The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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5:03pm on Sunday, 23rd November, 2014:

Relatively Difficult


We finally got around to watching Interstellar at the flicks today.

Why were all the reviewers harping on about the confusing timey-wimey stuff? It didn't seem confusing at all, and wouldn't have done even if I hadn't done relativity in my first year at university.

There was a problem with time, but it was that the movie was too long...


4:21pm on Saturday, 22nd November, 2014:



This sign is still up on the large, student news noticeboard in the Computer Science building:

It's for the wrong month, and (rather missing the point) is only 5 days long anyway.

Maybe I'll take it down. I could do with some more drawing pins for my own noticeboard.


1:18pm on Friday, 21st November, 2014:

Pressure Off


One of my colleagues at work showed me a picture of one of his relatives who broke her leg and had to go to hospital to get it fixed. She was in a plaster cast from foot to thigh. The thing is, though, she went to Colchester General Hospital, which is still experiencing its "major incident" problem and only accepting people in accident and emergency who have life-threatening injuries. A broken leg does apparently count as a valid reason to go, and she was given immediate treatment.

What this goes to show is that if people do treat hospital accident and emergency services as exactly that, then they work fine. You go to the walk-in centre down the road if you've cut your finger and need a couple of stitches, not to A&E.

The exception seems to be on Saturday nights, when A&E departments are swamped with drunks who have managed to hurt themselves in large numbers. They have to be treated, of course, but treating them is expensive as it means extra staff have to be brought in. Maybe charging people £250 if they showed up at A&E with more than a certain level of alcohol in their blood would be a solution? After all, they've willfully contributed to their condition, and there could be an appeals process for drunks who got hurt through no fault of their own (eg. they're asleep in bed when the truck skids into their house). Sure, an excess charge wouldn't put anyone off drinking, but it would mean the rest of us didn't have to pay to repair them.


4:58pm on Thursday, 20th November, 2014:



North Station roundabout in Colchester has yellow cross-hatched lines on it, which mean you're not allowed to enter the hatched-off box unless your exit is clear. Dutifully, I always do this. When I do, immediately the cars waiting on the road to my left join the roundabout and sit in the cross-hatched box.

Why do I bother? Why do I bother?


4:45pm on Thursday, 20th November, 2014:

An Improvement


Things are looking up: I had four meetings with students today, and for one of them the student actually appeared. Yay!

This is the same cohort that didn't come to my lectures last year, so I shouldn't be too surprised.


3:48pm on Wednesday, 19th November, 2014:



I was supposed to be at home marking assessments today, but I came onto campus specifically to meet two students who hadn't handed in coursework. Neither showed up.

You can't help but admire students who are consistent across all dimensions of behaviour.


5:29pm on Tuesday, 18th November, 2014:



This morning I drove to Lincoln (150 miles away) for an external examiners' induction meeting. On the way, I saw a spectacular cloud looming overhead. I couldn't take a photo as I was driving, but basically it looked like a huge ostrich feather being held leaning towards us, with the rays of the rising sun illuminating it in pink and highlighting its forward edge. It was amazing!

That was until I got under it and it dropped so much water on the road I thought I was going to have to pull over and wait until it had run out.


3:51pm on Monday, 17th November, 2014:

A Political Gesture


There's an interview with me on the Guardian Technology web site out today. The headline is: "Richard Bartle: we invented multiplayer games as a political gesture".

Gawd knows what Roy Trubshaw must think whenever he reads this stuff. The thing is, we never discussed the politics of what we were doing at all. Back then in the 1970s, you had to have a certain kind of creative yet scientific mind to be able to do anything with computers, so the people who worked with them tended to have the same science-for-creativity outlook on life. It was later called the "hacker ethic", but no-one learned it off anyone else: it was your own ethic, that the people around you happened to share.

Thus, when Roy began work on MUD (and despite the impression you may get from interviews, it was his baby for for 18 months before he passed control to me), we never discussed what we were doing in terms of changing the world. We didn't need to: we both had reasons to work on MUD and those reasons were aligned. We talked about giving players "freedom" through an open-ended design, but we never discussed what it was we wanted them to have freedom from — there was no need. We tacitly understood that we were working on it because the world wasn't fair and we wanted a better one. There may have been more, but I can only recall one occasion, early on, when the subject was broached: I asked Roy why he was creating a fictional world and he said something like, "because it can't be worse than the real one".

In real-world political terms, Roy and I weren't in step with regards to how to achieve what we both wanted to achieve: a fairer and more just society. Roy was a socialist, and so believed that the best way to change society was through group action — people working together. I was (and remain) more liberal, and so wasn't willing to take the means-to-an-end step of collectivism if that would entail having to support soem arguments with which I disagreed. Neither of us was naive enough to believe that either approach would ultimately succeed, though, which is why we independently took the view that if you can't change the real world, well then you create your own.

This level of understanding and agreement doesn't make for great headlines or explanations, though, which is why it sounds as if I'm describing Roy and I as if we were revolutionaries. We didn't see ourselves that way at all. We just wanted a better world, so we made one.


1:21pm on Sunday, 16th November, 2014:

Speaking of Turing


This headline appeared in today's Observer, following the release of the film, The Imitation Game:

No, Observer, no! That should read: "Turing to inspire the next generation of codebreakers"!


1:06pm on Sunday, 16th November, 2014:

Award Winners


I've been aware of Alan Turing's work since my undergraduate days (Essex University's founding Professor of Computer Science, Tony Brooker, knew him). Because of this, I've also been aware of the Turing Award, which thanks to Google is now on a par with the Nobel Prize in terms of prize money at $1,000,000. It's a bit sad that the mathematical equivalent, the Fields Medal, comes with a prize valued at roughly a 75th of the Turing Award's, but that's what happens when there are no multi-billionaire mathematics companies out there to fund it.

Anyway, because it was recently in the news, I wondered how many names of Turing Award's winners I recognised. Here's the full list of those I've heard of (ones in brackets being joint winners I haven't heard of but I've heard of the other one):
1966 Alan J. Perlis
1967Maurice Wilkes
1969Marvin Minsky
1971John McCarthy
1972Edsger W. Dijkstra
1974Donald E. Knuth
1975Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon
1976Michael O. Rabin and Dana S. Scott
1977John Backus
1980C. Antony R. Hoare
1981Edgar F. Codd
1983Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie
1984Niklaus Wirth
1991Robin Milner
1993(Juris Hartmanis and) Richard E. Stearns
1994Edward Feigenbaum and Raj Reddy
1997Douglas Engelbart
2001(Ole-Johan Dahl and) Kristen Nygaard
2002(Ronald L. Rivest, Adi Shamir and) Leonard M. Adleman
2003Alan Kay
2004Vinton G. Cerf and Robert E. Kahn
2005Peter Naur
2011Judea Pearl

That's 23 years I've known a winner from, out of the 48 years that it's been awarded. I should probably look up one of the others so I can claim to know who they are and can make it a round half. I've actually met Wilkes, Dijkstra, Hoare and Milner, not that they'd remember me (especially the dead ones).

I note that none of the winners are game developers. This is probably just as well, given that if they did hand a Turing Award to a game developer it would probably go to someone who already has a million dollars.


2:11pm on Saturday, 15th November, 2014:

The Survey Says


My younger daughter brought to my attention this wonderful not-suitable-for-work survey of 773 students carried out by her university student newspaper. Some highlights:

"At what age did you first have sex?" Under 13 (2%)
"How many sexual partners have you had since coming to UEA?" 31+ (1%)
"Have you ever had sex with more than one partner at once?" Unsure (1%)
"Have you ever had sex when you didn't want to?" Yes (32%)
"Have you ever had sexual experiences under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol?" Maybe (1%)
"Have you ever given oral sex?" Unsure (1%)
"What do you think makes a bad sexual experience?" When the paper isn't correctly filed after. Nightmare.
"Have you ever taken part in role play during sex? If yes, what was it?" We re-enacted a scene from David Attenborough, the Africa series.
"Do other people's sex lives affect your university life? How does this affect you?" I like to watch but my boring flatmates won't let me.
"Do you think it is ever acceptable to cheat on a partner? Why?" If you want to be rid of them.

The answers in the "What are your sexual fantasies?" section at the end are awash with strangeness, although a special shout out goes to the rather poignant "My girlfriend wanting to have regular sex with me again."

We don't have surveys like this at Essex University. Maybe if we did, our recruitment would go up...


4:09pm on Friday, 14th November, 2014:

IGGIed Out


I've finished my 2-week stint of teaching Doctoral Training Centre students. I think they may have learned something, but then again they could have known it anyway.

Apart from getting away from the strain of teaching from 10 until 5 (I've no idea how schoolteachers keep this up day in, day out), what I'm looking forward to most is nothing really to do with the teaching at all. So as to keep my voice working, before every lecture in the morning I went to Zest, which is one of the university's coffee bars, and I ordered a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was fine, but two things about this experience annoyed me.

First, as I always went in at the same time and they always switched their background music machine on at the same time, I always foudn myself waiting in line with Kate Bush playing in the background. I've nothing against Kate Bush, I just have something against her (or anyone else) always playing whenever I found myself queueing. I don't like background music at the best of times, but the same background music at the same time every day — augh!

The other thing that I shall be relieved not to be confronted with again is this:

That second use of the word "customers" makes no sense. If they're in Zest and they're not Zest customers, they're not customers. Augh again!

Teaching the IGGI students was great, though — what a smart bunch of people! I'll look forward to doing it again for the new intake next year, assuming this year's lot don't all write to the IGGI high-ups complaining about me. I may change my mind after marking their assessments, mind you; that seems a bit more like actual work...


10:11am on Thursday, 13th November, 2014:



I've spent the past week and a half telling the PhD students that I'm teaching that today they'll be given some brain-computer interface training. I'm not teaching that, so I assumed that whoever was teaching it would tell the students the details. They didn't, however, so yesterday there was a flurry of emails asking who was teaching BCI and why everyone in BCI denied all knowledge of it.

It turned out that it wasn't in BCI, it was in robotics. During planning, we'd started off talking about BCI in general then went on to discussing giving the students Vicon tracking system training. I know nothing about the Vicon tracking system and it didn't occur to me that it wasn't BCI. It seems, however, that it's some kind of motion-capture technology that people in robotics use to, er, track motion or something.

Hmm, come to think of it, I do recall a few weeks ago wondering why they were doing BCI training in a robotics lab...


4:26pm on Wednesday, 12th November, 2014:

Comic Effect


My laptop downloaded some patches last time I used it. This time, when I switched it on, it wanted me to log in. This was at the start of my 3-hour IGGI lecture. My password is written in code on a piece of paper 7 miles away. I couldn't therefore use my laptop.

Never fear, though! I have my slides on my memory stick and on a shared drive. I can deliver my lecture from the PC in the lecture room. Hmm, except that the reason I use my laptop in the first place is that it has the fonts I want on it, whereas the PC in the lecture rooms don't have the fonts I use and won't let me install them because if they did, people would install fonts on them.

So, I had to change the fonts in my slides to something reasonably similar. For Comix Heavy, I went with Cooper Black; for straight Comix, I went with Comic Sans.

Yes, Comic Sans.

One of my students had to go home at lunchtime because it brought on a migraine. No, I'm not kidding.


5:34pm on Tuesday, 11th November, 2014:

Fuzzy Car


I drove past this car on the way home:

Yes, it's covered in astroturf. No, I don't know why.

I blanked out the number plate so people wouldn't ask me why I hadn't blanked out the number plate.


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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).