The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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6:06pm on Saturday, 24th February, 2018:

Costa Mesa


I think I can probably throw out this map of Costa Mesa from the 1990s now.

The writing on it is too small to read except in the full glare of the Californian sun anyway.


10:08am on Friday, 23rd February, 2018:

Mission Complete


Last night, we finally finished the last of the chocolates and biscuits we got for Christmas. Weeks of dedication and effort have paid off.

Next up: Easter.


4:04pm on Thursday, 22nd February, 2018:



It's always exciting when a new poster is put up at the university. What ill-advised attempt to instill in us a sense that the university is great will they attempt this time round?

Well, today we have a new poster advertising Essex University Patrol Services, who are like the campus police except they're not police. Rather unfortunate that it coincided with the first day of a series of strikes, but I'm sure it's an accident (as I don't believe the poster people think through any of their decisions in such depth).

Although I'm currently at work and the members of the UCU are on strike today, I didn't cross any picket lines. This is probably because I arrived at 7:30am and my colleagues are no less reluctant to get out of bed early than are my students. As for why I didn't go on strike myself, well I'm not in the union as I'm part-time, and I'd be in unprotected breach of contract if I did go on strike. Besides, I actually support our Vice Chancellor's view that the way to fix the pension deficit (which is what this strike is basically about) is for universities to contribute more, rather than for them to contribute the same and pay out less.

All members of staff in Computer Science were asked last week whether they intended to go on strike or not. I said I wasn't going to strike. I was expecting that the result of this exercise would be that students would be told which lectures would not be taking place because their lecturers were striking; I wasn't expecting the Head of School to send out a list of names of all the lecturers who weren't striking, so inviting people to dub it a "scab list". Wonderful. Next time I'm asked, I simply won't reply; if they want to know whether to withhold a day's wages or not they can ask me afterwards whether the lecture took place or not.

Weirdly, the queue for the burger bar on campus was non-existent at 1pm. Normally, it would be so long as to put me off joining it. I suspect that this is because students have not come onto campus because their lectures have been cancelled.

Every cloud has a silver lining.


2:59pm on Wednesday, 21st February, 2018:



I had to fill in an "Appraisal and Personal Development Record" form today, prior to my annual work appraisal next week. Section 3 concerns objectves for the following year. Here's a line from one of the tables I had to fill in:

Objective: Reduce workload.
Success Criteria: My workload will be reduced.
Target Date: 2019

These things are supposed to be "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time limited". I think I probably fail on "Achievable", but it's still worth asking.


2:45pm on Tuesday, 20th February, 2018:

Health and Wellbeing


This image is in a "Health and Wellbeing" display on the wall opposite the door to the room where I give my CE217 lectures.

It's good to see that health and wellbeing involves doing whatever that is.


5:10pm on Monday, 19th February, 2018:

Air Conditioning


The air conditioning in my car is great at temperature control but not good at removing smells. If I buy fish and chips, they'll only be in the car for 5 minutes but I'll be able to smell them the next day.

This is why I was particularly worried after giving a lift today to someone who (for known medical reasons) had extreme flatulence. It was like breathing sulphur. I won't name names in order to protect the guilty, but after dropping them off I drove for ten minutes with the windows down even though it was raining outside. Fortunately, this did the trick and the car was no longer in danger of breaking chemical warfare rules when I drove home this evening.

I dare say it'll take my lungs a while to recover, though.


1:30pm on Sunday, 18th February, 2018:

Boiling Water Tap


This advertisement was in today's Sunday Times Magazine:

She must have hands of asbestos.


5:24pm on Saturday, 17th February, 2018:



Well I wasn't expecting to see this in Sainsbury's today.

I expect it's as a result of some TV chef's goat recipe.

I wouldn't normally have gone and looked in the end cap freezer display, but I saw the word "diced" and my gamer instincts kicked in.


1:12pm on Friday, 16th February, 2018:

To Town


I went into Colchester this morning. I've been meaning to go for several weeks, but although I'm supposed to have Fridays off work, the past three or four Fridays I've had to be elsewhere.

I thought that while I was in Colchester, I'd get my hair cut. However, I couldn't remember why I was planning to go to Colchester in the first place. I knew I needed to go, but what was the reason? What was I intending to do there?

I wracked my brains trying to remember, until eventually it came to me: the original reason I wanted to go to Colchester was to get my hair cut.

Well that was a waste of mental effort.


6:06pm on Thursday, 15th February, 2018:



At the university, there's a set of double doors with PUSH signs on them.

The one on the left is rather more worn than the one on the right, and looks to have been replaced several times as well (it doesn't have any rivets on it). This is a pattern I've noticed with other sets of double doors on campus, too.

I wonder if the left door is favoured because we drive on the left in the UK, or if it's a more general phenomenon. If it were to do with handedness, I'd have expected the right door to be the one that was opened more frequently. Maybe it is, but people put their right hands in different places?

Personally, I tend to kick them open so I don't have to get my hands out of my pockets.


4:43pm on Wednesday, 14th February, 2018:



Every year, I have a class for my second-year students that involves the use of playing cards. Because of this, I have a stash of playing cards in my office, which I bring out to give to the students. I bought them as a bulk lot off the Internet (some kind of closing-down stock sale), so they're not exactly standard. There are decks for crop circles, the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the 1999 Cricket World Cup, the 1999 Arsenal football team, Saints Row 2, the movie Skyfall, and several others.

One year, one of my students was looking through them all and I asked if she was interested in playing cards. She said she collected them. I let her have as many of the decks as she wanted, and asked her how old her oldest deck was. It was something like 1984. I was appalled that she didn't have anything older, and said I'd give her a Dondorf deck from the early 1920s that I had a duplicate of in my collection.

I brought the deck to work, but it occurred to me that I should ask if it was OK for me to give something to a student or if it was against regulations. The Head of Department decided that while it's not against the regulations, I would be opening myself up to charges of favouritism and possibly sexual harrassment if I gave the student the cards. If she'd been male I may have got away with it (it's weird how rules designed to help women somehow work against them), but as the Head of Department was herself female I was in no position to argue. I asked if I could give the student the cards after she'd graduated, and was told that yes, this would be acceptable. I therefore held onto the cards until the student graduated.

Well, she didn't graduate. She blew her exams and I never saw her again after them. However, I kept the cards in my office and announced that I would give them to the first of my future students whom I discovered collected playing cards. That way, there could be no possible accusations of favouritism, because I had no advance warning of whom would receive the cards.

Every year since then, when I've given out the packs of crop circle cards and so on, I've asked if anyone there collected playing cards. Every year since then, no-one has. Most students don't possess playing cards until I give them a deck, and they're as bemused that anyone would collect them as I am that people still collect Beanie Babies.

This year, though, it was different. This year, one of the students said yes, he did collect playing cards.

I duly asked him to come to my office and presented him with one Dondorf Whist Number 160 pack with a 1923-1929 tax stamp (no tax value as they left it off due to hyper-inflation) and no box. Next week, I'll give him another Dondorf deck and a Muller deck that are duplicates of ones I already have. When he got up this morning, the oldest cards in his collection were from 1990. It'll be more like 1890 with the cards I'll be giving him next Tuesday.

Another youth corrupted! Muahahaha!


7:44pm on Tuesday, 13th February, 2018:

Eighth Time


I've finished re-reading my Lizzie Lott #2 book for at least the eighth time.

So what I do is I write the book, re-reading the chapters as I go along, then (or perhaps concirrently) I let alpha-testers read it. After I fix it up based on their comments (well, the ones I agree with — and some of this disagree with each other) I send it to beta-testers. They make more comments and I fix it up based on those, too. I then read the book the whole way through on the computer, identifying any problems. At this point, such errors are either to do with punctuation, mistyping, grammar (maybe the tense feels wrong) or they're mild examples of continuity errors from having shifted the order in which some events happened or removing events entirely. Most changes I want to make, though, aren't errors at all: I'll have used a word multiple times in close proximity by accident, and will need to change it to something else that I haven't also used nearby.

Once I'm satisifed with the book, I send it off to be printed in physical form. I ask for a proof copy so I can read through it one final time and make sure I don't need to make any corrections.

I now have eight different physical copies I've read through, each of which has things in it I wanted to change.

So, as I go along I note in the front which pages have problems, so I can go back and fix them later. Here's how many there are per rewrite:
1    107
2    45
3    86
4    72
5    69
6    37
7    18
8    14

For the past three versions, I'd decided in advance that I'd only make changes if I came across something that was a show-stopper. On each occasion, I did. One was a typesetting error caused because I'd added or taken something from the text and screwed up the hyphenation (which has to be done manually). One was a continuity error (a character knew something they shouldn't have at that point). One was another continuity error (evening came twice).

I'm now deciding whether to publish the book as it is, or to make yet another "one final pass" to ensure there aren't any bugs I've either missed on previous readings or introduced in the latest round of corrections.

I think maybe I'll publish. That way, I can guarantee there'll be some howlers in it.


5:28pm on Monday, 12th February, 2018:



I was at Brunel University on Friday, and wandering around discovered this Amazon locker.

The only one of these I've seen before is in Colchester, outside W H Smiths (which is probably good for one of them but I don't know which).

Hey, maybe Essex University has a similar Amazon locker so I can order stuff to be sent there instead of picking it up from where it's been hidden in a rainy place at home or from a neighbour I never speak to?

It turns out it does, in the middle of some student accommodation where I didn't even know there was student accommodation.

Looks as if the place in the rain and the stranger neighbour aren't off the hook, then.


2:43pm on Sunday, 11th February, 2018:



I'm still in the process of transferring programs from my old computer to the new one I got a couple of weeks ago.

Some transferred just fine and ran immediately.

Some transferred but needed me to download assorted .DLL files from Microsoft to work.

Some needed to be reinstalled to work, but thereupon worked.

Some put up more of a fight.

I couldn't get my old Visual Studio to install, so had to download the new one. That's not so bad, as it's free. It seems to work, but doesn't like any of my old projects; I can probably get round that, but harbour a suspicion that it's missing a compiler so I may need to revise that view.

My genealogy software didn't transfer The instructions for transferring tell me to install it on both computers and run a plugin, which would be reasonable if the means to install it on the new computer existed. They don't. The problem is, I bought version 5 originally then paid to upgrade it to version 6 when the new version was released. I can download and install version 6, but my licence key for version 5 doesn't work for it and neither does my upgrade key. Eventually, I had to buy a new copy of the software for £35 or so and then do the transfer. I don't mind too much, as it's pretty good value, but still.

What's giving me the most trouble is my graphics software. I use Corel Photo Paint, which for a while now has been trying to persuade me to upgrade from X7 to X8. My X7 version was an upgrade of X4, for which I have an installation CD. OK, so I merely need to install X4 then apply the upgrade. This might have worked if version X4 hadn't refused to install, telling me it wouldn't run on this computer.

Hmm. Maybe I'll try version 12, then which I was using before I bought X4. This installed, but Photo Paint crashed when I ran it.

OK, so maybe I'll just buy the X8 version of Photo Paint, it's only YE GODS, OVER £500. Maybe I'll give it a miss, then.

How about Photoshop? Everyone else seems to use that, so it ought to be pretty good. Yes, it looks nice, and only around £20 — wait, that's a month? Can't I buy it flat out? Why do I have to rent it?

Before I used Photo Paint version 12, I used version 7. I still have the installation disc for this, too. It dates from 1996. I installed it, and ... well how about that? It works. It comes up with some error about the disc being full if I scan with it, but I still get the scan come through. OK, well I'll go with that, then.

There's probably some perfectly serviceable but more modern image manipulation software out there that won't cost me a kidney to pay for, but I can look for that after I've move everything over.

Just need to install seven more games and I'm almost good to go. The last job will be configuring my email reader. I expect that to be the most painful process of all...


11:16am on Saturday, 10th February, 2018:



From this week's Essex County Standard:

Those auctioneers don't mess about when it comes to finding items of value.


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Copyright © 2018 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).