Data presentation for beginners

Monday, and the weather was a lot cooler, with a few showers. I had three ethics classes, and then had to head off to the university for this weeks’s Data Engineering lecture. This is one of my favourites in the course, as it’s a lecture I designed about data presentation. It goes into formatting tables, and producing graphs, in ways that are clear and informative, without being confusing or deceptive. It sounds simple, but there’s quite a lot of subtlety to the topic, and the presentation plus the illustrative tutorial exercises for the students to complete fills up over 2.5 hours.

Afterwards I headed home and had to decide to either quickly make a new Irregular Webcomic! strip for tonight, or to abandon the week and just do reruns this week. I ran out of buffer last week and haven’t had time to make a new batch of comics. I decided not to stress myself out, and to give myself a break and hopefully I’ll have time to make a full batch by next Monday.

I made sure I didn’t repeat last week’s mistake and end up not having lunch until 2pm, but having my lunch during a break at at 11:30, before my final ethics class at midday. This meant I wanted a snack during the university lecture, so I grabbed a pack of choc-mint biscuits from the supermarket before I went in. Mmmm….

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Back to Data Engineering

I was back at the university today for the 4th lecture in the Data Engineering course I’m tutoring for. I missed last week due to my wife’s illness, but today it was back to it. First I had three ethics classes. Last week I had these at 10:00, 11:00, and 13:00, but today they were all an hour earlier. This is due to the fact that it’s mostly American kids enrolled in these early classes – as it’s afternoon/evening over there – and the USA went onto daylight saving on Sunday. So to keep the time the same for the kids, I had to shift all the classes an hour earlier. I have the same thing with other classes on Thursday and Friday morning. But all the evening classes don’t move, as no American kids are in those (they’re fast asleep).

After my last class at 12:00, I had time to have a shower and then walk Scully up to my wife’s work to drop her off there, before hopping onto a train. I intended to buy some pies for a slightly late lunch on the walk, but there’s some construction work taking place on the route, and they’d blocked off the pedestrian path that I normally take and I had to take a long detour around a large block, which took me well away from the pie shop. So I just continued walking and then grabbed some lunch after dropping Scully off. I got some Thai yellow curry from a place by the station and ate it on the train on the way into the city.

(Yes, you can eat food on the trains here in Sydney. It’s allowed and moderately common to see people sitting on a train and eating a snack or a take-away meal. It took me many years to realise this is not actually common in most cities around the world. It still seems odd to me to go onto a train in another city/country and see signs indicating that eating is prohibited.)

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Back to Monday classes

Not too much to say about today. With the ISO meeting of last week done, I was back to three ethics classes around midday. I had an hour break form 12 to 1 and took Scully for a walk to the fish & chip shop and grabbed lunch, which I ate while walking on the way back, so I was ready for the next class at 1. When that finished, I quickly grabbed my stuff and took Scully up to a nearby station where my wife played tag team and took her to work for the afternoon while I caught the train into the university for this afternoon’s Data Engineering lecture and tutorial.

I got home around 6pm and cooked okonomiyaki for dinner. And then we just finished watching the end of season 4 of Stranger Things, for the second run through all the seasons. It was good watching it all a second time – there were links between the seasons that I hadn’t picked up before because of the long intervals between watching them.

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Extra busy Sunday teaching

Today I had extra work to do for an additional class to my normal 3 Sunday evening classes. The girl who I’ve been doing sporadic one-on-one science lessons for the past couple of years had a final lesson tonight. Her mother contacted me to say this will be her last science lesson for a while as she is now busy attending school and various other activities. I asked if there was any particular topic in science or photography, and she said her daughter was very keen on photography. So I prepared a lesson explaining some of the science behind photography, as well as a bit of the art of it as well. And it went very well! I could tell she was absorbing the info about shutter speed, aperture, exposure, and so on. I said that SLRs had controls for these settings so you could choose them manually, but phone cameras by default don’t – though you can get apps that give you manual control. And immediately she asked me what apps, and was excited to download one and try it out after the class.

My day was busy preparing for this and then running all the classes. So I didn’t do much else.

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ISO meeting day 1, and a new semester of Data Engineering

Last night when I wrote my blog entry, I thought I’d be getting up at 06:30 to start the day with the ISO Photography Standards meeting at 07:00. It’s in Tokyo, and that’s 2 hours different in time zone to Sydney… however just before bed I suddenly realised I’d done the time conversion wrong! The 9am start in Tokyo was actually 11am in Sydney not 7am!

This meant two things: (1) I didn’t have to get up so early and rush through breakfast. (2) With the finishing time also 4 hours later than I’d thought, the meeting now ended at 7pm, rather than 3pm. But the Data Engineering course I am teaching started at 3pm, in at the university. I’d planned to miss just the last hour of the ISO meeting and head in on the train at 2pm. But now that meant I’d be missing the last five hours of the ISO meeting!

Ugh… this was a bit of a mess, but there’s nothing I could do about it. I joined the ISO meeting at 11:00 and had to make apologies that I’d be leaving after just 3 hours. I was there for the opening administrative session, but missed most of the technical discussion sessions in the afternoon. It’s a shame, but couldn’t be helped.

Today was the very first day of the university semester. The class began at 3pm, and I noticed the students all sat clustered very close together in the large lecture room. And 5 minutes before the starting time, before the lecturer had even said anything, a deathly hush fell over the room as they all waited for the lecture to being. This is a first year course, so today was the first day of university for all of these students. And the lecturer said it was quite possibly the very first university lecture for many of them. Ah, that initial naiveté! It’ll wear off quickly, probably.

The lecture was good and the students were all listening and concentrating. It was introductory material for the course, the assessment methods, a demo of the Matlab software package which we’ll be using during the course, and the material I wrote on ethics of data science for last year’s course revamp. We finished a little early. One disadvantage of the course running 3-6pm is that it ends in peak hour, so the trains heading home are crowded. So I sat with the lecturer for a bit and we caught up on news since we’d last seen each other at the end of last year’s Image Processing course, before we headed for the trains.

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Game design lesson 2

Today I got my contract for the new semester of tutoring at the University of Technology Sydney. This is the same Data Engineering course that I did last year, and helped the lecturer to redesign. He’s running it again unchanged this year after positive student feedback. It starts on Monday next week. When I started this tutoring job a couple of years ago, I had to print out my contract, sign it, scan it, and email it back in. Then last year I did digital signatures, pasting in a graphic of my signature to the PDF. This year they’ve enabled online contract signing, and all I had to do was click through a few “agree” buttons.

This morning I had the first older students’ ethics class with this week’s new topic: Debt. There was a new student, taking the class up to the maximum of 4, which meant we didn’t get through even nearly all of the material I’d prepared. There was a lot of discussion and it was really good. At one point when one boy was answering a question, I heard someone else interject a different opinion, but I didn’t recognise who it was, so I asked, “Who was that?” And the boy talking said it was his mother! She was in the room with him and overhearing the lesson and felt she needed to add something!

The other thing I did today was the second lesson of the game design class with the girl who started last week. It was supposed to be yesterday, but she didn’t show up, and when I contacted the mother about it, she was very apologetic and agreed to do a make-up class today (which I’d suggested). So the girl appeared and we did the lesson on brainstorming. It was really good, with one exercise asking her to name as many uses as she could for a handful of mud in one minute. She came up with 4 or 5. Then I explained how to brainstorm and free your brain up to come up with ideas, and had her try again, and she came up with 30 or so! I was typing them out because she’d broken her hand and couldn’t write, and I couldn’t keep up, she was saying them so fast. So that was a success.

For lunch today I walked with Scully up to the station and the little cafe there where I tried the satay chicken skewers a few weeks ago. This time I tried the beef rendang. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good as the satay… I don’t think I’d have it again. But I’m still to try some of the other dishes.

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Creative game design request

Today I had a new enrolment in my ongoing Critical & Ethical Thinking class, and the mother also contacted me to request that I schedule my 6-week Creative Thinking & Problem Solving class so that her daughter could do that one too. Cool! I’ve written back to ask what time zone they are in and what their preferences are for a lesson time. I’ve got a reply saying they’re in the US Pacific time zone, which works reasonably well for me, because their preferred early evening hours are late morning for me. So I’ll decide some possible days when I can do it and get back to them, and then schedule the course probably starting around the beginning of February. Hopefully I can get someone else enrolling, because it’s better with more than one student.

Today I worked on lesson plans for two weeks hence: on the topics of “Lying” for ages 10-12, and “The Meaning of Life” for ages 13-15. I managed to complete both of them, helped by the fact that Lying is a refresh of one of the first topics I did back in 2021, which none of my current students have done.

At lunch we all went on a walk to Cammeray and the Italian bakery, where I grabbed a pizza slice for lunch, and a Napoli biscuit for dessert tonight. It was warm and sunny, but not too hot. We still haven’t had a day reach 30°C in Sydney this summer, so the unusually cool summer continues.

Oh, I also spent some time explaining to my wife the current kerfuffle with Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons, and the Open Gaming Licence. Since she was asking me what I was spending so much time chatting with my friends about. (Actually, this might have been yesterday… my weekend kind of got mashed together a bit…)

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Last classes for the year

Today I had my last four online ethics classes for the year. I’m taking three weeks break over Christmas, and will restart classes on 2 January. Some of the kids actually seemed a bit upset at missing the next three weeks, which was kind of sweet.

I also got news on next year’s schedule for the Data Engineering and Image Processing courses that I’ve been tutoring for the university. Both are changing next year: Data Engineering will be Monday like this year, but moving from a 6-9pm class to 3-6pm. And Image Processing in the second semester will be staying at 6-9pm, but moving from Thursdays to Tuesdays. Both of these changes will mean shifting some of my ethics classes. I currently have one at 4pm Monday which will need to change in first semester. But the bigger issue is the Tuesday evening, when I currently have three classes, that will need to move from August. Hopefully it won’t be too hard for the kids to move to a different day, and I have plenty of time to organise it.

There was a nasty storm today just before lunch time – actually during one of my classes. Fortunately I’d seen it approaching on the weather radar and had already closed the windows, because it was nasty when it hit. Absolutely torrential rain, and really strong winds – for about ten minutes, and then it basically stopped. The storm was the lead article on the evening news, as it had caused significant damage across Sydney, ripping roofs off some buildings and knocking some trees down. Within an hour later it was sunny again.

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The last face-to-face ethics class

Wednesday morning is when I have had my face-to-face ethics class, every school week for the past 6 years, apart from when it was interrupted by COVID lockdowns. Today was the last ethics class of this school year, and I have decided not to return to the classroom next year.

I still enjoy it, but I wanted to regain some time in my week, and I wanted to go out with a good class. I felt like if I did another year it would be my last and I don’t want to come back next year and end up with a class of kids that are not as engaged and have worse behaviour than the group I had this year. Essentially, I’m going out on a high. I informed the ethics coordinator for the school about my decision a few weeks ago. They’ll miss me, obviously, but hopefully they’ll train new teachers and will have a full set of classes running again next year.

I taught the special “end of year” class for the kids this morning, in which we reflect on what we’ve done during the year, and the kids answer questions about what topics they enjoyed the most and why, and if they felt they have grown and changed during the year. They’ll all be going on to Year 7 and high school next year – the biggest change in their school careers. And… today is almost certainly the last day I will ever see any of them again. At the end of the class I wished them the best for their high school years and beyond. Every year I’ve felt a bit sad internally at this point, but the kids seem to take it in their stride. There are some really clever and mature kids in this class and I think they’ll do well. If I’ve made some positive difference to their lives, then that’s all I can ask for.

After the class there was a meeting of ethics volunteers at a cafe near the school. I saw the coordinator there, and she thanked me for my years of volunteering. She had a large envelope for me, which contained a certificate of appreciation for having taught 5+ years, and a pin with the same award written on it. I met a new guy who has just completed his volunteer training and will be starting next year, although he won’t be taking my Year 6 position – he wants to teach Year 1 (since his son is in that year).

After a bit we went back over to the school, which was putting on a special morning tea in the staff room for all the volunteer workers – the ethics and scripture teachers, as well as people who staff the school canteen and uniform shop and probably a couple of other volunteer positions. The principal gave a speech of thanks to us all, and there were finger foods and drinks. I filled up on some things (I’ve never gotten out of the habit from when I was a poor university student of taking advantage of free feeds), and that did me for lunch.

I got into a conversation with an older lady, who asked me what volunteer work I did. When I told her I taught ethics, she asked me about it, and was very interested as I explained how the classes work. The she said she wondered if she could do it, it sounded more interesting than making sandwiches in the canteen. So I introduced her to the ethics coordinator and said we might have a new volunteer! They exchanged contact details and so hopefully I managed to recruit my own replacement for next year. She seemed genuinely interested, so I hope she does the training and it works out.

Back home around lunch time, I did a walk with my wife and Scully, before going out for a 2.5k run myself, and finally preparing dinner before three online ethics classes in a row. It feels like a full and busy day!

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Explaining the weather

It rained heavily overnight, but had cleared by morning. It was a warm, sunny day, but there was a chilly breeze coming in off the harbour, which we noticed during a lunch time walk with Scully around the Greenwich peninsula, which involved walking along the water in many places.

At home I upgraded my Mac to MacOS Ventura. I’d been putting this off because I didn’t want to do it on a day where I had Zoom classes, lest something go wrong. Some past upgrades have taken a couple of hours or so, so I set it up to begin before we went for our lunch walk. But it was pretty quick, and done in about 20 minutes with no dramas, and the computer was ready even before we left for the walk.

Much of the day I spent working on my lesson on weather for tomorrow’s science class. I found a really cool diagram showing different cloud types on Wikimedia Commons, which I felt compelled to share here:

Cloud Atlas of cloud types

It’s available there in much higher resolutions, so click through if you want to see it in detail.

In cooktop news: I made roast vegetables for dinner tonight. I prepared the potatoes (regular and sweet) by parboiling them first with a pinch of baking soda, to roughen up the surface so they absorb the oil and bake nice and crispy. After ten minutes, I wondered why the water wasn’t boiling, only to discover that the gas had been one the whole time without being lit.

This is a very rare occurrence – I can probably count on the fingers of one hand how often I’ve done this in over 20 years of living here, but it was annoying and a bit worrying. One problem is that I can’t smell gas leaks. The ethyl mercaptan that they put in the gas specifically so that people can smell leaks happens to be a chemical that some significant fraction of people are genetically incapable of smelling, and I happen to be one of them. Anyway, the kitchen window was wide open, and I turned on the rangehood as soon as I realised what had happened, and no harm done. But, add another reason on the side of converting to induction cooking.

Oh, another thing I completed today was converting my travel diary from our road trip to Orange back in September into HTML format and uploading it to my website. I added a map of the route and the distances driven (recorded from the car odometer), and you can see the result here. I still need to insert photos to illustrate it… which I’ll get to at some point.

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