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Wednesday, 25 January 2023


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I always get a chuckle when you refer to 'touch typing'. There's other typing? :)

I can only remember, find around the house, or will publicly acknowledge maybe two dozen 50mm lenses that I own. I believe you mentioned Hugh Crawford might have more. Something to aspire to! Surely there's enough different between all those 50mms to justify their ownership...

[Touch-typing just means typing by feel and muscle-memory without having to look at the keys. And it goes along with a specific system of always using particular fingers on specific keys. The other kind of typing is called "hunt and peck," which means using fingers for keys idiosyncratically and needing to look at the keyboard--sometimes if not always. I naturally hunt and peck, and seldom look at the keyboard, but that's still not considered touch-typing. --Mike]

Mike wrote, "Be sensible!"

A few months ago, I bought a snow blower hoping that when spring arrives it will be sitting quietly in its corner of the garage. Unused.

Sensible? I think so.

Good article! I greatly enjoyed it. I too obsess about things, especially when making a significant purchase (camera, computer). Interestingly, once I’ve made the purchase I tend to relax about it, and all the little pros and cons that I was obsessing about become unimportant as I just use the item.

Fun fact: did you know that the standard design of a chess Knight in the UK from the mid-19th century has been based on a carving of a stallion from the Elgin marbles in the British Museum?

“Obsession” is often cited as a negative, self-destructive trait. But the truly self-destructive disorder is “obsessive-compulsive disorder” where one has lost self-control of one’s obsessive urges and lets those urges run his/her life. Very bad.

And, yes, plain ol’ obsession can be debilitating and destructive, too, burning-up all one’s intellectual and emotional bandwidth. But, in fact, obsession is the force that has moved humanity (mostly) forward since humans stood erect. What if, say, Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla, Jonas Salk, et.al. had not been “obsessive”? No, obsession is a very important driver throughout human history. A world without it would be sad to imagine. (Even insects and animals are instinctively obsessed!)

And what about being an obsessed collector? Same story. Museums would have little to show the public without obsessed collectors disgorging their treasures post-mortem! And how sparse would the used Leica camera gear world be without guys obsessed with getting the "best" lenses and cameras?*

(* Blushing, as a guy who recently scored the new 35mm Summilux and the wonderful 35mm APO Summicron lenses.)

"George Orwell wrote, "autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful..."

"I'm writing my unauthorized autobiography." -- Steven Wright

My recent obsession involves this site. Your post from many months ago on watches was a tipping point for me. I had a half a dozen purely functional watches with a combined value of under $300. Since that article, I have 20 watches, and $300 is the average cost of each, some hitting $700-plus. I spend hours on YouTube watching reviews and planning my next purchase. Most of these watches have been worn once or twice, just to confirm operation, but I really don't need 95% of these.

I never use to understand hoarders, but I may now.

Good luck with your chess sets.

I can relate to this post. A couple years ago, I was determined to find a nice antique chess set, just so I could photograph the pieces. If I'd found what I was looking for (locally, not eBay), I probably would have bought it. After a while, my mind was on to something else, like the next old film camera for my small collection.

Along comes your post with that photo of beautiful hand carved pieces, and I want to buy them. A bonus would be supporting Ukraine.

P.S. I played chess often with friends in school but probably haven't touched the game in 40 years.

Hi Mike,

There's nothing like a community of chess players to learn from and get you playing, and there's at least one chess club not far (I believe) from you at http://www.branchportlibrary.org

Of course, these days you can find communities online at all levels (strange to think that there's a generation or two of players who likely played their first chess games on a screen rather than a board). But hard to replicate the instant give and take and serendipity of live situations.

Either way, I recommend jumping in and just playing, with both beginners and slightly better players, and anyone willing to teach.

And chess sets are also nice decor, but I suggest starting modestly. A roll-up tournament set, or maybe a nice looking used set with a missing piece or two that you can replace for games with salt shakers or film canisters.

If you want to try an old fashioned slow-mo correspondence game, I'm game. I was never that good and I'm super-rusty, so don't be intimidated. I'm sure there are others here just as willing. Start a game and you'll quickly grasp the utility and pleasure of having a 3D set.

I was playing chess online for a bit against both the computer and live opponents. I somehow played someone with a ranking far beyond mine to a tie.. Then he sends a message…”that was the messiest game ever!” I replied “yes but I am new”. He told me to take lessons and took off lol.

I tried learning chess by playing against an on-line bot. I never won, but I quickly learned the basics, without spending a dime on “gear”…

Well I can't put my finger on it, but I think you're obsessive about something!!!

I've played chess all my life, quite competitively in early years, but recently more recreationaly. It's an interesting game. Online chess is everywhere, but I recommend over-the-board chess with a clock. Just join a local chess club. It's amazing how "physical" the game can be...

People have pondered many aspects of the game. Is the preponderence of draws a result of the fear of being intellectually crushed - with no excuses? How many moves do you have to calculate? It has been said that top players do not even consider bad moves. Not that they briefly look at them and reject them, they just do not consider them. When asked how many moves deep they calculated, more than one player has said "one". Meaning (slightly ingenuously) that they only analyse the position

If you don't already have one, plastics chess sets are reasonably priced, and you can get a roll-up board to go with them.

Just my $.02.

With bes regards,


I was struck by Bruce Chatwin's "The Songlines", when I read it in my 30's, where he says something like consumerism is just misplaced nomadism because, since we don't have a seasonal change of scene, we buy things instead. I've always figured that's why I get excited by new ideas and get into projects that go along with them. Then I want to buy the objects that go with the projects. I figure this is probably a quality common to people with inquiring minds and I have to say, I totally respect your ability to go down the rabbit hole of chess pieces but then come back to a reasonable compromise of "chess now, fancy pieces later". I admire your restraint.

Mike, On a side note: When ever you post pictures taken in you home I've noticed what a wonderful sense of esthetics in home decor you have. That Ukrainian chess set would go perfectly! :)

"I resemble that remark...."
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with obsessing over your latest fascination or avocation. As long as you're not spending the baby's formula money of course.
There is substantial joy to be had from the quest for the perfect 50 mm lens, the perfect letterpress printed book, or whatever. I have far too many lenses for the two different interchangeable lens systems I use. I share the tendency to obsess about the optimal widget to perform some small part of a hobby task.
My other obsession is landscape oil painting. Finding the perfect linen painting surface, the perfect size 10 flat brush, the perfect palette of oil pigments for the subjects I want to render is an ongoing, endless, mostly enjoyable quest. This explains why I have at least 100 little stainless steel painting knives, ranging from dirt cheap to don't ask. No harm done, and learning to paint has greatly enriched my life. It has also improved my photography in subtle ways.

You need a $99.99 book to understand chess? What is this, Photoshop?

The hand carved pieces are lovely, but most chess tournaments are played with weighted plastic pieces on a roll up board.

I'm not much of a chess player, but I like the idea of playing chess. You can play online against others at chess.com

Hypothesis: Readers of this site is a self-selected group more prone to obsessions (a.k.a. GAS). 😂

I’ve just temporarily fought off my obsession by selling off my Panasonic GM5 set in mint condition that I didn’t really use but “collected“.

If I may.

You live by yourself and are socially isolated.

You over research for items you don't need.

Might this simply be a habit formed to justify purchasing things? Searching for ways to utilise things to solve a problem is fine. But you don't have the problems they're designed to solve.

Which comes back to isolation. Which is the problem you're being psychologically manipulated into thinking will be solved by buying stuff.

Marketing and advertising strategists are experts at deceiving you into believing that the act of buying things will make you feel part of society. Like connective tissue is going to sprout when you hit BUY.

And it leads inexorably to a hollow post purchase experience of fleeting satisfaction at best.

Get a 3D printer to obsess over and print a chess set. Or wood carving tools and carve your own. Both will help keep your mind experiencing new things.

You can learn to read Greek. There is this superb book, Homeric Greek for Beginners, which gets you started actually reading Homer. Slowly at first, but eventually you can build up some speed. And you are reading *Homer*. Why read silly made up Latin phrases when you can read Homer?

Or you can learn how to program a computer how to play go. There is this book, Deep Learning and the Game of Go. It also teaches you to play go.

"Not to mention that I live alone and don't even know anyone else who plays chess." No worries, there are some very popular sites, not the least of which is chess.com, currently being swamped by the popularity of online chess.

To avoid hasty impulse purchases, maybe you could practice the "one-week cooling off period".
If you are still keen to buy after that then go ahead. This practice has save me a lot of money on unnecessary expenditures.

A couple of chess thoughts if these are helpful. I've been playing online chess for a couple of decades. You get a rating at these sites, and I have not only plateaued, but my rating has started to decline a bit. I'm your age, nearly, so take this as a sign of some sort of cognitive decline (eww). Ratings are what you are, you can't argue that you are better than what your rating says you are, no luck involved. Occasionally I play someone much higher rated than I am, make the same opening moves, but I just slowly start getting crushed in a way I don't against people at my own level. So there are weaknesses in my game that don't show up against lower rated players, weaknesses I barely understand.

Two suggestions. If you want to try the online chess thing, redhotpawn.com is good. A decent chess channel on YouTube is Adgamator, he is playing through some of the games at the Tata Steel chess tournament (a big deal).


Anyone who wants to learn a little chess strategy and a lot of chess culture should read Underhanded Chess by Jerry Sohl. It's brilliant and currently available at Amazon.

I would look for a nice double-weighted, felt-bottomed, synthetic set because as you work through the problems or play described in chess books, you are less likely to knock a piece or two or many more over. Long ago my wife gave me a such a set, Drueke by Gallant, that was very nice and easy on the pocket book – at least back in the 1990s. I'm not sure they are still in production, but you may find something on eBay or Etsy that is modest enough in price to suit you. Amazon has synthetics that are double- or triple-weighted with 3.75-inch kings that are affordable. When you are not working your upper body with a weighted set, you can exercise your mind with Fred Reinfeld books on sacrifices, combinations, and checkmates.

Your move ...

Form TOP - Friday, 23 February 2018


I'm sure I've told the story of "Pete's Boat" here before, but a search shows no results, so here we go....

About 45 years ago our friend Pete decided he wanted a boat. He bought and read magazines on boats. He visited marinas and picked up brochures from boat dealers. He talked to boat owners about what brands of boats and motors they liked. His house was covered with boat sales information.

Then one day, all that literature disappeared into the trash.

We asked what happened? "Nothing," Pete said. "I just realized that I liked the search for a boat but I really didn't want to own one."

I do not know how many times the term "Pete's Boat" has been used in our family to describe the short term obsession with some object of desire that dies out after a few days or weeks of interest. The search is the fun part, too often the reality is disappointment.

PS: Turns out Friday, 23 February 2018 was the first time I posted the story of "Pete's Boat."

Latest episode: While reading Mike's episodes converting a camera to B&W only, I started looking to look into converting my Nikon Zfc which is programmed to duplicate my Nikon FM of 40 years ago was like with Triple-X film. I discovered that for only about twice the cost of the camera I can get the sensor converted physically but using it requires some workarounds to get images out of it.

No thanks, Pete's Boat wins again.

But I do still check KEH for Leica Monochrome.

Part 2 about Pete of "Pete's Boat" fame.

Pete died a few years ago at a fairly young age. His widow stayed in their home in the SE, surrounded by their gardens and beautiful trees. She's a country girl who grew up on a farm, so she kept the place up herself. Until a few weeks ago. While chopping down a tree which fell wrong, she was pinned under it with a leg broken in 3 places.

When she gets out of the hospital, she says she is selling the house and moving to an apartment or assisted care facility.

The problem was Pete was OCD and a hoarder of sorts. The basement of the house is filled with his toys. He was an electronic genius (he invented the digital tuned radio in 1972) and loved antique electronics. The basement is full of old electronic equipment and thousands of tubes - he built custom tube amps and speakers for stereo after retirement. He had a giant darkroom and lots of cameras. And don't forget the machine shop.

So now this poor lady has to figure out what to do with all this stuff. I'm helping her and her sons.

If anybody knows of a museum interested in a collection of vintage electronics, preferably on the US East Coast or South, please let me know (Mike knows how to contact me.)

I used to play chess with the folks at work during lunch. A lot of trash talk, laughing and good fun. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Very few draw games. We just had fun. After I retired there is no one to play with. Playing the computer gets boring real fast. Stick with your pals playing pool and having a good time. Your in New York so a little trash talk could spice things up a bit.

Someone send that man a chess set!
As long as no one gets hurt I'll tell you how I get on when I've fitted an old Sigma 600mm F8 Mirror lens to my Fuji and my Sigma Quattro (I hope).
Shoot for the Moon.

When I was a kid, my parents took my to a Chess club for a couple of years (eventually ended up playing in tournaments). I still have very vivid memories of handling those plastic weighted Staunton chess pieces that "clunk" down onto the board and "click" when you take someone's piece. Or even putting away the pieces into a box and hearing them click and clack against each other. The noise and feel were part of that experience and memory.

I've never played with a Russian style chess set, but I do like the very different thin elegant pieces.

I'll probably go out and buy the world chess plastic replica set now ... I do like the more modern minimalist Staunton design. https://www.pentagram.com/work/world-chess/story

Cheers, Pak

Some years back when I was interested in learning chess I used to visit a website called chesstempo where they offer free tactical exercises, e.g. you are at a certain point near the end of the game and it is your move. If you register (free) then after a while they give you a ranking and the problems are set to your level. I found that to be a great brain exercise.

Wow - GAS attack over chess pieces ;~)
Or is it just an excuse to enjoy the hunt for the next purchase.

All the best with learning to play & strategise.

Slightly on topic.

I still have a board I made at school and that was a long time ago. I haven't used it for years partly because I seem to have lost the urge to win at anything. I seem to happy to let others win these days or even better just sit back and watch them play.

I hope what this says is that I'm comfortable in myself and don't feel the need to prove anything. I hope that's it.

When you find yourself considering the merits of weighted vs unweighted pieces for a game you don’t know how to play, it’s time to touch grass, as the kids say.

Thank You Mike! As one of the above described, although maybe not to the extremes mentioned (my wife might demur), I thank you for letting me know I'm not alone in the universe!

I was listening to an interview with actor F. Murray Abraham (83) recently on Fresh Air (NPR) while walking laps at my local park and he mentioned how he exercises both his mind and body. He said that it’s an actor’s nightmare to be unable to remember your lines so he memorizes sonnets as a daily mental exercise.

I recently found myself in a situation where I needed to replace all my OLD computer hardware and software at once and I chose to not stay with the familiar. I went from Windows/Lightroom/Photoshop to Apple/DPP/Affinity. I did this in part as a mental exercise to learn something new but also out of curiosity and to keep my home computer as simple and streamlined as possible. I’m just not interested in renting software or in Microsoft’s preference that my OS require an internet connection and be tied to an online account. You can still set up Windows with a local account but you need to hack the setup process to do it. It’s never a good sign when you start to view your home computer OS as an opponent.

So far I’m really enjoying my new 14” MacBook Pro. Operationally, it’s not all that different and I appreciate its nice array of ports. I must admit to doing a double take during setup when the Data and Privacy screen appeared. I’m not used to seeing a Big Tech company state a belief that privacy is a fundamental human right. I realize that Apple probably collects as much analytics/telemetry as the next guy and that they have their own ad network but currently, they seem like the best choice from a privacy perspective.

FYI – January 28th is Data Privacy Day.

Most of my obsessions take place in Winter and most are cured by the arrival of Spring. Unlike things like computers, smartphones, and digital cameras, well-crafted woodworks usually retain or sometimes increase in value as they age well. Also on Etsy, I found threetreesworkshop.com which you might want to consider while chess set shopping. You mentioned lessons on learningchess.com but is that the correct site or did you mean learningchess.net or chess.com? I am taking free online lessons with the latter (this Winter's obsession for me) and they are quite good. I am interested in getting a chess set too and one thing to consider doing is playing the pieces according to the great games in history and gaining insights into those games and the players' minds. Chessgames.com has notations for classical games, 231 of which date back prior to the year 1800 - including one recorded from 1475 - incredible.

First G.A.S. now C.A.S. life is cruel.

Jeremy Silman’s books on chess are very good. The Amateur’s Mind is the place to start. Online chess makes it easy to find opponents at your skill level.

That's a lovely late Soviet knight in honey tones. But it's just fine as a picture. What intrigues me to observe about chess is that a coevolution of human and AI chess masters (and AI players at all calibrated levels at which humans are also found) is now taking place, to the benefit of both. Check out the catbots at chess.com this month.

I've got a fairly nice wooden chess set that I got in Switzerland in 1967 (or maybe it was 1966; the 1966-67 school year) -- whose white pieces are a similar color. The hand-carved one is VERY nice, but yeah, I don't need a chess set, let alone another chess set. I'd like mine better if it were weighted, but that was more expensive and beyond my budget back then.

So jumping to the other wonderful board game, Go -- at least when I was around more good players in college, I had the impression that good players did care about the board and pieces in that game. Slate and shell stones were preferred to ceramic ones, and thicker ones; thicker boards were preferred, etc. Go is less a purely analytic game, or maybe it's just cultural differences in the countries of origin.

“…chess pieces aren't even important to the game. They're just symbols.” Please don’t kill me, but they are arguably important to one’s enjoyment of playing the game. Just as the choice of automobile isn’t important in your getting from A to B, you might enjoy the trip more if you’re driving that Miata you used to own versus my beat up old Jetta that had a 2x4 wedged under the driver’s seat to keep it from falling through the floor.

About obsession - Isaac Newton wrote: "All this was in the two plague years of 1665-1666. For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematicks & Philosophy more then than at any time since.” This was after enumerating his discoveries of those two years: calculus, color theory, and the law of gravity. His obsession with Mathematicks & Philosophy (as science was then called) seems to have been quite productive.

I haven't played in years, but I was a serious tournament chess player from he age of eleven to about 50.

Having a nice wooden set is great if you have space to keep it set up. It doesn't matter if you're a serious player or not, a nice set is an art object. Make sure you get a board suitably sized for the pieces--a lot of people buy boards that are too small and the set looks crowded.

But you should also have a cheap plastic tournament set. You never know, maybe the local library has a club, or maybe one of your pool cronies plays. You'll want a set that you can carry around without worrying about damage.

I second the recommendation someone made for chesstempo.com; the tactics problems are very good. For a complete beginner, _Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess_ is a great basic tactics book.

Great read! Thank you. Just a practical thought... May I suggest you do not offer fascinating and thrilling links out of your piece before you have finished? Clicking away is very tempting when you have sold it so well. The world is very click happy.

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