Acting locally

Student demonstrators took to
the streets on February 7, part of
a national Day of Action to protest
federal cuts to education.

Cozy Carrel

It's Reading Week
at McGill, and for
some stressed out
students that means
relaxing by heading
to Florida to spend
time snoozing on
the beach. For
others, it's an
opportunity to beat
the crowds in the
library and get some
heavy studying done.
Our photographer
spotted one student
who seems to have
found the worst
of both worlds.

A good cigar is a smoke

When Noah Gellner talks about the "pause that refreshes," he isn't thinking of Coca-Cola. Gellner's ideal break from life's hectic pace involves savouring a fine smoke with like-minded companions. That's why the economics student has organized the McGill Cigar Society, a group of about 15 students who want to make stogies the focal point for an official Student Society club.

Cigars are rather hip at the moment. Cigar Aficionado, a popular magazine, has been extolling their virtues, and a pair of recent popular art-house movies starring Harvey Keitel were set in a cigar store. Gellner hopes the attention doesn't just amount to hype, but rather reflects an appreciation of what cigars have to offer.

"It's a benign vice. I wouldn't smoke cigarettes, but I have about one cigar a month. It's a special event--it helps me escape from the stress of studies." Gellner insists that cigars aren't in the same league as cigarettes in terms of endangering one's health. "If you smoke them all the time, it's a short-cut to mouth cancer. But if you have one once in a while, it's about as dangerous as breathing the air in New York for a weekend. Also, you puff on a cigar, you don't inhale it."

Gellner plans to organize regular events where he and other students can get together to smoke cigars. "It's not really something you can do any time, anywhere. Cigars are smelly, they cause a lot of smoke. We want to create a cigar-friendly environment where we can relax."

Gellner likens cigar smoking to drinking wine. "You can be quite casual about it--you can pick up a bottle of wine from the depanneur every once in a while, or you can invest a little time and start to notice the differences between good wines. Cigars are like that too." Gellner's personal favourites are Honduran cigars. "The Cuban ones have a strong, spicy taste, but I prefer a smoke that doesn't make me feel so woozy."

The ultimate chess challenge

It was one of the hardest matches of international
chess champion Garry Kasparov's remarkable career
and he has McGill computer science professor Monroe
Newborn to blame. Kasparov recently defeated IBM's
chess computer Deep Blue in a highly publicized
match aimed at establishing once and for all who
can play chess the best--man or machine.

Newborn, the event's chief organizer, is one of
the world's top authorities on computers and chess.
Before the match, most observers thought Kasparov--
the highest rated chess player of all time--would
handily defeat Deep Blue, but Newborn liked the
computer's chances.

"I'm quoted in a recent issue of Popular Science
predicting that the computer would win and I'm one of the
few who thought Deep Blue had a chance," says Newborn.

The match marked the first time a world chess champion
faced a computer in tournament-style play. Deep Blue
won the first match and earned a pair of tense draws
before Kasparov rallied to win the final two matches
and the overall battle.

"Kasparov was clearly very frustrated," relates
Newborn who was in Philadelphia to watch the match.
"He couldn't imagine a computer would be so tough.
He thought it would be a piece of cake."

As the possibility of Kasparov losing became real,
some worried about the implications for humanity--
are machines evolving beyond us? "I know some people
think that way, but they better adjust," says Newborn.
"Machines land Boeing 747s on cloudy evenings; They
control the rocketships that take us into space. As
they grow more sophisticated, they will play a
greater role in helping man."

Newborn spoke to Kasparov after his victory. "He
felt only the three or four best players in the
world could have beaten the computer," says Newborn.

Deep Blue can calculate more than a 100 million
chess moves a second and IBM programmers think
they can make the machine 10 times stronger for
a possible rematch next year. Newborn says there
is no question that computers will one day reign
supreme in the world of chess. "It's only a
matter of time."

Newborn brought back a memento from his
Philadelphia experience. Pictured above
is the professor with a chess board
used in the Kasparov/Deep Blue match
which Kasparov autographed for Newborn.