thị xã trong tầm tay

Dedicated to personnel of the 3 rd division,
who heroically defended the town, Feb ~ Mar, 1979.

xactly 30 years ago… things as seen aftermath, when the bloodshed battles have just been over… Film name: Thị xã trong tầm tay, screenplayer & director: Đặng Nhật Minh, type: 35mm black and white film, year of production: 1982, music, lyric & dialogue: Trịnh Công Sơn & Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Tường.

3rd division (nickname: Yellow Star, official number: 359th) is an elite (but not regular!) formation of the VPA (Vietnam People Army), originally formed and served in the 5th military region (central of Vietnam). For its exceptional performance in the Vietnam war, in 1976, the unit was deployed to the 1st military region in preparation for any threats from the north. The responsibility was to defend Lạng Sơn province, with the historical positions: Đồng Đăng, Kỳ Lừa, Chi Lăng…

When it happened 3 years later, nominally, no regular formation had been committed to battle, the Strategic Army’s 1st and 2nd Corps still stationed around Hà Nội, behind the Như Nguyệt river (aka Cầu river) defence perimeter, in case of any deeper penetrations. Only local militia units took charges of absorbing the offensive forces. In reality, some of the most combat – hardened units, such as the 3rd (359th), the 346th divisions, had already engaged in.

At the outbreak of the Sino – Vietnam war, Feb, Mar, 1979, facing an enemy roughly 9 times outnumbered (against the Chinese 127th, 128th, 148th, 161th, 163th, 164th, 165th infantry divisions with their supporting artillery and tank units), Yellow Star fiercely defended a line of 60 km in width, only permitted the enemy to advance less than 30 km in depth, at an average rate of 0.8 km per day, and at an huge price of loss (about 11.000 Chinese casualties on only this front, to the overall number of 60.000)!

The division’s personnel also helped in training other defending units the following years. The final offensive had been carefully planned and prepared, but canceled due to the opponent’s unilateral withdrawal and other political reasons, thus denying the unit an evident victory. However, that’s enough for the division to receive great fear and respect from the adversary side! What was left is the completely destroyed provincial capital town of Lạng Sơn, no house is known to stand inside the town, the spaces recalled by the film!

ô ăn quan

Bức tranh lụa Chơi ô ăn quan của danh họa Nguyễn Phan Chánh.
Có 50 quân dân, và 2 quân quan, mỗi quan tương đương 10 dân. + Người chơi có quyền chọn di chuyển theo hướng bất kỳ, những game Mancala khác chỉ được di chuyển theo một chiều nhất định. + Ăn quân ở ô kế tiếp trong lượt đi chứ không phải ở ô đối diện của đối phương. + Khi đến lượt mình mà không còn quân để đi thì phải bỏ 5 quân đã ăn được vào 5 ô của mình để tiếp tục chơi. Trường hợp không có đủ 5 quân thì phải vay của đối phương và trả lại khi trò chơi kết thúc.

rò chơi dân gian Việt Nam Ô ăn quan thuộc họ Mancala, có nguồn gốc châu Phi và có hàng chục biến thể khác nhau trên thế giới. Khi nhỏ, tôi có chơi trò này vài lần, gọi theo tên địa phương là Ô làng chứ không phải Ô ăn quan. Hôm nay thử nhìn cái game này dưới góc độ tin học xem sao! Ô ăn quan có một số luật khác với những game Mancala khác.

Những luật bên, nhất là luật thêm & mượn quân làm Ô ăn quan phức tạp hơn nhiều so với những biến thể Mancala khác. Viết một chương trình cho máy tính chơi Ô ăn quan không phải là quá dễ dàng, dùng những heuristic đơn giản (hill-climbing, min-max, hay brute-force đến một độ sâu nhất định…) không đủ bảo đảm máy tính sẽ thắng trong nhiều trường hợp.

Trên internet, tôi không tìm được game Ô ăn quan nào theo đúng luật Việt Nam. Một số là những biến thể gần giống Ô ăn quan, một số tác giả claim là đã viết Ô ăn quan nhưng không cung cấp được link download. Có vẻ như game này không dể như khi vừa mới nghĩ đến! Bạn nào có ý kiến về chiến thuật chơi game này xin được trao đổi để cùng phát triển một trò chơi hoàn chỉnh.

Bên đây là screenshot của một Java applet tôi vừa viết trong 3g, cho phép 2 người chơi với nhau (máy tính chỉ kiểm luật, chưa phải là một chương trình cho máy tính chơi thực sự). Những hiệu ứng đồ họa: di chuyển quân, ăn quân nhìn rất giống thật, graphics được vẽ bằng Photoshop: những viên sỏi và bàn chơi được vẽ bằng phấn trên mặt sân xi-măng… gợi lại những kỷ niệm thủa nhỏ.

for whom the bell tolls

Men of five still alive through the raging glow.
Gone insane from the pain that they surely know.


xcerpts from the 1943 film following Hemingway’s novel. In some aspects, this is a great film, highly symbolic and dramatical, beautiful staging and casting, but still nowhere closed to the book. So read the book here (zipped text file)! It’s said that Hemingway handpicked the actors and actresses himself for the roles, but he greatly disliked the film due to it’s political content removal.

Excerpt 1: The old guerilla man of El Sordo and his last four men make their last stand on a dead-end hilltop. They’re waiting for their fate to come, and the young Joaquin does the praying when the Russian machine gun barrel turns hot on his shoulder as the planes approach: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen!.

Robert Jordan, as illustrated on this Vietnamese translate book cover, using a Lewis gun, or just called a mácquina as in the book.

…Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. But living was a field of grain blowing in the wind on the side of a hill. Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond…

Excerpt 2: Robert Jordan, severely wounded on the way retreat after the mission, says farewell to his lover María. He stays behind to cover the enemy for others to safely escape. The scene removes the detail of Agustín asks if Jordan need a shot or he can manage himself once left behind. Counting the last minutes of his life, in such moment, one can hear the bell tolling for his soul!

Lieutenant Berrendo, watching the trail, came riding up, his thin face serious and grave. His submachine gun lay across his saddle in the crook of his left arm. Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.

songs for free men

…The reasoning behind his persecution centered not only on his beliefs in socialism and friendship with the peoples of the Soviet Union but also his tireless work towards the liberation of the colonial peoples of Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, his support of the International Brigades…

istening to Paul Robeson’s album: Songs for free men… a very lovely basso profondo concert singer (he was one of the few true basses in American music), performing spirituals. Despite being a very famous and successful singer & performer, the man was kept under strict surveillance by US and UK governments for his international activities in Labor and Anti – Colonialist movements. It’s believed that he was unsuccessfully murdered by the CIA while in Moscow. He is now deserved a position in mainstream history by various posthumous recognitions.

In the background video above (1945 victory parade in Moscow), Robeson presents the Soviet Union’s national anthem with a translated English lyric (let read the verses). I think, though it’s a very subjective idea, the song is the best anthem in the world, much more impressive than French’s La Marseillaise. The music’s still used as national anthem in Russia now, with a new lyric.

Don’t know why, but the music reminds me of spaces in the mesmerized text of Ernest Hemingway’s For whom the bell tolls (yet another American activist). As a child, I adored Hemingway’s writing style, and remembered many excerpts from his novel by heart, the spirits of International Brigades! The paragraph quoted on the left had been given a wonderful Vietnamese translation, it describes El Sordo’s final fighting on a hill, his thoughts on life and death, yet another picturesque Song for free men!


wo more hours of work and I’ve added this hexagonal tiles to my MineSweeper! Anyone interested in the game can found the tiny binary and source code (450 LOC) here. Mine sweeping with hexagons is quite a different experience! More about MineSweeper, a simple game?

On the left: Minesweeper with hexagonal tiles


MineSweeper running in DOSBox
Click the demo page below (jpcapplet.jar – 1.8 MB in size), it would take some times to load, embedded in it is a DOS image (floppy.img) of a floppy’s size (1.4 MB). In Linux, using dd to create a blank image file, launch JPC app, mount the empty image, fdisk to give it a partition structure, format to give it a bootable FAT12 file system, copy the files over, edit autoexec.bat to have the game run at startup, and voila – there you are, the classic DOS game of MineSweeper on the web!

eside is screen-shot of my very first programming, the classic MineSweeper, an exercise I did first year at university. After getting started with Borland C++ 3.1, I began to write numerous toys like this; small games, graphics, animation, 3D… are among the things I was very fond of. We still had not had Internet in Vietnam then, lacking of information, we’d reinvented many wheels, including a package for displaying 3D objects (in form of polygon mess), a complete GUI for DOS with window, menu, toolbar, all kinds of controls: combo, list, button… But as they say: don’t reinvent the wheel, unless you plan on learning more about wheels, the reason we did all that fun stuff.

Back to my MineSweeper, it’s tiny, about 350 LOC (Line Of Code), using BGI (Borland Graphics Interface), C/C++ and some ASM. Yesterday, just want to check the old source, but didn’t have a Windows machine at hand, I needed to run the Borland C++ 3.1 compiler on my Linux box. Wine is good for many Windows applications, but it simply won’t work with pure DOS programs. Then I found DOSBox, you start it up in form of a console, mount a directory in local file system, have BC 3.1 installed and compiles flawlessly, and MineSweeper runs well on this virtual DOS on top of Linux!

That’s some layers of virtualization, say I want more, I want to show MineSweeper on the web, but don’t want to make change to the code, or even to the compiled binary. Could it be possible? The answer is: YES! You would need JPC, a pure Java IBM-PC emulator, it runs where there is Java: x86, RISC, mobile phone… On top of it, you can run a bundle of different OS: DOS, Linux, Windows… Then comes the delicate distinction between virtualization and emulation, hardwares, softwares, all can be virtualized to some great extent. Imagine you would run some games & utilities on a virtual DOS (or Linux) running inside JPC, hosted in Firefox browser, which in turn runs on Windows (or Linux)!

JPC can only bring about 20% power of the native machine, and even a tiny game like this is overkill to it, and mouse functioning is really crappy too. But that’s suffice to demonstrate the idea, JPC could be improved I believe. More games would be added to this Web DOS console later on! Anyone still remember Tetris, Croix-Zero, Snake, Mario…? So, what’s the points for JPC? Demonstrating the fractal principles in hardware, software evolution? Too much “nostalgia” for the “good old days” – DOS games? Anything else or just reinventing the wheel? The answer may be so, but I love this idea of cultivating the past, and pop out new things for the future!