Picking up pot

I have a couple of small plants growing on our balcony:

  • a chilli plant which has been very productive for a few years, and
  • a lime tree which has not yet produced any usable fruit, but which currently has some tiny limes that I hope will continue to mature rather than dropping off.

The chilli is in a suitably sized terracotta pot, but the lime tree is still in the plastic pot we bought it in. I decided it was time to repot it in a larger pot, so I went online and ordered a terracotta pot and saucer from the local hardware store. I had to guess the size of saucer because it was impossible to tell what the correct size was from the website information. (And I couldn’t just go into the hardware store to buy them because it’s closed by COVID restrictions – you can only order online, for contactless pickup.)

Anyway, my pickup was scheduled for this morning, so I drove over to the store, stopped in one of the marked “pick up” berths, and a guy came over and asked me my name, and then brought the pot and saucer over for me. It was impressively chunky. I brought it home, but I’ve put of repotting the lime tree to tomorrow.

Next up was picking up the online-ordered groceries from the supermarket. While there I grabbed three more punnets of super cheap strawberries as well.

Today mostly I worked on more of my creative thinking course. And tonight is games night with my friends, playing online via Board Game Arena. So far I think I’ve lost 5 games already…

New content today:

Late night ethics class

I’m writing this very late because I had a late ethics class this evening, at 8pm. I had one really good student for several weeks, but her school has just started up again 2 weeks ago after the summer (in Sri Lanka), so she couldn’t make the same class time any more. Her parent told me that she really enjoyed the class and wanted to continue, but none of the times I was offering were late enough for her to attend after school. Because she’s such a good student, I decided to make an 8pm class (my time), which is 3:30pm in Colombo, just after she gets home from school. I never intended to run classes this late, but I feel it was good to do so for this student.

Mostly today I worked on the class notes for my upcoming classes on creative thinking. Nobody’s signed up for those yet, but they’re still a couple of weeks away, so hopefully they’ll start to fill up in the meantime.

I’m too tired now to write much more. Also my muscles ache after running on Tuesday and playing golf yesterday, after several weeks of no exercise. I need to get back into regular exercise again! But tonight I’m just going to relax…

New content today:

Golf on fire

This morning I left early (before breakfast) for the local golf course, for my first game in exactly two months. I haven’t played through the heart of the current COVID lockdown in Sydney – even though golf has always been an allowed exercise activity. But today I decided it was a good day to hit the course again. Normally I go there early and the course isn’t busy – I can just rock up whenever and pay and go tee off without waiting. But this morning the woman behind the counter asked what time I had booked – I’ve never been asked that before! She said that recently they’ve been very busy and requiring bookings, even this early. I said I hadn’t been for a couple of months, and usually just showed up. She gave me a wink and let me pay and said I could sneak into the roster.

So I went down to the first tee, and yeah, there was a queue of people waiting to tee off. I just sort of took a place in the queue, and sidestepped questions from other players on what my booked tee time was. It turned out to be a very slow round, taking almost an hour longer than I’d expected for nine holes, but I didn’t mind, as I take a relaxed approach to golf – unlike some people who get really frustrated when behind slow players. I enjoyed my time outdoors and I ended up having a really good game.

I started consistently, with scores of 6, 6, 5, 5, 5 on the first five holes (pars 3, 4, 3, 3, 4). This is not objectively great, but for me this was equal to my best start ever on this course. Normally I end up blowing out at least one hole, with a score of 8 or 9 strokes, so I was very happy, while hoping that I wouldn’t end up screwing up on one of the last four holes. Then on hole 6 I scored a par of 3. The last three holes are par 4s. I scored 6 on hole 7, not great, but no disaster. If I could just stay consistent on the last two holes, I could do a personal best round.

On hole 8, I hit a nice long drive, though a little of course. But I had a clear shot at the green from 9 iron distance. I hit the shot straight, but too long, I watched it fly over the green and disappear into the little gully behind the green. Disappointed, I turned back to my cart and started trudging towards the hole, expecting to have to hit another shot from the gully up onto the green, giving me a big opportunity to mess up and end up with a nasty score.

But then I got to the green and saw this:

Second shot, par 4 hole 8

Surely the previous players wouldn’t have left a ball on the green? Was that my ball? I checked… it was my ball! It must have bounced off the sandstone outcrop that you can see behind the flag, and bounced back on to the green! Nice! Unfortunately that putt was a little too long for me to sink, but I downed it in two, for a par.

One hole to go, and I hadn’t messed up yet. And my fortune would last onto the 9th and final hole of my round. I parred that too. My previous best total on this course was 49. Today I scored 44. I was really on fire! That was easily my best and most satisfying day on a golf course. The only thing is it’s going to be difficult to equal or better that performance any time soon, until I improve my game some more. But… wow… I felt really accomplished, and it really made my day.

When I got home I worked on today’s new ethics lesson, and this evening I taught three classes in a row. It was incredibly interesting, but I’ll go into that later in the week, as it’s quite late now after all of that.

New content today:

Start me up

This morning I decided to kickstart some exercise routines again, and I went out for a jog around the streets. I didn’t want to start with a full 5k run, so I cut a large loop off my normal circuit, and also took the pace a little easier than when I was running regularly earlier this year. I did 2.25 km, and was feeling good at the end, like I could have kept going at least a bit longer. It probably helped that I skipped the hilliest parts of my normal route. Afterwards I did a stretching routine that I haven’t done for ages as well… my flexibility has decayed quite a bit.

I spent most of today working on new Darths & Droids strips. I also took Scully out to the dog park for the first time in weeks, now that the COVID lockdown restrictions have been eased back to allow you to meet with a friend or two in an outdoor setting, so long as everyone is vaccinated.

For dinner tonight, I made a pesto, pumpkin, and pistachio pizza. It also had chunks of fried haloumi on it, which added a nice saltiness.

Pesto, pumpkin, pistachio pizza

A friend pointed out that the haiku I wrote a few days ago had an error, with “frangipani summer” being 6 syllables. I completely missed that at the time! And there isn’t an easy fix either. Oh well. I claim the Japanese principle of wabi-sabi on that one!

But inspired by another prompt: “The Secret Lives of Vegetables”:

Soft dewy morning
Refreshingly crisp and green
Cucumber dreaming

Flowers of passion
Fecund seeds swell in their beds
Conceiving pumpkins

Furtive green hairdos
Possessors shyly hiding
Carrot introverts

New content today:

Bayesian probabilities and immortality ethics

Tonight I’ve been teaching today’s tutorial exercises in the university image processing course that I’m tutoring. Tonight’s topic is about classifiers, which are built on a heavy foundation of probability theory. So the lecture was mostly on probability statistics, including applications of Bayes’ Theorem to building classifier models – essentially numerical estimators that assign probabilities to different classes (or categories), depending on measurements made of some sample. The context in image processing is that you measure some statistics of an image, and then assign probabilities that the image shows certain objects. It’s all a bit abstract at this level, but hopefully things will crystallise for the students in next week’s lecture.

I finished off the ethics topic for the week, on immortality, this morning. For historical reasons my topic week starts on Wednesday and runs to the following Monday. Having taught it to 24 students in the past 6 days, I found it interesting that almost all of them generally thought that the idea of developing treatments to let people live much longer lives – say 100 or even 1000 years – was a really bad idea. Most were very concerned about population problems if people didn’t die, and mentioned consequences such as crowding of housing, not enough food, wars, and destruction of the environment.

Only two or three of the kids thought that society could adapt and thrive if everyone lived to 1000 years old – everyone else thought it would be a complete disaster. But when I prompted them to think of good things that might come out of everyone living long lifespans, they came up with good insights. People could learn a lot more, and individuals could invent more new things and make more scientific breakthroughs than any individual who might only live to 80 or so, resulting faster scientific/technological advancement. And if people lived a lot longer – they would be more concerned about keeping the environment liveable, so would make stronger efforts to look after the Earth.

I mentioned that researchers are working on anti-ageing treatments, and some think that a breakthrough will be made soon enough that some people alive now could live to 1000 years. When I said that such treatments would probably be expensive, at least at first, so only rich people could have them – wow, the kids mostly thought that was so unfair that it should just be banned. Only a couple thought that it would be okay to let people use such treatments. The naysayers were worried about wealthy people living long lives and dominating the world, getting into positions of power, and holding on to them for centuries, making the divisions between rich and poor much worse. And even when I suggested the treatments would become cheaper so that everyone could have them, most of the kids thought they should be banned, and nobody should be allowed to have them, because of how disastrous it would be.

I wonder if it says anything about the world today that kids of this age (10-12) are cynical enough to consider that we can’t handle longer lifespans without completely messing up society and destroying civilisation.

New content today:

Discovering a new creek

Inspired by yesterday’s walk around new neighbourhoods, I went for another short drive with my wife and Scully today, so we could try walking around somewhere new again. We found Tambourine Creek, which runs through a bushland park names Warraroon Reserve.

Tambourine Creek

We entered the Reserve towards the downstream end, from a path leading from nearby streets where we parked the car. We walked upstream, along the bank of the creek, passing a lot of mossy sandstone rocks, ferns, and small palms, forming undergrowth below a canopy of gum trees and others.

Tambourine Creek

The water was trickling along nicely, probably helped by the rain we had for much of yesterday and overnight (although the weather had cleared by lunchtime when we went for this walk). It was also surprisingly clear for an urban creek. I wouldn’t drink it, but it looked pretty clean, with no obvious pollutants or rubbish anywhere. It was also very easy to forget that there were houses quite nearby, as the bush growth was thick enough that you couldn’t see very far. If you were dropped here and just looked around without exploring too far, you might believe you were in complete wilderness.

Tambourine Creek

We walked about 750 metres along the creek, before emerging back into the streets of the adjacent suburb, then walking back along the streets to where we’d parked the car. Scully enjoyed the walk – she really likes walking in new places that she hasn’t seen before.

Tambourine Creek

This afternoon I went over the lecture notes and tutorial exercises for tomorrow’s image processing lecture, so I can help the students during the tutorial part. It was a lot more about probability distributions and fitting to them using logistic regression classifiers and Bayesian classifiers, and using training data to produce likelihood functions for maximisation.

For dinner I experimented again with leftover sourdough starter, making savoury pancakes, served with fried mushrooms. This is based on a dish I had at a restaurant once – I’d never considered pancakes as a savoury meal before, but it works really well with the right toppings.

New content today:

Walking around Woolwich Dock

This morning was warm, although overcast. I decided to make the most of it before the rain set in after lunch, by taking my wife and Scully out for a short drive to another nearby suburb (within our allowed 5 km COVID restriction limit) and then walking around there for exercise, rather than just doing the same old routes around our home.

Scully at Woolwich

We went to Woolwich, which is a very wealthy old suburb, sitting on a narrow peninsula in the harbour. There are a lot of very old and fancy houses there, built of sandstone. It’s amazing just to walk along the streets and gawk at the enormous houses and properties. And being surrounded by water, there are a lot of good views as well.

Woolwich Dock

At the end of Woolwich is Woolwich Dock, which is a deep cleft cut into the sandstone shoreline, constructed form 1898 to 1901. It used to be used as a drydock – ships would enter, then they would close lock doors across the entrance and pump the water out, so the ship hull could be worked on. The doors are gone, but the dock is still used as a working dock for repairing somewhat smaller vessels.

Woolwich Dock

There is a public walking path that goes down the hill from the top of the ridge, enters oe side of the dock near water level, goes around the entire inside of the dock, and then out to a park on the other side. Along with walking around the streets of Woolwich to see the houses, we did this walk as well.

Woolwich Dock

Once we’d done the walk, we found an Italian restaurant that was set up for selling pastries and porchetta panini from their front window (since nobody can actually eat out at restaurants at the moment). They looked really good, and my wife got a cannoli for me – ricotta with chocolate chips. It was really good.

We headed back home for lunch, and made it in time before the rain set in. It’s been light, but steady since, and should continue into tomorrow. This afternoon I’ve been working on Irregular Webcomic! strips.

COVID update: New South Wales is now over 1500 new cases a day. The Government is telling us their modelling suggests the case numbers will peak in October, before the vaccination rate is high enough to start bringing it down. The good news is vaccination rates remain very high, and we should get to around 80% vaccinated some time in October.

New content today:

Warm spring weather

It was beautiful and warm day today. I ditched the long pants of winter and went out in shorts today. First chore was picking up the groceries that I’d pre-ordered online. Then made some comics. Went for a walk over lunchtime with my wife and Scully. Taught a couple of ethics classes online.

For dinner tonight we ordered some take-away from a local Turkish restaurant for a change. It’s a place we eat at occasionally for a special treat, so we treated ourselves at home tonight.

And tonight is virtual games with my friends. We have a new implementation of the game Spyfall, which one of my friends coded up as a Discord bot.

Oh, and in another context, I wrote a series of haiku, as part of a contest to describe where I live using haiku, without saying it explicitly:

Lazy bee buzzes
Stars of white lay their fragrance
Frangipani summer

Drifts of leaves and seeds
Pale brown mountains in the streets
Plane trees in autumn

Yellow balls of fuzz
The bush is punctuated
Gold wattle winter

Purple blossoms crowd
Islands across the city
Jacaranda spring

New content today:

New Creative Thinking course!

I’m excited today because I finished the write-up of my planned new creative thinking course and submitted it to Outschool for approval, and they approved it within an hour. So I can now present:

Creative Thinking & Problem Solving – Let’s Design a Game.

You can read the full description of the course there. And if you have or know kids 11-13 years old who might enjoy it, or parents who might be interested in enrolling their kids, please let them know! The first class will kick off on Sunday 19 September. It’s at a good time for Asia and Europe, but the Americas. If you’re in the Americas and interested, let me know and I can schedule another class at a different time.

This course kind of complements my Critical & Ethical Thinking course, which I’ll also link for completeness. That class is going really well – I now have ten different sessions at different times and days of the week, all running in parallel, and have taught 60 students since I began the course in May.

In other good news, I got my first pay from the University of Technology, Sydney, for the tutoring work I’ve been doing on the image processing course. It’s always good seeing that first deposit show up in your bank account, because it means I wrote my details down correctly on the HR forms!

New content today:

Ethics of immortality

Tonight I taught my first ethics classes for the new topic of immortality. (Three classes in a row on Wednesday evening! I’m pretty exhausted after that.) This topic is really fun, and the kids were giving some great and really interesting answers to the questions. And unlike some topics, this one is generating some very diverse answers between the different students.

One question in particular, I asked the kids to imagine if there was some treatment that could make everyone live to be a thousand years old – what would society be like. Over half the kids thought it would be bad, for various reasons, although overpopulation was the most popular one. A few said society would become even more “unfair”, with rich people getting ever richer over their long lifespans, while poor people continued to struggle. On the other hand, a few kids thought people would learn a lot more and become a lot smarter over their lives, and the world would progress rapidly in science and technology.

Then to stimulate thought, I asked each kid to think in the opposite manner: if they suggested society would be good, I asked them to think of something bad, while if they thought it would be bad, to think of some positive things that could occur. Here’s what I got the most surprising and insightful comment of the night. One kid said that if people lived a lot longer, they might start to worry about climate change more, and actually do something about it.

Earlier today I spent time writing up the topic and questions, which took up most of my activity for the day. I also went for a bit of a drive, simply to get the car running and charge the battery up a bit. I’ve noticed that it’s starting a little reluctantly the past couple of times, and there are a lot of stories going around Sydney of people’s car batteries dying because they’re not driving for weeks on end due to the COVID lockdown. So I took a drive out to close to the 5 km limit from home. I reached approximately 4.7 km from home, which is the farthest away I’ve been from home since… 16 May.

Here’s a view from where I ended up:

Oysters and the City

New content today: