Flat out comics day

I had the last two classes on my current ethics topic of inventions this morning – an hour earlier thanks to the USA going off daylight saving time, and most of the students in these classes being in the US. Although one student in Taiwan had to switch to the other class to maintain the same time in his zone.

After that I spent much of today doing comics work. I wrote 5 new strips for Irregular Webcomic! and photographed, assembled, and wrote annotations for them. This is a smaller batch than I usually do and would have liked, but I didn’t have time to do a full batch to last multiple weeks, so next week I’m going to have to do it all again.

I also ended up spending a significant amount of time dealing with administrative overhead on Outschool, answering requests and questions from parents. Again daylight saving time is causing issues, because when Australia goes off it in April it had caused all my classes to be listed an hour later, and a parent noticed. So I had to go through and cancel all the April classes and relist them again an hour earlier (my time), so they’re the same time for everybody overseas.

And now it’s late and bedtime, and I still haven’t really relaxed or unwound from a full busy day.

New content today:

Too busy for comics again

I have a very busy couple of weeks coming up, and unfortunately I’ve run out of buffered strips for Irregular Webcomic! Rather than try to squeeze in production of a new batch, I’ve declared this week another hiatus week, and am doing reruns instead. I hope to be able to make more comics in time for next week, but I’m not convinced that will happen, so we’ll have to see.

This week I have to concentrate on getting some more work done on the Data Engineering course for the University of Technology. The course starts next week on 24 February. The lecturer and I have weeks 1-4 mostly sorted, and I need to work on slides and exercises for week 5, while he works on week 6. I’m planning to work solidly on that tomorrow.

Today I finished off the ethics topic on Tourism with two more classes, plus an extension class for one student. I’ll also need to write the new topic on Patriotism for classes starting on Wednesday. And the other thing I had to do was sort out my schedule, because of clashes with the upcoming Data Engineering course.

Unlike last year when I did the tutoring work entirely from home, the university is opening up to face-to-face teaching again, and I’ll need to travel in to do the tutoring work. The class runs from 6-9pm every Thursday. The university is a 20 minute train ride and about 10 minutes walk away, so I’ll need to factor an hour to take care of contingencies and arrive on time, and I won’t get home until close to 10pm. So it clashes with my current two ethics classes on Thursday evening, which I’ve decided to move to Tuesday at the same times (currently my “day off”). So I had to write a note to inform the parents of all the students about the shift, and ask them to either confirm that their kids can continue on the new day, or look to transfer them to some other class time.

The other thing that will occupy much of next week is the next ISO Photography Standards meeting. It should have been in Yokohama, but we are still doing virtual meetings due to COVID travel restrictions. It’s on from Tuesday 22 to Friday 25 February. The good news is that it’s at a very reasonable time for my time zone this time, with sessions beginning at 2:15 pm and ending at 5:45 pm. And, incredibly fortunately, that only clashes with one Outschool class, which hopefully I can move to a different time. However the Thursday ending clashes with the time I need to leave home to be at the university for the first lecture of Data Engineering, so I’ve told the chairperson that I can’t attend the final technical session on Thursday, and he’s scheduled the session that I am least interested in for that timeslot. So it won’t be too bad. It’s definitely better than doing a Zoom meeting for four days after midnight! (Which will probably happen for the next meeting in June…)

Oh, and as if I didn’t have enough to do, I had an idea for a new class I could teach on Outschool: Philosophy of Science. Although I think I wouldn’t call it that – it needs a snappy name that won’t scare kids away. But the basic idea is a one-off class that teaches them about the scientific method, Occam’s razor, the fact that science builds models to explain observations, etc. Basically a primer on what science really is, and what it isn’t, to correct/forestall many of the popular misconceptions of how science works. I’ve recorded the idea for now… hopefully I’ll get to work on it some time in the not too distant future.

New content today:

And a crazy busy Monday

I was flat out today. (For anyone who doesn’t know, this is an Australian expression meaning “extremely busy”.)

I got up early, gulped down a breakfast, then went out for my 2.5k run. I wanted to get it done, and recover and cool down before my 10am ethics class. I felt quite good today during the run, despite the humidity being 94% (and the temperature was 23°C), and I was astonished to see that I’d run my second best time, 12:19. So that was a good start to the day.

After stripping off sweat-soaked clothes and having a big cold drink, I cooled down for a bit and checked news and events online. Then I mixed up a sourdough loaf and kneaded it and got it ready for baking later in the day.

By the time I’d done all that, it was time for my ethics classes. The last two lessons on this topic about art took me up to midday, when I had lunch and baked the bread.

Straight after lunch I got stuck into making this new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I’d put off for a week. The photography involves clearing off my desk, getting out several boxes of Lego figures and parts, and then spending time building each of the sets, arranging figures, photographing each scene, moving things around, deconstructing sets and then repeating the whole thing with each new theme. While doing the photography, I refer to the dialogue scripts that I’ve written, and often also end up tweaking some of the dialogue as I get new ideas during the process.

Photography was done by late afternoon, and then I had to pack all the Lego away, and start assembling the comics from the photos using Photoshop. I did the new comics for this week, and then started writing annotations and uploading those, ready for updating on the website. I managed to get tonight’s comic done in time – but then I forgot to change the configuration to update to a new comic rather than the reruns that I’d done last week! So for about half an hour the “new” comic was another rerun, until I rewound that update and redid the update with the modified configuration file. Phew!!

I’ve also spent a bunch of in-between time today handling parent requests on Outschool. The extension class for my ethics class (mentioned a few days ago) is now live, which means parents can actually see that I’m offering private extensions for this class – and I got a request from one to set up a time for their kid to do it. So I messaged back and forth a bit, and found a timeslot and set it up, and then I had to modify my art class notes to make some explicit extension.homework questions, and send those off tot the new student.

And… haha… wow. While writing that paragraph, I got another request from a parent to add a new class. Gosh… it’s going bananas! And my calendar is getting very full of classes.

New content today:

A busy writing day

My morning was taken up with chores and doing my run and exercise routine. It filled up things quickly since I didn’t get up until quite late, as I’d had a poor sleep during the night.

This afternoon I worked on finishing off writing that batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I’d tried to do last week. I now have the batch of 20 strips written, and I should be able to find time to photograph them tomorrow and put together at least one for Monday night’s update. So the brief hiatus should stay at just one week as new comics come online this week. I also worked on writing some new Darths & Droids strips.

And that was pretty much my day, really. I had another couple of classes tonight on the ethics of art, and I also had a little bit of Outschool admin work to do, dealing with various class changes and requests from parents.

And, um, I made some delicious fried rice for dinner.

New content today:

The dreaded hiatus, and tidying up

After yesterday’s cogitation on the matter, I decided I had to take a brief break from making new Irregular Webcomic! strips, in order to get some higher priority things done. My buffer has run out, and I just didn’t have time today to photograph new comics – and I really want to reserve some time this week to work on other things. So I’ve officially declared a hiatus of at least one week, during which I’ll rerun old comics instead every day.

The work I need to get done, specifically, is to get cracking on the course notes for the university data engineering course that I’m helping my friend to redesign for the upcoming semester. We have a deadline near the end of February, so I need to schedule some time to do the work that the university is paying me for! This means comics have to fall by the wayside for a little bit, but hopefully it shouldn’t be too long. I’ll try and squeeze them in some time next week if I can.

It’s the combination of having to do this, plus restarting my online teaching stuff again this week, plus my wife starting work-from-home again last week due to COVID, that have all added up to a lot of distractions.

And there are of course other things that are usually too trivial to mention here that eat up parts of each day as well. Today I gave myself another COVID haircut, with a bit of help from my wife to tidy and even things up a bit after I’d hacked my own hair enough. And we gave Scully a bath – the first one since her groom just before Christmas.

Oh and we all went on a walk up to a doctor’s office for my wife to get her COVID booster. I’m booked in for mine next week, and I’m just trying desperately not to catch the disease before then. The case numbers are skyrocketing like crazy here in New South Wales at the moment, as omicron is defeating our currently relatively feeble attempts to control the spread.

Our government appears to have just given up trying to slow it down, and rather just hope that the hospital system can withstand the strain. Australia’s infection rate per capita is now above both the UK and the USA, for the first time in the entire pandemic. They said we had to avoid any further lockdowns for the health of “the economy” but apparently they didn’t realise that with so many people off sick the economy was inevitably going to suffer anyway. Supply chains for food have almost ground to a halt, and supermarkets are struggling to keep anything stocked. When I bought groceries last Friday, there were no oranges (which I wanted), and almost no apples, and short supplies of many vegetables. Reports this week, both from my friends who’ve been shopping and the media, say that supermarkets now have virtually no fresh fruit or vegetables left at all, and meat is in short supply. The shortages are expected to last at least another few weeks. We’ll see what’s left when I do the next grocery shop on Friday. Fortunately we still have a COVID lockdown pantry box with non-perishable food that could last us about 3 weeks if we absolutely had to.

New content today:

Plugging away at comics

I’ve been so busy lately that i haven’t been able to get stuck into making a new batc of Irregular Webcomic! strips, and my buffer has run out. I tried to spend today writing a new batch, to take photos on Monday and have the first one at least ready by publication time, but I didn’t manage to complete writing the batch.

I’m still not sure what to do about this. I could make one quick comic for Monday, but then I’m in the same situation for Tuesday. I really need to find the time to complete writing a full batch and get it done together, as it’s a lot more time efficient that way than making a single comic a day. I’m considering declaring a hiatus week to allow me to catch up, but that’s a little unsatisfactory in terms of audience expectation. I’ll see how I go tomorrow and make a decision before publication time.

I was distracted a lot today by the final day of play in the fourth Ashes Test between Australia and England. Australia has already clinched the series 3-0, but England fought hard today and managed to avoid defeat in a nail-biting cliffhanger ending.

It’s also been a little tiring getting back into teaching multiple classes online each day again after the Christmas break. I’ll get used to it quickly, but getting up to speed has been a big change of habits and amount of time to get things done.

New content today:

An evening to relax?

I had a busy day. I got stuck into photographing the latest batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips first thing this morning, straight after breakfast. It usually takes me to lunch time, but today I had an online meeting at 11:30, so I was racing to see if I could finish in time. I made it, just.

The meeting was with the lecturer of the image processing course I helped tutor recently, to discuss our ongoing work in revamping his data engineering course for first semester next year. We had a third participant, the woman from the university curriculum assistance team (I can’t remember what the actual title of the department is) who is helping us to make sure we hit a bunch of higher level learning goals.

For instance, she asked us if we have any exercises in reflection in the coursework – tasks where the students need to look back on what they’ve learnt and assess their own learning practices, how effective they’ve been, and which ones they should modify. It’s a sort of meta-learning skill, and the university tries to make sure that several such skills are integrated into the coursework along with the technical skills that the students learn. We came up with some ideas. The tricky thing is that you kind of have to do these meta-learning things by stealth, because the students themselves often see little point to them and simply won’t do them unless there’s a more compelling reason, such as it being part of an assessment task that they have to do.

Anyway, we have a good structure and good ideas for integrating the course into the wider university experience. The main issue we have is the amount of work to be done and the fact that the university doesn’t have budget to pay for additional people to work on it. The lecturer has a busy time schedule, while I have some spare time and desire to work on it, but he doesn’t want me to do work on it without compensation. He did indicate that he might be able to get some additional funding from the faculty, so that would be good if that works out.

This afternoon I worked on assembling some of the comics I’d photographed this morning. And we had a huge thunderstorm. The sky went black about 4pm, and there was intense thunder and lightning, as well as torrential rain. The storm passed in about an hour though, and the sky cleared up a bit afterwards. Apparently this pattern is due to repeat for the next couple of days.

This evening… I have no classes to teach! And for the first time in ages my wife has no outstanding dog bandana orders to fill, so she can relax from the sewing for an evening. So we might just be able to sit back and do nothing for a bit. Phew!

New content today:

Busy comic Monday

I spent most of today knuckled down making a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. I started photographing immediately after breakfast, then had a break of 2 hours while I taught a couple of online ethics classes, then picked it up again. I finished just before 1 pm, when I had to go pick up Scully from my wife’s office.

I took Scully for a walk to the new bakery at Naremburn, where I had a pie for lunch. They also had a very nice looking banoffee tart, which I tried for a dessert.

Banoffee tart

It was really good!

After my wife got home from work I went for a run in the cool of the evening, completing another 2.5 km. I’m definitely finding that doing it nearly every day means I’m less likely to to just be lazy and miss an entire week of exercise!

New content today:

A long haul day

It was a busy day today. After the last week of ISO meetings and having deadlines for other things, I had two things I needed to get done today.

Firstly I started by making some Irregular Webcomic! strips, since without new ones the buffer would have run out today. I didn’t have time to write and photograph my usual batch of over 20 strips in one go, so I had to just write three strips to last until the end of this week, photograph them, assemble them, and write annotations for them. Fortunately I didn’t suffer any writers block and managed to get the whole lot done within a couple of hours. But that will only last until the weekend, and I’ll need to get another batch going in time for Monday.

After picking up Scully from my wife’s work at lunchtime, I brought her home via the slopey park again, where we did some ball fetching and lying in the grass for a bit. She was very good for me this afternoon when we finally got home, just sleeping in her dog bed until my wife arrived home from work.

This gave me time to work on the next thing – my ethics lesson for the new week of classes this evening. This week we’re talking about enhancing sports performance, in particular the ethics of performance enhancing drugs. We get there via a route starting with high altitude training – in which athletes live in mountains for several weeks while training, to increase their red blood cell count, which gives them an advantage when they return to lower altitudes. It’s a common (and legal) method that athletes have been using for many years. Then we go to low-oxygen tents, which simulate altitude training by let the athlete sleep in a low oxygen environment – it’s cheaper and easier and produces the same effect: higher red blood cell count. And it’s also legal in sports training.

Then we go onto blood doping – removing blood from an athlete, then a few weeks later transfusing the red cells back into the same athlete. This produces the same effect—increased blood cell count—just without the low-oxygen training. The result is exactly the same, but I ask the kids if it’s still acceptable.

And then we hit erythropoietin, or EPO. An artificial copy of a protein secreted by human kidneys, that regulates red blood cell production. If you inject it, you end up with more red blood cells. Again, the same result as altitude training, but by a different method. And the kids need to decide if this is okay or not. All the way along this path they need to justify their answers with explanations.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow, where I don’t have any hard deadlines for things I need to get done. I might even relax a little…

New content today:

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: