All posts by Doctor Mike Reddy

Lecturers who just happen to sign – British Sign Language (BSL)

I was in the unusual position yesterday of having my 1to1 with a Deaf student – “S”, who I’m supporting through his first year – in the presence of one of his interpreters – “M”, who was new to the campus, having not worked for USW before – because they are normally only contracted to cover lectures and scheduled tutorials. Level 6 (extremely fluent) interpreters are often quite strict about their hours, only doing what they are contracted to do. This is understandable, given they usually work in pairs, doing 15-20 minute stints, but at university frequently work alone, translating for an hour or more in a lecture; I’ve only once this academic year had dual interpreters in my class, for a day of student presentations, which might reasonably be more of a strain.

Communication Support Workers (CSWs) are usually Level 4 qualified in BSL – for clarification I’m currently studying Signature Level 3, having qualified Level 2 sixteen years ago, in the CACDP days; assessment if not teaching practices have changed a lot in that time! – and from experience tend to forge greater links with Deaf students, often hanging around to help in (probably unpaid) informal settings like coffee breaks. Again, this is understandable, and to some degree recommends them over more highly qualified (and costlier) translators, although this relies on their good will, and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In technical subjects like mine, the level of qualifications are somewhat irrelevant as well, due to the complex (often inaccessible) language, with frequent use of impenetrable jargon that can only easily be finger spelled; but without the concept being understood, spelling a word doesn’t do much. Computer Science needs digital literacy to a high standard as well as competence in BSL. It also needs time to rephrase and reform language to get the idea across. Something there isn’t time for in a Software Engineering lecture, especially when there are more slides than minutes as some of my colleagues seem to use. (So much for ‘reasonable adjustment’ as having these in advance isn’t that much help to a Deaf student.) I’ve noticed that lecturers often don’t grasp how much of a barrier their use of English is to the Deaf, for whom English is often an alien second language; grammar and meaning are radically different even though BSL (and other regional sign languages) are heavily influenced by the native oral tongue. Deaf Awareness classes can only do so much, and many lecturers haven’t attended these anyway. I try to go to all the ones that run on my campus, and it is 99% student support (i.e. admin) staff who come, mostly female and rarely academics; this might be anecdotal though.

When an interpreter has cancelled on S last minute, which sadly happens regularly, it is very hard to find substitutes at short notice. Therefore, I’ve had to stand in on a few occasions, when my teaching or other duties have allowed. It’s hard work, given my understanding of BSL is an order of magnitude below CSWs, let alone interpreters. However, I do have the technical knowledge 🙂 and a few decades practice at making complex information accessible; it isn’t only the Deaf who struggle with jargon! Something for us all to remember: if we make our language simpler, we make the content of our teaching more accessible to everybody, not just students with Individual Support Packages (ISPs).

Talking with M, he asked me was it easier or harder working with an interpreter. As a typical programmer, I said “Yes.” 😀 However, I did explain: the pressure is off trying to get the syntax, semantics and grammar right, and I’m just fluent enough to be able to spot problems in the translation – Interpreters often say something a few times, with examples, which is why translating complex items takes time [Although not as bad as this, specifically at 1:35 

] – but the loss of direct communication can also be an issue, because not being able to see comprehension directly could mean an idea being incorrectly translated; in that respect I’m more fortunate, I suppose.
Are there other lecturers out there, who just happen to speak BSL, rather than it being their official role? What are your expectations of reasonable adjustment? Personally, mine is having done enough for the students to actually pass, but this view doesn’t seem to be shared by many others 🙁 

I’ve had a few occasions when I’ve been asked why I give up a few hours a week to help this student. I’m thinking “because he needs it,” but they seem to understand my desire for BSL practice more readily. Acting as emergency, if unofficial and barely adequate interpreter has forged stronger links with sympathetic colleagues, and allowed me to raise the issue of English being a barrier to learning. How do I spread that to the wider academic community?

Trump Wave – a game for #ggj17 using #Sifteo cubes

I’m making a game using Sifteo Cubes for the Global Game Jam 2017. Here are some random notes, which will may get neatened up into a sensible post-mortem.

I am using v1 cubes and software, which means the dev environment is a little flaky. For example, adding image assets involves using the SiftDev image helper tool, then reloading the code with the Load Apps tool, then refreshing the Siftulator simulation, which needs to be done, or the new graphics won’t appear. All this is very time consuming, so get your art assets sorted early.

Also peculiar with the image helper tool, is the siftbundle of image references, used to load graphics into the game, doesn’t honour file names, but seems to do something consistent, but random, which i think is creation date. This has meant I had to ‘hack’ the image loader to allow me control over asset naming in game.

Other stuff happened. Here will be links to the sdk you will need to download to run the game

Why I (along with others) am resigning as an External Examiner – an Open (and Rambling) Letter

To whom it may concern,

I am resigning from my external examining posts, and urge you to do the same. I’m not alone, and in illustrious company (see below), but we each have our own reasons (and regrets, I’m sure) for choosing to step down from one of the most pleasurable/painful duties an academic faces in their ‘famine and feast’ vocation. After all, who in their right mind would take on extra work during the busiest time of the year?

Why we are resigning - Guardian Letters
Why we are resigning – Guardian Letters

With ever more complex assessments, developed to innovate, teach work-place skills, and design out plagiarism, amidst shrinking deadlines caused by ever quicker turnarounds needed by academic boards, which seem (and mostly are) earlier and earlier – not to mention the “pre” and “pre pre” boards intended to polish up performance (and iron out problems?) prior to the arrival of the externals – which all serve to increase the burden of assessment, why would we add to that work load? And yet many of us have. And willingly so. 

You see we feel a duty and a benefit from our visits to the hampered campuses of fatigued colleagues. If nothing else, it helps us to not feel alone; to know that others share this strange and unique job of creating, measuring and peddling knowledge. At the best of times, I’ve seen true genius, dedication and amazing creativity on foreign soil. Some of my most successful strategies and teaching have been inspired by the work I’ve seen, and not only that of fellow lecturers; I have had to regularly readjust what I considered fair and reasonable to expect from students too, and always upwards. So, both I and my own institution have benefitted greatly by this cross-pollination.

In return, I feel I’ve been able to share my own experience, helping to make awards and the student experience that much better. And yet, one of the hardest lessons I learned from many years as an external examiner is that “It isn’t your job to tell colleagues how to do their job, just to make sure they did it!” It’s an incredibly diplomatic role, to just make sure that academics and administrators have followed their own rules and regulations. It can be hard sometimes, especially when your personal opinion might be that corners are being cut, procedures ignored or are actually counter-productive, given learning is our goal. The associated administrative load associated with measuring the measurement of success can be quite oppressive. Necessary, but oppressive. Just one of the increasing burdens. However, it is hard not to feel that some of these tasks take away from the true purpose of lecturing. 

In the worst (and thankfully rarest) cases, I’ve seen academic misconduct uncovered in or before boards. The sheer amount of sample course works, exams and projects that externals are expected to review in a day (or often a morning) is quite staggering. I’m reminded of Sir Humphrey’s Red Box strategy of burying unfortunate material in piles of papers.

Sir Humphrey hides bad news in Red Box No.5
Sir Humphrey hides bad news in Red Box No.5

Not that I believe lecturers are condoning plagiarism, etc, but it’s easy to miss academic misconduct when the work load is heavy, and deadlines are tight. When such activities are uncovered, it is embarrassing for everyone, because it calls into doubt the whole QA process. However, even such ‘bloody noses’ can be a great learning opportunity, because they help to raise academic debate on assessment in the 21st century.

So, being an external examiner has its ups and downs, but the institutional benefit far outweighs the small fees that externals receive – typically £200-£750 per annum depending on institution – for visiting campuses several times a year, as well as reviewing module packs, online materials, and occasional (re)validation documents. It should be noted that while academic staff are often being ‘paid twice’ for such activities, the fee never covers the real term costs for externals’ time but, as mentioned before, the tangible benefits to both host and lending universities – from cross-pollination of best practice and innovation in learning, teaching and assessment, as well as networking – more than make up for the illusion of externals unfairly benefitting from ‘double pay’.

I have definitely been amply rewarded for my time as external examiner, in a number of excellent schools across the country, least of all financially. I (and I’d like to think those I’ve worked with) have become a much better educator as a result. So, when I saw the instruction from UCU that members should resign from existing external examining posts, working out our notice (so as to not completely drop the ball), and not taking up new invitations, I was initially quite dismayed. Great friendships have been forged with esteemed colleagues in all of the universities I have worked with, in an external capacity, and I was concerned about the potential impact on my professional career. Leaving lecturers in the lurch is never going to be a comfortable thing to consider, and the chance that a sudden blot on a twenty year career as external could mean I might never again be approved for an examining post, played heavy on my heart.

I am aware that, for some, this was an unacceptable and surprising request from UCU, and in at least one case this has meant one fewer member as a result. However, when I sat down to think about it, my initial response seemed out of place. This is exactly the kind of action that can signal our resolve in this current strike. It is commensurate, communicates how fervently we support the union, and shows that we are prepared to personally sacrifice more than just wages, to make it clear that we mean business. We cannot afford the damp squib that was the pensions strike a few years ago, which just fizzled out. This is far more serious, because it is about the step-by-step destruction of the profession. Zero hour contracts, performance related pay by stealth (it’s coming, mark my words, and the first thin end of the wedge is already here, as we prepare for the TEF), and the systematic replacement of expensive senior staff with cheaper starting out lecturers, often on casual contracts, through ‘restructuring’, which notionally removes mid-management bloat, but actually just pushes unnecessary admin onto lower pay grades. 

In the long term, it’s hard to know just how much I have sacrificed by resigning: the loss of contact with colleagues and friends; the immeasurable educational effects of cross-fertilisation; and the professional and financial benefits. However, that is nothing to what the next generation of lecturers, those who will replace me in a decade or so, will have to face if we don’t make a stand now. It was never about a simple, selfish pay rise. Like with the Junior Doctors, it is about preventing the casual undermining of a whole profession. 

Dr. Mike Reddy

#FiveSentenceFiction – Abandon “”

Lillie McFerrin Writes

Lillie McFerrin hosts a Five Sentence Fiction competition on her blog. This week’s theme is Abandon. Here is my entry, which is inspired by the picture this week:

by Dr. Mike Reddy (@doctormikereddy)
“Ooh, heaven is a place on Earth…” a distorted Belinda Carlisle squawked, “They say in Heaven love comes first, Ooh Heaven is a…”. Ellen removed the Walkman’s thin metal framed, rather grubby orange headphones, and absently hung them round her neck while she took in the scene. An abandoned church, as many were now in the South Wales valleys, sold now, but clearly in need of more love and attention than she could possibly give.

Hidden demons dined on the strange depression of this particular corner of Hell, which Ellen had conjured up to be her eternal, never ending loop of torture. After a few seconds, it started again, “Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth…”

Nonsense and Adsense

You may have noticed, oh you lucky few who subscribe to this blog, that some adverts have discretely appeared (way down on the side and the bottom of pages and posts). I’ve taken the plunge, inspired by my middle daughter’s aspirations to become a YouTube “channeler” like many of her contemporary heroes, and decided to try to work out the mine field that is Google Adsense. I hold no false pretentions that this site will generate much (if any) revenue, and all of that will go to my excellent mentor and patron Paco, over at, who has been paying for this site to exist for a while now; he’s an excellent fellow, who just wants to boost the number of people writing intelligently about board and card games, etc. So, this isn’t about planting moneytree seeds, or a desire to wear moneyhats. It’s an experiment and an adventure.

For example, there are several “do”s and “don’ts” in using Google Adsense:

  • Firstly, to get Adsense approval in the first place, you must have content. Fortunately, I have blog posts going back ten years, and a good few YouTube videos on my channel. Nothing groundbreaking, but enough to show that I’ve been around for a while and am likely to be so in future. Imagine what this must feel like to a new and enthusiastic teenager; Sorry, daughter, but you are going to have to consistently make content for a while before you can think of these ways to even try to break even, let alone make a self-sustaining blog.
  • Secondly, you must never, ever click on one of your own ads – it’s the fastest way to get your Adsense account banned forever; and unless you remove ads from your site, Google will continue to post them there long after they have decided that you will not get paid. Google has a LOT of excellent material for helping you out, such as the Chrome plugin “Google Publisher Toolbar, which can overlay Adsense ads on your site, preventing accidental clicks.
  • Finally, expect the whole process to be a steep learning curve. All of a sudden I need a privacy policy, probably a disclaimer of some sort, and Terms & Conditions for using the site. This is all heavy stuff for a blogger, especially a first timer like my daughter. This is, apparently, one of the easiest ways to fall foul of Google’s T&Cs meaning that you might miss out on ad revenue, because you didn’t abide by those long conditions you agreed to when you applied for an Adsense account.

So, it’s already been fruitful. I know that I need to actually read the T&Cs to make sure that this site is all set up in the next few days. I am, after all, doing this to aid my daughter in her quest for Social Media stardom. Remember who will be footing the server bills otherwise!

What money can’t buy

I saw this story on Quora today:

Joseph Heller wrote the massive bestseller, Catch-22 about World War II…

Later in his life Heller went to a party in the Hamptons. Mostly young hedge fund guys at the party.

While he was at the party, someone came up to him and pointed out some 25 year old guy. “You see that guy over there?” the someone said. “That guy made more money last year than all of your books will make in your entire lifetime, times ten.”

Joseph Heller looked at the 25 year old guy then said. “But I have one thing that that man will never have.”

His friend gave a sort of scoff and said, “What could that possibly be?”

And Joseph Heller said, “Enough.”

This reminds me of something my Grand Dad used to say: “We’re not short of what we’ve got.” He also regularly commented, “It’ll either rain or go dark before morning.” So, we can’t hold much store in his philosophy. Those two family sayings were broadcast on BBC Radio Four’s “Quote Unquote” a few weeks ago. It made me smile to think that his wisdom lives on. He always knew that enough was enough, even though he once when hearing someone say “That’ll do.” interrupted them, saying “There’s no such thing as ‘That will do.’ Let me have a look… That’ll do!”

#FinishThatThought – “Fifty Shades of (Gandalf the) Grey” #flashfiction

Alissa Leonard has created the “Finish That Thought” Flash Fiction compo, which usually provides an opening line and some ‘special challenge’ words to include, and must be less than 500 words. This week’s compo opening line was “Three strangers appeared on my [doorstep], and in their [hands] they brought death.” and the judge’s special challenge from the judge was to: “Include at least THREE of the following literary characters: Edward Rochester, Jo March, Harry Potter, Anne Shirley, Sherlock Holmes, Katniss Everdeen, Dracula, Miss Havisham, Rhett Butler, Lucy Pevensie, Gandalf the Grey.”

I didn’t have much time this week, but wanted to put something in, even if it was short, because it has been SO long since I last wrote something. This is my story, but please check out the original submission and read other entries.

Fifty Shades of (Gandalf the) Grey (500 Words)
By Dr. Mike Reddy @DoctorMikeReddy

Three strangers appeared on my doorstep, and in their hands they brought death. This particular death, as any fan boy/girl will tell you, was the worst of all.

“Miss Antrim? Miss Sally Antrim?” the first suit asked. I nodded, then mumbled “Ms…”

“Mzzz Antrim, we represent the various publishers, Scholastic, Bloomsbury, BBC Books and Harper Collins. I have here a cease and desist letter from our clients.”

Normally, “C+Ds” were clean strikes like an Internet transmitted smart bomb. I clumsily received the document and opened the envelope. It must have only recently been sealed; I made a mental note to put it in the reusable pile.

“We, the above… remove references pertaining to… Hogwarts, Panem, Moria… Sherlock Holmes…” I looked up, confused. “Isn’t Conan Doyle’s…”

“Not the Cumberbatch version, dear. Only the early stuff is public domain.” the second suit interrupted. The third shrugged. “Can you sign here.” he pointed to an iPad, and pushed it forward. I squiggled my autograph, long practiced in anticipation of book launches, public appearances and lecture tours.

“Thank you, Mzzz Antrim,” the first man said, “Have a good day.” The three men turned about, insisting that each other go first, then swiftly walked down the garden path, stepping gingerly over the weed strewn cobbles.

They had been gone a few minutes before I realised I was still standing in the open front doorway, in a half soaked bathrobe. A shudder broke the spell, and I hurried inside. Steam coming from the downstairs bathroom recalled my hurry to answer the door, thinking the intrusion another Amazon delivery. Numbly, I cut off the water, and stumbled into the kitchen to make some herbal tea.

“Who was that?” Harry asked, sipping coffee. Black. A little honey to sweeten the bitterness. He could sense my despair. I held out the letter, which floated towards him, bouncing along in time to his flicking wand. Gandalf sighed at the ostentatiousness and snatched it from the air.

“Ho hum… this appears to…” the Wizard began.

“It is obviously a legal document. Judging by the envelope – manila, self-sealing but with no lasting damage to the glue line – so, recently closed… Some disagreement? Negotiation as to how to proceed…? I take it that this is instructions to stop your…” The tall, curly haired man gestured to the other occupants of the kitchen table. “… ‘inspired’ story telling.”

Gandalf coughed his disapproval. “It is as Mr Holmes ‘guessed’”. The taller man snorted, then set about buttering his toast, taking rather more pleasure in scraping his knife than necessary. The Wizard shuddered. He knew the Detective knew he hated that sound.

“I say we go after them, and skin them” Sally heard behind her. An arrow swiftly plucked the letter from the Wizard’s startled fingers and pinned it to the wall. Katniss gripped my shoulders. “You can’t stop writing now. How else will we find out if Sherlock truly loves me?”

Javin: An update and possibly a name change

This project has been on the back burner for several months, but is picking up now that three MComp post-grads have been brought in to help 🙂 but the previous experience of these masters students suggests C++ is the most likely future platform. So, my own progress with Java (looking at an extension to VASSAL v3) is probably moot, but the C++ based 4th version of VASSAL (when it eventually arrives) might be better suited to this new approach. However, this might require a name change for the project; the J in Javin stood for Java after all.

Opinion on the UK X-Wing FaceBook Group about resurrecting this idea has been varied: One commenter, Allan, asked why we’d want to computerise a social, physical game when plenty of Star Wars video games existed already. That wasn’t an unreasonable question, but adding meaningful “single player” to any board/card/miniature game is a time honoured activity. Other responses showed support for the idea of being able to play/practice solo. Also, most Star Wars video games have been FPSs or Ship Sims, 3rd person combat MMOs and RPGs, or RTS games, and nothing like the X-Wing we know and love. That, in itself, is interesting, and leads me to think that a video game version of X-Wing turn-based dogfight style play is an underdeveloped concept; A.I. would make a big difference to the success of such a title, and creating a testbed for researching X-Wing bots would be a useful deliverable.

So, the aim of the project is now a C++ simulation (based upon the VASSAL implementation of X-Wing) that allows you to “play” X-Wing against a variety of bot opponents. Like VASSAL, it couldn’t have any copyright material, and wouldn’t be able to automate everything, such as special pilot abilities, etc, but might provide a simple opponent that goes a little beyond the web applet or the look up table for a basic A.I. that is available on BGG. However, augmenting the physical game, such as using VASSAL to reproduce “blow-by-blow” graphics to represent real games – here is one excellent example posted on FFG – should be considered. So, the ultimate aim of the simulator is threefold:
1) provide enough of a simulation of X-Wing to be at the level of VASSAL, but with rudimentary A.I. that goes beyond that provided by the current web applet. It would also be a testbed for further A.I. research.
2) Use AR to map a real tabletop game into the computer, by way of special tags on the base of each ship. This would initially just allow two human players to have their physical game tracked by the computer.
3) The two above combined for rudimentary single play, or the possibility of a computer aided/augmented game. This would use a projector underneath a translucent play surface to provide a projected HUD-style overlay for effects – e.g. damage, range, etc – similar to what is possible with VASSAL.

The obstacles are mostly the complexity of choice: Do I take a Focus or an Evade, or Barrel Roll? Knowing the opponent has a “Fat Han”, how would a bot guess where that YT1300 is going in order to block him with a TIE? This is why Jay Little was sceptical, when I talked to him about it a couple of years ago, and it has been slow progress working alone, or recruiting suitable students. However, I’d like the UK Nationals, one day, to have the top table be this interactive X-Wing thing, if only to have the game live-captured by the computer. Entering an artificial player in the tournament IS a pipe dream – Jay is right on that, for now at least! – because of its complexity. However, having the chance to play an Automated TIE Drone Swarm is a bit like Kasparov vs Deep Blue; likely for the droids to lose, but interesting to see how well they do. This is even canon; droids were fought against pre-New Hope and in the EU (The N64’s TIE/d anyone?), even though in Star Wars they weren’t as good as human pilots according to Wookipedia. The current students will start by investigating the first stage of simulating the same basic game play that VASSAL provides. Other features, such as the AR functionality will come later.

AR – Augmented Reality, which in this case uses a web cam to identify tags in order to ‘digitise’ the location of ships. Other applications involve overlaying data onto the real world; an example would be Google Glass(tm).
FFG – Fantasy Flight Games, producer of the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.
FPS – First Person Shooter, like Star Wars:Dark Forces.
MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic.
RPGS – Role Playing Game, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
RTS – Real-Time Strategy, such as Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.

Javin: Reviving my desire for an A.I. Player for X-Wing

Originally posted on Team Covenant

I’ve been interested for a while now in Javin a projector-based visualisation tool for X-Wing, which would have several components ultimately:

1) A projector table to show off visualisation software, such as Vassal or a bespoke coded program.

2) Interactive table features to allow AR tags on ship bases to be recognised on the table as a hybrid computer/physical game interface.

3) Artificial intelligence opponents that could play either a virtual opponent or a physical opponent.

Sadly, the two students I put on this over 2013 were rather poor in delivering results, so the project was sort of shelved for a while. Anyway, I am now looking at Vassal as the main visualisation software, rather than creating our own testbed, because it has become ubiquitous in online play; the exceptional work in appearance and functionality of Vassal is well above anything that I could do in the short term. So, I am now looking at ways to modify/extend Vassal and/or the X-Wing module to allow asteroid and ship positions (x,y,ø) to be transmitted to an outside process for A.I. planning of ship movements. These would then need to be passed back to the settings for the AI. movement dials, ideally, but we need to be realistic. Many rulings and interpretations of pilot abilities and general implementation of movement would still require a human to apply.

Anyway, when (if!) I make any progress on Javin I will, of course, post it here.



I’ve been playing with Vassal basic editing, and come up with a ‘canon’ extra fighter, the TIE/d (Note, not the TIE/D which is the Defender. In this case the ‘d’ stands for ‘drone’). If you would like to run these, the important thing to do as ‘human’ players is to simulate a basic A.I. and have craft engaging in swarm (as in bot) behaviour; keeping apart, but pursuing the nearest enemy, regardless of ‘who’ is tactically best to attack. NOTE: This player should be immune to ‘Biggs’ despite the fact that this is not specifically mentioned on the card I created, as it only just occurred to me; this depends upon ‘how’ the Biggs Effect works of course. Also, on considering the weak A.I. of the lookup table (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) / Web Applet as a suitable model for the first version of an inbuilt A.I. that system ignores assigning Stress Tokens, because it would occasionally produce illegal moves otherwise; when a Red move came up and the ship was already stressed. There are two solutions to this:

  1. Allow the move, but stack up the stress counters, which would represent increasing confusion on the part of the bot brain and prevent actions until all had been cleared off.
  2. Update/extend the lookup table to account for occasional restrictions on movements, which would complicate the basic A.I. table quite a bit.

Pilot Card

Ship Token (with stats)

I’ll include a download link here once I’ve finished the Vassal extension and tested it.

#fivesentencefiction – Moments “Oh well”

Lillie McFerrin Writes

Lillie McFerrin hosts a Five Sentence Fiction competition on her blog. This week’s theme is Moments.


Here is my entry, which is inspired by the picture this week:


“Oh well”
by Dr. Mike Reddy (@doctormikereddy)

“No, look,” Bill said smugly. “It’s a reflex action from birth, but it don’t last long, so ya have to help me now!”

“You’re serious, aren’t ya?” his best mate asked. “You want me to video you suspending your sister’s baby over the old wishing well… for a YouTube video…?”

“Totally, Ted! It will be VIRAL!” he said, pointing repeatedly at the camera.

Ted grudgingly started recording, his one visible eye seeking reassurance that it was going to be ok.

“Holly shit,” he said “The little bugger is totally hanging from your fin… Oh!”