A running surprise

Today dawned cold and grey. I went for my 2.5k run, thinking how nice it was not to have to run in warm, humid conditions. I thought maybe if I pushed myself a bit I could do under 13 minutes again. I was surprised when I finished and clocked 12:28! That’s crazy! That’s a whole minute faster than I was running the same distance just last week. I guess the cooler conditions really do help.

I made a bunch of Irregular Webcomic! strips today, and wrote annotations for them, to cover the next week. I need to start planning out another batch of photography again soon too – the work never ends. And in between all this comic making I need to get stuck into university course planning – you know, work I’m actually going to be paid for. I’ve actually been pondering if I need to stop making new comics for a while so I can do all the work I need to do for actual paying jobs.

In excellent news, I finally got the result of the COVID test I did on Thursday. It took three and a half days to come through, but came back negative, which was a relief. Testing systems here in New South Wales are collapsing under the strain of so many people getting tested. One of the driving factors is that if you want to travel interstate or overseas, you must get a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel. But with the waiting times for test results now stretching to over 72 hours, this means it’s close to impossible to get your result back in time for you to board a flight, so many people are having to cancel their travel plans. It’s a mess and something will have to change soon.

My wife and I went on a long walk with Scully after lunch. We did a route that we’ve done a lot, but haven’t done recently, around various parks, past a nice bakery, and down by the harbour shore where there’s a nice grassy area where Scully can run and chase a ball. It was nice being out, but it was very windy down by the water, and a bit chilly.

This afternoon it began raining, and it looks like being intermittent heavy showers for much of the night. But it’s nice to have cooler weather after the heat and humidity of the past couple of weeks.

New content today:

A mixed bag Christmas treats day

I got up early this morning. The sun is rising early these days – in fact I just realised today is the summer solstice. I went for a 2.5k run before the day got too hot. I’m still improving in my times, despite the weather recently getting warmer and more humid. I’ve been hovering around 13:20-13:30 for the past week or so. I thought today’s time would be slow because of the heat, but somehow I managed to clock 13:03, my best time so far.

Remember the council renovation work on the nearby park, which I posted about a few months back? They finished the work a month or so ago, but I was very disappointed by a set of sandstone stepping stones which the workers laid between the path and a section of grass up a steepish slope. The posted landscaping plans showed a proper stairway installed there, but for some reason they didn’t go ahead with that, and instead simply laid a set of three stepping stones on the hillside – at the angle of the slope. So each stone was at maybe a 20° angle or so to the horizontal. This made them tricky to walk on – not especially so for me, but we have a lot of elderly people in the neighbourhood who use that park, and I could see that they would be difficult to negotiate for anyone of less than sprightly mobility.

So I contacted the council. I phoned up and spoke to the councillor in charge of the landscaping work, and explained why I thought the stepping stones were dangerous, and suggested that – even if the full staircase had been abandoned – the stones could be relaid so they are horizontal, thus forming a set of horizontal steps ascending the slope. The woman I spoke to took my suggestion seriously and said it sounded like a good improvement, and that she would look into it.

And a few days ago, this happened!

New steps in the park

The stepping stone slabs that were sloping have been relaid with concrete under them so that they now lie level, and form steps, exactly as I’d asked for. Nice! You really can get government to do some things if you ask nicely for them.

This morning I had an Outschool ethics class scheduled… Even though I stopped all my classes for a few weeks over Christmas, Outschool has a teacher tool where you can set up time slots in which parents can schedule classes if you have no class already on at that time. I’d set this up early on, when I was trying to expand my enrolments – and forgotten about it. So, of course, a parent scheduled a class for today. I tried to contact them to ask them to choose a different time slot, because I really wanted to keep Tuesdays free, but they never got back to me. So when the time came, I started Zoom and waited for the student…

And they never showed up. Oh well, I get paid for it anyway, so at least it wasn’t a complete waste of time. After 10 minutes waiting, you can cancel the class, which I did. And then a minute later the parent contacted me! But they didn’t complain about the cancelled class as I feared. They requested a transfer into one of the existing Monday classes (which start up again in January). So that’s actually good.

After I picked up Scully from my wife’s work, we went on a drive. My wife had got an order for some dog bandanas from a woman who had met her at the market on Sunday, shed offered to make them and deliver before Christmas. To ensure that, I drove over and popped them in the mailbox, rather than entrust them to Australia Post. It was only about 20 minutes drive, so not too far.

On the way back I stopped at a liquor store to pick up some bottles of wine, since we were completely out of red wine. They allow dogs there, so I could take Scully in with me. And then we stopped again on the way home, at the new bakery in Naremburn that I’ve mentioned a few times. I’d been feeling like some cake for the past few days, and decided to satiate my craving. They had slices of carrot cake there – they seem to have a rotating menu of sweet treats that they go through, as there’s a different selection every time I go. They also had some amazing looking mince tarts for Christmas, so I got half a dozen of those too, which we’ll work through over the next few days.

In between all this, I worked on Darths & Droids comics. Phew! A busy day!

Addendum: And I just fed my sourdough starter, in preparation for baking tomorrow. It’s a significant day, because today my starter is a year old! It was spawned off a friend’s starter one year ago today.

New content today:

More running, more storms, more ethics of time travel

It’s a bit repetitive, but today was somewhat similar to yesterday. I did a 2.5k run. I had online ethics classes at 11am, 6pm, and one to come shortly at 9pm.

I’m really loving this time travel topic in my classes. At one point I go through a series of scenarios for how you might make money if you invented a time machine.

  • You could send the winning lottery numbers to yourself last week, so that you win. Most kids think this is unethical. Many describe it as “cheating”.
  • You could send your past self instructions to buy Bitcoin, or Apple shares, or whatever when they were cheap, so you make a lot of money on Bitcoin/the stock market. A few kids considered this “cheating” as well, but about half were okay with it.
  • You could go to the future and bring back some tech that hasn’t been invented yet, and claim to have invented it. Most kids thought this was unethical because it involved lying, and a few called it stealing as well, as in stealing someone else’s invention.
  • You could get some furniture made in an old fashioned style, go back a thousand years and hide it, then retrieve it in the present. It’s now genuinely a thousand years old, so you could sell it as an expensive antique. Nearly everyone thinks this is perfectly okay.
  • If you invented the time machine, you could go into business producing and selling time machines. This one is so far universally considered the absolute worst idea of all! The kids all said if they invented time travel they’d do everything they could to keep it secret, because they’d be afraid of other people messing up history. The idea of time machines being widely available horrified them.

And the weather… yes, it’s been thunderstorming again this afternoon. The morning however was fine and sunny. A very rare occurrence lately – I don’t know exactly but it feels like we’ve only had two or three days where the sun has broken through the overcast in the last 3 weeks or so. We’re supposed to get more rain and storms tomorrow, but then the weekend might actually be rain-free. Let’s wait and see.

The annoying thing is everything is just so humid, all the time. I hate it when you dry off after a shower, and then when you have another shower 24 hours later, your towel is still damp. Ugh.

New content today:

5k, storms, and ethics of time travel

This morning it was time to do another 5k run. I missed the 5k last week, so wanted to make sure I did one this week. I did it at the oval, running laps on flat ground, because last time I did it on the streets and the hills nearly killed me. I recorded a surprisingly good time of 27:49, which was a big improvement on my previous oval run of 29:42. I guess the daily 2.5k runs are really building up my stamina.

I wrote the new ethics class topic for the week. This week we’re doing a fun one before I take a break for Christmas, on the ethics of time travel. And I had the first three classes of kids this evening. The last one was really fun, with the kids laughing at the various hypothetical situations I proposed and their various answers. I proposed the following:

A future version of you appears. They show you a tattoo, and insist that you go out and get it done now. You don’t want a tattoo. But your future self apparently does, and thinks it’s important enough that they have to convince you to do it today. What should you do?

One girl said, “Yeah, that sounds like fun, I always wanted a tattoo!” Another girl said, “If I got a tattoo, I’ve probably turned evil or something, so I’d avoid doing it at all costs.”

And, yes, there was more stormy weather today. We had some moderate rain with a little thunder around 4pm, which cleared up enough for me to take Scully out for a walk without getting too wet. But then after 5pm a bigger and heavier storm rolled in, with some really loud thunder and heavy rain. We may be in for more of the same again tomorrow.

New content today:

A month of exercise

I forgot to mention yesterday, but I completed a November of (almost) no days without exercise. I actually only started on 2 November, because that was when I saw the concept of a “no zero month”, so it was too late to start exercising on the 1st. But I’ve been doing a run of at least 2.5 km and sets of push-ups and sit-ups – and I managed to go the entire (rest of the) month without skipping a single day. I did have one day when I didn’t run because of the torrential rain all day, but I did the push-ups and sit-ups. And there were two days when I missed those, but did the run.

But the point is I did some exercise every single day, which is a very new thing for me. I’ve never been consistently into exercising, and especially not at this activity level. I’ve had some runs of many months where I’ve done a 1000 metre swim once a week or something like that, but never anything at the level of every day. And having been going for a month now, I feel good about it. I feel fitter, and it’s starting to feel like a habit, rather than something I need to force myself to do every day.

I track my moving distances on Strava. Each month I join the challenge to move at least 100 km. Most months I make it, but sometimes I struggle. But this month with all the extra running, I’ve clocked up 195 km!

Also, this morning I had an appointment with my doctor, just to refill a prescription. He checked my weight, and since my last visit I’ve dropped 6 kilograms. He said last time that I could afford to lose a few kilos, and today he was very happy with the result. And so was I – I wasn’t expecting to have lost that much. I don’t really feel like I have. But wow, this exercise thing really works.

New content today:

Introducing species

The weather today was forecast to be rainy again but the morning seemed dry, so I went out for a run while I could do so without getting wet. It was time for another 5k, and I agonised over whether to do laps of the oval, which is nice and flat, but incredibly boring, or do my street route, which is much more interesting, but also much more hilly. I decided I’d go for interesting, and grit out the hills. Given the humidity (91%), maybe it wasn’t the best choice, because I was struggling by the end.

And then it wasn’t helped by the fact that the footbridge I usually run across to cross the creek in the last few hundred metres was closed for construction work when I got there! I had to take the alternative route which goes down into the gully via a series of steps—about 30 or 40 steps—followed by climbing back up the other side. That slowed me down a lot, but I managed to finish the 5k in 30:15. Phew!

Today I worked on the new ethics class material for the week, on introduced species. Then I ran the class this evening with the first three groups of kids. The kids never fail to surprise, and really keep me on my toes. I’d written a sequence of questions beginning with the idea of culling to control introduced species that have become invasive and are serious pests, destroying native species and costing billions of dollars in crop damage (specifically starlings in North America). I’d kind of assumed that the kids would be okay with controlling the species in this way, and staged my follow-up questions based on that. But I was surprised when two of the kids in the first class said that culling should not be done, because it’s cruel, regardless of the fact that the birds cause immense damage. So I had to think on my feet and restructure the follow-up questions, to avoid it descending into a series of “Same as my previous answer” responses.

The next two classes went a bit more according to plan, but now I have some alternate pathways through the material depending on what responses the kids give to the early questions. I do this a lot with the classes. Usually by the end of the week the sequence of questions is quite different to what I started with, as it evolves every class.

New content today:

Double busy double day update

I completely missed writing a post yesterday due to my day being full of work, and wanting to get to bed not too late. Today was also very busy, but I thought I should not miss two days in a row!

I spent a lot of time yesterday (Tuesday) and today (Wednesday) marking and finalising my comments on the UTS image processing course student assignments. I really wanted to get them done today, so I can move on to other tasks tomorrow.

Yesterday I also did a 5k run. I’m trying to fit in a 5k distance once a week and figured it was a good day to do it. Last time I did my street route, with hills, and it was exhausting, so this time I went back to running laps on the oval.

After completing the run, I walked home via the Gore Hill Cemetery, where spring wildflowers are blooming. This is an old cemetery—no burials have taken place here for many decades—and it has been allowed to become overgrown with plants. And this time of year it’s incredibly beautiful with all of the flowers.

Gore Hill Cemetery in spring

Gore Hill Cemetery in spring

Because I spent the rest of the day working on marking, I didn’t have time to prepare new slides and material for my one-on-one science lesson on Outschool. So I repurposed an old presentation I made years ago for a primary school talk on stars and stellar evolution, and used that.

Today, this morning I did another 2.5k run. I write my lesson plan for the next week of ethics classes, this time on the topic of cancel culture. Then I got stuck back into marking to finish off that task. I managed to complete it, and posted all of my marks and comments for the lecturer to collate.

I made vegetable soup for dinner, because I needed something I could eat early before my ethics classes began at 6pm, and that my wife could heat up easily later when she got home from gym to eat. I gobbled down some soup quickly and then got stuck into three classes in a row, ending at 9pm…. when I had an ISO Photography standards meeting! This is an “in between” ad-hoc technical group meeting for the topic of visual imaging noise, one of the technical topics in which I have more of an interest. It was scheduled to go until 10:30, but ended up running late and not finishing until 11pm. So now it’s getting close to midnight while I type this up.

Oh, I almost forgot! On my run this morning, towards the end, I cross a footbridge over a creek. While running across, I saw two tawny frogmouths sitting on a branch, at eye level and only about 4-5 metres away from the bridge. I completed my run and went home, and came back out with my camera, hoping they’d still be there. It was a good bet, as frogmouths are nocturnal and tend to find a roost for the day and then not move during daylight hours. And indeed, they were still there when I got back:

Tawny frogmouth with chick

It’s a chick and a parent, nestling together. A really great opportunity to get some close up photos, even if they were fast asleep.

Tawny frogmouth with chick

And with that… time for bed…

New content, yesterday and today:

Raining, running, and ruminating

It’s been raining most of the day, and heavily at times, with thunder and lightning. But there was a break in the morning, perfectly timed for me to go out on a run. I decided it was time to do another 5k effort, and I also decided that the oval track is so boring that I preferred to do my street route, even though it is quite hilly. I managed to complete the distance just a few seconds slower than last week’s 5k on the oval, so that was pleasing, if exhausting. And I just got home as it started to rain again, so the timing was ideal.

For lunch I drove over to a friend’s place, where he made us some food, and we played a couple of board games: 7 Wonders Duel, and Wingspan. I managed to win both games, which was pleasing. I really wasn’t sure about Wingspan until the final points tally.

At home I wrote the class plan for this week’s new ethics topic, on extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s basically exploring the questions arising out of the prospect of receiving a radio message from an alien civilisation. There’s plenty in just that to last for a full class. I’ll probably do another class later on about different scenarios such as physical contact. I ran the first three classes tonight, and it was very interesting because I got a very wide range of responses from the students. That’s always a lot more fun that everyone agreeing.

New content today:

Considering online product reviews

Last week, the day after my 3.2k run I was very stiff and sore, with my legs protesting at the exercise after so long without doing any. Today, after yesterday’s 5k run, I felt pretty good. Good enough to go for another run! I didn’t go as far this time though, just doing 2.4k along the first and last part of my street route, cutting out the middle section where the nastiest hills are. In previous bouts of running, I really only did one run a week, but I figure this time I’m going to try to at least a little bit on most days if I can. Maybe that will get me into a habit that sticks better.

The work part of the day was writing the new week’s online ethics class. This week the topic is online product reviews. I want to get the kids thinking about whether they are good things or not, how reliable and trustworthy they might or might not be, and how people should evaluate them. I’m also raising the whole question of whether a company like Google should be allowed to host reviews of unaffiliated businesses, and whether they should be held liable for false negative reviews that might adversely affect another business.

This evening I taught the class with my first three sessions of students. And… I don’t think it went down as well as I’d hoped. Maybe the topic is not that exciting or interesting for the kids. Ah well… I guess they can’t all be hits. Hopefully it will improve – it usually does as I adapt dynamically to what the students say during the classes as the week progresses.

In the afternoon I made a couple of Darths & Droids strips. I’m way behind on buffers for both this and Irregular Webcomic! due to how busy I’ve been recently, and need to spend time rebuilding completed work into the future. However my plan for tomorrow is to work on the curriculum planning for the revised Data Engineering course that I’m working on for next semester at the university. I really need to get cracking on that!

New content today:

Dental Tuesday

Today I had an appointment at the dentist for a regular clean and checkup. Except it was over 6 months overdue, because dentists weren’t doing anything but emergency work during Sydney’s COVID lockdowns, so it was impossible to get a routine appointment.

The hygienist was very pleased with my teeth and gums, which was good news after so long. It’s the second time I’ve seen this hygienist, who is relatively new at the practise, and I’m really happy with the way she works. The previous one was nice enough, but very heavy handed with the probing tool and it always hurt my gums a lot more.

This morning I shook the cobwebs off with a run. I wanted to get a 5k run under my belt after the past two weeks of building up the distance again with 2.5 and then 3.2. Knowing the 5k route that I’ve been doing earlier this year is rather hilly, I decided to go up to the sports oval near the hospital and just do laps. It’s more boring and less scenic, but it’s flat, and so easier to complete the distance without feeling like you’re dying on the uphill bits. I was hoping to complete the 5k in under 30 minutes, but ended up clocking 30:16. Hopefully I can get times under 30 minutes again by next week.

In between all this and picking up Scully from my wife’s work, then dropping her back during my dentist appointment, and picking her up again on the way home, I wrote some comics and helped some more university students with their image processing final projects. I also had a Zoom call with several family members, including my elderly aunt in Germany. And I made calzones for dinner. Phew!

And took this photo looking under the railway bridge near my place. The jacaranda trees are beautifully in bloom, right on cue for November.

Through the railway bridge

New content today: