Day off

I took a bit of a day off from my creative activities today. I went to have lunch with an old friend, and returned the equipment I borrowed from the university for yesterday’s science experiment at the school. I’m trying to think what else I did, but I kind of just did some grocery shopping and housework and goofed off a bit.

New content update: today:

And yesterday since I missed it then (I need to make this a daily habit so I don’t forget):

School science visit

Today was the big day! I spent the day at a local primary school, talking to the kindergarten to Year 2 classes about the solar system. I got back in 2 weeks to do the Year 3 to 6 classes. It’s Science Week, so some of the kids also set up tables in the playground at recess to show off the science experiments they’ve been doing in class recently. There were crystals being grown, model boats being floated and loaded with weights until they sank, electronic kits being used to build various gadgets, and the Science Club showed off some results from the bacteria growing experiment I did with them earlier this year.

Growing crystals

Also today I spent an hour and a half with the Science Club students. We went through the results of the colour naming experiment, which I reported on over on 100 Proofs not long ago. Then we performed a new experiment, to measure the strength of Earth’s gravity using a pendulum. We varied the mass of the pendulum, the distance it swung, and the length of the string. We took a whole bunch of measurements, and I’ll analyse them and calculate the results for next time we meet in two weeks.

Oh, and we also made another measurement of the length of a vertical stick’s shadow at midday, as part of our ongoing measurement of the size of the Earth using the geometry of the Earth’s orbit.

Measuring shadows

It was a busy day, and I didn’t have time for much else other than relaxing afterwards! The teachers at this school work very hard for their students, and I’m constantly amazed how much work they do and how demanding it is. School teachers are one of the most under-appreciated professions, easily.

Chilly Sunday

It feels like a little bit of winter has finally hit Sydney this weekend, with cold weather and strong winds. It was a good day to stay inside, but Scully needed some exercise so we went out for a bit in the afternoon to run around the park. Oh and this morning she had a visit from Luna next door for a play date:

Play date

Yes, our neighbour has a black toy poodle too!

Otherwise I continued preparing for tomorrow’s school visit, finishing off my slides on the solar system. And figuring out relative sizes of various balls that I’ll be using to represent planets and the sun and stuff.

Oh, and I’ve been intending to start doing this for a while, but keep forgetting, so let’s start today. New content today:

School prep

Saturday is housecleaning day at Chez DMM. After the weekly chores, I spent much of the day preparing for my school science visit on Monday, putting together slides for my talk on the solar system, and calculating what size balls I need to have ready to show the kids the comparative sizes of the sun and planets. I’m borrowing a 600 mm exercise ball from a friend. If the Earth is that size, I need a 160 mm diameter ball to represent the moon – I think the styrofoam ball I used for this 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe post will work nicely. It’s 150 mm, but close enough. And then to show the relativedistance between the Earth and moon I need to put the balls 18 m apart, which I think I can just about manage in the school library where I do my presentations.

And if the sun is represented by the exercise ball, then the Earth needs to be a 5 mm bead, and it needs to be 64 metres away! And Neptune needs to be 19 kilometres away! Hopefully this will impress on the kids just how big space is.

On a different topic, I noticed a disturbing thing today. I made a post to the Irregular Webcomic! Facebook page, and as I was doing it I noticed that Facebook was advertising some groups that it thought I “should join to increase your audience”. What sort of groups were these? Let’s take a look at them:

  • FOR THE BOYS – a group whose icon is a bunch of bikini models
  • Over 18 PEEP SHOW – icon is a silhouette of a woman
  • Holden Haters – icon is a Ford logo
  • Have a laugh Australia – icon is an “R over 18s” logo

So, Facebook, I’d like to know (a) why do you think people in these groups might be interested in my comics, and (b) why is there no feedback mechanism to let you know that these groups are not appropriate, or to hide them as suggestions?

School science prep

Today I did further preparation for my school science visit on Monday. I’ve been trying to contact a nearby high school to borrow some of their lab equipment, but they kept not returning my calls. So this morning I decided to try Sydney University, where I studied for several years, and know some of the staff in the physics department. I called up and got onto the first year lab coordinator (who I hadn’t met before) and asked her if I could borrow some stuff. She put me onto the lab technician, but he wasn’t in yet, so I sent an email.

