Australia’s worst day

Today New South Wales reported 825 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours. This number by itself exceeded the previous record high number of cases recorded in the entire country for the entire pandemic so far. Add in a handful of other cases in other states, and it was easily the single worst day for Australia yet recorded. And there’s no sign of it slowing down, despite the introduction of further lockdown restrictions.

Parts of Sydney now have a night time curfew, although not the area where I live. Outdoor exercise is now limited to a maximum of one hour per day. And we now must wear masks at all times outdoors, except if doing vigorous exercise. Which means essentially that the only place I can not wear a mask is inside my own front door.

The Government’s message has changed over the past few days. It used to be trying to reduce the numbers of this outbreak, in an effort to get cases close to zero again. But now it’s turned to “keep things under control until November (when 80% of the population should, be vaccinated)”. It’s changed from “eliminate the virus” to “live with the virus”. It’s frustrating and sad to see this change of attitude in the government, after their abject failure to keep the delta strain under control when the outbreak began. Everyone dying now, and everyone who will die from the cases piling up every day, didn’t have to if the government had done their job properly 12 weeks ago.

New content today:

The comics grind, part 2

First job this morning was to go pick up my grocery order. Because I don’t have the car this week, I restricted the order to things we absolutely needed for the next week, which helped cut down the size. I walked up to the supermarket and walked back home carrying three bags full of food. It wasn’t too bad – I’ve carried heavier loads home from there before, but not for some time.

At home, I got stuck into photographing the next batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips, which I’d finished writing yesterday. There were some interruptions, which meant I didn’t finish until after midday.

I went for a walk with my wife and Scully on her lunch break. We went down to a park by the water in a location we’ve rarely been to, which was really nice.

Tonight is inter-fortnightly virtual games night. Before that we walked up to the fish & chip shop to get some take-away dinner. With restaurants all closed except for take-aways, it takes a bit of effort to have a dinner that we don’t have to cook ourselves.

New content today:

The comics grind

I had one task today: Finish writing a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. I need to get new strips made for next week, and I initially had the goal of photographing on Tuesday, but I was busy with so many other things that the necessary writing fell by the wayside, until today. Friday is basically the last day I could feasibly photograph this next batch in order to have the comics produced and ready in time. So there was nothing for it today but to chain myself to my desk and churn out comic scripts until I had them finished. No time for writer’s block, or shilly-shallying.

As it turned out, I completed the task by about 3pm, and then had some time to turn to writing some Darths & Droids strips as well, which are also a bit under the pump. I’ve fallen behind a bit on these with all of the other stuff going on, adding more ethics classes and handling the university image processing course that I’m teaching as well.

Then from 5pm I had two ethics classes in a row. The topic this week is “morals and the law”. I start with some example stories where people suggest that (a) just because something is legal doesn’t make it moral, and (b) just because something is illegal doesn’t make it immoral. I ask the kids for their thoughts on these statements. The responses have been varied, with most saying that the law is not necessarily aligned with moral correctness, but often is. I have had a couple of kids state outright that breaking the law is always an immoral act.

Then I tell the story of Rosa Parks, and how she broke the law to protest against the segregation laws in Alabama in 1955. I ask if the kids if those laws were morally correct or not, and why (thankfully everyone has agreed they were not!). And then I point out that Rosa Parks broke the law deliberately – she knew she was breaking the law – and ask if what she did was wrong. Even the kids who had previously said that breaking the law is immoral said that in this case breaking the law was a morally right act. So I’m sure that stimulated some reflection and thought!

I go on to consider what happens when laws change. I ask the kids why we change laws all the time, and they give answers such as laws that are bad, or laws to cover changes in technology, such as driving laws when cars were invented. I say that there are lobby groups who get governments to try to change laws, either adding new ones, or getting rid of existing ones, and ask the kids why people want to change the law. Answers include that people think something is right or wrong, morally, and they want the law to reflect that by permitting or banning it, respectively. Then I ask them if it’s a good idea to base the law on people’s morals…

This question seems to stimulate a lot of thought and discussion. Some kids say yes, that’s what the law should be based on. Others say it sounds good, but they’re not really sure if it is a good idea. Others say no, because people disagree on what’s morally right and wrong, so how can you please everyone? And then I steer the discussion into how should we make laws? Who should decide what the law is? Some kids have said it should be the President/Prime Minister, others the Parliament, others said it should be judges, but the most common answer here is that people should decide, by voting, and the law should be what most people agree on.

Then comes the whammy. The segregation laws in Alabama in 1955 were supported by the government and most of the voters. What should we do if most people want a morally unjust law? In the classes tonight I’d run out of time by the time I got here, so I left that question hanging for the kids to think about, and to discuss with their parents.

New content today:

The hard day of the week

1. I had my second COVID vaccination today. I drove to my first appointment 10 weeks ago, but my car is being repaired at the moment, so I had to find another way of getting there. Fortunately it was within walking distance, albeit a good 45 minutes away. I decided the exercise and fresh air would do me good, so I went on foot. I actually found a route that I’d never walked before, along a bushy walking track away from streets, so that was good. I got to the clinic a few minutes early and checked in, and there was hardly anyone waiting so I got my shot quickly. They say the second AstraZeneca shot doesn’t affect you as much as the first, and all good so far.

2. While I was out, the latest COVID update for New South Wales was announced. 633 new cases, beating the previous daily record of 478 which we had on Sunday. It’s hard to see this trend reversing and going down any time soon. The government seems to have run out of the will to do any more about it. I think we’ll be looking at 1000+ daily cases by next week. I’m glad I have my vaccinations.

3. Tonight I had three online ethics classes in a row. I’ve scheduled more evening sessions since it seems to be the most popular time. The first class was good – good students who have been doing the class for a while. The second one… I had one student, who was new, so he hadn’t had the practice of expanding on his answers and explaining his thoughts. And with no other students to ask the questions, we got through the prepared material very quickly. I ran out of stuff with 10 minutes to go, and had to ad lib more material and questions to fill in the time, which was tricky.

And then in the third class I had my most challenging student, one who would easily continue talking and telling stories for as long as I let him, so I’m constantly having to cut him off and move to the other students. Also, someone signed up for the last place in the class just a couple of minutes before the scheduled start time, by which time I was already in Zoom with a couple of the students joining up. So I didn’t see the email notification, and then I had an unfamiliar name trying to join the Zoom call, which of course I rejected. When they persisted, I finally noticed I had emails, and saw that they’d in fact enrolled – but by this time the new student had missed 20 minutes of the class. So then I let them in, and had to do the introductory spiel again… it was all very disrupted. I hope the students don’t get a bad impression from that lesson and decide to de-enrol for next week!

But phew. Wednesday is done – definitely my toughest day of the week!

New content today:

The easy day of the week

Tuesdays are my easy day. No online ethics classes, no teaching university level stuff, no going on huge long walks like on the weekend. I can just sit at home and relax all day.

Relatively speaking. I am busy tomorrow and so I had to write my new week of ethics lessons today. The topic is “Morals and The Law”. I’ll probably go into details after I run the class a few times.

This evening I had a Zoom call with family members, including my aunt in Germany. I last saw her over 10 years ago, but we’ve been having these family Zoom calls every few months to catch up and say hi, so that’s been really good. Except my family are all a bot crazy and my aunt just kind of sits there and listens to everyone else bouncing off each other.

New content today:

Applying binary morphologies

This evening was lecture 3 of the image processing course that I am tutoring, dealing with some more basic image operations such as edge detection and binary morphological operations. By combining these you can do quite a lot of interesting things, such as image segmentation – identifying the shapes of objects and structures in an image.

The lecturer tried a workaround for the problem I had last week with unmuting my audio. During the tutorial time, he set Zoom so that nobody could unmute themselves. It turned out that this was a useful workaround – because when I joined a team chat on MS Teams, and unmuted myself, Zoom popped up an error dialogue telling me that it couldn’t unmute me because the host had disabled it. So I could talk on Teams without also talking on Zoom, like happened last week. But it does definitely indicate that clicking the unmute button on Teams is – for some reason – attempting to unmute me on Zoom as well.

I discussed this with some friends and they seemed to think this must be because the mute functions in both Teams and Zoom are implemented by accessing the global audio settings of my computer, rather than settings local to each program. So seemingly I can’t unmute just one program – both programs actually tell the system to unmute the whole computer. Which seems a completely daft way to implement things. And also – why do only I seem to have this problem? Why isn’t the net full of people making the same complaint??

Anyway, technical problems aside, today’s lesson went more smoothly than last week. I joined several student team chats and helped the students with various problems and questions. It’s good doing useful work and having students appreciate the assistance.

Other things I did today included the final lesson of the ethics of machines and robots with my Monday morning group. And going out for a walk at lunch to get some fish & chips and eat with Scully in the park overlooking the harbour.

The weather by the way is very spring-like. Warm and sunny, and many trees are starting to put out new green shoots and foliage. It’s definitely the start of the new season already… a very early end to winter. August is usually cold and very windy here in Sydney, but no sign of that at all yet. Temperatures for the next week will be 20-24°C.

New content today:

The big Sunday walk

For today’s lunchtime walk, I chose a longer route, down to the harbour shore at Lavender Bay and then around the shoreline past Luna Park, under the Bridge, and over to Kirribilli. By the time we got home Strava had recorded that we’d walked 9.51 km.

The day was gorgeous – sunny and 22°C. It really feels like spring has arrived. I don’t know if we’ll even get a late cold burst as winter fades away, or if we’re really into the sustained warmer weather now. Here’s a panorama I took from Lavender Bay:

Lavender Bay panorama

This was where we first hit the shoreline, and we walked all the way around the shore on the left of the photo until we went under the Bridge. After walking all this way, and then back home again, we were pretty wiped out, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

New content today:

Erosion and dilation

Today I went through the material for Monday’s third lecture and tutorial on image processing. It’s about image segmentation and morphological operations (such as the titular erosion and dilation). I know about this stuff and how it works, but I’ve never actually done work with it or implemented it, which is what I have to teach in the tutorial session on Monday. So I worked through the exercises and got familiar with how to do them all in Matlab.

There was also another big walk with my wife and Scully today. We have a new favourite route, out along the peninsula west of us, and along a bushwalk track by the harbour shore, which emerges near streets at a small grassy area, which is quiet and where we can get Scully to run around chasing a ball for a while. It’s near the panoramic photos I posted in this entry a week ago.

COVID news was very bad today, with a new record high 466 cases in New South Wales. This has finally prompted the state government to strengthen the current lockdown restrictions, introducing them across the whole state, and reducing the distance you can travel from home from 10 km to 5 km. There’s a range of additional restrictions and removal of exceptions to get people moving around less as well. If only they’d done this 8 weeks ago when this outbreak began, we wouldn’t be in this current mess now.

New content today:

Spring in the air

We’ve had a few days of warm weather for winter, and it really feels like spring is in the air. Not only is it warm, but new season flowers and even foliage are appearing on the trees.

Cherry blossoms:

Early spring cherry blossoms

Magnolias, with new season foliage:

Early spring magnolia

This does feel ridiculously early for spring-like weather. I wonder if it forebodes anything for the coming summer.

Today I did some more email inbox tidying, going through a bunch of messages related to photography standards work and dealing with those – which involves reading reports, making notes, voting on ballots, and emailing committee members with information.

Tonight is board games night, and we’re doing our now usual online version. I was pleased with one game of 7 Wonders, in which I was the runaway winner with a whopping 77 points. (Normally a score in the 50s or 60s will win a game.)

New content today:

Cleaning house, or mailbox at least

Today I didn’t have anything big that I needed to do, which meant I had some time to deal with various small tasks that have accumulated. One of which was cleaning out my email inbox of various things that needed attention in one way or another. Such as downloading statements for various accounts, filling stuff out on my tax spreadsheet, and filing things into folders so I know where they all are. I also had some paper receipts to go through for taxation stuff, and then file away.

My wife took this fine photo of a kookaburra while walking Scully this morning:

Kookaburra 1

At lunch I took Scully on another walk while I went to get a pie from a nearby bakery. And I took this:

Kookaburra 2

Both of the photos are uncropped full frames from our phone cameras. Yes, I did get ridiculously close to that bird – I was holding the phone maybe 30 centimetres away from it. It was clearly semi-tame, and perhaps waiting for me to offer it some food. So I was a little lucky (but don’t tell my wife that!).

New content today: