Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chess Theory

Standard chess is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a draw with best play, i.e. a theoretical draw.  That means, from a theory perspective, that all positions in all "playable" openings are of exactly equal evaluation (0.00 in chess computer terminology, "=" in opening book terminology).  So what are all the other evaluations appearing in openings books and on computer chess programs?  From a theory perspective, those are all just probabilistic estimates as to a position's true theoretic value, which can only be one of ("white wins", "draw", "black wins"), or in computer terminology ("+#", 0.00, "-#"), or in opening book terminology ("+-", "=", "-+").

The interesting and wide-open questions are then:
  1. Where exactly is the line between "playable" and "unplayable" in the opening?  Or, how big is the gray area between "playable" and "unplayable", can it be reduced, and if so how and how far?
  2. What is the function from computer evaluation value to numeric probability?  Or is this an apples-to-oranges comparison because of the inherent uncertainty in the value (dependent as it is on how much, how deeply, and which parts of the move tree the computer has searched, let alone the computer's underlying base (0-depth) evaluation function)?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Corbomite Details

So, what is Corbomite?  Well, according to Kirk (Star Trek, Original Series, "The Corbomite Maneuver"), it is "a substance", "a material and a device which prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying ... the attacker."  Some kind of substance rolled into some kind of material rolled into some kind of device.  Huh?  Did Shatner flub his line or did the author (Jerry Sohl) really write this?  Maybe the idea is that Kirk, clever lad, already had suspicions that Balok was bluffing, and only needed a vague and hardly-believable bluff of his own to probe his antagonist in turn.  Of course the suspense of the episode depends on that not being the case, that it was true desperation/bravado on Kirk's part.  Interesting that the intent of the ambiguous bluff is itself ambiguous. #multilevelwriting

Also somewhat interesting is that this is a fiction (bluff) within a fictional story.  That's hardly uncommon though, deception being a frequent plot device.

But to make it the title of the episode??  Good lord, that is like titling "A Piece of the Action" as "The Fizzbin Maneuver" instead.  How about "Space Fear" or "Face of the Ultimate Unknown" or something.  The portrayal of Dave Bailey was actually quite good in this episode, especially in his relationship to his captain.

There is one other reference to Corbomite in the series.  Again Kirk is using it as a bluff, but this time he describes it as a self-destruct device, in "The Deadly Years".  Come on Kirk, make up your mind.  :-)

Monday, April 23, 2012


Well, nothing like a blog for dredging up memories and thoughts.  This started as a questioning thought: what is the actual scientific meaning of the prefix corbo- as used in "Corbomite" from Star Trek (Original Series episode "The Corbomite Maneuver")?  Wouldn't that make a good trivia question?  Feel free.

Sounds like a variant of carbo- doesn't it.  Carbohydrate, carborundum.  Not so; it appears to be completely made up.

Here is a complete list of words in my Webster's Unabridged starting with corb-, categorized:

Rooted in Latin corbis (basket):
  corb, a basket used in coal mines
  corbeil, a basket (of dirt or flowers) on a wall
  Corbicula, a genus of mollusks
  corbiculum, pollen basket of a bee

From Hebrew korban (offering) from karab (to offer):
  corban, an offering to God
  corbana, a church treasury

From Latin corvus (raven; shape of its beak):
  corbe, curved
  corbel, (to form or add a) curved architectural bracket
  corbel(l)ing, making of or series of corbels
  corbel step, a corbiestep
  corbel table, any piece of architecture using corbels
  corbet, a corbel
  corbie/corby, Scottish for crow, raven
  corbie crow, the carrion crow
  corbie gable, a gable with corbiesteps
  corbiestep, a step forming part of a roof

As for the -ite suffix, possibly relevant entries:
  (f) salt or ester of an acid whose name ends in -ous (corbomous acid?)
  (g) mineral or rock (discovered by a person named Corbom?)

Oh well, I guess Balok was not familiar with the Federation linguistic banks.  So how did he speak English so well?  :-)

This appears to be the closest real-world inspiration for the term: