The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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4:44pm on Thursday, 20th October, 2016:



The first day of the conference has been pretty good, with several interesting and entertaining speakers. I've also bumped into a surprising number of people with whom I was already acquainted, so could catch up with their goings-on. Perhaps better still, I've chatted to a people whom I haven't met before, but will now look forward to chatting with again next time our paths cross. Observation: the younger you are the less likely you are to agree with the statement "VR is just a gimmick".

I was on a panel about diversity and inclusiveness (the theme of the conference). The problem with diversity is that to be diverse you need a lot of people, so there were six of us on the panel — probably two too many. Also, I was the only old, white, straight male on the panel, which could have been rather awkward but I was able to rant about the British class system and so count myself as oppressed rather than as the beneficee of a number of structural advantages built into society.

Meatballs for lunch: Sweden is famous for them, and justly so.

As for the coffee, well let's just say I switched to tea after the first one.


6:33am on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016:

Early Start


I got up at 4am this morning to drive to Heathrow (which is where I am now). I have a 7:35am flight to Gothenburg in Sweden, from where I have a train journey to Skövde, the venue of the Sweden Game Conference at which I'm speaking on Friday. I don't like having to get up at 4am, but it does make for an easier drive. I might have considered staying in a hotel, but my return flight lands at 10:30pm so it might have been hard gettin a train home. Indeed, because I get back on Saturday, the train would have been a bus (again) anyway.

The theme of the Sweden Game Conference this year is Diversity. I prepared my talk well in advance, as usual, but am slightly worried because I was subsequently invited to sit on a panel and fear I may say all the stuff I have in my talk a day early. I could be writing another presentation on Thursday evening...

Skövde isn't pronounced as it looks as if it should be pronounced to English eyes: it's something like "ohov-de". Knowing that I can't pronounce it is a blessing, as it means I'm under no pressure to pronounce it properly — I stand no chance. So long as I can recognise it when someone else says it (for example, an announcer on a train), I should be OK.


10:31am on Tuesday, 18th October, 2016:

Parking Issues


The car park I use at the universiyt has automatic numberplate recognition. You drive in, find a place to park, then go to work. When you leave, you enter your numberplate details on a touchscreen and it tells you how much it costs (10p an hour).

That's what I used to do, anyway. For this academic year, however, I've bought a season ticket. Now, I don't have to enter my numberplate on the touchscreen, I can just drive out.

Given how long I park at the university, it's a bit more expensive for me this way. However, it does mean I no longer have to negotiate the smudge of snot that's been on the touchscreen's W for the past 8 months.


7:51am on Monday, 17th October, 2016:



My mother's paternal great-grandfather had four younger siblings. Here's how the 1871 Census describes them:

That explains a lot.


11:29am on Sunday, 16th October, 2016:

Fire Test


Yes, so, I may have clipped the fire extinguisher when I was getting my bag out of the back of the car.


8:52pm on Saturday, 15th October, 2016:



My explanation of why I didn't need a coat to walk 500 yards through the centre of Durham at night.


4:25pm on Saturday, 15th October, 2016:

Weigh Aye


The reason I hired a dinner suit was because yesterday I took part in a debate at the Durham Union — an old and very prestigious debating society at Durham University. So old and prestigious is it, that it's a black tie event (at least for the participants on the panels).

The motion for debate was "This House has Faith in the Existence of God". I was on the opponent side. Both we and the proponents concurred at the dinner beforehand that the result was likely to be determined mainly by how many members of Durham's substantial community of Theology students could be persuaded to attend by the three-line whip of their lecturers (two of whom who were on the proponent panel), so whatever the result would be was in a sense already predetermined and we could therefore be relaxed about it.

As it was, the result was a little shaky anyway. First it was decided by assent, in which members of the audience shout either AYE or NO and the loudest wins. It seemed to me that the NO side had noticeably more support, but the contingent of theologians were mainly sitting together on the side of the hall way from me, so that may just have been my perception. It did seem clear-cut, though, especially given how many theologians are men and thus in general endowed with louder-sounding voices than women.

However, as this was an early debate in the academic year and there were some first-timers present, a division was called (basically to show them how it worked). In this, the AYE side exit through one door and the NO side through another. The result was something like 60 AYE and 50 NO. Unfortunately, another 20 or so people remained in the hall for a meeting of the society's council or something afterwards, having been asked explicitly not to leave. They weren't sitting in the block of theologists, so would probably in the main have voted NO rather than AYE. Still, the result will be recorded in the records as an AYE, which is fair enough; you have to do these things by the rules. I'm not too upset by it; at least our side came second.

The format of the debate was that members of the proponent and the opponent panels took turns (proponents first) to make their cases in ten-minute speeches. Then, members of the audience could make points, often addressed as questions to the panels, but to which we weren't to respond. Each person who asked a question was given an invitation to a post-debate event at which the panelists would be in attendance. After the questions (or in this case, time) ran out, one member of each panel got to do a five-minute response (opponents first), then the vote was taken.

I was a little frustrated that I couldn't address some of the questions directly, as they were based on misunderstandings. I didn't, for example, say that a dog mauling a baby (which happened yesterday in Colchester) was evil; I did say that if the were a god, then that god could have stopped it but didn't. Nevertheless, the opportunity to explain matters did arise in the event afterwards, which was actually very good. I had some interesting and at times quite stimulating conversations with people there. On the whole, I therefore accept that this is a reasonable way of doing things for developing understanding and testing new positions, although I wouldn't recommend it for the House of Commons.

Weirdly, on the train to Durham I found myself sitting next to one of the other participants on our panel, with the third sitting behind him. What are the odds, eh? Also, on the way back I shared a taxi with one of the proponents. It's good that you can have meaningful conversations with people who have contradictory views to your own, as a consequence of which both of you can advance your understanding of your own position, and without coming to blows. For example, I'd certainly be happy to talk to Theology students about what they need to consider as we approach the time when their subject becomes experimental, because none of that is contingent on having a faith in the existence of a god of Reality.

Talking of Reality, I'm typing this in the waiting room at Peterborough Station, where I'm waiting for an hour for a train to Ipswich via Stowmarket on account of how, because of railworks, the train from London to Colchester today is a bus.


12:20am on Friday, 14th October, 2016:

Water PPK


You know how popular opinion is that no-one looks bad in a tuxedo?

Popular opinion is wrong.


8:26pm on Thursday, 13th October, 2016:

Twice as Long


The 24 packs of Läkerol I bought last month lasted just over four weeks, rather than the two I was estimating. I'd send off for some more, but I'm off to Sweden next week so will be able to pick up some replacement packs while I'm there.

This is assuming that the pound doesn't fall so low against the Swedish krona that I'm paying a fiver each for them, of course.


5:04pm on Wednesday, 12th October, 2016:

Outside In


I've put the images from my book MMOs from the Outside In on my web site now (http://www.youhaventlived.com/MMOSWTF/index.html), to go with the ones from MMOs from the Inside Out (http://www.youhaventlived.com/MMOSFTW/index.html). If you're one of the few people in possession of the book, you can now see what those grainy images are supposed to look like.

I received a royalty cheque for the books yesterday that came to just over $80. I had such high hopes for them, but a rushed deadline and bad launch for books works just the same as it does for MMOs. Their main intended readership (MMO players) aren't even aware of them, let alone giving them any traction. I'm somewhat disappointed.

Still, the way the pound is going $80 is going to be worth like £800 soon, so it's not all gloom.


4:38pm on Tuesday, 11th October, 2016:

IGGI Cohort 4


It's that time of year when we advertise for applicants to the IGGI Doctoral Training Centre, so here I am advertising it.

IGGI stands for "Intelligent Games, Games Intelligence": it's basically about the interface between games and Artificial Intelligence (either AI for games — the IG part — or games for AI — the GI part). The universities of Essex, York and Goldsmiths (London) run it jointly, and it's now the largest research group for AI and games in the world.

What makes IGGI attractive beyond its subject matter is the fact that it's fully-funded: not only are the fees covered, but students get a stipend, too. You're PAID to do a PhD! If you're starting an MSc or your final year of a BSc this year and you're considering doing a PhD, it's very well worth investigating.

We have something like 10-12 studentships available each year. At most one of these can be for an international student; the rest are UK/EU (and at the moment, the advice we've received suggests that the EU part is Brexit-proofed). For these 10-12 spots, we get 70 or more applications each year, so competition is tight. It's less tight (but still tight) for UK/EU students, though, as up to half the applicants are international.

If you're interested, check out http://www.iggi.org.uk/apply/.

This advertisement would be paid for by the IGGI super PAC if we had one.


5:42pm on Monday, 10th October, 2016:



Some of the articles I'm seeing about Brexit from both Remain and Leave campaigners are insulting someone's intelligence. I'm not exactly sure whose, though.

One of the positions that caused a recent slump in the pound was the suggestion that a hard Brexit was not desirable but would be acceptable. Why would the government say that? The usual "so their rich friends will get richer" argument doesn't apply here, because their rich friends don't even want to leave the EU. No, there's something else going on.

It's pretty obvious what it is, too: it's a negotiating tactic. The EU is saying "if you want access to our single market, you have to play by our rules" and the UK is saying "OK, well we don't want to play by your rules so I guess we won't be seeking access to your single market". The EU, which regards itself as the one with something to sell, thereby has its teeth pulled: the UK is essentially announcing that if the price is too high, we don't want to buy. The EU took a similar view when David Cameron went round asking for concessions before the referendum: "we have what you want and it's take it or leave it". It didn't give Cameron a bean, because it thought what it was already offering was quite sufficient to win the vote. This was a miscalculation. Theresa May's announcement that a hard Brexit is a possibility was telling the EU not to make the same miscalculation a second time. It may be a large, single market, but it's stagnant and protectionist, and if there are too many strings attached, well, the alternative is actually acceptable.

Likewise, when the government announces that there won't be a Commons vote on the final offer from the EU, that's also a negotiating tactic. Parliament is, like the Labour party, at odds with those whose votes matter to it. Labour MPs don't want Jeremy Corbyn as leader, but the members do. MPs in general don't want to leave the EU, but the electorate does. If the House of Commons were to vote on whatever deal the EU eventually offers, it's pretty certain to be voted down no matter what it is. Knowing this, the EU would make no concessions whatsoever in its negotiations, confident that the UK couldn't proceed unless Parliament agreed, which it wouldn't. Thus, by saying there won't be a vote, the UK ensures that the EU has to negotiate more seriously than it would if it knew there was going to be a vote.

Now that both of these are negotiating tactics is quite clear to me. The government means them to be seen as tactics and the EU negotiators will be seeing them as tactics. That's what they are.

However, that's not what I see in the various newspaper reports and comment pieces that cross my path. There, the possibility of a hard Brexit is pitched as being some kind of needless, reckless, feckless act by a government that believes so much that the UK is going to soar once free of its imaginary chains that it's willing to burn every bridge it can to do so as soon as possible. Alternatively, it's pitched as being an immense opportunity for the UK to break free from the repressive, stifling confines of the EU prison and escape to glory.

Similarly, the dismissal of a Commons vote is described in outraged terms as being an assault on democracy, steamrollering a right-wing agenda through against the will of the people. It's also described as being the epitome of democracy, side-stepping an obstructive elite that puts its own vested interests above those of the people it's supposed to govern.

Now if you're a journalist on either side, you know that at root your depiction of what's happening isn't what's happening. Well, I hope you do: if you're writing these pieces in the genuine belief that you're reflecting the primary motivations behind them, well you shouldn't be in the job. You're adopting the perspective that you are because you want to sell this point of view to your readers. So, do you think your readers are buying it? Wouldn't you have to have rather a disparaging view of them to do this? Don't you respect their intelligence?

Well let's suppose you do. We'll assume that you and your readers all know the real reason behind the announcements, but you're choosing not to focus on that because your aim is to undermine or shore up the process (depending on which camp you're in). Nevertheless, someone at some stage has to buy what you're saying rather than accept what's actually going on, or you're wasting your time. So what about those readers who cross-post your articles to Facebook? Did they buy your argument? Or are they too smart for that and are instead trying to persuade all those unsmart people who don't read the same newspaper?

Basically, anyone who concocts an interpretation of events which makes no mention of the actual rationale involved either doesn't understand that rationale or is expecting that at some point in the readership chain there will be people who take what's been written at face value. It's a cynical manipulation of those people, and an insult to the intelligence of everyone else.

I think maybe I play too many games...


10:44am on Sunday, 9th October, 2016:

Past and Present


Fewer than 40 photos of me before the age of 18 are in existence. I possess 27 myself, but am allowing for the possible existence of a handful in the collections of family friends and distant relatives. Eight of these photos are in colour, the rest are monochrome.

There are no videos or other moving images of me before the age of 18. Maybe three black-and-white ones were taken at school (it got a video camera in the mid-1970s), but the tape was re-used multiple times because it was expensive and took up too much space to store.

A child today can easily have that many photos and videos of them taken in half an hour. Genealogists a thousand years from now won't have any issues wondering what they looked like.

How long will it be before we commonly have images of ourselves in 3D?


1:11pm on Saturday, 8th October, 2016:



Yes, this just about sums up what students can expect from adult life.


4:39pm on Friday, 7th October, 2016:

Staff Meeting


The staff meeting today was eventful.

It started at 9am. That's what the MicroSoft Office alert told us. Some of us arrived at 9am. Others, however, didn't: they'd seen an email saying it started at 9:15. Those who had read the agenda linked to from a different email knew it started at 9:30, though.

Also, it wasn't in its usual room. This time, it was in the lecture theatre block in room LTB5.

The audiovisual equipment in LTB5 was broken. After a technician came and looked it over and declared there to be a problem, we decamped to LTB8.

The audiovisual equipment in LTB8 was broken. After the same technician came and looked it over and declared there to be a problem, we decampted to LTB7.

LTB7's audiovisual equipment worked fine. The meeting started at 9:45 and was making great progress until at 10:15 the group that had booked the room for 10am finally plucked up courage to come in and tell us we really needed to vacate it.

We went back to LTB5. After some messing about with cables (it's the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, and one of the electronic engineers engineered some electronics) the audiovisual equipment was no longer broken and we could continue with the meeting.

We then broke for coffee. There was an urn of, well, whatever it is the catering section puts in the urn with "coffee" on it. Up until this point, the tap on the urn worked the same as all other taps on such urns: you press it down, brown liquid comes out, then you let go and it springs up. Now, however, it neglected to spring up. People filled their cup, let go of the tap, and the liquid kept on coming. We were standing in pools of the stuff. One of the newer members of staff knew what to do: go grab some toilet paper and soak it all up. The older members of staff also knew what to do, of course: wait for a newer member of staff to clean it up.

The meeting finally ended at something like 1:15pm, leaving just enough time for lunch before we all had to be back in our offices to meet our new tutees and explain to them why they had a personal tutor who's not in their subject area (and to effect this explanation without using the words "box-ticking exercise").

As usual in departmental meetings, I spent most of my time doodling. I sometimes wonder if my doodles may reflect my interest in the proceedings.


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Copyright © 2016 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).