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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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9:02am on Wednesday, 12th May, 2021:

Updates

Outburst

I wasn't intending to spend two and a half hours yesterday evening trying to make Microsoft Outlook behave, but I did.

The content of emails wasn't showing. Emails I sent showed what I'd typed until I hit return, then the text disappeared. It was all still present (I could select all and copy it, then paste it into Notepad and see it) but it was invisible. Sometimes, I could see the text for a split second before it disappeared. Sometimes, I could see the first line of the email but not the rest.

My AVG anti-virus software had just done an update so I put the blame on that. It's usually AVG's fault when something weird happens, so I uninstalled it. That didn't help, so I had to install it all over again.

I was reluctant to uninstall and reinstall Outlook because I didn't want to lose all those Zoom-linked appointments I have in the calendar. I messed around with some settings, which didn't work, then I spent more time than I intended attempting to get everything to look like it did before I made the changes (at which I failed). I don't know what the font is I use for my Deleted Items folder, but it's not the one it says it is; it's the one I want for all my folders, though.

It occurred to me that when AVG restarted following its earlier update, there was a message about installing updates. Could it be that there was a Windows update at the same time? Hmm, if so then perhaps reverting to a previous version of Outlook would fix the issue? I didn't want to revert all of Windows, though, just Outlook.

One of the first things I'd done when I'd found my problem was to look to see if anyone else had it. People do have plenty of problems with Outlook, and there are many web sites cluttering the first few pages of a Google search that insist they can solve them, but there was nothing about my particular problem. I checked again, though, looking specifically for the magic word OfficeC2RClient.exe . There, 30 minutes earlier, was a link to a post from someone in New Zealand who had encountered the problem and who listed the version number of Outlook I needed to use to revert it. Google had managed to index the forum and return it in its search, albeit some distance from the front page.

I typed in the magic words; an old version of Outlook was downloaded; my problem went away. Phew! Now I could send the email I wanted to send two and a half hours earlier.

I don't like Outlook and wouldn't use it except that both Essex University and Uppsala University insist that I do, and I have all my past emails archived in it.

If a hacker or disgruntled programmer got access to Microsoft's Windows 10 updater, that would be quite bad.



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10:40am on Tuesday, 11th May, 2021:

No Detriment

Comment

The university has a "no detriment" policy regarding assessments for the academic year 2020/2021. This is because of the pandemic, of course. There are three "safety nets" in place, as follows:

Safety Net #1 (helping progression)
If you fail a module, you'll automatically be offered a chance at reassessment, free of charge. Reassessment will be uncapped, so you can still obtain high marks, and it won't count as one of the three attempts at an assessment you normally get.

This seems fair enough to me, although it does look as if students who pass by a tiny margin will be in a worse position than if they'd failed by the same margin.

Safety Net #2 (addressing failure)
The Examination Boards will automatically take into account the effects of the pandemic when looking at marks. However, if you haven't done as well as you could have done because of circumstances beyond your control, you can fill in an Extenuating Circumstances form. You don't need to submit any evidence to support your claim.

This looks a little alarming on the face of it, because it effectively lets students re-do assessments at will. I don't know what happens if the reassessment mark is lower than the original one, but I suspect that the higher mark would stand. This would mean that personal life aside, there's no reason for students not to hand in an Extenuating Circumstances form, thereby gaining a shot at obtaining better marks. I guess the rationale behind Safety Net #2 is to address the point I raised about Safety Net #1, so people who scrape a pass aren't worse off than people who only just miss out on one. It could mean a lot of reassessments for us to mark over the summer, though.

Safety Net #3 (comparison)
Marks for each module will be compared with marks for the previous three years to make sure they're in line. If they're not, then actions will be considered to make sure the students aren't disadvantaged.

Basically, this means they'll scale marks if they're lower than they typically are for the module, but they'll leave well alone if they're higher. For larger modules, this makes sense; for modules with only a small number of students, though, it doesn't. A module with only four students on it could conceivably have all of them weak or all of them strong. Comparing a weak year to a previous strong year would be giving a false impression of the students' abilities.

I expect the overall effect of these three Safety Nets to be that our students will perform splendidly this year, and the university's target of having 60% of undergraduates score 60% or more in their assessments will easily be met.



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10:58am on Monday, 10th May, 2021:

Whitebell Time

Anecdote

It's whitebell time!



These mutant bluebells are on the way to Hillhouse Wood.

I'm not all that impressed by white bluebells, but at least it shows they don't have to be blue. If plant breeders could make them the colours of other hyacinths, I'd be up for planting some in the garden. Redbells, orangebells, yellowbells, blackbells, ...

They probably do sell these if I were to look hard enough to find them, but I bet they'd be expensive. Black dandelions are.



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5:08pm on Sunday, 9th May, 2021:

Councillor Jenny

Comment

The results of the local elections for the Easton ward of Bristol City Council are finally in.

It appears that my daughter is now Councillor Jenny.



This post has been brought to you by a proud dad.



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2:40pm on Sunday, 9th May, 2021:

Bluebell Time

Anecdote

It's bluebell time!



This is Hillhouse Wood, West Bergholt, a 20-minute walk from our house.

It's also wild garlic time, but it's not in a good shape this year because people keep "foraging" it.



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11:23am on Saturday, 8th May, 2021:

Algorithm Failure

Comment





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9:20am on Friday, 7th May, 2021:

Exam Answers

Comment





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8:48am on Thursday, 6th May, 2021:

Voted

Anecdote

It's local elections day in the UK today, in which I get to decide which parties to help save their deposits in the face of the Conservative steamroller. As usual, I voted early because that way I don't have to queue.

This time, there were three elections at once, each with a different voting system. On the first, I got to vote for just one candidate. On the second, I got to vote for two candidates. On the third, I got to vote for two candidates but had to rank them as first or second. I invested them in attempts to get the Liberal Democrats and the Greens over the line, except for one of them that didn't have a Green candidate so I had to choose the least-patronising Labour candidate instead.

The sheets were helpfully colour-coded so I knew which ballot box to use. The salmon paper went in the pink box; the pale yellow paper went in the buff box; the white paper went in the white box. The ones intended for the pink box looked more of a buff colour than the ones intended for the buff box, but there was a man in position to ensure people put their papers in the right boxes so the people counting them didn't have too much sorting-out to do. Sorting out by colour is something I would actually trust a machine to do, so long as people still did the counting; that way, they could spot any errors. I wouldn't trust machines (or rather their operators) to do the actual counting, though.

We had some fancy new voting booths this time round, too, made of metal and (I think) fibreglass. Each booth had four tables at different heights so excceptionally tall people and people in wheelchairs could use the one that worked for them. The old ones were made of wood and had probably been seeing service since the 1920s.

We had to bring our own pencils, a point which so distracted my wife that she forgot to take a face mask and had to borrow mine.



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11:55am on Wednesday, 5th May, 2021:

Persuasion

Comment

I was speaking to one of my Swedish students yesterday. He was coming out of the inoculation centre, having just had his second (Moderna) vaccination.

As the student is in his early 20s, I was somewhat surprised by this. In the UK, those in their 20s don't get a vaccine yet unless they have (or work/live with people who have) underlying health conditions or are front-line medical staff. Even people in their 20s who work in vaccine production facilities don't get the jab, which seems a little short-sighted to me but I'm not in charge. How come a Swede in his 20s got the vaccine?

I asked him, and he said that so many older people weren't taking the offer of vaccination that if you are in your 20s and want one, you can have one. I don't know the extent to which that's true, but I can certainly believe it.

The approach taken in the UK has been quite clever, I think. The authorities started off by offering the vaccine to those who worked for the NHS or in care homes or who were most at risk. The "most at risk" for COVID-19 are the elderly. The age at which vaccination was offered was then gradually lowered, so younger people could get it when their turn came (currently, you can get one if you're 40 or over).

Naturally, a bunch of people came along with edge cases arguing that their particular group (teachers, for example) needed to be allowed to be inoculated ahead of people not in that group who were older. The authorities held firm, however, and only opened up vaccination on a by-age basis.

This was a super-smart move. The people who were vaccinated first were all old enough to know the benefits of vaccination, having seen the effect it had on eradicating polio, and they were also in actual danger of dying if they contracted COVID-19. They were almost certain to take up the offer of a vaccine immediately. People younger than them saw the vaccine being offered but not to them, so felt they were missing out. They waited impatiently for their turn. If they'd been offered a vaccination from the get-go, they might have procrastinated, but when they're not being offered something that other people are being offered, well they want it! Thus, when it came to their turn, you bet they had their vaccination: they felt it was their right. Being made to wait for it wasn't fair!

This leveraging of indignance has paid dividends. The take-up of vaccination in the UK is exceptionally high as a result, except perhaps among communities with a culture that's less individualistic and more collective in its philosophy. The benefits of being vaccinated are plain to see, with infections dropping like a stone. We'll have herd immunity in a couple of months.

What impresses me most about this is that it was likely planned that way. The government's scientific advisory panels include psychologists and sociologists, and will have discussed the mechanisms by which people could be encouraged to be vaccinated. Making them wait for their turn rather than allowing anyone with a special-case story to jump the queue seems to have worked.

Having access to big supplies of vaccine also helps, of course, but if people are wary of being inoculated then it doesn't really matter how large your stocks are.

It turns out that some academics actually know their stuff. Who'd have thought?



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9:08am on Tuesday, 4th May, 2021:

On Canvas

Anecdote

It was 17 posts later.





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9:04am on Tuesday, 4th May, 2021:

Advertising

Weird

Some of the ads I see on Facebook are scarily super-specific. I look at the web site for Viz, the comic, then 30 seconds later Facebook presents me with an ad for a subscription to Viz.

Other ads are also super-specific, but incorrectly so. Since before Christmas, I've been receiving ads trying to persuade me to buy a comedy portrait of my pet's head superimposed on a human body. I don't have a pet. The ads have now changed tack and are trying to sell me a comedy portrait with two heads superimposed on it: my pet's and my husband's. I don't have one of those, either. Gawd knows how much money they've wasted on this.

Other ads invite me to watch videos I have watched under a minute earlier. Others invite me to register to vote in elections in the USA. Others try to tell me something in a foreign language. Others press me to follow celebrities unknown to me.

I'm quite happy with these ads, because I'm never tempted to buy anything.

Oh, it's deliberate, by the way: I switched off Facebook's setting for delivering targeted ads to make sure that the one page in four that is an ad is easily skippable. When I do see a targeted ad (like the one for Viz), I know it's used third-party cookies. It's such a rarity that it comes as a surprise, so I'm not tempted to take advantage of whatever opportunity it's offering me.

It'll be interesting to see if I'm delivered an ad for a cat's head on a general's body portrait immediately after posting this on Facebook.



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8:56am on Monday, 3rd May, 2021:

Never-Ending Book Bugs

Anecdote

Pass 6 through the printed version of my Lizzie Lott #3 book has now been completed. Here's how the bug list looks:



The number of changes is now getting to the level of diminishing returns. Every time I read the book from now on, I'm going to reduce the number of changes I want to make by only a handful, if at all. It's always like this with my writing: I get to a point where my aesthetic opinions have sufficient volatility that I'll find a fault once every 1,500 words or so. This is why I end my polishing as soon as I find no show-stoppers.

I was hoping I'd find no show-stoppers on this pass, but unfortunately there were three of them. One was precipitated by an earlier change in which I'd changed "Monsieur" to "Comrade" instead of "Citizen". Another was where I had said that the name plates on the buildings in a street had been pasted over with placards, then proceeded to have all but two of them completely readable. The final one was in the set-up for Lizzie Lott #4, which gave completely the wrong impression.

Fingers crossed that pass 7 will be the last one...



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9:51am on Sunday, 2nd May, 2021:

Diagnosis

Weird





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12:20pm on Saturday, 1st May, 2021:

Lose

Anecdote

I have begun to mark final-year projects.





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1:23pm on Friday, 30th April, 2021:

Holiday Weekend

Anecdote

Ah, a bank holiday weekend! Three days of doing nothing!

Well, perhaps that would have been the case were today not the deadline for final-year project reports, the demonstrations and orals for which begin on Tuesday.

I only have twelve of them to read.



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