Back to school day

Today was back to school day for most of the schools in New South Wales. The start of a new school year, kids going to school for the first time, kids moving up to high school for the first time. I did my 2.5k run this morning and passed many kids walking to school – a sight not seen since mid-December.

And it’s the first school year in seven years that I won’t be returning to teach Primary Ethics face-to-face with a classroom of kids. I mentioned my last class last year and why I’ve decided not to go back this year. I was still enjoying it, but wanted to get that weekly time back.

This evening I have three online classes, starting the new topic about Games. I had one student from last year returning after the school holidays. I said I hoped she had a good holiday, and she said, “Yes. I nearly died!”

I was… appropriately shocked and concerned and asked if she was okay. She said she’d been collecting shells on a beach with her family, and picked up a cone shell. I immediately gasped, as these are well-known deadly marine creatures. I asked if it actually stung her, but she said no, she managed to drop it before it got her with its sting. Phew!

In the third class, which was at 9pm, I had a new student who signed up last week. And then a few days ago I got a message asking about the time, which Outschool was informing them was 4am. They said they were in Texas, and I confirmed that the conversion was correct – the class would indeed be at 4am for them. I’m not sure how they managed to sign up for that, as Outschool should display times in local time for all users. The only thing I could think is that it showed “4am” and they misread and thought it was 4pm. Anyway, I offered to transfer the kid to a better time, but the mother replied that they were out that day and said they’d stick with the 4am class. I replied saying I’d be happy to refund the fee they’d paid if the time was inconvenient, and then next week we could work out a better time slot. She came back and said her son was super keen on the Games topic this week, and she was okay with him getting up at 4am for it… So, yeah, he showed up in the class at 4am Texas time! He was actually surprisingly awake and lucid.

In other news, I went to the dentist today. One of the fillings I had in December has been bothering me, giving the occasional sharp twinge when I chew food. I suspected the tooth might be cracked and need a crown. But the dentist said that he thought the filling was flexing. He decided to replace it with a different, former filling material and see how that goes. He used a quick anaesthetic which wore off after just a few minutes and was amazingly good, so that was good in that I didn’t have a numb face for the next several hours. Hopefully he’s right and it won’t hurt any more. Even better, he declined to charge me for the repair!

New content today:

… and very wet

The humidity that was oppressive yesterday has really peaked today, and the clouds burst early this evening. We had 60 mm of rain in just over 2 hours, and it’s still coming down, with more on the way.

My day was filled with ethics class activity – teaching 4 classes, and in between writing a new lesson plan for the week beginning tomorrow (I update topics on Tuesdays). The next topic for the 10-12 age group os “Games”. I wrote a long scenario involving three kids playing a board game, punctuated by questions at appropriate events in the game. Here’s the beginning:

Tegan, Josh, and Adele are playing a board game together. They roll dice and play cards and move pieces on the board, chatting and laughing while they play. Whenever the three of them get together, they like to spend some time playing a game like this. They’re playing a game where the goal is to win. Only one of them can win – the other two have to lose the game.

  • If you’re playing a game like this, is it okay to be competitive – to try your very hardest to beat your opponents and make them lose? Why or why not?
  • Generally, it’s considered to be good to be nice and generous to people. What makes it okay in a game to deliberately try and make your opponents lose?
  • What about the opposite: If you’re playing a competitive game, is it okay to not try to win? Why or why not?

Tonight I made pizza for dinner – well, my wife made the dough and I did the toppings and cooked it. We do this once every week or two, but I mention it tonight because it turned out extra delicious today, with the crust nice and thin and crispy. Or maybe I was just really hungry. 😄

New content today:

So humid…

It was a very warm, overcast, and mostly humid day. The humidity barely dipped below 70% for one official reading mid-afternoon, but fr the rest of the days it’s been hovering around the 80-95% range. It was 92% when I did my 2.5k run at 9am this morning. We’re supposed to get storms late this evening, and tomorrow is forecast for around 35 mm of rain.

I worked on comics today for both Darths & Droids and Irregular Webcomic! And a bit more stuff to prepare for running D&D in a couple of weeks. Before finishing the evening off with three ethics classes. I had the last class of the older students discussing The Meaning of Life, and that was fun.

New content today:

Monday is 5 lesson day

My Mondays have become pretty busy. For a long time I had three ethics classes in the morning. Well, in the morning in winter – in summer one class shifts to after midday because of relative time zone shifts between Australia and the USA caused by daylight saving time. Then a while back a parent contacted me asking for a class at a suitable time for her daughter in the UK. So I added a class in the late evening (which is morning in the UK).

And then a couple of weeks ago I got another request from a parent for specific help for her son with critical thinking, to apply to the context of his schoolwork assignments. She wanted something a bit more focused than the topic-based discussion in my regular classes. I suggested a 1-on-1 class to try a few things, and that slotted into the early afternoon. Today was the second time we did that one. The kid is bright, but his mother wants assistance with focusing his thought processes. We talked about how to approach his current assignments and I gave him a list of points to consider and ask himself when doing similar work. His mother contacted me afterwards and is very happy with how it went. So it looks like this class will continue for a while too.

This morning, before the first class, I took Scully on a longer walk, around the harbour shore and past one of our favourite bakeries. I stopped in to get a muffin – they had apple and fig, which was very nice. I had half then and half after lunch.

In other teaching news, I’m still in the CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools program, which is the program that organised my connection with Brookvale Public School, which I visited regularly from 2012 to 2020 before COVID put an end to in-person visits. Since COVID, I’ve lost contact with Brookvale, but the program admin has put me in touch with a new school, Loreto Kirribilli. This is a girls’ high school, so different to the K-6 primary school I was working with before. It has the big advantage that it’s much closer to where I live, not requiring a half hour drive to get there. I’ve reached out to the science coordinator there today she got back and scheduled an online meeting to discuss how I can help with their science education program. She wants me to assist with mentoring individual students in work on science projects throughout the year, starting in the next school year in February. So that should be really interesting! Hopefully I’ll be able to report some positive things about that in the new year.

New content today:

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.

New content yesterday:

New content today:

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.

New content today:

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!

New content today:

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.

New content today:

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.

New content today:

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.

New content today: