Comics and superheroes

It was a very comic book day today. I worked on constructing Irregular Webcomic! strips from the batch I photographed yesterday. And then this evening I ran my ethics of superheroes topic with three classes of kids in a row. It’s turned out to be a really fun topic, even if some of the kids were a little unenthusiastic to start – a couple said they didn’t really like superhero stories/movies. But they got into it when we discussed the various problems and dilemmas that occur in a world where people have (or might have) superpowers.

Over the past two nights I watched the movie Tenet, which I hadn’t seen before. (No spoilers in the following discussion.) I’d heard that the dialogue is difficult to make out from the sound mix, and wow, people were not kidding about that. I had to really strain to hear it, and rewind a few times and still missed a big chunk of the dialogue. I managed to get most of the important plot stuff, so I followed the story okay. It was only after someone reminded me that Netflix has closed captioning that I turned it on for the second half of the movie and followed it a lot more easily.

I enjoyed the film, and the clever, intricate plot. But it feels like there’s a lot to unpack that would require two or three viewings to fully appreciate. I also got the vague feeling that like one of Christopher Nolan’s other movies, Memento, if you examine the plot too closely from a logical point of view that it would start to fall apart and feel less satisfying. But anyway, yeah, I’d recommend it. With subtitles on.

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A new science start

Today I worked on my lesson for the next week of online ethics classes. It’s about the ethics of superheroes. It covers the obvious questions of vigilantism (Batman) and whether normal humans should fear supers (X-Men), and some things such as whether heroes have a duty to protect people (Spider-Man), and who should pay for the damage a super-battle causes. It should be a fun class!

First thing in the morning though I photographed a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. That took the whole morning, up until lunch, so I worked on the superheroes thing in the afternoon.

This evening I had my first one-on-one science lesson with the girl from one of my ethics classes. Her first question was how plastics are made – which she wanted to know about because she wanted to understand why plastics are so bad for the environment. I wanted to lay some good foundations, so I started by introducing atoms, which she’d heard of but didn’t know a lot about. That led to compounds and polymers and the chemical process of polymerisation. She asked a few questions and we explored the properties of various different polymers and the reason why they don’t break down in the environment.

That took about 2/3 of the time, and then we shifted gears as she asked how stars formed! Fortunately I know a lot about that, and it was also a good chance to reinforce the importance of atoms to understanding pretty much anything at the fundamental level. Throughout the class I drew diagrams on my iPad, in the shared window on Zoom so she could see it in real time, using Sidecar (that I discovered the other day). That worked really well. And after the class I bundled all the drawings I did into a PDF and uploaded it to Outschool for her to download.

It was a really good class, I thought, and she seemed to really enjoy it. So I’m hopeful to continue this course for some time.

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A night off teaching, but on cooking

It’s the mid-semester break week for the University, so I don’t have image processing tutoring work on tonight. We get stuck into the student project work next week, which will be interesting, because it’s a big change from the lecture structure we’ve had so far.

Instead I’ve spent this evening cooking! I wanted to try a recipe I saw on TV a few weeks ago: baked brie in sourdough. I walked up to the bakery with Scully earlier in the day to get a sourdough cob loaf, but unfortunately they didn’t have any sourdough in that shape, so I had to just get a plain white cob.

Baked brie in bread

That’s what it looked like before cooking. But before I reveal the after photos, let me change the subject completely!

A few days ago I noticed that there was a small nest in the jacaranda tree across the street, and it was being tended by noisy miners, feeding some baby birds. I considered getting some photos, but from ground level you wouldn’t be able to see much but the underside of the nest. Then I realised that I could probably climb partway up the tree and get a photo from higher up, and reasonably close. It might be a good opportunity to get a close shot of baby birds in the nest.

So this afternoon I went out with my camera. I ran into my wife out there, who was coming back from walking Scully during her lunch break. I got her to help me by passing my camera up to me once I’d climbed into the tree. In hindsight, I’m not sure I could have got up there carrying the camera by myself at all. While up there, she took this photo of me:

Photographing a nest

You can see the nest roughly where I’m aiming my camera. I was sitting about 2.5 metres off the ground. I’d originally intended to climb further up the limb of the tree in front of me, but being that high off the ground made me realise I really didn’t want to risk falling that far. So I didn’t get as high as I would have liked, and my best photo only turned out like this:

Noisy miner nest

You can barely see two birds in the nest. Oh well. At least I didn’t break my leg or something.

Back to dinner… After half an hour of baking I took the loaf out and topped the cheese with hazelnuts and honey:

Baked brie in bread

The recipe suggests serving with fresh figs, but we didn’t have any, so we had it for dinner with some fresh strawberries on the side, to provide something to break up the glut of cheesy goodness. Here’s what it looked like sliced open:

Baked brie in bread

Wow. It was really rich, as you can imagine. But we can pretend we’re French for a night and have a dinner of baked cheese and bread!

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An even longer walk

After yesterday’s short drive to try a new walk, today I led my wife and Scully on a walk starting from home, along a route I discovered last year, along Flat Rock Creek. We walked through familiar streets to the point where we entered the walking/cycle path running along the Warringah Freeway. Here the path splits and a branch heads under the freeway and along the creek route, first as a cycle path, and then it turns into a bushwalk track with steep sections, steps, and stepping stones crossing the creek back and forth. My wife had never walked this way before, and really enjoyed it, with the cool forested creek leading out eventually to the green expanse of Tunks Park, where people were out exercising their dogs.

From there, which is almost at sea level, it was a big walk up the hill to Cammeray and Crows Nest, which is at elevation a bit over 100 metres. By the time we got home, Strava had recorded that we’d walked 9.8 km. It took us 2 hours 45 minutes, including a stop at Cammeray to grab and eat some lunch from the Italian bakery there. When we got back home, Scully, who had walked almost all the way, collapsed and slept for most of the rest of the day!

At home I finished writing a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! scripts. And then I started work on slides for the Creative Thinking course I’m starting soon. At least hopefully starting soon. I got one kid enrolled for the one that was scheduled to start today, but I decided it’s going to be much better with at least two students, so I messaged the parent and said I was rescheduling to start next week, to give more time for other students to enrol. So maybe that will start next week.

And tonight I had two sessions of this weeks ethics class on apologising. One of the interesting questions this week has been asking the kids: If a dog gets in someone’s way and they trip and the person yells at the dog, and the dog looks sad and whimpers, is the dog apologising? A small majority of the kids said no, a dog doesn’t know it’s done anything wrong and can’t apologise, while a bit under half of them said that yes a dog can apologise, and what’s more they definitely know when they’ve done something wrong. Which was a very interesting split of opinions that I wasn’t expecting.

Most of the other questions the kids are more generally in agreement on, except for this one: What would the world be like if nobody ever apologised for anything? Most of the kids said it would be terrible, because people would all be angry at each other all the time and nobody would get along. But 3 or 4 of the kids said that it wouldn’t make any difference, because if nobody ever apologised, everyone would be used to people not apologising, and it wouldn’t bother anyone. I asked them what about things like when you accidentally step on someone’s foot on the bus – if you don’t apologise, would they know that it was an accident, that you didn’t do it intentionally? This made most of them rethink their answers, but one kid doubled down and said that obviously that’d be unintentional, so there’s no need to say anything to let them know you didn’t mean it. 🤔

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A walk at Riverview

Mostly today I worked on writing Irregular Webcomic! strips. But in the middle of the day I went out with my wife and Scully for another walk within our 5 km radius. We drove over to the suburb of Riverview, which is naturally by the Lane Cove River. Here we did another walk along Tambourine Creek, the same creek we discovered two weeks ago. That time we walked upstream along the eastern bank, in the suburb of Longueville. But there’s a parallel track on the other side of the creek, in Riverview, and today we walked downstream towards the harbour.

Tambourine Bay Track

The creek itself looked similar to the photos I posted two weeks ago. But on this side the track went all the way down to the water, where there was a mangrove swamp where the creek emptied into the harbour. The tide was low, so the mangrove mudflats were exposed.

Tambourine Bay Track

From here the track curved around the shore of the river, passing by this imposing sandstone wall. We spotted a kookaburra in one of the trees:

Kookaburra on Tambourine Bay Track

There were lots of birds calling, and I spotted several of them, recording 11 species on eBird. The track emerged on the shore of Tambourine Bay, an inlet of the river.

Tambourine Bay Track

Here there was a grassy picnic area and park, with a few people enjoying socially distanced picnics. We returned back to our car via the streets.

Oh, the other thing I did this afternoon was tried to figure out if I could somehow set up my desktop computer and iPad so that I could draw on my iPad with my Apple Pencil and have it appear in a window that I could share live on Zoom. For my upcoming science classes, I want to be able to draw diagrams while the students watch what I’m doing, and it’d be much easier to draw with a Pencil on iPad than using a mouse on the desktop. I thought I might have to buy some apps or something to enable this.

But after searching briefly, I discovered Apple Sidecar. This is a feature that Apple added to MacOS and iOS two years ago, which lets you connect the two to set up an iPad as an extra screen for your desktop. It’s built right into the operating system. All I had to do was enable it in the desktop preferences, and bingo, suddenly my iPad was an extra screen! I could drag windows across from desktop straight onto the iPad, and work with them there. And, importantly, I could drag a Photoshop window over to the iPad and draw directly into it with my Apple Pencil.

It just worked. More than that, it has cool integration features so that you can access all the critical Photoshop menus and control right on the iPad, without having to select them on the desktop UI.

Within a minute of Googling how to do it, I was drawing on my iPad right into a Photoshop window. And I tested that I could share that window with Zoom – yep, it all just worked! Wow. After many experiences trying to get computer stuff to work, this was a real breath of fresh air. Good job, Apple.

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More course planning!

So the other thing that happened yesterday was the parent of a girl in one of my online ethics classes wrote to tell me that her daughter would have to unenrol due to scheduling conflicts, but she enjoyed the classes and would rejoin later when her schedule opened up again. I taught one last class with her in it, and I said I’d miss her and looked forward to seeing her again when she had free time. She’s a good kid and a pleasure to teach.

Then just ten minutes after the class ended, the mother sent me a message saying her daughter really wanted to keep doing my class, and could she go on a waiting list for either of the later classes on the same day (I have two, but both currently full). I wrote back and said Outschool didn’t have a waiting list function, but I could keep an eye out and let her know if a spot opened up.

Then she wrote back and said her daughter really, really wanted to stay in the class, and she would be staying in the current timeslot and they’d just juggle their schedule around it until a spot opened up at a later time. Okay, wow! It’s nice to have a child so enjoy one of my classes that it generates this sort of reaction. The mother also said that her daughter struggled a bit with more academic subjects and liked my class because it was conversational and boosted her confidence.

I thought about this for a bit and had an idea. I asked the mother if she would be interested in a one-on-one class for her daughter to teach her science, in a way tailored to her learning style – as a conversation in which I’d present material and then she can ask me questions about any aspect of it, filling in her own knowledge gaps until she understands the concepts. The mother leapt at this and thought it sounded wonderful! We’ve been negotiating a bit and today I drew up a new course plan on Outschool for this 1-1 class, in this style. She needs to take a look at it now and get back to me with any comments, and then if she’s happy with it, we can hopefully find a good timeslot to start work.

I did have plans to do other things today, but I wanted to get this done right away. The opportunity to contribute in such a large and meaningful way to a child’s education is just too much to pass up.

New content today:

Revamping courses

Today was a very full day of teaching-related activities. I began though with another 2.5 km run for exercise. I did one yesterday too, though neglected to mention it then. I have a poor attitude to exercise, and end up doing it in bursts for a few weeks and then neglecting it for several weeks. Well, I suppose it’s better than never doing any at all.

At 10am I had a Zoom meeting with the lecturer of the image processing course that I’m tutoring at the University of Technology, Sydney. He contacted me yesterday to see if I was interested in helping him revamp another course, one on data engineering, that he will be teaching in first semester next year. He inherited it from another lecturer, and wants to update and rearrange it in time for next year. He’s been reading this blog (hi Stuart!) and knew I was creating course material for Outschool, so had the idea of asking me to assist, as his own schedule is very busy.

This sounded like a great opportunity for me, and something I feel confident doing, so I said yes. Today’s Zoom was to introduce me to the current course outline, and a rough overview of what we want to do to update it. It’s going to be a fair chunk of work, but I’ll be paid a good hourly rate, and it will help set em up for further potential work at the university.

After that, I spent the middle of the day writing class notes for the new week of online ethics classes. This week the topic is apologies, and I’m asking the kids questions like: Why do we apologise? What makes an apology good, or bad? What would society be like if nobody every apologised?

And then from 5-8pm I ran three classes with this topic. It worked really well and generated a lot of interesting discussion between the students, so I consider that a success.

New content today:

Trigonometric survey

In my friends’ Discord chat today one of them posed this:

Survey question. You’re doing a trigonometry question. It says you’re standing on a cliff 250m high looking at a rock that’s 450m away. Is 450m the hypotenuse or the base of the resulting triangle?

Just to be silly, I quickly drew this:

Trig drawing 1

But then another friend one-upped me with this:

Trig drawing 2

Incidentally, the original friend asked “Survey question” because he was surveying us to find out what we thought of this poorly framed high school maths question. A coworker had asked him for advice on what to advise his child while doing homework, and my friend decided to canvas for opinions. But at least two of us thought he’d said “Survey question” as a prelude to a question about surveying. English is funny sometimes.

This evening I had a Zoom meeting for ISO photography standards. This is an ad-hoc group meeting for one particular standard: ISO 15739 Visual Noise, held between the regular week-long digital photography meetings. The group of experts working on this particular standard have ongoing experimental work to discuss, so the project leaders organised this interim meeting to go through some technical details. We met for 90 minutes, and there was a lot of very interesting discussion. We agreed on the plan for further experimentation, which will be done hopefully it time for the next meeting in October.

For dinner tonight I varied my pizza making by trying out some calzones.

Calzones for dinner

I filled one with spinach and ricotta, and the other with mushrooms and ricotta. I didn’t know how much the insides would cook in the oven, so I pre-cooked the spinach and the mushrooms, and that seemed to work well. I also made a tomato sauce with garlic, onions, and herbs for spooning on top.

Calzones for dinner

They turned out really well! I was a little worried about the insides leaking in the oven, but they were fine, and delicious. My wife told me I can definitely make these again.

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Learning machine learning

Today is Monday and lecture 7 in the image processing course that I am tutoring for the University of Technology, Sydney. This is the last lecture, before a three-week student project begins. We’re up to the guts of machine learning for use with image classification now, and I spent time today going over the lecture slides and the tutorial exercises. I had to download a bunch of new Matlab toolboxes and stuff, and play with those to get some idea of how to run various machine learning tools. There’s also the free Weka machine learning software, which is used in tonight’s tutorial as well, so I downloaded that and tried it out too.

I had a good play around with some of Matlab’s pre-trained image classifiers. I threw this image at the ResNet50 classifier, and you can see the label it assigned to the image:

Machine learning classification

It got “poodle” right, but it thinks Scully is a standard poodle (the largest sized poodles)! I tried another photo:

Machine learning classification

Hmmm, “standard poodle” again. Then I tried this photo:

Machine learning classification

Yay! This time it got “toy poodle”. Interestingly, it ignored my wife and decided to label the image for the dog. But I suppose the person helped it realise the poodle was small, and not a standard poodle. Anyway, its pretty fun playing around with this sort of machine learning stuff. You can provide extra training images to help refine the pre-trained classifiers and help them to improve in their recognition capabilities. But to give you an idea how broad its capabilities are with the pre-trained classifier, I threw another random image at it:

Machine classified dock

A “dock” – spot on!

The other thing I did today was repot my dwarf lime tree. I got some more soil from the hardware store first thing in the morning, and then transferred the tree from the small plastic pot in which we’d bought it a couple of years ago, into the new larger terracotta pot. After doing that I cleaned up the balcony, with all the spilt soil and other accumulated debris since the last cleaning. I should take a photo of that – I planned to, but I guess I got caught up doing other stuff and forgot about it until just now.

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