The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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4:10pm on Friday, 29th May, 2015:



I've nearly finished marking the CE217 exam from yesterday — I just have the marks to add up. No-one has mis-spelled the word "lose", which is so unlikely that I may have to go back a check everything again. The hardest question to mark was the one in which I asked for some games from 1980 and earlier: I had to keep checking on the Internet to see whether the games mentioned were or weren't 35 or more years old. Tetris no, Space Invaders yes, Pac Man only just, ...

Marking isn't a lot of fun, but occasionally it's enlivened by answers such as this:

These things are completely anonymous so I don't know who wrote that, but if it's you, hey, well done on making me smile.


6:02pm on Thursday, 28th May, 2015:

Questionable Question


Typical politician: after years if promising us an "in/out referendum" on the UK's membership of the EU, the Prime Minister words the question so it has a "yes/no" answer.


1:23pm on Wednesday, 27th May, 2015:



Here's a screenshot for you:

This looks like MUD, but actually it's MicroMUD, written by Jon Stuart and Paul McCracken. This was a Commodore 64 version of the game that could be played single-player (with other players controlled by the computer) or multi-player (by daisy-chaining serial ports together). It was an amazing piece of work, given the constraints of the 64 — Jon and Paul used the memory on the disk drive controller to squeeze as much in as possible.

MicroMUD was released in 1987, at the end of the heyday of text adventures. Several reviewers thought it was supposed to be a text adventure and judged it as such, giving it low ratings. This didn't stop it winning awards, though!

If it had come out maybe a year earlier it would have sold more copies, but when it finally hit the shops the move from text to graphics was well under way and it didn't have the sales it might have done. I don't think Jon and Paul made much money from it (their agent, on the other hand...).

If you're interested in taking a look, the code is available here and the emulator to run the code is here. It's a real blast from the past for CBM64 users.

What's that? Did I play it myself? Nah, I had an Atari ST.


3:00pm on Tuesday, 26th May, 2015:

Judge for Yourself


This cartoon was in yesterday's Daily Mirror:

Never mind who he is, who are you? Judges and magistrates in British courts (whether operating under English or Scottish law) don't use gavels. This man is clearly an auctioneer in a bad wig.

So many times do I see gavels being associated with British courts that I'm sure that most of the population must believe judges do use them here. Maybe if they took to using something clearly not a gavel — a shoe, perhaps, or a bring-out-your-dead bell — then that would go some way to correcting this false assumption.


10:37am on Monday, 25th May, 2015:

Changing Times


The front-page headline of today's Daily Mirror:

Wait, what? He's an "X-Men movie addict", not a "video gamer"? Why's that?

Perhaps the results of the opinion poll they have on page 40 might be making its point:

Sorry, anti-games people. We've won, you've lost.


2:56pm on Sunday, 24th May, 2015:

Eurovision Voting


I managed to remember today to look at the difference between the UK's jury vote and phone vote for Eurovision.

Here's the jury's top 10:

Here's the phone vote's top 10:

These aren't as dissimilar as I was expecting. The jury went for Cyprus, Germany and Slovenia where the rest of the population went for Lithuania, Poland and Serbia.

Personally, I'm with the Jury on Slovenia (which I really quite liked) and Cyprus (a sweet song but it was never going to win), but I didn't like the German entry (along with everyone else who watched the contest).

As for the jury vote, well the female half of the Lithuanian entry was good but the male half wasn't (and that kiss between them creeped me out). The vote in support of Poland may have something to do with the million or more Poles who are living in the UK at the moment. The Slovenian entry was an enormous woman whose song was about not judging people by how they look; fair enough, but I do feel entitled to judge her how she sang in a song contest, and she was only so-so.

I liked the Belgian entry a lot, and if I were the kind of person who actually voted in these competitions then he'd have got mine. I also liked the Estonian song as a song, as it had quite clever lyrics, but it was sung by a duo consisting of the man who wrote it and a woman he'd found on the Internet; unfortunately, he was occasionally flat and nowhere near as good as she was (although he did appear to be a moonlighting member of One Direction). The best performance of the night was the Russian singer who looked like Catherine Jenkins but had a terrific voice; I just wish she hadn't spent the remainder of the show crying.

If we don't enter Adele soon, one of the singers from other nations who are mimicking her style is going to win instead.


3:19pm on Saturday, 23rd May, 2015:

Wild Flowers


What would you expect to see in an English meadow at this time of year?

Daisies, buttercups, forget-me-nots, speedwells, bluebells, red campion, dandelions, thistles; perhaps some fading cowslips and primroses;
towards the margins some encroaching brambles, nettles, dock, sedge parsley, honesty and periwinkle; random saplings from nearby trees testing their luck.

It's all very pretty, except when it's supposed to be your lawn you're looking at, not a meadow. My mower was only broken for three weeks!


10:01am on Friday, 22nd May, 2015:



Knee-high Daleks. Just as bad-tempered and prone to extermination as regular Daleks, but they're only 50cm tall.

Just putting the idea out there...


12:13pm on Thursday, 21st May, 2015:

One in the Eye


Two days ago, I got a call from Essex County Hospital saying that I had an eye appointment today at 11am. It seems they don't like to give a lot of warning.

Fortunately, I only had one meeting today (a supervisory meeting with my PhD student) which I was able to cancel (sorry, Joseph). I showed up 30 minutes early for my appointment, because they have some processing to do before you go under the knife.

