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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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1:23pm on Wednesday, 27th May, 2015:

MicroMUD

Anecdote

Here's a screenshot for you:



This looks like MUD, but actually it's MicroMUD, written by Jon Stuart and Paul McCracken. This was a Commodore 64 version of the game that could be played single-player (with other players controlled by the computer) or multi-player (by daisy-chaining serial ports together). It was an amazing piece of work, given the constraints of the 64 — Jon and Paul used the memory on the disk drive controller to squeeze as much in as possible.

MicroMUD was released in 1987, at the end of the heyday of text adventures. Several reviewers thought it was supposed to be a text adventure and judged it as such, giving it low ratings. This didn't stop it winning awards, though!

If it had come out maybe a year earlier it would have sold more copies, but when it finally hit the shops the move from text to graphics was well under way and it didn't have the sales it might have done. I don't think Jon and Paul made much money from it (their agent, on the other hand...).

If you're interested in taking a look, the code is available here and the emulator to run the code is here. It's a real blast from the past for CBM64 users.

What's that? Did I play it myself? Nah, I had an Atari ST.



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3:00pm on Tuesday, 26th May, 2015:

Judge for Yourself

Comment

This cartoon was in yesterday's Daily Mirror:



Never mind who he is, who are you? Judges and magistrates in British courts (whether operating under English or Scottish law) don't use gavels. This man is clearly an auctioneer in a bad wig.

So many times do I see gavels being associated with British courts that I'm sure that most of the population must believe judges do use them here. Maybe if they took to using something clearly not a gavel — a shoe, perhaps, or a bring-out-your-dead bell — then that would go some way to correcting this false assumption.



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10:37am on Monday, 25th May, 2015:

Changing Times

Comment

The front-page headline of today's Daily Mirror:



Wait, what? He's an "X-Men movie addict", not a "video gamer"? Why's that?

Perhaps the results of the opinion poll they have on page 40 might be making its point:



Sorry, anti-games people. We've won, you've lost.



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2:56pm on Sunday, 24th May, 2015:

Eurovision Voting

Comment

I managed to remember today to look at the difference between the UK's jury vote and phone vote for Eurovision.

Here's the jury's top 10:


Here's the phone vote's top 10:

These aren't as dissimilar as I was expecting. The jury went for Cyprus, Germany and Slovenia where the rest of the population went for Lithuania, Poland and Serbia.

Personally, I'm with the Jury on Slovenia (which I really quite liked) and Cyprus (a sweet song but it was never going to win), but I didn't like the German entry (along with everyone else who watched the contest).

As for the jury vote, well the female half of the Lithuanian entry was good but the male half wasn't (and that kiss between them creeped me out). The vote in support of Poland may have something to do with the million or more Poles who are living in the UK at the moment. The Slovenian entry was an enormous woman whose song was about not judging people by how they look; fair enough, but I do feel entitled to judge her how she sang in a song contest, and she was only so-so.

I liked the Belgian entry a lot, and if I were the kind of person who actually voted in these competitions then he'd have got mine. I also liked the Estonian song as a song, as it had quite clever lyrics, but it was sung by a duo consisting of the man who wrote it and a woman he'd found on the Internet; unfortunately, he was occasionally flat and nowhere near as good as she was (although he did appear to be a moonlighting member of One Direction). The best performance of the night was the Russian singer who looked like Catherine Jenkins but had a terrific voice; I just wish she hadn't spent the remainder of the show crying.

If we don't enter Adele soon, one of the singers from other nations who are mimicking her style is going to win instead.



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3:19pm on Saturday, 23rd May, 2015:

Wild Flowers

Anecdote

What would you expect to see in an English meadow at this time of year?

Daisies, buttercups, forget-me-nots, speedwells, bluebells, red campion, dandelions, thistles; perhaps some fading cowslips and primroses;
towards the margins some encroaching brambles, nettles, dock, sedge parsley, honesty and periwinkle; random saplings from nearby trees testing their luck.

It's all very pretty, except when it's supposed to be your lawn you're looking at, not a meadow. My mower was only broken for three weeks!



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10:01am on Friday, 22nd May, 2015:

Inspired!

