A Memorable Flight

2007-01-25

A Boeing 747 airplane was taking off from the airport in New York, destined to Frankfurt in Germany.

Mark Klossen barely had a little time to calm down, take a deep breath, and fasten his seatbelt. Just about a couple of hours ago, he was still playing a Go game with his friend, Tom. Since Tom was winning the game, he was more interested in finishing the game than letting Mark leave and head for the airport.

About 3 minutes prior to the departure time, Mark dashed to the check-in counter, panting profusely. The clerk shook her head, apologizing to him that, sorry, sir, his seat was already given to a stand-by passenger. He was supposed to check in no later than half an hour prior to the departure.

It happened that her supervisor just received a phone call from on board the airplane, informing the check-in counter that one first-class seat became available because Mr. Bill Gutes’ assistant did not show up. So, luckily, the supervisor allowed Mark to occupy that first-class seat with his economy-class ticket.

“Heeew,” he took another deep breath, closing his eyes, waiting for the airplane to finish the ascending, “the first thing I will do when I get home is to send Tom an e-mail yelling at him,” he grumbled in his mind.

“tough life, huh?” the neighboring passenger smiled at him.

“Yes, indeed. Gee, my friend did not want to let me go. I usually do my things on time,” Mark replied. He did not want anybody to think that he was not a punctual person.

“Ah, why, you and your friend just discovered the 11th planet to our solar system?” he continued the conversation friendlily. He appeared in his late 40s.

“More significant than that. He and I were playing a game, named Go. Have you ever played or seen a Go game?”

“A Go game?” the middle-aged man brightened his eyes, “what is your strength? And what is your profession for making a living?”

“My strength? I recently just beat a professional player of one dan, with a 9-stone handicap. Do you play Go, too? I am a programming engineer.”

“I like to claim I play Go, too. But in comparison, I am much weaker than you are. An American Go Association player of one amateur dan can comfortably give me 9 stones. But I am very fond of Go, just too busy to spend my time in improving it.”

Without letting Mark relay the conversation, the middle-aged man continued, “perhaps this is the so-called fate. I am also in the computer-related business. And I was thinking about a very interesting project related to Go, but could not find the right person to discuss about it yet. Do you have a few minutes to let me share my idea with you?”

“Any time, my ears are yours,” Mark also somewhat brightened his eyes, "for Go, I can drop my wife in a second."

So, the middle-aged man shared the following idea of his with Mark:

First, in the worldwide Go community now, professional players in China, Korea, and Japan dominate. He likes to see world-class pros arising in the western countries. Second, he likes to unify the professional ratings. There should not be Chinese 8p, Korean 7p, or Japanese 4p, any more. A 9p is a 9p worldwide, issued by an authoritative Go center, recognized and joined by all professional and amateur Go players in the world.

Finally, the strongest computer-program player today continues to be absurdly weaker than a professional Go player. He likes to see a program that is at least at the 1p level within a few years.

“That is a great idea,” Mark commented, but was thinking that cats and dogs on the streets can also dream of similar grand plans. To carry them out is another matter, however, “do you envision a physical site? Or just a virtual site on the Internet?”

“I think that a physical site is a pre-requisite. I was also thinking that it will be nice if it can be situated in Netherlands,” the middle-aged man said.

“Netherlands?” Mark’s interest intensified, even though he knew that this conversation was merely a fantasy, “why Netherlands? By the way, I am rightfully a Netherlands citizen, paying taxes every year, without owing a single penny to the government.”

“You are? See, as I said, fate, fate. Well, one, I like their school system. Correct me if I am wrong. They have basic schools, then middlebare schools and professional schools. If we can include Go in the curriculums of professional schools, and give students financial supports, we may be able to establish reputable Go-oriented schools there. Two, Netherlands is a relatively politically neutral country. I do not want Go to be involved with politics. Three, the technology is advanced there. Four, Dutch people are intelligent. And finally, Netherlands is geographically suitable.”

“I am impressed,” Mark said, “Mister…, sir, we need money, you know. Lots of money.”

“Ah, money, of course. By your estimate, how much money do you think we need?”

Mark decided to play along with this middle-aged man. He was about to take out his laptop and to start working on his Go life/death problems. But he refrained himself from doing so. He gave the financial aspect of the idea a serious thought.

* To lure 20 top world-class players to station permanently in Netherlands is the first step. Give them each a steady annual salary of 300,000 euros. 6 millions (6M) here. With a supporting staff, 1M, total 7M.

* To buy a decent building, 20M. (only initially)

* 10 full-time programmers, 200, 000 euros each, total 2M

* holding semi-annual dan-promotion tournaments. Reimbursing 100 seed players their travel expenses, 10K each, twice a year, total 2M.

* holding an annul World Cup tournament, with first prize 1M, 2nd prize 0.5M, etc., we need about 2M.

* scholarships to 100 basic-school students, with 10K each, we need 1M here.

* operational costs, 1M

“My very crude estimate is, initial cost, 10 million euros, with annual costs less than 20 million euros, then I seem to be able to paint a bright picture for your idea,” Mark continued, “Give it 10 years, after that, it is possible that the income earned by the Center will break even with the expenses. After 20 years, it is not impossible that the Center will even start making net incomes.”

“This time it is my turn to feel impressed,” the middle-aged man said joyfully, “you are a Go player, a programming engineer, and have some business sense.”

“Thanks,” Mark said, “well?”

Mark looked at his neighboring passenger, moderately dressed and groomed. Mark’s mind was saying, “well, anything else? If not, I like to start studying my Go life/death problems.”

“Well, are you interested in this idea, this project? The costs you mentioned are not beyond reach.”

“I surely am interested. But I do not think that our Dutch Queen is, or else you and I may be able to apply for some financial support from her majesty,” Mark started taking out his laptop.

“Nice laptop,” the middle-aged man complimented, “have you ever heard of MiniHard Company? by the way, I am stopping over Frankfurt on my way to see your Queen.”

“Everybody on earth has heard of MiniHard. The hardware of my laptop, for example, was manufactured by this company,” Mark said, opening the lid of his laptop, not impressed by the fact that the man was going to see the Queen.

At this moment, the flight attendant came. She greeted the middle-aged man first,

“Mr. Gutes,” she smiled, with a hint of admiration, “would you like to drink something?”

“A glass of ice tea, please,” Bill Gutes replied.

"You, you, the founder of miniHard?" Mark's mouth remained wide open for a while. The airplane suddenly shook slightly, due to the turbulence in the air. The turbulence in Mark’s mind, however, was much more severe than that. After all, this plan will not be just a dream. And after all, instead of scolding at Tom, he should thank him profusely.

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