Sunday, February 26, 2012

Where it all started....

Years ago I started blogging as "WhiteCollar BJJ". It was a fun blog dedicated to my experiences as a whitecollar professional, with a wife and child, trying to learn the ins and outs of Brazilian JiuJitsu without getting myself killed.

This blog continued for a few years until a very challenging inguinal hernia injury sidelined me. The recovery turned out to be slow going and complications abounded. In the end my days as "WhiteCollar BJJ" were cut short and I had to put that part of my life behind me.

Competitive sports such as BJJ quickly become almost all consuming, and of course the vacuum left when I stopped competing was monstrous. I tried a number of different activities, and while I still exercise with roughly the same intensity, I struggled to find a competitive activity that matched the intensive thought and tactics of BJJ. Well, at least until I "re"- discovered Chess.

I know to an outsider going from BJJ, a violent ground fighting sport, to Chess, a "sport" played over a 64 square checkered board seems very odd, however trust me, it was amazingly easy to transition. Chess and BJJ have very similar Tactics and Strategy, move and counter move, layers upon layers of positional thinking.

So as I began to learn Chess I quickly discovered (much like my early BJJ days) I was in way out of my depth. Computers and people could mop the floor with me in minutes, I didn't know even the basic mating patterns, openings, endgames, etc. However, just like BJJ I wasted no time building a plan for improvement. The first of which centered on incremental challenges against a consistent yet better opponent.

For example, in BJJ I would often spar with an opponent better than myself, but not so much better as to give me no hope of success. In Chess I was looking to do the same thing, much easier said than done initially. While there are a number of online Chess sites that can pair you up with opponents, I wanted to play over a board, with real pieces, and a clock. This just didn't seem to work living where I do, after weeks of looking for other Chess players I decided to build my own!

I discovered an inexpensive usb chessboard from a company called "Dream Cheeky" out of Hong Kong. The board could be connected to the computer and would work with the Dream Cheeky Chess software allowing you to play a game against the computer using real pieces and a real board. The problems were many (as you can imagine with a $10 board).

The pieces were too small, the board was inconsistent in operation, the software was poor, games could not be saved, etc. So it was time to build an interface to the Dream Cheeky, one that would allow me to interface the board with the more capable products available today, things like Fritz, Chessbase, Arena, Winboard, etc.

So I developed the "USB Chessboard Interface" application and made it available via This lead to a remarkable set of friendships with fellow electronic chessboard enthusiasts around the world and spawned a number of very interesting websites (check out the USB Chessboard here.).

However, we've reached the end of our options with the Dream Cheeky boards. The first problem is supply, Dream Cheeky is no longer producing them, and it appears you can no longer find them on ebay or in overstock sites.

So, we had to start over with something new, for this I chose the "Teensy" a remarkable little USB based DIY hardware board with basic "C" programming options.

Here we are today. I have a Teensy in hand and have worked out the initial wiring and code. I plan on naming this project "SishChess". Why Sish? Well it sounds fun and simple, almost Dr. Suess like, and in a house with a young child I think not a day goes by without reading a dozen or so books that make your mind rhyme.

Check back here soon for more details, including code, wiring diagrams, and updates.