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.

New content today:

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. 🤔

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:

Bayesian probabilities and immortality ethics

Tonight I’ve been teaching today’s tutorial exercises in the university image processing course that I’m tutoring. Tonight’s topic is about classifiers, which are built on a heavy foundation of probability theory. So the lecture was mostly on probability statistics, including applications of Bayes’ Theorem to building classifier models – essentially numerical estimators that assign probabilities to different classes (or categories), depending on measurements made of some sample. The context in image processing is that you measure some statistics of an image, and then assign probabilities that the image shows certain objects. It’s all a bit abstract at this level, but hopefully things will crystallise for the students in next week’s lecture.

I finished off the ethics topic for the week, on immortality, this morning. For historical reasons my topic week starts on Wednesday and runs to the following Monday. Having taught it to 24 students in the past 6 days, I found it interesting that almost all of them generally thought that the idea of developing treatments to let people live much longer lives – say 100 or even 1000 years – was a really bad idea. Most were very concerned about population problems if people didn’t die, and mentioned consequences such as crowding of housing, not enough food, wars, and destruction of the environment.

Only two or three of the kids thought that society could adapt and thrive if everyone lived to 1000 years old – everyone else thought it would be a complete disaster. But when I prompted them to think of good things that might come out of everyone living long lifespans, they came up with good insights. People could learn a lot more, and individuals could invent more new things and make more scientific breakthroughs than any individual who might only live to 80 or so, resulting faster scientific/technological advancement. And if people lived a lot longer – they would be more concerned about keeping the environment liveable, so would make stronger efforts to look after the Earth.

I mentioned that researchers are working on anti-ageing treatments, and some think that a breakthrough will be made soon enough that some people alive now could live to 1000 years. When I said that such treatments would probably be expensive, at least at first, so only rich people could have them – wow, the kids mostly thought that was so unfair that it should just be banned. Only a couple thought that it would be okay to let people use such treatments. The naysayers were worried about wealthy people living long lives and dominating the world, getting into positions of power, and holding on to them for centuries, making the divisions between rich and poor much worse. And even when I suggested the treatments would become cheaper so that everyone could have them, most of the kids thought they should be banned, and nobody should be allowed to have them, because of how disastrous it would be.

I wonder if it says anything about the world today that kids of this age (10-12) are cynical enough to consider that we can’t handle longer lifespans without completely messing up society and destroying civilisation.

New content today:

Ethics of immortality

Tonight I taught my first ethics classes for the new topic of immortality. (Three classes in a row on Wednesday evening! I’m pretty exhausted after that.) This topic is really fun, and the kids were giving some great and really interesting answers to the questions. And unlike some topics, this one is generating some very diverse answers between the different students.

One question in particular, I asked the kids to imagine if there was some treatment that could make everyone live to be a thousand years old – what would society be like. Over half the kids thought it would be bad, for various reasons, although overpopulation was the most popular one. A few said society would become even more “unfair”, with rich people getting ever richer over their long lifespans, while poor people continued to struggle. On the other hand, a few kids thought people would learn a lot more and become a lot smarter over their lives, and the world would progress rapidly in science and technology.

Then to stimulate thought, I asked each kid to think in the opposite manner: if they suggested society would be good, I asked them to think of something bad, while if they thought it would be bad, to think of some positive things that could occur. Here’s what I got the most surprising and insightful comment of the night. One kid said that if people lived a lot longer, they might start to worry about climate change more, and actually do something about it.

Earlier today I spent time writing up the topic and questions, which took up most of my activity for the day. I also went for a bit of a drive, simply to get the car running and charge the battery up a bit. I’ve noticed that it’s starting a little reluctantly the past couple of times, and there are a lot of stories going around Sydney of people’s car batteries dying because they’re not driving for weeks on end due to the COVID lockdown. So I took a drive out to close to the 5 km limit from home. I reached approximately 4.7 km from home, which is the farthest away I’ve been from home since… 16 May.

Here’s a view from where I ended up:

Oysters and the City

New content today:

Everyone’s out walking, and Sunday ethics

It’s Sunday, and spring is definitely arriving in Sydney. New green shoots and leaves are sprouting on trees, and flowers are bursting out everywhere. The weather is warming up, though we’ve had a couple of chillier days just now, but later this week it’s going to be beautiful and warm.

We went for a longish walk with Scully today around lunchtime. There were so many people out walking around, it was notably unusual. Dozens of people hanging out in the park area where we toss balls for Scully to chase, when it’s been much emptier recently. I guess the warmer weather is starting to bring people out a bit more. Nearly everyone is wearing masks now, because of the COVID lockdown rules about wearing masks outdoors. (Speaking of which, 1218 new cases today – yet another record high for Australia.)

This evening I had my first ethics class on a Sunday. I’ve been resisting putting them on the weekend to keep some days free, but at the moment school is starting up in many countries and the parents are all eagerly asking me to move their kids to classes at other times and dates to accomodate. I had several requests for weekend classes, so I finally gave in, and today I had a full class of four kids in my very first Sunday class. I may end up putting another Sunday class on too.

New content today:

Some pleasing feedback

Bad news first: New South Wales recorded 1029 new COVID cases in the past 24 hours. This is the first time since the pandemic began that Australia has recorded over 1000 cases in one day. On the bright side, vaccinations are proceeding at extremely high rates – I think I heard that Australia’s per capita vaccination rate is currently higher than any other country in the world has had at their peak rates. Unfortunately we’re starting several months behind, but we’ll get there.

Now the good news:

I set myself a small goal today: make 3 new Darths & Droids strips. I’m happy to say that I managed to achieve it.

But the thing that really made my day was during my third online ethics lesson for the day. As we started the Zoom call, with myself and three students, one of the girls sent me a private message via the Zoom chat window. She asked if she could stay briefly after the class to ask me a question. I said yes. So after the class ended and I said bye to the two other students, she stayed on the call.

She said that she would be starting school next week after the summer holidays (she lives in Sri Lanka), and that she wouldn’t be able to attend my ethics class at the same time, because she’d be in school. She wanted to know if I had other classes at different times, so that she could continue. She said that she really, really enjoyed my classes, and that she looked forward to them every week, and didn’t want to have to miss out on them.

Wow. This was the best and most personal feedback I’ve received for this course, and it really made me feel good! I told her that I had several other timeslots, and it would be best if she and her parents looked through them on Outschool – and also that if she couldn’t find one that suited her schedule, to contact me through the Outschool messaging to see if I could add another class at a suitable time. I also said that if that didn’t work out, then she could rejoin the class during her next school holidays. And when I said that, her face lit up and she said, “Oh! I hadn’t thought of that! Yes, I’ll definitely do that!”

So, I’m feeling pretty chuffed tonight.

New content today:

Ethics of sport

It was still cold today, but a bit warmer and much less wet than yesterday. We ended up with just under 40 mm of rain, which is substantial for a single day. It didn’t rain at all today, but we may get some more showers later in the week.

I mainly worked on Darths & Droids today, until it was time to begin the new week of ethics classes. I’ve gone up to three classes on Wednesday evenings thanks to the demand, so I taught a total of ten students tonight. There was an interesting range of answers across several of the questions.

I started with the story of the adoption of long-handled putters by professional golfers in the 1980s, and how they helped golfers to putt more accurately. I asked questions about whether newly invented equipment should be allowed in sports, and most of the kids thought it was okay. Then I asked if everyone used the new gear, was it really the same sport? This was more polarising, as some kids said yes, while others thought that if the skills involved have changed, then it’s really a different thing. Then I asked if sports should evolve with new technologies, or if they should remain traditional, and most of them thought they retain the traditional form, but you could spawn off new sports using new gear.

Switching to the introduction of the full body swimsuits that competitive swimmers used from 2000-2008, I asked if it was fair for a swimmer (specifically Ian Thorpe at the 2000 Sydney Olympics) to use a newly invented swimsuit which none of the other swimmers had even seen before, and which helped his body slip through the water with less resistance. They mostly thought it was unfair, but not exactly cheating, as the rules at the time didn’t ban it. They thought it would be fair if all the swimmers could use the new suit.

Then I pointed out that the new suits actually made swimmers faster, as shown by the huge numbers of world records that were broken in those years. I asked if that was really fair, or should swimming by solely based on your muscles and skill? This got mixed responses, from kids who thought it was fine, to ones who thought you couldn’t really even call it swimming any more, if some technology was helping you swim faster. I asked them who should decide if such technology should be allowed, and what issues they should consider.

We moved into football, and Diego Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup. He handballed a goal, but the referee didn’t see it, and awarded the goal, and Argentina won the match. If the referee didn’t see it, was it cheating, or was it just a thing he did to try and win, and got away with it? Should professional athletes try to win at all costs? Should Maradona have admitted to the referee that he handballed, or should he have let the referee decide for himself?

Then I asked the kids to imagine they were playing tennis against a friend. There’s no umpire to spot foot faults, so they can creep forward and serve stronger without their friend noticing. If they knew they could get away with it, would they cheat to beat their friend? Most kids said no, but two of them said yes they probably would – because they would want to beat their friend to show off how good they were! That was interesting! I praised them for their honesty, in telling me, if not for their approach to sports. Then I asked them if they were professional athletes, would they cheat if they knew they could get away with it. This time a few more of them said they would – but interestingly one of the kids who said he’d cheat against his friend said he wouldn’t cheat if he was a pro – because it’d be on TV and everyone would know, and he’d get a bad reputation.

So… it was all very interesting! I have a follow-up topic planned for a few weeks later, on the topic of performance-enhancing drugs in sports.

New content today:

The comics grind

I had one task today: Finish writing a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. I need to get new strips made for next week, and I initially had the goal of photographing on Tuesday, but I was busy with so many other things that the necessary writing fell by the wayside, until today. Friday is basically the last day I could feasibly photograph this next batch in order to have the comics produced and ready in time. So there was nothing for it today but to chain myself to my desk and churn out comic scripts until I had them finished. No time for writer’s block, or shilly-shallying.

As it turned out, I completed the task by about 3pm, and then had some time to turn to writing some Darths & Droids strips as well, which are also a bit under the pump. I’ve fallen behind a bit on these with all of the other stuff going on, adding more ethics classes and handling the university image processing course that I’m teaching as well.

Then from 5pm I had two ethics classes in a row. The topic this week is “morals and the law”. I start with some example stories where people suggest that (a) just because something is legal doesn’t make it moral, and (b) just because something is illegal doesn’t make it immoral. I ask the kids for their thoughts on these statements. The responses have been varied, with most saying that the law is not necessarily aligned with moral correctness, but often is. I have had a couple of kids state outright that breaking the law is always an immoral act.

Then I tell the story of Rosa Parks, and how she broke the law to protest against the segregation laws in Alabama in 1955. I ask if the kids if those laws were morally correct or not, and why (thankfully everyone has agreed they were not!). And then I point out that Rosa Parks broke the law deliberately – she knew she was breaking the law – and ask if what she did was wrong. Even the kids who had previously said that breaking the law is immoral said that in this case breaking the law was a morally right act. So I’m sure that stimulated some reflection and thought!

I go on to consider what happens when laws change. I ask the kids why we change laws all the time, and they give answers such as laws that are bad, or laws to cover changes in technology, such as driving laws when cars were invented. I say that there are lobby groups who get governments to try to change laws, either adding new ones, or getting rid of existing ones, and ask the kids why people want to change the law. Answers include that people think something is right or wrong, morally, and they want the law to reflect that by permitting or banning it, respectively. Then I ask them if it’s a good idea to base the law on people’s morals…

This question seems to stimulate a lot of thought and discussion. Some kids say yes, that’s what the law should be based on. Others say it sounds good, but they’re not really sure if it is a good idea. Others say no, because people disagree on what’s morally right and wrong, so how can you please everyone? And then I steer the discussion into how should we make laws? Who should decide what the law is? Some kids have said it should be the President/Prime Minister, others the Parliament, others said it should be judges, but the most common answer here is that people should decide, by voting, and the law should be what most people agree on.

Then comes the whammy. The segregation laws in Alabama in 1955 were supported by the government and most of the voters. What should we do if most people want a morally unjust law? In the classes tonight I’d run out of time by the time I got here, so I left that question hanging for the kids to think about, and to discuss with their parents.

New content today:

The hard day of the week

1. I had my second COVID vaccination today. I drove to my first appointment 10 weeks ago, but my car is being repaired at the moment, so I had to find another way of getting there. Fortunately it was within walking distance, albeit a good 45 minutes away. I decided the exercise and fresh air would do me good, so I went on foot. I actually found a route that I’d never walked before, along a bushy walking track away from streets, so that was good. I got to the clinic a few minutes early and checked in, and there was hardly anyone waiting so I got my shot quickly. They say the second AstraZeneca shot doesn’t affect you as much as the first, and all good so far.

2. While I was out, the latest COVID update for New South Wales was announced. 633 new cases, beating the previous daily record of 478 which we had on Sunday. It’s hard to see this trend reversing and going down any time soon. The government seems to have run out of the will to do any more about it. I think we’ll be looking at 1000+ daily cases by next week. I’m glad I have my vaccinations.

3. Tonight I had three online ethics classes in a row. I’ve scheduled more evening sessions since it seems to be the most popular time. The first class was good – good students who have been doing the class for a while. The second one… I had one student, who was new, so he hadn’t had the practice of expanding on his answers and explaining his thoughts. And with no other students to ask the questions, we got through the prepared material very quickly. I ran out of stuff with 10 minutes to go, and had to ad lib more material and questions to fill in the time, which was tricky.

And then in the third class I had my most challenging student, one who would easily continue talking and telling stories for as long as I let him, so I’m constantly having to cut him off and move to the other students. Also, someone signed up for the last place in the class just a couple of minutes before the scheduled start time, by which time I was already in Zoom with a couple of the students joining up. So I didn’t see the email notification, and then I had an unfamiliar name trying to join the Zoom call, which of course I rejected. When they persisted, I finally noticed I had emails, and saw that they’d in fact enrolled – but by this time the new student had missed 20 minutes of the class. So then I let them in, and had to do the introductory spiel again… it was all very disrupted. I hope the students don’t get a bad impression from that lesson and decide to de-enrol for next week!

But phew. Wednesday is done – definitely my toughest day of the week!

New content today: