The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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6:33pm on Tuesday, 13th November, 2018:
It's MSc project-selection time. All members of staff have to come up with half a dozen project ideas, from which students select the one they want to do for their dissertation. They approach several members of staff, find out what's involved, then if they like the idea and the member of staff is OK with them doing it, they're signed up. Members of staff almost always like the idea that the student takes on the project, because the alternative is to have to supervise students doing someone else's projects. If they don't accept someone, it's generally because they've taken on their quota of students already (although I also reject students I've supervised for their final-year project, on the grounds that they need a different perspective this time round).
These are the projects I proposed this year. Six students so far have approached me, but they've only chosen two of the projects. See if you can guess which two projects. Bonus: see if you can guess which project I've proposed for the past five years that no-one has ever wanted to do.
Random Monster Generation
This is a games-based AI project. Tabletop role-playing games typically come with monster manuals, describing the various adversaries that players can encounter. This project involves using as many of these descriptions as you can find (at least a hundred, ideally more) and using them as data for generating new monsters. The descriptions should make semantic sense, if not gameplay sense. Note: you'll have to obtain digital copies of monster descriptions yourself, they're not provided.
Player Types Test
Some 850,000 people had taken the famous-but-flawed "Bartle Test" when the web site it was on closed down. The objective of this project is to create a new Player Types test that better fits the theory. So, that's basically a web interface to a database plus a knowledge of Player Types. I can supply the latter...
This project concerns the refinement and development of a fashion mechanic for use in massively-multiplayer games. In general, items subject to fashion (such as clothes) can be described in terms of a number of independent dimensions (material, length, colour, pattern, cut, ...). Each dimension takes its possible values from a fixed set (colour: red, green, blue, black, white, ...). These values can be ordered by current fashionability. The more items that exhibit a particular value, the more fashionable they are and the more they will sell. Exception: the most popular value is not fashionable at all. Consumers (whom the game would simulate) select items based on the sum of the fashionability of their components. Producers (players) don't know the individual fashionability values, but they do know how
combinations currently translate into sales. Players should aim to create items using values that are becoming popular without being so popular as to have lost fashionability. To ascertain the viability of your implementation, it must be tested by simulating at least 10,000 players over at least 20 iterations.
This is a big data project. The idea is to select papers from a field with which your supervisor is familiar (computer games, AI, in my case) and collect as many journal papers, conference papers and book chapters as possible (at least a hundred, preferably more) then run a program that you write to extract the references from these papers. For each reference, you determine whether the first author is male, female or indeterminate. You do the same for each paper. You then compare the percentage of papers written by a particular gender (say, women) with the percentage of citations of articles written by people of the same gender. Is it roughly the same, or do researchers tend to cite papers disproportionately by author's gender. Do this right and there's a press release in it..!
This project has wide scope because it offers the opportunity for students with definite ideas of their own regarding what they want to do to pitch them to me. I'm willing to consider anything involving the making of a game with the addition of an AI technique that in some way improves the player experience. It is advised that you discuss your idea with me before you select this option, so you can switch to something else if I don't think your grand scheme is as good as you do.
2:14pm on Monday, 12th November, 2018:
I watched the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old last night. This is the film Peter Jackson made using cleaned-and-colourised archival footage. The process wasn't perfect, but it was damned good. I've long been a fan of colourised historical photos (and indeed historical photorealistic paintings), but I hadn't seen any movies before. It's astonishing how removing the graininess, correcting for lax frame-per-second counts and then adding colour can make the past seem far more real than it did otherwise. When I see people in trenches who look just like the students I teach, it really brings it home. They may have been born a century earlier, but they're the same people.
The film received some criticism for not showing the contribution women made to the war effort, in particular the nurses. For me, this is one of the reasons we need films like this: the point is to show how bad war really is, so we don't forget. Suggesting that we should apply today's moral notions of gender equality to depictions of the Great War is an example of how we are forgetting: it misses the point. This isn't about contributions, it's about horrors. It's not an attempt to show how everyone played their part (spoiler alert!) to beat the German Empire; it's an attempt to show how utterly ghastly war is so that we never make the same mistake again. You do that by foregrounding the worst that happened, not by celebrating the best or foregrounding the second-worst. To do that would be to dilute the message. Most of the wretchedness in that time was experienced by the working-class men in the front line of trenches, so if you want to show the wretchedness, that's what you're going to see.
I thought the film was remarkable; the colour and the clear sound recordings made an already powerful narrative even more powerful. That said, we could make half a dozen 3D, surround-sound movies about conflicts that are ongoing right now (and those would involve women on the front line). We don't need to look to the past to see how bad war is, we can look to the present. We don't want to look to the present, though, because that makes us feel bad for not intervening (or for intervening stupidly). The First World War is sufficiently distant that we can learn its lessons without acknowledging that we haven't, in fact, learned its lessons.
I hadn't been aware of this before, but jeez, didn't some of those WW1 soldiers have staggeringly-bad teeth?
12:35pm on Sunday, 11th November, 2018:
We had the Remembrance Day commemorations on TV today. They drag on longer and longer each year, which spreads the message of remembrance thin; still, it's better than having it all done and dusted in 20 minutes, which would effectively be saying that none of this is important any more. Ritualisation is not a good idea unless accompanied by an understanding of what is being ritualised; the fewer people who remember what war is actually like, the more there are likely to start a new one.
This year, the organisers finally allowed a humanist representative a presence at the cenotaph. The Chief Executive of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, did the business. My satisfaction at this was only mildly blunted by the fact that the commentary listed a series of increasingly obscure religions, ending in "humanists and spiritualists".
I guess if you're going to take the ceremony forward a hundred years, you have to take it backward another hundred to balance it up.
12:33pm on Saturday, 10th November, 2018:
This is from today's Guardian.
Sounds nice. I might move there.
I can't say that when I think of Colchester, that steep hill of pastel-coloured houses is what first springs to mind.
2:21pm on Friday, 9th November, 2018:
I bought this book a couple of weeks ago.
Yesterday, I wondered why it hadn't arrived so checked Amazon. They said it had arrived. It was either on the porch or beside the back door.
I check both locations. It was in neither. I therefore went outside in the rain and looked for it elsewhere in the garden.
It was leaning against the gate to the back garden, in a somewhat sodden cardboard box. It had been there over a week.
It's great that a book can be left outside in our neighbourhood and no-one steals it, but not so great that Amazon's delivery person thought that the gate to the back garden was the back door.
I think it's in quite good condition, given its experience of sleeping rough.
7:16pm on Thursday, 8th November, 2018:
As my wife commutes, I pick her up from the train station every evening. I go to the small car park, pick her up at the entrance, then turn around in the car park and come home. This means I can avoid having queueing for a major roundabout that has three sets of traffic lights on it (the first of which only lets four cars through at a time) to pick her up at the front of the station where I can then compete with everyone else picking people up or driving out of the large car park.
Today, disaster struck! The small car park now has automatic number-place recognition cameras. Now, if I pick up my wife and turn the car round in the small car park, it's going to slap me with some kind of charge. There's a large sign there listing various terms and conditions, so I'm hoping there's something in there saying that charges only kick in after 5 minutes or so; I couldn't really read it all, though, as I was blocking the way into the car park.
I didn't actually enter the car park: I stopped at the entrance then reversed (blocking an even smaller car park, but fortunately my wife arrived before the drivers of the cars trying to leave it got cross). I'm hoping this doesn't mean the system thinks I entered the car park and am still parked there because it hasn't seen me leave.
This is going to make picking my wife up even more irritating for both of us than it is already. Pesky brittle technology use...
8:19am on Thursday, 8th November, 2018:
This sign was enticing me to buy food from the Nando clone we have at the university.
I before E, except after C (if it rhymes with bee). As a rule, it's got plenty of exceptions, but "receive" is pretty well the reason anyone uses it at all.
I'm hoping that that rain will cause the board to be repainted with the correct spelling. This may sound petty, but we have schoolkids visit campus from time to time, and those among them who have bothered to learn how to spell "receive" will be unimpressed. Also, I am petty.
I don't like chicken, so bought lunch from the Subway clone instead.
3:06pm on Wednesday, 7th November, 2018:
I went to Colchester this morning to buy a new W H Smith's diary for next year (operation successful) and in the space of half an hour witnessed three examples of, well, I'm not sure what.
Example 1: A police vehicle is coming through the middle of two lines of traffic, lights flashing. We all pull over to the side of the road to let it through. One vehicle doesn't and blocks its progress. That vehicle is an ambulance.
Example 2: A woman in a motorised wheelchair stops. She chats to the man she's with, on her left. Without warning, she suddenly rotates the chair 180 degrees clockwise. Actually, she only makes 90 degrees before she has to stop because by rotating she's taken out one of the crutches being used by a passer-by on her right.
Example 3: A rough sleeper attempts to engage a woman in conversation. She ignores him but he persists, so she walks away. She is selling copies of The Big Issue.
