The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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8:04am on Monday, 5th June, 2023:

Car Boot Sale


Yesterday, we invested in a pitch at a car boot sale to dispose of stuff that my mother owned which conceivably had value to other people, plus some things of my daughter's and some other odds and ends that we no longer needed.

For the benfit of people who live in places where cars don't have boots, a car boot sale is like an outdoor flea market. Although there are professionals who use them to sell assorted goods of possibly suspect origin, most of the sellers are ordinary households getting rid of objects they don't need to people who do need them. No-one ever declares their earnings from car boot sales as tax, and the government never chases them up on it because it costs more to do that than they get back. Things typically sell for small amounts — 50p, £1, a few pounds at most — and bartering is always worth a try.

Our pitch was unusual because we priced up most of the items we had on sale. Few other pitches did that. It turns out that this is a good move, because otherwise people know where they stand. For example, I almost bought a booklet of parlour games from another seller, but didn't because I didn't want to ask and for the guy to look me up and down to decide how much I could afford to pay (my wife's reaction: "Why not? You'd have got it cheap").

Most sellers were selling the same kind of things, basically clothes, children's toys and household goods. There weren't many selling glassware, which we had a lot of and sold quite a bit of, too. My mother had a knack of breaking exactly one item from any set, so we had numerous sets of 5 or sets of 3 for sale; next time, I'd remove one from a set of 5 and sell it as a set of 4, so people didn't think it's incomplete.

The car boot sale we went to was in a car park (Colchester's park & ride). This meant it was on tarmac, which was good because the ground was flat and unmuddy. It was bad because red spider mites were rampant and got everywhere. We thought at first we'd brought them with us, maybe on a garden gnome or something, but no, everyone else had them, too.

We didn't sell many clothes, mainly because it was too windy to hang them on a clothes horse for inspection. My daughter will be flogging those online.

We did sell a lot of brassware. Did you know horse brasses could be used as buckles on home-made baskets? Or as coasters? Or as actual horse brasses? Also popular were items of jewellery, ornaments and glassware. Books and CDs/DVDs weren't of interest to buyers, though.

We took along my mother's small plates to sell at 20p each. We didn't sell any for the first three hours, then in the last half-hour we sold maybe 20 or 30 of them. Once couple bought 12 featuring places they'd visited, which they were going to use to decorate the kitchen of the house they were moving into in Bath. It's nice to know they went to someone who would appreciate them.

In the end, we sold plenty of things we weren't expecting to sell and failed to sell some things we thought were dead certs. It was more fun than I was expecting it to be, and after accounting for the £12 pitch fee we made about £120 in profit overall. OK, so as a pharmacist, my daughter could have racked up twice that amount working for the same period on a Sunday, but it was a bit more relaxing and we got to chat to some interesting people. I'd do it again if I had more bric-a-brac to dispose of.

I may regret not having put any suncream on.


7:19am on Sunday, 4th June, 2023:

Oyster Fair


We went to the Colchester Oyster Festival Medieval Fayre yesterday.

As usual, it was well worth £6 to get in, although unfortunately it cost £12. It was populated by regular folk and a very large assortment of people in medieval garb, plus some goths, some elves and some cavaliers.

This year, it wasn't raining, nor had it rained for several days, so for once we were able to walk around without ruining our shoes to mud.

We attend the Fayre largely because we want to support it, although there is a fudge stand there we particularly like. They had a new variety this year, "mango and white chocolate", which tasted exactly how you'd expect it to taste were its name "pineapple".

We also bought some ceramic coasters for our younger daughter, because they had robins on them and she wants them for Christmas. Yes, she does like to plan ahead.

On the way home, we noticed an enormous queue outside the police station — much longer than the one for the Medieval Fayre. It was mainly parents and children, there for an open day. I'd have been tempted to go myself, but I don't think they would have sold fudge.

Oh, we didn't have any oysters at the Medieval Fayre, in case you were wondering. There was a stall selling them, but I had an oyster once and found it to be akin to swallowing seafood-flavoured snot so I wasn't tempted. I'm going to stick to fudge (as, indeed, it sticks to me if it gets too warm).


9:31am on Saturday, 3rd June, 2023:



Earlier this week, my home town of Hornsea was featured in an episode of Great Coastal Railway Journeys. OK, so it hasn't had a railway since 1964, but that didn't stop Michael Portillo from visiting the "pretty coastal town" to spend his time largely looking at pottery.

Actually, it does look rather pretty from 500 feet up in the air.

Portillo also went to Spurn Point. I thought he was going to mention the railway that used to run there, the tracks of which were visible next to the road. However, as the road itself was taken by the sea nine years ago (which I didn't know), he didn't have much to say about that and talked about lifebelts instead.


11:42am on Friday, 2nd June, 2023:



At the top, how much ink was in my red pen before I started marking my CE217 exam scripts. At the bottom, how much ink was in my red pen after I finished marking my CE217 exam scripts.

Fortunately, I have a lot of red pens.


9:43am on Thursday, 1st June, 2023:



My PhD thesis concerned what I called "cross-level planning".

AI planning systems of the era could, given a set of actions, an initial state and a goal state, create a series of actions (i.e. a "plan") that when executed sequentially beginning in the initial state would lead to the goal state.

Initial state:
    I am in my office. Bus stop A is nearby my office. Bus stop B is nearby Colchester.
Final state:
    I am in Colchester. Bus stop A is nearby my office. Bus stop B is nearby Colchester.
    walk from location to nearby location; board bus at location; get off bus at location.
    Walk from office to bus stop A.
    Board bus at bus stop A.
    Get off bus at bus stop B.
    Walk from bus stop B to Colchester.

There were such things as "partial plans", which contained initial and goal states that had yet to be fleshed-out. For example, a partial plan for getting from my office to Heathrow terminal 5 might departure lounge be:
    Get to Colchester.
    Get from Colchester to Heathrow.
    Get from Heathrow to terminal 5 departure lounge.
These steps would be expanded into sub-plans, then stitched together.

What planning systems couldn't do was mix actual planning actions into plans at different levels of abstraction. They couldn't, for example, create the following plan:
    Walk from office to bus stop A.
    Board bus at bus stop A.
    While on the bus, think of what to do in Colchester.
    Get off bus at bus stop B..
    Walk from bus stop B to Colchester.
    Execute the plan that you thought of while on the bus.
This was the "Colchester bus problem", which I devised to illustrate the problem that cross-level planning solved. Although no other AI planning system could handle it, mine could. I'm not even sure that there are modern AI planning systems that can handle it, it was pretty innovative.

Modern AI non-planning systems, on the other hand...

Suppose that I am in my office and realise that I need to go to the nearby town to buy a present to give to my wife when I get home. To get to town I need to catch a bus. I want to give my wife a good present but I haven't yet decided what to buy, and it will take me time to think of something. When I arrive in town, the shops will be nearly closed, so I won't have time both to think of a present and to buy it. The bus is about to leave, but if I run I can catch it. What should I do to make sure I buy my wife a good present?

In this situation, it's important to prioritize both the quality of the present and making it to the shops before they close. Here's a suggested course of action to ensure you buy your wife a good present:

Catch the bus: Since the bus is about to leave, it's best to run and catch it. This will allow you to reach the town and have some time to browse the shops before they close.

Think of gift ideas during the bus ride: While you're on the bus, utilize the time to brainstorm potential gift ideas for your wife. Consider her interests, hobbies, and preferences to come up with thoughtful and meaningful gift options. Make a mental list of potential presents to help narrow down your choices.

Prioritize your wife's preferences: Focus on finding a present that suits your wife's tastes and preferences rather than purchasing something hastily. It's important to show that you put thought into selecting a gift that resonates with her.

Optimize your shopping time: Once you arrive in town, quickly head to the nearest shops. Since the stores are about to close, make a beeline for the ones likely to have the type of gift you're considering. This will help you make the most of the limited shopping time available.

Seek assistance from store staff: If you're struggling to decide on a specific gift or need help locating it within the store, don't hesitate to ask the store staff for assistance. They can provide suggestions or guide you to relevant sections, saving you valuable time.

Consider alternative shopping options: If the shops in town are already closed when you arrive, explore alternative solutions. Look for 24-hour stores or consider online shopping, as many platforms offer express delivery services. This will give you the flexibility to choose a thoughtful gift even if you couldn't buy it in person.

Remember, the effort and consideration you put into selecting a gift for your wife matter more than the timing of the purchase. Communication and expressing your intentions to her will also ensure she understands your situation and appreciates the thoughtful gesture, regardless of the specific timing of the gift.

If you'd done that 40 years ago, ChatGPT, you'd have got a PhD for it.


8:47am on Wednesday, 31st May, 2023:



I was asked by a colleague yesterday whether I would be the second supervisor for a PhD student he's hoping to take on. PhDs are supposed to take 3 years but often take longer, but I'm 63 and the retirement age is 67 so I figured I should be OK.

I thought I'd better check the actual date I could receive my state pension, though, so logged in to the government web site. I received a pleasant surprise. It turns out that yes, 67 is the retirement age, but the change from 65 to 67 wasn't all done at once. If you were born at the right time, you get to retire at 66. It seems that I was born at the right time: my retirement date is my birthday, 2026, not 2027 as I was expecting (and have been telling everyone it is for years).

I checked my wife's retirement date. She's two years younger than me, and she starts receiving her state pension on her birthday in 2029.

When I told her this, her response was "So I'm retiring three years from now, then".


8:26am on Tuesday, 30th May, 2023:



This is what happens when you pay a professional to create your web site then give content-management responsibility to someone whose heart isn't quite in it.

https://damonshotel.co.uk/faqs/, if you were wondering.


12:51pm on Monday, 29th May, 2023:



Written exam scripts at the university come in booklets.

Golden yellow booklets are for regular candidates. Mauve booklets are for candidates who have some kind of specific learning difficulty, which is marked on the front (dyslexia, for example). Blue sheets are for candidates who didn't turn up to the exam.

One of the exam scripts I had to mark this year was not golden yellow, though. It was a kind of greeny yellow.

I have no idea why this single candidate had their own, personal booklet colour. Maybe it's some cosmetic item you can pay for at the exam shop.

Oh, because I know you're interested: four candidates mis-spelled the word "lose" or a derivative and were marked accordingly. One spelled it wrongly three times in the same question, but I only counted it once.

The candidate who wrote "lossing" attracted my wrath but was spared punishment.


11:20am on Sunday, 28th May, 2023:

Manga Queen


One of the things I like about diffusion models for images is that I can get pictures created just for fun that are so ephemeral that there's no way would I pay an artist to create them for me. Enjoy Midjourney's version of Elizabeth II in a manga style.


8:46am on Saturday, 27th May, 2023:



Hmm, I was wondering why the students who spelled the word "mimicry" as "mimicy" in my CE217 exam outnumbred the ones who spelled it correctly by five to one. It turns out it was mis-spelled it in the exam question (twice!). I don't know how it happened; it's fine in the .docx versions of the paper and answer paper I have, but it's not in the .pdf version that the students sat.

I missed it, the checker missed it and the external examiner missed it. Fortunately, it wasn't crucial and no-one has lost marks over it. Still, it's a little embarrassing.

This doesn't, of course, explain why students spelled the word "committee" variously as committe, commitee, comitte, commite, comitee, commitie and committy — despite its being spelled correctly in the exam paper.


8:51am on Friday, 26th May, 2023:



Plumber: Are you doing anything interesting for the bank holiday?


11:33am on Thursday, 25th May, 2023:



What I told the plumber: "I'm free any time except 11-12".

What the plumber read: "I'm free 11-12".

Every time. EVERY TIME!


7:48am on Thursday, 25th May, 2023:



Here's another thing that belonged to my mother's second husband, Walt, that has now come into my possession:

It's a trophy. The words on it say: "HULL SCHOOLS' CUP. FINALISTS. NEWLAND AV. 1937-38".

This was one of the few possessions that Walt brought with him when he left his first wife, so it must have meant a lot to him. Given that it wasn't given for actually winning the Hull Schools' Cup, just for making it to the final, there must have been another story behind it.

Nowadays there are lots of Hull Schools' Cups, based on year groups. I don't suppose that the winners get silver-plated trophies, let alone the runners up. Newland Avenue School no longer exists, having recently been converted into housing (its buildings beings one of the best Victorian constructions in Hull to have survived bombing in World War 2).

All people who had sentimental attachment to this cup are now deceased, so I have to decide what to do with it. I'm sure there are people who collect obscure 89-year-old cups as a hobby, but eBay doesn't seem to be stuffed with offerings.

Oh well, recycling it is, then.


4:20pm on Wednesday, 24th May, 2023:

Non-Games for Actors


I've just finished reading Games for Actors and Non-Actors, by Augusto Boal.

I do on occasion like to pick up books about games from different perspectives, and thought this might be a good one. Well, it's probably good for actors (and possibly some non-actors), but the games it describes are really no such thing — they're exercises. Yes, most of them are playful, and there may be some mechanics in there, but on the whole they're not games.

Not to mind, anyway: I did benefit from the different viewpoint, particularly in its playing with physicality. There were also some very nice observations in it and some excellent explanations (I may present the one on symbolism to my students because its clarity is so good).

I also learned that if actors have to go through this stuff to learn their craft, I'm glad I never took up acting. Some of those exercises, I would not wish to participate in — and would not wish my preconceptions to be changed such I did want to participate in them, either. They seemed thoroughly oppressive to me. This is somewhat ironic, given that Boal invented and developed the "theatre of the oppressed", which many of these exercises concern.

As it happens, the theatre of the oppressed does seem to me to be a useful way of identifying and suggesting solutions to personal, social and (especially) political issues as experienced by individuals. It wouldn't overthrow any oppressors directly, but it can work to raise consciousness of oppression.

One of the other forms of performance, though, "invisible theatre", left me cold. It involves setting up initially-scripted, part-improvised performances that take place among members of the public who don't know it's a performance. This may be well-meaning and intended to give people reason to examine their own beliefs and prejudices, but it presses the same buttons for me as practical jokes do — it asserts a power imbalance and undermines the everyday trust that people are predisposed to show to strangers.

On the whole, then, I'm glad I read it but I won't be looking for more texts along the same lines.

Now to decide which of the four books that arrived while I was reading this one to read next (or which of the eight books I already had lined up before them).


11:54am on Tuesday, 23rd May, 2023:

Samwell Tarly


My wife's Funko Mystery Mini Game of Thrones series 3 rendition of Samwell Tarly is too tall compared to the other figurines in the series.

I haven't read the books, mind you, so perhaps the character really is that much taller than the other characters. If so, the actor should have acted taller in the TV series, then.


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