[Bloganuary] Alumnus

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What colleges have you attended?

I feel like this question might be a little US-centric? Or at least, not UK-friendly! The question doesn’t translate well because of transatlantic differences in our higher education systems (even after I skimmed a guide to higher education across the pond).

Let’s try instead enumerating the education establishments I’ve attended post-school. There’ve been a few!

Preston College

A young Dan, plus seven other casually-dressed young men, pose in a classroom.
I’m the leftmost of the unwashed nerdy louts in this collection of unwashed nerdy louts: Preston College’s Computing A-Level graduates of the 1997-1999 class.

Nowadays young adults are required to be enrolled in education or training until the age of 18, but that wasn’t the case when I finished secondary school at 16. Because my school didn’t yet offer a “sixth form” (education for 16-18 year olds), I registered with Preston College to study A-Levels in Computing, Maths, Psychology, and General Studies.

The first of these choices reflected my intention to go on to study Computer Science at University1. Psychology was chosen out of personal interest, and General Studies was a filler to round-out my programme.

A group of young adults mill around in a rainy car park between campus buildings.
This photo first appeared in one of my oldest (surviving) contemporary blog posts, way back in 1999.

Aberystwyth University

Then known as the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, this became my next academic destination as I pursued an undergraduate degree in Computer Science with Software Engineering.

Standing in a study bedroom, Dan shows off his certificate of admission to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
This photo, showing off my admission certificate in my just-moved-into study bedroom, first appeared in a then-private post in October 1999 (after I’d had time to get the film developed and scan the print!2).
Originally intending to spend five years doing a masters degree, I later dialled-back my plans and left with only a bachelors degree (although I still somehow spent five years getting it). This was not-least because I was much more-interested in implementing Three Rings than in studying, although I at least eventually managed to get away with writing and  handing in a dissertation based on my work on the project3 and was awarded a degree and got to wear a silly hat and everything.
Dan and Aberystwyth friends at Ruth and JTA's wedding.
Of course, the real adventure at Aberystwyth was the friends I made along the way. Including this lot!

Since then, I’ve used my Software Engineering degree for… almost nothing. I started working at SmartData before I’d even completed it; the Bodleian required that I had one but didn’t care what the subject was, and I’m not certain that Automattic even asked. But I still appreciate some of the theoretical grounding it gave me, which helps me when I learn new concepts to this day4.

Aylesbury College

Almost a decade later, the academic bug bit me again and I decided to study towards a foundation degree in Counselling & Psychotherapy! I figured that it I were going to have one degree that I never use, I might as well have two of them, right?

A group of 16 counselling students outside a classroom: all are white, and with the exception of Dan, all are women.
Among this cheery group I stood out for a couple of reasons, but perhaps the most-interesting was that I was the only member of my class who didn’t intend to use their new qualification in a practical capacity.

The academic parts5 of the work could be done remotely, but I needed to zip back and forth to Aylesbury on Monday evenings for several years for the practical parts.

The Open University

Almost another decade passed then I decided it was time to break into academia a further time. This time, I decided to build on my existing knowledge from my first degree plus the subsequent experience and qualifications I’d gained in ethical hacking and penetration testing, and decided to go for a masters degree in Information Security and Forensics! I even managed to do some original research for my dissertation, although it’s terribly uninteresting because all it possibly managed to prove was the null hypothesis.

Dan with his Masters Degree certificate (Master of Science in Computing: Information Security and Forensics)
Smug mode activated as I prepare to add another degree certificate to the wall.

Something I’d discovered having been a student in my teens, in my 20s, in my 30s, and in my 40s… is that it gets harder! Whereas in my 20s I could put in an overnight cram session and ace an exam, in my 40s I absolutely needed to spend the time studying and revising over many weeks before information would become concrete in my mind!6 It almost feels like it’s a physical effort to shunt things into my brain, where once it was near-effortlessly easy.

