The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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3:35pm on Thursday, 18th September, 2014:

Killer App


If you want to swat a fly, your main problem is that you don't know where the fly is going to be when your rolled-up newspaper or whatever arrives. If only you could predict where it would go and swat there, you'd get it every time.

Mobile phones have cameras. AI software can detect flies and track them. I'm pretty sure that there are AI techniques that could track a fly for a few seconds then predict where it's going to be in a second's time. It could superimpose a target reticule on your phone's screen, or, better still, your Google Glass. Then, it's just a case of whapping where the target says and it's bye-bye fly (or wasp or mosquito — it ought to work for all of them).

You'd sell millions of copies of something that could do that. It really is a killer app.


5:05pm on Wednesday, 17th September, 2014:

Different Levels


Wow, the food they give out at York University is much better than at Essex (not that this is difficult). We don't supply anything that could be described as "cake", and if we did it wouldn't be edible.

These Russell Group universities certainly operate at a higher level when it comes to catering. It must be because they have medical schools so there's less of a worry if the food goes wrong...


8:36pm on Tuesday, 16th September, 2014:

Old York


I arrived in York this evening for a two-day IGGI (our AI and Games doctoral training centre) symposium at the university. Our hotel is in the middle of the city, but I know the drive well because I spent the afternoon at my dad's and he used to drive us through York to visit our grandparents when I was a kid.

Hmm, I'm sure there didn't used to be that many traffic lights. The bus lanes in roundabouts are new too. So are the cyclists. It's actually amazing I made it throughto the hotel intact.


1:42pm on Monday, 15th September, 2014:



We had a staff meeting today at which we selected the next Head of Department. This wasn't hard, as there was only one candidate.

Hmm, that's not strictly true. There were four or five candidates, but the Department's nomination has to be forwarded to the Vice Chancellor for approval. The VC let it be known that there was only one candidate he would approve, so the others were obliged to drop out of the running. This is not how things have been done in the past, so there is something of a question mark over the procedural regularity of the way this has been handled.

However, being angry with the nominator does not mean you have to be angry with the nominated, and as it happens we have an excellent nominee who would probably have been nominated anyway if we'd been given a free vote. It's Simon Lucas, one of our two games professors (I'm the other one). This is both good and bad for games at Essex. It's good, in that there's someone in charge who may do something to promote our games offerings (in particular, we may get the Games MSc we've been pitching for several years). However, it's bad in that being Head of Department leaves little time to do anything else, so we're effectively going to be losing his games teaching for at least 3 years (and 6 if he wins a second term). He supervises around 10 PhD students, too, which will soak up much of his non-HoD time.

Overall, though, I think it's a slight win for games at Essex University that he's going to be the new HoD, and a major win for the Department. My only major worry is that the university high-ups do the same thing they did with the outgoing HoD: they promoted her to head of a new section, so we won't have her teaching for us again (a shame, as she won an award for her teaching in her pre-HoD incarnation). If they promote Simon to the higher eschelons of university management, I'll be the only games person left.

Every silver lining has a cloud...


10:43am on Sunday, 14th September, 2014:

Cigar Lit


From the 1978/79 prospectus for Essex University's Physics Department:

You wouldn't see a photo like that today. We closed our Physics Department in 2001.


6:01pm on Saturday, 13th September, 2014:

50 Years


It's Essex University's 50th anniversary this year, which it is celebrating today and tomorrow with what it's calling a "homecoming weekend". All past students and members of staff were invited to attend and to bring their families along. I got to meet quite a few old faces, including my PhD supervisor, Jim Doran, whom I haven't seen for maybe two decades.

Not as many former students attended as I was hoping, though. My wife (who also went to Essex University) asked me to call her if there was anyone there from her year that she mights know, but I checked the list of registered attendees and there wasn't. There was no-one from my year (apart from me), either. Come to that, there were no former students of mine. I'd brought two photograph albums with me to share with my contemporaries, but took them home unopened.

There were plenty of other photos on display anyway, though, that former students and staff had sent in. I'd contributed about a dozen myself, including some featuring the computer operators (it took three shifts of three people each to keep a computer running 24 hours a day back then). These photos were scanned, collected in groups of about 30, and made into A1-sized wall posters. There were something like 15 such posters featuring several hundred images (all of people), so it was great fun looking through them and picking out the individuals I knew as I knew them, rather than the 30-years-older versions they are today. None of the photos were of me, though.

Officially, I was at the homecoming because I had been asked if I could run MUD for the day, so I begged the MUD2 arch-wizzes for some logins and spent a morning writing a 5-sheet how-to-log-in-and-play document. I printed off 50 copies and from 11:30 until 3:30 was in the lab ready to re-introduce people to one of the games of their youth. My readiness never translated into action, though: not one person logged in.

I did meet one former MUD player, Biddulph the wizard, who had worked on MIST (which used the MUD engine). Another person was aware of what "a MUD" was but didn't realise that they were all descended from MUD; he said he'd come back after lunch but he didn't. Some members of staff came to give me some support, but didn't play. There are several reasons that I didn't get a single player: it wasn't advertised in the welcome pack; it was indoors (because I needed lab machines to telnet to the MUD2 server) in a building with no other activities in it; most of the former students who attended graduated before MUD's time, so they didn't play it in the first place. Maybe if there was another event like this in 10 years' time, I might get someone to sit down and log in. All in all, though, I have to confeess that it was rather disappointing. Still, I'm glad I turned down the offer of having a graduate lab assistant to help me deal with the crowds; that would have been embarrassing...

Overall, then, it was a day of mixed emotions. I got to see some former lecturers and colleagues, some of whom are now getting on in years and I may never see them again. However, I didn't see any of my contemporaries or any of my own students, and most of the day was spent in frustration. MUD's so consigned to history that even history has forgotten it.

Oh well.


6:05pm on Friday, 12th September, 2014:

Make it So


I saw this in Italy last week:

Never mind the captain: so long as they have Stewart, they're good.


11:04am on Thursday, 11th September, 2014:



Looking through our holiday pictures, I came across this one I'd taken of my elder daughter:

I hadn't realised she had an umbrella prosthesis attached to her arm.


5:18pm on Wednesday, 10th September, 2014:

Hair Man


I noticed this chap on the floor after my wife had brushed her hair:


5:53pm on Tuesday, 9th September, 2014:



I was in Licoln today to speak at the Game-On conference, now in its 15th year. It's mainly for early-stage PhD students, so you get a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of ideas, but not always a full appreciation of the wider context.

Two of the talks this time round were not from PhD students, however: they were from students who have just graduated from Lincoln, talking about their third-year projects. The unnerving thing about these was that they were pretty well indistinguishable in level from many of the PhD presentations I see at conferences. I don't know what they're teaching them up there in Lincoln, but they're getting results.

Hmm, actually I will know what they're teaching up there soon, as I've signed up to be an external examiner. I may even get to have a look around Lincoln itself as a result of this, which is something I've been intending to do for ages, so I win twice.

Oh, for future reference... Colchester to hotel 7 miles from Lincoln: 3 hours. Hotel 7 miles from Lincoln to Lincoln: 45 minutes.


1:14pm on Monday, 8th September, 2014:

Keep Calm


I saw several copies of this poster in Sorrento:

So perish all memes...


3:45pm on Sunday, 7th September, 2014:

Back Home


It only took an hour to clear passport control when we landed at Stansted Airport today. We had to wait three times before we could get onto the shuttle train to take us to the passport queues, as two of the three trains in operation only had two carriages (the other had four). I think this was a deliberate plot, because if we'd been transported to the main building efficiently we wouldn't have been able to get off the trains — the passport queues were right up onto the platform.

Someone ought to invent a way to tell airports that flights will be landing there at particular times, so they can make plans.


4:58pm on Saturday, 6th September, 2014:



We went to the island of Capri today. Well, three of us did: elder daughter went to Naples on her own to explore its museums, churches and pickpocket-filled streets.

While at Capri, we visited the Blue Grotto. Lots of places have blue grottoes, but we've never been to one so we went.

We paid for a boat to the grotto, paid for a ticket to enter the grotto and paid for a guy to take us into the grotto in a rowing boat. At €20 a pop, his 35-50 trips inside the grotto every day must be quite lucrative, but he does risk decapitation going through the entrance each time (we passengers had to lie flat in the boat). All the same, it was an experience for which the term "tourist trap" was invented.

The water really was a great shade of blue, though.


4:38pm on Saturday, 6th September, 2014:

Best Pizza


Whenever anyone asks me where I've eaten the best pizza (which they do inexplicably often), I always say Sorrento. The last time we were here, 10 or 12 years ago, I had a pizza that was exactly how I like my pizzas.

Where did I have it, though?

Mywife and I had a vague idea where the restaurant was, so it was merely a process of elimination to find it. This is why I have had four margerita pizzas in the evening at different restaurants. All were good, but the first three weren't the one.

Yesterday, we found the one. This is the one:

If all pizzas tasted like the pizzas at the pizzeria da Gigino, I would eat pizza every day. Mm-mmm!

I can't say I think much of their asparagus soup, though...


6:43pm on Friday, 5th September, 2014:

Ancient Techology


Steampunk Dalek:

It's actually an espresso machine.


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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).