Comment

Knee-high Daleks. Just as bad-tempered and prone to extermination as regular Daleks, but they're only 50cm tall.

Just putting the idea out there...



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12:13pm on Thursday, 21st May, 2015:

One in the Eye

Anecdote

Two days ago, I got a call from Essex County Hospital saying that I had an eye appointment today at 11am. It seems they don't like to give a lot of warning.

Fortunately, I only had one meeting today (a supervisory meeting with my PhD student) which I was able to cancel (sorry, Joseph). I showed up 30 minutes early for my appointment, because they have some processing to do before you go under the knife.

This is the third time I've been to the hospital to get eyelid cysts looked at. The first time, I was told it was just a consultancy to see if surgery was needed, but the consultant whipped the cyst out there and then. The second time, I was told it was just a consultancy to see if surgery was needed, but it was no such thing and I had to wait around then have a full-blown eyelid operation. This time, I was told I'd be having surgery but when I spoke to the consultant it turned out just to be a consultancy to see if I needed it.

His verdict was that I was running low on tear glands so I should aim to avoid having the surgery if at all possible. He gave me some cream that ought to take the cysts down, which is worth a shot I suppose but it's anti-bacterial and I already tried that back in December. The consultant said that if it didn't get rid of the cysts in 2-3 months I should contact my GP to ask for an an appointment to have the cysts surgically removed. I told him I'd waited long enough already and wanted to go on the waiting list for surgery right now. That way, if the cream doesn't work then I'll be under the knife 3 months from now rather than 6. Surprisingly, the consultant acquiesced to this, so long as I contact the hospital in the event that the cream works.

So, it looks as if I'll continue to have an unsightly lump under my right eye for a while yet.



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8:54am on Thursday, 21st May, 2015:

Fraud

Anecdote

Apparently, while I was asleep I bought some airline tickets, some fast food in the USA and entry to a nightclub in Japan. These were all online transactions.

Fortunately, Amex suspected there might be some fraudulent activity going on and blocked it all.

I'll know if the email informing me of this was a sophisticated phishing scam if I don't get a replacement card through the post in the next couple of days...



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7:47am on Wednesday, 20th May, 2015:

Birthday Dog

Weird

Going through a pile of things to throw out ("Do we really still need this Castle Park events guide for 2009?") my wife came across this unused birthday card:



Here's a close-up of the dog's face:



That is a dog that doesn't want to be on a birthday card.

This card is so bad I'm not even going to sent it to my blind friend whose birthday it is this Saturday.



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5:32pm on Tuesday, 19th May, 2015:

No Losers

Anecdote

I finished marking the CE317 exam today and for the first time in years did not have to dock anyone a mark for mis-spelling the word "lose". It must be that my teaching has finally sunk in.

If I could have awarded a bonus mark for brightening up my morning, this student would have got it:





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7:37am on Monday, 18th May, 2015:

Pillars of Eternity

Miscellaneous

I finished playing Pillars of Eternity yesterday. It's a modern take on Baldur's Gate style games, and I really quite enjoyed it. It was exactly the kind of game I was looking for when I started, so thanks to the people who recommended it.

I played it on normal difficulty. It started out fine, then after a while it got hard — really hard. I was having to rest my party between every fight, and the fights just got harder and harder. I soldiered on, though, levelling up painfully slowly because I wasn't really completing many quests (which is where the bulk of experience points come from in the game). I kept running out of camping gear and the shops were low on stocks. All the locks were too hard to open and I kept running out of lockpicks, too. It was uncompromising, with no respite. I was glad I hadn't picked difficult mode if it was this heavy-going in normal mode.

Then, it suddenly got trivially easy. My character could solo hordes of enemies. Boss fights were laughable. Every lock could be opened with ease. A single arrow shot would down a front-line fighter. Mind-control creatures that had given me major pain were ineffective.

Maybe next time I'll visit the areas in the order they were designed to be visited.



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10:16am on Sunday, 17th May, 2015:

Headlines

Weird

From this week's Essex County Standard:



About what are the parents in the bus protesting?

So, you have four words to convey the notion that parents are protesting about buses. BUS PROTEST BY PARENTS would do it, but that's too passive. Instead, you go for PARENTS IN BUS PROTEST. That's putting the parents first, not the bus protest. Unfortunately, as it doesn't have a verb, it's not especially active either. It's also ambiguous, because you can read it as if it does have a verb — PROTEST — which renders it passive again. You could have removed the ambiguity by going with PARENTS' BUS PROTEST but you're worried that your readers' understanding of the use of apostrophes may be stressed by that.

Maybe you should just use more words? It worked for DEALER SHUNS THE TOILET FOR 23 DAYS TO HIDE DRUG WRAPS on page 16.



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1:36pm on Saturday, 16th May, 2015:

Fussy Eating

Anecdote

Our Sainsbury's is the second-largest Sainsbury's in the UK (there's a converted factory somewhere in London with more floor space). You might suppose that this would enable the store to stock a wide range of products, which is indeed the case.

This range does not, however, extend to Halal meat. As I'm an atheist, this isn't something I've had cause to notice before, but one of my younger daughter's university friends is visiting for a few days and she still likes the follow the eating tips that stopped people from dying of salmonella in the Middle East twelve hundred years ago. I therefore tried to buy some Halal meat in Sainsbury's today, but couldn't find any. I asked Customer Service, who checked with the in-store butcher, and was told that no, they don't do it.

I'm quite surprised at this revelation. Colchester isn't exactly a bastion of Islam, but I'd have thought there were enough practising Muslims at the university to justify a shelf or two of the stuff. Sainsbury's has a small section of foods from Poland that it put together for the benefit of homseick immigrants, so it's not as if they have a philosophical objection to over-charging anyone who has a minority dietary requirement. Maybe it's to do with having to use separate utensils for preparing Halal meat or something — not that you'd be able to tell the difference in a taste test afterwards.

Apparently, all lamb imported into the UK from New Zealand is Halal, it just doesn't say so on the label. I guess that this is in order not to offend people who object to either the method of slaughter, the blessing of the wrong deity, or the existence of Muslims.

Fortunately, my daughter's friend has a stash of Halal food in her fridge so can bring some with her. It's either that or she'll be eating fish.



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2:44pm on Friday, 15th May, 2015:

Cut Off

Anecdote

Many years ago, I read a magazine article about how twelve accidents in just the right places could bring London to a standstill. A broken-down lorry here, a crash there, a fallen tree here, a roadside fire there, a set of malfunctioning traffic lights here, a shed load of liv e chickens there, ... London would have been cut off from the rest of the world.

I was reminded of this today when I went to the tip to dispose of the old tins of pain, empty printer cartridges, dead fluorescent tubes, cardboard packaging, faulty electrical equipment, bits of carpet cut-offs and 20-year-old bent curtain rails that had been blocking our garage. It's not far the the tip: I just go to the end of the road, turn left down Newbridge Hill ... oh. Newbridge Hill was closed. I'll just turn right up ... oh. Lexden Road was closed. Rather than drive into the centre of Colchester and out again, I took the only other route Baker's Lane. This is a road so flaky that it seems to be for six months in every year for bridge repairs, but I was lucky and it was open. It's not exactly an easy drive, though: pretty well single track, with a gold course off it so it gets more traffic than you might expect.

After successfully unloading my rubbish at the tip (for me, "successfully" means "I didn't run over anything that damaged my tyres") I decided to go back a different route. I went the way I would have gone if Newbridge Hill hadn't been closed, except with the intention of skipping the usual right turn and taking the next one up instead.

I said "with the intention" there as the next right turn was also closed. So was the one after that. The one after that was open, but having taken it I discovered that the right turn I needed to make off that was closed. I proceeded along it and took the next right turn, but the turn I wanted to make off that was closed, too. I wound up driving behind two vans through sunken country lanes so narrow that the van driver wouldn't have been able to open the doors to get out if he'd broken down. Other cars were coming the other way and having to stop in the entrances to fields so we could squeeze past them.

I finally reached a main road. I came across another closed road on the way to the house, but fortunately I didn't have to use that one.

What is normally a twenty-minute drive had taken me forty-five minutes, thanks to a well-choreographed series of closures. I didn't know Colchester had so many ROAD CLOSED signs in stock.

If they're still that way tomorrow, I won't be doing the weekly shop at Sainsbury's. The whole of the west of Colchester is effectively cut off.



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9:35am on Thursday, 14th May, 2015:

Tate

Anecdote

While I was in London yesterday, I had a look around the Tate. I was planning on looking round the British Museum, but I'd had an earlier meeting in the day with Yarden Yaroshevski of StikiPixels about an art game/sim he's been working on for a couple of years. Yarden kept complaining about the Tate, and it must be 10 years since I was last in there so I thought I'd take a look.

Hmm, I take his point. The right half of the building is pretty well all modern art that you might expect to see in Tate Modern but not in Tate Britain (which is where I went). The modern stuff took up a lot of space and wasn't really all that special anyway. Here's an example of what I mean:

OK, so that's a nice idea: it's like a saggy mattress made out of nibbled toast. Toast being somewhat perishable, though, the whole exhibit is kept in a large, sealed glass case. Fair enough, we wouldn't want any children getting at it. Only, what's that down there on the floor in the front?

It's a dead spider. This is a sealed case containing a toast mattress and a dead spider. Is the spider part of the exhibit or not? If it is, well perhaps a few hundred properly attuned art students may be able to tell why it's there, but the reason is lost on me. If it isn't part of the exhibit, there's a problem with the glass case and visitors are over-reading the whole exhibit.

This is Tracy Emin's Bed:

It looked a bit too positioned to me, but then the exhibit has been moved and mussed up so many times that I suppose that's understandable. I don't think much of it myself as a work of art, but one thing about it did quite surprise me: it's much shorter than I was expecting. I don't know how tall Tracy Emin is, but if I had to sleep in a bed that size my feet would be over the bottom edge every night.

The left part of the gallery is where the more traditional paintings are. These are mainly by British artists (with the National Gallery housing paintings by artists of other nationalities). One room contains two of my favourite paintings, which I'll show you just so you can mock my outdated tastes.

The first is Ophelia, by Sir John Everett Millais:

It's more vibrant close up than it is in the reproductions. The expression on Ophelia's face is incredible:

Of course, if you have your model lie in a bath of cold water for so long that she nearly dies of pneumonia, you're going to get that look.

The second is The Lady of Shalott, by John William Waterhouse:

This painting is consistently voted the public's favourite in surveys, which must annoy art critics something crazy. Just look at the detail on her mantle, though:

She's cursed to look at the world through a mirror, weaving on her loom what she sees. One day, she sees Sir Lancelot riding by, oblivious. Smitten, and knowing it will kill her, she looks out from her tower to gaze on him directly — without the mirror. She takes her boat on the river to Camelot, hoping she'll get there before she dies so she can gaze upon Sir Lancelot just one more time. She doesn't make it. The expression on her face just captures her situation perfectly.

Just so you don't think I'm only interested in soon-to-be-dead women on rivers facing right, here's a painting I like that isn't especially famous:

It's Hearts are Trumps, again by Millais. What I love about this is that the woman on the right has a face of absolute disgust, showing her hand to the artist as if to say "Look at this rubbish!". When you look at what she's holding, though:

If hearts are trumps, that's actually pretty damned good! She's bluffing her opponents. Note that the cards are square-edged, unturned (the JH has its pip on the right, not the left) and there are no indeces. Cards were only turned in the mid-1860s, and this was exhibited first in 1872, so they fit the period.

Apparently, Millais was inspired to paint that by this hand-tinted stereographic photo:

The photo is the right pair; I copied the rightmost image and put it on the left so that people who prefer to see stereoscopic pictures by crossing their eyes rather than by looking through (which is the case for me) can get a better look. This is from the collection of Queen guitarist Brian May, by the way, although I don't know who took the original photograph.

I'd have stayed at the Tate longer but my second meeting of the day was over in Canary Wharf so I had to leave at 5pm. Just as well, because I got on a Northern Line train that all the signs said was a Northern Line train but turned out to be a Victoria Line train, so my journey took longer than I had hoped it would...



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