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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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5:04pm on Wednesday, 23rd April, 2014:

New Headphones

Anecdote

This afternoon, I got some new headphones to wear when I'm playing games. My previous set lasted four years before I had to accept that the accumulation of taped-up repairs was no longer doing its job.

I like my headphones to be ear-coverers ("cans", they used to be called). Because I wanted to try them on, I went to a shop rather than the Internet. There are plenty of headsets that are on-ear or in-ear, and surprisingly more that are over-ear that I was expecting; I suppose someone famous made them cool or something. I was also pleased to find that wired connections are still available; wireless ones pick up interference in our house. I would have gone for noise cancellation, but they all seem to need batteries to work (I was hoping for a USB connection or something).

Gawd knows what make I bought in the end. In PC World, they had a really nice set on display that fitted very well; unfortunately, they didn't have it in stock and I wasn't going to pay an extra £200 for the Dr.Dre ones that were also a good fit... I went to the store next door, Bennetts, which had a nice range too; again, though, they didn't have the set I wanted in stock, just on display. They did have another set that was like it, though, which fitted when I took it out of the box and tried it on, so I got that. My hearing isn't so great that I can tell the difference between mid-quality and high-quality headphones, so mid-quality was fine.

Hmm. I'm sure this feeling that I'm getting a death nerve-pinch behind the ears will disappear fairly soon.



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5:46pm on Tuesday, 22nd April, 2014:

Metal Tip

Anecdote

Overheard when I took some planks of wood to the council recycling facility (ie. tip) today:

Woman: Mother, did you just put the cardboard in the metal skip?
Mother: Yes, why, shouldn't I have?
Woman: But that's the metal skip!
Mother: All the skips are made of metal.



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10:18am on Monday, 21st April, 2014:

1 in 55

Anecdote

I have a letter in The Telegraph today. OK, so I'm just one of 55 signatories to it (and am billed as Dr Richard Bartle rather than Professor Richard Bartle, unlike several other professors on the list); however, there I am.

The letter is from the British Humanist Association, complaining about the Prime Minister's characterisation of Britain as a "Christian country". Constitutionally it is, for the sub-class of Christianity that is Anglicanism; however, it's also anti-Christian, in that the one religion it explicitly takes against is Catholicism. According to the 2011 Census, about 60% of the population is Christian; this means 40% of the population isn't. (To save you looking, the next-most-popular religion is Islam on 5% ; 25% of the population has no religion).

Of course, within religious beliefs there are different degrees. Some believers will visit a place of worship at every opportunity and pray on a daily basis; others will do neither. Therefore, it's always a risk when a politician talks about their own faith as even among fellow believers some are going to think they're too religious or not religious enough. People generally respect others' right to believe in whatever they want to believe in, but when a politician talks religion their position always ends up looking like an error of judgement.

I don't know whether or not the Prime Minister was trying to firm up his own vote by using Easter as an opportunity to appeal to Christians while they were perhaps feeling more religious than usual. I don't really care why he did it. I do care that if he's the leader of a country in which 40% of the population (and growing) is non-Christian, he's misrepresenting it to call it Christian. If he'd said "largely Christian" he would have been on safer ground, but he didn't.

I did actually make a difference to the final text of the letter to The Telegraph. The final paragraph originally started "To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society."; it now starts "Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society.".

Well, we wouldn't want to foster alienation and division by splitting an infinitive, would we?



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2:15pm on Sunday, 20th April, 2014:

Tallinn Vignette

Anecdote

Here are some photos I took while wandering around Tallinn last week.

One of the first things I noticed when I got to Tallinn was the ample provision of play areas for children. There are lots of them, and they're pretty good. This one was in the hotel I was staying at:

They had similar areas in the larger shops, at the airport, in parks, ...

Here's the proof that the restaurant I ate at on Monday served bear:

RAWWWR!

Estonia is quite a wired country. It takes minutes to file a tax return, for example (basically, you just check online that it looks OK then accept it). However, their mobile phones don't seem to be the latest models.

Those ads were all over the place.

This is the view of the town square in the Old Town, taken from the Old Town Hall:

It's quite pretty and authentic, except, just a moment, what's that say on the building to the right there?

It seems that Tallinn has become a destination for British stag nights...

Here's a typical picturesque street in the Old Town:

This is actually more picturesque than most as it doesn't have cars parked on it. Unlike its fellow Hanseatic town, Visby, Tallinn hasn't pedestrianised much of its historic centre; it's a bigger city, so I guess people need to be able to drive to their place of work.

Visby has concrete sheep to keep cars off roads they shouldn't be on. Tallin has concrete birds:


Here's one of the impressive churches in the Old Town:

This one was founded by people from Visby about the year 1230, but it's now a museum. It was badly damaged during World War II and was restored in the 1980s.

I like this sign for a shop selling amber:

Lots of shops in Tallinn sell amber...

Lots of shops also sell wool:


This is a nice way to get your restaurant publicity:

People sit next to the bull and have their photo taken, then post it to social media. Before you know it, there are hordes of British people on stag nights visiting to have their photo taken there before they ignore the restaurant and head off for a pint at Mad Murphy's...

The flower market in Tallinn is smaller than the one in Amsterdam but much prettier:

Furthermore, they sell a variety of flowers (with roses predominating), rather than just tulips and the kind of tourist souvenirs you can get in plenty of other places.

This is a statue of a man holding a cable:

I've no idea who or what he's supposed to be. The sculptor is every bit as as bad at proportions as the one who did Robin Hood in Nottingham, though...

Here's another scenic church. This one is Saint John's, built in the 1860s:

It's yellow.

I don't know what this building is but I liked the tree-shaped supports it has:

I bet it gets cold in winter, unless they've put double-thick insulation on the floor...

The Old Town has a city wall, which you can walk along for about 200 metres:

I didn't, because I didn't have a lot of free time. OK, OK, so it cost money, too...

This is the impressive Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral:

It was built around 1900 to show Estonia who was boss (i.e. the Tsar of Russia). One of its features is a large bell, although "come to Tallinn to see the largest bell in Tallinn" isn't exactly the tourist draw the locals seem to think it is.

Here's the view towards the sea (the Gulf of Finland) from the walls of the Old City:

I think the park there is probably where the old harbour used to be, but it would have had to have silted up pretty badly to for the sea to be pushed back that far, so maybe not.

Two shops nearby each other each had two female figures outside them:

I suspect that the shops may share an owner.

Here's a view of the Old Town from the top of its hill:

You can just see a couple of cruise ships in the distance there. I like the idea of a Baltic cruise, especially as you can guarantee the weather ("cold").

I liked this sign outside a restaurant:

Yes, the yolk of the fried egg is indeed a yellow light.

I liked this wooden person advertising a small brewery shop, too:


Finally, on the day I came home I ate at a restaurant with a Scottish theme to it. There are two busts in the garden of famous Scots. Here's the first:

That's Robert Burns, the poet. Here's the other:

That's Sean Connery, the actor. I'm sure that Scots will agree that these are the two most famous Scots ever... Actually, they do have something in common: Burns wrote in a Scottish dialect that's almost impenetrable to non-Scots; Connery speaks in a Scottish accent that's almost impenetrable to non-Scots (and probably to Scots, come to that).

So that's Tallinn.



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1:12pm on Saturday, 19th April, 2014:

Amsterdam Pics

Anecdote

I took some photos when I was in Amsterdam last Sunday, and have now got around to taking them off my phone. Here are some of the non-touristy ones...

This is the bicycle park outside Amstel railway station:

Given that it was a Sunday afternoon, I suspect that people use it as a place to store their bikes, not merely a place to put them until their return from a train journey.

I've been to Amsterdam many times over the past 30 years, and on every previous occasion Damrak (the main drag from the station) has been undergoing some kind of construction work.

This occasion was no different.

I saw several of these cars while I was there:

They're shorter than my own car is wide.

I have a bunch of KLM houses from when I used to travel to Singapore via KLM in the 1990s. They're now antiques:

Sadly, I don't know which ones I have or I might have got one for my wife as a present — she seems to like them.

This is a neat idea:

Bollards as single-person seats.

Finally, here's a sign for the lavatories on platform 2 of the main station:

I only show you this because the gents has a floor area roughly the same as the surface area of the sign.



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10:09am on Friday, 18th April, 2014:

Talks Online

Comment

The two talks I gave this week are now on my web site: Information Reconstruction (about gamification and information retrieval) from Amsterdam and Innovation in Game Design (about how to make more innovative games) from Tallinn.

The Tallinn one goes on quite a bit and should probably be shorter, but does manage to make some points. The Amsterdam one isn't probably going to be of much interest to anyone who wasn't at the workshop, or indeed to anyone who was.



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6:47pm on Thursday, 17th April, 2014:

Turn of Phrase

Anecdote

When I was in Tallinn, some of the game designers I was talking to showed me what they'd done (which was very good), but apologised because it wasn't complete. They wanted to add some support material outside the game, such as leader boards and achievement badges.

So ... they're going to apply gamification to a game?



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9:03am on Thursday, 17th April, 2014:

Late

Comment

Looks as if one of my students was a little late submitting their project logbook:



This might actually help one of my other students, who missed the zero-tolerance deadline on another assignment by three seconds and was told the system never made any mistakes.



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6:37am on Wednesday, 16th April, 2014:

Not Uplifting

Anecdote

I was waiting in the hotel lobby just now to take the lift to the fifth floor where my room is.

A life arrived. Seven people got out. There were four other people waiting for it, and they got in. There was no room for me. This is because one of the four was absolutely enormous.

It says inside the lifts that they're supposed to be able to hold eight people. That guy must have been worth five on his own. When people weigh that much, it's a medical problem: he should have been in a ground-floor room.

The fact that he was holding ski poles didn't help, either.



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3:39pm on Tuesday, 15th April, 2014:

GameFounders

Anecdote

My talk at Gamefounders seemed to go well, but at 90 minutes I think I rambled on too much — it needed to be tighter. I'll upload it onto my web site once I'm back in the UK.

The talk was in the morning; the afternoon was spent "mentoring".

So, GameFounders is basically an organisation that takes teams of game developers and turns them into teams of game producers. External speakers come along and talk to them for half an hour or so per team, a process known as mentoring. I soon realised that the teams already know how to make games; GameFounders helps them make game development companies. Because I was mentoring, I got to speak to the teams; they showed me their wares and I told them what I thought.

Pretty well all of the teams do indeed know how to make games. They have some bona fide designers among them, too. Although I was able to suggest some ideas they could consider for improving their games, or point out some problem areas (mini games that say something different to the main game, for example), on the whole I wasn't going to be able to help them transition to becoming designers as they already were designers. Their problems were almost all to do with how to get people to play their games and, having done so, how to get money from them. Most of the designers (there were exceptions) weren't keen on compromising their gameplay for free-to-play, but recognised that if they didn't they wouldn't make any money from their efforts. This was the source of much angst, and I couldn't really help them: in today's climate, they would probably have to charge for things they really didn't want to charge for. Deciding which to charge for was therefore mainly an exercise in damage limitation.

Some of the games I saw were definitely of professional quality and they did have genuinely interesting gameplay.The team members were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and many of them had worked in the games industry. If they get the breaks (quite possibly because they've made the breaks for themselves) then they deserve to go far. I don't think any of the teams were weak, and at least three were very, very strong.

This is why I like speaking to new game designers — I get to talk design with people who have something to say.

Maybe I should teach game design in a game design module to game design students on a game design course at a university.



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7:51pm on Monday, 14th April, 2014:

The Taste of Bear

Anecdote

I've just been taken out for dinner to a medieval-themed restaurant in Tallinn. The wait staff are dressed in medieval clothes and the menu only has food on it that was available locally in medieval times. As a Hanseatic town, Reval could import quite a lot of things — wine, for example — but no rice and no potatoes.

Bear. They had bear. On the menu, there it was: bear.

Bear. I ordered the bear. How could I not order the bear? It's bear!

It was on the menu in more than one place, too. Rather than go for the €55 bear steak, I went for the bear/boar/elk combo sausages. Hey, it might have turned out I didn't like bear, I've never eaten it before. As it happened, I did like it, it was really good. The whole cuisine was really good. If anyone questions whether orange in jellied cow tongue goes with horseradish sauce, tell them it does — it's amazing.

If the rest of this trip is a disaster, it doesnt matter. Today, I ate bear.

Rawwwr!



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3:16pm on Monday, 14th April, 2014:

In Tallinn

Anecdote

I'm now in Tallinn, Estonia, or Reval as it used to be known (and is how I know it from playing The Patrician III). The weather forecasts all lied and there's a thick, dark cloud heading this way, but having a healthy disrespect for weather forecasts I took my umbrella with me anyway so should remain dry (if not warm — it's 7 Celsius out there). I'd show you a picture but when I installed Windows 8.1 it helpfully removed three drivers that I need to access my phone's pictures, so it'll have to wait,

Having an umbrella and an insulating layer of fat, I would ordinarily have gone outside for a wander. However, I'm supposed to be having dinner with the organisers of the talk I'm giving tomorrow, so I have to stay in the hotel in case they contact me. This is frustrating as I'm tantalisingly close to the UNESCO Heritage rated old town. Maybe I'll have a chance to have a look round tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday morning. Fortunately, Estonia uses the Latin alphabet rather than Cyrillic, so I can at least read street signs.

I'd asked my wife and younger daughter not to watch Game of Thrones until I get back on Wednesday evening, but annoyingly someone on Google+ couldn't help but post a spoiler. Even if I were watching it tonight it would have been ruined for me. Rather than have my wife and daughter catch similar spoilers before I get back in two days' time (as the events of this episode will appear in newspapers and so on), I've said they should watch it tonight.

Hmm. I guess I should makbe check whether it's on the hotel TV or not, although I rather suspect the not.



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5:43pm on Sunday, 13th April, 2014:

Useful to Know

Anecdote

If you're eating in Schiphol airport and ask if the apple pie has cinammon in it and the guy in the chef's uniform says no, and you ask if he's sure and he says no, it's apple pie, there's no cinammon in apple pie, the cinammon is in the cinammon roll, then if you say you're happy because you don't like cinnamon and he says, rather wearily, that you'll like the apple pie because it has no cinnamon in it, DON'T order the apple pie: it has cinnamon in it.

I had to eat it, it cost me €3.50 .



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4:32pm on Sunday, 13th April, 2014:

Afternoon in Amsterdam

Anecdote

My talk at the Gamification for Information Retrieval conference this morning went well, despite my knowing nothing about either Gamification or Information Retrieval. I got out without being lynched, anyway. This meant I had about three hours free this afternoon to explore Amsterdam.

This must be my fourth or fifth time in Amsterdam, and as the first one was for a week I have actually explored it before. It was therefore more like re-acquainting myself with it (without a map: I picked one up from the hotel but it was in my bag when I put it in a locker at the station). I managed to find the Rijksmuseum, which for the first time I've been here was actually open; sadly, not for long enough that I was going to buy a ticket (or, more particularly, queue up to buy a ticket). There were far fewer dogs around than when I first came last century, so much so that I didn't feel I had to watch my every footstep in case I trod in something unpleasant. I suspect that the companies that rent out Segways have found a way to eliminate dogs to the benefit of us all.

There were many more bicycles than I remember, though. Annoyingly, footpaths sometimes turn into cucle lanes with no warning, so I was zoomed past at closed quarters a couple of times. It wouldnt have been fatal if Id been hit (well, not for me; maybe for the cyclist), but it would have hurt. They must lose so many tourists that way.

I did nearly die, though. No, it wasn't of embarrassment as I walked through the wrong part of town and nearly-naked women in windows tapped on them to attract my attention as they thought I looked like the kind of middle-aged man desperate enough to pay for their services. What nearly killed me was a series of loud, unexpected explosions. It turns out that Ajax could win the Dutch football league today, so the centre of Amsterdam was packed with boistrous football fans seeking out bars where they could watch the game with their fellow fans while downing agricultural strength Heineken. Some of these fans had explosives. I don't know what they were, but I'm fairly certain that igniting them without a licence must be illegal. They were so loud they set off car alarms. They also made me jump out of my skin with shock, and it's this that nearly killed me. I heard the first one when I was indoors so that wasn't so bad, but the second one I was outside and quite close. The pain in my chest from the effects the surge of adrenalin had on my heart lasted for 5 minutes. There were another three explosions, all making me jump (but not as much as the second), then I hid in a department store. I did hear another one maybe an hour later, but my guess is that the policd managed to confiscate the fireworks or whatever they were from the original perpretrators and this last one was anisolated incident from another group.

I'm about to arrive at Schipol about 4 hours before my flight, butI figured it was safer to do that than hang around in central Amsterdam if Ajax won.



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3:19pm on Saturday, 12th April, 2014:

Update

Anecdote

I foolishly updated my laptop yesterday to Windows 8.1 (from Windows whatever-was-before-8.1). It took hours, with the only obvious change being that there's now a power button I can click.

Oh, and it also changed my settings so that I had to give my password again to log on. It didn't ask that yesterday, when it was connected to the Internet, but it asked me now, sitting in the airport with no way to tether my laptop to my phone without first logging on. As I don't use a password, I didn't rememnber what it is except that it was long and the second half was mainly capital letters.

Fortunately, I had taken the precaution of writing it down in my password book at home and could call my wife to find out what it said. Then it was only another 5 minutes of anguish as I tried to figure out what subtle encryption I'd used so that anyone who had found my password book still wouldn't have been able to use it, and finally here I am.

Given that I'm supposed to be giving a talk from this laptop tomorrow, this is something of a relief. I was worried I might have to phone GCHQ and ask what I'd used.



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