The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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8:15am on Thursday, 25th May, 2017:



The work they're doing on the extension to the university's Sports Centre is resulting in a larger construction than I had expected.

You could comfortably fit the current sports centre inside there, stacked on top of itself three times.

Who knew that 3 netball courts, 3 basketball courts, 5 volleyball courts, 8 badminton courtys and 2 futsal courts (whatever futsal is) plus social and teaching spaces would take up so much room?


8:28pm on Wednesday, 24th May, 2017:

Seeing Red


You mat remember that at the weekend I mentioned I had trouble buying individual red pens at Sainsbury's.

Fifteen minutes ago, this box arrived:

Inside are fifty red pens.

There's no indication of who sent them, they just arrived mysteriously from Amazon from someone who must want me to be able to mark mark exams for the next half-century.

I'm pretty pleased, to be honest! Whoever you are out there — thanks!

I just wish I'd said I'd had trouble buying individual gold bars at Sainsbury's instead.


6:51pm on Tuesday, 23rd May, 2017:



I bought these recently, in readiness for when I write Lizzie Lott #3:

I think I'll go with the one on the right, but may have to clean it up a bit first.

Lizzie Lott #2 is still in revision purgatory as none of the different covers I try for it really work when I get them printed.


5:43pm on Monday, 22nd May, 2017:



In the 1970s and 1980s, the Provisional IRA made pipe bombs. They'd stuff a pipe full of explosives and shrapnel, set a timer on it and BOOM.

The tubes that bicycles are made from are basically pipes.

The more I think about how easy it is to wreak destruction if you get your hands on explosives, the more I'm amazed that we don't see terrorist attrocities every day.


1:28pm on Sunday, 21st May, 2017:

Princess Brunel


This is the statue of Isambard Kindom Brunel at Paddington station.

I didn't realise he had the same eyes as Disney princesses.


3:59pm on Saturday, 20th May, 2017:

Sainsbury's Vignette


I'm trapped inside marking CE317 assignments today, wondering how the people who work at the university full-time manage to pack in all the things they're required to do at short deadlines. I was let out to go to Sainsbury's for the weekly shop, though, so here are some of things I noticed while pushing around my trolley.

Some guy about my age was wearing a T-shirt reading "Kill the Kardashians". If he'd tweeted that, he'd be in prison.

There's a red pen tax. If you want to buy a red pen, you have to buy pens of other colours with it. None of the packages containing red pens have only red pens in there. I now have yet another blue pen and yet another black pen just so I can do my marking properly with the red pen.

A woman had a bag with a picture of a giraffe on it. The next of the giraffe formed the handle of the bag. It looked pretty good, but if you tried picking up a real giraffe by its neck I don't think it would hold.

If you give a nine-year-old buy control of your shopping trolley, you have no right to complain when people ram it because he's straddling an entire aisle with it and won't move it when asked. No, it wasn't me doing the ramming.

A woman was wearing pink, fluffy, mule-style slippers. I expect that kind of thing in ASDA, but Sainsbury's? She can't have driven there in them, surely, it's against the law. Fortunately, the rain held off for her.

A man put on a pair of blue, woolly gloves to pick up a 9-pack of toilet rolls.

Well how about that? You don't have to squeeze every single baguette from the same batch to see which one warmest. You can squeeze all but one of them and then glare when I grab the one you haven't pawed yet before you can get to it.

Crème Eggs are now 30p each. I didn't buy any: there's no point after what they did to the recipe.

You're supposed to put things into the "Food Distribution Point" bin, old people, not rummage through and take out anything you fancy to add to your already-full bags.

When carrying a plant pot containing flowering daisies, look where you're going, not at the flowers. That way, you won't walk into an abandoned shopping trolley and drop them in it.

The algorithm that decides what coupons to offer me upon checkout still thinks we have my daughter's soya-milk-loving friend staying with us from several weeks ago. I didn't even know Alpro made ice cream.

The owner of the open-top yellow Austin Seven out in the car park was also lucky that the rain held off.

So that was Sainsbury's today. Now to wield my new red pen some more.


6:21pm on Friday, 19th May, 2017:



What better way to pass time before picking up examination scripts to mark than to assemble the ghost I bought yesterday in Truro?

They only make Pac-Man himself and Blinky, so if I want the others I'll have to buy some sets for different objects that have the right colours and cannibalise them.



2:01pm on Thursday, 18th May, 2017:

Three Hours in Truro


I spent most of yesterday travelling to Falmouth, to attend the board meeting for Falmouth University's games degrees. It's always good to meet the people there (and their BA in games is absolutely outstanding), but this time it was even better as it meant I could evade a staff meeting back at Essex.

The board meeting started at 9:30am lasted an hour and five minutes. Splendid! It meant I didn't have to hang around until 3:30 for my train home. I took a taxi to Truro so I could pick up an earlier train to London.

Hmm. It turns out that my ticket is an advance one tht only works on the exact trains it specifies. I have to catch the 3:30 train anyway. This left me with three hours to kill in Truro.

I've been to Truro before, but only the outskirts while on holiday. I've never been to central Truro. It reminds me a lot of Beverley, except instead of Greggs they have a chain of Cornish pastie bakeries called Warrens. They also have a busker who's among the worst I've ever heard.

Never mind that, though! Look at the over-complicated window-opening mechanism they have in Pizza Express!

Now to find out of Cafe Nerd has wifi unthrottled enough that I can upload this...


12:07pm on Wednesday, 17th May, 2017:



Woohoo! MUD is in The Guardian today as one of the ten most influential video games of all time.

The photo says it's of the DEC-10 mainframe, but actually it's of the Open Shop. The teletypes connect to the DEC-10, though, so it's not strictly incorrect. For those who know Essex University's current layout, the Open Shop is now the School Office and part of Lab 5; the DEC-10 occupied the entirety of Lab 1.

Back in 1978 we played on teletypes, so if you want to be finicky it wasn't a "video" game until the 1200-baud VDUs were installed the following year.


6:15pm on Tuesday, 16th May, 2017:

Little Milk


This was with the coffee at the VRX event I went to in London on Friday. I haven't seen those third-of-a-pint milk bottles since I was a schoolkid.

Ah, memories of school milk... Like normal milk, but warm and smelling suspiciously of over-ripe fruit.


9:36pm on Monday, 15th May, 2017:



It's nice to know that Estates and Planning have student welfare in mind during the examination period.


3:23pm on Sunday, 14th May, 2017:



I have to go to Falmouth University later this week as I'm the external examiner for their games degrees. I've spent a few hours this weekend going through their modules to make sure everything is in order, in an effort not to look a complete fool when I'm in the board meeting.

The BSc Games Programming is only in its second year, so there are some new modules that haven't been taught before. I knew the overview of these already (interfaces and interaction; graphics and simulation; pre-production; production; artificial intelligence; distributed systems) but not the content. I was especially keen to see what the AI module contained, so as to compare it with our own second-year AI module. As it happened, though, this wasn't the most interesting module at all.

The most interesting module was COMP260: Distributed Systems. It wasn't until I looked at the module specification that I realised the students work together in groups to make a MUD. They MAKE A MUD as a second-year project! Wow! That's just amazing! I'd love to be able to have our students do that kind of thing!

Even better, I feature in the module description. Here's a clipping from it:

It's such a shame that I'm a consummate professional and won't let this influence my assessment of the module at all.


12:23pm on Saturday, 13th May, 2017:



No, headline-writers, the NHS wasn't "targeted in global cyber-attack", any more than the three people in the Democratic Republic of Congo who recently died of ebola were "targeted" by the outbreak.

They call these things viruses for a reason.


6:14pm on Friday, 12th May, 2017:

Not Quite Real


I was in London today at the VRX Europe event, courtesy of USC professor Gordon Bellamy (who came over here to the UK in order to MC it).

OK, so he's also here to watch Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur using guest tickets somehow obtained by his third-grade teacher. Yes, that is as strange as it sounds. He could probably have sold them to a tout and retired on the proceeds, given that this will be the very last match to be played at the old White Hart Lane stadium before it's flattened. He's an ardent Man United fan, though, as a result of working on the FIFA games franchise years ago; he's therefore more like the person who would have mortgaged his house to buy the tickets than the one who would have sold them.

Anyway, the VRX event was to do with virtual reality, as in goggles-and-wands, hope-no-one-is-filming-you. I had a go on some of the systems displayed on the exhibition floor, but there wasn't really anything that broke new ground. They were fine if you like non-interactive, sensorially-immersive "experiences", but there's only so many times you can do those before the gee-whillickers novelty wears off and they become as interesting as watching a short 2D movie; it really depends on the movie. They're still gimmicks, in other words. Still, if developers don't start with small steps, they won't develop a common vocabulary of VR design, and they won't be able to work with the new affordances that VR brings. Of course, they could also discover that focusing on the new affordances isn't the way to go anyway, and they should just just stick with what they've got only have it better (which is pretty well what the movie industry did when colour replaced black-and-white).

Gordon is one of those force-of-nature people, and it's very easy to like him. It's also very easy to underestimate him, as he thinks a lot more deeply than his playful demeanour suggests. At one point, for example, we were talking about player types and Pokémon Go: he suggested that the gameplay supported explorers, achievers and socialisers, but not killers. However, because the game takes place in the real world, it's the real world where the killers are — they don't have to play the game to grief it. They can show youtube videos of people walking into trees, they can report them for trespass, they can let their dogs run loose in parks — all without having to play at all. Also, as soon as they got bored of this and moved on, that's when the interest in Pokémon Go itself began to subside, because the killers are what gave players something to talk about and push against. I hadn't thought of the fact that augmented reality means you can have people outside the game griefing the ones in the game (as well as people inside the game doing it), inadvertently or otherwise. It does make a lot of sense. This, from the most enthusiastic games professor you will ever meet.

I'm therefore glad that none of my own students were at the event. If they'd have experienced Gordon, my results from student-assessment-of-teacher exercises would have fallen through the floor.


7:50am on Thursday, 11th May, 2017:

Net Worth


I heard a discussion on the radio yesterday in which people in Cumbria were discussion the up-coming general election. One of the worries they had was how the Conservatives' pledge to reduce net migration figures would affect farmers' ability to hire seasonal workers to gather in crops.

Now I'm no fan of the Conservatives, but the thing about net migration figures are that they're derived by subtracting the number of people who leave the country from the number who enter the country. Seasonal workers do both. If 100,000 people come into the country in July and then leave the country in September, the net migration is zero. It's the same with tourists. It's the same with students.

Of course, there can be people who enter the country for seasonal work who decide tro stay instead of going home, in which case there is a net increase in immigration. The same could be said of tourists, though.

The discussion among the Cumbrian voters was therefore predicated on the assumption that in the Conservatives' zeal to stop a few people from sneaking into the country and staying, they'd also stop the people who would be going home afterwards.

The journalists nevertheless made this a story about net migration, not about implementing border controls. This is what happens when those who are supposed to report the news start thinking in terms of narrative rather than fact.


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