No shipping for you!

I got an email from a kickstarter that I’d backed some time ago, saying that they’ve now shipped all of the backer rewards… except all of the rewards going to Australia. They said:

Great news! ALL of the Crazy Legs packages have been delivered to the Post Office and scanned in to the tracking system. Many of you have already received your Crazy Legs and the list of happy recipients if going to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming weeks. UNLESS you are from Australia… with current shipping restrictions we simply are not allowed to ship to your yet per current Postal regulations.

This was news to me! What postal regulations???

I asked the question, and it turns out that the United States Postal Service suspended deliveries to Australia on 3 September, 2021, and has not yet reinstated them. I had no idea! Apparently the reasoning was that mail handling facilities in Australia had been disrupted by COVID restrictions. It’s odd that (as far as I know) no other country has suspended mail to Australia, and although slightly slower than normal, our mail seems to be being delivered just fine.

Has anyone told the USPS that this doesn’t seem to be a real problem? Well, not much I can do about it except wait it out and hope the Kickstarter ships the goodies as soon as they are able.

In other news today, a friend of mine has tested positive for COVID. He informed me this morning. And, importantly, he pointed out that this means either he was infected when he visited me at the market on Sunday, or he caught the virus at the market. (My friend has mild symptoms, I should mention – he says it feels like a mild cold with a bit of a cough, nothing more.)

So I went up to the hospital to get a test swab taken. And my wife and I cancelled our outing to go see the new Bond film, No Time to Die, which we’d planned to do today. And we cancelled our plans to see my family on Christmas Eve tomorrow. I’m hoping the test results come back in time to decide if we really need to cancel seeing her family on Christmas Day for lunch, or not.

If you haven’t heard, the omicron variant is hitting Australia hard, and we’re setting new record numbers of cases daily, despite the over 16 population begin around 95% fully vaccinated. A few months ago we were freaking out over 200 cases a day. Today New South Wales recorded 5715 new cases, and it appears to be doubling roughly every two days.

And testing numbers are also through the roof. Previous records were about 80,000 tests per day in NSW, but we’re now recording numbers around 150,000 a day. This has meant huge queues at testing centres, with wait times in the multiple hours at many of them. I wasn’t really looking forward to that, but it seems I was lucky. I went to the hospital in intermittent rain and was in the queue for just 45 minutes. I saw on the news later this evening that at the same hospital the queue had grown to hours long.

Anyway, it seems COVID has messed up another Christmas.

In good news, Scully had her pre-Christmas groom today, and looks adorable.

Scully ready for Christmas

New content today:

COVID: Negative

My wife and I got our COVID test results from last night’s test this morning: negative. So that’s good!

I spent most of today working on Darths & Droids writing and comic production. Interrupted by taking Scully for a long walk, and getting in my 2.5k run for the day. The weather was cool and overcast all day, though it hasn’t rained at all. We are supposed to get some rain tomorrow, and throughout the next week.

New content today:

Changes of plan

I had a busy day. I started by going to the supermarket to pick up the grocery shopping. I ordered online, but I’ve moved to only ordering items not including fresh fruit and vegetables, since I haven’t been happy with the selections we’ve been getting. Instead I quickly go through the fruit and vegetable section and grab my own selections, then pick up my pre-ordered groceries. It still saves a significant amount of time, and I get fruit and vegetables that I know I’ll be happy with.

When I got home I did some prep work for a Zoom meeting for the Standards Australia committee on photography, which began at 11am. This is the Australian committee follow-up to the international ISO standards meeting held in October. As the chair, I present a report on what happened at the international meeting for the benefit of the Australian members, and we deal with any other business that comes up regarding Australian standards. We have some ISO standards that have been adopted as Australian standards, which ISO has since updated with new versions, so we need to go through a process to update those. And we need to consider whether new ISO standards recently published would make sense for Australian industry.

After the meeting I grabbed some quick lunch and then picked Scully up from my wife’s work. We did some ball chasing in the park on the way home, and then at home I worked on some Darths & Droids comics for a bit.

Then I had two ethics classes online. My plans were to finish those and then head straight over to a friend’s place for Friday board games night. This plan was not to come to fruition. Instead, due to an alert from the government that affected me I spent the evening going up to the hospital with my wife so we could both get COVID tests. I had to inform my friends that I would not be attending games night, due to risk of spreading COVID. I believe the risk is actually very low that I’ve been exposed, but with the new omicron variant going around and apparently infecting people who are double vaccinated, I don’t want to be taking any risks whatsoever.

So that kind of scotched the evening. We ordered some Indian food in and enjoyed a good meal together at least. I expect by tomorrow morning we’ll have received negative COVID notification and all will be well, but it’s kind of disrupted this evening.

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:

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:

Australia’s worst day

Today New South Wales reported 825 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours. This number by itself exceeded the previous record high number of cases recorded in the entire country for the entire pandemic so far. Add in a handful of other cases in other states, and it was easily the single worst day for Australia yet recorded. And there’s no sign of it slowing down, despite the introduction of further lockdown restrictions.

Parts of Sydney now have a night time curfew, although not the area where I live. Outdoor exercise is now limited to a maximum of one hour per day. And we now must wear masks at all times outdoors, except if doing vigorous exercise. Which means essentially that the only place I can not wear a mask is inside my own front door.

The Government’s message has changed over the past few days. It used to be trying to reduce the numbers of this outbreak, in an effort to get cases close to zero again. But now it’s turned to “keep things under control until November (when 80% of the population should, be vaccinated)”. It’s changed from “eliminate the virus” to “live with the virus”. It’s frustrating and sad to see this change of attitude in the government, after their abject failure to keep the delta strain under control when the outbreak began. Everyone dying now, and everyone who will die from the cases piling up every day, didn’t have to if the government had done their job properly 12 weeks ago.

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:

Erosion and dilation

Today I went through the material for Monday’s third lecture and tutorial on image processing. It’s about image segmentation and morphological operations (such as the titular erosion and dilation). I know about this stuff and how it works, but I’ve never actually done work with it or implemented it, which is what I have to teach in the tutorial session on Monday. So I worked through the exercises and got familiar with how to do them all in Matlab.

There was also another big walk with my wife and Scully today. We have a new favourite route, out along the peninsula west of us, and along a bushwalk track by the harbour shore, which emerges near streets at a small grassy area, which is quiet and where we can get Scully to run around chasing a ball for a while. It’s near the panoramic photos I posted in this entry a week ago.

COVID news was very bad today, with a new record high 466 cases in New South Wales. This has finally prompted the state government to strengthen the current lockdown restrictions, introducing them across the whole state, and reducing the distance you can travel from home from 10 km to 5 km. There’s a range of additional restrictions and removal of exceptions to get people moving around less as well. If only they’d done this 8 weeks ago when this outbreak began, we wouldn’t be in this current mess now.

New content today:

The ethics of machines

Health first. NSW recorded another 344 new COVID cases in the previous 24 hours. Less than yesterday but not by much. The other significant news was that the NSW Government addressed the tentatively planned end-of-lockdown, which had previously been stated as late August. Now that’s changed dramatically – they were tossing around “October” and “November” instead, as target dates for 70-80% vaccination rates and subsequent easing of movement restrictions. Sydney has been in lockdown for 7 weeks now, and perhaps we have another 3 months to go. I think the higher contagiousness of the Delta variant, combined with the Government’s apparent refusal to consider more stringent lockdown measures, is making any effort to reduce the infection numbers futile. The Government indeed seems to have given up on driving the numbers down, being content to hold the increase below exponential, and banking on vaccination numbers in a few months being enough to eventually stop it. I guess we just have to wait and see, though given the experience of the UK and USA, I’m not particularly optimistic.

In other health news, I had my final follow-up appointment with the doctor after my tonsillectomy. Everything seems fine, except I’ve had an annoying bitter taste in my mouth ever since the surgery. This is a known side-effect of adult tonsillectomies, occurring in some percentage of cases. The doctor said it was caused by stretching of the nerves during the surgery by the various clamps and things they have to stick down your throat, and should fade over a few months. It does seem to have been getting less intense, so hopefully it will fade away soon.

Today I mostly spent working on planning for my online ethics classes for the current week. The topic is “Machines and Robots”. I started with a story of a man losing his job to factory automation, asking questions about how he would feel, how his boss might feel letting staff go, and whether it was okay for companies to replace humans with machines. I went on with a story of the historical Luddites, who smashed clothmaking machines in England in the 1810s, with questions on why so many people felt so threatened that they took such action.

Then I went on to machines that pose dangers to people. If a machine injures someone, whose fault is it, if anyone’s? I used an example of a robotic vacuum cleaner gong haywire and slamming into someone, breaking a toe. I got a wide range of responses, from one kid this evening who said it’s the person’s fault, because you shouldn’t trust a machine and should be careful; one said it’s the manufacturer’s fault; one said it’s nobody’s fault because it’s probably a glitch that nobody could have predicted; and one thought the government should make and enforce safety guidelines. So that was interesting and good!

I moved on to (future) robots doing dangerous jobs. Imagine you’re a government official with the job of deciding if new police robots should take the job of human police officers. What issues would you think about before deciding? Would you let robot police carry guns? Would it be okay for a robot police officer to shoot a bank robber if it saved the lives of innocent hostages in the bank? Is it okay to program a robot to kill people in certain situations, or is that something that should never, ever be allowed?

When I ran the class this evening, it was a really good discussion, with the kids split on a lot of the questions – which is always much more fun than when they all agree! One was of the opinion that robots are still just tools, and could be used like any other tool, and didn’t see any issue at all with letting a robot police officer go into a dangerous situation and shoot some criminals – even thought it was preferable to risking a human officer’s life. Another kid was adamant that robots should never be given weapons, because they could go berserk and start killing people willy-nilly.

Finally, in a sad confluence of my two topics today: COVID and ethics, one of the kids in my class today had COVID. She was the first to join the Zoom meeting, and I made smalltalk and asked her how she was, and she said she had caught COVID, and was isolating from people at home! She did seem slightly ill, like she had a cold or something, but said she felt reasonably okay.

It was rather shocking. This is the first person I’ve known personally in any capacity to have contracted COVID. She’s been one of my best students too – very bright and articulate. I really hope she recovers and doesn’t suffer any long-term effects.

On a happier note, a flower I photographed on Sunday, after the rain:

Rainy lily

New content today:

Secret projection

Its been a busy day, mostly working on my current secret project. I wanted to reach a certain milestone today, and just managed it. Not much else to say about that.

COVID news was very bad here today, with another record high of 356 new cases for NSW.

For dinner I made shortcrust pastry and used it to make a mushroom quiche.

I really can’t think of anything else interesting I did today.

New content today: