Getting things done

This morning I thought I wanted to get another 5k run done, because I’ll have limited opportunity for the rest of the week, due to having an ISO Photography Standards meeting. It’s an online meeting, from 8:00 to 11:30 every morning in my time zone. I don’t really have time to do it before, if you include having breakfast and cooling down and probably having a shower to be comfortable for the meeting, and the afternoon is not a great option in our summer, and evenings are usually busy with other stuff. (I don’t think I’ve ever done a run in the evening.)

But this morning I also had to get some blood drawn for a cholesterol test, after fasting, so I couldn’t have breakfast before. So I wanted to get that done as soon as the pathology lab opened, and then go home and have breakfast… and by the time I was ready to go run it was approaching 10 o’clock. But fortunately it’s very cool today, with overcast skies keeping the sun out. So I got ready and went for the run.

I wanted to see if I could break 30 minutes for the 5k on the street route I’ve worked out, which is about as flat as I can find in this area. But it’s still a bit hilly, with an elevation gain of 87 metres over the 5k. I started hard, but when I hit the uphill sections about halfway through I thought maybe I’d gone too hard and would run out of steam before finishing. But I pushed through and managed to complete the 5k in 28:39! Much better than I’d hoped for.

Energised, I got stuck into writing a lesson outline for my planned initial class on Outschool: Human Vision and Colour Perception. I wrote out a list of bullet points of topics to cover. Then I made a list of diagrams and illustrations that I want to have. Many of these I could find on the Internet – however Outschool insists (justifiably) that you have legal rights to use any images you present in your classes. Which rules out most of what you can find – doubly so for scientific diagrams. There are a many good diagrams, but all covered by copyright, or which need to be purchased, or which are at least Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike, which is no good because I can’t easily include correct attribution in class materials and don’t necessarily want to release my material under the same licence.

So I’ve decided I need to draw the diagrams myself. So I have a list of diagrams, and now I need to sit down and draw them all. I did manage to get one done today, after fiddling with a couple of different drawing apps on my iPad. I’ll get stuck into the rest tomorrow.

I also had a combination of thoughts prompted by two things:

1. Earlier today I saw a question on AskReddit:

To those who think to themselves, “I should do this today,” and then end up doing it: is it possible to learn this power?

With several answers along the lines of: “When you think you should do something, just get up and do it, don’t put it off.”

2. I was thinking I really need to watch more of Neon Genesis Evangelion to get through all of the series, but how the heck am I going to find the time to do that…?

This made me realise that watching TV is one of the things that I procrastinate and never manage to get done. I always have too many other things that I want to do, so much so that I often end up thinking “I should watch some TV” and then never get around to it.

So maybe in order for me to achieve this goal, I need to stop putting off watching TV and just sit on my arse and DO IT.

New content today:

More running – 5k on the streets

After yesterday’s 2.5k run, I felt inspired to go out again today. I was all ready to go after breakfast, but when I got out the front door it was starting to rain. A quick look at the radar told me it was going to get heavier, so I called it off.

But after lunch the rain had stopped and the clouds looked lighter, so I ventured out. This time I tried to find another flattish route different to what I did yesterday. I walked up the nearest steep hill to the top of the ridge, and from there ran along the road that follows the ridge down to the harbour. This way I avoided most of the constant up and down climbing into and out of valleys. Of course heading downhill meant most of the back half was uphill, but thankfully the slopes weren’t too huge today.

By the time I got to the end of the ridge, down near the water, I’d covered 2.25 km. Coming back I went down some side streets instead of the main road, so it was a little longer and I hit 5k just before I got home, so the distance was good. I was pretty worn out by the end of it though. The weather was 22.1°C, 73% humidity. Nice and cool, but that humidity was nasty.

But I was happy to have covered the distance without slowing to a walk.

The other thing I did for most of the day was work on my Outschool class materials. I need to find diagrams to illustrate human vision and colour perception. There are plenty of good ones on the net, but I need them to be public domain, or royalty free, and that restricts things a lot. By the end of the day I’d only really found two half-decent images I could use, both old diagrams out of copyright.

But I’ve now decided that it’ll be easier for me to just draw all my own diagrams. I’ll put together the class notes, and decide what diagrams I want, and then sit down and draw them all in a batch. So that’s the task for the next few days.

New content today:

Cool running

The heatwave broke overnight and today dawned cool, although it was still very humid.

I decided to finally go on that run I’d wanted to do a few days ago. Normally I walk up to the nearest sports oval and run laps around the inside of the fence, because it’s flat. Running along streets around where I live is a recipe for going up and down a lot of hills, some of them pretty steep, and I usually want to avoid that.

But today I felt like taking a more scenic route, and hills be damned. I did a 2.5 km loop which is I think about the flattest possible route I could find in the area, but it still involves going up and down a lot, from a maximum altitude of 67 metres, down to essentially just a metre or two above sea level. I paused a a few places along the way to take photos, and I uploaded them into an album with comments.

The weather when I ran was 22.5°C, but 86% humidity. It didn’t feel too hot while running, but once I stopped and went inside, the sweating started up and just didn’t stop for ages. All I was doing was sitting down, drinking cold water, and occasionally wiping myself with a cold, damp cloth, but it took over an hour to start to feel comfortable again.

I spent today editing together the video I made for Outschool, as a teacher introduction. My teacher profile isn’t publicly viewable yet, because I haven’t made a class, but once it is, I’ll be able to point to it. I also started writing a class description for my first planned class. I’m going to do a class on “Human vision and colour perception” for kids of age 11-13.

Speaking of teaching, school started today after the summer holidays – the start of a brand news school year. My Ethics classes won’t be starting for a few weeks, as the school gets the kids settled in – I’m guessing my first class with the new kids will be late February.

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:

Outschool approved

Good news today! I got notification that I’ve been approved to teach classes online on Outschool. This was a long process, because they run background checks to ensure you’re eligible to teach children (i.e. have no relevant criminal convictions), and since Outschool is based in the US, they use a third party company to run checks with the Australian Federal Police. Which means that all the paperwork shuffling takes a long time. Anyway, my checks have all come through clean, and I can now start the process of listing classes that I want to teach on Outschool. I have to complete a couple of training modules first, and then come up with lesson plans.

This is all great because it’s going to be a way that I can bring in some more income to supplement the relatively small amounts I’ve managed to make so far selling my photography. Hopefully that will go up as well when markets start up in earnest after COVID, but I think Outschool will be more reliable.

Earlier this morning I restarted my exercise routine, by going for a jog around the neighbourhood. Rather than get straight into a 5k run on a flat track, I decided to do a run around a couple of large street blocks for more interesting scenery. The disadvantage is that it’s up and down hills, although the route I chose is mostly fairly gentle, especially compared to some other routes I could take around here. I used to run this route a few years ago, and at that time found it a bit of a struggle to keep going all the way home on the final long uphill stretch. But today I found it fairly easy going, so I think the running I did a few months ago has improved things and not worn off completely yet. Phew! The route today was 2.2 km, so I’ll work back up to 5k runs again over the next week or two.

After the run, I walked up to the supermarket to buy some flour, for baking sourdough. I started with feeding my starter yesterday (with wholemeal flour), then realised I didn’t have any plain flour left to make up a loaf. So I had to get it today before making the dough. I decided to get a large 5 kg bag, and a plastic storage tub to put it in. This is baker’s flour, which should have more gluten in it for making bread, compared to plain flour. So we’ll see how much difference that makes in the final loaf, which I’ll bake tomorrow morning.

New content today:


Almost two years ago now a friend mentioned to me that she was using an online teaching platform called Outschool, to arrange home schooling classes for her children. She mentioned it to me because some years ago we’d played a couple of GURPS roleplaying campaigns…

[ Those campaigns were a D&D-esque fantasy game in which she played an elf named Alvissa, and a space-faring science fiction game in which she played a human pilot named Paris. Followers of Irregular Webcomic! may recognise the inspiration for a couple of the characters in that comic. ]

… and so she knew I was into running tabletop RPGs. I’d also mentioned to her that I was volunteering to teach schoolkids science and ethics at a couple of primary schools. She connected the dots and mentioned that on Outschool there were people offering classes that were essentially D&D games for kids, and that maybe I’d be interested in signing up to do the same.

I went home and checked Outschool, and they said they accepted teachers from the US, Canada, and Australia, so I signed up. But then a few days later I got a message saying my application to teach was rejected because they only supported teachers in the US – and the Help pages had been updated to reflect that change. I inquired by email, and they said they’d just changed their rules, but they hoped to reopen for teachers in Australia in the future.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I got reminded of Outschool by a news email from them. It didn’t mention anything about Australian teachers, but I decided to take a quick look at their site again, and lo and behold, the Help pages had been updated to indicate they are now accepting teachers form the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand!

So I decided to complete my application to become a teacher on the site. Two years ago they only required a written application, but now they want a 3-5 minute video introducing yourself and showing a sample of teaching something. I’ve been busy for the past week, but today I sat down to record a video. I recorded a brief piece about the history of astronomy, in particular how the ancients regarded and used stars to track the passage of the seasons, leading up to Angelo Secchi’s 1863 discovery that the stars are similar to our sun – or to put it another way, that the sun is a star. Prior to this, nobody had ever known that.

I finished my application, listing my background and experience in teaching, and uploaded the video. The form said it would take a few days for applications to be processed.

But just a few hours later I’ve received an email from Outschool, saying that my application has been accepted! There’s one more step, which is a background check to ensure that I’m okay to work with children and don’t have a criminal record, but that won’t be a problem since I’m already approved by the NSW Government to teach children. It’ll take a bit of time, but once it’s done I can start offering classes to children all around the world! (Or at least in the US, Canada, Australia, and NZ.) And the time zones work out great, because late morning here is early evening in North America, so I can get students from all the countries in my classes at once.

I’m really excited about this – both because I love teaching kids cool science stuff, and because it will (hopefully) provide a moderate income to supplement what I’ve been making so far from my photography, and thus help me in my goal of not having to find an employer again.

Anyway, that’s been my day, pretty much. I made a 4 minute video, but that took all morning, with several takes, and then editing to add illustrative slides and so on. And then I had to complete the text parts of my application, listing all my experience and qualifications and then writing some sample class outlines. I had a bit of a relax this afternoon, taking Scully to the dog park, and cooking dinner and the usual stuff. But I’m mentally exhausted!

New content today:

Science Club: water

Today was my first visit to Brookvale School for the new school year. I had a new contact teacher there, after the teacher I worked with last year moved to another school. The new teacher organised a timetable for me, giving talks to the kindergarten and Year 1 and 2 classes, and also a 1.5 hour session with the new Science Club, for which she chose the students.

With the K-2 classes I gave a talk about the many different sorts of things that scientists do, including medicine, studying animals and plants to learn how they live, looking at rocks to work out where to dig for useful minerals, measuring volcanoes, drilling in ice to study the atmosphere from hundreds of years ago, astronomy, building robots, and making computer models of things. They all seemed fascinated to see all these different things, and the talk went pretty well.

For Science Club, the teacher initially gave me a list a few weeks ago, of 12 students. Only three of them were in the Science Club last year, so she’d clearly decided to give some new children a chance to participate. Then late last week she emailed me and said there were six other kids who were super keen to be in Science Club; would it be okay with me if they joined in? I said that would be okay.

I got there today, with a print out of the initial timetable the teacher had sent me, with the names of the original 12 students, but not the new six. As the kids filed into the library after recess, I asked them all their names, wrote name tags for them to wear so I could learn them, and also wrote down the names on my list.

I told them what sorts of things we’d be doing in Science Club, and then we started on some experiments. Today we were looking at properties of water. First up was looking at surface tension. I used an eye dropper to put drops of water onto a 5 cent coin on the floor, producing a bulging bubble of water, held on by surface tension. We counted how many drops I put on, before the bubble spilled and wet the carpet.

I explained to them how water was made of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, and how the H and O atoms like to stick together, making an elastic skin on the surface of the water. Then we repeated the experiment, but with soapy water. This time the bubble was smaller, and I added fewer drops to it before it spilled. I explained that the soap had large molecules with one end that liked to stick to the water, but the other end pushed the water away. This made the skin weaker, explaining why the drop couldn’t get as large.

Next we did another experiment to look at surface tension. I filled a plate with milk and added drops of food colouring to the middle of the milk puddle. Then I got a cotton tip and dipped it in liquid soap… and touched it to the middle of the plate. I took a video:


Next I got two glasses of water, one hot and one cold. I dropped some food colouring in each one, and we watched how it mixed into the water. In the cold water, the colour sank to the bottom and formed a layer below the clear water. In the hot water, however, it mixed evenly throughout. Then I explained to the kids that hot temperatures are caused by the molecules moving faster inside the water, and the faster moving molecules mix the colouring faster.

Finally we did an experiment in which I mixed iodine solution into water to make a brown liquid, and added some baby oil to form a clear layer on top. Then I shook the bottle to mix it all up, which encouraged the iodine to move from the water to the oil, in which it is more soluble. Doing so changes the colour to a bright purple, because the iodine colour depends on which liquid it’s in.

After a full day, I went home to relax. I typed out the names of the kids who I’d written down to send to the teacher, as a roll call. Then I noticed that the other timetable sheet she’d given my first thing this morning had the extra six kids’ names on it…

And the list of names I’d written down had three names not on that larger list. There were three extra kids in the Science Club who weren’t supposed to be there! I’m not sure if there was some sort of miscommunication, the kids thought they were in Science Club when they weren’t, or what happened. So I let the teacher know, and we’ll see what happens next time!

New content today:

Calmer weather

The storm petered out overnight, and today was a mostly fine day, with a bit of sun. We were supposed to get a little more rain, but it seemed to decide we’d had enough.

When I went out for a walk, it was clear that a lot of damage had been done. There were small branches down all over the places, the streets littered with twigs and leaves and water-swept debris around the drains.

I took Scully to the dog park this afternoon to stretch her legs after being copped up yesterday. And we were confronted by this:

Storm damaged fig tree

This giant Moreton Bay fig tree had dropped a branch. Moreton Bay figs are enormous trees, and this branch was the size of a small tree itself. It landed on that park bench, which is where I sometimes sit while Scully plays in the park. Fortunately nobody was there when it fell.

Storm damaged fig tree

You can see more benches here on the right – the bench in the first photo is under the leaves.

Storm damaged fig tree

Two large branches fell, plus a lot of smaller ones which you can see scattered around the park. In good news though, you can see that the grass is now lush and green after the rain. A couple of weeks ago it was all dead and brown.

Work-wise, today I mostly did more photo processing, to get an order ready for matted prints for the market stall on 1 March. I’ve now submitted that order, plus orders for the matts, and large cellophane bags to slip them into for sale.

Also, the school where I do my Science Club volunteering got in touch with me, with a timetable for my first visit – which is only a week away, on 17 February! I need to decide what experiment to do with the Science Club kids, and what topic to talk about to the kindergarten to Year 2 classes. I’ll be doing Years 3-6 on a later visit in March.

New content today: