I didn't think the bottom row would get anything, but there are two "words" found:  _zzz_ and mm.  
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lol formatting fail.  I have no idea why some _ characters didn't do the job they were supposed to.
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Nice stop motion of water. 
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Concentrate vs Pretterless:  Two programs play Letterpress 

Concentrate is playing blue and Pretterless red in all these games.  I was feeling confident about Concentrate, so I let Pretterless have the first move.  

Game 1 6 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#4e3a85be399295477cb0d89585fa9964

On move 1, Pretterless played KLANGFARBES, which defends 3 popular letters, ALS.  If Concentrate had played first, it would have played GRAYBEARDS, defending 4 tiles in the corner.  When I looked at how Pretterless would have played GRAYBEARDS, it only defended one tile, the S.  Very telling.  It appears Pretterless doesn't search for the best placement of a word on the board.  Concentrate's way of playing the same word defends not only the S but three other tiles as well.  

The game continued with each player expanding and attacking.  Pretterless played LARYNXES, which left only DRB unclaimed.  This left Concentrate with over 100 words that could win.  It played the word that won by the biggest margin to end the game, SANDBAGGER.  Another weakness of Pretterless was exposed... it doesn't search beyond its own move.  This puts it at a disadvantage, in the endgame especially.  

Game 2  3 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#4f8ff3c49e6d1907ef05dc12317578b9

Pretterless went first again.  This time Concentrate agreed with the first move Pretterless played.  And after Pretterless' second word, I resigned for Concentrate, as it knew that every word it could play would lose on the next turn, and thus didn't suggest any move to play.  

Game 3 5 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#65b740ddcd0f7358a24080e24fce1af7

Now Concentrate had the first move advantage for the first time in the match.  Concentrate opened with AUTOVACS to take the bottom, Pretterless responded with CATFACES occupying the top.  Both engines played their second move to expand their own territory, then Concentrate found the winning move, ZOCCOS.  

--

It appears the developer of Pretterless has some work to do.  Pretterless should examine all ways of playing a word, to see which defends the most tiles.   Also, Pretterless should consider whether the opponent can win on the next turn before recommending a word to play.  

Concentrate doesn't do full minimax search to even two moves.  But it does check to see if the opponent can win.  It does this by checking to see if there are any words that can be made with the remaining letters, and if so, whether they are winning or losing.  

Letterpress by atebits and Pretterless by @mczonk are both available on the iOS App store for free.  Concentrate is still an evolving Python script, not yet publicly available.  
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Letterpress Match: Concentrate vs SynapticResonance

I tested my letterpress engine Concentrate against a very strong opponent, SynapticResonance.  The match format was a best of five and "open dictionary" meaning the human challenger could use assistance like letterpresscheat.com.  In all the replay links below, Concentrate is playing Blue, SynapticResonance Red.  

Game 1  20 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#0e1338d7bc675704a24745a4c0c1fb00

Concentrate began the first game with UPPERCLASSMEN taking the lower left, and SynapticResonance played UNSHRINKABLE taking the top.  On the third move, I discovered an issue with the way Concentrate displays moves to make.  The first 100+ moves suggested all lost immediately, and "scrolling" down was tedious.  The program was designed to show the top 5 moves, along with the evaluation, what the board looks like after playing those moves, and whether or not the move allowed the opponent to win.  At this point I changed it to only show the top 5 moves that didn't lose.  Moves which lose immediately were hidden.  

The game continued with each player expanding its own territory and reducing the opponents territory on every move.  Near the end, Concentrate thought it could win and played CHIPPABLE taking one of the last 4 tiles.  The remaining three, M V and G had many words which could be used to end the game.  But Concentrate incorrectly thought that any word its opponent would play would end up ending the game in its favor.  There was an embarrassing bug in the endgame evaluation.  So Synaptic played MARVELING to win.  

I quickly fixed the bug, and began the next game.  

Game 2  5 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#188cb6aae7a83079f234f7ac6d4a0b0b

This was the shortest win of the match.  Concentrate took a corner, and synaptic responded by taking two corners, surrounding Concentrate's opening move.  But Concentrate broke through the center, and won on the 5th turn.  

Game 3  26 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#4fcfa411ec50bad662ee5181ae27c168

Synaptic had the opening advantage for the first time in the match.  He started with WRONGFULNESS which was interesting because it didn't take any corners.  Concentrate responded with MUGWORTS, taking the upper right corner.  A few moves later it was clear that the game would be another back-and-forth like game 1.  

Synaptic finally found the closer CONCEPTS.  Concentrate saw that every move it played lost to a word like PEGBOX which uses the last tiles G and X.  Since it didn't suggest any moves to play, I resigned for it.  

Game 4  6 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#f7cde98ed753899c88f284935175f0ad

Game 4 went a lot like Game 2.  Concentrate opened in one corner, Synaptic responded by taking two surrounding corners, Concentrate broke through the center.  After Synaptic played TREMBLINGLY, he resigned, seeing that Concentrate could win with a word like VITTLED taking the last three tiles D, T and V.  

Game 5  0 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#69ad734d5dec54f5275a1b07718fd953

I created this game and passed so Synaptic could play first.  However, it seems he didn't like this board, and decided to create one of his own.  EDIT: Synaptic has explained he created game 5.5 at the same time I created game 5, and played his first play before realizing we both had created a game.  So he passed on this game.

Game 5.5  14 moves
http://replay.letterpress.atebits.com/#c1fab3b24bb5bdb8841e8f107749f5e8

The score was tied 2-2, so this last game settled the match.  Synaptic had the opening move advantage and took two corners with his opening move.  Concentrate responded by taking a third corner and defending two tiles between Synaptic's corners.  The game was another back-and-forth, with each player expanding and reducing the opponent's tiles on every turn.  In the end Synaptic played CONSERVATRIX leaving Concentrate with no way to fight back.  

---

I am very grateful to SynapticResonance for his ability to push Concentrate very hard.  He has demonstrated several weaknesses in its play, which helps me to improve Concentrate.   

SynapticResonance is @SynapticRes on twitter.  

Concentrate evaluates moves based on the position of the defended tiles, the usability of the defended tiles, and the defendability of the used tiles.  Before suggesting a move to be played, it checks to see if the opponent can win on the following turn.  

Letterpress is a game for iOS by atebits. 
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:-) funny, I have a little word game coming up - hope to write up the article this week.
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I created a Google+ page for my new YouTube Channel.  
A Chess Channel devoted to learning and having fun
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I made a new self portrait today.  

I drew it out on paper, then set up the shot, knowing I wanted to light up my face with a flash reflected from the music stand. The flash is resting on the keyboard behind the music stand, facing a music book opened to serve as a reflector. The angle and light fall-off meant that the right side of the keyboard (photo left) was darker than I wanted. So I set up a second light on a light stand above and behind me to light the keyboard separately. Then I saw it might be cool to zoom the second flash out and use it as a side/hair light also.  

All of this wireless trigger and flash goodness was made possible by the Yongnuo flash system, which is probably 5x cheaper than using pocket wizards and Nikon/Canon flashes. One trigger on the camera with a PC sync cable to take the photo. Another trigger in my hand. And the receivers built-in to the flashes work quite reliably. 

Incidentally, the chord I'm playing with my right hand is a G7#5, which is one of my favorite dominants in the key of C (C for Chris?). My left hand is actually taking the picture, otherwise it would probably be playing a G or Db in the bass. 
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This should have been a snap with auto-awesome, but of course I had to do this myself in photoshop.  In the end photoshop probably did a better job because I also stabilized them.
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Photos I took during a recent trip to Washington DC.
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