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.

New content today:

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.

New content today:

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.

New content today:

A big walk along the harbour shore

With Sydney entering week 12 of COVID lockdown, I’ve now been restricted from travelling more than 5 km from home for getting up towards three months. As last weekend, I scanned the 5 km radius circle centred at my home to see what we could do today. I chose to take my wife and Scully out for a short drive over to Harold Reid Reserve, which is just within the edge of the circle.

Harold Reid Reserve bushwalk

We went early, around 10 am, to avoid the heat of the early afternoon. Like yesterday, today was expected to be very warm, and it ended up reaching 30.1°C, a little hotter than yesterday. Fortunately, much of the walk was shaded by the thick forest. We parked on a street and walked downhill towards the water of Middle Harbour, which is a large inlet off Sydney Harbour. The terrain here is mostly steep slopes down to the water from elevated ridge lines, making it unsuitable for building. Houses cluster on the ridge, but the slopes are mostly left as bushland, threaded with walking tracks.

Harold Reid Reserve bushwalk

Down at the water the views were beautiful. The sky was clear and cloudless, and the sun burnt down. Scully enjoyed the walk too!

Harold Reid Reserve bushwalk

In one spot we passed a slope that had been burnt recently – in a controlled burn to clear the undergrowth and ward off uncontrolled fires during the summer.

Harold Reid Reserve bushwalk

We passed quite a few people also out walking along this track, many with dogs too. Several family groups were out enjoying the unseasonally warm early spring weather. At a few places the track had small branches leading right down to the water, where people could splash in the shallows on a rock shelf, or go for a swim in deeper water.

Harold Reid Reserve bushwalk

Towards the end we began climbing back up the hill to the streets on the ridge above. This gave us longer views across the harbour to the opposite ridges.

Harold Reid Reserve bushwalk

Near the exit from the reserve back to the street, we passed a family with two kids going the other way, and the mother slipped and fell down some rough sandstone steps. She hurt her ankle badly enough that she couldn’t put any weight on it. Her husband and I carried her out through about 50 metres of bush track to the street, where we put her down sitting on a low stone wall while he and their kids went to retrieve their car. I stayed with the woman while she waited, and talked with her to keep her mind off the pain – it was clearly extremely painful as she was almost constantly wincing and groaning. The man returned with the car and I helped him lift his wife into the passenger seat. He said they’d go straight to the nearest hospital.

Her ankle had swollen up quite badly. Hopefully she’ll be okay, and hasn’t broken any bones, although it looked pretty serious. I made it back home with my wife and Scully without further incident.

In other news, today I deleted my Facebook pages for Irregular Webcomic!, Darths & Droids, and Square Root of Minus Garfield. I created them some years ago, but neglected to update them with anything after a few months, and have basically just been ignoring them since. But this past week the Australian High Court made a ruling that made me delete them.

Briefly, someone brought a defamation case against big media companies, who had created Facebook pages and then allowed people to post defamatory comments on them, without moderation. The media companies argued that they were not responsible for comments posted by third parties, on a third party website (i.e. Facebook). This argument went to the High Court, who on Wednesday this week ruled that media companies are publishers of content, even if that content is hosted on a third party site, and they have a responsibility to moderate it. The upshot of this for the defamation case is that the plaintiff can sue the media companies for defamation (that case is now pending, on whether the comments in question were actually defamatory).

But as pointed out in an article today, this ruling means that anyone who creates a Facebook page may be liable for defamatory comments posted on that page by third parties.

Now, if I were actively moderating those pages that I created years ago, I wouldn’t be worried about this, because I’d just delete anything that might be defamatory (as I do with my comic forums). But since I’m not actively moderating them… they have to go.

I’m not sad about this. I actually support the High Court decision. The big media companies had been using their Facebook pages as a shield against taking responsibility for publishing defamatory content on their own websites. It was an easy way out for them. Rather than host their own websites and allow comments and moderate them for defamation, they created Facebook groups, posted news articles there, and let commenters have free rein, trying to dodge any responsibility to moderate defamatory comments. This decision will force them to take that responsibility back, as they should.

In fact, I’m kind of glad that I had a solid prompt to delete those Facebook pages I’d created. They were relics of what seemed like a good idea years ago, but which had long outlived their usefulness. And frankly, any excuse to use Facebook less is fine by me.

New content today:

Killing grass

I live near a small park, where I take Scully to toilet and to play in the grass a bit, nearly every day. The local council posted notices several months ago that they were planning landscaping work in the park. A couple of weeks ago they fenced off part of the park to start work. The park is on a slope, and Scully likes to lie on the top of the small hill so she has a good view of the surrounding area. The place she likes to lie is just outside the fenced off area, so I assumed it was fine for us to be there.

Then about a week ago the grass started going brown. Subtly at first, but then very noticeably, over a few days. Yesterday it was very clear that the grass was dying. Which was very weird, because there was a pretty stark line between the dying grass outside the fenced off area, and the still green grass inside the fence.

Herbicided

I started wondering if the grass had been sprayed with herbicide, as I couldn’t think of any other reason why it would suddenly die like this. I found the contact details of the local council project manager on the information sign posted on the temporary fencing, and phoned her up. I said I was a local resident, and I noticed the grass was dying in the area next to the fenced off works area, and asked if herbicide had been applied. She confirmed that the area had been sprayed with a glyphosate-based herbicide.

I pointed out that the area sprayed was outside the fenced off works area, and that people and dogs walked across the area every day, and that no notice of any sort was given that herbicide would be used on the area, nor any sort of warning that people might want to stay off the grass.

Then I realised that about a week ago Scully had been sick for two days, vomiting, and avoiding food. That would have been around when they must have sprayed that grass. I’m no expert – I don’t know if glyphosate can cause that in dogs, but it’s a little worrying. So I’m a bit upset about this.

To add to the stupidity, the project manager told me that the slope had been sprayed to kill the grass in preparation for removal and relandscaping the slope with sandstone and concrete, but they’d since decided they weren’t going to do that, and it will now be left the way it was! So they actually killed all that grass for no reason! Ugh.

In other news, today was very warm. We recorded 29.3°C, the warmest day since 13 March. It’s definitely an early, hot spring. We’re supposed to get similar temperatures tomorrow. My wife and I took Scully for a long walk early, before the heat of the day. There were a lot of people out and about, walking around, enjoying the warm weather. We’re wondering if this is a harbinger of a very hot summer coming up.

New content today:

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: