The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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2:02pm on Friday, 28th November, 2014:

One in a Million


This fell out of my copy of Viz earlier this week:

Whenever I get these things, I try to figure out what prize they're going to give you. The way these things work, to claim your prize you have to call the premium phone number or text the premium text message number or fill in a form and send it by post. The company makes no money from the postal claim, but for the phone call receives (in this particular case) 5 minutes and 40 seconds at £1.53 a minute; for the text, it receives six times £1.50 . So, basically it costs you £9 to find out what you've won.

There is no point in the company's not giving you winning tickets when you open the sealed envelope, because if you don't have a winning ticket you won't phone them. However, if you do get a winning ticket then you are entitled to a prize — well, to a one in three chance of a prize, if you look carefully at the lower section of the white-on-black print on the ticket. So: you've paid £9; the company has to make sure that it doesn't give out more in prizes than it takes from all those £9s; they actually take £27 for every prize they give out; all the prizes look as if they are worth more than £27; what prize are you going to win?

Well, that's why I look at these things: to figure it out.

My guess here is that for the 3-symbol tickets there will be a significant number of people who will win the week at an exclusive Canary Island Sun Resort. The reason is that you are always responsible for your own travel costs for these things. You win a week in Tenerife, but not the means to get there. The Tiger Moth Dam Buster Flight will also feature, because even if you choose the Cmapagne Dinner for 2 option you'll have to go somewhere inconvenient to take it. Sorry if you were wondering how a WW1 aircraft would fare undertaking a WW2 operation...

The 2-symbol ticket is easy to guess: the £15 prize will dominate. This is for the obvious reason that the company takes £27 for each £15 they give out.

One of the delights of setting myself this task is that I get to find out whether I was right or wrong. The companies are required by law to state how many of each prize there is on offer, so all I have to do is read the small print (which is a block of text 29 lines long in the same sized font as the line in dark blue on this scan) and look at the numbers.

So, out with the magnifying glass!

[A minute or so later.]

Ah, yes, I was right. There's 1x£1,000,000 prize, 1x£100,000 prize, 3x£30,000-or-a-cruise prizes, 6x£15,000-at-PCW prizes, 200x£500-at-Amazon prizes, 300xiPad Air prizes, 9,999,000xCanary-Island-Sun-Resort prizes, 50x£2,500-supermarket-spend prizes, 5,000xDambusters-or-Dinner prizes, 4x£20,000 prizes, 4,999,000x£15 prizes, ...

The sad thing is, these people can actually run a business doing this.


3:51pm on Thursday, 27th November, 2014:

Sore Eyes


I don't know what's caused me to start developing cysts on my eyelids, but it's inconvenient as well as painful. This is me this morning:

My right eye (the one on the left as you look at it) is developing something on my lower eyelid. It feels quite big and it's made the flesh under the eye swell up. I've been putting antibiotic eye cream on it that I got from the local pharmacist, but to no avail. If it doesn't go down of its own accord, I'll have to see about another operation (it would be be my third). Even if it does go away of its own accord, it could leave its mark: if you look at the middle of the top eyelid on my other eye, you'll see the lump that was left by a stye I got a few months ago that didn't turn into a cyst but put up a fight nevertheless.

I'm starting to run out of tear ducts here...


9:08am on Wednesday, 26th November, 2014:



I spoke at Cybersalon in London yesterday. This is a monthly series of talks given to an audience of mainly Lond0n-based games people who range from players and students to developers and academics. It's quite a knowledgeable audience, but fortunately I was one of four speakers on the night so I didn't get torn into too badly.

At one point, describing how the university world treated working-class kids like me in the 1970s, I disparagingly remarked that we were looked down on by middle-class kids who'd gone to study intellectual subjects such as Sociology. I was unaware that in the audience was a 1970s Sociology student from Essex University. Fortunately, when he approached me afterwards, he agreed with what I'd said — lucky for me as he was wearing Doc Martens and could have given me a good kicking if he hadn't. I was also able to explain why it was that Computer Science students of the era gave Sociology students rather short shrift: they ran a monster statistical package called SPSS that ate up computer time, so reducing the resources available to us for our own work.

It was an interesting event, with a lot going on beside the presentations and panel. I have to say, I wouldn't want to live for 28 days with my eyes and ears continuously hooked up to a live feed from someone else's eyes and eyes, which is what this guy is planning on doing.


12:57pm on Tuesday, 25th November, 2014:

Authoritative Source


In the interview with me that Guardian Technology published last week, I said that we connected to ARPAnet via the University of Kent. I got an email from Roy today telling me that it was Imperial College in London, not Kent.

Ah, yes, that makes a lot more sense. We did used to connect to somewhere via Kent in the days of JANET, but Imperial is more the kind of institution likely to have international connections to the likes of MIT than Kent was. It does ring more bells, too.

Roy also pointed out that one of the reasons he wrote MUD was to piss off the Director of Computing Services, which is indeed true: he wouldn't give Roy the means to do inter-process communication, so Roy wrote his own mechanism to do it using a writeable, shared memory segment. This was far more flexible than inter-process communication packets, allowing Roy to use it for storage as well as communication. This is what he did with MUD.

I'm also in his black books for not having mentioned the Guardian article to him. This should be something of a worry for the Guardian, because if a person like Roy doesn't read their technology pages, who does?


4:04pm on Monday, 24th November, 2014:



It's a while since I incremented my collection of playing cards, mainly because people keep outbidding me on eBay (you know who you are). However, today these arrived:

They're a fantasy deck by F. A. Lattmann of Germany. Lattmann is a manufacturer I haven't come across before, but I immediately took to these cards so put in a bid. They're in pretty good nick, with their gold corners all bright and shiny, but they're nowhere near as strongly-coloured as the ones on World of Playing Cards. The design is from about 1910, but my pack has a tax stamp that was in use from 1919-1923; I'm guessing that Lattmann had to use a cheaper printing process in the aftermath of the First World War.

I'm quite pleased by them. If only they didn't smell of cigarettes...


5:03pm on Sunday, 23rd November, 2014:

Relatively Difficult


We finally got around to watching Interstellar at the flicks today.

Why were all the reviewers harping on about the confusing timey-wimey stuff? It didn't seem confusing at all, and wouldn't have done even if I hadn't done relativity in my first year at university.

There was a problem with time, but it was that the movie was too long...


4:21pm on Saturday, 22nd November, 2014:



This sign is still up on the large, student news noticeboard in the Computer Science building:

It's for the wrong month, and (rather missing the point) is only 5 days long anyway.

Maybe I'll take it down. I could do with some more drawing pins for my own noticeboard.


1:18pm on Friday, 21st November, 2014:

Pressure Off


One of my colleagues at work showed me a picture of one of his relatives who broke her leg and had to go to hospital to get it fixed. She was in a plaster cast from foot to thigh. The thing is, though, she went to Colchester General Hospital, which is still experiencing its "major incident" problem and only accepting people in accident and emergency who have life-threatening injuries. A broken leg does apparently count as a valid reason to go, and she was given immediate treatment.

What this goes to show is that if people do treat hospital accident and emergency services as exactly that, then they work fine. You go to the walk-in centre down the road if you've cut your finger and need a couple of stitches, not to A&E.

The exception seems to be on Saturday nights, when A&E departments are swamped with drunks who have managed to hurt themselves in large numbers. They have to be treated, of course, but treating them is expensive as it means extra staff have to be brought in. Maybe charging people £250 if they showed up at A&E with more than a certain level of alcohol in their blood would be a solution? After all, they've willfully contributed to their condition, and there could be an appeals process for drunks who got hurt through no fault of their own (eg. they're asleep in bed when the truck skids into their house). Sure, an excess charge wouldn't put anyone off drinking, but it would mean the rest of us didn't have to pay to repair them.


4:58pm on Thursday, 20th November, 2014:



North Station roundabout in Colchester has yellow cross-hatched lines on it, which mean you're not allowed to enter the hatched-off box unless your exit is clear. Dutifully, I always do this. When I do, immediately the cars waiting on the road to my left join the roundabout and sit in the cross-hatched box.

Why do I bother? Why do I bother?


4:45pm on Thursday, 20th November, 2014:

An Improvement


Things are looking up: I had four meetings with students today, and for one of them the student actually appeared. Yay!

This is the same cohort that didn't come to my lectures last year, so I shouldn't be too surprised.


3:48pm on Wednesday, 19th November, 2014:



I was supposed to be at home marking assessments today, but I came onto campus specifically to meet two students who hadn't handed in coursework. Neither showed up.

You can't help but admire students who are consistent across all dimensions of behaviour.


5:29pm on Tuesday, 18th November, 2014:



This morning I drove to Lincoln (150 miles away) for an external examiners' induction meeting. On the way, I saw a spectacular cloud looming overhead. I couldn't take a photo as I was driving, but basically it looked like a huge ostrich feather being held leaning towards us, with the rays of the rising sun illuminating it in pink and highlighting its forward edge. It was amazing!

That was until I got under it and it dropped so much water on the road I thought I was going to have to pull over and wait until it had run out.


3:51pm on Monday, 17th November, 2014:

A Political Gesture


There's an interview with me on the Guardian Technology web site out today. The headline is: "Richard Bartle: we invented multiplayer games as a political gesture".

Gawd knows what Roy Trubshaw must think whenever he reads this stuff. The thing is, we never discussed the politics of what we were doing at all. Back then in the 1970s, you had to have a certain kind of creative yet scientific mind to be able to do anything with computers, so the people who worked with them tended to have the same science-for-creativity outlook on life. It was later called the "hacker ethic", but no-one learned it off anyone else: it was your own ethic, that the people around you happened to share.

Thus, when Roy began work on MUD (and despite the impression you may get from interviews, it was his baby for for 18 months before he passed control to me), we never discussed what we were doing in terms of changing the world. We didn't need to: we both had reasons to work on MUD and those reasons were aligned. We talked about giving players "freedom" through an open-ended design, but we never discussed what it was we wanted them to have freedom from — there was no need. We tacitly understood that we were working on it because the world wasn't fair and we wanted a better one. There may have been more, but I can only recall one occasion, early on, when the subject was broached: I asked Roy why he was creating a fictional world and he said something like, "because it can't be worse than the real one".

In real-world political terms, Roy and I weren't in step with regards to how to achieve what we both wanted to achieve: a fairer and more just society. Roy was a socialist, and so believed that the best way to change society was through group action — people working together. I was (and remain) more liberal, and so wasn't willing to take the means-to-an-end step of collectivism if that would entail having to support soem arguments with which I disagreed. Neither of us was naive enough to believe that either approach would ultimately succeed, though, which is why we independently took the view that if you can't change the real world, well then you create your own.

This level of understanding and agreement doesn't make for great headlines or explanations, though, which is why it sounds as if I'm describing Roy and I as if we were revolutionaries. We didn't see ourselves that way at all. We just wanted a better world, so we made one.


1:21pm on Sunday, 16th November, 2014:

Speaking of Turing


This headline appeared in today's Observer, following the release of the film, The Imitation Game:

No, Observer, no! That should read: "Turing to inspire the next generation of codebreakers"!


1:06pm on Sunday, 16th November, 2014:

Award Winners


I've been aware of Alan Turing's work since my undergraduate days (Essex University's founding Professor of Computer Science, Tony Brooker, knew him). Because of this, I've also been aware of the Turing Award, which thanks to Google is now on a par with the Nobel Prize in terms of prize money at $1,000,000. It's a bit sad that the mathematical equivalent, the Fields Medal, comes with a prize valued at roughly a 75th of the Turing Award's, but that's what happens when there are no multi-billionaire mathematics companies out there to fund it.

Anyway, because it was recently in the news, I wondered how many names of Turing Award's winners I recognised. Here's the full list of those I've heard of (ones in brackets being joint winners I haven't heard of but I've heard of the other one):
1966 Alan J. Perlis
1967Maurice Wilkes
1969Marvin Minsky
1971John McCarthy
1972Edsger W. Dijkstra
1974Donald E. Knuth
1975Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon
1976Michael O. Rabin and Dana S. Scott
1977John Backus
1980C. Antony R. Hoare
1981Edgar F. Codd
1983Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie
1984Niklaus Wirth
1991Robin Milner
1993(Juris Hartmanis and) Richard E. Stearns
1994Edward Feigenbaum and Raj Reddy
1997Douglas Engelbart
2001(Ole-Johan Dahl and) Kristen Nygaard
2002(Ronald L. Rivest, Adi Shamir and) Leonard M. Adleman
2003Alan Kay
2004Vinton G. Cerf and Robert E. Kahn
2005Peter Naur
2011Judea Pearl

That's 23 years I've known a winner from, out of the 48 years that it's been awarded. I should probably look up one of the others so I can claim to know who they are and can make it a round half. I've actually met Wilkes, Dijkstra, Hoare and Milner, not that they'd remember me (especially the dead ones).

I note that none of the winners are game developers. This is probably just as well, given that if they did hand a Turing Award to a game developer it would probably go to someone who already has a million dollars.


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