Monthly Archives: April 2009

Short Story: Retcon

“You retconned again, didn’t you?”

Damn. With our neural connection and shared data pathways, I had no hope of getting away with a lie. “No, why would you say that?”

“Come on, George, your stress levels just shot through the roof.” As I said, the neural connection burned me.

“But dear heart, the bravest man would feel threatened when accused by the likes of you.” Good — get her angry about something else.

“The likes of me?” She hesitated. After a moment she brushed back her hair and said, “No, don’t even try that. The point is that you retconned. You said you wouldn’t and you did.”

In for a penny… “Darling, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Just now, when I mentioned going back to the Terraview Hotel. You don’t remember when we went there, do you?”

“Don’t be silly. Of course I remember.” True as far as it went. I had the facts right in front of me: stayed from 12/30/2067 3:43:08 PM through 1/3/2068 10:18:48 AM; started in room 247, then switched to 312 because the first room didn’t feel right — how that’s possible I have no idea, since the rooms were all drawn from the same base class, but that’s a story for another day; ate steak for dinner in the restaurant the first day, it was salty; etc., etc. You get the idea. There was no way she could know — but she did.

“Fine, if you remember, tell me what color the walls were.”

“Why would I even take note of that?”

“George, stop stalling. You did look at me at some point while we were there, right?”

“Yes, dear.” I didn’t like where this was headed.

“And I was standing in the room at the time, right?”

“Yes, dear.” Damn! This was going to be tough to wriggle out of.

“So when you looked at me, what color did you see over my right shoulder?”

I hesitated. The fact that I was on Earth at the moment while she was still on the Moon gave me an extra second or two to figure this out, but that was it. Checking with the hotel was out. She’d be looking for that, and as I mentioned earlier, with our shared data paths, there was no way to hide it.

I scanned through my other existing data paths. None of them were any use — wait! I was talking with Dexter about last night’s game. She probably had a keyword filter on that path, but there was no way she’d be listening in.

“…so there’s no way he could possibly be legitimate.”

“Dexter! I need a favor.” How to phrase it to get past the filters? “Can you check where I was…” No dates! “…two hundred thirty-four point two million seconds ago, and forward me some…” Don’t say pictures, images, or photos! “…literature on the place. I need as much as you can find, and I need it in the next sixty milliseconds.”

“Okay, hang on…here you go.” He knew better than to ask why I needed the information. This wasn’t the first time he’d bailed me out.

Tons of data flowed, including the images I needed. “Thanks, now you were saying?”

“That Rollins has no business claiming to…”

“Green, love. About 505 nanometers to be precise.”

“Yes, that’s what it started at. What did we change it to?”

Well, that was it then. There was no way to get at the backups without her knowing. “Reddish.”

“Can you be a bit more specific?”

“630 nanometers, I think. I wasn’t paying attention at that point.”

“It was aqua, George.”

“Are you sure? I have a clear image of a sort of brick red.”

She wasn’t fooled. She leaned forward as if she were going to reach through the data link to throttle me. “Why, George? Why would you do it? You promised not to.”

The jig was up. “It was a tough time. You remember the arguments we had. Those memories are painful.” Any hope of putting her on the defensive with that cut withered quickly.

“Yes, but we agreed to live with it. We put it behind us, but we can’t give up on who we were. We can’t do that without giving up who we are. George, how could you?”

“Dammit Julia, it hurts! Do I need a better reason? Why would I want to hang on to those memories?”

“It’s what makes you who you are. You’re turning generic, George, and I don’t like it. We have to work to keep track of ourselves.”

She was right — I knew she was right. I’d seen the result of too much self-editing, and it wasn’t good. Prune too much out of your past and you end up like a cult member endlessly chanting what a wonderful day it is.

She had crossed her arms. That meant I had at least fifteen minutes of lecture coming, so I put her on autopilot, spooled the conversation to storage, and switched over — “…just no way to compare the two. Am I right, George?”

“Right, Dexter. What are you doing later?”

Senket — Puzzle of the Week

pow1This is the first in a series of Senket puzzles where I’ll post the puzzle on a Sunday and you solve them yourself. Feel free to post questions, comments, or analysis and answers to the comments.



Blue has built territory in the corner. Is it secure? If not, where should Red invade: A, B, C, D, or E?

Edit: should have posted a link to the rules for playing Senket.

Answer: the answer is posted here.

Senket — Big Jumps

If Red has no posts nearby to help, he cannot stop Blue from connecting.

If Red has no posts nearby to help, he cannot stop Blue from connecting.


