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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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10:26am on Saturday, 4th February, 2023:

Shepherds

Comment

Red sky at night, shepherd's delight.
Red sky at morning, shepherd's warning.
Grey sky at night, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical phenomenon the shepherd is going to miss.



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9:38am on Friday, 3rd February, 2023:

Buses

Outburst

It's the Global Game Jam today. I have to be at Essex University for the start, which for us is 4pm.

Also, we're having our drive relaid today. I won't be able to get the car out of the garage. This means I'll be taking the bus.

So, which bus?

The First Bus web site confidently tells me that buses leave West Bergholt (the village where I live) at 3 minutes past the hour. There's a map and a journey planner and everything. It also links to a .PDF of the full timetable. This confidently tells me that the bus leaves at 15 minutes past the hour. OK, so I guess I aim for 3 minutes past and wait 12 minutes if it's wrong.

Buses from Colchester to the university are more frequent, basically every 15 minutes. To arrive by 15:30, the latest I can catch would leave at 14:47. To make that bus, I'd need to take the one at 14:03 (which would get to Colchester in time) or the 13:15 (because the 14:15, if that's when it leaves, wouldn't get there in time).

Somewhat irritatingly, it only takes me two hours to walk to the university. If I set off at 13:30 I could be there by 15:30. Also, my legs are more reliable than the buses.

[10 minutes later]

OK, so the people doing the drive asked me if I'm going to need the car and have let it out before they started ripping up the tarmac. My car is now roadside, in among four or five construction company vehicles. Yay! No bus for me!

At around 2am yesterday, someone broke into a car in the pub car park about a hundred metres away at the end of the street.

I shall be putting fresh batteries into our CCTV cameras.



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7:29am on Thursday, 2nd February, 2023:

Start-Ups

Weird

I saw this presentation poster at the university yesterday:



Hmm.

Elon Musk went to the University of Pretoria (then transferred to Queen's University, then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, then Stanford University from which he dropped out); Deborah Meaden went to Brighton Technical College (which is not a university); Mark Zuckerberg went to Harvard University (from which he dropped out); Oprah Winfrey went to Tennessee State University (from which she graduated 15 years late).

Obviously, this is why you should go to Essex University.



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2:59pm on Wednesday, 1st February, 2023:

Striking Behaviour

Anecdote

I had to pass through a picket line to get to work today, because many of my colleagues are on strike. I'm not a member of the University and College Union because I'm part-time; this means that if I didn't go to work today, my job would be at risk (only union members are protected from disciplinary action). Fortunately, there's no intimidation on the picket lines (it's all very civilised); you just have to take one of their leaflets and you're through.



The union's grievances are valid and apply across the whole university secotr. The strike therefore also applies across the whole university sector (or at least ones where the UCU has a foothold). However, because the strike is across the whole sector, this means that individual universities can't come to agreements with union branches. It doesn't matter how much Essex University is willing to concede, that won't end the strike.

My own frustrations with my job are related to, but more specific than, how the government treats universities or how the university sector treats Essex University. They're to do with how Essex University treats our department, the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. Essex University is basically a Social Sciences university, and a very good one at that. The science departments have gradually been closed down (Chemistry), merged into other departments (Physics merged with Electronic Engineering, which then merged with Computer Science) or saved by spinning off something non-core but wildly popular (Biology begat Sports Science). The university tried to close down Mathematics a few years ago, until Essex County Council put a stop to it on the grounds that you can't call yourself a university if you don't have a mathematics department.

CSEE, Law and the Essex Business School are the largest departments and are effectively that cash cows that let the rest of the university flourish. However, they also drag it down. This is because the larger a department is, the less its students like it, so the lower the ratings they give us in the polls that are used to inform those newspapers that produce university ranking tables. The lower student survey marks also arise because we're over-worked. People in Psychology or History or Philosophy are also over-worked, of course, but not to the extent that we are. Our problem is that we need more members of staff than we have.

OK, so we do have all the positions we need to cover the work we have to do, but they're not all filled. We're about 20 members of staff short. This puts pressure on our existing members of staff, some of whom snap and leave for universities with a better staff/student ratio than us; ours is good in theory, but not currently in practice. You can't really blame them, but a high turnover among junior members of staff perpetuates the problem. A shortage of office space doesn't help, either.

As a result of all this, CSEE regularly under-performs in all the university's Key Performance Indicators. If we weren't a cash cow, we'd be in danger of closure (we've been close in the past), but we are so we're not. However, the university is constantly foisting new initiatives upon us to improve our KPIs. This wouldn't be so bad if they removed the previous initiatives that didn't work, but the new ideas all go on top of these. It bogs us down. Having to mark 200 assignments is one thing; having to mark them within three weeks of the deadline is another; having to mark the assignments that came in a week late within two weeks is a third; having to provide meaningful feedback is a fourth. Including the marking of exam papers, we're supposed to spend no more than 30 minutes assessing each student. It takes more like 75 minutes — or 30 minutes if you give assignments a superficial read and don't care about feedback quality.

Sorting out this kind of departmental suffering is what I'd go on strike for. Unfortunately, the way to fix the problem is to reduce student numbers for a period so that staff don't leave at the same rate they arrive. Reducing student numbers would make us no longer a cash cow, though, which would weaken our position and undoubtedly lead to other reasons why staff would leave (having to share offices, for example). It could also make the university ponder once more on the topic of whether CSEE was a good fit with its brand.

Ultimately, we have too many universities in the UK and too many people attending them who are not academically inclined. I don't see that the UCU will be striking to reduce the number of universities and so make many of its members redundant, so we're pretty well stuck as we are.

Fortunately, I have to retire within 4 years anyway so don't really care how things go after that.



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10:10am on Tuesday, 31st January, 2023:

Common ID

Outburst

In December, the European Parliament's report on consumer protection in online video games was released. I've only just got around to reading it. This is the penultimate paragraph:



This illustrates one of the problems that the EU has. Decisions are made with the best of intentions by a consensus of smart, highly-educated people who nevertheless don't think through the consequences of their deliberations, lacking as they do sufficient knowledge in all subject matters. It's why we have all those irritating messages on web sites that we habitually click through and so accept all kinds of nefarious cookies.

A European identity verification system will work about as well as the one in South Korea, which is to say badly. It's irritating for honest people and easily-subverted by dishonest people.

How will players outside of the EU play games based in the EU? Is the EU's identity verification system going to work for them, too? Well no, it isn't. Even if somehow it did, Americans aren't going to sign up for it in droves, and neither are players in the Far East. This proposal is effectively saying that games with servers in the EU can only be played by players who are in the EU. Expanding the EU's games industry to the borders of the EU is building a massive walled garden, not extending the EU's civilising reach.

Will companies with servers outside the EU have to verify that users coming from the EU are who they say they are? EVE Online is a single-instance game with its servers in London. Are EU players still going to need their identities verified, or can game operators avoid all this hassle simply by siting their servers in Switzerland? If EU players will still have to have their identities verified when they play games based outside the EU, how will that work? Using some kind of bureaucratic identity-verification system within the EU that the game queries? If so, can anyone query that system, or only authorised people? How do I get the MUD2 server authorised?

Finally, if the EU does manage to impose some kind of foolproof ID system on hapless users, the next dictator who comes along will be very thankful.

I'm sure that the EU committee did consult experts. I'm not sure that the experts were experts in all the right areas. I'm also not sure that they were listened to with appropriate weighting.

That's decision-making by committee for you.



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12:34pm on Monday, 30th January, 2023:

Time Flies

Weird

Greater Anglia has an original way of stopping passengers from complaining about late trains.





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2:03pm on Sunday, 29th January, 2023:

Hidden

Weird

To be honest, hiding it in plain sight hasn't really worked.





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10:20am on Saturday, 28th January, 2023:

Dice Men

Anecdote

Before Christmas, I ordered a copy of Dice Men by Sir Ian Livingstone and not-Sir Steve Jackson. My wife immediately commandeered it to give me as a Christmas present, along with Eric Zimmerman's The Rules we Break. I started reading the latter on Boxing Day, on the grounds that I might be able to use some of it in my lectures this term (and indeed I did change a couple of slides as a resul); it's an amazing piece of work, which I recommend to anyone who teaches game design.

Having finished The Rules we Break last week, this morning I began Dice Men.

In the 1970s, Ian and Steve used to run a games magazine called Owl & Weasel. Only one copy ever came into my possession, and it failed to persuade me to subscribe to it; I didn't have much money, and we already subscribed to Games & Puzzles, which was bigger and had more articles. O&W ran for 25 issues before being replaced by the much more famous White Dwarf as the house magazine of Games Workshop.

The front covers of all copies of O&W are reproduced in Dice Men. They were a real blast from the past for me — not because I'd read them (I hadn't) but because of the names they mentioned. The UK games scene was not large at the time, and was serviced by around 40 play-by-mail zines. Most people subscribed to several, and some rich few subscribed to all; as a result, circles overlapped. Thus, even though I didn't subscribe to O&W, I came across many names on these front pages that I recognised: Don Turnbull, David Watts, Steve Doubleday, Lew Pulsipher, Hartley Patterson, Edi Birsan, Allan Ovens, Gyles Brandeth (yes, that Gyles Brandeth), Pete Swanson, probably others I don't recall right now.... This is in addition to other names sprinkled throughout the book's text that I also know from my teens, including several contributors to Games & Puzzles (among whom Steve Jackson can be counted).

I dare say that as the book continues through to the Fighting Fantasy era I'll lose my connection with it, but for the moment, for me, it's unadulterated nostalgia.



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12:59pm on Friday, 27th January, 2023:

Photo ID

Anecdote

For the up-coming local elections, voting in person will now require a photo ID.

I don't like the idea of this. It's a step in the direction of identity cards, which I regard as a tool of oppression. Given that in-person vote-stealing hardly ever happens and that postal voting fraud (which doesn't need any photo ID) is much easier, it's hard to see why this inconvenience is justified on purely electoral grounds. More people are likely to lose their vote by not having photo ID than are likely to lose it because someone else claimed to be them at the polling station.

If you don't have a photo ID, OK, you can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate online. All you need is your National Insurance number and a photograph. Well, all someone needs is that. If you don't have "online", you can ask for an application form over the phone and send it by post to the council. If you don't have a phone, oh well.

In my view, this moves the locus of corruption from easily-imprisonable individuals to future governments who want to ensure that the people who vote really are the people who will vote (for that future government).

I haven't looked up whether the union of postal workers has strikes planned for late April and early May.



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9:14am on Thursday, 26th January, 2023:

Circular

Anecdote

I was in London yesterday evening to sit on a panel for an informal group called the Crypto Circle. The members are all people who are interested in crypto-currencies, mainly on the investment side (seed fund investors, hedge fund managers, regulatory bodies, banks) but also including tools creators and commentators. The reason I was on the panel was because of the conflation of blockchain, web3 and metaverse concepts. People seemed to be of the opinion that blockchain tech would be a boon for gamers and that this would extend to the metaverse as a whole. I was invited merely to explain why it wasn't all quite as blissfully rosy as they perhaps thought it was.

In the end, the panel didn't get much to say; members of the audience started asking each other questions. I did explain some of the issues arising from the use of NFTs and play-to-earn for games, but people either ignored them, brushed them aside or doubled down on them.

Example: the psychological phenomenon known as the overjustification effect means that if people are doing something for an intrinsic reward and you start giving them extrinsic rewards for it, they lose their intrinsic motivation. Imagine if you were reading a book and were paid for every page you read: after a while, you'd be reading pages because you wanted paying, not because of the content. It's the same with games. If people are playing your game for fun and you start giving them money for playing, they won't find the game so much fun. If fun is what they seek, they'll play another game. This fact was completely ignored when I brought it up. I may as well have been telling people how much my great aunt liked cats for all the impact it had.

Example: moving objects between games in an isomorphic fashion has been tried before in the text days (when it was much easier to implement) and completely flopped. There is no reason why a game would accept any non-worthless NFT object minted by a different publisher and plenty of reasons why they wouldn't want their own objects to be transportable to competitors. Also, it takes time: if I sell you my NFT sword in-game, there has to be a blockchain check to make sure I haven't already sold it to someone else out-of-game. The longer the blockchain, the more time it takes — it could be seconds; worse, you can't lock the blockchain so that the sword can't be sold in the window between the game's verification that you own the sword and its transference in-game to another player. This objection was brushed aside by saying that non-blockchain databases can handle that. Well yes, they can, easily so — so why the need for a blockchain?

Example: dupe bugs are ruinous. If transactions are recorded on a blockchain and someone finds a way of creating multiple copies of an object then selling them, there's no way of rolling that back. All you can do is remove the objects that the blockchain records point to in the game. The response here was that you don't mint objects in the game (which is expensive anyway), you only do it out of the game; the objects in the game are in a regular database. So, all that rhetoric about empowering players because they "really own" objects is just hot air?

Example: the discussion about regulations was at the level of high finance. I pointed out that for most players and developers, that's not what they'd care about. They'd be more worried about the tax implications. If your World of Warcraft gold is a crypto-currency that can be traded openly (as opposed to its being a game token traded illicitly, as it is at present) then there are tax implications. Every gold piece you acquired would be subject to income tax; every gold piece you spent would be subject to sales tax. Even NPCs could end up having to pay tax! This was doubled-down on by saying that players would be pleased to be paying tax, because that meant they would be getting income. Well in a room full of achievers, that went down well; other player types wouldn't necessarily be quite so happy to be having to submit tax forms for all this.

No-one came up to talk to me after the panel, except someone I've known for years who's currently coding one of these inter-game transfer systems. He's trying to create a kind of markup language to describe objects in a manner that gives a recipient a full enough description to be able to decide how to recreate the object in their own virtual world and whether they want to accept it in the first place. I had already pointed out that we've long had a way of converting an object in one game into one of equal value in another: money. Sell your bow and arrow for cash or crypto-tokens, then use those to buy what you want in the other game. There's no need to decide how to translate it into a space game world where ranged weapons are far more commonplace; you will always get a replacement of the exact same value in the second world as what your bow and arrow gave you in the first world.

I won't be getting any consultancy work out of this event. I wasn't expecting any, to be honest, as I was basically an atheist in a room full of worshipers. Still, at least I was heard if not necessarily listened to.



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2:16pm on Wednesday, 25th January, 2023:

Extras

Miscellaneous

Before I ordered the chips to eat with my burger, I should have checked that the burger didn't already come with chips. I'd paid for the chips, though, so didn't want to waste my money by not eating them. Unfortunately, when I got home, my wife had this huge pasta meal she'd made for us.

That was yesterday. I'm sure I'll feel less stuffed by some time later today.

Maybe I shouldn't have had the cream cake, come to think of it; or the Terry's Chocolate Orange.



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8:28am on Tuesday, 24th January, 2023:

Muller #33

Anecdote

Here's the latest addition to my collection of playing cards:



These are by Muller & Co. of Switzerland. They're in good condition: gilt-cornered, in their original box. The only disappointment is that there are supposed to be 54 cards but only 52 were on sale — the jokers are missing (because some people collect jokers, so splitting a pack can get you more money). I did know this when I bought my pack, but it's still a shame.

Several companies manufactured Swiss Costumes cards, including C. L. Wüst and (my favourite) Dondorf. Muller mined the same seam with its whist #33 "La Suisse Historique" line, of which the pack I bought is an example. All of these fancy Swiss patterns are characterised by the pictorial aces, which depict scenes of Swiss cities or landmarks, and by rotationally-asymmetric picture cards that represent different regions of Switzerland. They often have an eidelweiss motif on the backs (this one does). You'll note that although Muller uses French to name its Historical Switzerland line , the picture cards have English-language abbreviations on them: they're intended to be sold as souvenir cards for an English-speaking audience.

Muller started manufacturing this pattern quite late — 1925. They switched box colour to peach in 1940, and changed the logo on it before then, so my pack probably dates 1925-1935. The print quality looks good in the scan, but it doesn't have the same lustre as Dondorf's cards do.

Still, it does look classy, so that's why I bought it.



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11:54am on Monday, 23rd January, 2023:

Surprise Biscuit

Weird

This little chap seems surprised to be on a biscuit packet.





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10:29am on Sunday, 22nd January, 2023:

You Have Won

Miscellaneous

I'm now getting emails telling me that I've won things that I searched for before Christmas.

Spamming is getting closer to phishing every day.



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10:12am on Saturday, 21st January, 2023:

Pass 2

Anecdote

The votes for the least-worst covers for my book-in-progress Dheghōm are in.

There was a clear preference for cover 12 among people who had read the book, with the related cover 3 showing well, too. Cover 9 also had some traction among readers. Cover 7 was by far the favourite of people who hadn't read the book, although cover 12 (again) also placed.

Taking this on board, along with the comments I received (some of which were extremely helpful, if not always within my abilities to act upon very well), I've put together another set of possibilities. Most of them are variations on the winning themes from pass 1, but some combine themes and a few are new.

The resulting covers are shown below. Because thumbnails don't give all the details, I put full-sized versions at https://youhaventlived.com/dhegh%C5%8Dm/pass2.htm. Click on the thumbnail there and it will open the big version.

Let me know what you think, please, good or bad...





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