The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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12:00pm on Sunday, 20th May, 2018:

Targeted Advertising


What the hell, Facebook targeted advertising?!

How can you be so clever that you can recognise the image of me wearing a shirt, but so stupid that you think I'd like to wear whatever those are?


10:50am on Sunday, 20th May, 2018:

Case Closed


I don't like throwing away things that have nothing wrong with them, but what else am I going to do with three perfectly serviceable camera cases for which there no longer exist cameras?

Sure, I can make a use for them ("gotta store those paperclips somewhere") but in their souls they're camera cases.


10:56am on Saturday, 19th May, 2018:

Royal Wedding


I didn't go to today's royal wedding, having discreetly made it known that I would be mowing the lawn this afternoon, so I wouldn't have the embarrassment of having to turn down an invitation.

It was a different story on 29th July, 1981, when Prince Harry's parents were married. I was working at the university over the summer, having just finished my undergraduate degree and shortly to start my PhD. I went to London to stand in the crowds and watch the procession. I'd never been to a royal occasion before (we don't have many of them in East Yorkshire), so figured it was a great opportunity to see one up close.

Afterwards, I wrote up my day and sent it to my grandmother, as she was interested in such things. Unlike my grandmother, the report has survived to the present day.

Here, therefore, in all its typewriters-don't-have-backspaces glory, is a scan of what 21-year-old-me wrote about an earlier royal wedding.

I think some of it may be somewhat dated.


2:17pm on Friday, 18th May, 2018:

Departmental Meeting


We had a departmental meeting today. It lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes.

This meeting was out of term time (as in, teaching has ended). At the end, the Head of School said that the next staff meeting would probably be in term time. He asked if anyone had any thoughts on that.

I said that I had missed the previous two staff meetings because they were in term time and clashed with my lectures. I was therefore very much in favour of holding future staff meetings in term time.

Why supply 100 cups but only enough tea and coffee to fill 50 mugs?


7:22am on Thursday, 17th May, 2018:



So, it seems that if you like shirts with running paint on them, you can get them in splats, too.

I'll have to try it with my dinner suit. The buttons are covered up, so it counts as formal.


7:45am on Wednesday, 16th May, 2018:

Sip and ...


This is the signage for a café in Colchester:

What it is with the youth of today? Don't any of them own indelible marker pens any more?


10:15am on Tuesday, 15th May, 2018:

Swedish Games


There's a 6-page article in the Swedish edition of PC Gamer about, well, see for yourself:

It's something about MUD, for sure; as for quite what, well I did do an interview for it so it's probably consistent with the rosy history I keep in my head, but as it's in Swedish the details are somewhat opaque.

I'd run it through a translator, but then I might find out it's not as nice about me as I imagine it must be, and I want to avoid any risk of having this delusion spoiled.


2:32pm on Monday, 14th May, 2018:

Age Defying


I was in Colchester over lunch to pick up my car after its MOT, so I went to Dr Chippy's for fishcakes and chips. I don't like fish, but theirs have so much potato in them that I can't taste it.

"You're over 60", said the waitress.

I informed her that no, I wasn't over 60.

She seemed surprised. "If you're over 60, you get the pensioners' discount."

I explained that even though that may be the case, it didn't make me over 60.

"We can say you're over 60 and you can get the discount", she responded.

I informed her that I had no wish to cheat Dr Chippy out of a couple of quid by lying about my age.

My younger daughter gets annoyed at being asked to provide evidence that she's 18 (she's 24). People think she's younger than she actually is.

I seem to have the opposite problem.


10:55am on Sunday, 13th May, 2018:



I think the map for this cruise up the Douro river in Portugal may have picked the wrong Entre-os-Rios to display.

Just as well it doesn't go to Lisbon — there's a minor planet with that name in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.


5:17pm on Saturday, 12th May, 2018:



If you're going to etch text into a solid metal sheet, it might be an idea to run it through a spell-checker before you turn on the machine, just in case there are any typos or anything...


4:37pm on Friday, 11th May, 2018:



Catching up on the MMORPG news I missed while giving myself blisters walking around Poland, I noticed an article on MassivelyOP about Occupy Whitewalls.

OWW is a virtual world for sure, although whether it is (or will become) an MMORPG remains to be seen. I've been involved with it for several years now, as I'm friends with its CEO (Yarden Yaroshevsky) and meet up with him occasionally to tell him why whatever it is he wants to do next with it is crazy.

It's basically a virtual world in which you build your own art gallery which other people visit. As you can deduce from that brief description, there's not a lot of gameplay to it, which is why it doesn't qualify as an MMORPG. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot to do in it, though. The thing is, if you want to build an art gallery then yes, you can do some Sims-like room-building and so on, but you need actual artwork to display. Which artwork, though?

This is where it gets interesting. OWW has an AI system behind it called D.A.I.S.Y (which if I knew what it was an acronym for then I could perhaps argue for its having an extra dot at the end of its name). Anyway, the purpose of D.A.I.S.Y is to help people find works of art that they like. If it thinks you like a work of art (if you bought it, say, or if you zoomed in on it or whatever), it compares it with other works of art it thinks you like and tries to abstract common features. It has no idea what these features mean, just that you may like them. If you look at a bunch of portraits, it'll pick up on that; if you look at works by a particular artist, or from a particular country, or of a particular size, or of cats, it'll pick up on that, too. Then, when you ask for new suggestions for which art you might like, it'll present you with some ideas based on what it thinks you'll like, plus a similar number of pieces chosen entirely at random.

I think the AI it uses is some kind of automated neural network, but there could be an evolutionary algorithm component to it, too. I myself would also like to see some kind of comparison with what other people like (so if you happen to have identical tastes to a truck driver from Milwaukee, and said truck driver likes Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine and Weird Hand, then you might like it too); I don't think it does that yet, though. Selecting works of art is surprisingly absorbing for some people, who do it to relax. That may sound odd, but then so does relaxing by killing orcs...

Although OWW is 3D, all its artworks are currently 2D (paintings and photos; I think there may be a video there too to show it works). It's not going to be the break-out application for virtual reality, then... As for where the artwork comes from, well it's currently all from public domain collections in national art galleries. There are plans to allow people to upload their own artwork, but it'll probably cost money to do so in order to deter griefers from spamming it with pornography. Unfortunately, a large number of artists use Apple computers, which have high-end displays and low-end graphical capabilities; they have dreadful frame rates for 3D environments, but at least the frames are crystal clear while they're loading. This means that artists might upload their own works, but they won't be spending much time showing people round their virtual galleries unless they invest in a proper computer...

I knew that AI and virtual worlds would come together when I did my PhD back in the 1980s. I wasn't expecting it to work out quite like this, though..!


9:44am on Thursday, 10th May, 2018:

Krakow Vignette


Kraków vignette.

Polish ice cream is unexpectedly good.
This is a very clean city, with hardly any rubbish anywhere (except in bins).
School trips render every cathedral inaccessible.
It's a very cyclist-friendly city, but the cyclists are unfriendly.
Steps can be invisible. You think you're walking on a flat surface then ARGH!
Either you can't take photos of the inside of churches, or you can but you have to pay for permission.
Word that pigeons are carriers of unpleasant diseases hasn't yet reached this part of Poland.
Leonardo Da Vinci wasn't good at drawing hands.
Milk in tea is not a thing here.
You can tell how far you are from the tourist centre by looking at the prices of the bread rolls at the stands on street corners: 1.30, 1.50, 1.60, 1.80, 2.00. Exception: they're 2.60 at the airport.
Oh wow! They have Asparagus Time here! I thought that was just in Germany. Mmm, asparagus...
If you didn't know before you visited that Pope John Paul II was previously archbishop of Kraków, you'd know afterwards.
Maybe those little stalls in the town square open at the weekend.
There are no empty shops here. All of them are occupied.
There seems to be a synergy between Polish and Italian cuisine. Polish/Italian restaurants abound.
That kid busking on the accordian was playing The Armed Man, or L'homme Armée to be strictly accurate.
Torrential thunderstorms in the evening are a daily occurrence.
Jaywalking is so rife that people don't even look, they just step out onto the road when they feel like it.

So that's Kraków.


8:35am on Wednesday, 9th May, 2018:



My talk seemed to go well yesterday. People in the audience laughed, often in the right places, and no-one threw anything. I'll upload the slides to my web site when I get back.

There was actually some controversy about this event. I was contacted in advance of it by a reporter from the Times Higher Educational Supplement, asking if I was going to pull out. Apparently, there had been a minor storm on Twitter provoked by the observation that of the 89 speakers, only one was female. Essex University has a reputation for being a leading institution in the fight against sexism, so would I be withdrawing?

I said no, I wouldn't. Diversity is about more than just gender, although that's obviously an important one. The speaker list was just as ageist as it was sexist, for example. That said, the ethnic make-up, which would be very unrepresentative in the USA, was a fair reflection of the demographics of Poland.

What motivated me not to cancel, however, was the diversity you don't see in the photos. The diversity chip on my own shoulder concerns social class, which you can't see at all from headshots of speakers. There comes a point in any movement for social change when there's a switch from role-models to demands for equality of representation. Equality demands boycotts, but role modelling demands presence. Gender equality has reached the point where it can call for boycotts; social mobility hasn't. I don't see that losing a form of diversity that's struggling to be heard, so as to support another that already has many voices, helps either. Hence, I came here to do my bit.

As it happened, the assertion upon which this was based was false anyway. There were 30 speakers in Kraków, at least two of whom were women (both with talks about blockchain). That's still scandalously low, but often it's not individuals who are invited to speak at these events but companies; if the companies all decide to send men under 40 to speak, there's not a lot the organisers can do about it any more than the Eurovision Song Contest can prevent every country from sending songs with a key change two thirds of the way through. I was still one of only two speakers at this conference aged over 55, although I regard this as actually pretty good for an event about programming.

Also, I was first invited to speak at the conference last year. I couldn't make the dates, but I did check the web site at the time and it struck me that they had many more women speaking than I usually see at technology industry shindigs. This time round was bad for gender representation, but a mass boycott would have bankrupted the company and then there wouldn't have been any events that were good for gender representation, like the one last year (which may even be the norm).

Next time I receive an email from a THES reporter trying to stir things up, I don't think I'll reply.


8:36pm on Tuesday, 8th May, 2018:



So, it seems that the BBC's weather forecast for Kraków may have underestimated the likelihood of rain.

I'm going to have to find the iron so I can dry off my jacket, trousers, passport, boarding card, phone, ...


1:14pm on Tuesday, 8th May, 2018:



All I knew about Krakow before this trip came from games (including the fact that the soccer stadium is very intimidating for visiting teams). It turns out it has a very pretty centre that seems to have escaped largely unscathed from the Communist era.

I escaped largelyunscathed from the capitalist era. The driver taking me from the airport had a brand-new Mercedes, which was no deterrent to his using his mobile phone. He was texting at a set of traffic lights, the car in front went forward one vehicle's length and stopped, and my driver figured the lights must have changed and put his foot down as if they had. Fortunately, the Mercedes threw up all manner of alarms and emergency braking, saving me from having to walk the rest of the way and him from having to seek new employment.

Ah, better stop, my talk is in 15 minutes and I have to set up...


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