5 Squares

When two posts are 5 squares apart as these are, with no opposing posts nearby, they can always be connected.






If Red plays at any of the four marked posts, Blue can connect with 2.

If Red plays at any of the four marked posts, Blue can connect with 2.

If Red plays 1 on the left, Blue plays 2 connecting on the right and forming a square diamond on the left. Red can block one or the other of the connections, but not both. Note that any of the other three highlighted points would fail in the same way.






If Red tries to block at any of the four marked posts, Blue can connect with 2.

If Red tries to block at any of the four marked posts, Blue can connect with 2.

If Red plays 1 on the right, Blue plays 2 connecting on the left and forming a square diamond on the right. Note that both the position above and this one can be flipped vertically. There is no post Red can play at, above or below, that will allow him to block Blue.






Without any nearby posts to help, Red can't stop Blue from connecting.

Without any nearby posts to help, Red can't stop Blue from connecting.

2 x 5 Squares

When two posts are at the corners of a 2×5 rectangle as these are, with no opponent’s posts around, they can always be connected.






No matter which of the four posts shown red chooses, Blue 2 connects.

No matter which of the four posts shown red chooses, Blue 2 connects.

If Red plays 1 on the left, Blue plays 2 connecting on the right and forming a square diamond on the left. If Red blocks the connection at A, Blue will connect at B, and vice versa. Any of the other three red posts shown fails the same way.






No matter what Red does, Blue will connect.

No matter what Red does, Blue will connect.

If Red plays 1 on the right, Blue plays 2 connecting on the left and forming a square diamond on the right.







Note that for a 2×5 jump, the long diamond can also be used, as well as the thin diamond. In the two examples shown below, the long diamond or the thin diamond must be used; the square diamonds shown above would fail because Red would be able to block both connections with one more post.


If Red plays at 1, the Thin Diamond connection will work.

If Red plays at 1, the Thin Diamond connection will work.

If Red plays at 1, the Long Diamond will work.

If Red plays at 1, the Long Diamond will work.


Senket — Scoring

Basic Scoring Examples

Areas of various basic shapes.

Areas of various basic shapes.

Scoring territory is based purely on the square of the area surrounded (plus any prisoners).

As the blue territories to the right show, the thin diamond occupies 3 units of territory, worth 3^= 9 points. The long diamond occupies 4 units of territory worth 4^= 16 points. The square diamond occupies a total of 5 units of territory, worth 5^= 25 points.

As the red territories to the right show, a simple triangle in the corner occupies 1 square of territory (1 point). A narrow 2-fence triangle on the side and a wide 2-fence triangle on the side each occupy 2 units of territory (4 points each).

In general, any territory can be divided into four separate shapes:

 — Full squares. The square diamond and the thin diamond each contains a single full square. Each full square obviously counts for 1 unit of territory.

 — Triangles. The triangle in the corner shows this shape; it is exactly one triangle. Each triangle is worth 1 unit of territory. The long diamond consists of four triangles. The square diamond is a full square surrounded by four triangles. 

 — Darts. The thin diamond contains a full square with two darts attached. The dart is also worth 1 unit of territory.

This shape contains a dart at each end, a triangle next to each dart, and two corridors at its center, between the two triangles.

This shape contains a dart at each end, a triangle next to each dart, and two corridors at its center, between the two triangles.

 — Corridors. When two fences run parallel and one is just a square above the other (or to the side of the other) the narrow space between them contains one unit. The blue shape to the right has two corridors at its center, in the narrow section.

So the area of any territory can be found by:

  1. counting the full squares it occupies;
  2. counting the additional triangles it occupies;
  3. counting the additional darts it occupies;
  4. counting the additional corridors it occupies.

To score any territory take the units of area, add any prisoners, and square the result.

A Note on Scoring Example Problems

When calculating the score results from examples and problems, any territory that is not completely cut off is impossible to score without knowing what it might connect to in the future. The larger the territory it attaches to, the more it is worth. Since it is impossible to know, for the purposes of comparison territories will generally be scored based only on the territory shown for the problem. 

It’s important to remember that maintaining the ability to connect to other territories is extremely. If a player can give up some area in exchange for being able to connect, it is often well worth it and that option will be preferred.

Short Story: Field Trip

“James, give Sarah back her finger. Sarah, put your finger back on and stop playing with it.” Dealing with twelve four-year olds can be difficult. I don’t know how I’d manage without Milly. “Milly, help Sarah with that, would you?” Instantly Milly was crouched beside Sarah, helping her wipe off her finger and get it back in place. I turned my attention back to the class.

