The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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11:11pm on Thursday, 26th March, 2015:

Top Bear


From the duffel coat pocket of the Paddington Bear my wife bought in the 1980s:

Yes, the mother and father of that Clarkson.


12:12pm on Thursday, 26th March, 2015:

To Nottingham


I'm going to Nottingham this afternoon, for the formal opening of the National Video Game Arcade at GameCity. I'll be donating the MUSE Ltd sign I found in the attic, to go in their "A History of Games in 100 Objects" exhibition.

Several big names from the games industry will be there, which I'm hoping will mean that no-one wants a photograph with me in it. This cyst on my lower right eyelid now has the appearance of a small cherry, so I'm even less photogenic than normal. The party will probably go on until the small hours of tomorrow morning, but I'll have to leave after a couple of hours so I can get home in time to be able to get up tomorrow to meet a student.

Hmm, maybe I should take my camera? Or at least charge up my phone.


12:55pm on Wednesday, 25th March, 2015:

Critical Mass


I saw the Head of Department Stoday about how to teach some material for our new Games MSc that overlaps with other material I'll be teaching (short answer: "don't"). More interestingly, though, he was able to show me the raptor drone he keeps in his office.

Wow! We have a robotics lab, an AI group and a games group. That's critical mass! More importantly, we have money we need to spend before the end of June so we have to do this whether we like it or not...

We're thinking of getting one of the robots to make a town out of Lego (because that's less boring that making one ourselves) then sending drones in to Do Fun Stuff. Bonus: Lego people can't sue us if they're decapitated by whizzing drone blades (actually people can't either, but their relatives might on their behalf).

Why stop at SimCity or Cities: Skylines when you can have real-life Lego cities populated by AI-controlled Lego people upon which you can rain occasional flaming death?

We should start on this quickly, before someone makes it illegal.

Aside: is there a system whereby you can build something out of Lego, point a couple of cameras at it on import it into Minecraft? If not, there's a Kickstarter project for you right there. Or, to be more accurate, right here.


4:35pm on Tuesday, 24th March, 2015:



I'm marking assignments this week. They were handed in a week ago on Friday and I have three weeks to mark them, so I have to have them done by a week this Friday. As that's Good Friday, I effectively have only until a week on Thursday.

I only have 20 assignments to mark, but the problem is that they take me 2 hours each. That's longer than some of the students took to write them, based on what I've read so far. I've marked 10 so far, so I should be able to finish on time so long as I don't suddenly get worked dumped on me (I lost 3 hours yesterday because of a 4pm meeting that I was asked to go to at noon). I'll be glad when they're out of the way, all the same.

In previous years when I gave this assignment, I spotted several people making the same mistakes. I put together a file of common responses to common problems, which I then cut-and-pasted from. Fed up with doing this, last year I took the contents of this file and put them in the lectures, so that students wouldn't make the same mistakes as those who went before them. It seems to have worked, too: I'm now having to write new responses to new problems that are specific to individual submissions — and the average mark is looking as if it'll be higher than in previous years as well.

I really should think through the consequences of trying to improve my lectures before recklessly doing so and causing myself more work.


1:42pm on Monday, 23rd March, 2015:



I have to fill in a new W-8 form to ask the US Government not to take taxes off me for royalties on my book as I'll be paying them in the UK. This is a tiresome piece of bureaucracy, but Pearson (my publisher) has made it easy: you can do it all online and it automatically generates and dispatches the W-8 form for you.

To use the form, you have to prove who you are. To prove who you are, you have to select your country from a drop-down list and type the first 3 letters of your postal city. This is then compared againt the address that Pearson has for you on file, and if it works then you're through to the form-filling part.

Pearson has my country as being England. Its drop-down list has United Kingdom but no England.

I sent them an email asking them to change my address. The email I received by return told me I couldn't request an address change by email as they need me to sign it. For extra security, I have to provide the first few digits of my social security number.

I don't have a social security number. If I did, I wouldn't have had to fill in the W-8 form in the first place.

The easier you make it to do something, the harder it gets.


10:36am on Sunday, 22nd March, 2015:

Striking a Blow for Feminism


People rightly complain that there aren't enough female members of parliament, so here's a simple way to increase the number by 10: make Eton College co-educational. Around 20 MPs went to Eton, we've had 19 old Etonian prime ministers (including the current one) and there are 8 in the cabinet (12 if you include ones from the House of Lords). If Eton admitted girls as well as boys then 15 or 20 years from now it should all feed through.

Bonus! We'd also get more female judges, journalists, authors, actors, winners of the Victoria Cross (Eton: 37; women: 0) and mayors of London.


5:50pm on Saturday, 21st March, 2015:

Dan the Man


It's my younger daughter's 21st birthday today, so we went out for lunch. Our waiter was a man called Dan.

Yes, he was the only man serving food in the restaurant. Why did you ask?


1:22pm on Friday, 20th March, 2015:



It's a bright, sunny day. The sky is blue and there's barely a cloud in sight.

Well, it is now. Sadly, at 9:40 this morning when we were supposed to be seeing a partial eclipse of the sun, there were only clouds, clouds, clouds. They were dark, and did get lighter, but if I hadn't know there was an eclipse I wouldn't have known there was an eclipse. It just seemed to be a regular day with thick cloud and a cold wind.

The BBC footage was dreadful. The period of totality was shown as a shaky picture from an aircraft flying in the zone of totality. They had a ground crew in the Faroes, but didn't cut to them once during the period. Immediately afterwards, we were treated to a reported and a scientist saying how amazing it was when everything went black as night and the temperature dropped. We just had to take their word for it, though. I suppose they may have cut to the Faroes if there hadn't been cloud cover there, too, but even if they had done it would probably have only been to show what the sun looked like with the moon in the way. Remarkable though that is, the effect on the surface of Earth is definitely something special, though. I would have liked to have seen a few seconds of it on TV.

Whydid I watch the BBC's coverage, then?

Well, yesterday on breakfast TV we were treated to an explanation of how to make a pinhole camera. Here's what to do:
1) Take a large box, maybe 8 inches by 8 inches by 12 inches.
2) Cut a hole in the box at one end.
3) Cut a hole in the box at the opposite end.
4) Put a sheet of aluminium foil at one end of the box, over the hole.
5) Put a plain sheet of white paper at the other end of the box.
6) Poke a pin through the middle of the aluminium foil.

OK, so there's nothing wrong with that. However, this isn't quite what the folks on breakfast TV did. Their step 3) was to cut a hole in the roof of the box. The white paper was nevertheless in the right place, it's just it was stuck to the outside of the box rather than covering a hole in the box onto which the pinhole would be projecting the image. I guess you could have looked through the large hole in the roof to see the image being projected onto the brown cardboard inside, but with so much diffuse light in there I don't expect you'd see much.

So that's why I watched the BBC coverage. It may have been badly edited, but at least the BBC does try to do science.


9:08am on Thursday, 19th March, 2015:

88 Expenses


Today, an off-peak day return from Colchester to London by train costs £31.60. How much did it cost in 1988, I wonder?

Hmm, it looks from that old expenses claim to have been £8.40. Prices have certainly gone up!

What about Internet access?

Today, the standard British Telecom unlimited broadband offer for business customers is £22 a month, so for just over 7 months it would come to, say, £155.

Hmm, it looks from that old expenses claim to have cost £1,044.54. Prices have certainly come down!


1:46pm on Wednesday, 18th March, 2015:

Load, Delete


I recently started playing Rise of Venice, which is a trading game a bit like The Patrician IV and designed by the same people. It's better than The Patrician IV, but still some way short of being as good as The Patrician III. I'm enjoying it all the same, except for One Thing.

Here's a section of a screen shot (literally — I took a photo of the screen) from the Save Game option of Civilization V. Below it is a screen shot from the Save Game option of Rise of Venice. I've played an awful lot of Civilization V. I haven't played an awful lot of Rise of Venice. As a result, whenever I try to save the game, I end up trying to delete it.

It's just that One Thing...


2:44pm on Tuesday, 17th March, 2015:

Right On


The last issue of the Student Union Newspaper The Rabbit that I read, inside were complaints that Essex University had scored low in a new "freedom of speech" ranking system for universities.

This issue has the following front page:

I can't see our position improving much in next year's rankings...


7:19pm on Monday, 16th March, 2015:



It was Final-Year Project Presentation Day today, in which students who have hitherto had little connection with the real world (or even the academic world, in some cases) have to dress up smart and show their projects off to visitors from industry. Programs which last week barely compiled were transformed into fully-functioning pieces of software engineering merely by doing the amount of work on them that they were supposed to have had done on them some time ago.

This year's Presentation Day was an unexpected pleasure for me, because one of the external visitors was an old friend from my own undergraduate days, Phill Fox. It must be 20 years since I last saw him — he recommended me to the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate to do exam validation work in Singapore, which I did 3 or 4 times a year until the late 1990s. We must have spent nearly two hours on and off chatting and reminiscing about old times.

Ah, happy days.

I do hope his recommendation to the Head of Department that they stop setting so many Sudoku-solving projects has an effect...


12:05pm on Sunday, 15th March, 2015:



When I returned to the tea chest in the attic today, looking for more MUSE Ltd signs as apparently they're in demand (I found another three), I came across this:

It's a game called Trailblazer, which Boardgamegeek knows a little about but I didn't know even existed. It's not a good game — basically Hangman played with city names and a spinner — but it does have something a little different about it.

The hint comes from the front page (which for reasons of unfolding it, is the rightmost A4 panel from the colour-printed side). Trailblazer is described as being a "card/board game". It's intended to be a greeting card that doubles up as a board game. Inside, it has a "To: ... Message: ... From: ..." section. Sadly, to write on this you'd have to remove the cellophane wrapping which would cause the counters to fall out, so they didn't really think it through.

It's a shame the idea didn't take off, but even if the game had been worth playing it probably wouldn't have. Maybe it could have found a niche if they'd themed it for particular occasions (18th birthday, passing exams, Valentine's Day, Christmas, ...), but a generic card was never going to work.

I now have to decide what to do with it. I'm loathe to throw out a game because, well, it's a game. However, it's a game that sucks. I doubt there's a market for it, so there's no point putting it on eBay, "still in its original wrapping" or not.

Is there a collector out there who could give it a good home?


3:03pm on Saturday, 14th March, 2015:

Top Floor


I found this in a tea chest in the attic today:

I think perhaps I should throw it out, given that we shut down MUSE Ltd in 2007.

To be honest, what really did for it was the chip off the bottom left corner...


2:42pm on Friday, 13th March, 2015:



It's amazing how quickly traffic can build up if the person on the stop/go board abandons their post.

Fortunately for me I was travelling in the go direction, but the 50+ vehicles looking at the stop sign weren't so lucky.


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