A new science start

Today I worked on my lesson for the next week of online ethics classes. It’s about the ethics of superheroes. It covers the obvious questions of vigilantism (Batman) and whether normal humans should fear supers (X-Men), and some things such as whether heroes have a duty to protect people (Spider-Man), and who should pay for the damage a super-battle causes. It should be a fun class!

First thing in the morning though I photographed a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. That took the whole morning, up until lunch, so I worked on the superheroes thing in the afternoon.

This evening I had my first one-on-one science lesson with the girl from one of my ethics classes. Her first question was how plastics are made – which she wanted to know about because she wanted to understand why plastics are so bad for the environment. I wanted to lay some good foundations, so I started by introducing atoms, which she’d heard of but didn’t know a lot about. That led to compounds and polymers and the chemical process of polymerisation. She asked a few questions and we explored the properties of various different polymers and the reason why they don’t break down in the environment.

That took about 2/3 of the time, and then we shifted gears as she asked how stars formed! Fortunately I know a lot about that, and it was also a good chance to reinforce the importance of atoms to understanding pretty much anything at the fundamental level. Throughout the class I drew diagrams on my iPad, in the shared window on Zoom so she could see it in real time, using Sidecar (that I discovered the other day). That worked really well. And after the class I bundled all the drawings I did into a PDF and uploaded it to Outschool for her to download.

It was a really good class, I thought, and she seemed to really enjoy it. So I’m hopeful to continue this course for some time.

New content today:

More course planning!

So the other thing that happened yesterday was the parent of a girl in one of my online ethics classes wrote to tell me that her daughter would have to unenrol due to scheduling conflicts, but she enjoyed the classes and would rejoin later when her schedule opened up again. I taught one last class with her in it, and I said I’d miss her and looked forward to seeing her again when she had free time. She’s a good kid and a pleasure to teach.

Then just ten minutes after the class ended, the mother sent me a message saying her daughter really wanted to keep doing my class, and could she go on a waiting list for either of the later classes on the same day (I have two, but both currently full). I wrote back and said Outschool didn’t have a waiting list function, but I could keep an eye out and let her know if a spot opened up.

Then she wrote back and said her daughter really, really wanted to stay in the class, and she would be staying in the current timeslot and they’d just juggle their schedule around it until a spot opened up at a later time. Okay, wow! It’s nice to have a child so enjoy one of my classes that it generates this sort of reaction. The mother also said that her daughter struggled a bit with more academic subjects and liked my class because it was conversational and boosted her confidence.

I thought about this for a bit and had an idea. I asked the mother if she would be interested in a one-on-one class for her daughter to teach her science, in a way tailored to her learning style – as a conversation in which I’d present material and then she can ask me questions about any aspect of it, filling in her own knowledge gaps until she understands the concepts. The mother leapt at this and thought it sounded wonderful! We’ve been negotiating a bit and today I drew up a new course plan on Outschool for this 1-1 class, in this style. She needs to take a look at it now and get back to me with any comments, and then if she’s happy with it, we can hopefully find a good timeslot to start work.

I did have plans to do other things today, but I wanted to get this done right away. The opportunity to contribute in such a large and meaningful way to a child’s education is just too much to pass up.

New content today:

Revamping courses

Today was a very full day of teaching-related activities. I began though with another 2.5 km run for exercise. I did one yesterday too, though neglected to mention it then. I have a poor attitude to exercise, and end up doing it in bursts for a few weeks and then neglecting it for several weeks. Well, I suppose it’s better than never doing any at all.

At 10am I had a Zoom meeting with the lecturer of the image processing course that I’m tutoring at the University of Technology, Sydney. He contacted me yesterday to see if I was interested in helping him revamp another course, one on data engineering, that he will be teaching in first semester next year. He inherited it from another lecturer, and wants to update and rearrange it in time for next year. He’s been reading this blog (hi Stuart!) and knew I was creating course material for Outschool, so had the idea of asking me to assist, as his own schedule is very busy.

This sounded like a great opportunity for me, and something I feel confident doing, so I said yes. Today’s Zoom was to introduce me to the current course outline, and a rough overview of what we want to do to update it. It’s going to be a fair chunk of work, but I’ll be paid a good hourly rate, and it will help set em up for further potential work at the university.

After that, I spent the middle of the day writing class notes for the new week of online ethics classes. This week the topic is apologies, and I’m asking the kids questions like: Why do we apologise? What makes an apology good, or bad? What would society be like if nobody every apologised?

And then from 5-8pm I ran three classes with this topic. It worked really well and generated a lot of interesting discussion between the students, so I consider that a success.

New content today:

Bayesian probabilities and immortality ethics

Tonight I’ve been teaching today’s tutorial exercises in the university image processing course that I’m tutoring. Tonight’s topic is about classifiers, which are built on a heavy foundation of probability theory. So the lecture was mostly on probability statistics, including applications of Bayes’ Theorem to building classifier models – essentially numerical estimators that assign probabilities to different classes (or categories), depending on measurements made of some sample. The context in image processing is that you measure some statistics of an image, and then assign probabilities that the image shows certain objects. It’s all a bit abstract at this level, but hopefully things will crystallise for the students in next week’s lecture.

I finished off the ethics topic for the week, on immortality, this morning. For historical reasons my topic week starts on Wednesday and runs to the following Monday. Having taught it to 24 students in the past 6 days, I found it interesting that almost all of them generally thought that the idea of developing treatments to let people live much longer lives – say 100 or even 1000 years – was a really bad idea. Most were very concerned about population problems if people didn’t die, and mentioned consequences such as crowding of housing, not enough food, wars, and destruction of the environment.

Only two or three of the kids thought that society could adapt and thrive if everyone lived to 1000 years old – everyone else thought it would be a complete disaster. But when I prompted them to think of good things that might come out of everyone living long lifespans, they came up with good insights. People could learn a lot more, and individuals could invent more new things and make more scientific breakthroughs than any individual who might only live to 80 or so, resulting faster scientific/technological advancement. And if people lived a lot longer – they would be more concerned about keeping the environment liveable, so would make stronger efforts to look after the Earth.

I mentioned that researchers are working on anti-ageing treatments, and some think that a breakthrough will be made soon enough that some people alive now could live to 1000 years. When I said that such treatments would probably be expensive, at least at first, so only rich people could have them – wow, the kids mostly thought that was so unfair that it should just be banned. Only a couple thought that it would be okay to let people use such treatments. The naysayers were worried about wealthy people living long lives and dominating the world, getting into positions of power, and holding on to them for centuries, making the divisions between rich and poor much worse. And even when I suggested the treatments would become cheaper so that everyone could have them, most of the kids thought they should be banned, and nobody should be allowed to have them, because of how disastrous it would be.

I wonder if it says anything about the world today that kids of this age (10-12) are cynical enough to consider that we can’t handle longer lifespans without completely messing up society and destroying civilisation.

New content today:

New Creative Thinking course!

I’m excited today because I finished the write-up of my planned new creative thinking course and submitted it to Outschool for approval, and they approved it within an hour. So I can now present:

Creative Thinking & Problem Solving – Let’s Design a Game.

You can read the full description of the course there. And if you have or know kids 11-13 years old who might enjoy it, or parents who might be interested in enrolling their kids, please let them know! The first class will kick off on Sunday 19 September. It’s at a good time for Asia and Europe, but the Americas. If you’re in the Americas and interested, let me know and I can schedule another class at a different time.

This course kind of complements my Critical & Ethical Thinking course, which I’ll also link for completeness. That class is going really well – I now have ten different sessions at different times and days of the week, all running in parallel, and have taught 60 students since I began the course in May.

In other good news, I got my first pay from the University of Technology, Sydney, for the tutoring work I’ve been doing on the image processing course. It’s always good seeing that first deposit show up in your bank account, because it means I wrote my details down correctly on the HR forms!

New content today:

Brainstorming a new thinking course

I’m operating on very little sleep today. Scully woke up about 2 am, retching, and I heard it and jumped up to get her to a relatively easy to clean spot before she vomited. After cleaning up, I tried to go back to sleep, but Scully had another bout of retching, although this time nothing more came out. Then she wanted to go outside, so I had to get dressed and take her out to the grass. I waited quite a while in the cold winter night while she chewed on some grass. I thought she might toilet, but she didn’t, and eventually I coaxed her to come back inside.

A bit later, before I’d fallen asleep again, she started retching again, bringing up a few blades of grass. She continued being restless and attracting attention, including wanting to go outside again about 5 am. So I got to see a bit of the sunrise, though I never got back to sleep again. Scully refused to eat any breakfast, and spent most of the day refusing to eat and acting lethargic.

Thankfully by this evening she’s perked up again and she ate her dinner with gusto, so whatever had her tummy upset seems to have passed without further incident. Hopefully she’ll sleep through tonight and we can catch up on sleep.

For lunch today I walked over to the fish & chip shop with Scully, then took my meal out to the lookout over the harbour. The lookout spot is usually empty, but this time there were a few other people sitting there. I grabbed spot on the terrace at the stop of the slope, with the others on the seats behind me. There were two ladies there, I estimate around 70-ish. I overheard some of their conversation:

Lady 1: Do you want to go see Spider-Man: No Way Home?
Lady 2: I forget what happened in the last one. Was that the Spider-Verse?
Lady 1: No, that’s a different story. In this one Spider-Man saved the world but revealed his secret identity, and now everyone blames him for what happened. So in this new movie he goes to find Dr Strange to reverse people’s memories.
Lady 2: Oh, sounds good. I liked Idris Elba – he was the one with the eye patch?
Lady 1: No, that was Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

This afternoon I worked on a course outline for my planned Outschool course on creative thinking. After giving it some thought and hacking around with the structure, I’ve written a full description for all 6 classes in the planned 6-week course. I’ve run it past some friends, and it’s almost ready to go. The last step is to make a graphic, and then I can put the whole thing up on Outschool for approval as a new course. Not sure if I’ll get to that tomorrow, as I still have to write this week’s new ethics class notes.

New content today:

Kicking off machine learning

Monday… The final ethics class on the topic of fairness in sports. Tomorrow I write up the notes for the next week of classes. I’m up to doing 10 classes a week now! I also need to get working on that course outline for creative thinking and problem solving.

This evening I am tutoring the first lecture on machine learning for my image processing course. It’s quite introductory, with just an overview of machine learning, very light on the guts of how it works. The technical part is mostly all on probability distributions, which is the fundamental maths required to understand how machine learning works. It’s very different to courses that I’m used to. It doesn’t delve down far enough to understand how everything works in enough detail to implement it from scratch. Which I grant is appropriate for the audience, engineering and business students doing one course in image processing to get some idea how it works, rather than people destined for a career in image processing who need to understand it a very fundamental level.

New content today:

More experimental baking

I had more leftover sourdough starter today, so I decided to try making some sourdough focaccia using it, plus a bit of yeast to get it to rise. (Sourdough rises when the starter is fresh, but not if the starter has been left over and sitting for a few days.)

It turned out pretty well!

Sourdough focaccia

I think I baked it a little too long, and next time I won’t use the base heat setting in the oven, as it made the base very crisp and close to burnt. But otherwise it was really good. For dinner I made a simple tomato and chilli sauce with pasta, and we have that with the focaccia and some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in. A very simple and rustic Italian meal, but delicious.

In other news, Scully had her groom today, and now she’s all fuzzy and velvety with short hair again. I didn’t get a photo to compare with yesterday, but maybe I will tomorrow.

I spent the afternoon working through the exercises for Monday’s next lecture in the image processing course I’m tutoring. We’ve finished the basic image processing stuff and are moving on to machine learning for pattern recognition. I have a very high level knowledge of machine learning, but have never dealt with the nitty gritty aspects of it in detail before, so this part of the course will be more challenging for me. This first lecture is really an introduction to machine learning, and most of the actual work is on probability distributions, which I have more familiarity with. So the work wasn’t too difficult, although I had to struggle with Matlab’s weird syntax issues for a while before getting something to work.

I’ve also started work on a new course for Outschool, to complement the ongoing classes on critical and ethical thinking. This new one will be a fixed length course of about 6 weeks, on creative thinking and problem solving. I plan to teach the kids how to think about problems and come up with creative solutions to them. And as an example context, I thought that over the six-week course we could work on a specific creative problem: designing a simple board game! The goal would be to have a completed, playable game at the end, invented by the kids, with my guidance. I think this should work well as a course, and I have ideas for all the stages. Just need to write it up and then submit the course for approval.

New content today:

Not so warm, expecting rain

Monday… it was supposed to be warm today, but it didn’t quite reach the heat forecast yesterday. It clouded over early, and has been threatening rain most of the day, but with very little actual rain. That should change later this evening and into tomorrow, because the forecast for tomorrow is 45-90 mm of rain! There’s also supposed to be some moderately strong winds. So it should be interesting…

I spent time today working on some comics stuff. And then this evening was the 4th lecture in the image processing course which I am tutoring. It was good that I worked through the exercises on Sunday, because this week a lot of students needed help. It was a tough one fo them to transfer the theory from the lecture into the practical understanding and code needed to answer the exercise questions. So I had to bounce around in a lot of different teams on MS Teams, answering a lot of questions, and giving the students pointers to how to get started. I really earned my pay tonight!

New content today:

Corners and features

COVID update: 830 new cases in NSW, another new record. Australia has never had case numbers this high. This right now is the worst part of the whole pandemic for Australia, and it’s only going to get worse for the next few weeks. But enough on that for today.

Yesterday morning for breakfast I made sourdough pancakes:

Sourdough pancakes with macerated strawberries

I’ve been making sourdough bread every few days as needed, and in between keeping the starter in the fridge. But my friend who got me started on sourdough says he keeps his starter out at room temperature, and feeds it every 2 days, and so generates some excess starter, which he then keeps in the fridge until he uses it for some other thing… such as sourdough pancakes! The other thing to know is that his bread constantly turns out very airy, with large air bubbles, while mine is always very dense, with only tiny air bubbles. So I wanted to try to emulate what he’s doing a bit more to see if I can get my bread to rise more. The result was I ended up with leftover starter at the end of the week, so I tried sourdough pancakes for the first time. And they turned out really good!

The other feature here is the strawberries. There is currently a huge oversupply of strawberries in Sydney, apparently caused by the COVID lockdown. Everybody is buying groceries online (either for delivery or “click & collect” pickup), rather than browsing around in the supermarkets. And apparently strawberries are primarily an impulse buy – not something that people add to their baskets when doing grocery shopping online. So nobody’s buying strawberries. And so the price has crashed… I picked up three punnets for what I would normally pay for just one. I might get more this week if the price is still low.

Today I worked on getting up to speed with the next lecture in the image processing course I’m tutoring on Monday evenings. Lecture 4 is on feature detection in images, primarily Harris corners and SIFT features. While I know about these things and had a basic understanding of them in my time at my previous job, I’d never fully internalised exactly how they work, at least not to the point where I could remember the details. So I had to do some reading up and make sure I understand the basic principles and how to implement them. And then I tackled the tutorial questions for the week, writing some Matlab code so that I have a ready-made solution which I can explain as necessary to students who need guidance at various stages. It took me well more than the hour that the students have assigned to this task!

After finishing that, I worked on assembling comics in time for Monday. I’m cutting this batch pretty close to the bone – I’ve been so busy with stuff lately that I couldn’t get to it earlier to ensure a comfortable buffer.

The other thing of note today was the weather. It was warm. Sydney recorded 25.4°C, up to 28.6°C in some suburbs. It was also very smoky, with hazard reduction burns being carried out in several forest areas around the city outskirts. The northerly wind blew this into the city, and where I live it varied between barely noticeable to strong smoke smell and dull orange sunlight throughout the day. The forecast for tomorrow is even warmer, up to 27°C in the city.

And it’s still winter. We’re starting to wonder what this summer is going to be like.

New content today: