What is data and what is ethics?

Today was a busy teaching day. This morning I wrote my lesson plan for the older group of kids and the ethics topic on Confession. Then I dropped Scully off at my wife’s work and took the train into the city and the university for the second lecture of Data Engineering. Today the lecture was about different types of data: nominal, ordinal, numeric, qualitative, quantitative, subjective, objective, and so on. Th first coding tutorial took place during the lecture and as usual someone asked me a question that basically came down to debugging Matlab syntax, which is always a pain since I don’t use Matlab regularly and always have to relearn the syntax every semester.

The students spent some time during the first tutorial break moving around to find their assignment groups. The lecturer splits the class into random groups of 6 students to work on their final projects. It’s always a bit chaotic since few of the students know each other and they’re assigned to these groups with strangers, and have to work out who they are and find them. It doesn’t help when one student can’t find Group 10 and I go around shouting “Group 10! Group 10! Put your hand up if you’re in Group 10!” and nobody reacts, and then 5 minutes later it turns out Group 10 is right there but they were too busy introducing themselves to have heard me earlier.

After coming home I finished off the Confession lesson, in time to start making some lentils and chick peas with rice for dinner, before the three in a row classes on the “What is Ethics?” topic. This is a pretty deep topic and I can really see the kids are thinking hard about some of the questions. Which means it’s a good one!

New content today:

The spelling of chilli / chili / chile

Yesterday I wrote about the troubles I’ve been having with my latest chilli plant. Carl commented on that post:

Your problem is that you offend the plants by continuing to misspell “chili”, which has exactly one “l”. In Spanish, “ll” is pronounced identically to English “y”.

To which I replied:

“Chilli” is the preferred and common spelling in British/Australian English. So it’s even more complicated than that.

This may be surprising to users of American English, but it’s genuinely another example of the weirdness of spelling differences between our dialects. My Australian dictionary lists “chilli” as the preferred spelling. My computer, set to Australian English, accepts “chilli” while marking “chili” as a spelling error. And I went through my pantry and found every relevant product:

Chilli products

As you can see, three out of three in favour of “chilli”. So that hopefully explains what up until now some readers may have assumed was a strange individual quirk of mine.

In another follow-up, recall last Friday I visited Loreto Kirribilli to talk to some of the students there. The school has posted photos of me and some of the students to their accounts on LinkedIn and Instagram.

As for today… it was a bunch of ethics classes from 10am to 2pm, with a brief lunch break in between. I took Scully for a couple of walks. This afternoon I made sourdough bread, and also pizza dough for dinner. And I’m not sure where the rest of the time went. I had another class this evening after dinner… and now time to relax.

New content today:

Titardinal’s Tower, session 1

Friday was a very busy day! I did final preparations for the evening’s Dungeons & Dragons session. A full play report is below!

I also drove over to Loreto Kirribilli, dropping Scully off at my wife’s work on the way, to give my talk to the students there. The day was very hot, reaching 38°C, and humid, so I really didn’t fancy walking all that way. I was worried about finding parking near the school, so gave myself plenty of time. But I found a spot right in front of the school gate, just three or four metres from where I could walk in! Most of the parking around Kirribilli is restricted to 2 hours parking, but this spot right in front of the school was unrestricted between 10:00 and 14:30 – but was no parking during the school drop-off and pick-up times.

The teacher in charge of my visit met me and took me into the lovely cool air conditioned room where I’d give the talk to the kids. This was in the junior school, so kids about 8-10 years old. I gave my talk on the overlaps between astronomy, photography, and human vision, to a group of about 40 kids. They looked pretty rapt, and several asked interesting questions. A very articulate girl named Alice gave a short thank you speech at the end, several kids hung around to ask me more questions, and then they all ran off to their classes at the end of lunch. It was really good, and the teacher was very happy and asked me to come back as often as I could manage.

In the evening I ran D&D with my friends. Saturday morning I went for a 5k run – my first for nearly 2 weeks since I skipped last weekend to let my ankle recover. It was cool and rainy, and I did a reasonable time. And then most of today I was typing up the following D&D play log…

Tidying up and Training: Brandonstead to Neensford

After the vanquishing of the Wyrm of Brandonstead, the heroes returned to Brandonstead with their treasure. The villagers were united in thanking them for slaying the dragon. Having found the bodies of the dwarven brothers Grimni and Kedri, it seems that the third brother Brol was somehow cursed into turning into the dragon.

Garamond had claimed the magical Sword of Sir Brandon and Plate Mail of Sir Brandon, but the villagers insisted politely that these historical relics belonged in the village. Garamond gracefully gave them up.

The party returned home to Neensford, three days march south. Here they cashed in much of the treasure, using it to pay their mentors for training. Notgandalf’s mentor Jessica the Mindstoker gifted him a new spell for his spellbook: Levitation. Garamond returned from his time training with the elves of the forest with the new spell Wizard Lock.

Swirling Rumours: Neensford to Benton

Towards the end of their training period, with the weather turning from summer into early autumn, a travelling merchant arrived from the east, bearing news of import: The great wizard Titardinal had died! Titardinal was known for having a secluded tower a week’s ride to the east, past the village of Benton. The party gathered to share what rumours they’d previously heard about Titardinal. They augmented this by asking around the village for anything that anyone else knew.

  • Titardinal? Crazy old coot. They say he went off the deep end and built that tower all by his lonesome up by the lake.
  • They say the lake spirit cursed the wizard for his arrogance, twisting his tower into a maze of madness. Those who enter never return the same.
  • They say the undines imprisoned within the tower’s fountain are not as innocent as they seem. Some claim they hold the key to unlocking the tower’s secrets, while others warn of their vengeful nature.
  • Rumours swirl of a secret chamber hidden beneath the lake’s surface, accessible only to those who know the right incantations. But tread carefully, for the spirits of the deep do not take kindly to intruders.
  • There are those who claim the wizard’s tower holds the key to great power, but it’s guarded by creatures of nightmare. Only the bravest—or the most foolish—would dare to enter.
  • There are rumours of a secret entrance to the tower, accessible only during the full moon when the barriers between worlds are weakest. But those who seek it must first navigate the treacherous cliffs surrounding the lake.
  • I’ve heard tales of a hidden library within the tower, filled with ancient tomes and forbidden knowledge. But beware, for the books themselves are said to be cursed, driving those who read them to madness.

Questioning the merchant revealed that the news had travelled slowly. Titardinal seemed to have vanished several months ago, but nobody had carried the news to Neensford before now. The party decided that a recently deceased powerful wizard’s tower should contain many treasures and potentially magic items, and was worth investigating.

They equipped themselves with two wagons for transporting the party (Brigette, Drashi, Garamond, Nogge, Notgandalf) and their retainers (Fingers, Tarlan, and 5 other journeymen adventurers), plus four horses to draw them. Nogge bought a riding horse for himself, not wanting to ride in a wagon. They journeyed six days to the east, up into the foothills of the Black Peak Mountains, to the village of Benton. Here they paused to refresh themselves from time on the road, and approached the innkeeper to ask about Titardinal:

  • Rumour has it Titardinal was head over heels for the Spirit of the Lake. Built his tower smack dab by the water just to catch her eye, they say.

Titardinal’s Tower still lay a day’s travel to the north-east, up into the Black Peak Mountains. They travelled up the narrow track and made camp near the pass that gave access to a valley with a beautiful blue mountain lake, surrounded by slopes covered in pine, cedar, and fir trees.

Approaching Titardinal’s Tower

The next morning dawned clear and sunny. From the pass, the party spied out the land below. On a small tied island attached to the near shore of the lake rose a circular stone tower, narrow, about seven storeys tall. No door was visible from the pass, but four floors of widely spaced windows could be seen making up the upper four floors of the tower, above a smooth section below with no windows. The battlement on the roof was partly crumbled in places. As they watched, a large white pelican flew from the lake up to one of the lowest windows, perched, and ducked inside. Another pelican emerged from a different window at that level and flew off to forage.

Also visible from the pass was a small encampment on the shore, about half a mile from the tower, by a stream emptying into the lake. A dozen or so small humanoid figures could be seen occasionally, scurrying under a large sky-blue tarpaulin set up as a shelter. Goblins! The party deliberated dealing with the encampment first, to ensure no surprise attacks from behind while exploring the tower, but decided to tackle the tower first.

Nogge: All I’m saying is it could come back to bite us in the butt.
DM: So you’re setting up an “I told you so” for Nogge?
Nogge: Right.

Rather than take all the retainers and the wagons down to the lake, where they might be seen by the goblins, they instructed the retainers to set up camp in the pass and wait there.

Drashi: Equals sign the wagons.
All: Huh?
Drashi: You can’t circle them. There’s only two.
Nogge: You’d need an infinite number to make a circle. We need three or more to even make make a polyhedron.
Brigette: Polyhedron? Just how mountainous is this region?

They approached carefully in the brush, avoiding making themselves obvious to the goblins. Fingers scouted around the base of the tower, reporting that there was a large double door on the far side, facing the lake. He also said the lock had evidently been broken.

The party pushed open the doors carefully, revealing a “welcoming” hall decorated with iron gibbets hanging from chains, containing skeletons. They carefully probed the skeletons with poles to make sure they weren’t undead, then ratcheted the chains down to examine them more closely. They found a silvery ring on the bony finger of one skeleton. A search of the room also turned up a pewter scroll case which contained an old sheet of parchment with a letter:

Most Esteemed Titardinal,

I beg of you to reconsider this mad project of yours and return to my side as my most trusted advisor.

(Signed) Duke Trayko of Verge.

The Madness of Titardinal’s Tower

As they stood in the reception hall, tiny motes of sparkling light appeared and attached themselves to each party member, circling above their heads. These appeared harmless, and not bright enough to explore by, so the group lit torches and lanterns and progressed into the tower.

First they tried a passage to the south, which led to a square room with floor length tapestries on each wall. The passage they emerged from was hidden behind a blue tapestry showing the lake. Other walls contained a red tapestry showing a mountain scene, a yellow one depicting a desert scene, and a green one with a scene deep in a deciduous forest. Notgandalf, drawing a map, expressed confusion as, according to the pacing out of room sizes, this tapestry room should be outside the southern wall of the tower. Brigette suggested it was some wizard shenanigans and the tapestries actually transported people who stepped past them to different locations. So the tapestry room itself was not within the tower, but somewhere else, and if one were to step from the room past the blue tapestry they would be transported into the tower.

They decided not to pass beyond the blue tapestry, but retreated to the entrance hall and tried the other exit, an arched doorway with a wooden door that had fallen off its hinges. This led into a dismal cell, with manacles and shackles.

This Titardinal really didn’t like visitors, did he?

In the cell, a second spark of light joined the first around each adventurer’s head. And they noticed a brass symbol inset in the floor, a number “2”. Quickly they went back and checked the floor of the welcome hall more carefully, finding a long, straight strip of brass set into the floor, which they now recognised as a numeral “1”. This prompted some experimentation.

Nogge, accompanied by two sparks, went to look at the tapestry room again. Pulling the blue tapestry aside, he spotted a brass number “18” on the floor. He decided to enter the room, pushing past the tapestry. When he set foot inside the room, the two sparks around his head vanished. One returned when he re-entered the welcome hall, and a second when he went back into the cell. The party surmised that sparks would accumulate as they traversed rooms in numerical order, but would reset to zero if they ever entered a room out of sequence.

Now they continued exploring. An open passage from the cell led to a north-south corridor with five other openings on the sides. They tried the south-east one first, revealing a cell numbered “23”. This cell contained windows, and they could see that they were no longer on the ground floor! Going in to check, they saw the eastern window was on the 5th floor of the tower (with one window below them and two above). There were also heavy, rusty chains dangling down from the window above, and down from the sill to the window below. The other window, in the north wall of the same room, appeared to be looking south from the 7th floor!

Now the party realised what madness Titardinal’s Tower held.

Deeper Exploration

The group quickly checked the other cells along the corridor. The south-west was labelled “6”, and had another passage leading west. The central west cell was “5”, with no exits. The north-west cell was “4”, and had a window in the north wall, which appeared to look west on level 5.

Next they tried along the corridor to the north. This opened into a large room covered in muck and guano, inhabited by giant pelicans, taller than a human. Nogge carefully took a step into the room to see if he would attract a third spark, but the two around his head vanished. He concluded this was not room number 3, but a pelican took unkindly to his intrusion and attacked! Nogge beat off the giant probing beak and smote the pelican with his magical two-handed sword, driving it back into the foetid rookery.

The final cell, in the north-east, turned out to be room “3”. People collected a third spark as expected, and Nogge returned to the welcome hall to reassemble his as well. Cell 3 also had a window in the north wall, looking west from level 6. As this was directly above the window in cell 4 directly across the corridor, they tried stationing one person at each window at the same time to see if they could see each other by looking up/down, and they could. The group concluded that at least it was only spatial weirdness going on, and not time shenanigans as well.

Then they traversed rooms 4, 5, and 6 to accumulate 6 sparks each. The other passage from cell 6 led them north-west up a set of stairs to a circular room with exit passages north and south, a window north-west, a brass “7” in the floor, and a large fountain in the middle. Could this be the rumoured fountain of the undines?

As Brigette approached the fountain, ghostly shapes like young children appeared in the water. They saw the sparks about Brigette’s head and merged into a serpent-like shape that stretched from the water to attack her! Brigette yelled to stop attacking, that they were here to help them. The undines paused, and asked why they had the sparks; they were doing the evil wizard’s work! Brigette conversed, trying to convince the undines that the party meant no harm. The undines revealed that Titardinal had trapped them in the fountain to power a devastating spell to “destroy everything”, and the sparks were part of it. They begged the party to “destroy the altar” so that the spell could never be completed.

The group discussed ways to free the undines, including siphoning the water out the window and smashing the fountain to spill the water. But the undines said they were trapped here magically and the only way to free them was to destroy the altar. They asked the party to swear a solemn oath that they would do it. When Brigette swore, they presented her with a sword from the fountain water, saying it was the sword of the Lake Spirit.

What Madness is This?

The group decided the right thing to do was to return the sword to the Lake Spirit as soon as possible. They retreated out through the cells and the entrance hall to the front door of the tower, seeking to gaze out on the lake. They pulled the doors open warily, half-expecting the camp of goblins to be waiting for them. But there were no goblins.

And there was no lake.

The beautiful blue mountain lake had vanished. All they could see was mountain slopes lined with green trees. Everyone stood dumbstruck for a minute.

Nogge: That…. is the last thing I expected.

Brigette walked forward carefully, probing the ground with a pole. After several steps the pole indicated the edge of the lake and Brigette walked forward, getting her feet wet. The lake seemed to be there, but none of them could see it. Brigette placed the sword in the (unseen) water and called to the Lake Spirit to accept their offering. But after several minutes, nothing happened and the sword was still there – Brigette feeling for it in the unseen water.

She decided to strip off her armour and swim out into deeper water. Others suggested tying a rope to her, since nobody could actually see the lake, to avoid her getting lost. This done, Brigette swam out and dived with the sword, attempting to offer it to the Lake Spirit. But after some minutes of this to no avail, she gave up.

As she dried off on the shore of the lake they could not see, they discussed the mysterious illusion before them. How did this happen? Why was the lake hidden from them? What time was it? They looked at the sky.

They couldn’t see the sky.

They saw stars in inky blackness. But the sun was up – it was dazzlingly bright in the sky, they could feel its warmth, and see the shadows on the ground around them. It was daylight, but the stars were out.

They concluded that if the Lake Spirit was too distant or too busy to take the sword, they would just have to go back into the tower and try to find and destroy the altar.

Drashi: Good thing it’s still daynight.

But first they wanted to check the tapestry room again, as they suspected that maybe there was some strange teleportation going on. They wanted to check if they were still in the tower behind the blue lake tapestry. But when they walked down the corridor from the reception hall to the tapestry, it wasn’t there – the corridor ended at a blank stone wall! Nogge felt the wall… and found he could feel a tapestry. He pulled it aside, revealing the tapestry room beyond, with the red, yellow, and green tapestries. But entering the room, the tapestry behind could not be seen, and it looked like a stone wall, though he could still feel the tapestry and pull it aside to re-enter the corridor. Curiouser and curiouser…

Finding the Altar

The group returned to the fountain room, not bothering to collect sparks by traversing rooms 3-5. They told the undines what happened as Fingers scouted the corridor to the south. He returned and said it led to a dining room with a couple of giants, twice the height of a person, sitting on the floor, grumbling and playing cards at the dining table. The window here looked north (as determined by the sun) from level 7.

The passage north led down a stair to a square room with exits in all four walls and the number “8” on the floor. Old paintings were hung on the narrow walls between the exits. A window in the west wall revealed the view from the level 7 northern window. They determined the passage east led downstairs to the pelican room. Nogge feared the pelican room would be room 9, but the number was hidden under the muck and guano and it would be impossible to find without killing all the pelicans. He did an experiment collecting sparks to test this idea. He returned from the entry hall with 8 sparks and stepped carefully into the pelican room, timing it when none of the pelicans was looking his way, and collected a ninth spark.

Having proven this, they proceeded north from the art gallery room, descending into a landing before a wide staircase leading back upwards. Large alcoves in the east and west walls housed evil looking human statues. A brass number “13” was set into the floor. The party climbed the steps to an intermediate landing, with more steps leading up to the north to a similar looking landing with statues. But here in the middle landing there were narrow passages leading east and west.

They chose the eastern passage, emerging in a crypt containing a stone sarcophagus, engraved with a magical looking sigil, and a brass number “14” in the floor. Stairs led up to the north and down to the east. The eastern stairs led down to an L-shaped room “15”, which appeared to be the bottom of a cess pit, with a mound of rotting food refuse, filth, and dung, below a shaft that ascended from the ceiling. Two giant flies that were buzzing around the muck attacked them but the party took care of them with some swift sword blows. The group didn’t fancy trying to climb up the reeking shaft to reach what they expected would be room 16, so they retreated to 14 and took the stairs north.

This led to Titardinal’s study, with a desk and bookshelves, in disarray and clearly partly searched through by someone. The floor was labelled with a brass “22”. Notgandalf perused the books, looking for anything magical. Fingers hushed everyone and said he could hear voices and shushing noises. He indicated a corner where the noise was coming from, and said he recognised goblin language. He translated, “Shhh, stay quite and they won’t notice us.”

Notgandalf cast Detect Magic, but this didn’t reveal anything, except a couple of the books still on the shelf, which he grabbed quickly, and the ring that had been taken from the skeleton in the entry hall. Nogge and Brigette advanced on the corner of the room and poked ahead of them with the sword blades. Suddenly one noticed resistance and a voice cried out in pain! Goblin voices called out and disembodied arms wielding swords appeared out of nowhere, charging the party!

The goblins fought bravely, perhaps thinking they had the advantage, but three were cut down by swords and Notgandalf’s Magic Missile, and Drashi, wielding the Silver Axe of Sir Wylt, sliced clean through the arm of the fourth, dropping the arm and sword to the floor. Tarlan located the screaming invisible goblin and pulled an invisible cloak off it, revealing the now armless creature. He applied some bandages while others found the other bodies and removed invisible cloaks from them as well.

They questioned the goblin, who claimed to be from the Rikalu tribe, the “best goblins, better than the dirty Fivarin tribe”. He said the goblins in the camp would make short work of the party, for not only did they have warriors but also a mighty shaman. The party debated, and decided they couldn’t let the goblin flee to inform his comrades, so they put him out of his misery.

Brigette tried on one of the “invisibility cloaks” and discovered to her dismay that she couldn’t see anything while under it. “What use is a cloak of invisibility that you can’t see through?!” They also realised that the cloaks had not detected as magical to Notgandalf’s spell. Nevertheless, they bundled the invisible cloths up and took them.

Among the mess in the study they found several architectural drawings, showing apparent alternative layouts for the tower rooms. They all showed numbered rooms, and described the final room 24 as being the altar room. Furthermore, the window in this room looked east from level 6, directly above a window in the cell room 23 they had already visited. They surmised they were meant to climb down the chain from 22 to 23, and then out the other window from 23 to reach the altar in room 24.

Notgandalf actually wanted to climb down the chain directly to 23, but the others decided to just walk back the way they’d come through the rooms. They reached cell 23 to find Notgandalf waiting for them. Looking out the other window, on level 7 looking south, they noticed it not only had a chain dangling down to whatever unknown room had the window on level 6, but there was also a chain leading up to the rooftop. This seemed intriguing enough that they despatched Fingers to climb up. He secured a rope at the top to tie to people to avoid falling, and the rest of the party clambered onto the rooftop.

Here they found an 8-foot square stone altar placed on the crumbling roof, with carved magical sigils on the sides. Set into the stones of the rooftop was the brass number 24. This was the altar the undines wanted them to destroy!

Brigette: I gently stab the altar with the undine sword.

That did nothing. They tried chipping away at the magical sigils to deface them. Brigette and Drashi, using their dwarven stonecunnning, determined that the altar was not attached to the roof, and could probably be dragged or pushed if enough people were available. They estimated about ten people would be needed to shift it. And perhaps they could push it off the roof and let it smash on the ground below. They considered using ropes or levers, but there was no simple way to arrange this to gain a mechanical advantage.

The seven of them weren’t strong enough together to shift the altar. But they had five retainers waiting for them back at their camp in the mountain pass. The group sat to consider their options…

New content today:

Virtual Tokyo meeting, day 2

It’s day 2 of the ISO Photography Standards meeting in Tokyo, which I’m attending virtually from home. But this morning’s first two sessions I had to miss as I had to go into the University of Technology, Sydney, for the first lecture of this year’s first year Data Engineering course. I’m tutoring the class again, which has about 150 students. The lecturer gave the introductory lecture and introduced me and the other tutors. In past years the course has been held in the evening, but this year it’s been timetabled from 12-3pm. This is actually good because it doesn’t clash with any of my existing online ethics classes, unlike in previous years when I’ve had to move some of them around. But it did mean I had to miss those first two sessions of the ISO meeting today.

I went into the city and grabbed some sushi from Woolies (supermarket) to eat quickly before the class began. I also dropped in at the photo printer I use to make art prints of my photos, to pick up the canvas print of a Portuguese door that I had made for a friend. I was hoping I could get it home on the train without having to deal with rain, and fortunately the unsettled weather held off so I got it home safely.

This afternoon/evening the standards sessions covered technical discussions on: revising the “Removable memory” standard to reflect modern movement away from removable memory in cameras; a new standard proposal on machine vision cameras; the current draft of the autofocus repeatability standard; and long discussions on high dynamic range gain maps and how to use them.

New content today:

Quick late night update

It’s 10pm, after my final Zoom ethics teaching class for the night, so I don’t want to spend too long on this before bed. There was the usual five classes today, and in between I worked on finishing off my slide presentation for next week’s school visit. I think I successfully managed to combine astronomy, photography, and human vision into one presentation short enough and pitched at the correct 8-10 year ago group. And it’s complete with a couple of photos of Scully, since the teacher said the kids loved seeing photos of people’s pets.

Dinner was a simple pasta with pesto and pumpkin chunks. Easy and quick. Oh, and the weather was rainy today. It cooled down a lot overnight and we’re forecast for a few days of showers coming up.

New content today:

Saying bye to a long-time student

I had a bit of a sad moment today. A girl who has been doing my Outschool “Critical & Ethical Thinking” class for close to 2 years has unenrolled. A parent wrote to explain that they’re moving to the UK (from Korea) and the time zones don’t work out so well, so she can’t continue the class any more. But the parent was very pleased with the class and thanked me for my work in teaching their daughter. I remember this girl at the beginning was very reluctant to speak, and took a lot of time thinking of answers, but she’s improved enormously and is much more confident and outgoing now.

In another less-than-good thing, one of my Dungeons & Dragons players was exposed to whooping cough. He’s being tested, but said no matter what he wants to skip D&D this Friday to avoid any possibility of infecting people. he said he still wanted to play and asked if we could include him remotely. We’ve done this before with another player, but this one is our mapper, and I feel like interacting with him remotely while describing the adventure locations and having him try to draw them will be too clumsy. So I suggested we postpone the game a fortnight, and convene on 23 February. Everyone agreed to this, so I made an invitation:

Invitation graphic to D&D game

The weather was a bit warm today, but the real problem will come tonight as the forecast is that the temperature won’t drop below 25°C overnight, before heading into a scorcher tomorrow. That’s definitely too warm to be comfortable for sleeping, so we’re blasting the air conditioner to cool things down before bed time and hoping we’ll survive and not wake up too hot.

New content today:

Double games days

Friday was online games night with friends and I didn’t have time to write a blog post because it was a busy day.

First thing in the morning was grocery pickup and shopping. I order online, but always select my own fruit and vegetables right before picking up all the other ordered stuff. Back home, I’d moved my first ethics class of the day 10 minutes earlier because I had another Zoom meeting starting at the exact finish time, and I needed some slop time in between because the classes always go a little bit over.

Friday: STEM Professionals in Schools teaching

The Zoom meeting was with a teacher at Loreto Kirribilli, a girls’ school not too far from where I live. This is a new school that I’m setting up a partnership with to replace Brookvale Public, where I’d been doing the CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools program since 2012. It was good there, but (a) it was a long drive to get there, (b) I had to stop visiting the school during COVID, and (c) the contact teacher there since moved to a new school, so I basically lost tough with them. CSIRO contacted me last year to ask my status and I told them that, so they organised a new school for me.

I spoke to the school’s gifted & talented program organiser, who told me about the various programs they have there for out-of-curriculum enrichment and learning. She suggested the best introduction would be to give one of the Learning@Lunchtime talks – these are weekly talks on Fridays at school lunchtime, given by external visitors, on a wide range of topics. They advertise the speaker and topic, and any interested students can turn up and listen to the talk while eating lunch. She said they get any number from 5 to 50 students, depending on the topic (and the weather!). She sent me free dates afterwards and I said I could do one of these talks on 23 February.

After the talk, she said we could have a chat, and introduce me to the school’s science coordinator, to organise an ongoing mentorship of some students. They have external mentors come to the school at intervals convenient for the visitor—anything from weekly to once a year—and meet with a small group of students with an interest in whatever the mentor is an expert in. She said they don’t do it just for STEM topics; they had an executive from Qantas who came in and had “business lunches” with students and they all talked about business stuff. Anyway, she asked what sort of ages I’d like to work with, since they cover the gamut from Kindergarten to Year 12, and I said I’d spent my tie at Brookvale working with K-6 kids, and would like to work with older students so we could do more advanced stuff. She said she might have a small group of Year 10 students who might be suitable. But that will be sorted when we chat after the initial lunchtime talk.

Following this meeting I had lunch and took Scully for a quick walk before getting into three ethics classes in a row in the afternoon. After that my wife and I relaxed by going up to our favourite pizza place for dinner. And then back home afterwards I played online board games with friends.

Friday: Online board games

We played a game of Wingspan, and discovered that it seemed to drag a bit in the online version, because the UI enforced us taking turns sequentially, whereas when we play in person we often start our moves, and say we’re doing stuff that doesn’t interact with anyone else, and the next person can start their move. And manipulating the physical cards and components seems to flow faster than clicking a screen UI. So we were a bit tired of it by the end. But despite thinking I was doing poorly throughout the game, I somehow ended up winning, so it wasn’t a total loss!

After that we played a game of Just One. We use a bot implementation that one of my friends wrote for our Discord server. It has a much wider selection of words to guess than the official version. There was an amusing incident with two of the words.

Briefly, the game involves rounds where one person has to guess a mystery word. The word is revealed to all the other players, and they have to submit a one-word clue – e.g. if the mystery word is “banana” the clues might be “fruit”, “yellow”, “lounge”, etc. Ideally all the clues are different and the guesser has a lot to work with to get the right answer. But if multiple people give the same clue, they are eliminated and the guesser gets fewer clues. it’s cooperative, so we’re all trying to be helpful and give the guesser as many good clues as possible – but the elimination thing means it’s risky to give the most obvious clues in case someone else does the same.

Anyway, one word was “celery”. One person clued “stick” and two of us gave “waldorf”, which was eliminated. So the poor guesser had to guess based on the single clue “stick”, and ended up guessing “carrot”.

Then the next mystery word, chosen at random from a list of hundreds, was “carrot”!! Three of us suppressed laughter and gave clues, while the guesser had no idea what was happening. It turned out two of us clued “stick” (referencing the previous round!) and one clued “root”. So the guesser only got to see the clue “root”. And said, “Haha, wouldn’t it be funny if it was carrot?” And not having anything better to guess, he guessed carrot, and we all burst into laughter as he got it right!

Saturday morning

I slept in a bit, got up, had breakfast, and went for a 5k run. This was my first since Australia Day, eight days ago, as I felt my sore ankle needed a bit more time off. It felt a lot better today, and I clocked 28:14, exactly the same time as that last run. The conditions were a bit warm and humid.

After a shower I had to drive down to the local farmer’s market to pick up a home-made chocolate cake that my wife had bought there at one of the stalls. She’d walked down with Scully and wanted to walk back, but not carrying a cake. The cake was for afternoon tea with some of our friends, the ones who minded Scully the last few times we’ve been overseas. Last time they were in a temporary house while their own one was being renovated, but they moved back in at the end of November, and this was the first time we’ve visited since.

After lunch, we took Scully on a walk, and then drove over to our friends’ place for afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea games

Their updated house looked good! No structural work, but they had a complete kitchen renovation, new carpets, the wooden floorboards in the kitchen and dining rooms had been sanded and polished and looked brand new, new paint throughout, and a bunch of new fittings like built-in wardrobes, insect screens, a new back door with doggy door for their dog, and so on.

We chatted for a bit and had some crackers and cheese, and then we played a couple of games. We started with Taluva, which I don’t think I’ve seen before. It’s a really clever tile-laying game, with tiles consisting of three adjoined hexes in a triangular shape. Each hex contains a volcano or one of a few different types of terrain. One your turn you draw a random tile, lay it on the expanding map, and then place one or more buildings according to some simple rules. The goal is to place more buildings than your opponents, and there’s priority for more difficult buildings, with temples outranking towers, outranking huts. The rules are very simple, but it has a lot of strategy to it and we really enjoyed it. My wife enjoyed it maybe more because she won!

Then we played Love Letter, which I’ve played before but my wife hadn’t. This is a simple game, but unpredictable and sometimes hilarious in the situations that can come up. My friend one this one.

We got back home about 6:30 pm and I made omelettes for dinner with the fresh zucchini flowers that my wife had also bought at this morning’s market. A busy but fun couple of days!

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Pre-travel scramble

I missed my update yesterday because I had my evening teaching class at the university – the last class for image processing this semester. The students are on the final stretch of their assessment tasks and will be submitting their reports and videos on Friday. Normally I’d then have to mark a bunch of them, but this time I’m flying out to Europe on Saturday, so the marking will be done by all the other tutors. When I got home from the class I was too tired to type up a blog post, so I’m catching up tonight.

My day yesterday was mostly working on writing and making new Darths & Droids strips to fill the buffer while Im overseas. I still have to do at least one more strip, and that will be a task for tomorrow. Today I worked on this week’s ethics class lesson plans: Shrinking and Enlarging for the younger kids, and Revolutions for the older ones.

This morning I walked with my wife and Scully down to her work, where we sat at a cafe and had a special morning snack together. This was our wedding anniversary special event, because that’s today! But we didn’t have time for anything else. I considered surprising my wife with a picnic lunch, but I told her and she said it was good that I didn’t as she had a work meeting at lunch time today. And we couldn’t do anything special for dinner tonight because of my ethics classes. So we had to take the opportunity for something in the morning. I had an almond croissant which is one of my favourite types of pastry.

And, well, there’s not really much more to say. It’s all just a bit of a rush to get through things prior to leaving on our trip on Saturday.

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Turkeys, turkeys, everywhere

Around where we live it’s easy to find Australian brushturkeys. Here’s a photo I took of one a while back:

Australian brushturkey

They’re big birds, and have become more and more common in this area over the years. They scrape for food in leaf litter, and this time of year they build large mounds of litter and mulch to incubate their eggs, using the warmth of the decaying mulch rather than sitting on the eggs. So they move around a lot of leaf litter. And this year in particular I’ve been noticing that a lot of the footpaths we walk on around the neighbourhood are constantly being covered in a layer of leaf litter, sometimes so thick that you almost have to wade through it. While the adjacent garden beds are scraped clear of mulch and have large patches of bare soil.

There’s been a bit of this in previous years but this year it’s particularly bad. I’m guessing a lot of residents are constantly scraping or sweeping mulch back into the gardens and off the footpaths, or maybe their are council workers going around and doing it. I’m starting to wonder how much of this the gardens can take before the birds become real pests and start having an adverse effect on plants. Being native birds they’re a protected species, so there’s nothing anyone can do about them, legally.

In other news today, I received my Kickstarter copy of Dungeon Crawl Classics #100: The Music of the Spheres is Chaos. This is a wacky dungeon adventure with some cool bonus stuff because it’s the 100th adventure in Goodman Games’s series. Should be fun!

And tonight was another project tutorial session at the university for the image processing course. For dinner beforehand I tried a new burger and wings place. I had the chicken burger with peri-peri sauce, which came with a side of chips. It was pretty good! I’d go back here again some other time. Though not this semester since I’m still trying to eat somewhere different and new every week.

And after the project session with the students, the professor, who’s an old colleague from the previous jobs we did together at Canon, asked me if I wanted to fill in for him in teaching the next 18 months worth of his courses, as he has an offer to do some outsourced research work which will take up all his teaching time. This means I’d be organising the courses and giving the lectures for the courses – which involves some time commitment, but also extra income. And it’s a great opportunity to do some more university level teaching. So I’m very interested! I just need to see how many hours a week of work will be required, and fit that into my current Outschool schedule.

So this is pretty big news, and I’m a bit excited!

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More marking; and Success and Failure

I finished off my marking for the image processing course today. As in previous semesters, this was followed by a tedious hour or so of pasting all the marks and comments into the university online interface – 10 separate entries for each of the 54 students I’d been assigned. I was very glad once I got that finished!

This evening I had the first three classes on my new ethics topic: Success and Failure. I think they went pretty well. This topic has less of me talking and more questions for the students to answer than the previous one I did on Dinosaurs, so it feels a lot more interactive, which is good.

This afternoon I read an article on the ABC News site about pears falling out of favour with Australian consumers relative to other fruits, with the result that a lot of pear farmers are finding the crop to be no longer commercially viable, and are removing pear orchards. This prompted two things:

Firstly, a conversation on with my friends on Discord in which two of them revealed that they never realised that pears are sold in supermarkets in an unripe state and that they ripen and soften over several days in the home. Both of them said they never thought much of pears, as they were too hard, crunchy, and bland compared to apples. I was amazed that they’d apparently never experienced the fact that pears soften considerably as they ripen, nor had the pleasure of eating a nicely ripe pear.

Secondly, I resolved to go out and buy some pears! When I went out with Scully for a walk after lunch I popped into the local grocery store and grabbed four nice Packham pears. Which are very firm now, but will ripen and soften nicely in the next few days. And one of my pear-incredulous friends also went out and bought himself some pears today as well, to experiment and try to experience this phenomenon of ripe pears himself.

I don’t know if it’ll be enough to convince the farmers to keep growing pears, but I certainly hope they don’t end up disappearing from our supermarket fruit sections.

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