The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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5:23pm on Wednesday, 21st March, 2018:

Late Rush


I often seen news articles about how a web site becomes unusable seconds after opening because there's a rush to access it. It happens mainly with tickets to events or government announcements to do with getting free money, but I've also seen it for pages such as the 1911 Census when it first opened.

With my assignments, it's the exact opposite. The rush is in the seconds before the submission page closes. Trying to upload a many-megabytes .zip file from home when everyone else is also trying to upload a many-megabytes .zip file from home takes longer than it would have done if you'd tried half an hour earlier. Thus, Late Submission forms exist.

It's great that my students enjoy my assignments so much, they want to work on them right up to the wire.

Please to not attempt to disabuse me of this impression.


4:43pm on Tuesday, 20th March, 2018:



For ten weeks, this sign has been in the room where I teach CE317.

For ten weeks, I've ignored it.

You chose the wrong person to give nonsensical instructions to, sign.


7:40pm on Monday, 19th March, 2018:

Open Day


It was project open day today at the university, when final-year Computer Science students showcase their efforts for the past six months. Some 50 or 60 visitors from companies come to look at what's on show, and some of the ensuing discussions and pitches lead to actual jobs. It's a bit disappointing for Games students, though, as we don't have games people wanting to drive all the way to Colchester when they can sit at their desks and have 50 applications to look at for one internship. It's disappointing for me, too, as at least ten of our students do have excellent career potential in the games industry if they can get their foot in the door; then again, most of them had started over-ambitious projects so didn't have anything fully working to show anyway (the deadline for producing something in a markable state not being until next month).

A major change from previous years is that there were no "ant nest simulator" projects and only one "Sudoku-solver" (which was more of an "implement an app for Android" project than a "write 81 nested for loops, that'll do" project).

My own supervisees were mainly designing and developing tile-based RPGs from scratch in Java without using any middleware. All did surprisingly well (well, surprisingly well in my view; surprisingly badly in theirs, as they all had bigger ambitions than would fit in the time they had in which to fulfil them). I insisted they didn't do Fantasy, SF or Horror, which meant I got several very different genres with different gameplay: a JRPG-style school setting; a Middle East historical game; a World War 2 spy stealth game; a caveman crafting-and-hunting game; a pirates game with both land- and ship-based combat. The first two ended up being game engines, so could be used to write other tile-based RPGs (and indeed may well be).

As usual, I had to mark project posters relying on my zero knowledge of graphic design to account for 40% of said marks.

Fortunately for my supervisees, I'm easily impressed.


10:57pm on Sunday, 18th March, 2018:



I think this headline from the BBC news web site could have been phrased better.


5:46pm on Sunday, 18th March, 2018:



We went out for lunch today as a birthday bash for my younger daughter (whose birthday is on the first day of spring, thus making me not appreciate the song "If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring" for reasons of expense). We went to a new pub/restaurant called the Princess Charlotte, selected carefully so that my father-in-law would have less about which to complain. It was a modest success in that regard, too. It's basically a chain a bit like Beefeater or Brewer's Fare, just a bit more upmarket (f0r the moment).

I mention this because this was the first pub in the country named after the fourth in line to the throne, Princess "spare for George" Charlotte. I don't think she had any say in the matter, and doubt she'll ever eat there, but it means the pub has a claim to fame.

It does run the risk of looking stupid if, when Princess Charlotte gets older, it turns out she prefers being called Lottie to Charlotte. Still, there have been plenty of other Princesses Charlotte in the past so it would just be a case of putting up a portrait of one as a sign and it would be sorted.

I didn't get to read all the tattoos on the waiter's arm, so may well eat there again at some point.


5:06pm on Saturday, 17th March, 2018:

Brunch at Bettys


I returned to York today, having stayed overnight at my dad's in my home town of Hornsea. My purpose: brunch with my niece and her boyfriend at Bettys Tearooms.

I like Bettys Tearooms so much that I consent to their disavowal of an apostrophe in their name. It's a wonderful establishment! When we left, there were a dozen or more people queueing outside in the freezing cold for entry, in addition to another dozen inside. It's quite expensive by Yorkshire standards, but not by those of Colchester. Having eaten half a coffee cake at my dad's (with the other half waiting in my car) I thought I'd better not have anything off the cake trolley so had eggs benedict instead. It was a good decision.

I'm glad that Bettys isn't a big chain. There are two tearooms in York and the original plus a newer one in Harrogate, and two elsewhere. If they opened one in Colchester, I'd have to go there at least once a week. Fortunately, they've vowed not to open any branches outside of Yorkshire, so my waistline is safe for now.

I was going to visit some places for genealogical research (OK, taking photos of gravestones) on the way home, but the weather warning of an imminent blizard persuaded me to abandon that plan. Naturally, the weather wasn't even at a nuisance level for the entire journey. I do wish weather forecasters didn't regard themselves as actors in a drama.

My niece is fine, although it's another matter whether she will be having carried to the top of York Minster the bag of jazz CDs my dad gave me to pass on to her. Oh, hold on, she did have her boyfriend with her: he'll be the one to have suffered, then, not her.


8:12pm on Friday, 16th March, 2018:

Interview Day


I was in York today for the IGGI doctoral training programme interview day. 21 applicants chasing 12 places meant some people were going to be disappointed (and not just the students who missed out — we wished we could take more of them, but there's only so much funding).

In previous years, we ranked the students by their interview performance and their otehr qualities (because not everyone good interviews well) and then we just went with the top 12 or whateever. However, overall for the whole programme we need to have the same number of students go to each university, and this being the final year meant that some universities got more students than others to make up the shortfall. This meant some students who ranked highly but had applied to the "wrong" university were basically victims of bad luck. It's very frustrating, but our hands are tied. Also, we're onlyallowed one international (non-EU) student per year and we had three applicants any one of which was abundantly qualified. Again, that's frustrating but I can't imagine that the ones who missed out won't be picked up by some other programme.

Obviously I can't say who got in or not as the candidates themselves won't be informed until next week. I can, however, say that the system was fair and that our discussion lasted close to two hours.

Oh, I can also say that one of the Essex applicants didn't arrive until 15 minites before his interview. Lesson for prospective IGGI students #1: you can't trust public transport.


7:54am on Thursday, 15th March, 2018:

Did You Know?


This was displayed on the welcome screen to the Computer Science building earlier this week:

It reads:
Did you know?
There are over 17 societies, clubs and people at The University of Essex.
Go talk to some of them
You might enjoy yourself

It may be a bizarre boast, but strictly speaking it is actually true.

There's no excuse for missing out the full stops at the end of the final two sentences, though.


6:21pm on Wednesday, 14th March, 2018:

Busy Busy Busy


It's approaching my busiest time of the year.

I have a third-year assignment due in tomorrow. I'm expecting around 50 submissions, each of which takes 15-30 minutes to mark. All marks have to be in within 3 weeks of the deadline.

Next week, I have a second-year assignment due. I'm expecting around 80 submissions, each of which takes 60-90 minutes to mark. All marks have to be in within 3 weeks of the deadline.

Two years ago, I made the second-year deadline be the start of next term rather than the end of this one, but I found that it clashed with an MSc report deadline in which I had to mark a bunch of 20-page project proposals. I therefore moved it back to the end of this term. Two days ago, I learned that the MSc report deadline has also been moved to the end of this term. All marks have to be in within 3 weeks of the deadline.

It is for this reason that I shall not be acting on the Head of School's suggestion that we claim the Easter break as part of our annual leave. If you want us to claim more leave, stop making us do so much work.


6:05pm on Tuesday, 13th March, 2018:



Today, I wore a shirt I got myself for Christmas. It's loud, but I had to teach from 9 until 6 so figured that if I put it on it would stop students from falling asleep.

I don't know what the students made of it. This being Britain, even if they did notice it, they'd regard it as attention-seeking and therefore wouldn't attend to it at all. My wife doesn't like it, but didn't notice I was wearing it until half an hour after she first saw it, so it can't be that bad.

I like it myself, but it's too short. If I raise my arms, it comes out and I have to tuck it into my trousers again. I may have to get it in a larger size.

Gawd knows what it's going to do when I wash it...


4:36pm on Monday, 12th March, 2018:

Not the Answer


It looks as if the university is taking seriously its duty of care for students as assignment deadlines loom.


9:42am on Sunday, 11th March, 2018:

Cause of Death


I sent off for the Death Certificate for one of my ancestors recently, one John Dawson.

I don't think that the stated "cause of death" was actually his cause of death.


10:57am on Saturday, 10th March, 2018:



Oh, the shelf-stacker guy in Sainsbury's who looks like Harry Potter has grown a beard.

I'm guessing that he got sick of people telling him he looked like Harry Potter.


2:05pm on Friday, 9th March, 2018:

Green to Red


In Secret World Legends, most quests will give a reward of three or four green items of gear.

You can add a green to another green of the same type to level it up. The maximum level is 20.

You can fuse two level 20 greens to get a level 1 blue.

Blues can be levelled up as well, capping out at 25.

You can fuse two level 25 blues to get a level 1 purple.

Purples can be levelled up to level 30.

You can fuse two level 30 purples to get a level 1 orange.

Oranges can be levelled up to level 35.

You can fuse two level 35 oranges to get a level 1 red.

Reds can be levelled up to level 70. At that point, gear hits the maximum and can't be levelled up further.

Now, there are a few short-cuts. Some higher-level content can give you rewards that act as boosts. A boost of a particular colour will increase the level of an item the same colour by something like half a level to a level. In my entire time of playing the game, I've only ever seen one red boost. I see maybe two or three orange boosts a day, perhaps 15 purples and a similar number of blues. I see fewer green boosts, as I don't tend to do that content.

I'm telling you this so that you can appreciate how hard it is to grind up your gear levels in this game.

Perhaps once every three days, I'll find myself in a group with someone who has level 70 reds in all 9 gear slots. The last one I met assured me that she'd got it all from playing the game for several hours every evening since launch.

I've been playing several hours every evening since a month after launch, and currently have six red items and three orange. My highest red items are my weapons, at level 26. These are the result of the effects of orange boosts that arrived courtesy of the one lockbox a day that subscribers to the game get to open for free. Otherwise, I'd maybe have one red weapon and one red other piece of gear, with the rest orange.

I know other people buy lockbox keys by the dozen to level up their gear, but I really wish there was a flag on characters that told you they'd done that. Then, I wouldn't have to listen to people lording it over me while bare-faced lying about it.

Being able to filter myself from joining groups with them would be good, too, although not as good as never being grouped with people who wear comedy animal masks would be.


4:19pm on Thursday, 8th March, 2018:



We have a new approach to final-year projects starting at the moment: our second-year students have to choose what project they'll be doing next year quite a bit earlier than they used to have to do. Meanwhile, the current third-year students are desperately trying to get their project into a state where they can demonstrate it to all and sundry on Project Open Day a week on Monday.

This means I'm telling a group of enthusiastic second-years that they have completely under-estimated the amount of work involved in what they propose to develop and need to cut back their ambitions hard, while at the same time having jaded third-years telling me they did indeed bite off more than they can chew and no way will they have what they were hoping to have by the end, even though they'd modified their goals in the face of my dire warnings last year.

So the wheel turns.


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Copyright © 2018 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).