“Everyone listen carefully. We’re going on a field trip today, to a transition room. Does everyone know what that is?” Most of the children did, but there were a few puzzled looks that faded quickly to that faraway stare kids get when they use their link. Within a second all of them were nodding, trying to look as if they had known all along.

“Did everyone get their parents’ permission?” Again, there were a few that spent a fraction of a second staring into space as they hurriedly checked with their parents. Then everyone was nodding. A quick check on Sarah — ten fingers all in place — and we exited the classroom.


The lights faded up on the transition room. It was fairly simple: dark carpeting on the floors and three walls, a soft glow from the ceiling, a set of toys neatly arranged against one of the carpeted walls, and what looked much like a mirror on the fourth wall.

It wasn’t a mirror, but a display with a mirror image of the room on it. Since the display worked by interacting directly with each person’s visual cortex, everyone saw a mirror image appropriate to his or her perspective.

Before the children had a chance to run for the toys, I called out to them. “Attention, please, everyone.” They all looked at me, although I could tell some of them were studying the toys as well — kids don’t generally learn to separate their facial expression from what they’re linking of until they’re five or six.

I was about to speak when James’s hand shot up. I noticed his hair had changed from pink to green on the trip over. “Yes, James?”

“Miss Poe, how is transitioning different than porting?”

“That’s an excellent question, James. Porting is much easier because all the work is done for you. When you transition, you have to focus your consciousness from one place to another. Only you can do it. Does that answer your question?” He nodded somewhat hesitantly, so I turned back to the class. He’d understand better by experience than an explanation anyway.

“This is a typical transition room. This is where people learn to change form from physical to digital and from digital to physical. Once you’ve practiced a bit, you’ll be able to do it quickly and easily. If you care to spend the time, you’ll get to the point where you don’t need the transition room at all — you’ll just think about it and it will happen. Can anyone think of a person who might get that good at it?”

For a split second I got twelve blank stares. Then twelve hands shot up. “Yes, Celie?”

“An ambassador.”

“Yes, an ambassador would have to go back and forth so often, it would be an advantage not to have to use a transition room to do it. Can anyone think of another type of person who would have to practice making the transition? Yes, James?” 

“A soldier.”

“Yes, a soldier makes transitions all the time.” I frowned slightly to let him know he was being inappropriate. “Okay, is everyone ready to get started?” They all nodded their heads, but I noticed Sarah’s anxiety level rising a bit. I forwarded the data feed to Milly as I walked over toward the toys. 

Scanning the row as if I hadn’t already decided, I picked up a stuffed bear. It squirmed in my hands a bit since I had picked it up by the back, but settled when it realized I didn’t need or want it to do anything more. 

Turning to the kids I said, “These toys are here for you to play with, but they also serve another purpose. They’re going to help you to transition. They will help distract you so that the transition program can kick in. Making a transition is all about relaxing and letting yourself go. So enjoy yourselves, and Milly and I will be over in the corner if you need us.”

Milly was already in the corner, so I went to join her. The kids immediately took to the toys, and I could see their cognitive patterns moving in the right direction except for one: Sarah wasn’t settling in the way she should. I could even see it looking at the expression on her face. She was half-heartedly playing patty-cake with the bear, but she obviously wasn’t enjoying it.

I linked with Milly, then opened a full readout on Sarah. I usually don’t do that with the kids — it’s within my scope of course, but I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned. Her stress levels were high in several categories and slowly rising. She wasn’t thinking about the bear. Instead she was focused completely on the transition, which is a sure-fire way to fail at it.

Class was scheduled to end in fifteen minutes — I didn’t have time to be subtle. I ran a quick check on the other eleven. All of them were doing well. James was already sixty percent focused on the other side of the mirror. In another minute or two he’d have completed his first transition. The others weren’t far behind, averaging forty-two percent. The system had already started to add new toys on the other side; toys that weren’t on our side of the mirror.

I checked back on Sarah. Her stress levels were higher and she was still at zero. I linked to her so as not to upset any of the others. Sarah, honey, what’s bothering you?

Nothing. I just don’t want to do it.

I checked — it was true as far as it went, but she was holding back. I could have opened her up to figure it out, but I didn’t want to go that far. Did your parents talk to you about transition? You know it’s — I was about to say that it was one of the class requirements, but her stress levels were spiking as I talked so I changed it to — no big deal. We can try again some other time. Maybe when the other kids aren’t around. Just you and me. How does that sound? Her thoughts smoothed out a little. 

