The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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5:36pm on Wednesday, 13th December, 2017:



My office door was open. A student in the corridor outside looked in and asked me whether I knew when another member of staff with an office nearby was in. I told him I didn't. He was about to go, but then spotted my name plate. That's when things got strange.

Student: Are you Richard Bartle?
Me: Yes.
Student: I was going to do you.
Me: What?
Student: I was going to do you, but then I found out most other people were going to do you so I did someone else instead.
Me: What?
Student: You're easy.
Me: What?

It turns out that one of my colleagues has been setting an assignment in which students have to create a web site based on a member of staff. Most of them choose me, because I have a bigger Internet footprint than anyone else in the department so there's lots of material from which to select. Well over half the students choose to do me on that basis.

I don't know whether to be flattered or freaked out by this news.

I hope none of them are shrines.


5:45pm on Tuesday, 12th December, 2017:



The latest issue of the Essex University alumnus magazine, Essex Effect, is now out. I don't normally mention it, because it's only of interest to people who graduated from Essex University (who will receive it no matter how hard they try not to), but this time it has an interesting article in it.
OK, so the interesting article is an interview with Yanis Varoufakis, but that's not why I'm mentioning it. I'm mentioning it because there's another interview on the page after, featuring me and one of my former students, Cristiana, who has just started a PhD as part of the IGGI programme (she's now at Queen Mary University, because her supervisor moved there) (well he does live only 12 minutes away so I can't really blame him).

In the interview, I come across as incoherent, self-contradictory and bonkers; Cristiana comes across as measured and sane. In the photo, I get progressively scruffier from my neck to my knees; Cristiana looks smart all the way. Also, I'm sure that when I mentioned the name of any computer game, such as MUD, I said it using italics; the microphone must not have picked that up.

The interview was part of a series that the university does in its magazine, all between former and current students in the same department. I think it's a good idea, which is why I agreed to take part. I don't know why Cristiana agreed, but I did need someone to shower praise upon so she was the obvious choice.

Hmm, that opening quote sounds a lot more arrogant in print than it does when I say it aloud. Oh well! It's not as if 50,000 copies of this were printed or anything.


5:28pm on Monday, 11th December, 2017:



I've been teaching all day, every day for three solid weeks. Today is my first non-teaching day since mid-November. Unfortunately, I have to spend most of this week doing the things I couldn't do while I was teaching, along with a bunch of new things because it's the last week of term.

I'd say I was looking forward to Christmas, but I still have to write all my Christmas cards.

Also, it's snowing again and I have to drive home in it.

As a result, this 4-pack of Tunnock's Caramel Wafers will not live to see 3pm.

[Update: they didn't live to see 1:30pm.]


11:16am on Sunday, 10th December, 2017:

Right Decision


My wife and younger daughter spent this morning adhering Christmas gel stickers to the window. It seems their placement decisions weren't as haphazard as their banter might have suggested.

You might also be able to tell from this photograph that our decision to drive to Lincolnshire a day early was a good one. The A12 is closed and littered with abandoned vehicles.

Naturally, the weather forecast was inaccurate, as I'd expected, just in the wrong direction: we weren't supposed to get snow in this part of the country...


6:25pm on Saturday, 9th December, 2017:



I was going to drive up to Lincolnshire tomorrow to meet my dad and exchange Christmas presents. However, the weather forecast for tonight is snow, and neither of us fancied driving 150 miles in snow, so we changed at short notice.

If there's no snow in Lincolnshire tomorrow, you therefore have us to thank for it.


8:28am on Friday, 8th December, 2017:

Orange, Mandarin, Lime


I like the taste of orange. I like the taste of mandarin. I like the taste of lime. In fact, I more than like them — they're among my favourite flavours. That's why I bought this:

I can't recommend this drink too highly for people who like the taste of antiseptic mouthwash. It reminds me of that time I accidentally brushed my teeth with Savlon.

If only it was like public-key cryptography and I could just add something else that would separate out all the lime.


7:37am on Thursday, 7th December, 2017:

Your Village Needs You


From the latest edition of the West Bergholt Village Bulletin:

If Lord Kitchener had known the depths to which use of his image would descend, he might have reconsidered posing for it. It's not even the only time the picture is used in this edition — it's also alongside an article about gardening.

For years, this particular image was associated with an exhortation to send millions of young men to their deaths. How times change.


8:01am on Wednesday, 6th December, 2017:



The big poster at the university currently looks like this.

I think they're making a pun on "resolutions", but they way they've put it, it doesn't work. Just because there are the United Nations Resolutions on Human Rights and there are New Year's Resolutions, and they both have the same word in them, that doesn't automatically mean you do something clever by referencing one in the context of the other. For a pun to work, it has to be able to be read both ways. This poster introduces the notion of New Year's Resolutions, suggesting that there's going to be a list that follows, but then it asks people to answer a question about importance. It wouldn't be so bad if it were framed in terms of resolutions, but it's phrased in terms of the importance of the concept.

If they'd asked people to suggest how they'll be changing their behaviour in the new year in the light of human rights, that would have made more sense. That would have been resolutions about resolutions. Asking people why it's important we have human rights isn't a resolution in either sense. Indeed, if they'd dropped the "our new year's resolutions" tagline, it would have been much more powerful poster. As it is, they muddled it by trying to make a play on words that didn't come off.

I'm betting that most of the people passing by the poster won't even notice it's an implied pun in the first place.


5:56pm on Tuesday, 5th December, 2017:



Well this was a pleasant surprise! It arrived in the post this morning:

It's The Great Tantalizer Puzzle, dating from about 1918. I was sent it by Matthew Barr, who is receiving his PhD this week at Glasgow University. I was his external examiner, and he wanted me to have this as a gesture of appreciation. I'm not entirely sure why, as he did all the work on his PhD himself; all I had to do was to agree with what was pretty obvious anyway (that is, his work was indeed worth a PhD).

Still, I'm not churlish enough to reject a present (and I'm pretty sure it doesn't meet the university's definition of an attempted bribe), so I'm actually pretty chuffed with it. I hadn't thought that antique puzzles might be a thing, and now I know they are I'll look out for more.

As for the puzzle itself, I think I solved it over lunch but I'm not entirely sure as I don't know what its rules are regarding the ends of the blocks. If S. Guiterman & Co. Ltd. still have their offices at 35/36 Aldermanbury, London E.C., perhaps I'll contact them and ask for the official solution.


5:49pm on Monday, 4th December, 2017:



The final issue of Develop arrived today. I knew it was coming, but it was still sad to read the editorial.

I've been reading Develop from the very beginning, and saved every single copy of it. They represent great historical record documenting the UK games industry from 1996 to, well, today. It's a bit late for it ever to have mentioned my name in its pages, but still, it reached its third decade before dying.

I always liked Develop because it was actually for developers. OK, so later on it started to talk about marketing and other peripheral issues, but it remained about game development at its heart. I don't suppose that merging it with MCV and esports pro will improve it.

This means, of course, that I have an attic stocked with badly-stacked copies of Develop that constitute (as far as I'm aware) a complete set. They really should be in a museum or something. I'd donate them to the Essex University library if I felt they'd be going to a good home, but I suspect that the library would regard any offer on my part as tantamount to asking them to do my recycling for me, so I shan't bother. If you know any archive that might like them, though, let me know. So long as it's not going to cost me a fortune to mail them, you're welcome to have them.

Ahh, I'll miss the old thing.


10:49am on Sunday, 3rd December, 2017:



Every so often, there's a push for the UK to switch time zone from Greenwich Mean Time to Central European Time. The arguments are all to do with having more light in the late afternoon, with implications that this will be safer than the current arrangement. These are just a smokescreen, though: if they were valid, then citizens of the countries to the east of us currently on Central European Time would be lobbying to switch to Eastern European Time, and they're not. The real reason for the pressure to change is so we're in the same time zone as the bulk of the rest of Europe.

The reason this is a bad idea has little to do with light and much to do with heat. The sun provides light, yes, but it also provides heat. Having not provided heat during the night, this makes the coldest part of any 24-hour period most often be the hour before dawn. You really don't want to be switching on your heating an hour earlier for this, or to be walking to work or school in it. By making the argument about light, the pro-CET lobby is misperceiving what the objections are actually about: heat.

I see something similar regarding Brexit. The main arguments being marshalled against Brexit are economic. Those weren't the arguments that won the referendum, and they wouldn't win them in a second campaign, either. It would be trivially easy for leavers to counter every prophecy of economic doom with a similar prophecy made during the first campaign that came to nothing. Asking where the £350m promised by a bus to the NHS is, well even at the time the image appeared it was criticised for pre-empting future government policy. Pinning your hopes on this one "lie" persuading people to change their minds is going to lead to disappointment. All it does do is solidify views on either side.

If an economic argument was all that mattered for deciding whether or not the UK should be a member of the EU, well it should still leave. It should leave and join the USA or China. It's not going to do that, though, because there are laws and cultural differences that the USA and China have which are unacceptable to the majority of the UK population. The thing is, there are similar (although less pronounced) differences with the EU. The economy was only one reason for deciding whether to vote remain or leave. There were others, and they're being ignored by the remainers who are pushing for a "Brexit means remain" strategy. They're arguing about light and ignoring heat.

This entire debate has been deeply unimpressive on both sides. When I voted, I didn't want either side to win, and events since then have only entrenched my views (much as they have everyone else's in their own positions). It's a ghastly, horrible mess.


11:57am on Saturday, 2nd December, 2017:

Shrimps and Bananas


The mis-shapen mess on the right that looks as if it's fallen victim to some kind of Star Trek transporter accident is supposed to look like the moulded form on the left.

OK, so I only paid 33p for the whole bag, but it's the principle that counts.


2:51pm on Friday, 1st December, 2017:

Game Design 1


My two weeks of commuting to Queen Mary University London to teach the Game Design 1 module to cohort 4 of the IGGI Doctoral Training Centre came to an end today. I got a round of applause from the students, although that might have been because I finished half an hour early.

Cohort 4 is much more games-oriented than cohorts 1 to 3. The other cohorts have plenty of people who are gamers of the first order, but cohort 4 has a higher percentage of them. As a result, I didn't have to go into depth explaining gamey things (which is good) and they would ask constant questions about all aspects of game design (which is also good, particularly when I didn't know the answer but one or more of them did).

It's great when students ask questions. Undergraduates will if there are up to six of them, but any more than six and they clam up. PhD students are more confident and will interrupt me when I'm in full flow, sometimes with web pages open on their laptops so I can't appeal to lack of evidence to save me. Having more time than I have with undergraduates also helps, because I don't have to rush through material to catch up to where I should be had I not had a 15-minute digression in which the peculiars of a particular game are described from out of nowhere so that what I'd just asserted could be tested against it. It's great! I love teaching PhD students.

OK, so I might not like it if I had 50 of them in the same room instead of 12, because then I'd never get anywhere. 12 to 15 is a good amount.

Next week, I have to repeat what I taught the PhD students last week, only to MSc students. That should be interesting, so long as I don't tell them the same anecdotes twice in the belief that the first time was when I was speaking to the PhDs.

Commuting every day is not pleasant, though. I don't know how my wife does it.

Similarly, teaching all day, every day is not fun. I don't know how my niece Nicola (a mathematics teacher) does it.

I'll end with a picture of a the sign on a curiously-specific fast-food shop down the Mile End Road, so as to trick you into reading this post in the belief it's about that.


7:43am on Thursday, 30th November, 2017:



Flicking through the TV channels yesterday, my wife noticed that BBC4 is repeating the 2015 series of Christmas University Challenge.

Wait a minute: I was in the 2015 series of Christmas University Challenge.

Maybe my episode has already been broadcast, and I've escaped the embarrassment of not answering the malware question a second time?

No such luck: it's on tonight at 7:30.

The BBC haven't informed me of this, so I don't expect I can look forward to a repeat fee.

My shameful past has returned to haunt me.


3:35pm on Wednesday, 29th November, 2017:

Two Stages


Well this wasn't in the Highway Code when I took my driving test.

I think, should I encounter one while on the road, I'll interpret it as meaning "no right turn ever". It'll be safer for all concerned that way.


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