Then I was planning to go do some grocery shopping, but I didn’t want to be out driving the car when he phoned back, so instead i stayed home in that sort of anticipatory state that makes it hard to concentrate on anything. He emailed back at 11:00, saying to meet him in the physics labs at 11:45.

Now, I was at home, and the university is on the other side of the harbour… I mailed back saying I might be a few minutes late, and jumped in the car. Fortunately traffic wasn’t bad and I managed to find a parking spot right next to the university gate closest to the physics building, so I was actually on time. I borrowed a retort stand and clamps, and a brass mass carrier with a stack of brass weights. Pretty simple stuff, but it would have been tricky to improvise adequately for Monday.

And I spent some time trying (in vain mostly) to help solve puzzles for the MUMS Puzzle Hunt. I don’t know where the rest of the day went!

Oh! I queued up a bunch of new comic submissions for Lightning Made of Owls. We had a bit of a slump in submissions for a while, but now there are several comics in the queue. If you want to make a simple gag comic and have it published, send it in!

Bento box

Today was a bit of a lazy day, work-wise. I actually spent most of my time at home refactoring code, which didn’t achieve anything tangible beyond making it easier to add on more stuff later.

I also spent a lot of time out. I arranged to meet a friend for lunch at a Japanese place near the station two stops away from where I live. I could have caught the train, but I decided to walk to get a bit of exercise.

Now let me tell you about the area where I live. It ain’t flat. Not by a long shot. There are hills everywhere. My tracking app (I use Strava, if you want to follow my profile) tells me the walk there by the most direct route was 3.72 km, with an elevation gain of 103 metres. (I ended up only 29 m higher than I began, so I also went downhill 74 m.) The restaurant does bento boxes, and I had one with some sushi, a bowl of udon soup, and something I’ve never seen before: fish katsu! It was good.

For the walk home, I took a longer route, covering 5.55 km, with an elevation gain of 72 m. Later in the afternoon I also took Scully for a walk and play in the park. The weather’s turned windy here, but it wasn’t very cold – the forecasters say tomorrow we’ll get a blast of colder air. Anyway, here’s Scully, posing after fetching her ball in the dog park.

Chasing the ball in late winter sunshine

Announcing mezzacotta Café v2.0

It’s Wednesday, Ethics teaching day. I walked to the school, taught my class, and walked home – a total walk of 8 kilometres. Well, I took a slightly indirect route home because it’s a more pleasant walk than along the main road.

Back home, I did a bunch of work for the ISO Photography standards committee that I’m still on. I started on this committee back with my old job at Canon Information Systems Research Australia. When the company decided to close down, I decided to continue working on the committee, since it’s a good way to keep up with professional photographic technology research, and I wanted to make sure Australia maintained its role in the international committee. Anyway, I had a bunch of documents to go through, so that took some time.

Then I spent time solving puzzles from the 2019 MUMS Puzzle Hunt, which started today. I’m part of the team “mezzacotta” with some of my friends.

In between I worked on integrating HTML/CSS to make the new mezzacotta Café look nice. Here’s the old original version. And here’s the new updated version made with our new mezzacotta Random Generator technology. The new version began with the same vocabulary a few days ago, but has had a few new additions made to it already. And it looks nicer!

Colour naming

I spent all day today doing science! If you weren’t aware, I do volunteer work with a primary school, going in to teach science stuff to kids from kindergarten to year 6. I talk to all of the kids at the school, but this year I’m also running a Science Club for 13 of the very keen science students, ranging from years 2 to 5.

A couple of months ago I ran a colour naming experiment with them, to explore the psychophysics of what colours we see and deciding what names they should have. I won’t go into gory detail here, because I described the experiment in detail in a previous post over on my science blog, 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe. Today I spent all day (about 10 hours of work as I type this) analysing the results and preparing slides to present to the students next time I see them (on Monday next week). Again, I’ve written a detailed post about it over on 100 Proofs. But here’s a sneak preview of the results:

results preview

Besides showing the kids the results and talking about them on Monday, we’re going to do another new experiment: measure the acceleration due to Earth’s gravity! I’ll write that up over on 100 Proofs too.

Olive oil flavour

This morning I had a blood test, and had to go to the pathology place while fasting, so couldn’t eat breakfast beforehand. I like breakfast. I don’t really understand those people who skip breakfast or who don’t feel any urge to have food until lunchtime. I wake up ravenous every morning and am hoeing into a bowl of cereal within about 5 minutes of getting out of bed every day. So having to wait until I walk up the street and wait for half an hour at the pathology centre is torture. Immediately after I left I raced to the nearest bakery to get something to eat.

Back home, I worked on writing annotations for the batch of Irregular Webcomic!s that I’d made over the past few days. This is the final step before publication, and can take most of a day, depending how much research I do and how much I write for each comic. But it’s a good feeling having the batch completed. And now it’s time to start thinking about writing the next batch…

I stayed in for lunch today and made myself bruschetta. I’m trying to use up a bottle of extra virgin olive oil that I got as a gift, before it passes its “best before” date. And also some caramelised balsamic vinegar.

It got me thinking about olive oil. We have extra virgin olive oil, for stuff like bruschetta and salads and those things that everyone says you should use extra virgin olive oil for, because it has a strong “fruity” flavour. And we have the “light tasting” olive oil that everyone says you should use for cooking, because it has a less strong flavour that won’t dominate a dish.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t taste any difference whatsoever between “extra virgin” olive oil and “light tasting” olive oil. Not just the current brands we have either – I’ve never noticed any difference between any of the brands of either we’ve had over the years. I’m honestly beginning to think this whole “fruity” and “light” olive oil flavours are really just the Emperor’s New Clothes, and a way to make us all buy more olive oil because we “need” to have two different types. They all just taste equally bland and oily to me – none of them have anything that could remotely be called a “strong” flavour that might dominate anything else. Can anyone actually taste a difference between these olive oils?? Or even taste them at all??

And on another note, I took some photos of flowers. This winter in Sydney has been ridiculously warm. Besides flowers everywhere, there are new green shoots and leaves on many of the trees already as well. This is all at least a month early, possibly more. Take a look: magnolias, irises, lavender, azaleas.

Spring flowers in winter

Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal

This morning I woke up with the idea for a new random text generator: Random breakfast cereals! But more on that later. First it was a Sunday morning walk with the wife and Scully. We did a roughly 5 kilometre loop, stopping at a nice bakery/cafe along the way for morning tea.

Back at home, I finished work on tonight’s new Darths & Droids comic. Then I implemented the random breakfast cereal generator. Technical coding details follow in the next paragraph (feel free to skip it if not interested in coding nitty-gritty):

One issue critical with this generator was a problem that Andrew Coker and I have wanted to tackle for some time. The idea was to generate a cereal name (e.g. Crunchy Chcolate Bombs), and then a description of the cereal. But the description should use some of the same words as in the name, so that it’s described as “Scrummy bombs of chocolate with extra marshmallow bits” rather than, say, “Yummy shreds of bran with raisins”. To do this we needed to store some of the randomly generated words in a context dictionary and then recall them later on using variable names, rather than just generate more random text. Doing this required quite a bit of code refactoring, and a lot of heavily nested text replacements in the partially munged output string. This of course generated a slew of bugs with other replacements such as capitalisations and stuff. So we worked together to track them down and squash them. After a few hours of coding, we think we have it working properly.

TL;DR: Here’s the brand new mezzacotta breakfast cereal generator!

Another thing I’ve been doing is getting back into my Italian language practice. I’ve been practising regularly on Duolingo for a few years, doing some every day, but I slipped after my last overseas trip and didn’t start up again when I got back home, until a few days ago. Now I’m back into doing some revision every day. Fortunately it seems like I haven’t forgotten too much! If you use Duolingo, you can follow my profile here.

And a photo today, another behind-the-scenes of a set I built for the Cliffhangers theme. It might not be obvious where they are from this, but when you see the actual comic hopefully it’ll be convincing enough.

The train to Abydos