The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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9:04am on Tuesday, 24th November, 2020:



I went to the dentist yesterday for my first check-up this year. No problems were found, although my jaw inexplicably aches where it didn't before I went. My appointment was at 8:30am; a little early, but it meant I was the first patient and therefore any virus-bearing particles floating around in the air would have had time to settle overnight

Anyway, seeing as I'm always quick to point out irritating mismatches in objects meant to be arranged in patterns, I thought I'd give praise to whoever laid the floor in the dentist's waiting room. They really made the effort.

All the magazines and other reading material had been removed from the dentist's waiting room in an effort to reduce the chances of spreading Covid-19. I mention this so you don't think I'm the kind of person who routinely takes photographs of floors.


5:00pm on Monday, 23rd November, 2020:

Old Papers


When the skip left today, it took away some 250-300 hard copies of papers that I read when doing my PhD. As a snapshot of Artificial Intelligence research as it was in the 1980s, it was quite interesting. Two papers had handwritten notes on them by people who now have knighthoods, and two others were drafts of papers that later became well-known. Most, however, while perhaps famous in their day, are now largely unremembered.

Scanning through some of them for nostalgia reasons, I was struck how many of them used formal notations to describe their findings. I hardly read any papers these days that use logics to explain how their algorithms work, but it was natural back then to do so. The papers were on the whole more substantive than much of what I read these days, too (probably because there wasn't yet an ingrained publish-or-perish culture). Some of the topics were quite obvious, but so few people were working in that particular sub-field that they qualified as great advances. Others started influential bandwagons that predictably came to nothing but that had to be addressed at the time so I needed to read up on them.

I kept about 20 further papers back because they were sufficiently built-to-last that I felt I should have copies in my now all-digital paper library. I was hoping I could get them ready-scanned off the Internet, but surprisingly few (maybe 5 or 6) were available. Another two were available but Essex University didn't subscribe to the relevant journal. A final one was available and Essex University did subscribe to the journal, but the journal wouldn't give me a link to a .pdf, it just told me I could now download it. I looked at the web site HTML and it had no link, so gawd knows what was going on there. I have some scanning to do whenever I get back on campus, anyway.

It was a bit sad, throwing out papers I've kept in boxes for 35 years, but if I haven't looked at them for the past 30 of those years then I'm unlikely to look at them in the next 30 either. Sigh...


9:49am on Sunday, 22nd November, 2020:

A Time to Die


We hired a skip for the weekend. Having half-filled it with old bits of carpet, floor tiles and copies of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence, I had a look through the attic for random stuff to throw out so we got our money's worth. In among the pages of one of my maternal grandmother's books I found this:

It looks as if it's a book cover that someone tore off so they could write a note on the back.

This is my rough attempt at transcribing it:

Suits me am very
comfortable papers
Jeans[?] read if you read it
The day I shall want you
to put flag out is the day
I cross to lane[?] under my own
steam two guiness that day
and you nurses a we drop
heather dew in your fly cup

I have no idea what it's about.

The "A TIME TO DIE" part of the cover will be useful for scaring my students when it gets to exam time.


9:58am on Saturday, 21st November, 2020:



This little fellow is part of an old lock that I threw out yesterday.

Run! Run for your lives!


12:32pm on Friday, 20th November, 2020:

A Success?


Essex Girl is back advertising stuff in Sainsbury's. She must have been a success.

This time, she's not wearing a Sainsbury's uniform.

A shame she isn't wearing a facemask.


1:22pm on Thursday, 19th November, 2020:



This is the King of Diamonds from a Cartes Imperiales deck by Mesmaekers of Belgium, probably around 1950.

The King of Diamonds is supposed to represent King David out of the Bible, playing his harp.

What's holding up his harp?


8:50am on Wednesday, 18th November, 2020:

Pond Farm


I always wondered where ponds were grown, and now I know.


5:39pm on Tuesday, 17th November, 2020:



This is the message displayed when I paused the Panopto lecture recording software today.

I don't know why it would do that, unless it's to show me it can do what it likes and I can't stop it.


2:33pm on Monday, 16th November, 2020:

CE217 Lecture 1


I pre-recorded my first lecture today using the wretched Panopto system the university has foisted on us. Here's the snapshot it created.

Wonderful. This is currently the first thing anyone visiting the Essex site will see, and I look mad.

Oh well. One down, 37 to go.


10:40am on Sunday, 15th November, 2020:



The way that genealogy normally works using Findmypast or Ancestry is that you pay a hefty subscription and for that get free scans of parish records and census returns. However, you have to send off for birth, marriage and death certificates, which cost something like £7 for a digital copy and £11 for a hard copy. I usually go for the hard copy.

This is for England, Wales and Ireland, anyway. Scotland is something of a hold-out (rather ironically, given that Findmypast is a Scottish company). For Scottish records, you can get transcripts of the records but not the actual records. Transcripts are frequently wrong (sorry,Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some of the people whose salvation you have procured didn't exist); therefore, you want the records. Now while I don't mind paying £1.50 instead of £7 for a birth, marriage or death certificate, I do mind paying £1.50 instead of nothing for census returns or parish records. It's particularly annoying when there are two records in the same name and you know exactly which one you want but there isn't enough information given by the Scotlandspeople site to disambiguate them. Example: one of these people was baptised July 1782 (the one I want) and the other was baptised February 1782 (the one I don't want), but the search will only give me ones baptised 1782. I have a 50/50 chance of paying £1.50 and getting the wrong one.

I've spent something like £30 on these records so far and have only just scratched the surface. A quarter of my family tree is Scottish, so this is going to become expensive.

The most interesting information I've uncovered so far is that when my maternal grandmother's parents got married, the bride was 5 months pregnant. The reason that is is interesting is that my mother was pregnant with me when she married my father, and got some criticism from her aunts as a consequence. Those aunts did not apparently know that their own parents were in the same boat. It pleased my mum to find out, anyway.

Otherwise, I've learned that one of my ancestors was married at age 15 (legal in Scotland until the mid-1800s) and that the surnames Stratton and Stirton are the same surname.


2:00pm on Saturday, 14th November, 2020:

Miss Nice


Who's that? Why, it's Miss Nice, the Nurse.

Product placement has certainly become more subtle since 1928.


8:49am on Friday, 13th November, 2020:

Doubled Up


This bug that's going around threw quite a spanner in the works for my lecture plans.

Normally, I'd give 10 lectures and 10 classes for CE317 and 9 of each for CE217. However, the classes as designed are pretty well impossible without people being in close contact with one another. I might be able to salvage one or two by using online services, but the series is basically wrecked.

I therefore took the decision to convert all my classes to lectures and pre-record the lot. Some 4 or 5 in CE317 are revamped discussion classes without the discussion, in which I talk about a paper but don't ask individual students what they think. There are timetabled Zoom slots in which the discussions can take place if any of the students have something to say: these will either be wildly successful or embarrassing failures (I expect the latter).

Apart from these CE317 ex-classes and one CE217 one, everything else I've had to throw out and replace with new material. This has involved splitting some lectures in two or three and expanding the components, or creating new lectures from scratch. This is very time-consuming. Normally, updating a lecture for the next academic year takes maybe half an hour, with an extra couple of hours for one or two if I decide to throw out old material and bring in new material. This year, maybe a third of what were lectures last year only took me half an hour. The rest took me anything from half a day to three days.

Anyway, yesterday I finished the last one. I now have slides for 38 two-hour lectures. All that remains is for me to record myself delivering them. I'm hoping I'll have most of them in the can by Christmas.

Initial university-wide feedback from students suggests that they actually like pre-recorded lectures. I've also noticed that my final-year project supervisees are doing a lot more work than many have in previous years. It would appear that locking them up in their rooms with nothing else to do increases their productivity somewhat. Of course, what happens when they're allowed back into daylight is another matter.


8:47am on Thursday, 12th November, 2020:

Hour Ride


Most weekdays I go out for a ride on my bike in an effort to prevent me from getting even less unfit than I am already. Normally, my rides are half an hour long, but today I thought I might go for a full hour.

I was gone for a full hour, too. The chain slipped off my bike after 15 minutes and it took me another 30 to get it back on again.


9:05am on Wednesday, 11th November, 2020:



I'm a little suspicious of this Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, largely because I was always going to be suspicious of whichever vaccine made a claim to have come "first" in a perceived race. I've seen enough games launch prematurely in an attempt to get the jump on competitors that I'm not impressed by glory-seeking.

I'd like to know more about how it works, though. The way I understand it, the vaccine turns your own cells into machines that produce pieces of the virus which the immune system can latch onto and destroy. This means that should the virus itself appear, the defences are in place to see it off.

That sounds swell, but I don't know for how long the cells produce pieces of the virus. Do they do it just once? If so, that's fine. Do they do it maybe a couple of dozen times? That's going to be OK too. Do they do it indefinitely? That sounds as if it could cause problems in the long term. Do they do it until the cells themselves are destroyed by the immune system? That doesn't sound good at all. Maybe the second dose of the vaccine turns it off.

I think I'll have to wait for an explanation to appear using language accessible to non-viroligists.


3:40pm on Tuesday, 10th November, 2020:



There were 14 pigeons on our lawn when I picked up my phone to take a picture of them, honest.


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Copyright © 2020 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).