Damn her parents. Some people just drop their infants off and expect you to make a person out of them. What’s the point of making a kid if you’re not going to raise it?

Sarah, why don’t you just come over here and sit with Milly and me? She dutifully walked over and sat down. As soon as she was comfortable I froze her mental processes and faded her out of the other kids’ visual perception. Time to check on the rest of the class. 

James was mostly transitioned. On our side he was nearly motionless, while on the other side he was exploring his new body and the toys on that side. His hair was now purple. Celie wasn’t far behind, and all of them looked a little sluggish on our side. I didn’t want to interrupt the lesson, so I’d have to retcon Sarah and her episode out of the day’s class after it was over. I hated having to rewrite their whole day like that, but there was no other option.

Milly leaned close and whispered, “You need to hurry if you’re going to greet them on the other side.” Fine for her to talk — she could transition in an instant. But she was right. I took a breath, calmed myself, and stared at my reflection. I concentrated on my left hand. For some reason it was always easier to start there rather than with my right. I suppose I could self-analyze to figure out why, or even change it if I wanted to, but it’s one of those personality-defining things that lose their flavor if you study them.

In a moment I was wiggling my fingers on the other side. Soon I had a moment’s dizzyness, and I was watching my hand not move on the other other side. Milly was already there beside me, of course. I turned to the kids. All of them were there more or less. A quick check — all but three were fully transitioned, and those would be within the next twenty seconds. Apart from Sarah it had all gone smoothly.

I smiled at them brightly and erased Sarah from their day. “Children, I’m very proud of you. That was excellent work. If any of you ever have to actually transition to physical bodies I’m sure you’ll do just fine. Run along home now, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” One by one they disappeared like so many soap bubbles as they ported home. I deactivated Milly and sighed. 

Sarah was still motionless on the other side. I cancelled the transition room simulation, walked over and unfroze her, and helped her up. “Sarah, let’s go have a talk with your parents.” 



This is a story I wrote several years ago. I ‘m curious how many people saw the ending coming.

Senket — Chains, and Breaking Them


Cutting a Diamond


Red misuses the square diamond.

Red misuses the square diamond.

The long diamond and the square diamond can go around a post in their way, but they can be stopped if they are used incorrectly. 


Trying to go beside a blocking post will fail. Here, Red plays at 1 thinking he will bypass Blue with the square diamond. Blue 2 cuts him off. Red should have played at A or B, grabbing more territory. 

Note that playing at B is secure for Red — any attack inside by Blue will fail. Playing at A on the other hand invites Blue to play at 2 anyway, or perhaps at B. Either way, Blue will make territory or escape to the right.

Breaking The Chain


Two diamonds together are vulnerable.

Two diamonds together are vulnerable.

Stringing together diamond connections invites attack. Here Red has played 1, thinking to connect the two sides and claim a large territory.


Blue 2 cuts Red off two ways, and Red must choose which connection to make. Blue will be able to block the other, or continue the invasion and make territory inside.

Note that here only 2 will work. No other point has the potential to form fences across both diamonds. Specifically, any approach from above will fail.

Waterboarding descriptions and videos

I waterboard! – Straight Dope Message Board — A guy who once swam underwater until he lost consciousness (on purpose) pours the water over his own face. His reaction: “It took me ten minutes to recover my senses once I tried this. I was shuddering in a corner, convinced I narrowly escaped killing myself.”

Christopher Hitchens waterboarded — Believe Me, It’s Torture (video). He writes: “… if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

A note from Hitchens on whether you can cheat at waterboarding: ‘What I do recall clearly, though, is a hard finger feeling for my solar plexus as the water was being poured. What was that for? “That’s to find out if you are trying to cheat, and timing your breathing to the doses. If you try that, we can outsmart you. We have all kinds of enhancements.”’

Former Navy Seal waterboarded — Short Version. Full Version (24 minutes) It appears that he sometimes lasts for thirty or forty seconds before full panic sets in, but the interogators also talk about him holding his breath, so it’s possible he cracked within a few seconds of actually trying to breathe. He does get credit for resisting their questions through repeated 10-40 second sessions of waterboarding.

Playboy journalist — lasts six seconds.

I have to say, 24 is a lot less entertaining these days when Jack Bauer says “If you don’t tell me what I want to know, then it’ll just be a question of how much you want it to hurt.”

UPDATE: 22 May 2009: Radio personality Erich “Mancow” Muller calls waterboarding torture after lasting less than ten seconds.