Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

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Peter Berger
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Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by Peter Berger » Fri Feb 26, 2016 9:54 pm

Hi folks,

as a user like most people I greatly appreciate the features and useability of the ChessBase GUI, but I have a (very) soft spot in my heart for engines that come with their own user interface.

When it is about GUIs I definitely lack patience though. E.g. WinBoard (for me) has become barely useable these days. I realize I could probably make it behave in the ways I want somehow if I spent enough time to work all issues out but this won't happen. WinBoard usually soon does sth that annoys me , and then I simply close it for a few months/years.

Engine UIs that I liked much were DOS Comet, Bringer and the one of CS Tal II.

But for me nothing beats the Crafty text interface. Simple, reach of features, predictable and (nearly) free of bugs.I always run Crafty in text mode and it is the chess program I run most often by far.

Given my oddities I would love to learn about other chess programs I am likely to like if only I knew about them.

Peter

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Evert
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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by Evert » Fri Feb 26, 2016 10:00 pm

Both Jazz and SjaakII can be used meaningfully from the terminal. For instance, they will keep time correctly (but they will not "call the flag"). What is mainly lacking is the ability to import and export games.

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hgm
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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by hgm » Fri Feb 26, 2016 10:10 pm

The stand-alone versions of micro-Max have their own minimalist ascii interface.

Of course I am also very curious as to what sort of behavior annoys you in WinBoard.

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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by hgm » Fri Feb 26, 2016 10:43 pm


Peter Berger
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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by Peter Berger » Fri Feb 26, 2016 11:11 pm

hgm wrote:The stand-alone versions of micro-Max have their own minimalist ascii interface.

Of course I am also very curious as to what sort of behavior annoys you in WinBoard.
Thanks; I will give your micro-Max a try.

For WinBoard, I tried it again tonight. I installed a recent version and decided to install a recent Stockfish development version as an UCI engine. It was added smoothly, Then I wanted to setup the number of CPUs it should use. I failed, as there was no parameter to configure to be found anywhere. I looked around for a while, then gave up. Please don't think of this as a WinBoard bug report. I am confident that this is sth that could have been worked out rather easily. It is just that it would have meant more effort than I liked to invest.

Peter

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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by MikeB » Sat Feb 27, 2016 2:40 am

hgm wrote:
Of course I am also very curious as to what sort of behavior annoys you in WinBoard.
Fully qualified nerd here , xBoard is cool. Would like the ability to select game 10/sec Inc 1.7 sec in tournament mode. A Swiss tourney mode would be pretty cool too. Did I ever send you my dark and light wood color pieces. Created from my chessboard and then touching up the photo for the screen. You are free to use them in your distribution as my contribution.

From a screenshot of my desktop using my iPhone remotely via splashtop - so the quality is not the best here

Image

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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by hgm » Sat Feb 27, 2016 9:17 am

MikeB wrote:Would like the ability to select game 10/sec Inc 1.7 sec in tournament mode.
Through the command-line you can do that: -inc is a floating-point option. In the XBoard Time-Control dialog it can only be entered as an integer, though. The problem is that this is a bit of a moot point, because the protocol specs do not allow the increment to be passed to the engine in the level command as a float. (And even if we would extend the protocol to allow this, almost no engine would support it.) The engine would notice that its remaining time on the clock would not go down as fast as it expects, of course, as it gets that in centi-sec. But it would not plan for using it, and thus only profit from it when in the long run a lot of it accumulates.
A Swiss tourney mode would be pretty cool too.
Good point. I actually distribute a Swiss tourney module with WinBoard. When I was implementing Swiss, people were urging me to implement it s a plugin. It is far from trivial to implement a good Swiss pairing program, (and there are different flavors of Swiss as well), and the idea was that every GUI then could then use it, and also that in the longer run people would write better pairing modules of which all GUIs then would benefit. In hindsight this was a very stupid idea; GUI developers would rather die than make use of other people's code, so they would certainly prefer to limp by with a crappy implementation of Swiss written by themselves then using an external module for it. But a primitive Swiss paring engine does exist (it doesnot do back-tracing in an attemot to improve the first pairing it finds that satisfies the exclusion and color rules), and I distribute it with WinBoard. It could be compiled for Linux or Mac, and would work just as well on XBoard.
Did I ever send you my dark and light wood color pieces. Created from my chessboard and then touching up the photo for the screen. You are free to use them in your distribution as my contribution.

