Read “Moxon’s Master,” Ambrose Bierce’s story about a chess-playing automaton

“Moxon’s Master”


Ambrose Bierce


“Are you serious?—do you really believe a machine thinks?”

I got no immediate reply; Moxon was apparently intent upon the coals in the grate, touching them deftly here and there with the fire-poker till they signified a sense of his attention by a brighter glow. For several weeks I had been observing in him a growing habit of delay in answering even the most trivial of commonplace questions. His air, however, was that of preoccupation rather than deliberation: one might have said that he had “something on his mind.”

Presently he said:

“What is a ‘machine’? The word has been variously defined. Here is one definition from a popular dictionary: ‘Any instrument or organization by which power is applied and made effective, or a desired effect produced.’ Well, then, is not a man a machine? And you will admit that he thinks—or thinks he thinks.”

“If you do not wish to answer my question,” I said, rather testily, “why not say so?—all that you say is mere evasion. You know well enough that when I say ‘machine’ I do not mean a man, but something that man has made and controls.”

“When it does not control him,” he said, rising abruptly and looking out of a window, whence nothing was visible in the blackness of a stormy night. A moment later he turned about and with a smile said:

“I beg your pardon; I had no thought of evasion. I considered the dictionary man’s unconscious testimony suggestive and worth something in the discussion. I can give your question a direct answer easily enough: I do believe that a machine thinks about the work that it is doing.”

Continue reading “Read “Moxon’s Master,” Ambrose Bierce’s story about a chess-playing automaton”

Blade Runner — The Aquarelle Edition

This strange and impressionistic paraphrase of Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner is by Anders Ramsell, who painted all 12,597 frames using only water colors. The edit features dialogue and music from the film and the radical compression of the plot—edited down to just over half an hour—gives this painted film a dreamy, surreal texture. (Via Boing Boing, which I’m sure all you hepcats follow anyway, but this film is too lovely not to share again, in case, y’know, you didn’t already see it somehow).

Blind Nut Seekers, Dumb Cake, True-Lover Test, and Other Games for Halloween

From Mary F. Blain’s Games for Hallowe’en (1912):


Let several guests be blindfolded. Then hide nuts or apples in various parts of room or house. One finding most nuts or apples wins prize.


Each one places handful of wheat flour on sheet of white paper and sprinkles it over with a pinch of salt. Some one makes it into dough, being careful not to use spring water. Each rolls up a piece of dough, spreads it out thin and flat, and marks initials on it with a new pin. The cakes are placed before fire, and all take seats as far from it as possible. This is done before eleven p.m., and between that time and midnight each one must turn cake once. When clock strikes twelve future wife or husband of one who is to be married first will enter and lay hand on cake marked with name. Throughout whole proceeding not a word is spoken. Hence the name “Dumb Cake.” (If supper is served before 11:30, “Dumb Cake” should be reserved for one of the After- Supper Tests.)


Two hazel-nuts are thrown into hot coals by maiden, who secretly gives a lover’s name to each. If one nut bursts, then that lover is unfaithful; but if it burns with steady glow until it becomes ashes, she knows that her lover is true. Sometimes it happens, but not often, that both nuts burn steadily, and then the maiden’s heart is sore perplexed.


Long bright colored strings, of equal length are twined and intertwined to form a web.

Use half as many strings as there are guests.

Remove furniture from center of a large room—stretch a rope around the room, from corner to corner, about four feet from the floor. Tie one end of each string to the rope, half at one end and half at one side of the room; weave the strings across to the opposite end and side of the room and attach to rope. Or leave furniture in room and twine the strings around it.

Each guest is stationed at the end of a string and at a signal they begin to wind up the string until they meet their fate at the other end of it.

The lady and gentleman winding the same string will marry each other, conditions being favorable; otherwise they will marry someone else. Those who meet one of their own sex at the other end of the string will be old maids or bachelors.

The couple finishing first will be wedded first.

A prize may be given the lucky couple, also to the pair of old maids and the pair of bachelors finishing first.


Sit on round bottle laid lengthwise on floor, and try to thread a needle. First to succeed will be first married.


The Disciple of Las Vegas (Book Acquired, 9.27.2012)


I guess these books are already big in the UK, or maybe they will be big, or something. This one’s an ARC and it doesn’t come out until early next year. Here’s the UK pub copy:

Hired by Tommy Ordonez, the richest man in the Philippines, to recover $50 million in a land swindle, Ava has her work cut out. Tommy’s brother has messed up and the Filipino billionaire’s reputation is on the line.

Tracking the money, Ava uncovers an illegal online gambling ring, and follows the trail to Las Vegas. Once there, she turns her gaze to David Douglas, one of the greatest poker players in the world – and someone who knows more about the missing money than he’s letting on.

Meanwhile, Jackie Leung, an old target of Ava’s, has made it rich. He wants revenge, and he’s going after Ava.

Win a Copy of James McManus’s History of Poker, Cowboys Full

Biblioklept and the kind folks at Picador want to give you a handsome new trade paperback copy of James McManus’s history of poker, Cowboys Full but you’ll have to ante up by taking our literary poker quiz. The first person to post correct answers in the comments section to all three questions will win a copy of McManus’s books.

UPDATE: Commenter Aspher correctly answered the initial questions–only he happens to live in Australia. And the contest is only open to U.S. addresses. Which I knew, but forgot to include in the original version of this post. So. Big sorry out there. I suppose this may confirm one of those American stereotypes–you know, that we see ourselves as the center of the universe. Fortunately, Aspher, via his cordial emails, confirmed a positive Australian stereotype: a good-natured easygoingness about the whole mistake. Mea culpa.

So anyway, there are some NEW questions to answer, under the first set.

1. What Edgar Allan Poe tale of doppelgängers features a duplicitous card sharp?

2. What Faulkner story about two brothers involves a poker game that will decide not one but two marriages? (Hint: although this story can stand alone, it is rightfully part of a collection that is sometimes classified as a cohesive novel).

3.  Which British essayist and critic said “Cards are war, in disguise of a sport”?

1. Which Tennessee Williams play ends, significantly, during a poker game?

2. Which Mark Twain story features a poker game set on a steamer headed from Acapulco to San Francisco?

3. Which Russian writer wrote a novel about gambling to pay off gambling debts? (Name the novelist and the novel).

Cowboys Full – James McManus

Jim McManus’s Cowboys Full is a thorough and energetic history of poker. Or, perhaps more accurately, Cowboys Full is a history of how power, will, and guile intersect with luck to shape national destinies. McManus examines poker’s political and cultural influence, from its origins in China to the game’s explosive popularity online today. McManus delineates his program in his first chapter, “Pokerticians,” an overview of the book that details how poker has had a lasting impact on world politics. Covering the gambling habits of Presidents and generals, kings and clerics, McManus’s book makes a strong case for poker as a metaphor of power and capitalism.

This is no dry history tome, however. McManus is a professional poker player and a professional writer, and Cowboys Full reads with a vigor that approximates the energy of a good game. While American presidents and politicians dominate his narrative, there are also outlaws, cowboys, and confidence men. And writers. Lots and lots of writers. McManus draws not just from earlier histories of poker, but also from novelists like Herman Melville and Mark Twain. He prefaces each of his chapters with a quote, usually from a novel or short story or poem, and I’ll confess I warmed quickly to the book after the first two chapters led with some heavy lines from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (McManus also quotes from No Country for Old Men and uses The Road as a visual reference point). He’s also keen on Bob Dylan.

Of course, this is a history of poker (or “The Story of Poker,” rather, as its subtitle declares), and there’s plenty of poker here–famous games, cheating scams, and today’s big names–but not so much to elicit a yawn from a non-player (or a casual player like myself). The second half of the book moves to Las Vegas, detailing the ins and outs of big tournament action. It also seeks to explain how Texas Hold ‘Em became a spectator sport by the middle of the aughties. But McManus’s book does not fetishize (or unduly valorize) the superstars (and wannabes) of big time poker, and the narrative never falls into the kind of catty tell-all tone that often marks insider stories. McManus is more concerned with philosophy and game theory.

At its core, Cowboys Full is a cultural history of poker, and like the talk at many friendly games, there’s a rambling fluidity to McManus’s narrative, a willingness to run on and overflow in disparate directions. At the same time, there’s a considerable syntactic focus: McManus is handy with punchy sentences and sharp anecdotes, and he keeps most of his chapters short and lively. This is a fun book to read. Cowboys Full is well-researched, with a helpful index and a glossary of terms, but it should not be mistaken for a didactic theory manual or a comprehensive account of everything that ever happened in poker. Instead, McManus has given us a rewarding a volume that uses its subject to enlarge our understanding of both our past and our present–and maybe our future. Recommended.

Cowboys Full is new in trade paperback this week from Picador this week.

Palin Bingo, or, What to do for Kicks as You Inwardly Reel in Horror while Watching Tonight’s Debate

(Image links to fun user-friendly pdfs)

There’s also this

Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples is the best game I’ve played in years. It’s pretty basic: each player gets seven NOUN cards. The nouns cover a range of people, places, and things–everything from Frank Sinatra to Skiing to Wall Street to Bananas. Each round, a new player plays the judge. The judge sets out an ADJECTIVE card–something like Classy or Wise or Extravagant or Basic or Feminine, etc. Then, each player has to throw out (face down) the NOUN card that they think best fits the adjective in play. Each time the judge picks your card as the winner, you set it aside as a point. The player with the most points wins (duh).


This game stimulates plenty of conversation; you can play it with friends for hours without noticing how much time has passed by. It also goes great when paired with beer or wine (but watch out that no one you’re playing with gets upset and knocks the wine bottle over and curses everyone, which may happen in some cases). Highly recommended.