Mike's Random Jottings
Who is Mike? See random CV, history and interests
On Azacru, Pacru and Shacru
1st August 2009
I want to tell the story of these games, of me and games. Partly as a cautionary tale for anyone else thinking of going down the self-publishing route. Partly as a celebratory tale of pursuing a goal. 2nd Aug It has been one of the most exciting things in my life. I've been lucky to have a number of really enjoyable sustained activities in my life - writing & playing music, studying politics & philosophy, inventing Azacru, Pacru and Shacru and promoting them. Through the invention of the games I've met some very friendly and very helpful people.
14th AugI like the analogy of a game as a piece of drama. At the start there is nothing, we know nothing. And then we begin an interaction. I do something, you see what I have done, and you do something. If you are fully engaged in the game then you probably have some ideas of what you might do, and you will imagine how I will respond to what you might do. You also will be trying to make sense of what I'm doing. The games I like best are games of perfect information: there isn't anything hidden from the other player(s) - except what is going on in your mind. I also like it best if there is no external luck involved - no dice, no drawing of cards.
The Chevron shape of the pieces goes back to the very start of the game. The most basic shape underlying a Pacru piece is a "right isoscoles triangle" - a triangle with two equal sides and an angle of 90 degrees. The intuitive meaning of the shape is supposed to be something in motion either directly in a line drawn bisecting the 90 degree angle, or in lines following on from the two sides adjacent to it - so "straightforwards, or forwards at an angle of 45 degrees to right or left". That the shape has a leading point is something that perhaps one in 20 people find it hard to see. The idea that when the piece moves it "points in the direction in which it moves" is someting that perhaps three out of four people grasp without difficulty. The analogy of a ship helps some of the people who don't get the notion immediately. If a ship has sailed to a particular point, then as it is reaching that point, it will be oriented in the direction in which it has been moving. Some familiar games pieces have no directionality (e.g. a Queen in chess) and for those that do it may not be intrinsic to the piece but determined by the starting position of the piece - its "side of the board".
At the Azacru, Pacru and Shacru world championships I have generally be the artibiter - announcing the matches, recording the results. Sometimes, if there is an odd number of entrants, I have played myself. This year, 2009. I got to play in the Pacru rapidplay and the Pacru world championship. I did better than usual (sometimes I lose every game) and at one point in the Pacru world championships had a much stronger position than my opponent Alain Dekker. I then proceeded to lose the game. I have rarely done very well in those situations where you just have to carry on doing the right things to win. I let myself get distracted or get too anxious - and then the moment is lost. This has been true in Chess, bar football (table football), table tennis against my Dad & the 'acrus. Fortunately this no longer matters to me in the way it did when I was a teenager. I can genuinely feel pleased that I played a strong opening and part of the middle game in Pacru. I can also find the fact that I then messed up by trying an over-aggressive pincering strategy when I would have been better sticking with marker-accumulation and blocking moves which are my more natural game, more a matter for amusement and minor regret rather than getting annnoyed with myself about it.
The delightful news is that Pacru has a new world champion, Martyn Hamer. The championship was decided in the final round match between Martyn and Alain, who had both won every game up to that point. Alain has had great success at Pacru, winning every year between 2003 and 2008, and winning clearly on points (rather than tie break) in a five-year stretch from 2004-2008. I look forward to next year's competition!
I am seriously thinking about moving the Azacru World Championship, the Pacru World champsionship and the Shacru World Championship to Manchester for 2010. There will still be Pacru, Shacru and Azacru events at the Mind Sport Olympiad (Potter's Bar August 2010) but they would not count as the World Championships. The big advangage for Pacru Ltd and for players of the three games, is that I can concentrate on marketing the games and the competitions for a Manchester summer climax in July 2010.
Manchester is a city that people from Japan, Russia and the USA, to name but three countries, would be likely to consider making the centre of a stay in England or event the UK, or even Western Europe. The same is not true of Potter's Bar (with no disrespect intended: the same would be true of Kingson-upon-Hull where I spent two pleasant years).
Off to Spain at the end of this week, where I invented Pacru. Except going to Mallorca rather than Gran Canaria. Rather than invent Pacru I could have been walking the seashore at Sunrise, after a descent down many many steps from our hotel to the beach. I was discouraged from doing this so instead was just on the balcony and thinking instead of contemplating. I don't know when during the two weeks (that also included the Football World Cup of 2002) I came up with the basic idea of Pacru. I'm pretty sure of the simple sequence of events. For those of you who don't already know I'd already got the following:
What I had never been able to work out was how the coloured squares came onto the board in the first place. The Gran Canaria first idea was
- The idea that if a piece (the name chevron came much later) moved from a square that was already its colour to another square that was already its colour then all squares in between would become that piece's colour. [This is the idea that came to me when I was playing Othello in Fallowfield, Manchdester in 1980]
- The idea that there could be multiple colours involved in the game (i.e. more than two)
- The idea that the winner of the game would be the one with the most fields of their colour on the board at the end of the game (this idea wasn't explicit, I think it just seemed obvious to me from Othello).
- If the board were divided up into different areas, then crossing one of those could be the action that allows the placing of a coloured marker on the board in that area. Or, to put it another way, a coloured marker could be a reward for passing into a new area.
- The second idea came immediately. If a piece crosses a border and gets a marker, then the next obvious move is to reverse the move and get another marker in the area that has just been left. And so on, and so on. This immediately seemed like a fatal flaw. It does not matter if the move's direction was up and down or left and right. So the idea came that a piece could only go forwards, but that forwards and to the right or left would be fine (since that would not involve the possiblity of a move across a border, followed immediately by a move across the same border.
- Implicit in this idea was the notion that the piece had got a direction, was like an arrow. I don't know at the moment where that came from but one possibility is the game Buccaneer which I remember playing in Eastbourne when I was a child. In the game the pieces (ships) move in a straight line only, which can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal, and a player cannot turn his/her ship to face a new direction and then move. (However at the end of a move the player must put the ship in that direction they wish for the next turn - as opposed to the "natural" direction of chevrons in Pacru).
- I'm not sure at what point the notion of power of movement came into it. I think with the notion of there being separate areas of the border - borderlands, and the idea of the fields inside those areas having a colour, the idea that this determined the power of movement seemed obvious - but it may even be that I'd had that idea prior to Gran Canaria. I'll have to check back through my notes to see. For me I think this idea would have seemed sympathetic because of playing Risk a great deal when a teenager. The idea that you count up your territories and from this you get new armies, is not so very far revoved from the idea of counting up your territories and from this getting your power of movement.
- What I would stress is that this core of the game seemed and seems 'natural' to me: chevrons can create their own future power of movement by crossing into a new borderland, and from there they must work to get to the next borderland: but once they have the power of movement then they have the potential to make the connection change move which is the engine of the game, and moves you towards the objective of dominating the gameboard with your fields which is the winning condition.
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On Current Affairs
1st August 2009
If a state, if the state of which I am a citizen (the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland), decides to send the armed forces to kill and risk being killed, and to use weapons that are also likely to lead to non-combatant casualties, then I think it should have very good and very clear reasons for doing so, and clear objectives - SMART objectives to use a widespread acronym. I am unconvinced that this was the case for the most recent fighting in Iraq or for the fighting in Afghanistan. 2nd Aug This is of course a completely different matter to the question of how people who fight in UK armed forces should be treated. Anyone who is in the pay of the state for doing dangerous work should be paid decently and treated well if they suffer injury and they would rightly expect their families to be treated well if they die. It is fairly simple. Everyone in the country - regardless of occupation, education or skill - should have their basic needs met and guaranteed opportunities to get a decent wage if they can, and to be provided with a simliar level of income if they cannot. People who risk their lives on behalf of others should be able to expect that at a minimum. Some of them will be physically or mentally hurt as a result of what they do, and they should be able to expect that they will be provided with whatever assistance is necessary to get them back to as normal a life as possible.
5th September 2009
There is now a great deal more being said about the UK's presence in Afghanistan. I think for any military action by a State there has to be a determination of very clear goals and methods before that military action begins, and a regular review of progress and performance once it has. I'm not a very close follower of politics but I'm in the relatively small percentage (say 1/4 of the UK population at the maximum) of those with a fair degree of knowledge of politics, and political history. The relevance of this, is that even with this degree of interest I'd couldn't say that I've ever felt the Government has been particularly clear about the war aims and the methods by which would be achieved. If you don't have a clear vision of what you are wanting to achieve and you don't have a clear vision of how you can achieve it, then should you really make decisions that will result in death and serious injury to your own armed forces, and death and serious injury to both enemy combatants and civilians? Why would anyone expect that anyone would accept the presence of foreign troops in their country for any more than a minimal length of time, unless those troops quickly become the junior partners to a domestic army?
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On Politics and Philosophy
1st August 2009
Poverty and Inequality are two distinct concepts. I think that the Government of the UK, by measuring Poverty using a criterion that is actually a measure of Inequality does no favours to either concept. I think Poverty & Inequality are both important, but they are not the same thing, and their consequences are different.
5th August 2009
Titles. I find it hard to understand what good reasons there can be why someone would wish to be referred to by a title outside of a work context. I find it hard to understand why people are willing to refer to someone using these title. If I hear someone referred to as "Lady X" or "Sir Y" I think - that's not their name. When an member of the UK House of Commons (the main house of parliament democratically elected) is mentioned initially as Keith Bradley MP (the local MP in Withington Manchester up to May 2005), then that just does as a shorthand for letting people know that he works as an MP. Any further reference to him in the same context would surely just be Keith Bradley. However once sitting/working in the UK House of Lords (the subsidiary house of parliament, based on appointment and heriditary status) he "becomes" "Lord Bradley".
I wouldn't refer to a friend who was (i.e. works as) a Doctor as Doctor X - I'd identify them by their name which in the UK is generally . Similar for someone who is (i.e. works as) a religious priest.
We are all human beings. This is a very basic and simple notion of equality, but it is a good starting place. I'd prefer to say that Elizabeth Windsor works as the Queen. What does it mean to say that she "is" the Queen? If this implies that there is some kind of human being who is intrinsically different and therefore has power or authority then it is fundamentally undemocratic, elitist and unjustifiable.
Maybe 'a Queen' or 'a Lord' isn't a job. Maybe it is statement of a relationship of ownership. More on this to follow ...
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What we know of the world indirectly: media and culture
7th August 2009
I often wake up early. Sometimes I listen to the BBC World Service while emptying the dishwasher. Even though the news and the items covered on the World Service are often more upsetting than those covered on the Today program on BBC Radio 4, I don't find myself feeling rather low after listening - while the Today program sometimes does have that affect on me. I think that is because of the implicity editorial angle on the world. I feel as though The World Service is not selling me a particular line. I'm not saying it doesn't have one - but I'm saying I don't feel as though one is being pressed on me. With the Radio 4 Today program there is a feeling of mild cynicism - that things are clearly not getting better whatever anyone says, and that the people interviewed, or reported on, are either largely self-interested, or only care about their own group's interests, are not as realistic or honest in their view of the world as those doing the interviewing, and are generally happy to mislead in order to promote a particular point of view. I feel as though I am not being treated as an adult capable of making up my own mind listening to an interview, instead the tone of the interview has to suggest that the person being interviewed is not quite what they should be, or present themselves as being.
One consequence of this is that when there does appear to be a case for someone to answer as regards misleading the public, then it does not feel as pressing as it should do.
I find myself in a much more discontented mood, however, after listening to the Moral Maze. More on that later ...
I should say that letting my mood be affected by a radio program isn't something that cannot be controlled - and the effect doesn't last - there are other things to think about. However I don't think this is simply a personal idiosyncracy on my behalf.
On Jotting or Blogging on the Net
1st August 2009
Why I am doing this? Mainly for myself - because I think best generally by writing things down. Why on the Net? Because if someone else finds it interesting I'll be pleased, if someone finds it and doesn't find any of it of interest then it's not really worth their while to tell me. My hopes are that I may get into more of a habit of spontaneous jotting and communicating, and that is may lead somewhere. Another hope is that it will generate text that might incidentally introduce people to Azacru & Pacru which would be good as a bizarre means of marketing. But partly I don't know why and since it is not costing me anything but time I guess I'll carry on doing it if I find I'm enjoying it, and it will gain more shape over time - or disintegrate and die. 2nd Aug Perhaps also it reflects the fact that I want to communicate more, even if is just one way - even if it just writing and not being read. Like writing a diary but a diary open to the world. A searchable diary. Not the record of my deepest feelings, but of some of the thoughts that go by that I'd like to be able to go back to. This isn't very clear, because my thoughts on it are not clear.
5th Aug Why am I not using blogging software? Because I've not taken the time to look at it - and because I want to get into the writing habit first, and then assess what I'm going to do with it afterwards. Generally I've seen blogs where something is said on a particular topic and then the writer moves on. Which is utterly reasonable and sensible. At this stage I'm just trying to get something written often, however little, and therefore returning to and builidng up a topic that I may just have initially put a couple of lines on in the first place.
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Snippets of thought and comment
19th Nov 2010
Jonathan Dimbleby's book Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People.
I have a question on this. If you really wished to write a whole book about a country, wouldn't you want to learn to speak the main language (Russian)? If you relied on Dr Lyuba Vinogradova to "scour the manuscript" and you had two guides and interpreters, would you not want to make sure that all 3 had read the book. If they have read the book then how come CCCP is translated as Central Committee of the Communist Party (index p552: 3 separate citations). As a teenager with some interest in politics I was interested to know what those letters meant on various objects in Russia or the USSR. If you are interested just type in "what does cccp stand for" into a search engine. The closest english pronunciation is SSSR and it refers to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. If someone had written a book on Great Britain and said that UK stood for Union of Kingdoms it would make you wonder about the validity of what else they were saying. Which is a shame as I did quite like the book and have generally felt OK about Jonathan Dimbleby, though I was not so impressed by his working during the BBC Strike.
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Both this page - www.pacru.com/mikesjottings.html - and random interests/CV - www.pacru.com/mikerandom.html - represent the
views of Mike Wellman in a personal capacity and not Pacru Ltd