Kids on whales and teleportation

Face to face ethics class at the school this morning: I started a new topic, which is on “Circumstances”. It’s built around the idea of discussing whether eating whale meat is okay. The very first question to ask the kids is: What do you know about whales? The lesson plan assumes that the kids will say things like whales are intelligent, they communicate with one another, they have social groups and help one another, and some species are endangered. When I asked the question, “What do you know about whales?”, these were the first three responses I got:

Their milk is the consistency of toothpaste.
When they’re lying dead on a beach, their intestines explode.
They lost 3-0 to England this morning.

Yeah, it was one of those classes. It was a lot of fun, and honestly I was enjoying the discussion as much as the kids. I moved on to telling the kids that in Norway, you can find whale meat in restaurants and supermarkets, and asked if it was okay that the Norwegians eat whale meat. Now, the whole lesson plan seems to be predicated on the idea that most of the kids will say no, and give the whales’ intelligence and endangered status as reasons. Because much of the remainder of the lesson is questioning them about cultural differences, and then giving an example of the Inuit who had to hunt whales to survive the long winters with no other food, and asking if they thought that was okay, as a contrast to saying that modern Norwegians shouldn’t be eating whale meat.

But it didn’t work out that way, because several kids said they thought it was fine to eat whale meat. If Norwegians think it’s okay, then that’s their culture, so no problem. We discussed this a bit and I asked them why they thought this. I asked what if Australian supermarkets started stocking whale meat, and they said that would be fine too. I resorted to doing a show of hands, asking who thought eating whale meat was okay, and every kid in the class put their hand up.

Well, that kind of derailed the whole thing about the Inuit and setting up a situation where eating whale meat was a survival necessity. I went through it very quickly, because there was kind of no point and it didn’t lead to any interesting further discussion. I ended up going through two whole lessons worth of material, and having a few minutes over at the end to pose additional questions that I could think of related to the situation. It was definitely interesting and quite a fun discussion, but I really had to think on my feet.

Tonight I had three online lessons in a row about Teleportation. The first was very stressful as someone had signed up a student below the suggested age range, and their English was fairly rudimentary, so I had to slow the whole class down a lot. I’m going to have to write to the parent and recommend they unenrol as the class is too advanced in material and required English skills for their kid.

Thankfully the next two were better. Class 2 had a very intelligent discussion about the potential issues and ethics of teleportation. Class 3 was also fairly intelligent, but with a touch of fun as well. In that one I asked what bad/evil things people could get up to with a teleporter that can’t send living things. One girl said:

Ads! You’d get millions of ads delivered direct to your living room!

I also set up a situation where a teleporter malfunctions and there’s a copy of the person at the origin and the destination and asked what should be done. Two of the girls in this class said:

Kill both of them.

New content today:

Jogging logging

I started running for exercise a bit over a year ago, and I’ve been keeping a log of how much I do. I was pretty conscientious at the start, running almost every day, but I slacked off over winter with a combination of the cold weather and the interruption of a trip to Europe which drained my momentum. But I’ve picked up again and am now doing 2.5 km runs 3 or 4 times a week.

Today I decided to use my spreadsheet to add up how far I’ve run in 2022. As of today, it’s 462.5 km. I’ve already done 37.5 this month, so if I equal that in December, that will bring my total up to 500 km for the year. So that’s my goal.

I mentioned this to some friends, and one of them said:

Looks like you’ve been keeping a… running total.

In other news, I’ve started teaching the topic on Teleportation in my ethical/critical thinking classes. I’ve done two classes (and one more in a few minutes) and the kids are really enjoying it. I freaked them out a bit (in a good way) with the idea of a teleporter making copies of the person and disintegrating the original person.

Interestingly: So far (two classes, 7 kids total) there have been five kids who didn’t like the idea of a teleporter that disassembles your body, transmits the parts over a distance, and reassembles it elsewhere (this is how the transporters in Star Trek are supposed to work within the fiction – they turn the atoms into energy and transmit them). They said they would not agree to use such a device. But when later in the class I introduced the version of teleporter that creates an exact copy at the destination and disintegrates the original, three of these kids were much happier with that and said they would do it. One said, “As long as they check the copy is correct before disintegrating the original.”

I wasn’t really expecting that response! It’s interesting the way kids’ minds work sometimes.

New content today:

Pondering about teleportation

It’s Monday, the day of the week when I finish off a week’s topic in my Outschool ethics classes. I finished off the Golden Rule topic with four classes, and in between I worked on the new topic starting tomorrow: Teleportation. This is one of the speculative topics, in which I get the kids to imagine that some science fiction or magical thing is real, and then use their brains to imagine what effects it would have on the world. I also wrote some scenarios such as what if a teleporter malfunctions and we end up with two people – one at the departure point and one at the destination. And then we get into the whole thing about whether teleportation would be acceptable if it involved making an exact copy and disintegrating the original. Should be fun!

That used up most of my day. I found a bit of time to work on editing some photos from my road trip to Orange back in September and uploading them to Flickr, then including them in my diary that I posted on my website the other day. I did the first three days and have two days to go.

Here’s a view of a winery that we visited on a rainy, foggy day:

Brangayne driveway

I also realised that some of my older travel diaries involved road trips and could use maps added to show the routes, so I added those to my to-do list.

And this evening we had a power outage! The power went off at about 6:15pm. Checking the power company website on my iPad indicated that it was a suburb-wide outage, and they estimated about two hours to fix it. So I was a bit glad that I haven’t yet converted from gas cooking to induction, because it meant I could still cook Thai curry and rice for dinner. I had to light the burners with matches, but otherwise it was fine, and we ate sitting out on the balcony in the dying evening light.

The power came back on a bit before 8pm, fortunately before we had to get the candles out.

New content today:

A warm, stormy Sunday

The Bureau of Meteorology forecast 28°C and late afternoon thunderstorms today, and they were pretty spot on. It was warm and humid, though very cloudy all day, with odd patches of sun poking through occasionally. And then multiple lines of intense thunderstorms came through from the west in the early evening. I was in the middle of teaching a Zoom class when the first one hit, and I had to interrupt and tell the kids to wait half a minute while I raced around the house closing the windows to avoid rain coming in. The thunder was pretty intense too.

And coincidentally I taught my science class on weather tonight too, while it was storming outside.

The other main thing I did today was finish off assembling and writing annotations for that latest batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips.

New content today:

Explaining the weather

It rained heavily overnight, but had cleared by morning. It was a warm, sunny day, but there was a chilly breeze coming in off the harbour, which we noticed during a lunch time walk with Scully around the Greenwich peninsula, which involved walking along the water in many places.

At home I upgraded my Mac to MacOS Ventura. I’d been putting this off because I didn’t want to do it on a day where I had Zoom classes, lest something go wrong. Some past upgrades have taken a couple of hours or so, so I set it up to begin before we went for our lunch walk. But it was pretty quick, and done in about 20 minutes with no dramas, and the computer was ready even before we left for the walk.

Much of the day I spent working on my lesson on weather for tomorrow’s science class. I found a really cool diagram showing different cloud types on Wikimedia Commons, which I felt compelled to share here:

Cloud Atlas of cloud types

It’s available there in much higher resolutions, so click through if you want to see it in detail.

In cooktop news: I made roast vegetables for dinner tonight. I prepared the potatoes (regular and sweet) by parboiling them first with a pinch of baking soda, to roughen up the surface so they absorb the oil and bake nice and crispy. After ten minutes, I wondered why the water wasn’t boiling, only to discover that the gas had been one the whole time without being lit.

This is a very rare occurrence – I can probably count on the fingers of one hand how often I’ve done this in over 20 years of living here, but it was annoying and a bit worrying. One problem is that I can’t smell gas leaks. The ethyl mercaptan that they put in the gas specifically so that people can smell leaks happens to be a chemical that some significant fraction of people are genetically incapable of smelling, and I happen to be one of them. Anyway, the kitchen window was wide open, and I turned on the rangehood as soon as I realised what had happened, and no harm done. But, add another reason on the side of converting to induction cooking.

Oh, another thing I completed today was converting my travel diary from our road trip to Orange back in September into HTML format and uploading it to my website. I added a map of the route and the distances driven (recorded from the car odometer), and you can see the result here. I still need to insert photos to illustrate it… which I’ll get to at some point.

New content today:

Mango season approacheth

This morning when I picked up the groceries I noticed that several varieties of mangoes are now available. I saw some in the last few weeks, but it was only the earliest variety and they were expensive. But now several types are in the supermarket and the prices have come down a bit, so I decided to grab a couple of them. I like Kensington Pride and Calypso mangoes, but they are better later in the season, so I got R2E2 mangoes. These are a very large variety, with a milder flavour and smooth creamy flesh.

My first ethics class today is normally at 3pm, but currently there’s only one student, and her parent contacted me a couple of days ago asking if it would be possible to reschedule the class to the morning, for today only. She’s in Japan, so the local time was 1pm normally, but we agreed to move the class to 8am Japan time, or 10am for me. When we connected on Zoom, it was obvious that she’d only recently woken up, being a bit sleepy and yawning.

Tonight is online board games night with my friends. We’ve played games of Just One, Incan Gold, and are now into Ticket to Ride.

New content today:

Exploring gas to induction conversion

We’ve had a gas burning cooktop for as long as I’ve lived in my current home (which is many years). For several reasons I’ve recently been thinking of having the gas cooktop removed and switching to an electrical induction cooktop.

  • Gas is a fossil fuel, and I don’t really want to be burning it.
  • Burning gas produces waste products known to exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions. Although I don’t suffer from these, it’s clearly got to be healthier not to be burning this stuff in my home.
  • Burning gas also produces water vapour, contributing to internal humidity. This became a major concern over the past couple of years of unusually wet and damp weather we’ve been having here, where keeping mould at bay has become harder and harder. Anything to reduce humidity in the home has to be welcome.
  • Natural gas prices are predicted to outpace the rise in electricity prices, so in the long run this is going to save money.
  • The gas cooktop is a bit old now and has accumulated wear and grime that is difficult to clean because of the shapes.
  • An induction cooktop should be safer, in terms of potential gas leakage, and also burn hazard.
  • As a bonus, if we ditch gas we can cap the gas line at the wall behind the oven, which will free up some depth behind the oven – so that we can push the oven all the way into the cabinet space. We replaced our oven a few years back when the original one kicked the bucket, and it turned out that a standard depth oven wouldn’t fit into the gap in the cabinet work, because the gas line for the cooktop protrudes from the wall too far, blocking it from being pushed in. There were no similar ovens of lesser depth, so ever since then we’ve been living with our oven protruding from the cabinetry by about 4 centimetres. being able to push it all the way in flush with the cabinetry would be awesome.

So anyway, I’ve had the thought to get onto this for some time now. Today I decided to start seriously looking at options. I checked a couple of models of induction cooktop from retailer websites and found some that have good reviews. And then I checked the installation dimensions. One model I liked the look of says it fits in a 560 mm wide cut-out hole in the bench top. The existing gas cooktop is about the same size…

I pulled the oven out a bit so I could poke around under the gas cooktop. I found I could push it up a centimetre or so and, with a bit of awkward difficulty, see the cut-out hole it sits in. I wedged some post-it notes under the lip of the cooktop, lined up with the edges of the hole as best I could manage, and then measured the distance between those with a tape measure. 555 mm. Great.

I did a search for induction cooktops with a smaller cut-out width, and found one that was listed at 555 mm. It cost $800 more than the first one I found. So… if I assume the measurements are all correct, I can either pay $800 extra for a very slightly narrower cooktop, or I can find a stonecutter to cut the solid granite bench top to widen the hole by 5 mm. So I need to get a quote to find out how much that will cost.

Although… it’s highly possible that one or more of these measurements are sightly off. In particular, I’m not sure of the accuracy of my own measurement. To see how big the cut-out is, I really need to remove the gas cooktop first, so I have full access to it. But to do this I need to get a gasfitter in to disconnect the cooktop and cap the gas outlet. And once I commit to doing that – we can’t cook until a new cooktop is actually installed.

Anyway, if I do that, then I can confirm the cut-out size and either order an appropriately sized induction cooktop, or get a stonecutter in to widen the hole. And then! We need an electrician to install the induction cooktop. The gas cooktop is plugged into a standard 10 ampere power point to supply power for the spark ignition system. But an induction cooktop (the one I looked at) draws 27 A. So it needs a custom cable wired from the fusebox and an extra circuit breaker installed. The wall behind the oven and cooktop is solid brick, but there’s a power cable to the oven, so presumably there is a conduit that an extra cable could be threaded through for the new cooktop – though I don’t know how an electrician would do that.

I mentioned this to a friend, and he said there may also be a safety issue having two high amp cables running through the same channel because of potential induction effects between the cables. So… this means before I even think about having the gas cooktop disconnected and taken out so I can have a look at what size the cut-out hole is, I need to get an electrician in to look at the wiring and confirm that it can be done, staying within safety regulations (and presumably give me a quote for the work).

To summarise:

  1. Get electrician in to confirm if installation is possible and supply quote for cost.
  2. Get gasfitter in to remove gas cooktop and cap gas pipe.
  3. Measure cut-out hole accurately.
  4. (optional) Get stonecutter in to enlarge hole in granite bench top to fit preferred induction cooktop.
  5. Order induction cooktop to fit cut-out hole.
  6. When it’s delivered, have electrician back to install it with new cabling.

This is sounding like a significantly bigger project than when I first began thinking about it. I need to mull it over a bit more before deciding to either go ahead, or just live with our existing gas cooktop for a few more years. So a lot of thought and effort went into doing pretty much nothing today. I suppose I have a better idea that I don’t know if we should do this or not!

In other activities, I spent some time preparing a science lesson on the topic of weather for my occasional online science student. I have more to do on this, which I’ll do in the next few days, as the lesson is on Sunday afternoon.

New content today:

An unconventional dessert

There wasn’t much exciting about today. Possibly the best thing is that the wind has calmed down after the past few days and today was warm and sunny. It’s starting to feel like spring properly now, rather than the tail end of winter. Cicadas are out droning in the trees, the jacarandas are in full bloom, and the smell of freshly cut grass is in the air as people tend to their patches.

I spent time today building up a bit of a buffer for Darths & Droids, writing and constructing a few comics. I went up to the local shops with my wife and Scully, and had a chicken burger for lunch. That was my main meal for the day, as tonight I had three classes in a row from 6-9pm, so I just had a light dinner of fried eggs on toast at 5:30 before starting.

And now, after the classes are done, I’m having an unusual dessert: sourdough toast, topped with honey, peanut butter, cinnamon, and sliced dates. My wife suggested the dates, and I figured why the heck not? It was pretty good!

New content today:

Tuesdays are definitely my busy days

I had a full plate today. Because of other deadlines yesterday I needed to write my ethics lesson for the new eeek of classes this morning, in time for three classes tonight. The topic for this week is The Golden Rule: the principle that you should treat other people the way that you would like to be treated. I introduce the lesson with the Allegory of the Long Spoons, and then go on to explain what the Golden Rule is, and ask the kids if they think it’s sensible, and what might possibly go wrong with it. Then we go on to discuss cooperation and explore the snowdrift dilemma, a variant of the Prisoner’s dilemma. We talk about how this applies to real world situations such as driving on roads, or politicians running a country, and whether cooperation might lead to better results for everyone than being competitive.

After having run it three times, it seems like a solid lesson, and hopefully gets the kids thinking!

I found some time to write and make a Darths & Droids comic as well, and to walk Scully a couple of times. And that was basically my day.

Oh, I saw this news article, with the headline: Spell of nice, boring weather coming for eastern Aus. Yes, the fact that we aren’t expecting more flooding rain, or Antarctic blast cold spells, or gale force winds for the next few days is unusual enough that it merits a headline.

New content today:

Power line clearing

After two morning online classes, I went out for a short walk with Scully around midday. We passed a work crew still clearing off the tree branch that had fallen onto the power lines during the high winds yesterday.

Power line clearing

Power line clearing

The wind was very strong again today. Checking the weather records, it was even stronger than yesterday. It was absolutely miserable being outside on the short excursions that I took to give Scully some outdoor time, and I rushed home and indoors again as fast as possible. Fortunately the forecast is for milder conditions tomorrow.

This afternoon I worked on assembling some Irregular Webcomic! strips from the photos I took last week. And did two more online classes. I have four now on Mondays, so it’s pretty busy. I finished up the topic on Generalisation, which I think turned out to be a pretty good one.

New content today: