The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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3:48pm on Tuesday, 23rd September, 2014:

Average Family


This is the "recycling caddy" the local council gave us to put our waste food in:

What's that the cartoon woman is saying? An average family fills one of these a week?

Well that's great, cartoon woman, but this means that half the families who have a caddy are creating more than a caddyful of food waste a week. What are they supposed to do with it?

Ah, well as you can see, when the caddy gets full it tells you to empty it into the big, green bin.

Oh. OK. That makes sense. Forget I said anything.


10:06am on Monday, 22nd September, 2014:



I'm not a fan of written constitutions: they're too hard to change, and when one group gets in a position where it's able to change it then it's too hard to stop them. If we'd had a written constitution in the UK, the recent Scottish referendum could not have taken place so easily, for example.

I much prefer structural constitutions, which are embodied in the machinery of government. These have the major advantage that everything comprising them has to be justified. A written constitution would say that the House of Commons has primacy over the House of Lords, but a structural constitution says why it does: the HoC has a democratic mandate and the HoL doesn't. This means that if we were to go with an elected HoL at some point, it would have to have equal power with the HoC. A written constitution that didn't state the reasoning behind the wording would make it much harder to evolve a fair solution.

I'm all for changing the way that the UK is governed, so that people feel that their vote has actual meaning. I was hoping that the Scottish referendum would catalyse change. However, if we get a written constitution as a result, it's almost certainly not going to be fit for purpose, being party-political and including matters of policy (like the "no nuclear weapons in Scotland" clause the SNP proposed to put in a post-yes constitution).

As it happens, the Conservatives are likely to fudge a solution to the English question and Labour are trying to kick it into the long grass, so I don't expect we'll get any meaningful change any time soon whatever. It's clear what the solution should be — powers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland equivalent to the ones heading Scotland's way, with a slimmed-down UK parliament to deal with only federal-level interests such as defence — but nobody in a position to deliver it is going to support it. We'll just have to wait until it happens by default.

That'll probably be when the next Scottish referendum comes along and they vote to leave the UK.


4:32pm on Sunday, 21st September, 2014:

Where There's a Will


I was going to spend this afternoon playing games, but just before lunch I discovered a scan of one of my ancestors' will, in which he named his wife and children. This enabled me to extend my family tree by a whole generation. Unfortunately, it took me five hours to establish that I couldn't get any further.

Oh well, there's a gravestone in a church in Macclesfield that might tell me more if ever I happen to be passing...


12:25pm on Saturday, 20th September, 2014:



I saw the Bradford City FC official team coach in the car park of Sainsbury's this morning. OK, so Bradford City is playing Colchester United this afternoon, so that's why they're in the area, but why would the team want to stop off at Sainsbury's?

For Colchester United's sake, I hope the Bradford squad was buying cigarettes, beer and cake.


3:22pm on Friday, 19th September, 2014:

Good Result


The result of the Scottish referendum was pretty well what I was hoping for: Scotland remains in the union, but with so strong a vote against it that there will have to be changes to the way the rest of the UK is governed, too.

Of course, I don't expect the changes to go far enough, especially given the short timetable that the leaders of the three main national parties agreed — in fact vowed — to follow. We might get a fudge that addresses the West Lothian Question, but it would take much longer to get an English or regional assemblies that have the same powers as the Scottish Assembly even used to have, let alone what it will have.

Oh, and by the way, tennis player Andy Murray, "no" campaigns are negative by definition. If the question on the ballot paper had read "should Scotland remain part of the UK?" then you'd have been voting for the union because of the "negativity of the no campaign"...


3:35pm on Thursday, 18th September, 2014:

Killer App


If you want to swat a fly, your main problem is that you don't know where the fly is going to be when your rolled-up newspaper or whatever arrives. If only you could predict where it would go and swat there, you'd get it every time.

Mobile phones have cameras. AI software can detect flies and track them. I'm pretty sure that there are AI techniques that could track a fly for a few seconds then predict where it's going to be in a second's time. It could superimpose a target reticule on your phone's screen, or, better still, your Google Glass. Then, it's just a case of whapping where the target says and it's bye-bye fly (or wasp or mosquito — it ought to work for all of them).

You'd sell millions of copies of something that could do that. It really is a killer app.


5:05pm on Wednesday, 17th September, 2014:

Different Levels


Wow, the food they give out at York University is much better than at Essex (not that this is difficult). We don't supply anything that could be described as "cake", and if we did it wouldn't be edible.

These Russell Group universities certainly operate at a higher level when it comes to catering. It must be because they have medical schools so there's less of a worry if the food goes wrong...


8:36pm on Tuesday, 16th September, 2014:

Old York


I arrived in York this evening for a two-day IGGI (our AI and Games doctoral training centre) symposium at the university. Our hotel is in the middle of the city, but I know the drive well because I spent the afternoon at my dad's and he used to drive us through York to visit our grandparents when I was a kid.

Hmm, I'm sure there didn't used to be that many traffic lights. The bus lanes in roundabouts are new too. So are the cyclists. It's actually amazing I made it throughto the hotel intact.


1:42pm on Monday, 15th September, 2014:



We had a staff meeting today at which we selected the next Head of Department. This wasn't hard, as there was only one candidate.

Hmm, that's not strictly true. There were four or five candidates, but the Department's nomination has to be forwarded to the Vice Chancellor for approval. The VC let it be known that there was only one candidate he would approve, so the others were obliged to drop out of the running. This is not how things have been done in the past, so there is something of a question mark over the procedural regularity of the way this has been handled.

However, being angry with the nominator does not mean you have to be angry with the nominated, and as it happens we have an excellent nominee who would probably have been nominated anyway if we'd been given a free vote. It's Simon Lucas, one of our two games professors (I'm the other one). This is both good and bad for games at Essex. It's good, in that there's someone in charge who may do something to promote our games offerings (in particular, we may get the Games MSc we've been pitching for several years). However, it's bad in that being Head of Department leaves little time to do anything else, so we're effectively going to be losing his games teaching for at least 3 years (and 6 if he wins a second term). He supervises around 10 PhD students, too, which will soak up much of his non-HoD time.

Overall, though, I think it's a slight win for games at Essex University that he's going to be the new HoD, and a major win for the Department. My only major worry is that the university high-ups do the same thing they did with the outgoing HoD: they promoted her to head of a new section, so we won't have her teaching for us again (a shame, as she won an award for her teaching in her pre-HoD incarnation). If they promote Simon to the higher eschelons of university management, I'll be the only games person left.

Every silver lining has a cloud...


10:43am on Sunday, 14th September, 2014:

Cigar Lit


From the 1978/79 prospectus for Essex University's Physics Department:

You wouldn't see a photo like that today. We closed our Physics Department in 2001.


6:01pm on Saturday, 13th September, 2014:

50 Years


It's Essex University's 50th anniversary this year, which it is celebrating today and tomorrow with what it's calling a "homecoming weekend". All past students and members of staff were invited to attend and to bring their families along. I got to meet quite a few old faces, including my PhD supervisor, Jim Doran, whom I haven't seen for maybe two decades.

Not as many former students attended as I was hoping, though. My wife (who also went to Essex University) asked me to call her if there was anyone there from her year that she mights know, but I checked the list of registered attendees and there wasn't. There was no-one from my year (apart from me), either. Come to that, there were no former students of mine. I'd brought two photograph albums with me to share with my contemporaries, but took them home unopened.

There were plenty of other photos on display anyway, though, that former students and staff had sent in. I'd contributed about a dozen myself, including some featuring the computer operators (it took three shifts of three people each to keep a computer running 24 hours a day back then). These photos were scanned, collected in groups of about 30, and made into A1-sized wall posters. There were something like 15 such posters featuring several hundred images (all of people), so it was great fun looking through them and picking out the individuals I knew as I knew them, rather than the 30-years-older versions they are today. None of the photos were of me, though.

Officially, I was at the homecoming because I had been asked if I could run MUD for the day, so I begged the MUD2 arch-wizzes for some logins and spent a morning writing a 5-sheet how-to-log-in-and-play document. I printed off 50 copies and from 11:30 until 3:30 was in the lab ready to re-introduce people to one of the games of their youth. My readiness never translated into action, though: not one person logged in.

I did meet one former MUD player, Biddulph the wizard, who had worked on MIST (which used the MUD engine). Another person was aware of what "a MUD" was but didn't realise that they were all descended from MUD; he said he'd come back after lunch but he didn't. Some members of staff came to give me some support, but didn't play. There are several reasons that I didn't get a single player: it wasn't advertised in the welcome pack; it was indoors (because I needed lab machines to telnet to the MUD2 server) in a building with no other activities in it; most of the former students who attended graduated before MUD's time, so they didn't play it in the first place. Maybe if there was another event like this in 10 years' time, I might get someone to sit down and log in. All in all, though, I have to confeess that it was rather disappointing. Still, I'm glad I turned down the offer of having a graduate lab assistant to help me deal with the crowds; that would have been embarrassing...

Overall, then, it was a day of mixed emotions. I got to see some former lecturers and colleagues, some of whom are now getting on in years and I may never see them again. However, I didn't see any of my contemporaries or any of my own students, and most of the day was spent in frustration. MUD's so consigned to history that even history has forgotten it.

Oh well.


6:05pm on Friday, 12th September, 2014:

Make it So


I saw this in Italy last week:

Never mind the captain: so long as they have Stewart, they're good.


11:04am on Thursday, 11th September, 2014:



Looking through our holiday pictures, I came across this one I'd taken of my elder daughter:

I hadn't realised she had an umbrella prosthesis attached to her arm.


5:18pm on Wednesday, 10th September, 2014:

Hair Man


I noticed this chap on the floor after my wife had brushed her hair:


5:53pm on Tuesday, 9th September, 2014:



I was in Licoln today to speak at the Game-On conference, now in its 15th year. It's mainly for early-stage PhD students, so you get a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of ideas, but not always a full appreciation of the wider context.

Two of the talks this time round were not from PhD students, however: they were from students who have just graduated from Lincoln, talking about their third-year projects. The unnerving thing about these was that they were pretty well indistinguishable in level from many of the PhD presentations I see at conferences. I don't know what they're teaching them up there in Lincoln, but they're getting results.

Hmm, actually I will know what they're teaching up there soon, as I've signed up to be an external examiner. I may even get to have a look around Lincoln itself as a result of this, which is something I've been intending to do for ages, so I win twice.

Oh, for future reference... Colchester to hotel 7 miles from Lincoln: 3 hours. Hotel 7 miles from Lincoln to Lincoln: 45 minutes.


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