The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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7:11pm on Tuesday, 16th January, 2018:

Present and Correct


Normally, my wife isn't pleased when I get her kitchenware as a present, but she was OK with this wooden spoon I gave her at Christmas.

That would because she's not using it as kitchenware. She's using it as a flower.


4:48pm on Monday, 15th January, 2018:



I went round my mother's yesterday for a late birthday party. She had a cake.

OK, so she didn't have an 8 so decided to use two 4s instead. Neveretheless, it still looks as if I'm 544 years old.

It could have been worse. This is a woman who knows that 1x1=1 but still believes it should be 2.


7:38am on Monday, 15th January, 2018:



After being knocked offline for several days, my web sites and email are now back online. My hosting service managed to narrow the problem down to one of "either hardware or software", so I would expect it to remain flaky for a few days.


7:20pm on Sunday, 14th January, 2018:



My wife and I have been buying the magazine SFX since it came out in 1995, but I think I'm going to have to stop taking it. The latest issue, which I bought yesterday, cost a penny short of £7; that's too much for what it is.

It's a shame, because in between the shameless plugs and the endless reviews of superhero movies it does contain interesting articles, but I could get a book for less than £7 and it would take longer than half an hour to flip through.

It's a shame, but all good things must come to an end.


6:00pm on Saturday, 13th January, 2018:



Talking of birthdays (which I was 3 days ago), one of my PhD students got me these dice for my birthday last year, or maybe the year before; they'd been sitting on his shelf for months, anyway.

They're non-transitive dice. The probability is that the red die will beat the blue die, which will beat the olive die, which will beat the yellow die, which will beat the magenta die, which in turn will beat the red die.

Also, the red beats the yellow beats the blue beats the magenta beats the olive beats the red.

The names are odd because the first chain works for word length and the second chain works for alphabetical order (if you start at blue).

The box says it's "a game you can play with a friend", but I don't think the friend would be quite so friendly after they realised they were being pranked. Still, it's an interesting set.

One thing, does irritate me, though: why is it that a company that makes and sells dice as a business employs no-one who knows the singular is "die"?


1:24pm on Friday, 12th January, 2018:

A to Z


I kept this in the briefcase I retired this week.

I bought it in 1990, but haven't used it for several years. Each time I did use it, I marked with a cross the place I was visiting, so if I went again I'd be able to find it more easily. The bulldog clip was to hold the book open when I was driving and needed directions. Basically, then, Google Maps and my satnav have rendered it obsolete.

Part of me wants to keep it because I like maps. Part of me wants to keep it because there are memories in some of those crosses. Part of me wants to keep it in case at some time in the future I need a map of London as it was in 1990.

Nevertheless, I'm going to recycle it. Hey, I have an earlier guide to London that I used in the 1980s; I don't need two.

I'm keeping the bulldog clip, though.


10:37am on Thursday, 11th January, 2018:



One of the presents I got for my birthday yesterday (I hadn't intended it to be a present, but my wife declared it to be one) was a new briefcase.

I'd had my old briefcase, which my dad gave me, for maybe 20 years. Unfortunately, though, one of the feet on the bottom got bashed off and I had to cover it in duct tape, and the spring in one of the locks went so I had to open it manually every time. I decided that its time had come, so bought a new one.

The new one isn't as heavy or as rigid as the old one (which was more of an attaché case), and it's only 3cm wider than the maximum allowed for Ryanair cabin baggage. When I bought it, the woman in the shop had a hard time getting the catch to work, but I figured it would ease up after a while so I purchased it anyway (hey, there was a sale on, a third off!).

When I transferred everything from my old briefcase to the new one yesterday, I had a look at the catch. It was indeed a bit stiff. I wondered if locking it and unlocking it might make a difference, so took the key, turned it ... and unlocked it.

Hmm. Apparently, it had been locked the whole time and the shop assistant had been opening it and closing it regardless.

Anyway, it works like a dream now. I don't think I'll bother locking it again, though. This photo of the key shows why.

I've had lockable diaries with more sophisticated keys than that.


7:47am on Wednesday, 10th January, 2018:



It's my birthday today, that wonderful time of year when Father Birthday comes down the chimney and leaves birthday presents beneath the birthday tree.

I'm 58 this time round, which means I'll be 40 years older than the majority of the students who start university later this year. Alarmingly, they were born in 2000. Still, at least I'm going to live to an older age than most of them (my life expectancy is 82.11, whereas theirs is 79.58 for males, 83.24 for females; most of them will be male).

I wonder what I'll be having for lunch today.


4:25pm on Tuesday, 9th January, 2018:



One of my former students (now doing an MSc at Southampton) sent me this late Christmas present:

It looks more impressive in real life than in the scan, but it's a pack of "survival playing cards". I'm hoping I'm not going to need them for the forthcoming term, but I have so many students on my modules now that I suspect I might.

I particularly like the fact that they're waterproof. That's a nice touch.


10:19am on Tuesday, 9th January, 2018:

Dung Eon


I got stuck behind a tractor doing 20mph on my way to work this morning. I wasn't in any particular hurry, but the tractor was towing a trailer piled high with manure. Steam was coming off it. It smelled awful.

Objectively, I was probably only behind it for 5 minutes before I managed to overtake. Subjectively, it was more like half an hour.

Had I seen something like that as a student I would have remarked that it was making a delivery to the university restaurant, but as a member of staff I'd probably get into trouble for saying something like that nowadays.


4:37pm on Monday, 8th January, 2018:

One Left


Amazingly, I only have one examination paper left to write (by the end of the week). This is largely thanks to an email from the School Office informing me that no students took two of my resit exams last year, so I'm free to re-use them. Yay! I started at 7am on the CE317 paper and didn't finish until 3pm; I wasn't looking forward to another three of those between now and Friday.

When I tell students I really, really want them to pass my exams, why don't they believe me?


2:47pm on Sunday, 7th January, 2018:

Standard Tests


There's an article in The Sunday Times today complaining about a decline in standards at universities. It seem that 11 of the leading universities in the country didn't fail a single final-year student last year. Another bunch (Essex included) failed fewer than 1% of their final-year students.

There are two points I'd like to make here, Sunday Times.

Firstly, we don't fail many final-year students because the ones who are going to fail don't even make it to the final year. In Computer Science, for example, something like a third of them don't even make it out of the first year.

Secondly, although we could let some doomed-to-fail students through to make our standards look good, we're not going to do that because it affects our position in the university rankings. The leading such ranking is the one put together by the Times Higher Education weekly magazine. You might want to speak to them about standards, not the universities that have to dance to their tune...


11:19am on Sunday, 7th January, 2018:



A BBC news article about the current heatwave in Australia includes the following sentence: "Severe fire warnings were issued for the greater Sydney area and total fire bans were put in place across the city."

What's a "severe fire warning"? Is it a warning about severe fires (a severe-fire warning)? If so, what's a severe fire? Or is it a warning about fires that's more severe than normal warnings about fires (a severe fire-warning)? If so, what's a severe warning?

I'm guessing that the warning is that there is a very high risk of fires, with "very high risk" equating to "severe" in threat-level language. That would make it a severe fire-warning, then.

There's a sign in Colchester, near some roadworks, which reads "temporary bus stop". Is that a stop for temporary buses (a temporary-bus stop) or a bus stop that's temporary (a temporary bus-stop)?

Our predecessors didn't invent the practise of hyphenating compound adjectives and compound nouns for no good reason.

I once read an article which referred to the wing-commander on the right of the formation as being the "right wing commander".


2:46pm on Saturday, 6th January, 2018:

Board Games


I have lots of board games in my office at the university, which I give the students to play in a class (or if they want some for a games evening just for fun). I don't give them anything out of print (such as the Waddingtons games I played as a child) or that might actually be worth anything (such as my original Arkham Horror). I also don't give them games I haven't played myself (such as Eldritch Horror) or that cost a lot and I fear would be ruined (such as Tales of the Arabian Nights). There are some games I give out for games nights but not for student classes; anything "for ages 10+" (such as Twilight Struggle) would fall into that category, as it's my experience that most of them haven't played enough board games to be able to handle anything that complicated in three hours.

On the advice of the IGGI PhD students I taught in November, I got Machi Koro for Christmas. It's basically a simpler version of Dominion, so they ought to like it, but it's rated 10+. Maybe I'll let my undergraduates try it out this year and see how it goes.

We also played Colt Express over Christmas, which I got last year. It's a blast! Unfortunately, it has a 3D board made of pieces of card, so I'm not letting my students anywhere near it for fear they'd break it trying to figure out how it was put together.

If ever I lose my job at the university, I'm going to need a larger attic so I have somewhere to store all this stuff...


12:45pm on Friday, 5th January, 2018:

Celebrity Endorsement


This knife bin is in a car park in Colchester.

Of all the celebrity endorsements the police could have asked for, why did they go with the Cookie Monster out of Sesame Street? I wouldn't have guessed that he would have been someone that the kind of people who carry knives would listen to, but I guess he must be.


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Copyright © 2018 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).