I was hunting around in Borders looking for something to buy for James, my eldest, and I found a boxed beginners Go set and book. For those of you who don't know what Go is, it is a 3,000 year old game that originated in China. Go is the European name for it, derived from the Japanese name, Igo. Other names for it are Wei Ch'i in China and Baduk in Korea. The game consists of a 19 x 19 grid, with one player playing black stones, and the other playing white. Unlike other board games, the pieces are played on the intersections of the lines rather than inside the squares. The objective of the game is to surround territory with stones of your color. Pieces can take each other, but that's a secondary objective - the winner is the person who has captured the most territory.
So that I wouldn't get hammered by my 10-year old son on Xmas day, I thought I'd better get a head start and find out how to play. It turns out there is an enormous amout of information on the net - not surprising as the game is played by an estimated 50 million people in the Far East. A good introduction can be found on the British Go Association website. There are also quite a few online Go servers, that allow you to play other people online - and having played a few games, I'm hooked!
At first sight the game appears to be straightforward - the rules are fairly simple, and it all seems pretty easy. However, having played a couple of games online and been soundly thrashed, it has really grabbed my interest. It's actually a far more complex game than chess - unlike chess the best Go-playing programs are of a distinctly crummy standard. The reason it is so much more difficult for computers than chess, according to this overview of computer Go is that at any given point in a Go game there are vastly more potential moves to be considered, and that in addition evaluating each potential move is far more difficult and costly, and to cap it off libraries of precomputed game openings and endings, which are used extensively in chess playing programs, really don't work very well for Go - in all it is thought that 10^27 more computer power is needed for a world-class Go program than is needed for chess. At least there is still one thing left where we are better than the goddam machines :-)
The largest online Go server is the Internet Go Server (IGS). Most of the Go servers are based on telnet, but there are a quite a few clients available that give you a graphical board to play on, and you can also watch other games that are in progress. I quite like gGo - it's written in Java so it is cross-platform. I shouldn't say this bearing in mind who I work for, but it is the first Java application I've come across that I actually consider to be worth using!
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Graham and Shirley, were up over the weekend for a pre-christmas visit and general family gossip, and yesterday we went to Castleton to go down the Blue John cavern. Blue John is a semiprecious form of fluorspar which has been mined since Roman times, and is found nowhere else other than Castleton - as far as I know the Blue John cavern is the only remaining source, all the others having being worked out years ago. We have been down several times, but Shirley and Graham hadn't been before. After that we went for a very blowy walk along the landslipped road at the foot of Mam Tor before heading off to The Lamb Inn on the A624 between Chinley and Hayfield for a most excellent meal - the banana-filled crepes with bananna ice-cream were superb. Yum-yum :-)
As part of the Moors for the Future project, large amounts of cut heather is going to be spread on the burnt, eroded and degraded areas of peat on Bleaklow. The heather contains lots of seed which will hopefully germinate and recolonise the bare peat areas, and the cut heather will also act as a mulch to protect the peat and the new growth from the erosive effects of the weather. The peat is far to delicate and soft to allow the use of machinery, so all the heather (several thousand bales) has to be cut, loaded onto lorries, brought to the nearest roadhead, transferred onto tractor trailers and moved to the marshalling point - Glossop Low - via a farm track, from where it will be airlifted by helicopter onto the moor. Yesterday (Sunday) I walked up from the house to the marshalling point to (foolishly!) give a hand with the loading operation.
There are several thousand bales of cut heather to be moved (the piles in the background are just a small portion), and in order for them to be lifted by the helicopter they all need to be loaded into lift bags (the white bags in the foreground).
All the heather bales have to be individually hand-loaded into the lift bags, 10-12 per bag. This is a very awkward (and scratchy!) operation, and is extremely tiring - we managed to fill about 30 bags in 3 hours, by which time I was completely knackered - taking photos was a good excuse to have a breather :-)
Some of the heather is cut into smaller pieces to make it easier to spread, and this (fortunately!) comes already loaded into lift bags. Shifting these is a much easier operation, requiring only the services of a local farmer and a tractor.
At this time of year it gets dark by just after 3:30pm, so at 3:00pm we stopped work - for which I was extremely grateful. I cadged a lift down the hill on one of the Land-Rovers, and walked the short distance back home from Blackshaw farm, past Swineshaw reservoirs. My arms and hands are still aching :-)
As I said in my last entry, there was an article in The Times newspaper about the aircraft wrecks walk on Bleaklow, and as a result we had a larger than usual turnout so we split into two groups, with myself, Jean and Rachel taking the second group of 10 people. To say that it was windy today was an understatement, and the wind chill made it feel a lot colder than it actually was. The article in The Times made it sound like we were going to take the easy route from Snake summit, whereas we actually walked up from Glossop, which I think gave some people a bit of a nasty surprise. It didn't rain and we got back with the same number of people we set out with, plus everyone thanked us so I guess it must have been a success!
Whilst we were out, Andy and Mark, two of the full-timers, were over at Glossop Low loading heather bales into lift bags for next week's helicopter lift, so I think we got the easier deal.
I've also come across some more National Park-related information, namely the above press release, the new environmental website that the Peak District National Park has set up, the DEFRA website for the CROW act, the CROW act itself and the report describing the remedial work already carried out on the Pennine Way.
Peter Moulds, one of my friends in the Ranger Service posted the contents of an article entitled Walk of tribute to lives lost on a wing and a prayer from the 1st November edition of The Times as a comment on one of my other Peak District entries. The article is about some of the many WW2 aircraft wrecks that can be found across the Peak District.
I hope Peter doesn't mind but I've moved the information here instead to make it a bit more visible. The Ranger Service arranges guided walks for anyone who wants to visit some of the wrecks. The Times article gave dates for the guided walks, but the dates are incorrect, the first walk was on 22nd November, and the second one is on 6th December. And yes, I will be on duty :-)
You can find an on-line calendar of events within the Peak District National Park here