Next month: April 1996
You might like to know that I was the last Connect staff member to get a net connection after we'd moved over (hey, I'm only the Webmaster and the maintainer of the lottery pages on Connect...what do I need a net connection for ?). I was net-less for the whole of Thursday, whereas all the other 3 people in my office had machines fully connected as soon as they moved to the new place. It meant I couldn't upload updates to these lottery pages because the SyQuest drive I use to do this is attached to my work machine.
I've also added an expiry comment to each individual lottery page, giving the exact time and date that prizes won in that draw have to be claimed by. It auto-switches to an "unclaimed prizes have expired" message for draws older than 180 days and this is now tied in with the expiry boundary shift cron job at 11.00pm each Thursday. When the expiry boundary moves, the individual page for lottery #(current-25) is also re-generated with the new message, although this scheme would have be changed if there were two draws per week of course.
The main InterLotto site has now been opened up to all UK users thanks to clearance from their lawyers. I have duly adjusted all InterLotto URLs to go to the main site instead. Fixed a fault in the Lottery Links data file that was messing up the search facility (causing it to return links that were one review out !).
I've updated the How To Play leaflet page to include the latest version that Camelot have released (has details on the Lucky Dip). I fixed some minor errors by myself in the original leaflet page and also slightly adjusted punctuation and layout (and the odd missing word !) compared to Camelot's leaflet. Finally, I added several more links in the leaflet text to sections on my pages of course. I've been unsuccessfully trying to get figures on unclaimed prizes - the staff on Camelot's phone line say they only have an overall figure and not a draw-by-draw set of unclaimed prizes, so my rival might have his work cut out finding those goodies !
I took the opportunity to adjust the layout of those ticket sales pages by changing the draw number column to be the full date instead. The new scratchcard pages are also a response to my main rival, who already has those figures on his pages. Before you ask, no, I didn't copy his figures ! I requested all the ticket sales info from Camelot and they sent me it via snail-mail (it turns out that the printouts they send out are manually constructed - arrrggggh - which means they have typos I have to re-phone Camelot about...grrr...). Oh, I've changed the first 8 draws' ball sets to be "A" or "B" on the appropriate individual lottery pages and on the further draw details page.
I had e-mail from a user who wondered where the draw order info had gone from the individual lottery pages (it is there - I just put it in the form of a pre-formatted table), which set me thinking that the table labelling wasn't quite "obvious". To compensate for this, I've called the first column "Ball" and put 1st, 2nd, ... 6th and Bonus in that column, rather than the less clear #, 1, 2, ... 6 and B. I also added a sentence prior to the new draw order table that explains what the table's about (though the table headings probably make that explanation redundant).
For the first time, I decided to check out the lottery vendor on the upper floor of Clayton Square shopping centre here in Liverpool. I went up the escalator and was surprised to see that it was one of those rare official lottery kiosks ! However, it was all closed up - studying the opening times, I discovered that it didn't open until 11.00am on most weekdays, which is utterly ridiculous: it should have normal store opening times.
A "constituent" in Wantage, Oxfordshire decided that they didn't like the UK National Lottery and, because my pages are on Connect (a part of the Department of Computer Science here at the University of Liverpool), they decided to write to their local MP, Robert Jackson, who [I'm informed] is the junior minister for Higher Education. They were upset that an academic site was promoting the UK lottery and thought that the pages were tied in with Camelot in some way.
That "constituent" (a Wantage male - I have no other info) clearly had WWW access because he sent paper copies of some of my WWW lottery pages to Jackson, who then forwarded them onto the Vice Chancellor here at Liverpool University, who passed them onto the head of my department, who showed them to me. Quite why this ludicrous paper-pushing went on when the original constituent could simply have e-mailed me to ask his questions, which I would quite happily have answered, is anyone's guess !
If that guy is reading this page (unlikely, since he didn't seem to have read my pages correctly judging by the incorrect statements he made to his MP in his correspondence), the answers are:
Switching into editorial mode here for a moment (which these pages are always in !), if you don't like these pages, why not e-mail me face-to-face ? Trying to put pressure on these pages via a local MP (and feeding them false information to boot, knowing that the MP would never even look at my pages...Internet, what's that ?) is a sneaky, underhanded tactic. If you can read my pages, you almost certainly have e-mail - (incorrectly) criticising the pages behind my back is a chicken's way out and to insult them too by claiming they're poor quality when it's evident [hopefully] to everyone else that they're not doesn't help matters either. If you don't like the lottery, don't play it. If you don't like these lottery pages, don't read them. It's as simple as that.
The head of our department thinks it would be a great idea to invite Robert Jackson up to our Connect "headquarters" for him to see what the whole project is about (the lottery pages are only a very small part of it) and I agree, although I suspect Jackson wouldn't have spare time to travel up to Liverpool. As it stands, I've passed replies to the various points made by this anonymous "constituent" back to the head of our department, who will filter them through to Robert Jackson, perhaps with the aforementioned invitation attached. It's a good job that everyone doesn't go running to their local MP every time they see something they don't like on the WWW !
Next up was a second table on each individual lottery page which detailed the draw order, updated frequencies of the 7 drawn balls and how many draws have elapsed since they were previously drawn. There's also an InterLotto version of this table of course. I've also transcribed the instructions from the back of a new 7-board playslip.
I received the 2nd Edition of the Rules For On-Line Games And The National Lottery Games Procedures. The only changes were for the new Lucky Dip on terminals and playslips and the new 3-match rule, which I got wrong originally (as have many other people) and have duly fixed. Now that I have a serious rival to these pages, I've requested all previous ticket sales, individual prizes and number of winners again from Camelot, who will send me the info via snail-mail. The rival site had a couple of differences in ticket sales figures to mine - one was my fault (now fixed) and one was theirs (which I've e-mailed them about).
Fixed a bug in the InterLotto mail filter code that's been floating around for a while and caused problems with the InterLotto results data file by duplicating next week's info line (a dummy data line mainly used for the day offset to find out what the draw date is). Improved the speech CGI error page (yes, that link will display it for you !) so that it has the same HTML style as the lottery home page.
Meanwhile, in the "real world", our Connect organisation has started occupying a new building on the edge of the Liverpool University campus, although we are still on the Department of Computer Science's network. Over the next few months, Connect staff will move into the new accommodation and, yes, that includes me (and my work machine of course).
Added a new most common triples page, which I managed to create by modifying the existing code for the most common pairs page and thus avoiding having to duplicate code. I've also souped up the info for both sets of pages by giving the total number of pairs/triples for a particular frequency where there are too many to list individually. I also included an extra line in the Notes to indicate how many pairs/triples had been drawn in total and what the percentage coverage is so far. I also now avoid mentioning about pairs/triples that have appeared in the latest lottery if there aren't any of them highlighted in bold.
This new rule takes affect from 17th March, which has also been deemed as the official launch date of the Lucky Dip facility and new How To Play leaflets of course. The "nightmare scenario" where this new rule came into effect would mean that a jackpot winner might only get £8 or £9 for matching 6 balls ! I'm quite surprised that part (e.g. £40m) of the massively under-utilised Super Draw fund isn't used as a contingency fund, which would allow 3-match winners to be fully paid as well as leaving enough money over to payout the other categories.
When the new rule come into effect, I'll request a new rulebook from Camelot at the same time just to officially clarify the position. In terms of my results data file and the various calculations, it's not going to be too hard to re-code (I do store the size of each 3-match prize in every line of the data file), although it will be made tricky if they don't round down the prize to the nearest integer because I currently read that figure in as an int !
So far so good ? Well, they also put a link with the URL spelled out back to my pages, saying "for results and info follow this link". I'd spotted all this prior to the Sunday Times seeing it, but unfortunately the reviewer didn't realise that Catech's WWW site and my pages were at completely different addresses ! Here's the incorrect part of the review of Catech's WWW pages:
"There are details of past results, and updates on whether the previous Saturday's draw winners have come forward."
Yep, that's my site alright, but it was reviewed as if it was part of Catech's. Anyway, I've now e-mailed Catech and asked them to make it more clear that the link back to my page is not maintained by them or hosted on their pages. Ideally, I'd like them to change their background colour too because it's too close for comfort and implies that my pages are part of their site (which is based in the US anyway !!). Now I'd like to point you to the on-line Innovations review, but the Times WWW editors don't syntax check their pages, so the HTML is screwed up badly and can't be viewed with Netscape 2.0 - great stuff, huh ?
If the incorrect 3-match info wasn't enough, they also left a trailing "m" after changing the estimated jackpot pool figure into an exact one somewhere around 9.15pm. This meant that the 4 sub-pages all displayed "£10,445,952m" as the exact jackpot pool, which is over £10 trillion of course :-) My jackpot parsing code hadn't anticipated this (new) error by teletext, so I've adjusted the code appropriately (I no longer multiply the jackpot figure by one million, unless it is under 100).
Analysing the auto-updates, there were some strange things happening this evening. For a start, the home directory of the user I have to process the updates became "invisible" from about 8pm onwards, causing cron jobs to fail and hence no teletext updates worked when the mail came through. It was probably due to the new network switches in the department, which have been causing no end of grief.
Next, the fallback WWW scanning was allowing through last week's results from slow sites, which I usually check for [that's one thing you've got to be careful about - using last week's results for the page updates !], so the first page update at 8.50pm announced last week's results as this week's :-( I've put in extra safeguard code to ignore old results. In other words, if the grabbed HTML is older than my results data file, then I don't use it. I need this check in because I don't delete any grabbed HTML, even if it's two or more weeks old, which was the cause of the problem here.
Whatever was causing the "invisible" directory problem went away at around 9.15pm and that's when the first teletext update occurred (with a £10.3m estimate). Of course, the next mess-up hit at 10.45pm with overflow-inducing £10.4 billion jackpot pool courtesy of ITV teletext. This was rounded down to maxint (2,147,483,647) - a mere £2.1 billion - by the update code and it stayed like this throughout the rest of Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning until I came into work.
Ah well, it just goes to show that automatic updates via teletext and the WWW are fraught with "dangers" and you really can't rely on them a fair amount of the time. Still, it is "fun" fixing each week's problems...one of these days I'll have it working smoothly (yeah, about the year 2015). I've added a link to all the figures in the Wins column of the trivia analysis page. This allows you to check the entire history of each draw's jackpot ticket - handy for me when I need to quote previous appearances of 3 or more of this draw's numbers in earlier draws.
Previous month: February 1996