People have occasionally suggested that I might push my field(s) even further and do a doctorate someday. I don’t think that’s for me. A masters in a subdiscipline was plenty narrow-enough a field for my interests: I’d far rather study something new.

Maybe there’s another degree in my sometime, someday, but it’s probably a bachelors!


1 I figured that an A-Level in Maths would be essential for admission to a Computer Science degree, but it very definitely wasn’t, though it helped out in other ways.

2 The ubiquity of digital photography nowadays makes it easy to forget that snapping a picture to share with friends used to be really hard work.

3 Little did I know that 20 years later Three Rings would still be going strong, now supporting ~60,000 volunteers in half a dozen countries!

4 While I love and am defensive of self-taught programmers, and feel that bootcamp-plus-experience is absolutely sufficient for many individuals to excel in my industry, there are certain topics – like compiler theory, data structures and algorithms, growth rates of function complexity, etc. – that are just better to learn in an academic setting, and which in turn can help bootstrap you every time you need to learn a new programming language or paradigm. Not to mention the benefit of “learning how to learn”, for which university can be great. It’s a bloody expensive way to get those skills, especially nowadays, though!

5 I was surprised to find that the academic bits of my course in counselling and psychotherapy were more-interesting than the practical bits. See for example my blog post about enjoying a deep dive into the background of The Gloria Films. I learned a lot from the practical bits too, mind.

6 I probably didn’t do myself any favours by beginning Automattic’s intensive and challenging recruitment process while wrapping up my masters degree though.

× × × × × ×

Surprises, e.g. a Brother-in-Law

Last weekend was an exciting and unusual experience, full of exciting (expected) things interspersed with a handful of exciting (unexpected) things. Let’s go chronologically:

Thursday/Friday – Mario, Magic, Marriage

I left work, picked up a rental car (having unfortunately forgotten to take my counterpart driving license to the rental place, I had the choice of either cycling for an hour to collect it or else paying a fiver for them to run a DVLA check, and I opted for the latter on the grounds that an hour of my time (especially if I have to spend it cycling back and forth along the same stretch of road) is worth more to me than a picture of Elizabeth Fry. I drove home, packed a bag, said goodbye to Ruth, JTA, and Annabel, and drove up to Preston.

"I just found this card."
“I just found this card; is it yours? Maybe it will be, later.”

There, I spent most of Friday playing the new Mario game with my sister Becky, gave a few small performances of magic (did I mention I’m doing magic nowadays? – guess that’ll have to wait for another blog post) at various places around Preston, and went out for a curry with my mother, my sisters Becky and Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Richard. So far, so ordinary, right? Well that’s where things took a turn. Because as Becky, our mother, and I looked at the drinks menu as we waited for Sarah and her boyfriend to turn up… something different happened instead.

Sarah and Richard announce to the rest of the family that they're now married.
Never before in our family has a marriage been conducted with so little pomp nor pre-planning. Except for our mother’s, of course.

Sarah turned up with her husband.

It turns out that they’d gotten married earlier that afternoon. They’d not told anybody in advance – nobody at all – but had simply gone to the registry office (via a jewellers, to rustle up some rings, and a Starbucks, to rustle up some witnesses) and tied the knot. Okay; that’s not strictly true: clearly they had at least three weeks planning on account of the way that marriage banns work in the UK. Any case case, I’ve suddenly got the temptation to write some software that monitors marriage announcements (assuming there are XML feeds, or something) and compares them to your address book to let you know if anybody you know is planning to elope, just to save me from the moment of surprise that caught me out in a curry house on Friday evening.

Richard pushes Sarah around Sainsburys.
Tie some cans behind that trolley and spray “just married” on it in shaving foam, would you?

So it turns out I’ve acquired a brother-in-law. He’s a lovely chap and everything, but man, that was surprising. There’ll doubtless be more about it in Episode 32 of Becky’s “Family Vlog”, so if there was ever an episode that you ought to watch, then it’s this one – with its marriage surprise and (probably) moments of magic – that you ought to keep an eye out for.

Saturday/Sunday – Distillery, Drinking, Debauchery

Next, I made my way up to Edinburgh to meet up with Matt R and his man-buddies for a stag night to remember. Or, failing that, a stag night to forget in a drunken haze: it’s been a long, long time since I’ve drunk like I did on that particular outing. After warming up with a beer or two in our hotel room, the five of us made our way to the Glenkinchie Distillery, for a wonderful exploration into the world of whiskies.

Still #1 at the Glenkinchie Distillery.
It’s hard to appreciate how large the pair of stills at Glenkinchie are, if you’ve only seen the stills at other Scottish distilleries before. See the people in the background, for scale.

And then, of course, began the real drinking. Four or five whiskies at the distillery bar, followed by another beer back in the hotel room, followed by a couple more beers at bars, followed by another four whiskies at the Whiski Rooms (which I’d first visited while in Edinburgh for the fringe, last year), followed by a beer with dinner… and I was already pretty wiped-out. Another of the ‘stags’ and I – he equally knackered and anticipating a full day of work, in the morning – retired to the hotel room while the remainder took Matt out “in search of a titty bar” (a mission in which, I gather, they were unsuccessful).

The Glenkinchie Distillery bar.
The Glenkinchie Distillery bar carries a full range of Diageo Scotch whiskies, plus a handful of other brands, and expert staff are on hand to help with tasting.

Do you remember being in your early twenties and being able to throw back that kind of level of booze without so much as a shudder? Gosh, it gets harder a decade later. On the other hand, I was sufficiently pickled that I wasn’t for a moment disturbed by the gents I was sharing a room with, who I should re-name “snore-monster”, “fart-monster”, and “gets-up-a-half-dozen-times-during-the-night-to-hug-the-toilet-bowl-monster”. I just passed out and stayed that way until the morning came, when I went in search of a sobering double-helping of fried food to set me right before the long journey back to Oxford.

All in all: hell of a stag night, and a great pre-party in anticipation of next weekend’s pair of weddings… y’know, the ones which I’d stupidly thought would be the only two couples I knew who’d be getting married this fortnight!

× × × × ×

New Year Photos

These images were shared here in hindsight, on 25 May 2019.

Head Sizes

Is there a correlation between head circumference and intelligence, as measured by GCSE scores? Our research says no.

Graph showing no correlation between head circumference and GCSE points; the axes are definitely wrong as the smallest head is only around 1cm.

Raw data:

60.4 45 12.87 115.025625 21.855625
57.2 48 31.605 56.625625 2.805625
57.5 44 1.565 61.230625 32.205625
56.4 41 -18.83 45.225625 75.255625
57.1 44 1.485 55.130625 32.205625
56.6 42 -12.465 47.955625 58.905625
54.9 42 -9.405 27.300625 58.905625
55.3 38 -32.625 31.640625 136.305625
55.6 49 30.81 35.105625 0.455625
57.5 42 -14.085 61.230625 58.905625
56.9 43 -5.78 52.200625 44.555625
54.3 41 -12.95 21.390625 75.255625
57.4 42 -13.905 59.675625 58.905625
56.9 42 -13.005 52.200625 58.905625
53.5 44 0.765 14.630625 32.205625
56.7 40 -26.695 49.350625 93.605625
58.3 39 -41.4 74.390625 113.955625
57.7 43 -6.42 64.400625 44.555625
53.5 40 -14.535 14.630625 93.605625
60.3 40 -40.375 112.890625 93.605625
57.2 45 9.03 56.625625 21.855625
53.6 47 12.56 15.405625 7.155625
58.6 51 64.26 79.655625 1.755625
52.3 53 24.15 6.890625 11.055625
55.1 40 -20.615 29.430625 93.605625
54.0 36 -33.735 18.705625 187.005625
54.1 43 -3.54 19.580625 44.555625
57.1 49 38.61 55.130625 0.455625
53.6 45 4.71 15.405625 21.855625
54.4 46 10.395 22.325625 13.505625
FEMALE 56 38 -36.685 40.005625 136.305625
60.0 47 33.04 106.605625 7.155625
58.8 40 -34.675 83.265625 93.605625
56.1 53 59.11 41.280625 11.055625
52.1 37 -16.49 5.880625 160.655625
53.0 37 -22.61 11.055625 160.655625
56.5 49 35.49 46.580625 0.455625
55.9 45 7.47 38.750625 21.855625
56.2 36 -50.895 42.575625 187.005625
55.0 37 -36.21 28.355625 160.655625
52.5 51 20.34 7.980625 1.755625
55.0 40 -20.235 28.355625 93.605625
58.8 37 -62.05 83.265625 160.655625
56.1 44 1.285 41.280625 32.205625
55.9 48 26.145 38.750625 2.805625
56.0 50 39.215 40.005625 0.105625
52.7 48 12.705 9.150625 2.805625
57.2 45 9.03 56.625625 21.855625
56.7 39 -33.72 49.350625 113.955625
60.2 41 -29.47 110.775625 75.255625
53.4 40 -14.155 13.875625 93.605625
57.9 41 -23.03 67.650625 75.255625
53.9 50 26.195 17.850625 0.105625
57.5 51 56.34 61.230625 1.755625
59.1 40 -35.815 88.830625 93.605625
57.7 44 1.605 64.400625 32.205625
52.3 53 24.15 6.890625 11.055625
58.5 50 54.715 77.880625 0.105625
58.5 46 19.415 77.880625 13.505625
60.0 47 33.04 106.605625 7.155625
2980.5 2628 -34.3 2864.3825 3362.5375

Avatar Diary

Went to church with Alecia and Richard. There’s a weird experience for me. Tasted the new flavour of Juicefuls from Brewsters while I was in town – Strawberry flavour. They’re just as addictive as all the other flavours. Though I had intended to use the remainder of the day to finish tidying my room (the end of a mammoth task) and doing homework which is due later this week, I was instead distracted and played on Civilization II, watched TV, and other such mind-expanding activities. Went to bed in the wee small hours, after updating the Castle with my latest Åvatar Diary accounts.

Avatar Diary

Went into college for Pure Maths, and for the first time in 1999, arrived on time (as opposed to one or more hours early)! Went out for tea to McDonalds with my dad and sisters in the evening. Went to my mum’s house, and spent five hours (almost breaking my personal record of 5 hours 27 minutes) on the phone to Fay, and, after failing to go to sleep afterwards, sat up and watched the sunrise before dropping off. If anyone asks about why I was on the phone to her at that time of night, I’ll tell them that I’m running a phone sex line as a way of making extra income. No – that won’t work… It was my call… Hmm… Let me think of an explanation, then…

Andy Heywood attempts to explain Pure Maths


Avatar Diary

Maths in the morning. How is it that the first lesson in a new module always makes so much more sense than any other one? Went home for lunch in my three-hour break, returning for Psychology. Watched a video on “Eyewitness Testimony”. We’ve seen the same one three times now. Alecia took the second half of the lesson to preach to us – usally the kind of activity for Monday’s Psychology lessons – and persuaded Richard and me to come with her to church on Sunday. Promised I’d go, and I think I’ve persuaded Rik too, as well (even though he let her down on the Carol Service). “You can’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it,” I told him, with my usual democratic tact.

Couldn’t sleep again tonight – same as last night – watched TV until about 4:30am…

Avatar Diary

Psychology in the morning was low-tone, and everybody seems to be under excess stress. Bunked off General Studies, because the recently-done exam paper hasn’t been marked anyway, and it’ll be cancelled as usual… Everything seems to be this week. Instead, took off into town with Fay, browsed the shops, put in my application for a Switch card at the bank, and ate hot potatoes for lunch. Returned to college at 2:00pm for my Mechanics exam, arriving just on time by taking a short cut through the building site. The exam wasn’t too bad.

Hanging out at Preston College


Avatar Diary

Didn’t go in to college. Virtually all my lessons have been cancelled anyway. Instead – spend the morning catching up on sleep lost over the last few weeks, and took the afternoon as a chance to deal with my backlog of e-mail in my InBox…

LORD II – Preston College Version

This document was shared on my college Intranet and via a hidden URL on my first website, on 11 December 1997. It was republished here on 22 March 2021. It provides instructions for players of the multiplayer DOOR game I adapted for local network play and the world I built within it for my friends to explore. The game world was an adaptation of our very own Preston College but transplanted to a fantasy realm.

LEGEND OF THE RED DRAGON II – Preston College Version

You have probably been given this sheet because you have requested a chance to take part in one of the most fast-moving and user-interactive multi user games on earth. I’ve spent a lot of time recently reprogramming Seth Able Robinson’s Bulletin Board System game, Legend Of The Red Dragon II (with his permission) to customise it and make it suitable for network play.

But – I’m sure this waffle is worthless to you; so here are the instructions you need:

To run the software:

Drop to an MS-DOS shell using the appropriate icon. Change to the ALEVEL.001 directory, if you’re not already there, by typing CD\ALEVEL.001. Type PC (abbreviation of Preston College) to start. You will be asked for your user name and password. These should be on a slip of paper attached to the foot of this sheet. Your password will be hidden from view for security.

Upon logging in for the first time you will see a menu from which you can choose to see the instructions, and other functions, or start the game. It is recommended that you read the instructions now, though do remember it is possible to get to them from the game by tapping ?.

Assuming you’ve discovered how to play, by one means or another, here is a list of some people and places in the game you might want to visit.

(Please note : The map of Preston College in the game is only representative, and not necessarily accurate. There is most definitely not a cult temple or a stone circle on campus…)


Until you have visited here you won’t have a membership card, which allows you access to much of the game. It’s one of the first places your character should visit.


Right next door to enrolment, this cool office will buy junk that you don’t want any more from you.


Kevin Geldard, your computing teacher, lives in an office on the Ground Floor of the Main Building. Though he can be prone to rambling on and persistently saying “BEAST!” in the middle of otherwise sane-sounding sentences, he’s the key to a lot of the game world, and a valuable resource.


Found within the I.T. Block, this machine is the hub of all the computers in the college. With it it’s possible to really screw up somebody’s student record. However, it’s kept under lock and key.


Keep your eye out for these, as you can buy food and drinks from them. Different foodstuffs restore different quantities of Hit Points, so try them all (remember that some also have extra purposes beyond the obvious…)


Scattered around the college, these appear as a coloured section of wall. You can write messages on them to other players, to arrange trade, combat and other meetings.


This dirt path, found beyond the amphitheatre, is a dangerous land. Head to it to practice your combat skills, and earn a little money and experience while you’re at it. The brook is a barrier, protecting the campus from the Lands Of Chaos beyond. It is possible to cross the river at the bridge, but only the greatest warriors are allowed across.


The Disciples of Nig, a religious cult, have established themselves within the campus. Finding their temple will enable you to meditate there. Check the daily College Bulletin (by pressing D) to find out if the Disciples are celebrating a festival to determine if it is worth your while to go there.


It is believed that the black altar within this strange circle of standing stones is blessed with a power beyond that of this world.


This safe haven is a land of protection from other players. Take refuge here to escape the blows of your enemies. Just remember that you need your Student ID Card to get in.


The place to hang out if you’re waiting for somebody. Right next to a message board, and with easy access to the main doors, you can settle down here if you don’t quite require the level of security the refectory provides.