Triumphant games night!

On Friday I did 4 ethics classes online, and then went over to a friend’s place for board game night. I grabbed some Thai food on the way for dinner from my favourite place near where we used to work.

There were only three of us as a few of the other guys had things on. We played a game of Tapestry. This is a longish game where you control a civilisation striving to build technologies, explore lands, and outpace those of the other players. I’ve played it once before but didn’t remember anything so I needed a full rules refresher. The other two guys had played several times and knew it all.


But, astonishingly enough, I won the game! I got some good combos with the technology advancement and managed to pull together more points. So that was very satisfying.

Then we played Azul, and I had just about the worst start you could possibly imagine. After the first round I was on 1 point while the others were on 6. The second round I had the potential to do even worse, and was only saved by the fact that one of my opponents decided to spare me from a huge set of penalty tiles. If he’d chosen to inflict those on me, I would have ended round two on -5 points! (Although I think the rules specify that you can’t actually go negative, so I would been on 0.) Miraculously, I improved a lot in the final three rounds, and ended up coming second, rather than dead last.

Today was another warm day, very humid. I did a 2.5k run at 9am, and the conditions were 25°C and 92% humidity. I had a shower and cleaned the bathroom, and then spent some time working on a lesson plan for the next advanced ethics class, on the topic of “Sport and Politics”. I wrote questions about the Qatar World Cup, the 1980 Moscow Olympics boycott, and the sporting bans against South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

This afternoon I spent some time hacking together tables for my planned Dungeons & Dragons game in a fortnight. I’m using the Basic/Expert rules from 1981, but with a few house rules to make things a little smoother. In particular, I’m changing to an increasing armour class with better armour, instead of the traditional decreasing numbers. This way I don’t need to mess around with THAC0 or hit tables, and can just give every character a hit bonus a bit like 5th edition. I’m also smoothing the level progression so it doesn’t sit on a single number for multiple levels and then jump by 2 or 3. Not that it’ll make any difference for the first session, when the characters will all be first level.

Tonight my wife and I are getting into our rerun watch of Stranger Things season 4, after we completed rewatching all the previous seasons recently. It’s been good, because there was such a gap between season 3 and 4 that we’d forgotten a lot of the setup to the events that open season 4. Watching it a second time it all fits together a lot more.

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Lazy Australia Day

It was hot and my wife had the day off work for the public holiday, but I still had a couple of ethics classes to teach. I did the first advanced lesson on the topic “The Meaning of Life”. I thought this would be good, because last week the two kids in this class bounced ideas off each other and it was a lot of fun, but at the last second the parent of one of them sent me a message saying that the kid had a medical appointment and couldn’t attend. So I had to run the topic with just the one kid, and it was difficult to get him to expand on his answers, so we got through the material quickly and I had to stretch it which is always tricky and less enjoyable. I have this topic again tomorrow and I hope there’ll be more than one kid in the class!

We stayed in mostly and used the air conditioning to keep cool. We took Scully for a mid-length walk in the evening when it had cooled down a bit. It also clouded over and threatened to storm, but so far we haven’t had any rain, but there are severe small storms pushing across Sydney now.

My leech bite seems to have healed nicely.

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North Arm walk

Being my wife’s mid-week day off, we decided too take advantage today and go do a bushwalk. We took Scully and drove over to Castle Cove, a suburb about 10 km north of the city centre. Here we stopped first at a bakery to grab some lunch and cold water. Then we moved the car a few blocks to a spot where we could begin a walk that would take us on a loop down a long street, and then into the North Arm Walking Track, a bushwalk running along the shore of Middle Harbour back to where we’d left the car. There’s a better map of the walk here.

North Arm Walking Tack

The first part of the track has good views of Middle Harbour.

North Arm Walking Tack

Scully enjoyed it too.

North Arm Walking Tack

North Arm Walking Tack

That’s my wife walking ahead. The whole way along this track we only met one other person coming the other way. So it was nice and peaceful. Well, except for the loud drone of the cicadas!

North Arm Walking Tack

Scully having more fun along the way.

North Arm Walking Tack

North Arm Walking Tack

Towards the end the path went more inland, among fern forests with small creeks draining down to the harbour.

North Arm Walking Tack

North Arm Walking Tack

Scully didn’t appreciate having to walk al the way back uphill to the car.

North Arm Walking Tack

But there were more good views here.

North Arm Walking Tack

At times on bushwalks like this it feels a bit like you’re a hobbit trekking through Middle-earth.

North Arm Walking Tack

It took us a couple of hours and we were hot and sweaty by the end of it, but it was a good day out. Along the way I stopped at one point to get something scratchy out of my shoe and I noticed a leech on my shoe, so I flicked it off. Then I found one half in my sock, and pulled it out. I didn’t see any more… until I got home and took my shoes and socks off. There was a leech attached to my ankle. So I had to pull it off, sterilise the wound, and bandage it. I also carefully checked Scully for any leeches or ticks.

Add to that a 2.5k run which I did this morning, and three ethics classes in a row in the evening, and I’m pretty worn out!

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Tiny cafe, good food

Most of today I spent working on new lessons for my ethics classes. I wrote a lesson on “The Future” for the age 10-12 group, and started work on “Sport and Politics” for ages 13-15.

For lunch I walked with Scully up to the railway station, where there’s a tiny cafe. It’s been there for ages, but I’ve only ever popped in to buy a sweet treat like a brownie of a caramel slice or a florentine. Some time back I noticed they have a fairy decent looking food menu, and thought I should try it some day. But for a long time I’ve neglected it, my mind automatically turning to other options when I think about going to get some lunch out.

But I noticed the menu again recently, and today I decided to make the effort to go there and try it out. It’s an Asian menu with a mix of Thai, Korean, and Malaysian dishes. I chose the satay chicken skewers and rice today. (That’s Scully in the background of this photo.)

Satay chicken at station cafe

It was really good. Now I definitely want to go back and try the spicy chicken curry, the bulgogi beef, and also the beef rendang. And maybe one or two other things. They also do burgers. And crepes for dessert!

The really amazing thing is this cafe is super tiny. The whole building is only about 3 by 4 metres in size, with three dining tables crammed in the space in front of a small counter. Behind the counter is a tiny bench with a toaster oven on it. And the whole thing is run by a little old lady. How on Earth she can turn out a dozen different Asian dishes, burgers, and crepes from that tiny space is beyond me. I presume she has a rice cooker under the bench, and … maybe a portable hotplate or something. I dunno, maybe she’s just working genuine kitchen miracles in there.

Anyway, it was delicious and I’ll be going back.

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Kickstarter loot!

1. When Elon Musk took over Twitter and things started going bananas I initiated migration over to Mastodon ( I posted a few times to Twitter to let followers know, and then signed off, but I didn’t delete my account. I kept the Twitteriffic client open on my desktop and checked it every few days to keep up with any news from people I followed.

I checked it today, and discovered that my feed hadn’t updated in three days. I mentioned this to a friend, and he said that Twitter’s third party API had been turned off, so a lot of clients no longer worked any more. Checking the news myself, I found an announcement from the developers that indeed Twitteriffic could no longer access Twitter’s API, so they were discontinuing the app. So… today I shut it down and deleted Twitteriffic. I also decided I may as well delete Twitter from my phone (I rarely ever used it there – I much prefer desktop). So I’m now completely Twitter-free. Although my account still exists – I just can’t be bothered to delete it. And who knows, perhaps it might come in handy for something at some point.

2. Australia Day is on Thursday this week. I wrote about the ongoing and slowly growing controversy surrounding Australia’s national holiday last year and the year before.

Today there was an article on the ABC News site saying that a growing number of people are seeking to completely ignore the public holiday by going to work, rather than taking the day off. It discusses the complications that arise when people want to work on a public holiday, and mentions that increasing numbers of companies are in fact allowing staff to ignore the public holiday and work if they want. However this is not a standard thing that is allowed for in the holiday legislation, so companies are still allowed to say that the company is taking the day off and employees cannot work on the day, even of they want to.

It seems like quite a weird situation. It’s like imagining an American deciding they don’t agree with the principle of Independence Day and seeking to ignore it by going to work on 4 July. As I said in the past two years, this sort of weirdness is going to continue and escalate until we change the date of our national holiday.

3. I completed the week’s topic on medicine with my main ethics classes. Part of it is discussing the incredibly high cost of insulin in the USA, compared to almost every other country on Earth. Today I had one girl in a class say that if she gets diabetes, she’s going to move to Australia!

4. I received a package in the mail today! It was rewards for a Kickstarter that I backed in 2021, for a fantasy roleplaying adventure from Goodman Games, Crypt of the Devil Lich. Here’s all the loot I got: the hardback adventure book in a hard slipcase, bonus extra level, booklets of pregenerated characters, player handouts, and designer notes, plus a couple of posters and a sheet of stickers.

Crypt of the Devil Lich

I chose to get it in rules compatible with D&D 5th edition – the other option was for Dungeon Crawl Classics, which I also own already, but have not actually used to run any games before. Of course I made the choice before the present kerfuffle with D&D and the Open Gaming Licence that everyone is talking about. I might have chosen to get the DCC version today, although really that’s mostly because after running D&D 5th edition several times I’ve actually grown to not like it as much as I did at first.

I find the 5th edition combat system too tactical. I prefer a fast and loose, more abstract style to combat, rather than having players counting map grid squares and calculating ranges down the foot. Thus my decision to use the old 1981-vintage D&D Basic Set rules for the game I’m planning to run with my friends soon. That’s scheduled for Friday 10 February.

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A pretty wet Sunday

It rained most of today. The forecast was up to 30 mm, but in the end we haven’t received that much, more like 10 mm. Although the day’s not over yet. So we didn’t go on a long walk with Scully, and she got slightly stir crazy this afternoon, but nothing to worry about.

Mostly I worked on writing a particularly difficult strip for Darths & Droids, discussing alternatives, consistency with previously published material, and things we needed to get done as part of our planned storyline. It took a lot of hacking and redrafting before we achieved something we were happy with. Sometimes strips just flow, but sometimes they take a lot of hard hammering into shape.

Not too much else to report…. not much happens on a rainy day.

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How to rig an election

Yesterday was online board games night with my friends, so I didn’t have time to write a blog entry. I picked up the grocery shopping in the morning, then picked up Scully from my wife’s work at lunch and took her to the Italian bakery. Oh that’s right, it was raining most of the morning.

I had four ethics classes to teach, including one of the older kids, on the topic of “how to Rig an Election”. I promised last post that I’d share some of my teaching examples, so here’s a crash course in how to gerrymander!

Let’s imagine this map is a state with 5 orange voters and 4 purple voters, for a total of 9. Let’s say we want this state to elect 3 representatives to Parliament. The way to get 3 representatives is to split the state into 3 smaller regions, and then each region elects one representative. If we split the state into 3 regions of 3 houses each by horizontal lines, we get more orange votes in two of them, so orange gets 2 representatives and purple gets 1. Is that fair?

gerrymandering example

If we split them up vertically, we get the same result. Two regions with 2 orange votes, so 2 orange representatives and 1 purple. But now let’s imagine you are a purple party politician, and you are given the job of drawing up the voting districts. Can you draw them differently, to give the purple party more than 1 representative?

Here’s one possible solution.

In this map we have 13 orange voters and 12 purple voters, for a total of 25. We want to split it up into 5 districts, with 5 voters each. Because orange has slightly more voters, a fair outcome might have 3 orange districts and 2 purple. Can we divide the districts so that purple wins 3 (or more!) districts?

gerrymandering example

Here’s one possible solution.

So by being careful about the way we draw the districts, we can change the outcome of the election, even though the voters don’t change their votes. This practice is called gerrymandering. Here’s a slightly different map of 25 voters. If we want to gerrymander this map to have 4 purple districts, we need to do the same thing, have a district with 5 orange voters in it. Can we manage to do that?

gerrymandering example

Here’s one possible solution.

The basic idea of gerrymandering is to create districts that contain as close as possible to 100% of the voters you want to lose, while other districts contain just over 50% of the voters you want to win. You spread out the voters you want to win into lots of districts, so they can win lots of districts, while concentrating the voters you want to lose into a small number of districts, so they only win a few of them. An obvious feature of gerrymandered districts is often the strange shapes.

In this map we have 20 orange voters and 16 purple voters, for a total of 36. We want to split it up into 6 districts. A fair outcome might have 4 orange districts and 2 purple, or 3 of each. Can we gerrymander this map so that purple wins 5 districts and orange only 1?

gerrymandering example

Notice I didn’t say the districts all have to be the same size! Here’s one possible solution. We can do this if we change the numbers a bit, and make some districts bigger than others. This is another trick that someone can use to control the outcome of an election.

Now let’s have a look at a few real electoral districts. (I show the kids a nice, almost rectangular district, which is not gerrymandered. Then I show them this:) This one is the 4th District of Illinois. Does this look reasonable?

gerrymandering example

Now let’s have a look at the voting district overlaid on a map of Chicago showing areas classified by the racial background of the majority of voters.

gerrymandering example

You can see that this district has deliberately been chosen to include almost only yellow areas, which corresponds to Hispanic people. See how carefully it’s been drawn to exclude the green areas! This district has been gerrymandered so that the Hispanic people of Chicago will only be able to elect one representative, rather than getting two or three if they had been spread out between multiple districts.

I go on to ask the kids their thoughts about all of this, and their opinions on who should draw up the maps of electoral districts, and why. The class also includes a discussion of different types of voter suppression. I’ve done this class with two different groups of kids now, and it’s been a real hit each time. I could see their eyes light up as they figured out how to gerrymander, and they were all very vocal about the unfairness of it!

Today I spent much of the morning housecleaning. We had a new mattress delivered today, so I had to strip the bed and get the old mattress ready to be carted away. We bought it just before Christmas, but they did quote us 2-4 weeks for delivery, so we expected it around now. We paid a tiny bit extra to ave them remove the old mattress for recycling too – much easier than us disposing of it ourselves.

After they delivered the mattress, and I waved the delivery guys off with a cheery “thank you” and wishing them a good afternoon, I was struck by a thought: If this was the USA, would I have been expected to have given them a tip? I’m again very thankful that I don’t live in a tipping culture.

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And that may be the end of summer…

After yesterday’s warmth (barely above 30°C for the first time in almost a year), we had storms and a cold change overnight. Today was chilly and wet. When I took Scully for a walk at lunch I almost felt like I needed a jacket, although by the time we got home I’d warmed up.

I did my first ethics class today for older kids on the topic of “How to rig an election”. We went through some gerrymandering as a sort of interactive game, and then I showed them some real electoral districts in the USA to see what they thought of them. It was really fun and I think the kids enjoyed it and learnt a lot about the sort of sneaky tricks that politicians get up to. I want to post some of the diagrams that I use in the class here and walk through them, but it’s already late this evening and I don’t have time, so I’ll try to do it maybe tomorrow.

This afternoon I caught up on work for ISO Photography standards. I need to clear out my mailbox of documents and scan through them from time to time, and also keep up to date with meeting news, as our next meeting is coming up in Tokyo in February. I’m not planning to travel there, so I need to be on top of the agenda scheduling to make sure I can attend the most important stuff by Zoom, in between all my other things.

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Sydney finally hit 30°C today, for the first time since 20 February last year. It’s been a very unusually cool year, but we finally seem to be getting some decent warm weather, albeit already halfway through summer.

I braved the heat to take Scully out for a lunch walk and get some fish & chips. She was completely pooped by the time we got home! I put ice cubes in her water bowl and she lapped it up greedily.

Tonight we’re having a storm front move through, which will cool things down considerably for tomorrow.

I don’t have too much else to report today. I made a Darths & Droids comic, and taught three ethics classes tonight. Oh, that’s right – I spent time making some extra slides to present to the kids during the class, to explain the differences between user-pays and socialised health care, which I was having some trouble getting across to the kids verbally yesterday. I think they helped a lot.

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Ferry trip for lunch

Today I decided to retry that aborted ferry trip that I attempted with Scully before Christmas. This time the ferries were running, so we managed to get to our destination: the suburb of Woolwich. It’s literally only one stop and two minutes on the ferry, but it’s across the Lane Cove River, so it would take a good 15 minutes or more to drive there.

Scully waiting for the ferry

From the Woolwich wharf we walked ten minutes up the road to the nearest cluster of cafes and the local pub to get some lunch. It’s up a hill with a good view over a large yacht dock towards the city centre.

Woolwich dock

I’d checked for a place to eat with Scully before we left, but the place I selected only had outdoor tables in the sun, and they were also doing some renovations which involved a loud drilling noise emanating from the interior which would have been unbearable if I’d sat there to eat. So we continued on a few doors down to another cafe, which had shady tables and no drilling noises. I had a chicken burger, which came with chips. I regret to say that it wasn’t very good: the burger was small and the chicken dry, and the chips were a bit cardboardy. The waitress asked me how it was as she cleared the table and I mumbled “it was good” as I avoided eye contact.

This prompted me to ask my friends on Discord what they do in the same situation, a poor meal and a query form the waiter. They all agreed they’d just kind of mumble “good/fine” and make a mental note not to go back to the same place, rather than actually tell the staff that the food wasn’t great.

Anyway, after eating, Scully and I walked back to the wharf to catch the ferry home again.

Woolwich wharf

In the above photo you can actually see our destination – the green headland on the left. As I said, two minutes on the ferry, but a significant driving distance.

This evening I had the first three classes of the new week’s ethics topic on medicine. I feel like this might be a trickier topic than I thought and I may have to tweak my lesson plan a little to encourage more discussion from the kids.

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