This is the third time I've been to the hospital to get eyelid cysts looked at. The first time, I was told it was just a consultancy to see if surgery was needed, but the consultant whipped the cyst out there and then. The second time, I was told it was just a consultancy to see if surgery was needed, but it was no such thing and I had to wait around then have a full-blown eyelid operation. This time, I was told I'd be having surgery but when I spoke to the consultant it turned out just to be a consultancy to see if I needed it.

His verdict was that I was running low on tear glands so I should aim to avoid having the surgery if at all possible. He gave me some cream that ought to take the cysts down, which is worth a shot I suppose but it's anti-bacterial and I already tried that back in December. The consultant said that if it didn't get rid of the cysts in 2-3 months I should contact my GP to ask for an an appointment to have the cysts surgically removed. I told him I'd waited long enough already and wanted to go on the waiting list for surgery right now. That way, if the cream doesn't work then I'll be under the knife 3 months from now rather than 6. Surprisingly, the consultant acquiesced to this, so long as I contact the hospital in the event that the cream works.

So, it looks as if I'll continue to have an unsightly lump under my right eye for a while yet.


8:54am on Thursday, 21st May, 2015:



Apparently, while I was asleep I bought some airline tickets, some fast food in the USA and entry to a nightclub in Japan. These were all online transactions.

Fortunately, Amex suspected there might be some fraudulent activity going on and blocked it all.

I'll know if the email informing me of this was a sophisticated phishing scam if I don't get a replacement card through the post in the next couple of days...


7:47am on Wednesday, 20th May, 2015:

Birthday Dog


Going through a pile of things to throw out ("Do we really still need this Castle Park events guide for 2009?") my wife came across this unused birthday card:

Here's a close-up of the dog's face:

That is a dog that doesn't want to be on a birthday card.

This card is so bad I'm not even going to sent it to my blind friend whose birthday it is this Saturday.


5:32pm on Tuesday, 19th May, 2015:

No Losers


I finished marking the CE317 exam today and for the first time in years did not have to dock anyone a mark for mis-spelling the word "lose". It must be that my teaching has finally sunk in.

If I could have awarded a bonus mark for brightening up my morning, this student would have got it:


7:37am on Monday, 18th May, 2015:

Pillars of Eternity


I finished playing Pillars of Eternity yesterday. It's a modern take on Baldur's Gate style games, and I really quite enjoyed it. It was exactly the kind of game I was looking for when I started, so thanks to the people who recommended it.

I played it on normal difficulty. It started out fine, then after a while it got hard — really hard. I was having to rest my party between every fight, and the fights just got harder and harder. I soldiered on, though, levelling up painfully slowly because I wasn't really completing many quests (which is where the bulk of experience points come from in the game). I kept running out of camping gear and the shops were low on stocks. All the locks were too hard to open and I kept running out of lockpicks, too. It was uncompromising, with no respite. I was glad I hadn't picked difficult mode if it was this heavy-going in normal mode.

Then, it suddenly got trivially easy. My character could solo hordes of enemies. Boss fights were laughable. Every lock could be opened with ease. A single arrow shot would down a front-line fighter. Mind-control creatures that had given me major pain were ineffective.

Maybe next time I'll visit the areas in the order they were designed to be visited.


10:16am on Sunday, 17th May, 2015:



From this week's Essex County Standard:

About what are the parents in the bus protesting?

So, you have four words to convey the notion that parents are protesting about buses. BUS PROTEST BY PARENTS would do it, but that's too passive. Instead, you go for PARENTS IN BUS PROTEST. That's putting the parents first, not the bus protest. Unfortunately, as it doesn't have a verb, it's not especially active either. It's also ambiguous, because you can read it as if it does have a verb — PROTEST — which renders it passive again. You could have removed the ambiguity by going with PARENTS' BUS PROTEST but you're worried that your readers' understanding of the use of apostrophes may be stressed by that.

Maybe you should just use more words? It worked for DEALER SHUNS THE TOILET FOR 23 DAYS TO HIDE DRUG WRAPS on page 16.


1:36pm on Saturday, 16th May, 2015:

Fussy Eating


Our Sainsbury's is the second-largest Sainsbury's in the UK (there's a converted factory somewhere in London with more floor space). You might suppose that this would enable the store to stock a wide range of products, which is indeed the case.

This range does not, however, extend to Halal meat. As I'm an atheist, this isn't something I've had cause to notice before, but one of my younger daughter's university friends is visiting for a few days and she still likes the follow the eating tips that stopped people from dying of salmonella in the Middle East twelve hundred years ago. I therefore tried to buy some Halal meat in Sainsbury's today, but couldn't find any. I asked Customer Service, who checked with the in-store butcher, and was told that no, they don't do it.

I'm quite surprised at this revelation. Colchester isn't exactly a bastion of Islam, but I'd have thought there were enough practising Muslims at the university to justify a shelf or two of the stuff. Sainsbury's has a small section of foods from Poland that it put together for the benefit of homseick immigrants, so it's not as if they have a philosophical objection to over-charging anyone who has a minority dietary requirement. Maybe it's to do with having to use separate utensils for preparing Halal meat or something — not that you'd be able to tell the difference in a taste test afterwards.

Apparently, all lamb imported into the UK from New Zealand is Halal, it just doesn't say so on the label. I guess that this is in order not to offend people who object to either the method of slaughter, the blessing of the wrong deity, or the existence of Muslims.

Fortunately, my daughter's friend has a stash of Halal food in her fridge so can bring some with her. It's either that or she'll be eating fish.


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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).