The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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2:13pm on Friday, 27th May, 2022:



I loathe administration so much that I get it out of the way as soon as possible so it isn't hanging over my head. Merely by starting marking at 7:30am and not stopping until 6:30pm, I managed to work my way through the CE217 exam scripts and am now finished.

I prefer to have strong students in general, but when it comes to exams I confess that the weak students are best as they're easier to mark. They miss out entire questions; they put single-line answers in response to being asked to discuss something; they answer a completely different question to the one that was asked; they're 0 or 1, rather than "I'm sure I marked another paper four hours ago that had a similar line of argument, did I give it 4 or 5?".

My undergraduate exams are 5 questions in length, each one worth 20% of the total. When the papers are just that, paper, I batch-mark by question to ensure consistency. I can't really keep 70 files open at once to do the same for marking digital answers, though, so I do them 5 or 6 at a time. This is still varied enough that I don't know until I add the marks up at the end whether a student has done well or badly. Sometimes, I discover that a student has got 17+ for all their answers except the one they got 3 for. Sometimes, I discover that a student has got more for one answer than for the rest of the paper put together. It's quite strange how they can understand something in great depth and yet other things are beyond their comprehension.

The marks this year followed a linear distribution, rather than the normal (Gaussian) distribution or bimodal (overlapping Gaussian) distributions I've seen in the past. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but under the assumption that unless every student gets 70%+ it's a bad thing, my guess is it's a bad thing.

Amazingly, only one candidate mis-spelled "lose" this time. I didn't knock a mark off; they'd copied-and-pasted the text verbatim from a web site so didn't have any marks off which to be knocked.


1:08pm on Thursday, 26th May, 2022:

A Sign of the Times


At the outbreak of the pandemic, facemasks were in very short supply.

Now, my mother is using one as a bookmark.

It's a sign of the times.

Given that it would be typical of my mother to try to use a book as a facemask, the fact she hasn't is also a sign of the times.


12:56pm on Wednesday, 25th May, 2022:

Another Exam


The CE217 exam was yesterday.


8:58am on Tuesday, 24th May, 2022:



The quizword in this week's Essex County Standard is the same as in last week's Essex County Standard:

At least the number is the same and they didn't try to pass off #1,304 as #1,305.

Somewhat ironically, the article immediately to the right of this week's quizword is headlined "Seeing double as Mercury stages The Comedy of Errors".


9:42am on Monday, 23rd May, 2022:

Signs of the Times


These signs have been popping up all over the village:

They seem to be advertising board for estate agents. The houses they're outside aren't for sale, though, and aren't necessarily even houses — there are four outside the allotments. They're used to publicise local events that seem to be sponsored by the estate agents. I've no idea whether the property owner gets any money for it, but suppose that they must do.

I expect that it's legal, but given how often the locals here feign indignance that some minor activity they don't like will "ruin the character of the village", I don't suppose these people will be happy (unless they're the ones with the boards outside their properties).


12:11pm on Sunday, 22nd May, 2022:

Children's Activities



12:10pm on Saturday, 21st May, 2022:

First Class


From this week's Essex County Standard:

I'm glad that our teaching is so much better than it was when I was an undergraduate. I was the only person on the Computer Science degree to get a first in my year; the previous year, no-one did.

Wait a moment, though: if our teaching is so good, why do students continue to give us miserably low marks in the yearly National Student Survey?

Ah, well perhaps it's that students work harder now than they did in my day, so the low marks are a reflection of an all-work-and-no-play culture.

I'm pretty sure that every single student who did Computer Science when I was an undergraduate would get a first if they were students today.


12:32am on Friday, 20th May, 2022:



Colchester is being awarded city status as part of The Queen's 70th year as monarch, a move popular among its councillors and less popular among everyone else.

I expect that the only perceivable impact will be a change to the "Welcome to Colchester" signs so that the subtitle now reads "Britain's oldest recorded city".

Actually, it's more likely they''ll read "Britains oldest recorded city", based on the evidence of current signs. I don't suppose apostrophe awareness comes with city status, but I can hope.


5:49pm on Thursday, 19th May, 2022:

Mr Rodney


When I was a student, I used to wait until I went back home to Yorkshire to get my hair cut. However, on one occasion I didn't go back home over the Easter break so needed a local haircut. I asked my friend where they got their hair cut, and one of them said "Mr Rodney".

Mr Rodney was a barber's near the castle. I went there and got my hair cut, and because it was fairly cheap and he did a good job, I kept going there. The establishment moved after a decade or two to a cheaper place up an alley, but I stayed loyal. Rodney himself used to train other people to cut hair, and when he retired he sold the business to his workers (the name by now was simply "Rodney's").

I was going to the university today to meet soon-to-be-Dr Nigel Roberts, and old friend from my undergraduate days, and because I had a bit of free time beforehand (having completed my CE317 exam marking yesterday) I thought I'd get my hair cut. Normally, I'd call Rodney's in advance, but I wasn't sure I'd get there in time so I decided I'd just drive into town and show up as a walk-in. 10am on a Thursday morning isn't peak time for barbers in Colchester, so I was fairly sure that if there wasn't a slot at 10am there'd be one at 10:15am.

Rodney's was shut. A notice on the door said that Rodney had died and today was his funeral. All the staff had gone to attend it.

That was disappointing. Obviously it was more disappointing for Rodney than for me, but still.

Colchester is awash with barbers, and on the way back to my car I passed one that looked fairly decent. There was one barber and no customers, so I chanced it.

It was pretty good, to be honest. It cost five quid more than Rodney's, but the haircut was better. The barber was Romanian, and has a side line of painting and restoring Icons for Orthodox churches (he has a degree in it). I may well go back there three months from now when my hair needs cutting again.

That's if he's still cutting hair. He uses the trimmer a lot, and the vibration makes his right hand go numb. I asked if there were special gloves that hairdressers could buy to protect them, like the ones for users of pneumatic drills, but he said there weren't. I suggested he look into how the construction worker gloves do their stuff, in case a more flexible, barber-friendly version could be developed. I won't say he was inspired to go for it, but he may mention the idea to his barber colleagues.

He asked me where I normally got my hair cut. I said Rodney's. He'd never heard of Rodney's.

I'll be picking my wife up from the train station in about an hour. There's a high chance she won't notice that I've had my hair cut. My younger daughter, on the other hand, probably sensed it from miles away while I was actually having it cut.


7:28pm on Wednesday, 18th May, 2022:



I tried giving Nightcafé the title of my recent book, How to Be a God, to see what kind of cover it might come up with for me.

On the left, Cosmic Artistic style; on the right, Fantasy Coherent style.

The left one does look vaguely god-related, but the right one looks prettier.

I prefer the cover I eventually went with, with the talking fish, but these are still both much better than anything I could create without ripping off someone else's artwork.


4:49pm on Tuesday, 17th May, 2022:



From this week's Essex County Standard:

No. No matter how hard I try, I can't parse that headline.


4:53pm on Monday, 16th May, 2022:

Iron Crown


From the Iron Crown Enterprises game, Cyberspace, published 1989:

They probably wouldn't get away with putting that now.

Perhaps weirdly from a present-day perspective, it was considered progressive to make this kind of disclaimer back then (rather than sticking with 'he' and making no disclaimer at all).


12:47pm on Sunday, 15th May, 2022:

Rigid Potty Quack


I rather hope the random words my Plaitword puzzle uses don't form sentences too often.


9:43am on Sunday, 15th May, 2022:

Flight of Fancy


Last year, we booked a hot-air balloon flight only to have it cancelled because the wind speed was forecast to be too high.

I waited patiently, and rebooked it for yesterday evening. I didn't have any particular reason to choose 14th May, but it was the only date with free slots. The reason it had free slots was, I suspect, because the flight clashed with the finals of the FA Cup Final and the Eurovision Song Contest.

The weather yesterday was glorious. The sky was cloudless, the humidity was low and a sea-to-shore breeze was forecast in the evening that would bring gusts of wind at low altitude.

From this post's lack of breathtaking images taken from a balloon basket high above the Essex countryside, you will probably have deduced that low-altitude gusts of wind make it hard for a hot-air balloon to take off. I called the balloon line at 2pm and the flight was cancelled.

Still, at least this meant I got to watch the FA Cup and Eurovision Song Contest finals.

The FA Cup final was on ITV. I declared that this meant it would be nil-nil after 90 minutes and would either go to penalties or end with a scrappy, disputed goal in extra time. It duly went to penalties, but at least the best team won.

For some weeks, I'd been saying that Eurovision was going to be won by Ukraine for reasons nothing to do with their song (which wasn't even their first-choice entry) and that whichever country came second could consider that a win. Astonishingly, the UK came second, scoring 466 points more than we got last year. Our song was sufficiently good that it even got votes from Eire. Regional voting blocs that are prevalent elsewhere in Eurovision work the opposite way for us, with countries that speak English as a first language apparently not wishing to bbe perceived as showing bias (we got zero from the Australian jury; Cyprus gave Greece its customary 12).

Whether we all go to Kyiv next year or not depends in part on Putin, but I wouldn't be too surprised if the UK hosted Eurovision as back-up. It's difficult to see how Putin will spin this public vote as being false news, a rigged vote, the result of duping 200,000,000 viewers or anything else, but I'm sure he'll find a way.

Coming second in Eurovision is less gut-wrenching than coming second in the FA Cup, but on the whole I'd have preferred the balloon flight.


1:47pm on Saturday, 14th May, 2022:

57 to Mark


My CE317 exam was on Friday. I was given access to the candidates' scripts at 4pm.

I have to mark all 57 of them by Wednesday. This means I am marking today and tomorrow. My being part-time offers no concessions: Wednesday is the deadline.

Why is the deadline so short? Ah, well that's because the administrators need a week to transfer my marks to the master spreadsheet.


The CE817 exam was also on Friday. There were only four candidates, so I marked one yesterday evening and the other three this morning.

I will be glad when it's Thursday.


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