The Science of Fun

6 November, 2018

On Monday I visited Brookvale Public School again to talk to the kids about science. This time, inspired by a Facebook conversation with two ex-workmates of mine, I talked about the Science of Fun, specifically what makes some games fun and what makes other games not fun. I showed the kids why Monopoly is such an awful game, and gave them plenty of examples of games which are much better and more fun. And judging by comments from the kids afterwards, I think I’ve inspired a lot of Christmas wish lists. :-)

Actual dialogue:
Me: Why do we play games? Is it to have fun?
Kids: Yes!
Me: Is it so we get bored and upset?
Kids: No!
Me: Who here has played Monopoly?
(All kids put their hands up.)
Me: Now, who here has ever played a game of Monopoly, and you started losing, and your brother or sister or mum or dad or friend was winning and taking money off you, and you felt upset and bored and wanted the game to end?
(Nearly every kid put their hand up again.)
Me: So… if Monopoly makes you upset, is it a good game?
Kids: No!!!
Me: Interesting! Now let me show you some games that are fun to play…

Game of Thrones, Season 4, Ep 8 “The Mountain and the Viper”

5 November, 2018

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Meereen: Grey Worm is bathing in a river with some of the other Unsullied, when he spots a group of women bathing further up the stream, including Daenerys’s translator Missandei. She catches him staring at her naked body. Later she mentions this to Daenerys, and she is surprised because the Unsullied are castrated, so should have no interest in women. Missandei says he was definitely interested. Daenerys wonders just how much is removed in the castration. A bt later still, Grey Worm approaches Missandei to apologise for staring at her. She kind if says it’s okay, she likes him. He says he likes her too, then takes his leave and wanders off, leaving Missandei thoughtful.

This is a weird development. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere unless it’s foreshadowing for some development of a relationship between these two later on. Just how that can happen if he’s been castrated is an interesting question. Maybe as Daenerys wonders, the castration wasn’t as complete as when they do it back in Westeros. This is an odd bit of plot, and I’m wondering where this is going.

A small boy approaches Ser Barristan with a sealed scroll. He asks where it came from but the boy runs off without answering. The wax is sealed with a hand sigil – the Hand of the King. Barristan reads it and approaches Jorah Mormont, who is peering at a strategic map, probably planning how to invade Westeros. He shows Jorah the letter, which is a royal pardon signed by Robert Baratheon, in exchange for spying on Daenerys (and her brother back when he was alive) and sending information back to King’s Landing. It’s not explained here why Jorah needed a pardon – presumably he committed some crime against Robert, but I don’t remember what that might have been.

Daenerys calls Jorah to account for himself. He admits he was sending information to Robert, but since then he’s been loyal and served well and… he loves her. Daenerys is disgusted and exiles him, because she doesn’t want his dead body around to pollute her presence. Jorah tries to reason with her, but shuts up and takes his medicine, riding away from Meereen.

I think this is a bad move by Daenerys. Okay, sure, she thinks he betrayed her, but given how he’s behaved recently I can’t see Jorah actually betraying her any more. He’s served her interests well, and it’s obvious that he has a sweet spot for her. By now, he is actually her loyal servant, but alas someone – who?? – has thrown a spanner in the works. Maybe it was Tywin. He’s the current Hand of the King, so has the seal necessary to forge the letter. And I recall that he said something an episode or two ago about fetching his quill and some parchment to write a letter to someone, but I can’t remember the details, and I didn’t think it was important enough at the time to write about it. If this is the case, the only real question is why did Tywin wait so long to sow discord in Daenerys’s retinue?

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Tanzania diary, day 8

4 November, 2018

Friday, 6 July, 2018 16:41. Lemala Camp, Ngorongoro Crater Rim

This morning we asked the question about what the staff do if a dangerous animal appears. M. thought they might wave a torch at it, because the animals would be afraid of the light. But when we asked, they said that you shouldn’t shine light at them because it provokes them. The thing to do is just back away slowly. We had visions of Lex in Jurassic Park waving a light at the T. rex and Alan Grant willing her not to. They also said that there were lions around the camp during the night and described the sound they made, a sort of extended grunting, which was the sound we’d heard but had assumed was zebras or something.

Our alarm got us up at 06:00. After dressing we emerged into the pre-dawn light, still a bit dark a few minutes earlier than we’d been the last two mornings. A staff member came to meet us with a torch and escorted us to the dining tent, answering the questions about animals in the night.

Nimali Serengeti sunrise
Sunrise at Nimali Camp

For breakfast I had the same as yesterday, the muesli and eggs benedict, while M. just had muesli and toast, although we both tried some of the pastry of the day, which was carrot bread today, with a delicious nutty top on the loaf.

After breakfast we packed our bags, double checked the room, and checked out by handing in the key and writing a message in the guest book. Timba was waiting by the car as we walked out, just a couple of minutes late. The morning wasn’t as cold as yesterday, and we drove with the safari roof down, as we were making time to our next destination, on the Ngorongoro crater rim.

Read more: sighting more animals on the drive out of Serengeti, stopping at Olduvai Gorge to see the cradle of humanity, our new camp on the Ngorongoro crater rim, and visiting a Maasai village and meeting the people

Scully’s Halloween costume

31 October, 2018

Scully's Halloween costume

Halloween reflections

31 October, 2018

I got up this morning, Wednesday, and prepared to go to teach my Primary Ethics class. And then today I have the rest of the day off work. I had enough time to decide to walk to the school (about a 40 minute walk) instead of driving, so I did. On the way, the following thoughts passed through my head:

Well, Halloween is tomorrow. Maybe I could wear my Grim Reaper costume to work and walk around the office all day in it. That’d be cool. Maybe I’ll decide tonight.

Imagine if I wore that costume to the school for my Ethics class. That’d be even cooler.

It’s a shame it isn’t Halloween today, or I really could have done that.

Wait a minute. Tomorrow is the 1st of November. Today is Halloween! D’oh!!

Game of Thrones, Season 4, Ep 7 “Mockingbird”

29 October, 2018

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Meereen: Daenerys returns to her quarters in the huge pyramid, presumably exhausted after another day of listening to petitioners. Daario is there! She asks how he got in with the doors guarded; he says the windows are not guarded. They exchange flirtatious banter and she orders him to remove his clothes…

Later, Daario leaves, just as Jorah arrives. Daario says Daenerys is “in a good mood”, and Jorah gives him a lingering glare. Daenerys tells Jorah she has ordered Daario to take his men to Yunkai and recapture the city, and execute the Masters of the city. Jorah argues that the punishment is too harsh, and will only show the freed slaves that violence is an acceptable means to an end. Daenerys is initially firm, but relents, ordering Jorah to tell Daario that the Masters should be given the choice of submitting to her rule or facing execution. She also tells him to tell Daario that he convinced her to change her mind.

It’s pretty clear that Jorah has fancied Daenerys from afar for a long time, and now Daario has stepped straight into her bed in front of him. Jorah seems level-headed enough to deal with this at the moment, but who knows how this will play out in the future. I think given a chance to find an excuse to get rid of Daario, Jorah would leap at it.

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Tanzania diary, day 7

28 October, 2018

Thursday, 5 July, 2018. 18:02

We have just returned from our second all-day game drive. We saw less wildlife and drove a lot further today, but the main highlights were truly worth it.

We both woke up early this morning, and we could hear the sound of some sort of animal in the distance, but didn’t know what it was, possibly hyenas? When the alarm went off we got up, dressed, and walked over to the dining tent in the soft dawn light before sunrise. The dawn was cold, very noticeably colder than yesterday, and stayed a bit cooler throughout the day.

African grey flycatcher
African grey flycatcher, dawn light at the camp

Breakfast was the same choices as yesterday, but the “selection of pastries” was changed from banana bread. We said we’d have whatever the new choice was, plus muesli and yoghurt, and then today I chose the “Nimali Benedict” and M. had fried eggs with toast. The “pastries” turned out to be freshly made pikelets, which they gave us two each of. M. had honey on hers (stealing a jar from the next table) while I had butter. The benedict was a little rough, served on toasted slices of the odd bread they have here, smallish with a slightly sweet and grainy texture, almost like gluten-free bread. Perhaps it is; every time we order food they are careful to ask us if we have any allergies.

Read more: a huge day for wildlife spotting and driving across the Serengeti, ending with a relaxing dinner and magnificent sunset

Symbolic house cleaning

25 October, 2018

Our puppy Scully has passed a significant landmark. She is now over six months old, and as of yesterday we have declared her officially fully house trained. I marked the occasion by doing a thorough carpet cleaning, with spot stain remover, followed by shampooing and steam cleaning using a hired machine from Bunnings hardware.

This feels like a symbolic cleansing ritual, to rid the house of the bad spirits of toilet accidents and the ghosts of pee stains on the carpet. It feels like a major turning point, and the difficult and messy days of the past are now gone.

You don't need any of this sofa, do you?

The last time Scully did an unprovoked pee in the house was on 3 September, over 7 weeks ago. She did have an accident on 10 October, but that was caused by us being neglectful. We have trained her to use a bell by the front door – when she needs to go outside to toilet, she rings the bell, and we come to take her out. Unfortunately on the 10th my wife and I were both busy and when Scully rang the bell neither of us got to her for a couple of minutes. By the time we could go to Scully, she had peed on the carpet next to the bell. We kind of don’t count this one as her fault.

Being house trained makes a big difference to our stress levels. When we first got her, we were constantly following her around the house, never letting her out of sight for a second, and prepared to pounce and pick her up instantly if she showed any sign of preparing to pee. It was a stressful time, and gave us no spare time to do normal household chores. But now we can trust that she’s not going to pee in the house, and if she needs to go she lets us know, so we can relax and do things without having to constantly be on the lookout.

Germany diary, day 5

25 October, 2018

Tuesday, 2 October, 2018

We woke up a bit before 04:00 this morning, and I thought it was time to get up until I looked at the time. I tried to go back to sleep but it was difficult. Eventually we got up about 06:40 and prepared for the day, eating the bread rolls M. had bought last night. They were small square rolls with large pumpkin seeds on them, and tasted great. I did some stretches and got dressed, and left soon after 07:00, walking along the river again to the Hauptbahnhof.

This time I got the S-bahn from platform 11, after stopping to buy an almond croissant from a bakery in the station. I ate it on the platform while waiting for the train. Quite a few commuters were catching the train and I stood up rather than take a seat, until we stopped at a technology park a few stops out and most of the passengers got off, at which point I sat down for the second half of the ride. I arrived at Horrem quite early again, but went straight to the Image Engineering building so I could log in and check my overnight email to see if there was any news from Canberra about the hosting of the meeting next year.

But when I arrived, the front door of the building was locked, despite me being able to see that some of the meeting attendees had arrived and were in the meeting room upstairs. So to kill time while someone came to open the door I walked around the building, noticing that several people were already working inside as I passed the ground floor windows. After a lap of the building I tried the door again and this time it opened.

The meeting today proceeded quickly, with several ad hoc technical sessions either cancelled or cut short with just a brief report due to relatively little progress since last meeting. We rearranged the agenda and tried to fit everything into today, but the first ad hoc scheduled for tomorrow might have had interested people phoning in, so we couldn’t move it without checking for sure. I emailed Bob at the War Memorial to confirm if he intended dialling in, but it was after knock off time in Australia so I didn’t think I’d get an answer in time. So we proceeded thinking that we’d have to return for at least a short time tomorrow morning. But after lunch, and after 10pm in Sydney, he replied and said he couldn’t make it, so we were free to reschedule and wrap up the meeting a day early!

For lunch today there was chicken pieces in a spicy Mexican style rice, plus chilli sin carne, made with a meat substitute for vegetarians. Both were very nice, and I enjoyed the meal better than yesterday’s lunch. Dietmar had said there would be no catering on Wednesday because of it being a public holiday in Germany, but as it turned out we ended the meeting early so didn’t need it.

Working lunch
Mexican lunch at Image Engineering

After wrapping up and saying goodbye to the various people and that we’d see each other in Yokohama next year, I left with Margaret to walk to the station. We found Scott and Ken on the platform waiting for the next express back to Cologne, but no ticket validation machine on the platform, so we all had to walk back down the tunnel beneath the platforms to the machine at the tunnel entrance. Fortunately we had a few minutes, so made it back to catch the train. We got off at Cologne Hauptbahnhof and said goodbyes until next time we meet, whenever that will be.

Read more: a lightning cathedral tour, checking out the LEGO shop, and a very traditional German dinner

Germany diary, day 4

24 October, 2018

Monday, 1 October, 2018

I was awake before the alarm and got up a bit before 07:00. After quickly getting dressed and ready, I left to walk to the Hauptbahnhof to catch a train to Horrem. I needed to work out how to get a ticket for the journey, and where to catch the train from, so I wanted to be there nice and early. The sun was only just beginning to brighten the sky before rising as I walked north in the cold morning air. I decided to walk along the river bank, and it was a very pleasant walk, watching the pre-dawn light on the river and the various boats.

Cologne Cathedral, early morning
Cologne Cathedral in dawn light

At the station I went first to the information desk as it was right there as I entered. I said to the man that I wanted to catch a train to Horrem, but I was obviously pronouncing it wrong as he didn’t understand the name until I’d repeated it with slightly different inflections several times. He told me to go to the ticket office and they would help me.

Walking into the ticket office, I saw signs for long distance and local trains. I figured Horrem was close enough to be local, so went there. Again I had pronunciation problems, because when I told the lady I wanted a ticket to Horrem, she said, “Rome?! You want the long distance counter!” I only managed to make her understand after a few more attempts, at which point she said, “Oh! Horrem!” – saying it in what I thought was exactly the same way I’d been saying it all along.

It turns out there’s no such thing as a return ticket here. You buy single fares, or an all-day ticket which is about three times as much, so no good for a single return trip. But there is a ticket which is four single fares, and you can use each fare whenever you want by stamping the ticket in the validation machines four times on separate occasions. So I got one of those, plus two single fare tickets, to cover travel for three days. It cost just over 30€ in total.

The next train to leave for Horrem was a regional express at 07:47. I went up to the platform and the train was waiting there. I got on and took a seat on the upper deck. It pulled out and whisked me thought the suburbs of Cologne, stopping at Erhenfeld, then into the countryside and on to the town of Horrem.

Read more: A lesson in German cheese pronunciation, technical meetings and photo labs, and a traditional home-style dinner