From a screenshot of my desktop using my iPhone remotely via splashtop - so the quality is not the best here

Image
Nice. We currently don't have an organized effort to distribute piece themes, however, or even designed a standard way to package and distribute them. For instance, the Chu Shogi bare kanji-pieces for Chu Shogi are currently distributed in the package of the HaChu engine, because that is so far the only engine that can play Chu Shogi. But when other engines would emerge, this would of course be a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

It should be possible to make separate packages for board themes, containing the image files for installing in /usr/(local/)share/games/xboard/themes/THEMENAME/, possibly accompanied with PNG texture files for the light and dark board squares, and some settings file that would configure XBoard to use them. OTOH, since we added the 'themes' listbox to the View->Board dialog, it would be nice if installing a theme package would automatically create a new entry in that listbox (i.e. add a line with the required settings options to the -themeNames persistent multi-line option).

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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by hgm » Sat Feb 27, 2016 10:22 am

Peter Berger wrote:Thanks; I will give your micro-Max a try.
Note that it only has two commands (and guaranteed bug-free!): type a move, or type an empty line to make it think up an play a move.
For WinBoard, I tried it again tonight. I installed a recent version and decided to install a recent Stockfish development version as an UCI engine. It was added smoothly, Then I wanted to setup the number of CPUs it should use. I failed, as there was no parameter to configure to be found anywhere. I looked around for a while, then gave up. Please don't think of this as a WinBoard bug report. I am confident that this is sth that could have been worked out rather easily. It is just that it would have meant more effort than I liked to invest.
It is not a bug report, but second only to reliability user-friendliness is an important design goal of WinBoard. So I consider it quite important to minimize the chances for experiences like this, for which reports like yours are potentially very helpful.

In this particular case, the option you were looking for was in the Common Engine Settings dialog, next to Hash Size, EGTB cache and book settings. This seems the logical place for settings that apply to all engines, so the important question is why you could not find it while "looking around for a while", and whether the interface can be improved such that you would have immediately found it. Where exactly did you look for it?

For instance, would it have helped if the Common Engine Settings dialog would have been accessible through the Engine menu, say just above the Engine #1/#2 Settings items? I am considering to move that menu item there in WinBoard 4.9. (I believe in XBoard I have already done that.) Would it then have been the first place you have looked after the Engine #1 Settings dialog? I am usually quite reluctant to change the menu structure, because for every novice that might be helped by a reorganization that conforms better to his intuition, there might be 100 experienced users that grumble because they can no longer find the menu item anymore in the place where they are used to finding it.

Another question is how much help the help actually is. In the index of the chm help file, looking under 'N' you would find 'Number of CPUs', which would bring you directly to the description of the Common Engine dialog. If that proves to be insufficient to be of any use, is it any help at all that WinBoard is supplied with an elaborate, indexed help file, or might I as well drop the help function completely, because users would rather die than use the help menu?

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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by JoshPettus » Sat Feb 27, 2016 8:41 pm

MikeB wrote:
hgm wrote:
From a screenshot of my desktop using my iPhone remotely via splashtop - so the quality is not the best here

Image
OSX can do it's own screen shots just so you know :) Shift-cmd-3 for fullscreen shot shift-cmd-4 for screenshot with a mouse selection.

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Re: Engines with interfaces for slightly nerdish people

Post by bob » Sun Feb 28, 2016 6:54 pm

Peter Berger wrote:Hi folks,

as a user like most people I greatly appreciate the features and useability of the ChessBase GUI, but I have a (very) soft spot in my heart for engines that come with their own user interface.

When it is about GUIs I definitely lack patience though. E.g. WinBoard (for me) has become barely useable these days. I realize I could probably make it behave in the ways I want somehow if I spent enough time to work all issues out but this won't happen. WinBoard usually soon does sth that annoys me , and then I simply close it for a few months/years.

Engine UIs that I liked much were DOS Comet, Bringer and the one of CS Tal II.

But for me nothing beats the Crafty text interface. Simple, reach of features, predictable and (nearly) free of bugs.I always run Crafty in text mode and it is the chess program I run most often by far.

Given my oddities I would love to learn about other chess programs I am likely to like if only I knew about them.

Peter
There's a reason for Crafty's fairly clean interface (console mode). That is how I use it all the time, except when playing on chess servers. And it is the SAME interface (different code of course) I used for blitz and Cray Blitz, as back then it was console window or nothing, since we used dumb terminals to connect from the ACM and WCCC events back to whatever machine one was using. And of course, since I am "old school"... :)

However, that being said, have you been using the latest xboard? It has come a LONG way. Maintains a list of programs with settings so no ini files are needed, can handle matches, odd starting positions, you-name-it. You want to change the hash, point and click. Ditto for threads. Engine output or no? Ditto...

It is a far cry from xboard of 20+ years ago when I first started using it.

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