The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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3:08pm on Monday, 20th May, 2019:

Information Screen


The departmental information screen doesn't get any better.

It's telling the students something, but nothing good.


12:35pm on Sunday, 19th May, 2019:

Leaky Duck


This duck at the university sat leaking like this for several hours before it was moved on by a man pushing a trolley who didn't notice it. No-one liked the look of the creature, so they all left it alone.

Anyone who thinks I kept this photo for 3 days specifically to use as a metaphor for the UK's Eurovision performance is welcome to do so.


3:30pm on Saturday, 18th May, 2019:

Ten Ants


It's petty acts of entertaining vandalism like this that restore my faith in the irrepressability of human beings.


9:27am on Friday, 17th May, 2019:

That One Guy


The written components of the Student Assessment of Modules and Teaching forms have now been released, so I can see what specific points students marked me down on.

I'm not entirely sure I can do much about this one.


3:39pm on Thursday, 16th May, 2019:

Peanuts and Almonds


I don't like Snickers bars because they have peanuts in them and I'm not a fan of peanuts. Today, however, I came across some Snickers bars with almonds instead of peanuts. "Great!", I thought, "I don't like peanuts, and these don't have peanuts in them!".

I bought one.

After the first bite, I remembered I don't like almonds either.

If they brought out a hazelnut version I'd go for that, except it would be a Topic bar.


2:42pm on Wednesday, 15th May, 2019:



I went to London last night to attend the annual Voltaire Lecture, run by Humanists UK.

The topic this year was the return of scientific racism — basically, the way science is being increasingly misused to support racist idealogies. The lecturer was Adam Rutherford, a geneticist who presents Inside Science on Radio 4.

Geneticists don't have much time for the concept of race, because it makes no sense scientifically. If you do cluster analysis on gene markers, there are as many races as you ask for clusters (and some of them are pretty small: the new "race" that appears when you increase clusters from 5 to 6 consists entirely of a tribe of 4,000 or so people living in the Himalayas). Explanations regarding how people of some ethnic backgrounds do better at some sports than others are almost always flawed: the reason there are so few African-American Olympic swimmers is nothing to do with bone density and everything to do with the fact that only 30% of them are taught to swim.

I was left wondering whether even what I thought were relatively uncontroversial statements about what people associate with "race" are true or not. For example, I wouldn't have thought it too provocative to suggest that levels of vitamin D production and protection against ultraviolet light are both informed by how light or dark your skin is, but I'm now thinking that even this really needs a citation or two to back it up.

One really interesting concept I did pick up on that I'd not come across before was the isopoint, also known as the identical ancestors point. So, if you look back at how many ancestors you have, it's 2 for one generation, 4 for two, 8 for three and so on. It's 2n, where n is the number of generations you look back. Unfortunately, when you look back, say, 40 generations, 240 is more than the number of humans who have ever lived. What happens is that you start to get cross-overs in family trees. The further back you go, the more of these there are. If you go back far enough, you reach a point where everyone who was alive and who has living descendants today is an ancestor of all individuals who are alive today. This is the isopoint.

It turns out that for people of European heritage, that isopoint is surprisingly recent: the tenth century. Every European alive in the tenth century who has a living descendant is an ancestor of all living Europeans. Worldwide, the average isopoint is about 5,000 years ago. Everyone alive today is descended from everyone alive 5,000 years ago who has any living descendents at all.

Those are the figures Dr Rutherford gave, anyway. Wikipedia puts the isopoints later, but Wikipedia isn't a geneticist.

It's nice to know that I'm a direct descendant of every tenth-century European monarch who has direct descendants.

Oh, it turns out that Voltaire himself was rather more racist than his contemporaries, making this a somewhat ironic entry in the Voltaire Lecture series.


2:42pm on Tuesday, 14th May, 2019:

Going Down


The latest results from the Student Assessment of Modules and Teaching survey are in. My modules CE317 and CE217 are ranked 18 and 19 respectively out of 56 undergraduate modules in total.

I don't know what I can do to improve this slide towards mid-table. I do, however, have a suspicion as to why it's happening.

My CE810 and CE817 modules are ranked 1 and 5 out of 35 postgraduate modules in total. CE810 is the highest-ranked module in the department. The thing is, CE810 covers largely the same material as CE217 (maybe 90% of the slides are the same) and CE817 is a direct clone of CE317 (the students attend the same lectures). In both cases, only the assessments being different.

This suggests to me that the reason I'm being marked down by undergraduates is that my modules are considered to be too hard.

CE217 is a second-year module. About half its students had to resit their first year at least once.

CE317 is a third-year module. It's harder to figure out how many students have had to resit at least one year at least once, because some students (generally, good ones) missed a year because they were on a placement or a year abroad. However, it looks to be about the same: around half have had to resit at least one year at least once.

Students who resit years tend to be weaker students, so they'll find material harder than students who haven't had to resit any years.

So, should I weaken the content in CE217 and CE317 next year, or keep them as they are?

Both used to be regularly in the top 5 undergraduate modules until recent years.


5:40pm on Monday, 13th May, 2019:



That's two cups of tea I've made today that I've forgotten about while they were brewing, only to come across them an hour later to find them so strong they're fighting their way out of the cup.

I guess I'm not really all that thirsty.


11:27am on Sunday, 12th May, 2019:



From the AI for Business supplement that came with today's Sunday Times:

It's interesting that the total number of start-ups in France, Germany and Italy combined is exactly the number of start-ups in the UK alone.

Also interesting is the fact that Iceland has a population roughly 180 times smaller than Italy's, but 9 more start-ups.

Yes, I did adjust the colour balance to make it look as if the Sunday Times wasn't quite as stingy with the black ink as it is in reality.


1:08pm on Saturday, 11th May, 2019:

Wrong Delivery


In Sainsbury's this morning, I overheard two shelf-stackers talking about a delivery of bread intended for Asda that had been dropped off at Sainsbury's instead.

Annoyingly, I didn't find out what was going to happen to the bread. Were they going to sell it? Was Asda or the delivery company coming to pick it up? Were they keeping quiet about it until Asda realised, to promote a bread shortage there? Were they leaving it somewhere bread-unfriendly so once Asda recovered it it would go stale faster? Or were they going to give it away to charity or local wildlife?

I feel as if I've read the first book in a three-book series but the author died before finishing it.


1:03pm on Friday, 10th May, 2019:



Oh, and another thing, Portsmouth: stop doing this!


8:59pm on Thursday, 9th May, 2019:



I was in Portsmouth today as the external member of the team to validate the assorted games degrees at the University. This wasn't hard, because the degrees have been running for years so are well established and well respected. Indeed, I was the department's external examiner from 2004-2009, so knew their genealogy. They haven't stood still.

So long ago was it that I was last in Portsmouth that this building near the hotel was still under construction last time I was there.

I'm disappointed that they didn't paint the tip red. It's so clearly modelled on a 1960s lipstick that it really needs a red tip.

I was not, however, disappointed that the tunnel under Hindhead has opened in the intervening years. That took 30 minutes off my journey time. Now all I need is for no-0ne else to be using the M25 and I should be able to breeze my way to Portsmouth any time I feel like it.


8:47am on Wednesday, 8th May, 2019:

Old Ways


It's Final-Year Project demonstrations this week. I had to mark five yesterday and have another one to do today, but when we had the open day at the start of term I got to see all the others, too.

One of the projects I proposed was the recreation of a classic arcade game. Maybe a dozen or more students picked this up. Some of them wrote their recreation from scratch in Java; some used C# for Unity. Some went by the book with a faithful reproduction; some added new features of their own to extend the original.

These were all done just fine and they did look like reacreations of classic games (although I suspect that one overseas student read "recreation" as "RECreation" rather than "recreAtion"). I don't want any students reading this to think I'm criticising them beyond what I said during their project demonstration.

The thing is, none of the students wrote their games the same way they were written in the past: tile-based. They all took full advantage of the systems offered them, but these often got in the way. The screen is not a data structure: it's how the data structure is displayed. In a tile-based system, the world is basically a 2D array. You want to check the player character has collided with something? Look in the array for the square you're about to move into: if there's something in it, you collided with it; if there isn't, you can just move. You don't have to do collision-detection every frame against every object to see if they collide.

OK, so this doesn't make a lot of difference when it comes to execution, because today's PCs are so fast that there's no perceptible run-time efficiency gain. There is an efficiency gain in coding, though, because it's actually easier to do it the old way. It's also easier in terms of design, because the mechanics are so much easier to see.

The students I asked were aware that in the past there were more efficiency and memory constraints on programming, but I don't think they quite realised just how constrained it was.

30 years from now, of course, they'll be the curmugeons complaining about how the programmers of the future don't know they've been born. I will, therefore, see some justice!


4:41pm on Tuesday, 7th May, 2019:

For Life


Here's the latest poster to adorn the space between squares 2 and 3:

So what it's basically saying is that your student debt may take awhile to pay off.


9:39am on Monday, 6th May, 2019:

The Era


From The Era, 31 March 1872:

Pretty well the same as Britain's Got Talent, then.


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Copyright © 2019 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).