Posts from January 2006

  • 400 Big Ones!

    So our benevolent provincial Conservative goverment (I live in Alberta, aka, Texas of the North) has decided to take 1.4 billion dollars of the provincial budget surplus (generated by a healthy dose of oil and gas tax revenue) and hand it out to the average Albertan, to the tune of $400 for every man, woman, and child, in the form of a Prosperity_Bonus (yes, even Wikipedia has an article on this topic). Translation: I get 400 big ones!

    Now, forget the fact that this is, in my estimation, the stupidest thing I can imagine to do with the money (see the Futurama episode “300 Big Ones” for a great satire on this whole situation). Forget the fact that the money could probably be better invested in health care, education, or heck, even squirreled away for when our resources finally do run out. Forget all that. The real issue, now, is: how do I blow this money most effectively?

    Some, like these folks, might attempt to get me to donate my money to so-called “charities”. Pfft. Yeah right! I live in Alberta! I’m here to help one charity and one charity only: The Support Brett Kosinski foundation! Others might say, use it to pay bills! But that seems, to say the least, overly practical. Not to mention mature, responsible, and a whole host of other adjectives that I really try to distance myself from.

    Frankly, I think the obvious thing would be to blow the money on some useless trinket that would provide me with somewhere between 20 minutes and a half hour of enjoyment before I got bored and lock onto the next bright, shiny object to catch my eye. And who knows, I might do this anyway! But, in theory, I should try to get something with a little longevity. Then again, I could just spend a day drinking 100 cups of coffee. Damn, I hate these kinds of hard decisions.

    On another note, the money from these bonus cheques is exempt from taxation. Now, according to Prosperity_Bonus, the government is managing this by labelling the money as a refund due to an overpayment of taxes. At this point, I asked myself, if that’s the case, why not just give everyone in the province a tax cut that would amount to the same thing? And then it dawned on me. A tax cut, once performed, is coded into law, and is difficult to change. However, with the ‘prosperity cheque’ scheme, the government can adjust the size of the bonus from year to year based on the size of the budgetary surplus. Consequently, should the province have, say, a bad year, they don’t have to pass an ugly, nasty tax hike. Instead, they just reduce the size of the bonus. Clever, eh? :)

    Additionally, this bonus cheque scheme is fairly progressive, in that it benefits families and those with lower incomes. Of course, one could achieve the same with a progressive tax cut (ie, focus the cut on the lower tax brackets), but, of course, there are political ramifications from this (and it wouldn’t be very Conservative, now would it? :), which is not the case with the bonus cheques.

  • The Goban Has Arrived!

    Well, as usual, it’s been a while. This time I’m writing about another one of my many hobbies, in this case, Go. It’s a very old game from the far east (at least a couple thousand years old), with millions and millions of players in the East Asian region, and growing popularity in Europe and North America.

    Anyway, I finally decided to spoil myself and sink some money into a decent Goban (board) and a nice set of stones. Up to this point, I had an el cheapo board with some glass stones, and even then, rarely had an opportunity to use it, thanks to a dearth of opponents (which is unfortunate, as Go really is a very enjoyable game, particularly for those who are interested in Chess or similar games of strategy).

    However, recently a friend (the one who introduced me to Go) and I, along with a number of his buddies, have started a Go night on thursdays, so I figure I can finally justify getting a decent set, since it will actually get used. Below are a bunch of pictures of the set, which I purchased from Go-gamestore (a company conveniently located in Ontario!). I was lucky to get in on a sale which included a 1” Spruce standard Japanese board and a set of bi-convex Yunzi stones and bamboo bowls, all for $110, and that includes shipping!

    First we have a shot of the set itself. Here you see the goban and the stones inside their bamboo baskets (eventually, I’d like to get some nice wooden bowls, but the baskets are not that bad, in actuality).

    Next we have the board by itself. It’s got a slightly shiny finish, and the lines are crisp and clear, with only a couple flaws (the far side of the board in the picture is a little banged up… but, for the price, I’m not complaining).

    Here is a shot of the board with a pro game in progress.

    Next, a close up of the stones (admittedly not the greatest picture).

    The back of the board, as it was originally shipped, had a nice, smooth finish, but was otherwise blank. I decided to take advantage of this and drew a 9x9 board on the back, which will come in very handy for Go night, since the other players are beginners, and thus haven’t graduated to a full 19x19 board, yet.

    It turned out pretty decent, in my opinion. The lines were drawn with a fine Sharpie (though they’re still a bit thicker than I’d like), and I used an edge guide to keep the lines nice and parallel. The board itself is almost centered on the goban… apparently I neglected to measure twice, and so the whole thing is shifted 0.5 centimeters to one side. :)

    The stones themselves are quite interesting. Traditionally, Go stones are made from slate, for black, and, believe it or not, shell for white. The white stones are made by boring out circular portions of clam shell and then rounding them off. This means that, for a 10mm-thick stone, you need a 10mm-thick shell! Thus, these stones tend to be out of the price range for your average Go player.

    For normal people, typical stones are made from either glass (like my other set), or plastic, possibly with a weight inside (these are known as Ing stones). However, another variety of stone, invented by the Chinese, is the Yunzi. This stone is made from sintered (powered and melted down) jade for black, and quartz for white (in other words, they’re actually stones :). The result is that the white stones are very slightly translucent, and the black stones are, in fact, very dark green, though this can only really be seen when they are held up to the light, as you can see in the following image:

    Like slate stones, black Yunzi should be oiled, which gives them a nice sheen. The stones are quite heavy (certainly heavier than my glass stones), with a slightly rough finish, and have a fairly high specific heat capacity, making them feel cool to the touch. They’re quite enjoyable to play with, and given their modest price, make an excellent higher-end stone for amateurs like myself (although they’re also the preferred stone for professional tournaments in China).