The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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8:52am on Thursday, 8th October, 2015:

Cologne Vignette


My talk yesterday seemed to be liked, which is just as well given that they gave me two rounds of applause before I'd even said a word, so expectations were high.

My only experience of Cologne in the past was when I was on a school trip aged 13: we drove on a coach through Cologne on the way to Heidelberg. All I remember is being pointed out the cathedral as it showed up between buildings (few of us actually saw it) and the fact that the telegraph poles had ivy growing up them. This time, I saw the cathedral but no ivy-strewn telegraph poles.

Because I arrived in the morning, I was able to spend four hours or so exploring central Cologne. I was hoping to do the same today as my flight back isn't until 19:45 or thereabouts. However, the weather forecast on Tuesday lied, saying it would be cold (so I brought a jumper) but not raining (so I didn't bring an umbrella); it's actually warm and raining. Oh well, it doesn't really matter: walking around yesterday gave me a blister on my left heel, so I wasn't going to do much more than sit around today anyway.

Here are some of my observations from yesterday's wanderings.

It costs €2.80 to get from the airport to central Cologne by train. In the UK, it's normally ten times that.

There was a group of tourists being given a guided tour of the central rail station. Germans love engineering.

The cathedral is right next to the railways station. It's so close that I'm surprised there isn't damage from train vibrations.

If the cathedral were cleaned of grime externally so the stones were the same colour as inside, it would completely change its character.

There was a period drama being filmed in a small square off one of the side streets. There were four actresses and perhaps 20 other people doing cameras, sound, lighting, make-up and so on. I looked to be set in maybe the 1940s, judging by the fashion. Whether the actresses were famous or not, I have no idea.

There are lots of little shops dotted around, all with the sign KIOSK. They're not what we'd call kiosks in the UK, though, as they're embedded in buildings and not all that small. You can't walk into a British kiosk and look around, but you can in a Cologne kiosk. They're more like gift shops here.

Some bloke had an amazing verbal tic. He seemed quite normal, wearing a suit, sitting on a bench in a square with two colleagues having a discussion, but every 15 or 20 seconds he would shout HAAA! at the top of his voice. He'd then carry on as if nothing had happened (not that he could really do much else or he'd spend all his life apologising). It's not something I've seen before, though. There can't be many people with this affliction.

There are lots of buskers in Cologne, but I didn't see any of them playing the same instrument.

There are similar numbers of beggars, too. None of them young people. The men tend to have dogs. The women tend to have headscarves and they look down so you can't see their faces. One in particular was set up resting on her knuckles, like a gorilla. She remained completely stationary.

As with many other German cities, the RAF and the USAF really did a number on Cologne in the Second World War. Other cities reconstructed their centres to reflect what was there in the past, with ancient buildings rebuilt just as they were except with lifts and electrical fittings in them. Cologne didn't do this, though: it built new buildings instead, with little reference to what was there before. Thus, instead of looking like an Epcot visualisation of Germany, it looks like Birmingham.

None of the usual continental shops where I can get Stuff for my daughters had Stuff they would now wear. The co-ordinated decision by all German clothes shops to sell nothing but coats didn't help, either. I was reduced to scouring sale racks.

In the cathedral, I didn't see any steps to get to the towers so thought it was not allowed. Later, though, I spotted people at the top so went for another look. It was nearly 1pm, and men in red gowns were ushering people out. Cathedrals in Germany must get used for religious ceremonies or something.

It's surprising how menacing Hare Krishna guys can look.

Aiii! Bagpipes!

Along the Rhine promenade are lines of restaurants, but they weren't doing a lot of business as it's the tail end of the season. The number of them shows that Cologne must attract large numbers of tourists in the summer, though.

There are more ice-cream shops in Cologne than I've seen in any other German city.

So that's Cologne.


6:41am on Wednesday, 7th October, 2015:



I'm sitting in the departure lounge at Stansted Airport, ready to take a flight to Cologne for a talk I'm giving there this evening.

I used to like Stansted, but I'm steadily going off it. To park for two days in the short-term car park cost me almost as much as the flights, and would have cost more if I'd chosen to return a little later tomorrow. Online check-in is great because you don't have to stand in line for a boarding card, but it's not so great when other people who have checked in online can't figure out how to present their bar code to the scanner (you take it out of the plastic, put it barcode down, and actually display it to the scanner rather than to the arrow that illuminates when it has been successfully scanned). Security was so packed it was like queueing at Disneyland, except queue-jumpers were let through unchallenged and there were inexplicable hold-ups to the baggage throughput at the X-ray machine (caused at the post-machine side, not the pre-machine side).

After security, you have to walk a serpentine course between shop after shop after shop. Along the route, you're assailed by people trying to interest you in buying stuff. I realise they probably make more money from exposing people to shop after shop after shop, but those of us who are not going to buy anything because they HATE BEING MADE TO WALK UNNCECESSARILY would appreciate a short-cut. The serpentine walk leaves less space in the departure lounge, too, so it's hard to get a seat. There was even a queue for the gent's toilets, which isn't something I often see.

Overall, Stansted is really trying my patience. If it weren't for the fact it's only 45 minutes from my house, I'd consider using a different one.

It still beats Luton, though.


5:02pm on Tuesday, 6th October, 2015:



If you come at this guy from the side, it looks as if he's jumping for joy:

He's actually telling people at Liverpool Street Station not to run down the stairs. It still looks fun, though.


8:49am on Monday, 5th October, 2015:

No Debate


This has arrived in the post:

I'm not going to read it, though.

I've already read it...


5:01pm on Sunday, 4th October, 2015:

Kit Kat


Here's the selection of Kit Kats my daughter brought us back from her trip to Japan:

Some were surprisingly good (the ones with green chocolate), some were merely surprising (apple, raspberry), but most were surprisingly bad (butter, pumpkin). There was one I really liked, but I have no idea what it was; if they ever sell it in the UK, though, I'd go for it over a regular Kit Kat.

As for the worst one, well none of us could tell what it was supposed to be, but it tasted of fish. Fish and chocolate is not a good mix.


11:37am on Saturday, 3rd October, 2015:

Feeling the Pressure


We've had our new car for something like 18 months, and in all that time I haven't put any air in the tyres. I did this in the belief that there was a low-pressure sensor that would show up on the dashboard when the time was right. However, the tyres were feeling increasingly spongy while driving, so I decided to invest 40p at ASDA inflating them to the right pressure.

It would have been 20p, but as the tyres were down to two thirds of the recommended amount I had to spend more than two minutes re-inflating them.


2:45pm on Friday, 2nd October, 2015:

Non Sequitur


We had a staff meeting this morning. Mid-way through, a guy appeared from Sports Science to give us a 15-minute talk about Performance Sport. At the end, he asked if we had any questions. None of us did.

Actually, pretty well all of us did. Furthermore, it was the same question: "What was that about?!". It was a complete non sequitur embedded in the middle of the meeting for no obvious reason. If it hadn't been on the agenda, I'd have thought he'd walked into the wrong room and given a talk meant for prospective students. None of us were going to ask him anything, though, because that would have made the staff meeting 5 minutes longer (that is, interminable plus 5 minutes).

He seemed quite upbeat, but quite what he thought he was going to achieve talking to a bunch of computer scientists is anyone's guess.

Maybe if he'd talked about esports instead of Volleyball, Basketball and Rugby sevens, it might have been more relevant.


4:46pm on Thursday, 1st October, 2015:

Bill of Fare


This is from my 1951 Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual, from a strip about the California gold rush of 1849:

I remember being amazed as a child that prices went up so much that eggs could cost 5 shillings each.

5 shillings is 25p in today's currency. Sainsbury's eggs are £1.40 for 6, or 23p each.

Not long to go now...


6:10pm on Wednesday, 30th September, 2015:

Dipped In


There seems to be an unusual number of young women walking around campus at the moment who have dyed the bottom half of their hair a different colour (usually green, but with good showings from pink, red and blue, too).

It must be annoying when you assert your individuality only to find you're just one of several people around who've asserted theirs the same way.


4:42pm on Tuesday, 29th September, 2015:

New Term


I spent the morning working on the draft of my textbook, and was making good progress until emails arrived asking me to approve (ie. rewrite) a short description of my research areas and to come up with six ideas for MSc projects. I also had to go onto campus to attend a get-together for new students, picking up a 220-page PhD thesis on the way that I have to read within the next two weeks.

Oh well, I guess this means the new academic year has finally started and I can forget doing anything productive until at least Easter.

There was twice as much cake at the freshers' get-together as there were freshers and members of staff combined, though, so it isn't all bad.


4:43pm on Monday, 28th September, 2015:

Daffy and Sylvester


Because I'm sick of seeing other people's photos of a moon I saw myself with my own eyes last night, here's a picture of Daffy and Sylvester as they are arranged on a shelf of the bookcase behind me:


12:01pm on Sunday, 27th September, 2015:

Search Me


My usual way of searching eBay for playing cards is to use the "recent searches" facility. I click on the recent search for playing cards and it lists my selection with all the rubbish I don't want filtered out.

Unfortunately, eBay has revamped its launch page and there doesn't appear to be a "recent searches" facility any more — or if there is, they hid it well in the account settings. As a result, I had to save my search as a "following this search", which entails two additional mouse clicks to invoke than did the simple "recent searches" search.

My approach here was to search for antique playing cards, then filter out anything that showed up in the search that was either unrelated or related but not something I want to buy. The former include photographs, postcards, charms; the latter include bezique (bezique decks which have fewer cards in them), congress (I don't collect American playing cards) and edwardian (I may relent on this as I do see occasional Edwardian cards I like).

Here's my search as it ended up:

antique "playing cards" -ad -drawing -fortune -pegs -congress -print -counter -marker -bezique -rules -souvenir -photo -edwardian -chips -token -tokens -pcs -hand -new -vintage -guide -1 -puzzle -photograph -magazine -postcard -retro -swap -pendant -pendants -box -single -charm -charms -trick -book

I wish I could have added more, but the search is limited by number of characters. This means that I couldn't exclude reproductions or advertising material because they took up too many letters. Also, because eBay doesn't have wildcards in its searches, I would have had to have put in both "reproduction" and "reproductions" to filter them out fully. Worse, if you filter out just one, eBay seems to think you have an interest in it so will extend its search somehow — I've actually had more matches from excluding a singular term because it dredged up more matching the plural term in order to try to please me.

Some of the terms in the search are to counter individual sellers who are very annoying. One person, for example, buys up antique decks them splits them into poker hands (five low spades is a flush, yours for £7; decks involving picture cards are more expensive, and full houses are used to mop up otherwise-unused cards). I removed these by filtering out "hand", but this seller changes the wording often (I've seen them listed as "civil war era poker", for example).

Also annoying are people who sell single cards. OK, so they're not annoying to other collectors, but they add way too many listings. I can get rid of these by filtering on the word "swap" or the number "1".

I'll see how it goes, anyway. I'll probably find out now that this is a general problem and there's a proxy web site you can use to log in to and get a search filtered on as many terms as you like.


11:12am on Saturday, 26th September, 2015:

A Foot Short


This is the cause of death on the death certificate for one of my ancestors:


If you follow the chains of causality back far enough, the cause of death for everyone is "birth".


10:31am on Friday, 25th September, 2015:

I'm Not


I had cause to use the web browser for my university email today, and was greeted with this little chap:

My guess is that they have a whole range of gender/race/age figures they use and it was just my luck I got the Political Science student.

Why is he dressed like he's on the Hajj?


2:53pm on Thursday, 24th September, 2015:

Initial Problem


I've just spent 20 minutes waiting for a parking permit for the new term. This gave me ample time to try figure out what the tattoo on the back of the neck of the guy in front of me said. It was 3 letters long, starting with M and ending in B. The middle letter, though, well, it could have been a fancy C, a fancy O, a muddled E or an @.

Eventually, I decided it was probably a C, because there was an ever-so-small gap in the circumference. It could still have been an @, but he didn't look the type of person who had technology at the centre of his life.

Oh, and here's a quick tip, Estates and Management Section: if you were to spend half an hour putting parking permits in alphabetical order, you wouldn't need to spend 10 minutes per customer looking for each one using a linear search. Just saying...


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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).