In all three cases, people who normally expect others to account for their needs did not afford the same courtesy to others who have related needs. It's as if they're so used to being treated as exceptions that they haven't absorbed the very lesson that they rely on others to have absorbed, namely that there are occasions when people need to be treated as exceptions.
At least the poppy sellers were all wearing poppies.
5:57pm on Tuesday, 6th November, 2018:
I came across this sign today:
Of all the places I was expecting the Second Coming could take place, floor 5 at Essex University was not one of them.
8:37pm on Monday, 5th November, 2018:
We went to see Colchester's firework display this evening (10,000 people each paying £9.50 to watch £14,000 worth of fireworks go up). Because we didn't want to mess about making something to eat, I went to the local chippy for cod and chips twice and a large chips (for me).
The bill came to £15.50. I had a £20 note, so asked the lass behind the till if she wanted the 50p.
She didn't know what I meant. I had to explain to her what "the 50p" was.
OK, so she might be new (I hadn't seen her before), but for her not to know what I was asking meant that she herself had never been asked if she had the 50p or whatever.
I expect that this is a result of contactless payment systems. A hundred years from now, no-one will use that turn of phrase any more. That's fair enough — it's not something I'm lamenting.
I do wonder, though, what behaviours and manners of the past that used to be prevalent have now been lost to us. There is a sadness in the loss of culture. We get glimpses of some of it through literature (although this doesn't exactly pay much attention to the common people), but really I have no idea what my ancestors in the 1800s lived like, let alone those in the 1700s or 1600s.
The present is the past of tomorrow. Much of what we do and why we do it will be lost to our descendants, even though it's recorded from all angles. _Sigh_.
The fireworks were pretty good, though, being reasonably timed to the music for a change.
5:14pm on Sunday, 4th November, 2018:
We went to visit my father-in-law at Newmarket today. My wife prepared a casserole for lunch, which we took with us to warm up in his oven. This meant that we spent the entire journey in a car thick with the aroma of casserole that we couldn't eat until we got to Newmarket.
"At least we'll be OK for food if we get stuck in traffic", I quipped.
Maybe a minute later, we got stuck in traffic. Worse, we didn't have a spoon.
We have no idea what caused the delay, but it lasted 15 minutes. Our side of the carriageway wasn't moving and there was nothing coming the other way. Then, all of a sudden, whatever the problem was disappeared and both sides of the road got moving. There was no indication of any kind of accident or incident; it was as if nothing had happened, except we'd been trapped in a car with a casserole for 15 minutes longer than we were expecting.
My wife made so much casserole that on the way back, we had the leftovers in her casserole dish. "We forgot to bring a spoon", I quipped.
Maybe a minute later, we got stuck in traffic.
It was at this point that I remembered we had a packet of Minstrels in the glove compartment, left over from when we went to the wedding last week.
They didn't last long enough to cover the wait, which was 25 minutes this time. At least we know what caused it: a crash involving five vehicles. There were at least four police cars, four fire engines and one ambulance in attendance, very probably more. They're still clearing it up now, an hour later.
We drive to Newmarket quite regularly and never encounter any delays at all. Today, we had two, one in each direction.
Clearly, casseroles and cars don't mix.
11:41am on Saturday, 3rd November, 2018:
I think the news in Essex County Standard might not be as new as it should be.
On the plus side, they can give away a lot of cheap pumpkins as prizes in their competitions.
4:18pm on Friday, 2nd November, 2018:
One of the projects I'm involved with is to do with games and language use. Well, it's mainly to do with language use, but we have a number of games that we're working on which we hope to use to gather data (a lot harder than it was six months ago — thanks EU General Data Protection Regulation).
After some discussion, a name was chosen for our latest game: Tag a Word. I wasn't involved in the discussion, so they ran the idea past me at the next management meeting.
Maybe if I hadn't pointed out that the Spoonerism of the name is "wag a turd" I'd be more popular than I am at present.
6:53pm on Thursday, 1st November, 2018:
That beast plant I mentioned last month has produced what I believe it intends us to believe are flowers.
I remember when I was a kid, I read this comic in which politicians and other powerful people were being controlled through marks shaped like red stars that they had behind one of their ears. It turned out that the stars were made by an alien plant that injected its evil into the brain through its flower.
The flowers looked just like these.
11:20am on Wednesday, 31st October, 2018:
Jeez, spammers, can't you co-ordinate with one another?
No wonder Linus van Pelt out of the Peanuts cartoons would wait every 31st October for the appearance of the Great Pumpkin.
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