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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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11:56am on Sunday, 25th June, 2017:

A Cast of Clones

Weird

I took this photo of an advert for a West End musical while waiting on a platform at London Underground:



I couldn't get the whole hoarding in because I was too close, but the 42nd Street logo with the woman in red on it is slap bang in the middle. In the poster as a whole, she has 20 dancers either side of her — it must be quite a show!

Only, let's take a look at those dancers immediately to the left and the dancers starting nine along to the right:



It must have been incredibly difficult to find 20 sets of identical, dancing twins.



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1:08pm on Saturday, 24th June, 2017:

Lamppost

Weird

The tree behind this one has the same notice.



No, not Narnia: Chelmsford.



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9:33am on Friday, 23rd June, 2017:

We Are Gold

Anecdote

In common with a quarter of other UK universities, yesterday Essex University was given a gold award in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

I'm not going to say anything cynical about this, as I think we actually are rather good at teaching and did deserve the award. However, I was surprised to see this poster appear the same day that the results were released:



There was also a photo-op with maybe 100 people bunking off work to have a group picture taken with large polystyrene ESSEX letters spray-painted gold. This was the scene when I arrived:



The poster and the letters aren't the kind of thing that can be knocked up in just an hour or two, so the results must have been released a few days ago but embargoed until yesterday. Either that, or someone was panicking in case we only got a silver and the cost of the poster and letters was coming out of their salary.

The TEF is a good idea, but it reminds me of the arts-and-sciences division. There's a long-held view among some quarters of the art establishment that being good at both art and science is mutually incompatible, therefore if you're good at art you must be bad at science and vice versa. This view is not held in the sciences. People occasionally boast "oh, I'm useless at maths" as a way of implying that they're wonderfully creative (actors are particularly prone to this), but you don't see many scientists suggesting that being illiterate is a prerequisite for being a particle physicist.

With the TEF, I can see how research-intensive universities could take the position that either you can be good at teaching or good at research but not both. Students don't give high ratings to difficult subjects, therefore high TEF ratings must be due to a lack of intellectual content, therefore any university that has a high TEF rating must be a shoddy institution offering shoddy degrees to shoddy students (except Oxbridge, because they have such a high staff/student ratio that they can actually do the teaching). Having a low TEF score is therefore a sign of quality, like being useless at science is a sign of creativity among certain groups of artists.

Academics have three aspects to their work: research, teaching and administration ("each of which takes up half their time"). Essex University has a gold TEF, and if the Research Excellence Framework was summarised as Olympic-style medals would have a gold REF, too. What this means is that if there were an Administration Excellence Framework, we'd be right there at the bottom in the striving-for-bronze zone.



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8:31am on Thursday, 22nd June, 2017:

County Championship

Miscellaneous

Well that game of Crusader Kings 2 went better than I was expecting.



Now to export it to Europa Universalis IV and see how it pans out.



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8:28am on Wednesday, 21st June, 2017:

Student Assessment of Modules

Anecdote

Every year, our students have to rate their modules for quality of teaching. This year's league tables for the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering are out, and here are the top five most highly-rated modules (out of 53 in total):



Ha! CE317 and CE217 are mine.

I knew that making people fill out their module assessment forms at the start of the lecture was a winning idea. All the students who don't like my modules show up late, so don't get a form, so can't vent their fury at me.

I need to improve CE217, though. I think I'll achieve that by sabotaging CE331, CE315 and CE218 — that's much easier than improving my teaching. We're forbidden by law from telling students to rate our modules highly, but there's nothing to stop me encouraging my students to rate their other modules badly.

These game-playing skills I've built up over decades come in really handy at times.



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4:38pm on Tuesday, 20th June, 2017:

Hot Day

Anecdote

I went to Chelmsford yesterday to talk to some people at County Hall about gamification, then headed on to London for the Humanist UK presidential reception.

The Chelmsford meeting was at 4pm, but I'd never been to County Hall before so figured I'd take the 3pm train and mooch around in Chelmsford for a bit after finding it. Chelmsford is about 20-30 minutes from Colchester, depending on whether you get on the express or the bone-rattler that stops at pokey little stations, so I'd have time plenty of time either to panic or to find an air-conditioned coffee shop in which to recover from the oppressive heat.

I arrived at Colchester railway station only to find that there were no trains showing on the screen that were heading in the direction of London. This was because the screens were full of trains heading in the other direction that were delayed. It turned out that the London trains were delayed too, because of "overhead line damage", "a broken-down train" and "a buckled rail outside Chelmsford".

Fortunately, a bone-rattler showed up at about 15:12, and although it went slower than normal it did get me to Chelmsford for the meeting. Amazingly, the heating in the train was not on. Even though this was the hottest day of the year so far, I hadn't believed that the train operator would go so far as to switch off the train's heating. I wasn't aware it had an off switch. The system must have been broken or something.

The County Hall meeting was productive, in that I managed to persuade them not to ask me to do any more work for them. There was no air conditioning in their offices, so we all put on our best stiff-upper-lips and made no concessions to the weather whatsoever, thereby displaying no signs of weakness. I kept my jacket on the whole time. This is what the Victorians did, and the only minor side-effect was the cultivation of an imperialist desire to rule a quarter of the world; I can cope with that.

I left County Hall at 5:45pm. I know this because the toilets outside close at 5:45pm and I saw them being locked up. I made my way to the train station and discovered that there was a "signalling blackout" that had stopped all trains running between Shenfield and Marks Tey (about 30 miles apart, with Chelmsford between them) for 30 minutes thus far. We were given water to drink, but I'd already bought some juice so didn't accept it; just as well, because there was only enough room in the station waste bin for my juice bottle, so I've no idea where the people with the water bottles were going to dispose of those.

At 6pm, I went to the toilets at the bus station. I know this, because they close at 6pm and I saw them being locked up. The toilets at the train station are on the other side of the ticket barriers, but the staff weren't letting anyone through. They'd been ordered not to be management, but (in the great tradition of British rail services) management had not explained their reasoning, nor had anyone any expectation that they would.

After maybe half an hour, without warning, the public address system announced that the train on platform 1 was about to depart RIGHT NOW. We poured through the ticket barriers to get aboard. Another great characteristic of British rail services (London Underground is the exemplar here) is the assumption that everyone knows the numbers of all the platforms and where the trains from them go. I could see where platform 1 was because everyone was heading there, but I didn't know until I saw a sign that it was for trains going to London. If it had been going to Colchester, I'd still have boarded it, I just wouldn't have gone to the Humanist UK get-together.

I arrived in London about an hour after I'd expected to arrive. The HUK meaning was in the Royal Society building off the Mall, next to the Duke of York's column. I'd planned to walk there from Charing Cross, but half the underground lines were closed or experiencing severe delays so I took the Central and Piccadilly lines to Piccadilly Circus and walked from there. I knew which was the right building as I was about 20 metres behind human rights activist Peter Tatchell, so I just followed him.

Inside, it was cool and warm. This building used to be the German Embassy in the 1930s (Ribbentrop's dog is buried next to a tree outside) so it was properly engineered to ensure that people inside wouldn't bake at gas mark 4 whenever the temperature outside exceeded 30 Celsius.

The chief executive of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, gave his opening remarks and was about to introduce our new president, Shappi Khorsandi, when the fire alarm went off. It was piercing, irritating and not an alarm you want to hang around for, so once the consensus emerged that we probably should evacuate, we evacuated. Our mustering point was the statue of the Duke of York's column (as in the Grand Old Duke of York, who had 10,000 men - those Victorians were far more liberal than you might imagine).

As we assembled, one of the humanists remarked "at least we weren't on the 25th floor". Being a humanist doesn't mean you're incapable of making jokes in bad taste.

I got into an interesting conversation with a bloke there, and it took perhaps 5 or 10 minutes before we realised that we had been attending different meetings. I confess that I did think his probing of my views on the state of modern molecular biology was more in-depth than that to which I am accustomed.

We got back into the building after another half an hour's delay, and the president could finally give her speech.

She's actually pretty good. She should be a comedian. Her main story was about how she went to the registrar's office to register the birth of her child and when they presented her with the birth certificate she saw the word "Islam" there. She complained, demanded to speak to the chief registrar, accused his staff of assuming that just because she's of Iranian heritage that doesn't make her a Muslim, and her daughter was only a few weeks old so couldn't know a religion anyway. The registrar apologised profusely, but did comment that it was unusual as normally that particular box on the form contained the name of the doctor present at the birth. As Shappi had had an emergency Caesarean section, she didn't know that the surgeon who delivered her baby was Dr Islam.

I left the meeting at about 9:30pm and caught the 22:03 train home. It took 20 minutes longer to get back than usual because of "weak rails", "scheduled maintenance" or "earlier problems", depending on which announcement I felt like believing.

In winter, British people routinely remark that the whole transport system falls apart if there's a centimetre of snow. When this happens next winter's first snowfall, I shall recall today and remind myself that it falls apart if the temperature exceeds 28 degrees, too.



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9:10am on Monday, 19th June, 2017:

Guildless

Comment

Players in MMOs can form groups called guilds. The actual name may vary depending on the MMO — they're called cabals in The Secret World, for example — but guild is the general term. They're a way for players to form groups that they're still members of when they log off and log back in again.

We didn't used to have guilds in the early days, because there were too few players. Some text MUDs did have them, but the concept was regarded as just another differentiator, in the same way that idiosyncratic healing strategues or the presence of currency were. We didn't even have friends lists: the games were so small that you knew everyone anyway.

Today, guilds serve to partition the player base into smaller communities. Sometimes, these communities are the same size as entire MUDs from 30 years ago, but there are no sub-guilds (Eve Online has super-groups). Guilds help with tasks such as running instances or raids, or crafting, or obtaining collective perks, or PvPing. However, they hinder with immersion-breaking, with drama, with elitism and with the level of general toxicity. Rare is the MMO that allows you to be a member of more than one of them.

Hmm. Maybe if we dropped guilds but kept friends lists, MMOs would be friendlier places?

There are people who play MMOs because of guilds, but are there people who don't play MMOs because of them?



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1:55pm on Sunday, 18th June, 2017:

Katherine Jenkins, Contortionist

Weird

This is a quite splendidly bad Photoshop job of opera singer Katherine Jenkins off a cruise advert in The Sunday Times.



I knew she was famous as a singer, but I didn't know she could rotate her head back like an owl.



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12:35pm on Saturday, 17th June, 2017:

Not-So-Little Weed

Anecdote

Because of the bees in our garden, my wife hasn't been able to weed close to their nest. This is the result:



I think it's some kind of triffid.



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12:45pm on Friday, 16th June, 2017:

Accident

Anecdote

Well, this morning didn't go to plan. My younger daughter was driving to work and had an alteraction with a bus. The bus won.

Thankfully, no-one was hurt and there were no passengers on the bus (or we could be looking at 90 whiplash injury claims), but it was quite exciting as it happened on a roundabout and held up a lot of traffic until the police came and managed to move her car out of the way.

I took my daughter to work afterwards, then spent half an hour giving details to the insurance company. Bye bye no claims bonus. For some reason, the music they played while putting me on hold was the theme to Game of Thrones, which is fine but a little dramatic for someone reporting an accident.

The people at the bus company seemed quite reasonable, so I don't think they'll be claiming for a new bus, just for repairs.

Here's a photo of the damage to my daughter's car:



I don't think that's going to buff out.

While we were waiting for the car to be towed, another car pulled out at the same junction and clipped a lorry carrying pallets.



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7:36pm on Thursday, 15th June, 2017:

Out Late

Weird

The bridges are nosey in Lincoln.



None of your business, bridge.



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6:58pm on Wednesday, 14th June, 2017:

Copy Protection

Anecdote

I'm in Lincoln today and tomorrow, doing some external examining. I saw this when I cranked up the moderation software:



Hmm. I guess I'd better not cut and paste what I wrote about the modules last year, then.



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6:07pm on Tuesday, 13th June, 2017:

Mistaken Identity

Weird

I bought some more antique playing cards for my collection:



These are Dondorf number 150, Mittelalter ("Middle Ages"), which were manufactured between 1889 and 1933. Corner indeces were introduced in 1906, so these date from before then.

The individual selling the pack advertised it as being unusual because the Queen of Spades has a moustache.

Hmm. He didn't notice the large bosom on the Jack of Spades, then?



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8:25am on Monday, 12th June, 2017:

Recycling

Comment

From the back of a packet of Sainsbury's tagliatelli:



The header says one thing and the body says another.

The usual cynical analogy with the state of UK political discourse applies.



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1:49pm on Sunday, 11th June, 2017:

Stag Beetle Carnage

Anecdote

Last weekend, before I cut the grass, I came across these carcasses:



They're stag beetles. These are quite rare, but there were two sites maybe a couple of metres apart which between them had maybe a dozen stag beetles in various stages of dismemberment. I did later that afternoon see a live one going into the hedge, but it had gone by the time I got my camera.

Stag beetles aren't just rare, they're big — the live one I saw was close to three inches in length. What had happened to kill so many of them in the same locations?

I found my answer this morning when I saw a magpie having a go at something in the same area. I managed to get to the site and scare it of. This chap was there:



He's missing a leg and I think his wing is damaged because he kept trying to take off and couldn't. He put up a pretty good fight, though, given his relative size to the magpie.

I guess that the beetles were emerging from their colony one at a time and being picked off by the magpie. If they'd all come out at once they would have stood more of a chance; indeed, I wouldn't have liked to have seen a magpie attacked by a dozen of these guys on the wing — those pincers are enormous!

I decided, given my lack of knowledge of beetle healthcare, not to take him indoors and nurse him back to fitness. He was able to crawl to the hedge and safety, though. Also, with his packing that kind of weaponry, I could have found myself in Accident & Emergency if I'd approached too close.



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Copyright © 2017 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).