The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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8:11am on Wednesday, 25th May, 2016:



While driving home two days ago, I was thinking about old famous people who hadn't died yet, and wondering who might go next. Out of nowhere, it suddenly came to me that Burt Kwouk would be next.

Yesterday, Burt Kwouk duly died.

I feel quite guilty.


1:00pm on Tuesday, 24th May, 2016:

Small Cell


Whenever I go abroad, I take a second watch with me. I set this one to the time zone of the country I'm visiting and keep my normal watch on UK time.

When I sent to Sweden last week, my travel watch had stopped. It was working in Malaysia, so it must have stopped during the week. The thing is, this watch goes through batteries very quickly, which is one reason why I don't use it as my main watch. I often get it out ready to take on a trip and find I have to get the battery replaced.

Rather than pay someone to change the battery, on this occasion I thought I'd do it myself. Normally, the people who install watch batteries use a special tool to get the back off, and after they've replaced the battery they put the back on so tightly that you have to go to someone with a special tool to get it replaced next time the battery goes flat. This time, though, I decided I'd get the back off myself and improvised a removal tool using my long-nosed pliers and a vice.

Here's what the battery looks like, on top of a 1p piece for scale.

Well, I can see why I keep having to replace it. I'm surprised it has enough oomph to count the seconds, let alone turn the watch hands. It looks like something you have to buy on prescription and swallow with a gulp of water.

I bought the watch in Las Vegas, where famously the casinos don't have clocks on the wall so people lose track of time. I sense a conspiracy...


5:58pm on Monday, 23rd May, 2016:

Admin Dread


Normally, if I'm given some administration work to do I complete it as soon as possible. This is because I loathe administration work, and don't want it hanging over me. As a side effect, it also means I'm pretty good at administration work, so I have to ensure that the people who give it to me are left in no doubt that I loathe it and will draw rude pictures on their lawn with a herbicide if they give me more than my fair share.

I was given a piece of administration work to do about three months ago that would take me a lot of time but came with a long deadline. Because of the time it would take and the fact that these are extremely busy months for me, I didn't (well, couldn't) do it right away, so I shelved it.

The deadline is now impending, however. I hadn't forgotten this, so had set aside most of this week to do this administration work. I've been dreading it, but I know it has to be done, so this morning I steeled myself and began.

It only took about four hours. I was expecting more like four days. It seems that the less I want to do something, the longer I think it will take me to do it. It works the opposite way round for things I want to do, which I believe I can do quickly and then it takes forever.

Well, I've learned my lesson now.

Hmm, what shall I do tomorrow now I have it free? I think maybe I'll write a compiler.


4:52pm on Sunday, 22nd May, 2016:



I like the old walnut tree in our garden.

So do bees...


12:42pm on Saturday, 21st May, 2016:

AI and Computer Games


Hey, look what I found on eBay!

It's a copy of the first book I got published, back in 1985. There aren't many around, because Century Communications was closed down by its parent company shortly afterwards and its inventory was pulped. I wasn't too upset by this, because this book was printed nothing like how it was written, on account of its being edited by the typesetter. Among the many assaults he made on its text, the one that best sums up his approach is where he removed one, short word, in order to avoid breaking a paragraph across a page boundary: that short word was "not"...

Anyway, I bought this for two reasons.

Firstly, I didn't have a copy myself, having lost my original either while moving house or from lending it to someone and not getting it back (probably both).

Secondly, I liked the thought that someone would have to write my name on the address label knowing that my name was also on the book cover.


9:42am on Friday, 20th May, 2016:



When I was in Sweden last year, I bought 1,000 Swedish krona (about £82) to spend. I didn't spend any of it, but I come to Sweden once every couple of years or so, so I kept it. I brought it with me this time, in fact.

I've just been informed that the notes comprising 900 of those 1,000 krona expire next month. That would have been useful to know when I was buying things on my credit card yesterday.

I have to check out of the hotel in about half an hour, then my afternoon is occupied being the opponent in a PhD defence. The defence finishes about an hour and ten minutes before my flight home, so I'm cutting it very fine — I won't be buying anything at the airport. I might be able to find a newsagent before I check out, though.

I wonder how many packets of cactus flavour Låkerol I can get for 900 krona.


10:43am on Thursday, 19th May, 2016:



Three weeks ago, when I was in Germany, the things I bought — hot drinks, chocolate bars, taxi rides — cost about the same as they do in the UK. Two weeks ago, when I was in Malaysia, they were much less expensive, maybe half the UK price. Here in Sweden, though, they're more expensive, perhaps a quarter as much again I'd pay for the same thing in the UK. 40 Swedish Krona for a medium cappuccino is about £3.25, which may be par for the course in central London and monopolies at airports but it's 80p more than I'd expect to fork out in a shopping mall (which is where I bought that one).

For Swedes who visit Malaysia, everyday goods and services must seem practically free.


11:07am on Wednesday, 18th May, 2016:

Away! Yet Again!


So, I'm currently sitting in the departures "lounge" at Gatwick airport, waiting for my third trip abroad in four weeks.

This time, I'm giving a talk in Stockholm followed by a PhD viva voce. The way PhD vivas work in Sweden, the prospective recipient has to defend their thesis in public, which means they need someone to attack it: I get the job of being attack dog for this particular thesis (but have no say in the final decision, because it's made by an independent panel; if I've just spent an hour pulling a thesis to pieces, I couldn't really be called independent).

The university is in a part of Stockholm called Krista. I mentioned this to my mum, and she said "Oh, yes, you've been there before". Thinking about it, she's right, I have, but it was many years ago and it hadn't registered with me that this would be my second visit. My mother, however, had remembered.

She asked the name of the hotel, which I told her. She then wrote it down. The hotel in question is called the Memory Hotel. She can remember the name of a Stockholm suburb I was in for half a day a decade ago, but has to write down the words "Memory Hotel" or she'll forget them.

This sounds like the onset of senility, but it's not: her memory has always worked like that. If I go back to Stockholm 20 years from now, she could well ask me if I'll be staying at the Memory Hotel in Krista. She'd in all likelihood be able to tell me I was last there in 2016, and after an internal monologue give me the month and quite probably the date, too.

In the short-to-medium term, however, the name "Memory Hotel" is, to my mum, unmemorable.


5:48pm on Tuesday, 17th May, 2016:

Olde Oxford


Ha! I knew that if I waited long enough a reasonably-priced 1870 map of Oxford would appear on eBay!


4:02pm on Monday, 16th May, 2016:



Yesterday, my wife wanted some new white ceiling paint, as what she was using was coming out more cream than white. We bought a tin (well, plastic container) of the stuff and it fell to me to open it. It didn't want to open. I could get under the lid in one place, but the other places were sealed and wouldn't break despite my assaults with a screwdriver.

Then, they did break, all at once. The lid flew into the air, and headed for the carpet. I put my foot out in an effort to stop it landing on the carpet, which to be fair was a modest success and only half of it did so. The other half landed on my shoe.

My wife immediately got to work to remove the paint before it could set. Unfortunately, it turns out that paint wipes merely spread the paint thinly across the shoe, causing it to dry quicker; furthermore, they open up the surface of the shoe and bind the paint to it. By the time we decided that maybe water was a better idea for removing emulsion, it was pretty well part of the fabric of the shoe. I tried covering it with shoe polish, but to no avail: I'd have to do it twice daily for a month, with soldierly care and attention, to get rid of it.

As I'm giving a talk in Stockholm later this week, I had to buy a new pair. Oh well, more gardening shoes I suppose.

I'd be less annoyed if we weren't going to replace the carpet next month anyway.


9:16am on Sunday, 15th May, 2016:



As usual, I downloaded the BBC's Eurovision scorecard for last night's "Germany is so coming last" final.

Note to BBC: spell-checking doesn't ensure correctness.


10:47am on Saturday, 14th May, 2016:

Last Survivor


A headline in today's Guardian: "World's last survivor from 19th century puts long life down to raw eggs".

Italian Emma Morano was born in 1899, the second-to-last year of the 19th century. I'm pretty sure there are still some people around who were born in 1900. She could well be the last survivor from the 1800s, which is what BBC radio reported yesterday, but she's not the last survivor from the 18th century.

Come on, Guardian, you recruit your reporters from the same public schools and elite universities that the BBC does, how come yours don't know when centuries start and the BBC's do? Well, BBC radio, anyway — the web site refers to the previous record-holder, Susannah Jones, as the "last US woman born in 19th Century".

I wonder when the last person who thinks centuries and decades begin with years ending in 1 will die...


2:02pm on Friday, 13th May, 2016:

Wide Car


I was inspired to create this after returning to my car having gone to town to get my hair cut.

I guess they exit their vehicle through the hatch at the back.


1:54pm on Friday, 13th May, 2016:

Wide Cars


I was inspired to create this after returning to my car having gone to town to get my hair cut.

I guess they exit their vehicle through the hatch at the back.


6:10pm on Thursday, 12th May, 2016:

Intriguingly Different


I attended a conference this morning at Wivenhoe House, the "intriguingly different" stately home the university owns in its grounds. I picked up a conference pack, and found that the contents from the previous conference hadn't been fully removed. Specifically, this scrap of paper was among the blank sheets:

It looks like some sort of quiz, but it seems to have covered a strange range of topics.

That 9/20 mark is, fortunately, much lower than the average raw mark for the exam papers I left the conference to finish marking...


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Copyright © 2016 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).