New Ethics year

This morning was my first Ethics class for the new year. I got to the school and collected the roll, which had the names of 21 new Year 6 students for me to meet and teach this year. I wrote out name stickers for them all to help me with learning all their names.

When the kids arrived in the classroom and I started getting them to tell me their names, I ended up with three students who weren’t on my roll! There was some mix-up, and a few minutes in the ethics coordinator for the school came and removed those kids to a different class where they were supposed to be.

Being the first lesson, it was introductory, and mostly – from my point of view – about establishing rules and boundaries, so the kids know what sort of behaviour I won’t tolerate. We discussed the introductory question: Can good people do bad things? I got several good responses from different kids, including a few who thought there was no such thing as a “good person”, saying that everyone does some good and some bad things.

After the lesson I walked home via a longer route, to pass by the kitchen supply shop. I wanted to get a black tablecloth for my market stall, but it turned out they barely had any tablecloths in stock. So I’ll go get one somewhere else tomorrow.

At home, I planned to mount all of the photo prints I’ve had made into matting boards, to make them look nice for sale and be ready to frame. I opened the parcel of matting boards I’d mail ordered… and discovered that it was only the matts with the holes cut out – there were no backing boards! I double checked my order – I definitely indicated I wanted backing boards included. So I contacted the company and told them about the error – they’ll ship the backing boards ASAP. I just hope they arrive in time for me to mount all the photos before market day on 1 March.

Instead I did some ISO standards work, since we have a meeting coming up next week. It was planned to be in Yokohama, but I was going to dial in remotely. However, the meeting has been converted to a fully virtual dial-in only meeting, with the original Yokohama venue cancelled, due to concerns about coronavirus. In a sense it’s fortunate that I didn’t have to cancel flights and hotel jus a week out from the meeting.

New content today:

Falling bodies

After a day of science yesterday, I also spent most of today doing science – this time writing up my latest Proof that the Earth is a Globe. That took pretty much the whole working day.

After finishing that off, I starting making dinner while my wife and Scully were out at the hospital doing their Delta therapy dogs visit. I bought kipfler potatoes on the weekend, planning to make potato salad at some point, and I figured I had just about enough time to get it done in time for dinner tonight. I boiled them up, and also made a couple of hard boiled eggs while doing that. I’m glad I’ve found an effective way to make the eggs so they’re easy to peel. I used have trouble peeling eggs until I stumbled across the technique of plunging them in iced water immediately after removing them from the boiling water. It helps a lot.

I also chopped and fried some onion – I normally use raw red onion which is milder, but I only had brown onions so I cooked it a bit to soften the flavour. And chopped some gherkins. Mixed it all together with some mustard and prepared coleslaw dressing. I know they make potato salad dressing, but I find coleslaw dressing to be more to my taste, with a bit more tang and less creaminess to it.

To serve with the potato salad I cooked up some vegetarian sausages – spicy Italian flavour, which had tomatoes and herbs in them – and some asparagus. It all turned out really nice.

Tomorrow morning is my first Ethics class for the year, meeting a new group of students. To prepare I printed out the lesson plan and went over it. It’s a simple introductory lesson, mostly about meeting the students, going through the rules of the class, and giving them a taste of the sort of things we discuss during the rest of the year. My job for this lesson is mostly about learning the names of the kids as quickly as I can! It took me four weeks last year to be able to go without name tags. Let’s see if I can beat it this year.

New content today:

Science Club: water

Today was my first visit to Brookvale School for the new school year. I had a new contact teacher there, after the teacher I worked with last year moved to another school. The new teacher organised a timetable for me, giving talks to the kindergarten and Year 1 and 2 classes, and also a 1.5 hour session with the new Science Club, for which she chose the students.

With the K-2 classes I gave a talk about the many different sorts of things that scientists do, including medicine, studying animals and plants to learn how they live, looking at rocks to work out where to dig for useful minerals, measuring volcanoes, drilling in ice to study the atmosphere from hundreds of years ago, astronomy, building robots, and making computer models of things. They all seemed fascinated to see all these different things, and the talk went pretty well.

For Science Club, the teacher initially gave me a list a few weeks ago, of 12 students. Only three of them were in the Science Club last year, so she’d clearly decided to give some new children a chance to participate. Then late last week she emailed me and said there were six other kids who were super keen to be in Science Club; would it be okay with me if they joined in? I said that would be okay.

I got there today, with a print out of the initial timetable the teacher had sent me, with the names of the original 12 students, but not the new six. As the kids filed into the library after recess, I asked them all their names, wrote name tags for them to wear so I could learn them, and also wrote down the names on my list.

I told them what sorts of things we’d be doing in Science Club, and then we started on some experiments. Today we were looking at properties of water. First up was looking at surface tension. I used an eye dropper to put drops of water onto a 5 cent coin on the floor, producing a bulging bubble of water, held on by surface tension. We counted how many drops I put on, before the bubble spilled and wet the carpet.

I explained to them how water was made of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, and how the H and O atoms like to stick together, making an elastic skin on the surface of the water. Then we repeated the experiment, but with soapy water. This time the bubble was smaller, and I added fewer drops to it before it spilled. I explained that the soap had large molecules with one end that liked to stick to the water, but the other end pushed the water away. This made the skin weaker, explaining why the drop couldn’t get as large.

Next we did another experiment to look at surface tension. I filled a plate with milk and added drops of food colouring to the middle of the milk puddle. Then I got a cotton tip and dipped it in liquid soap… and touched it to the middle of the plate. I took a video:

Satisfying!

Next I got two glasses of water, one hot and one cold. I dropped some food colouring in each one, and we watched how it mixed into the water. In the cold water, the colour sank to the bottom and formed a layer below the clear water. In the hot water, however, it mixed evenly throughout. Then I explained to the kids that hot temperatures are caused by the molecules moving faster inside the water, and the faster moving molecules mix the colouring faster.

Finally we did an experiment in which I mixed iodine solution into water to make a brown liquid, and added some baby oil to form a clear layer on top. Then I shook the bottle to mix it all up, which encouraged the iodine to move from the water to the oil, in which it is more soluble. Doing so changes the colour to a bright purple, because the iodine colour depends on which liquid it’s in.

After a full day, I went home to relax. I typed out the names of the kids who I’d written down to send to the teacher, as a roll call. Then I noticed that the other timetable sheet she’d given my first thing this morning had the extra six kids’ names on it…

And the list of names I’d written down had three names not on that larger list. There were three extra kids in the Science Club who weren’t supposed to be there! I’m not sure if there was some sort of miscommunication, the kids thought they were in Science Club when they weren’t, or what happened. So I let the teacher know, and we’ll see what happens next time!

New content today:

A day at Coogee

Today was mostly a family day. My wife suggested we go to a market to check it out and to see if there was anything that I might realise I need for my own market stall coming up in a couple of weeks. I checked online and found that there was a handicrafts market on today at Coogee, a beach suburb south on the side of Sydney. It was on from midday to 5pm, so we headed out about 11.

We got there before 12 and decided to get some early lunch. I found a fish & chip shop operated by on ex-pat Irish family. Besides the usual Australian fish & chips fare, it also had a very solid line in Irish and British items. They offered large battered sausages, battered black pudding and white pudding, battered haggis, and actual cod, imported from the North Sea, as well as mushy peas on the side, and Irn-Bru in the drinks fridge. The cod and chips came in at an exorbitant $19.90, so I settled for the local fish & chips, for $10. It was pretty good, and I appreciated the fact that they actually added vinegar to the chips – something I grew up with, but which seems to be dying out in modern Aussie fish & chips places.

After eating, we sought out the market. And I say “sought”, because we got to the address and it wasn’t at all obvious where the market was. We asked a couple of people, and they said that sometimes there was a market over on the nearby grass, flanking the beach, but clearly there was no market there today. One man said that because of the storms and nasty things washing up on the beach in the past week or two, a lot of events on the beach have been cancelled, but he didn’t see any reason why a market on the grass should be cancelled.

After looking around a bit more, fruitlessly, we decided that indeed if there was a market scheduled for today, it must have been cancelled. And so we headed home again. Still, it was a pleasant fraction of the day to spend out and about, and we had a good lunch.

New content today:

More about yesterday

The other thing I did yesterday was take a trip into the city to pick up a bunch of things. My large photo prints for my market stall were ready, so I went to the printer to pick those up.

I took a walk from Redfern train station to the printer, then from there continued on towards the University of Technology, Sydney, where I was meeting with an old colleague to pick up some games. He started a small game shop business after departing our former employer, but alas competition from large retailers able to cut prices has driven him out of business, and he’s discounting all his remaining stock. So I helped out and picked up the Star Wars: The Edge of the Empire and Force and Destiny roleplaying game books. I would have grabbed Age of Rebellion as well, but he didn’t have that title.

Along the way I stopped to take photos of various things. Around UTS there’s a lovely string of old Art Deco pubs:

The Old Clare

From UTS I walked down Broadway into the centre of the city, passing more Art Deco:

The Great Southern Hotel

Sydney has a lot of Art Deco architecture if you know where to look for it, or if you just keep your eyes open as you walk around. It’s possibly my favourite architectural style, so I always have an eye open for it. There’s also this weird Googie sign at the Agincourt Hotel in Broadway:

Agincourt Hotel sign

Sydney really has an awesome mish-mash of architectural styles. My walk was towards a game shop in the heart of town, where I had a book on order to pick up. When almost there, I passed some more Art Deco:

The Civic

At the game shop I picked up my copy of Original Adventures Reincarnated #3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I have the first two books in this series, and they’re amazingly cool retrospectives on the original D&D adventures as well as modern updates and expansions. So I’m very keen to start reading this one.

With this huge haul of stuff, I returned home, where I had a quick lunch before leaving for Dick Hunstead’s remembrance function, which I described in my previous entry.

Today, Saturday, I haven’t done much! Some shopping, some housework, a little bit of doing more tasks to get ready for my market day. I took Scully for a run in the park, and then when we got home I gave her a bath, solo. Normally my wife and I cooperate to give Scully a bath, but today I did it for the first time as a solo job.

This evening we went out for dinner to Balmain, a suburb on the southern side of the Harbour, necessitating a drive over the Bridge. We had pizza at a place we hadn’t been to before, and it was amazingly good. We had to sit outside because of Scully, and initially chose a table close to the street, under the sky.

This seemed fine for a while, until the clouds grew very dark and lightning pierced the sky. I checked the weather radar and saw a huge storm front crossing the city, so we hurriedly moved to a table closer to the building, under the awning. As it turned out, the heaviest rain missed us, but we got a moderate burst lasting 20 minutes or so.

Rainy Darling

New content today:

In memoriam: Richard Hunstead

A couple of months ago I received an invitation from the University of Sydney to attend a celebration function for the career of my Ph.D. supervisor, Professor Richard Hunstead, as he retired. The date was to be Friday 14 February, with an afternoon of reflective talks by his colleagues, followed by an evening of drinks and canap├ęs. I accepted the invitation.

Two weeks ago, I received another email from the University. Dick (as he was known) had suddenly fallen ill and passed away. The event would go on, now as a celebration of the life of this distinguished researcher. I felt less inclined to go to something where the mood would be so different, but yesterday afternoon I went.

I saw and spoke with many old university friends and teachers who I hadn’t seen in many years. The afternoon of talks consisted of reminiscences by several of Dick’s closest colleagues, a couple of whom had been fellow students with me back in the day. Many people who Dick had taught went on to very successful careers in astronomy – I felt a bit like the odd one out, having left astronomy and moved into a career in photographic research. But the crowd felt familiar, because during my years as an astronomy Ph.D. student I moved in the same circles as this distinguished group of people. The Australian astronomy crowd is a large family, and does some of the best astronomical research in the world.

Dick in particular had many achievements over his long career. Many I knew about, some mentioned by the speakers were new to me. In the early 1960s, radio astronomers discovered the strange radio source named CTA-102. Early observations indicated that the signal strength varied, and in 1965 Gennady Sholomitskii proposed that it might be a “beacon” set up by an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation. This was two years before Jocelyn Bell’s discovery of the first pulsar, which was also at first suspected to be an alien radio beacon – making it the first astronomical object seriously suggested as a potential sign of an alien civilisation. This caused a sensation in 1965, and The Byrds wrote a song about it, released on their 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday. Mount Palomar Observatory found an optical counterpart to the radio source, identifying it as a quasar, which removed the idea that it was an artificial radio beacon.

Dick came into this story over the next few years, when he was the first to observe CTA-102 at relatively low radio frequencies, using Sydney University’s Molonglo radio telescope. The received wisdom of the time was that variable astronomical radio sources only varied at high radio frequencies, in the GHz range. Molonglo observed at 408 MHz, well below the range that anyone thought radio variability occurred. With three years of careful observation, Dick showed that CTA-102, and three other sources, varied with time at this low frequency as well. This transformed our understanding of quasars and radiogalaxies, and laid the foundations for physical models of the processes that power these objects.

Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope, east arm

[The Molonglo Telescope (my photo, during my honours year physics project, working with Dick).]

Dick was also a pioneer in the detailed study of the Lyman-alpha forest of absorption lines in the optical spectra of quasars. This is work that I know very well, as it was the subject of my Ph.D. thesis, working under Dick’s direct supervision.

AAT Dome

[The Anglo-Australian Telescope (my photo, where I did my observing during my Ph.D.).]

Besides his research, Dick was also passionate about education. He ran the second year undergraduate physics labs, and sometimes the first and third year labs as well, for many years, from when I was a student until fairly recently. He participated (as I learnt yesterday) in numerous education outreach programs, encouraging young people to pursue training in science, and collaborating with teachers and other groups to set up science education programs.

My last interaction with Dick was late last year, when I returned to the university for the first time in many years, to seek him out and request to borrow some lab equipment, for use in my own science education efforts with Brookvale Public School. I wanted some lasers and diffraction slits and other stuff to do experiments with my Science Club. Dick was keen to help and offered all the resources he had to give.

As I heard during yesterday’s event, this generosity of time and effort was repeated across the hundreds of students and colleagues who Dick mentored and worked with. The common theme to all the speakers was how Dick had boundless energy to share his enthusiasm for science with others and to actively encourage people, without prejudice, to develop their interest in astronomy. A good friend of mine told the story of how she, as a brand new first year undergraduate, ventured timidly into the astronomy department to ask if there was anything that she could do to participate in some sort of astronomy work. Normally only students in their fourth year are assigned research projects by the various physics departments, so a first year asking for additional work was very unusual. The first person she came across told her to go to biology because “that’s better suited to girls”. Undaunted she returned a few days later to try and find someone else. She met a professor in the corridor and asked the same question: was there some sort of astronomy project that she could possibly help out on? That professor was Dick, and he immediately gave her some real data, showed her how to book time on the computer system, and how to analyse it. That girl is now a professor in the same astronomy department.

Dick has left a huge legacy at the University of Sydney, in the Australian astronomical community, and in global research. Dozens, if not hundreds, of highly successful astronomers and scientists in other fields (e.g. me) owe their careers to Dick and his positive influence.

New content today:

On cooking Brussels sprouts

For years I hated Brussels sprouts. My mother used to boil them, and they were bland and slimy and horrible. In all the years since, I never bought them or cooked them myself, and avoided them if they happened to be served anywhere I went.

But the other week I went to a restaurant and the server suggested the house specialty side dish: fried Brussels sprouts. Nowadays I’m fairly adventurous with food and so I said sure, why not? They arrived, and the were delicious – crispy and spicy and oily and salty. Now maybe they weren’t really much more than a vehicle for oil and salt and crunch, but that worked, and for the first time in my life I really enjoyed sprouts.

Since then I’ve bought Brussels sprouts from the supermarket a couple of times. The first time I shallow fried them with garlic, chilli, and salt, and they were different to the restaurant ones, but still delicious. My wife liked them too. So a few days ago I bought some more.

I started cooking them tonight, and realised we were out of garlic. So I thought I’d add some finely chopped onion. But it turned out we were also out of onions! I added some chilli and turned to the Internet for help with what else could be added. Bacon… no, my wife is vegetarian and we don’t have any in the house. Onions… no, see above. Nuts… hmmm, we have almonds and walnuts. I could try that. Balsamic vinegar… Now we’re talking! I have some lovely caramelised balsamic vinegar. I added a drizzle of that to the sprouts, and served them up with spicy vegetable patties, and some steamed broccolini.

I didn’t take a photo because we ate it very quickly (we had a late dinner because my wife was out at a yoga class, and we were hungry). But it turned out wonderful!

A whole new world of cooking flavours and combinations have opened up. It’s fantastic. The net suggested other combinations with sprouts: cheese, lemon juice, honey, miso, apples, mustard! Not all at once, but I can definitely see a lot of possibilities here.

I enjoy cooking and trying new flavour combinations. Getting a new ingredient is one of the most wonderful things that a cook can experience.

In work news: I spent much of today organising experiments for Science Club on Monday. I’ll report on those after Monday. I would have liked to write a new Proof that the Earth is a Globe this week, but time got away, and tomorrow I’m busy too. I should have time to do one next week.

New content today:

Busywork

I did a bunch of small odd jobs around the house today. One was drilling some holes to mount a kitchen gadget on the wall of the kitchen. I’ve been putting this off for a while because I hate drilling into brick – it’s really hard without a hammer drill, and I don’t want to buy a hammer drill for a couple of holes. I took my time, letting the drill bit cool down between roughly 30-second drilling sessions. It eventually made holes deep enough and I screwed the gadget to the wall, clearing off some benchtop space that’s been occupied for several weeks.

I did some ISO Standards work on a photography standard that requires reading and commenting on. I did a bunch of configuration for my photography web shop. I did some prep work for my school science visit on Monday.

I went for a walk and saw some more storm damaged trees. Over by the creek not far away from my place, two enormous trees, about 30-40 metres tall, had fallen over.

Storm damaged trees

These were huge trees, but fortunately they fell in the middle of a park, away from any houses or power lines.

Oh, a snippet of chat conversation I had with friends today:

SI: Can they get any genes from the bones or is that just Jurassic Park nonsense?

Me: No, DNA doesn’t survive that long.

SI: Oh even in the movie it was inside a mosquito in amber or something I think?

Me: Yeah. It’d still decay in there. Google says DNA base pair bonds have a half life of 520 years. So after 1000 years you only have a quarter of the genome left. After roughly a million years you only have a handful of intact bonds left – not enough to work with.

DMc: What if the DNA has been travelling at relativistic speeds though?

Me: Well yes, samples extracted from dinosaurs who travelled at 0.9999c to a distant star and back should be fine.

DMc: Cool, my startup idea is still feasible.

New content today:

Switching chapters

I did some solid work on Darths & Droids today. Our joint writing group has agreed that we should start work on Star Wars: Episode VII, but because we no longer work together and aren’t able to spend lunchtimes doing the writing work, I am going to draft skeleton scripts that we can quickly go over at our fortnightly games nights. Hopefully we can manage to turn over 6 new strips a fortnight this way, to return to our long-standing 3-a-week schedule, rather than the one per week we’ve been doing since ending our treatment of Rogue One and doing the Muppet Show story as an intermediate story.

Today I wrote and assembled the traditional three intermission strips that we publish between each of our stories. That will give us three more weeks of space to start buffering up strips in preparation for the beginning of Episode VII, which will happen on 22 March.

I also did a few other small tasks related to ISO Photography Standards, and the STEM in Schools program which coordinates partnerships like my one with Brookvale School, where I run the Science Club. Tomorrow I’ll have to get stuck into preparations for my visit on Monday. This is going to be a busy week.

New content today:

Calmer weather

The storm petered out overnight, and today was a mostly fine day, with a bit of sun. We were supposed to get a little more rain, but it seemed to decide we’d had enough.

When I went out for a walk, it was clear that a lot of damage had been done. There were small branches down all over the places, the streets littered with twigs and leaves and water-swept debris around the drains.

I took Scully to the dog park this afternoon to stretch her legs after being copped up yesterday. And we were confronted by this:

Storm damaged fig tree

This giant Moreton Bay fig tree had dropped a branch. Moreton Bay figs are enormous trees, and this branch was the size of a small tree itself. It landed on that park bench, which is where I sometimes sit while Scully plays in the park. Fortunately nobody was there when it fell.

Storm damaged fig tree

You can see more benches here on the right – the bench in the first photo is under the leaves.

Storm damaged fig tree

Two large branches fell, plus a lot of smaller ones which you can see scattered around the park. In good news though, you can see that the grass is now lush and green after the rain. A couple of weeks ago it was all dead and brown.

Work-wise, today I mostly did more photo processing, to get an order ready for matted prints for the market stall on 1 March. I’ve now submitted that order, plus orders for the matts, and large cellophane bags to slip them into for sale.

Also, the school where I do my Science Club volunteering got in touch with me, with a timetable for my first visit – which is only a week away, on 17 February! I need to decide what experiment to do with the Science Club kids, and what topic to talk about to the kindergarten to Year 2 classes. I’ll be doing Years 3-6 on a later visit in March.

New content today: