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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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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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10:19am on Saturday, 12th April, 2014:

Away! Away!

Meta

I'm off to Amsterdam this afternoon to give a talk at GamifIR tomorrow. I'm back tomorrow, because I have to go to Tallinn on Monday to give a talk to GameFounders on Tuesday, then I fly back Wednesday.

There may therefore be some delay in updating QBlog.

What's particularly annoying is that tonight the group I regularly do the New York raid with in The Secret World is going to get the 5-minutes achievement. Last week, we killed the boss in 5 minutes 3 seconds. Augh! I'm going to miss out on it!



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10:15am on Saturday, 12th April, 2014:

New Phone

Anecdote

I went into Colchester yesterday to buy an orchid to give to my mother for Easter (her having asked for one after I'd already bought the diabetic Easter egg...). Her particular choice of orchid wasn't on offer, so I went to Vodafone instead to get a new phone.

The contract I have with Vodafone gives me a new phone every 2 or 3 years or something. They send me a text message when it's time. This, they did about 6 weeks ago, but I had a lot of work on at the university so couldn't go into town to pick up my phone from the store. When I was in town a couple of weeks ago (getting the diabetic Easter egg), there was a power cut for the Vodafone shop and the electricity people were digging up the street to fix it, so I couldn't get my new phone then, either.

Anyway, yesterday I thought I'd try again. The shop was open. It was also day 1 of the Samsung Galaxy S5 release in the UK and they said I could have one. I knew the S5 was out soon, but was expecting they'd give me an S4 instead. No, they gave me an S5. I wasn't expecting it at all.

First impressions: the voice recognition Google search works well; the detect-your-face-so-don't-power-down option seems ineffective; the feature whereby you just have to put your finger near the screen to read emails and swipe photos must need switching on somewhere I haven't found yet; the camera is a better photographer than I am; I really shouldn't have let Google import my G+ contacts into my phone's contact list.



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9:54am on Saturday, 12th April, 2014:

100 Up

Anecdote

This morning, I finally finished reading A History of the World in 100 Objects. It only took me 3 years.

This is the book that I took to reading when the newspaper was late arriving on a Saturday or Sunday, so the fact that 100 articles (read in groups of 1, 2 or 3) were dispensed with in 3 years gives some indication of how frequently our newsagent has been slow with deliveries. This morning, we didn't get a newspaper at all.

It's a very interesting book, though!



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4:17pm on Friday, 11th April, 2014:

Recovered

Anecdote

If you noticed the Internet was a little slow yesterday evening, my younger daughter got her mobile phone back and was downloading 4 days' worth of WhatsApp messages.



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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).