Thinking about superstitions

This week’s new topic for my ethical/critical thinking class is superstition. I spent the morning writing the new lesson, and had three classes this evening with the new material.

There’s a set-up story about a girl who has “lucky socks” that she wears when she plays soccer, and questions about why she would think this, and what might happen if she can’t find her lucky socks on the day of a big match.

Then I go into exploring what effects superstitions have – if they are harmless beliefs, or if they can have actual bad effects on people, or on others and society as a whole. And then we ponder the question of whether we should respect people’s superstitions, or if we should ignore or dismiss them.

Besides the three of those classes, I also had an extension class for last week’s Food topic, going through homework essay questions for one student. I normally do this on Mondays, but he needed to shift the time this week, so it ended up being today, meaning I had 4 classes in a row. Phew… that’s a big chunk of work.

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Eggs and pizza

I had three ethics classes this morning, which basically eats up the whole morning. I took Scully for a walk while I got some lunch, and on the way home I bought eggs, since we were low at home. For dinner I made pizza. Um… oh, I went for a 2.5k run. I did a better time than yesterday, when I took it a bit easier.

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Housework and running

Today was a day of housework. I vacuumed everywhere, cleaned the bathroom, washed the shower stall, baked some bread. And I took advantage of the sunny morning (no rain!!) to go for a 2.5k run for the first time since straining my back almost a week ago. It’s still a tiny bit sore, but 95% okay, and the physiotherapist said I should rest up for a few days but once it’s close to normal going for a run will be fine.

We all went for a big walk today, to the Italian bakery. This is the longest regular walk we do, almost 6 km round trip. A few other destinations are close to the 5 km mark. Today the bakery had the banana caramel croissants that I got once as a special item and really liked, so I grabbed another one. They are really really good.

And this evening I had two more ethics classes, and a science class with the girl who has been doing these long-term. Today I went through the immune system with her, explaining how our various blood cells fight diseases and produce immune reactions, and how vaccines work.

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A Zoom and a tunnel

Friday night was virtual board games night with my friends, so I didn’t have time to write up a blog entry. I picked up groceries, taught some online classes, and started working on a new online class for Outschool. I’m planning to run some Dungeons & Dragons or other roleplaying games for kids. D&D classes are very popular on there. I think a lot of kids these days are getting exposure to D&D online when they don’t have local groups to play with—or maybe some are getting an extra fix—and Outschool is a perfect platform for them to find adult DMs with experience running games for kids.

During games night, we played Sushi Go Party!, which I won, amazingly. And 6 Nimmt, Splendor, and Jump Drive, all of which I lost badly, unsurprisingly. We also tried a new game: VektoRace, which is an analogue car racing board game in which you use distance templates to move car tokens around a race track. It seemed an odd thing to port to an online version, but seemed to work okay. I took an early lead and the other players struggled to catch me, and we decided to quit after a bit more than 1 lap of the 3 in the race as it wasn’t particularly interesting. It’d probably be more fun with actual miniatures and a table.

Today I went to visit my mother, who lives up north, an hour’s drive away. While on my recent trip to Europe, my wife and I visited my aunt, my mother’s sister, in her nursing home in Germany. In the past year or so, we’ve had Zoom calls with her and several members of our family (organised by one of my cousins), but my mother has never been in on the call, because she’s not computer savvy and panicked when I suggested she set up Zoom on her computer. So when we saw my aunt in person, I asked if she’d like me to set up a call with her sister (my mother), and she sounded very enthusiastic about that. SO when we got home from Europe, I phoned my mother to see if we could visit and take a laptop and do all of the Zoom setup for her, so she could talk to her sister. She thought that sounded great, so I emailed the nursing home in Germany ands et up a call.

Today was the day, so my wife and I drove up to have an afternoon tea with my mother and then set up the Zoom call. It was scheduled for 5pm here, which was 9am in Germany. I took a laptop, and connected it to her WiFi (after struggling to find the password, before finding it written on the bottom of the modem), and ran the Zoom from there. It worked well and my mother and aunt had a rather emotional chat for a while, not having spoken to one another for many years, since the last time my aunt had visited Australia. My aunt tires quickly, so we didn’t stay on too long.

I knew we’d be leaving my mother’s around 6pm, so we decided to have dinner somewhere on the way home. Before we left, I found a nice restaurant in northern Sydney, just off the freeway exit and before the long slog through the suburbs back home. As we approached the freeway exit, we were nicely 10 minutes before our reservation – perfect timing.

But I hadn’t counted on NorthConnex. This is a new tunnel extending from the freeway, under multiple suburbs, bypassing a notoriously slow surface road. This was the first time I’ve driven back into Sydney from the north since the tunnel opened. We were approaching our exit, so naturally I moved to the extreme left lane (remember, we drive on the left in Australia). But then suddenly I was in unfamiliar territory, and wondering what the “NCX” written on the roadway meant… and before I knew it we were in the tunnel.

This is a 9-kilometre tunnel, with no exits. There was no way back. So we missed our dinner reservation, because by the time we exited and drove back it would have been half an hour or more later. And we paid a toll for the privilege. And we ended up far from home and had to take another tolled motorway to get home. So that was a bit of a debacle. We ended up stopping near home and grabbing something at an Indian restaurant for dinner. A place we hadn’t tried before which… was a bit substandard, and not somewhere we’d go again.

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A nice seafood lunch

My wife was home from work today so we took the opportunity to go and have a nice lunch out. There’s a place near us that does oven grilled salmon and other things. She felt like that salmon so suggested we go there. I chose a “seafood stew” which looks suspiciously like cioppino – a dish I had once in the San Francisco Bay area and which was delicious. So when I saw it on the menu I decided I’d try it. It came with flame grilled rye sourdough slices and was indeed good.

Speaking of rye, I tried making rye sourdough myself today for the first time. I’ve been looking for rye flour for a while, but the supermarket doesn’t stock it. I found some in a health food shop the other day and bought a small amount to try it. I made a loaf with about 1/3 rye flour and the rest white bread flour. It turned out really nice!

Rye sourdough

Oh, and an interesting observation from my ethics/critical thinking classes so far on the topic of Food. Most of the kids think it would be a good idea if there were rules or regulations to restrict how unhealthy restaurant food can be. Like a maximum proportion of butter or salt in dishes. Very few of them have said that restaurant chefs should be free to make food with any amount of unhealthy ingredients they want.

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Back to school

The new school term started this week, so this morning it was back to school for me, in my volunteer teaching role with Primary Ethics. I’d missed the last two classes of last term, when I was away on my trip to Germany and the Netherlands. It turned out that the coordinator hadn’t managed to find a replacement teacher for my class, so the kids missed out on two lessons. So they were happy to see me again today. I think. Or at least I hope so.

We started a new topic on Beliefs and Tolerance. The opening lesson is about some kids discussing smoking, with one of them saying they think it’s not as dangerous as people say, and she might try it when she gets older. The discussion is around whether that girl’s belief should be tolerated or respected, and what the difference is between those things, if any. And if she should be allowed to publish her views in the school newsletter or not.

It was a very interesting and engaged discussion, with lots of the kids offering thoughtful ideas and comments. I’ve definitely got a good bunch of kids this year.

Other happenings: My back feels much better than yesterday. Not 100%, but definitely well on the way to recovery. I’ve been using the ice pack again a bit today.

And… of course it’s been raining. The forecast is rain showers every day for the next week. I don’t think it’ll be long now until we break the wettest year on record.

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Icing my back

Despite taking it easy last night and trying not to aggravate my twinged back, it stiffened up badly overnight. I made an appointment with my physiotherapist, at midday today. The guy I see is really good and loosens up my pelvic joints and realigns things so it feels a lot better. Then it’s just a matter of getting the inflammation down, which in the past has taken a few days. But today he mentioned that if I was an athlete I’d put an ice pack on it for 15 minutes, take it off for half an hour, and repeat that all day, and by tomorrow it’d be completely fine. I never realised I could do something like that! If it helps heal faster, I’m all over it!

So I’ve been icing my back on and off for much of the afternoon. And yeah, it feels a lot better already, so it seems to be working. I’ll see how it is after another night’s sleep.

The other main thing I did today was write up my lesson plan for the new online ethics topic of Food. I included stuff on dumpster diving for discarded food, food waste, healthy and unhealthy food, and some ethical questions about the impact of raising meat on the environment, and also the impact of shipping food around the world just so we can buy peaches in the middle of winter. One kid tonight had a very interesting idea about junk food, suggesting that people should get a maximum quota of junk food per month, “maybe two chocolate bars or something.”

Oh, and the rain is back again… It was very cold today, a maximum of only 13°C in Sydney, which is the second coldest day of the year so far. It’s supposed to be rainy for the whole week. We’re definitely approaching that all-time yearly rain record.

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In brief

I’ve strained my back a little today, so I’m keeping this short to avoid sitting at the computer too long. I’ve also decided to take a bit of a break from making new Irregular Webcomic! strips, to recharge my creative batteries, and also to try to get some other things done that I really want to do, like add new classes to Outschool.

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Magic: Goldfish Draft results

I missed posting an entry last night because I was busy last night and bedtime crept up on me. Since I still haven’t quite fallen into a regular sleeping pattern after getting back from Europe, I decided to go to bed rather than stay up later writing a blog post.

I mentioned just over a week ago that I was playing a new game of Magic: the Gathering Goldfish Draft with my friends. Well, now a week later I can tell you the results of the game. Yes, it took me that long to calculate my score, using a spreadsheet – that’s what I was finishing up last night that caused me to have a late night. My result? I scored 10246.8 points.

Now you might think this is an awful lot of points to score in any sort of game. Surely I must have beaten everybody else’s scores! But you’d be very far from the truth. In fact, I came last out of six players. All the players’ scores were, in increasing order:

  • 10246.8 (me)
  • 1074682
  • 10628960
  • 103×1014
  • 10↑↑4.1
  • 10↑↑↑↑2.7

The last two use Knuth’s up-arrow notation for writing extremely large numbers that are beyond the capability of standard exponential notation – using a monotonic extension we worked out for interpolating non-integral operands. Also, these scores are all approximate – there’s no point, or even possibility, of tracking all the digits of the numbers we’re calculating here.

Also yesterday: did some housecleaning, dog walking, cooking, the usual day-to-day stuff.

Today: I slept in a bit after a solid sleep, which was good. I think I’m now pretty much back into a sensible sleeping pattern, which was not something I would have said yesterday. My arm is still a tiny bit sore from the 4th COVID shot on Friday, but otherwise that seemed to be fairly unremarkable.

I went for a big walk with my wife and Scully, out to our favourite bakery for a kind of brunch-ish snack. We just had a pastry each. Then on the way home we took a longer detour to see some different scenery and stretch our legs more. The day is actually nice today! Sunny and a forecast maximum of 20°C, which is considerably warmer than it has been for the past few weeks. So it was good to get out and enjoy it.

This afternoon I cleaned out the garage a bit and put some things out for the fortnightly household items collection that the council runs. Every two weeks you can put large items out on the kerb and council trucks come by and pick them up for disposal. I got rid of an old chest of drawers that we’d been storing in the garage for years, but it was pretty filthy and we were never going to use it again. I also took out my old set of golf clubs – the ancient ones I got second hand for about $50 and used until our neighbour passed away and his wife gifted me his very nice set of clubs. I’d seen second hand clubs at the golf course and asked if they wanted a donation, but they said they get lots of old clubs and don’t know what to do with them any more. So I didn’t expect to be able to get rid of them any other way, and placed them out for collection, and then a neighbour drove into our apartment driveway and saw me putting them there and asked if he could have them, for a friend of his who was just beginning to play. I said sure, and helped him take them. I’m really happy that they will get one more life with a new player!

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This darn winter

It’s cold and it’s wet.

Now, you may be thinking it can’t possibly get all that cold in Sydney. You’re right. A cold winter’s day in Sydney is a maximum of 12-14°C, and even at night it never gets colder than about 4°C where I am near the coast. But the thing about Sydney is that our homes are not designed for this weather. Insulation is poor to non-existent. I have never seen a double-glazed window in Sydney.

This means when it’s 14°C outside… it’s 14°C inside. This morning after getting out of bed I was sitting here, with three layers of clothing on, drinking hot cups of herbal tea, and shivering. The design of Sydney homes actually violates the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on safe winter indoor living temperatures, as pointed out by this article from today’s news. It’s a very common observation by visitors from northern Europe or North America, where they get regular snow during winter, to say that they’ve never in their lives felt as cold as spending a winter in Sydney.

And then this year there’s also the rain. I’ve been telling you about the record rainfalls all year. Has it let up in July?

14 days into July, Sydney has already set a new record for the highest ever rainfall recorded for the whole month of July. We still have more than half the month to go! And we’re now only about 200 mm short of beating the wettest year on record – a record that will almost certainly be surpassed. And now the weather bureau is saying there’s a greater than 50% chance of the coming summer being another La Nińa, meaning more rainfall.

I took a look at the latest minutes form the monthly meeting of my apartment complex’s managing committee. 9 out of the 18 items on the agenda were about building leaks or other rainfall-related problems such as damp and rotting woodwork, collapse of garden retaining walls, or inadequate drainage leading to puddling of water.

In non-weather news, I see the news sites are all hyping the latest “super double wolf blood moon” for the current full moon. Have people forgotten that full moons happen every month, so that they get excited about it every single time it happens and have to hype it up into something “amazing” each time? Anyway, I was inspired to write a quick mezzacotta random supermooon generator.

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