Observations on energy ethics

I’ve run this week’s lesson on critical/ethical thinking about “Energy” a few times now, and I’ve noticed two interesting things.

Firstly, I ask if there are any problems with all of the electrical wiring that we use to carry electricity from power stations to our homes. Several kids have pointed out potential dangers if they fall in storms, and the possibility of animals being injured by them. Apart from that, they’re mostly of the opinion that they’re fine. I’m very surprised nobody so far has said they are ugly! They get in the way of scenery, they make cities look grimy, etc.

Secondly, I present several alternatives to burning fossil fuels for generating electricity, and we go through the advantages and disadvantages of each of them. Then I ask which they think we should prefer switching to. Nearly all of them have said solar power. I point out the disadvantage that it’s very expensive, and the kids are all dismissive of this is a problem. They say things like, “The cost doesn’t matter”, or “Well, we can just make it cheaper”. It’s very hard to convince them that cost does matter, and we can’t just magically make things cheaper.

This evening I was supposed to be running Dungeons & Dragons for my friends, but a couple of them called in sick, not wanting to spread cold symptoms. So that put us below threshold and we called it off for tonight. Hopefully we’ll get to it in a couple of weeks. So tonight we’re doing online games instead, which means our sick friends can still participate.

Weather was cold today! A nice change after the record heat of earlier this week. We had overnight rain and a chilly southerly wind. I made use of it with a 5k run.

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Beach trip, and Outschool training

Today at lunch I took Scully on a drive to the beach. I went to my favourite pie shop to get pies and we sat on the grass just above the beach to eat them. After the hot weather of the past few days, today was chilly, with a strong wind blowing cold off the ocean. While it was chilly, it was a welcome change from the record hot weather.

Fishermans Beach

Walking around the peninsula a bit, we stopped here to get a photo of some of the birds that always hang out here. Here’s an Australian pelican, a little black cormorant, and a bunch of silver gulls.

Big birds and little birds

I also stopped at the cricket field to let Scully off leash and have a bit of a run around.

Scully at Collaroy

I get her to “sit” and “stay”, while I walk away about 20 metres, then I call her to “come”, and she comes running.

Scully at Collaroy

She expects a treat for this!

This afternoon I did some educational training, which is being organised by Outschool. They’ve aded a teacher accreditation program and you can choose to get a badge on your teacher profile for completing a series of webinar training videos. I figured this would be a good thing to attract more parents, so I’ve started the course. Today I watched a 1-hour video about enabling inquiry-based learning for science subjects, and then did a quiz. I’ll get credit for it and then need to do a few more similar things. It was actually pretty interesting!

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Getting a new chilli plant

Today was forecast to be hotter than yesterday, but it didn’t quite make it there. The other big change from the past three years is how noticeably dry it’s been lately. Almost no rain in the past month or so, and the humidity has been low. Grass in the park across the street was lush and green a week or two ago, but is now already showing signs of dying off and turning brown.

On the other hand, spring flowers are out in full force. Cherry blossoms are dropping and the trees turning to foliage. There are tons of clivias blooming bright orange all over the neighbourhood. And huge bushy displays of azaleas in pink, white, and red.

Speaking of plants, I went to the hardware store today to pick up a new chilli plant. I’d bought one a few years ago and it produced an abundance of chillis, but it died at the beginning of winter. With spring blooming now, I thought it was a good time to get a new plant. Only $4, and it should produce a lot more value than that in fresh chillis for our meals.

Tonight I started the new ethics topic: Energy. I wrote the lesson plan during part of the image processing lecture last night (while the lecturer was speaking and I was sitting waiting for interactive tie with the students), and I think I rushed it a bit. A lot of the questions are a bit too prescriptive and not the open-ended ethical dilemmas that lead to interesting discussion. So I had to improvise a bit to keep things interesting. I’ll try to revamp the outline a bit tomorrow.

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New Mexican food

Today was the hottest September day on record in Sydney, 34.6°C. Tomorrow is forecast to be even hotter. That’s not really a terrible temperature for the middle of summer, but in September it’s obviously weird. We also had a total fire ban today, the first one declared in three years, and no doubt the first of many for this coming summer.

The Bureau of Meteorology also officially declared an El Niño today. The Australian Bureau was the last major meteorological department in the world to declare that this El Niño had begun. Most others declared it several weeks ago, but the Aus Bureau has stricter criteria and were holding off until the surface trade winds showed consistent reversal lasting at least 7 days, which finally happened today.

Rather than walk Scully to my wife’s work before hopping on the train to the university for tonight’s image processing lecture, my wife left a bit early and I picked her up in the car and brought her home, before I walked the much shorter distance to the nearest station. I would have been very hot and sweaty if I’d walked all the way like usual.

Continuing my mission to try a new place for dinner every week this semester, I found a Latin American place. I tried the jalapeño peppers stuffed with goat cheese, and a couple of tacos, one with shredded chicken and one with pulled pork.

Cartel Mexican

They were pretty good, but this was a bit more expensive a place than the numerous Asian eateries around this area of town.

The lecture tonight was the last of the actual lectures, on deep learning. Next week is the introduction to the student project. Many of the students have already been talking with me about their plans for project topics, which is good!

New content today:

The problem with twilight exercise

It was hot again today, so I decided to go for a run after my wife got home from work, in the cooler evening twilight around sunset. It was a good plan to avoid the heat, but I realised the problem that I had last time I tried running in evenings: mosquitoes.

I have a love-hate relationship with mosquitoes. I hate them, but they love me. When I’m in a mixed group of people, I’m the one they single out to bite. And my skin reacts badly to them. After I got home from my 2.5k run this evening, I had three bites, on my calf, near the ankle, and one on the back of my left hand. They swell up and spread out into large welts, and they itch like crazy. The one on my calf measures about 8cm across. The itching dies down after a few hours, but the welts stay for a few days.

I’d rather run in the heat of the day than deal with mosquitoes.

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A warning blast of summer

The talking point today was all about the weather. We reached 32.8°C in the city, and a degree or two higher in the suburbs. This heat will continue to intensify for the next three days, with a forecast of 34°C on Wednesday, before dropping back to 18°C (a much more normal temperature of this time of year) on Friday.

Despite the morning heat I went for a run, though decided to do just 2.5k today. Then I spent some time writing and producing Darths & Droids comics. I took Scully for a walk after lunch. It really felt like summer out there.

Not much else to report today. I was a bit tired due to getting home late from last night’s D&D game, and then tossing a bit during the night. I had a weird dream: Sigourney Weaver came over for dinner. During dinner she revealed that some years ago she’d secretly impregnated us with Aliens and then removed them just before they chestbursted. I don’t know what she was trying to achieve by telling us this now.

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Serpent Kings one-shot at the science shop

This morning I did another 5k run. It felt tougher than yesterday, since the day was warming up soon after sunrise. The city centre reached 31.6°C, and outer suburbs up to 34°C. It’s supposed to be even hotter tomorrow.

After that I picked up the groceries that I should have picked up yesterday, if not for the system failure at the supermarket.

Then I spent some time in the afternoon preparing for tonight’s Dungeons & Dragons game, which I was running at the science toy shop at the local shopping area. I printed out a series of maps showing successive rooms of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings adventure, so the players could see the shapes and sizes of the rooms and corridors.

Tomb of the Serpent Kings intro

But I wanted to encourage them to make a map, as I would be taking away the rooms after they left them. I thought there would be kids playing the game, but it turned out that two of their regular kid players were on vacation this week, so the only two players we had were a university aged guy and the regular DM, who is a woman about late 20s. Oh well, I figured it would still be fun, so I handed out the character sheets and we started playing. The guy took a thief and the woman a fighter. I had a magic-user and a cleric accompany them as NPCs, and also said there were a few slightly younger hangers-on, who were minding their pony outside the dungeon entrance (who I could call in as backups in case anyone died).

As they progressed through the Tomb they dealt with the traps and initial monsters in clever ways. People came into the shop to browse around and a few people watched us plating the game for a few minutes before moving on. At one point a young girl about 9 years old, accompanied by her father, stopped to watch us play for several minutes. We said the girl could join in, but the father said they were going somewhere soon.

A bit later she and her father came back. She continued watching us play, obviously very interested. The players found a hole in the floor leading to a room below. They dropped a flaming torch in and saw the floor below wasn’t too far down, so decided to tie a rope around a statue in the upper room and lower the end down so they could climb down (and importantly back up later). I said, “As you lower the rope, the torch sets the lower end on fire, and the fire races up and burns the rope.” And the girl blurted out, “I knew that was going to happen!”

At this point we invited her to sit down and join in again, and she did. I gave her a wizard character sheet, and the DM woman gave her some advice on the basics and encouraged her to help them decide what to do. The girl (her name was Alice) ended up playing with us for maybe 20-30 minutes before her parents came back to take her away again. It turned out the father also knew a bit about D&D, and was telling Alice maybe they could get the rulebooks and play together. This was probably the best part of the night, with Alice joining in and contributing to the game.

I shortened the overall adventure so they could reach and deal with the basilisk in one session, so we skipped a lot of the later rooms. We finished up about 9:40pm, after starting at 6. Overall it was really good, and the players were careful and clever enough that nobody died, despite most of the characters being wounded at various points. A great adventure and night!

New content today:

Trying a new pizza place

Yesterday I ordered our weekly groceries for pickup from the supermarket this morning as usual. But when I got up I found a message from the supermarket saying they’d had a “major network outage” and could not fulfil any pickup orders today. And I had to phone their customer support line to organise a refund or reschedule the pickup to another day. So I had to spend time on their support line, which was busy of course because all the other customers were doing the same thing. I rescheduled the pickup for tomorrow.

So instead of getting groceries after my morning ethics class, I used the extra time to go for a 5k run. I’m getting used to this distance now, so hopefully that means I’m getting fitter!

For dinner I spoiled the gains of the run by going out to a new pizza place with my wife. It opened near us recently, but has a few other places around Sydney: Farina Pizzeria. It’s a very authentic Neapolitan style wood-fired pizza place and has won awards at the International Pizza Competition. And indeed the pizzas were excellent.

And tonight is online board games night. I’ve already run away with a huge victory in one game of Jump Drive, and then immediately lost the next one appallingly. We played a new game, Space Base, which I won comfortably. And we’re moving on to Ticket to Ride.

New content today:

Smoke before the fire

There was more smoke blanketing the city this morning, produced by controlled burning of bushland around the outskirts. I saw an article on a news site yesterday explaining why the best days for controlled burns are also more likely to result in the smoke being trapped under an inversion layer over the city, rather than being blown away.

I took this photo while taking Scully for a walk at lunch time. By this time the smoke had actually cleared a bit – it was worse earlier in the day.

Smoky sky over Sydney

The forecast continues to stretch the period of hot days. We’re now expecting 6 days in a row of temperatures over 30°C in much of the city, getting up to 35°C in places, beginning tomorrow. Today was warm, but not hot, only reaching the mid 20s. It would have been very pleasant except for the smoke.

On the way back home with Scully, we ran across an eastern water dragon:

Eastern water dragon

These guys are usually inconspicuous in the winter and only visible in the summery months. So another indicator that the weather is unusually warm for this time of year.

New content today:

5k run + brisket burger

I had a mixed bag in the health stakes today. I did a 5k run, and then I blew it all by having a barbecue beef brisket burger for lunch. This was at the Naremburn shops, where I usually get something from the bakery, but today I tried something from the fish & chip shop, though I eschewed the fish & chips and looked at their burger menu, and was attracted by the brisket burger. It was very good and I have no regrets.

While walking home, a bird pooped on my hat. Now, this probably wouldn’t have stood out enough for me to report it here, except for something which I also didn’t bother to mention yesterday: a gull pooped square on the top of my (hatless) head yesterday too! It was after I’d picked up the games from the game shop and was walking towards the university for the evening lecture. I went via Darling Harbour, which is populated by numerous gulls, and one too a dump right above me as I was walking and… yeah… it was very unpleasant. Fortunately I was very close to a public toilet and it had copious soap and paper towels, so I managed to wash my hair in the sink and dry it off adequately before eventually heading to my pad Thai dinner and the university. Today I just washed my hat when I got home.

Tonight I started the topic of “Music” with my ethics classes. I think this is a good lighter topic after last week talking about brain uploading, which weirded a few of the kids out. Everyone tonight felt excited and happy to talk about music, which was good!

This afternoon I had a bit of spare time to start looking at my photos from Amsterdam in June last year. I still haven’t fully gone through and processed the photos that I want to put into an album for this trip, and I kind of want to get that done and start work on this year’s Japan trip before my next trip to Europe in November!

Here’s the Singelgracht canal:

Singelgracht canal view across to Weteringsplantsoen

And the Rijksmuseum:


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