The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

RSS feeds: v0.91; v1.0 (RDF); v2.0; Atom.

12:06pm on Sunday, 16th December, 2018:



I bought these last week.

My wife didn't like the honey, my daughter didn't like the apricots and neither of them liked the nuts.

My other daughter is 200 miles away and will not get here before I've finished.



2:37pm on Saturday, 15th December, 2018:

Not Minding


Overheard in Sainsbury's:

Woman: Which do you want?
Man: I don't mind.
Woman: Which do you want?
Man: I don't mind.
Woman: Well do you want French or Italian
Man: I don't mind.
Woman: French or Italian?
Man: I don't mind.
Woman: Just tell me which you want, French or Italian?
Man: OK, Italian.
Woman: Why?


12:35pm on Saturday, 15th December, 2018:

Closing In


You know Christmas is getting perilously close when the milk expires on Christmas Day.

It was enough to cause me to buy some stamps for the cards, anyway. Now all I need to do is buy the cards.


4:05pm on Friday, 14th December, 2018:



Look what arrived in the post today!

They look like coasters, but they're actually bespoke cookies, made by Pooky Amsterdam (best known for her work in Second Life, but she's been making weird cookies for decades — she first gave me some in 2003). The pictures on these are of Essex University, but that's not going to save them. There are only two left as I write this...

There are a number of strange things about these cookies. Firstly, they're quite thin, but there's a lot more to them once you start eating them — they're surprisingly filling. Secondly, the colour goes all the way through, it's not just sprayed on or anything, it's like a marbling effect. Thirdly, they don't look like shortbread but they taste like shortbread. I love shortbread! Fourthly, they're better undunked than dunked. Fifthly, they have a natural grain to them so they snap better one way (lengthwise) than the other.

I've no idea what they're made of (maybe cookie dough is involved at some point?) but I don't really care so long as it's not going to kill me. It's cheered me up in the middle of two batches of marking, and blogging about them has enabled me to procrastinate further.

I think I'll keep the last two for when I need cheering up in the middle of writing Christmas cards.


8:25pm on Thursday, 13th December, 2018:



These bananas were for sale in one of the university cafeterias today.

I believe the description may be rendered more accurate by the insertion of the word "once" at the beginning.


4:56pm on Wednesday, 12th December, 2018:

Special Offer


I went into Colchester today to buy some Christmas presents. This is what greeted me in the car park.

All the machines for buying tickets had bin liners taped over them. The notice on them explains that this is because Wednesday is late-night Christmas shopping day in Colchester and all parking after 3pm is free.

Great! Unfortunately, I arrived at around 1:45. Free parking wasn't scheduled to start for another hour and a quarter.

I had every intention of buying a ticket, but from where?

There was apparently another way to pay, but that involved downloading an app onto my phone. I don't see why I should do that: I don't want my phone cluttered up with an app for every retailer and I don't trust them not to ask for more data than their app needs. Besides, if all the ticket machines have bin liners on them, doesn't that rather suggest that I'm not supposed to be paying?

If I receive a parking notice asking for money for an hour and a quarter's parking, I'd be happy to pay it. If, however, they try slap me with some kind of penalty fee, I shall be seeing them in court for entrapment.


6:29pm on Tuesday, 11th December, 2018:

Lucky Sebastian


This was the screen at the entrance to the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering when I arrived back after lunch today.

It's static text, not moving text.

If only there were a department in the university where people were taught web development.


6:54pm on Monday, 10th December, 2018:

Marx Marks


This week is "interim report oral" week for final-year project students. Each one gives a 30-minute presentation to their second assessor, who marks it using a spreadsheet. I did two today and have a third on Wednesday; some lecturers have 8 or 9, so I do have it luckier than most.

The spreadsheet is a new innovation. We have 8 dimensions of various weights along which to grade the students. We check a checkbox at the mark we think they should have for each dimension, press an update button, and all kinds of magic occurs. This is good, because it means less work for markers (apart from the 30 minutes of listening to student presentations part). However, it's also bad.

The first reason it's bad is because the minimum mark in any dimension is 35%. If a student has done nothing in one of the dimensions then they get 35% for it. The students are supposed to have used GitLab (basically as a version-control repository), but if they haven't then OK, 35% it is. Bear in mind that the pass mark is 40%.

The second reason it's bad is because the maximum mark in any dimension is 85%. Genius students or ones with a crazy work ethic can't get more than this in the spreadsheet. We're pretty well marking the students 0-5, then multiplying the result by 10 and adding it to 35 to get the final percentage. I did question this practice before the process began, and as a result it is possible to ignore the spreadsheet and give a different mark — but only if you go and explain to the module supervisor (who is also the Head of School) why you want to do it. I'm fairly sure he'd let a mark of 0% for no work go through, but the mere fact we have to go and explain it will be enough to put a lot of us off.

The third reason it's bad is because of the feedback. So, we're constantly getting told we have to write feedback for the students. This takes time and some lecturers aren't exactly good at it. Part of the reason for using the spreadsheet is that it automatically generates feedback. It may be pretty anodyne, but it's better than nothing (or the useless "good"). The way it works is to take your 0-5 mark for each dimension, look it up in a table, then add it to a list of comments. These are then collated and written out as a Word file. The idea is fine if you think that students will appreciate individualised feedback that's the same for everyone who got the same mark in that dimension; if you don't, you can always overwrite it with your own feedback (as if any of us are going to do that). This isn't the problem, though.

To show the problem, look at this text that the student feedback will contain if the student receives a mark of 45% in the General Use of GitLab category:

"There is some evidence that work on the techncial documentaiton has started but no issues raised to link to this work."

That's right: two spelling mistakes ("techncial" and "documentaiton"). The template is riddled with these. If we want to give students the impression that they are receiving personalised feedback, duplicating spelling mistakes is not the way to do it.

Overall, I laud this exercise as a pilot project (which is what it is). There's bound to be some teething troubles with it, and the overall aims are good: to reduce lecturer time; to ensure consistency of marking; to give students feedback so they rate us higher for having given them feedback. It's just that the limited marking range risks inflating the marks and the typo-ridden feedback template is working against it at the moment.

Given we have nearly 300 students to mark, though, I expect the wrinkles will be ironed out next year and we'll all be using it again.

Maybe the bit where we count the number of Jira issues raised and award up to 5% based on that will go, though.


4:33pm on Sunday, 9th December, 2018:



There are some "Nescafé limited edition gingerbread latte flavour" sachets in our cupboard. They've been there awhile, because they weren't very nice. Enough time has passed, however, that memories of how bad they were have faded so we tried them again.

Hmm, well I have to say that they taste a lot better this time round. Clearly, something must have happened to them in the two years since their best-before date expired.

I can see why they might have wished to limit the edition, though.


1:53pm on Saturday, 8th December, 2018:



I saw some new Twix biscuits in the shop at an introductory price of £1. They looked interesting, so I bought a packet.

The size of the biscuits implied by the packaging did not match the actual size of the biscuits.

Twix? Trix, more like.

They are actually quite good, to be fair. They're not worth 5 shillings each, though.


8:02pm on Friday, 7th December, 2018:



I'm useless at booking tables at restaurants.

The chain ones are all bookable online (in theory; in practice, it's another matter). The non-chain ones — that is, the ones I actually want to eat at — usually only respond to phone calls.

I hate making phone calls to anyone for any reason. Restaurants are a particular unfavourite, as I don't know when to phone and it's invariably the case that when I do phone they don't answer. I have to keep trying and eventually three or four hours they answer and are only taking bookings for tomorrow. However, if I ring them the day before then they think I want to book a table for that day instead and they get snotty about it.

We went to a chain restaurant today, Frankie & Benny's. It's going downhill, but at least that means we don't have to book a table.


6:49pm on Thursday, 6th December, 2018:

Short Boast


The problem with having annual awards late in the year is that they sound dated very quickly.

This is going to seem so-last-year a month from now.


6:20pm on Wednesday, 5th December, 2018:

Dr Rabbit


While at the dentist's yesterday, I spent some time looking at this "where's Dr Rabbit?" poster. Dr Rabbit was easy to find (he's outside the coffee shop), but what's that in the part I've blown up?

The woman is at the back is floating in front of the man with the blue shirt, above the man with the slightly less blue shirt. Also, the woman to the left of this man has only one arm and one leg.

There's more to finding Dr Rabbit than first meets the eye.

Also, why are all the characters staring at me and (apart from the dogs, candymen and Dr Rabbit) cosplaying Reigns?


6:32pm on Tuesday, 4th December, 2018:

Corridor 4B


While I was away QMULing, workers came and started refurbishing the three offices next to mine.

Well, I hope that's what they're doing. They could be thieves for all I know, stealing everyone's stuff brazenly and in broad daylight.

They make quite a lot of noise, mainly consisting of swearing at inadequate tools, although sometimes they beat the floor with a hammer (which I suspect may be out of frustration because the swearing isn't working). Whatever, it makes sleeping concentrating quite difficult, so I think I'll work from home tomorrow.


3:38pm on Monday, 3rd December, 2018:



On my last day teaching at QMUL last week, I walked out of a café through a door that was some six inches closer to me than I thought it was, as a consequence of which I bashed both my knees into the glass. I now have exceptionally impressive bruises on each of my kneecaps.

I'd show photos, but I don't want the Duchess of Cambridge to draw pictures of monkeys on me.


Latest entries.

Archived entries.

About this blog.

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