A couple of 500 milestones

In a strange coincidence, two milestones involving the number 500 occurred in the last few days:

I reached a 500 day streak of Italian practice on DuoLingo. I’m not sure if this is my longest streak. I had a long streak going a couple of years ago before it got interrupted by travel. But a few minutes of language practice every single day has become a habit now.

And my wife reached 500 sales of dog bandanas on her Etsy shop!

Also, not quite 500, but today’s 2.5k run this morning brought me up to a total of 60 kilometres run this month so far. The weather was intermittent light drizzle today, but we have heavy rain coming up for the next few days.

Today I worked on science slides for tonight’s one-on-one science lesson with a student online. I’m doing chronological dating tonight, explaining carbon and uranium radioactive dating, and dendrochronology using tree rings.

New content today:

Impressing myself

I’ve slowly been trying to learn Italian for many years now. I’ve done it in fits and starts, with long breaks in between during which I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff. It’s all just self-teaching, with the help of Duolingo, a couple of books on Italian grammar that I bought, and some easy reading material (the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series in Italian). I had a long break after returning from our last overseas trip, having gotten out of the habit of practising every day, but now I’m up to over 300 consecutive days of practice – just 10-15 minutes a day, but every day, to make sure I stay in the habit.

Sometimes doing the exercises on Duolingo I amaze myself with what sentences I can manage to translate. Going from Italian to English is the easy direction, because I just have to get the gist of the meaning, and then I can write it out in English, and I don’t have to think about the grammar. Going from English to Italian is more difficult, because I have to translate the root words, then get the grammatical inflections right, and then put the words in the right order.

And sometimes there are ways of phrasing or constructing the sentence that have no direct analogue in English – for example in Italian you don’t just sit, you sit yourself. In English you say: “He sits.” In Italian: “Lui si siede.” Which is literally: “He himself sits.” The si is “himself” and you can’t leave it out.

I’m impressed that my brain can take this:

Who wants to follow us?

and turn it into this:

Chi ci vuole seguire?

Or this:

I would not have done it.

into this:

Non l’avrei fatto.

These were two actual exercises in today’s practice, which I got right on the first attempt. It’s incredibly pleasing to get a translation correct when you’re not 100% sure of it. And I’m finding that the more I learn, the more second nature a lot of the older material is becoming. I can translate stuff like “I want to eat an apple” (“Voglio mangiare una mela.”) pretty much instantly without thinking. It’s only the more complex stuff that I have to think about now.

I know I’m going on about this, but it’s honestly something that I impress myself with on an almost daily basis. As someone who never really learnt any languages when I was younger, the fact that I can progress myself to this stage is simply amazing when I stop to think about it.

What else did I do today? Hmm. Mostly I worked on a lesson plan for tomorrow’s online ethics class. The topic tomorrow is “Lying”. And I have a third student who enrolled during the week! So that should be good.

I also walked up the street to get some take-away sushi for lunch and sit in the square to eat, and then run some shopping errands for a few things I needed to get. I picked up Scully on the way home, and then took her out to the park later in the afternoon for some exercise.

New content today:

Double ethics classes

This morning I had my normal Year 5/6 ethics class. We started a new subject: Vanity. The first lesson of the topic was really just about exploring the idea that people look different, and asking whether some people look better than others, and if it’s okay to want to look good, or specifically better than other people. We got through the material a bit quickly, as most of the answers were agreed to by the class, without a lot of discussion or differing opinions.

And then straight after my usual class, I took relief for another ethics teacher who was away this week. He has a Year 3 class, younger than I’m used to (although I have taken a Year 2 class a couple of times before to fill in). The kids can bit more excitable and uncontrollable at that age, but they’re also a bit more obedient when asked to do things. It was a large class and they had a tendency to blurt out answers over the top of each other without putting their hands up to wait their turn. I stopped that fairly quickly by saying I noticed the polite students with their hands up. It kind of bubbled along a bit, but never got out of hand, so that was good.

The topic was Persuading, and today’s lesson was about advertising in particular. I showed the kids a couple of (fictional) advertisements and we discussed how honest they were, and if they were trying to persuade you to buy something by being deliberately misleading. It was a really good discussion, and I think the kids really latched onto the idea that advertisers are trying to sell stuff, so they’re not motivated to be entirely honest.

After the double class, I hung out a bit in the shopping area near the school, and then grabbed some food for a slightly early lunch before heading home. I picked up Scully at lunch time, and it was rainy again today, so we got a bit wet coming home. Fortunately she behaved at home all afternoon, since I didn’t feel like heading outside in the rain again.

This evening I did my usual Italian practice on Duolingo. I’m now up to a 300-day streak of uninterrupted lessons every day. I did have a longer streak a few years ago, but it got interrupted by an overseas trip and reset my counter, and then it took me a while to get back into it. But I’m feeling a lot better now about some of the different tenses, particularly the subjunctive and the conditional. I’m still working on modal tenses.

New content today:

Tonsil treatment

This morning I saw my doctor about my tonsils. He’s prescribed me a course of antibiotics, which will hopefully get rid of any infection, and reduce the swelling. So we’ll see how that goes over the next week and a bit.

Apart from that, I spent most of the day writing and making Darths & Droids comics.

In my Italian practice I’ve started working on subjunctives again. I did some of this a year or two ago, but didn’t really get on top of it, and I’ve been putting off for ages, but I finally bit the bullet and have started work on them again. I’m finding it easier this time around, I think. Possibly because I’ve absorbed and internalised more of the other grammar, so I don’t have to spend so much mental space thinking about that, and can devote more of the conscious thought to learning the subjunctive cases. Hopefully this time it will start to stick!

New content today:

Understanding sections

This morning I did the required online training modules to learn about how to use Outschool as a teacher (as I mentioned yesterday). One module was about child protection and safety, and what to do if I see/hear anything questionable while conducting the Zoom classes with students. I’m familiar with this sort of stuff through my training to teach Primary Ethics. Obviously, if I notice anything untoward or suspicious, I have to inform Outschool as soon as possible, so they can investigate and deal with it through their protocols. But interestingly, even though Outschool is based in the US, the training module said that teachers based in Australia or Canada have local legal requirements to report suspected child abuse to local authorities, and they linked to an Australian Government website (and presumably a Canadian one, but I didn’t look at that) with more info. So it looks like if I’m doing a Zoom class, and I notice signs of what I suspect is child abuse, I am legally required to report it directly to Australian child protection services, even if the child is not in Australia.

The second interesting point was trying to figure out the meaning of the word “section” in the module about how to create, schedule, and run classes. There was material on things like “how to schedule a section”, and “how to transfer learners to a different section of the same class”. I couldn’t really follow the explanations because I had no idea what the word “section” meant in this context. I’ve occasionally heard Americans mention “sections” in the context of university courses, but I didn’t know what they meant and never bothered trying to find out. But suddenly I kind of had to figure it out.

Google was astonishingly little help. The word “section” has so many different meanings that no search string I tried came up with any helpful hits. I tried “section academic jargon”, and I got a list of pages from Australian universities that happened to have the word “section” in some unrelated context (because of course Google knows I’m in Australia). I tried “section american english” – but that was equally useless. I tried “section academic american english”, but again it was all pages about unrelated stuff.

Eventually I turned to reddit and posted the question in a smallish group that I know has some Americans. The first couple who responded said they didn’t know – which was not very encouraging! I got suggestions that it might refer to a section/part of the coursework, or of the syllabus, or textbook. But eventually someone answered:

Say a university is offering a course. It’s being offered on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30, taught by Professor A.

It’s also offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 AM, by Professor B.

Or you could take it at night time on Wednesdays for 2 hours, once a week, with Professor C.

Each of those is a section. Same course, same material, different instructors and meeting times. You choose to register for a specific section that’s available and meets your schedule.

Aha!!! This is what I’d call streams. All of a sudden it all fell into place. I’m really unclear why American English chooses to use the word “section” for this concept of parallel class streams. Whatever the reason is, it’s extremely confusing for Australian English (and I expect UK English) users, because of the many potential meanings of the word “section” – none of which seem to make sense. I don’t think I’d ever have been able to work out that meaning without having an American explain it in detail.

Anyway, that linguistic detail aside, I’m now ready to start thinking about class topics and structure, and put together lesson plans for offering on Outschool. It’ll take me a few weeks probably to get ready for the first class, but I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Between doing the modules, I made another loaf of sourdough bread today. I think I’m really getting the hang of it, as it turned out pretty well.

The other thing of note today was I ran into my downstairs neighbour whose husband Col died on Christmas Day (mentioned on 29 Dec when I learnt the news). I mentioned that Col and I talked about golf after he learnt I’d started playing. His wife now told me that he had asked her to see if I wanted any of his golf gear (he’d known his time was limited due to cancer). I said that was very generous and I’d have a look, and she let me into her garage to do so. Most of his clubs are pretty old – older even than my second hand set – but he had a nice new driver, exactly the sort of thing I was looking at buying for myself soon.

So next time I see her I’ll suggest that I’d be honoured to accept the driver, and maybe I could take the rest of the clubs to a pro shop and see if I can get a bit of cash for them to give back to her. I also mentioned to here that I’ve started baking sourdough, and she said she loves sourdough, so next time I bake I’ll do an extra loaf and take it downstairs for her.

New content today:

Late Friday catch-up

I missed Friday’s entry last night, because my wife and I went out for a nice dinner, and then when I got home my friends were keen to play skribbl.io and I spent the rest of the evening doing that. Our custom word list is working well – we’re getting more interesting and tricky things to draw, and the results are even more hilarious than the default word list.

I forgot to mention yesterday that on Wednesday night when I took Scully out for her pre-bedtime toilet, I was standing with her out on the grass and looking up at the stars, and I saw a meteor streak across the sky. Almost directly overhead, and heading south-west. Not particularly bright or noticeable – I was just lucky to be looking in the right spot at the right second. It’s not the first meteor I’ve seen when out with Scully at night either – this is about the third in a couple of years. As an astronomer I know that meteors are actually very common, and if you sit outside for half an hour or so just looking up at the night sky, you’re likely to see some – it’s just that most people never do this. But I have a habit now of looking up whenever I take Scully out (and the sky is clear), so I’ve been spending a significant amount of time doing this added up over the year.

Another thing I accomplished this week is finishing off reading book 6 of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series in Italian: Si Salvi Chi Può (“everyone for themselves”, which is how they titled the Italian version of Cabin Fever). So that’s six complete books I’ve read in Italian now. They’re definitely getting easier and faster to get through as my vocabulary and grammar skills are improving. When I began, every page I’d have to stop and look up several words. Now I can often get through a page without needing to look up anything, except perhaps to confirm the meaning of a word which I can figure out by context. On to book 7!

New content today:

Standards reporting

Today was a day to work on writing my report for the recent ISO Photography standards meeting – the one that I attended virtually and had to stay up to 2am each night for four nights a few weeks ago. Part of my role in this is to prepare a report for Standards Australia on all of the things discussed at the meeting. So I basically worked on that for much of the day. Got it finished a bit after dinner.

I’m going well with reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book 6 in Italian. I’m up to page 72, and there are 216 pages, so that’s exactly a third of the way through. I’m definitely noticing that as I work my way through these books I’m having to look up fewer words, and I can work out the meanings of more unfamiliar words by context without needing to look them up.

New content today:

Starting a new diary

This morning I braved the cold morning air to walk down to North Sydney for a doctor’s appointment. It was pretty cold, and I was glad I wore my rugby jersey and a jacket. I was home in time to take Scully out for a mid-morning walk and play.

And then soon after I had to head off for a lunch meet-up with one of my friends. We had lunch at a Japanese place near his house, so he could walk there, but I had to drive over. It was good to catch up, as we hadn’t seen each other since about March, when the COVID restrictions began here.

This afternoon I applied my new discipline to Italian lessons. I did some Duolingo, and then turned my attention to starting the next Wimpy Kid book. I eased in, translating four pages, then – as has been our tradition – reading them aloud one sentence at a time in Italian followed by English to my wife. So she’s been enjoying the stories along with me. This one has begun with Greg lamenting the pre-Christmas holiday season, where he has to try to be good for a whole month, which is basically impossible. 😄

New content today:

Sunday roast, and discipline

Today we had Sunday lunch with my wife’s family, a total of eight of us (plus Scully). It’s the first time we’ve all gotten together since Christmas, so it was good to catch up and hear what everyone’s been doing during the COVID isolation. We had a traditional roast pork and vegetables lunch, followed by a nice butterscotch pudding and ice cream.

We were a bit full still from the lunch, so I didn’t cook a proper dinner tonight. We just had fried eggs, my wife on toast, while I had mine on a couple of the leftover lunch bread rolls.

I’ve also been thinking about how to restore my photography site web store. Given the issues I’ve had with WooCommerce, I really want to ditch it. I looked into the Square payment processing API a bit this afternoon and I’ve almost decided to give that a go. It means building a whole web store site by myself, then handing payment processing over to Square, and populating my own order information database. It’ll be a bit of work, but at least it’ll be code that I understand and trust not to be unreliable. It’ll take a week or two to do the work – I’m hoping to get at least a catalogue up and running by the time my market stall is on, two weeks from today.

The other thing I did today was to restart my stalled Duolingo Italian lessons. I restarted them a while back, but was interrupted by the knife injury to my hand, which made it hard to type rapidly, and hadn’t restarted again until today. I read a thing somewhere (reddit probably) recently about how to get motivated to do stuff – and was struck by several comments saying that seeking motivation to do something is the wrong approach. You need to have discipline. You need to go and do the thing that you want to do, or know you should do, rather than wait/seek for the motivation to do it. Discipline is the only way to get through a lack of motivation, and often the only way to actually get stuff done.

I want to learn Italian and get better at it, but I was slacking off. So I decided to be disciplined and just start today, and make sure I keep practising every day. No excuses. Just do it. I’m also going to start the other exercise that I’d previously been doing, which is to read the next book in the Wimpy Kid series, in Italian. So far I’ve read the first five books in the series, which are at about the right level for me to read in Italian – not so easy that I am not learning by reading, and not so hard that I have to stop and look up words too often. I can make it through about 5-10 pages in half an hour or so, which is a pace that isn’t too frustrating. I finished the fifth book at the end of 2018, but hadn’t managed to get motivated to start the sixth book. But today I’m applying discipline and putting the book – Si salvi chi può – on my desk, to begin reading tomorrow.

I’ve also decided I’m going to start doing my 5k runs again this week. At least once a week.

I’m going to get busy again.

New content today: