First class for game design

This evening I had the first class in my new 6-week course on Creative Thinking & Problem Solving, with practical exercises on designing a board game. I have two students, who’ve both come from my ethics classes. I was a little worried that I might not have enough material to fill the hour, but in the end I had to rush a little bit towards the end to squeeze it all in. I didn’t need to leave anything out, so that’s good!

One of the kids said his favourite game was Dungeons & Dragons, so that was cool. And he said he’d tried to make a board game before, but it didn’t turn out very well. So hopefully he’ll learn a lot of cool things about problem solving and designing games that will help him in the future.

The weather today has turned cold again. We’re in the spring phase of having nice and quite warm days, interspersed with some chilly days as the weather systems move across the continent.

And… I’m a bit worn out. That new class plus two ethics classes tonight, after a day of housecleaning and also working on some comics stuff.

New content today:

Wreck Bay Track

This morning I did another exploratory bushwalk with my wife and Scully. Scouting within the 5 km radius of home to find somewhere new, I found the Wreck Bay walking track.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

This is a bush track that skirts around the edge of Northbridge Golf Club, between the lower stretches of the golf course and the waters of Middle Harbour below.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

It’s a lush forest environment, with plenty of ferns and moss. We passed a few tiny creeks and small waterfalls.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

You emerge at various points to views of Middle Harbour.

Nesting rainbow lorikeet

I found a pair of rainbow lorikeets nesting in this tree hollow. There were eggs or babies inside, but I couldn’t get high enough to see or photograph them. But the parents were hanging around to protect them and not flying away, as I got within a metre or so to take this photo.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

This (above) is the small inlet known as Wreck Bay, named for the large shipwreck you can see in the water just above the centre of the image. The dark shadows to the left are the front of the hull, and parts of the rear of the hull can be seen projecting above the water to the right.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

Scully enjoyed the walk too.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

The bushwalk part was at low elevation, close to the water, but towards the end we had to climb uphill. We emerged onto streets and did a loop up the hill, around Northbridge Golf Club, and the downhill on the other side of the golf course back to the car.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

Here’s a view from the top of the golf course. You can see how high up we are now compared to the steep valley. The golf course is on a steep slope, and there’s a lot of downhill and uphill walking when playing it.

Wreck Bay bushwalk

Finally a view over Flat Rock Creek Gully as we walked back down the hill. The walk we did last week was along the course of Flat Rock Creek ending in the park down below (before we walked back home).

After getting home and having some lunch, I spent all afternoon working on slides for the first lesson of my Creative Thinking course, which begins tomorrow. I have them nearly done – just need to think of some good homework tasks for the kids to do before the second lesson.

New content today:

Course planning x2

This morning I went out to pick up the weekly groceries, which I’d ordered online. Strawberries are still super cheap, so I picked up another couple of punnets while I was there. I suppose I should try remember to just order them as part of the online ordering.

One quirk of the supermarket online shopping system is that if you search for something like “strawberries” it displays a page of results full of strawberry yoghurt, strawberry ice cream, strawberry jam, and some other things, and actual strawberries don’t even appear until the second page of search results. It’s similar with most search terms – I tried to find basil or something and ended up with a page full of basil-oil-infused shampoos and similar stuff, again with actual basil on the second page of results. I wonder if this is deliberate, forcing you to scroll past unrelated products in the same way that they force you to walk past aisles of stuff in order to get the milk at the back of the store.

Back home I worked on making new Darths & Droids comics. I wanted to get that done before lunch, so I could work on course material for both the Data Engineering course that I’m revising for the university, and also the Creative Thinking course that I’ll be starting on Outschool on Sunday. I have two kids enrolled now, so I’ll be going ahead with it this week, after last week’s delay because I only had the one enrolment. So I have to make some more slides for that, and possibly even start thinking about the second week’s lesson.

I had a really interesting lesson with the ethics of superheroes this evening too. I had a class with two kids. I asked the question:

There was an online comic a few years ago that pointed out that Superman could do more good in the world not by fighting crime, but by turning a generator to make electricity. This could power the world, stop CO2 emissions, and save the environment and millions of people. Should Superman stop fighting crime and do this instead?

The first kid, a boy, said no, Superman’s whole point is to fight crime, so that’s what he should do. The second, a girl, started, “Well, If I was Superman and they asked me to do that…”

I expected her to say: “I’d say no, I want to fight crime, not turn a generator all day.”

But she said: “I’d definitely do it! I wouldn’t have to go out and catch criminals, and I could just set up a TV and watch shows all day while I turn the handle.”

So that was fun! And tonight is online board games night with the guys. We’ve tried a new game for me: Incan Gold, which is a quick press-your-luck game themed on raiding ancient temples for gems. Not gold, interestingly.

New content today:

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: