Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
September 2020
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12 of 12, May 2020

The moderately strict “lockdown” that we have been in for the past several weeks — only going out when it is essential, no visits with people except for care and support if required, and exercising only in your local environs — is just starting to ease, as Australia’s new case rate seems to be at a manageable level and Tasmania, after having to deal with a major cluster on the NW coast, has had no new cases in the last five days. However, most people are trying to be cautious about things opening up, as no one wants a flare up, both because we don’t want people to be infected with COVID-19 but also because we don’t want to go back into lockdown. So, this month’s 12 of 12 mostly documents some lockdown things.

Since I haven’t been going down to uni to work, I admit that sometimes I don’t rush to get up … and so this morning I was putting up some on-line materials for one of my uni classes while still in bed.

I also spent some time drawing a good version of a diagram for one of my PhD students (after several attempts, because the copy that he had sent for me to use as a basis for the illustration was not at all like what the diagram was meant to look like).

I had a meeting today, and had the opportunity to attend in person (with appropriate physical distancing protocols in place). Given how sick I am of doing things by screen, I decided to go (the car park at this particular location is not quite as steep as it appears here).

My parents live close to this venue and so I called in on them (I’ve been limiting my visits, but they are permitted). It was nice to have a chat and, so that my mother didn’t have to venture out into the shopping centre, I gave her a hair cut. I think it turned out okay; but, just in case it didn’t, my Dad reminded me that the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is about three days!

I returned home, where I had a Zoom meeting with another of my PhD students … only my computer and Zoom and my wifi were all misbehaving (my computer stopped playing sound and then the internet dropped out/Zoom glitched) and so I missed most of the meeting.

My Mum actually gave me some flowers for Mother’s Day (I did the same for her); and here they are. I’m pretty sure they’re from her garden. In contrast, the ones I gave her weren’t from my garden, since my garden doesn’t stretch to much in the way of flowers.

In the evening I had a TSO Chorus rehearsal. There were about 60 of us in attendance via Zoom, although singing together with all microphones unmuted does not work (their rendition of “happy birthday” which they sang for me, which I know would ordinarily sound quite harmonious, actually resembled one of our traditional family performances in which everyone sings out of tune and at various speeds). When we rehearse we sing alone to something pre-recorded on YouTube, and do our best to start at the same time. We’ve also been sending in recordings of ourselves which have been compiled into a virtual choir.

Most of our virtual choir work has involved working on Verdi’s La Traviata (quite a contrast to the Requiem we did last year), and our purpose has solely been for rehearsal and so we can hear what we sound like. However, one of our altos, Sally Crosby, passed away a couple of weeks ago, and we are going to put together a virtual performance of Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, which is a beautiful piece of music. I’d tried recording this on the weekend, but although I ended up with a tolerably reasonable take I wanted to try for a better version. I think my best version — at least for all but the final 10 seconds — was the one in which I got a tickle in my throat three bars from the end (and so it had to be deleted), but I did manage to produce one that I didn’t totally hate. I’m not especially happy with my voice or breath control and it was hard to judge dynamics … and I just hope the guru who is assembling the “performance” can use what I sent.

Following the rehearsal I continued my recent daily tradition of uploading a TYMOUT photo to Facebook, a tradition now reaching the end of week 8. Since we’re not out of the woods yet as far as restrictions and risk are concerned, and since I still have plenty of suitable photos, this tradition may continue for a while yet.

The other little social media hobby I have is to contribute to a “Maths Shots” page that a colleague and friend of mine set up. The idea is to post a maths photo  and pose some interesting questions. I thought that I might post a page from my petrol log book for the Mazda. There are all sorts of interesting questions, including about fuel economy, what might have been recorded in the spot that got left out (you have no idea how much that missing line irks me! (ahhh, I’ve realised what it was: one of my sisters-in-law had borrowed the car for a week, and didn’t fill in the book when she filled the car)), and what happened between the second last entry and the last.

I’ve been meaning to write to a friend of mine; so far I have made the card, and I was going to write in it tonight but I fell asleep. Ooops.

And because I was running short of 12 photos, and because I wanted to show a bit of what the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown has looked like, here is the graph of my step-count from my Fitbit over the past four weeks. I’ve been trying to get out for regular walks, but I haven’t always been succeeding and, of course, the incidental accumulation of steps has diminished from what it was when life was wider-ranging.

(This is 12 of 12 collection number 129. As a stimulus for documenting the mundane in amongst the momentous, it seems to be serving a purpose.)

Moods of the Mountain #119

Autumn is well underway: there was snow on the mountain this morning and there are showers about, which explains the rainbow. I’m lucky to have a nice view from my balcony in these stay-at-home times.

12 of 12, April 2020

Today is the first 12th that has fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Church ceased having meetings across the world even before we started getting restrictions on large gatherings in Australia (we haven’t had services since before March 15th). Just before things stopped I was called to be the ward music chairperson, so, in these strange times, I figure I can fulfil that calling by helping members keep music as part of their lives. I have been finding links to various hymns that align with the weekly study topics, and posting them to Facebook. I usually try to do this on Saturday for Sunday, but this ended up being done on Sunday (although as an extension of Saturday … as it was rather late/early!).

[A long long time ago, I was the ward choir director of a choir of only six, and, at times, I felt a smidge frustrated at our small size and limited talent. One day one of the choir members told me how much she appreciated choir, as it was her “opportunity to worship” … which well and truly reminded me about the point of the whole exercise.]

With it being the Easter weekend, with two youngsters in my household for the first time, and with cabin-fever a definite possibility, I decided to prepare an Easter egg hunt. The youngsters’ teenage tendency to sleep in meant that I could leave the preparation until the morning, and so I made some  gently cryptic clues (suitable for older youngsters) and set up a trail around the house and yard, with smaller eggs on the trail, culminating in the larger haul hidden in the dishwasher (it was going to be the oven, until I remembered that I had to cook the caramel tart case!).

I think the kids quite enjoyed it.

Oooh, I think you can actually see the one hidden in the letterbox.

I have never been much of a pot-plant keeper, but last year at work I inherited a large furry fern (dubbed the “tarantula fern”, because its rhizomes look decidedly like tarantula legs) … and then, somehow over summer, I ended up with another five plants, which were added to the office collection. With our building now being shut down, they needed a home. So far, they’ve made it to the bathroom, but I think I need a better solution!

I have embarked on a non-trivial project (because, of course, surely I don’t have any other projects to do (hahahahaha!)), and that is to make a whole bunch of YouTube videos for Scouts showing how to tie various knots and lashings and the like. I started this yesterday, and managed to make 8 videos, and start work on a web-page index. Today I continued the task, getting another four videos made and extending the web-page so I know which ones I still have to do (and I hadn’t realised there were quite so many of them required for all of the stages of the Scouts’ badgework, and there are more than one or two which are not in my “I can do that off the top of my head” repertoire … and so, all of a sudden, the task is looking a little daunting). I put my knotting skills to the test to rig up a sling for the phone on my tripod, and the videos have actually been turning out okay so far, if I do say so myself. [Yes, I know there are probably a zillion-and-one knot-tying videos on YouTube, but not exactly the way I wanted. Mine aren’t either, of course!]

Sometime in the early afternoon the kids and I had a game together.

And then, because Imogen really loves my sister Gill’s fish pie whenever we go to the their place for family dinner, we had our first attempt at making it ourselves. It turned out very nicely.

And because it was Sunday night, and I am now totally expert on using Zoom, we decided to have Sunday family dinner COVID-19 style. We could even invite the New Zealand sibling and his family (not surprisingly they don’t usually get to our normal family dinners). Even Samantha and Alex* came (albeit briefly).

Later in the evening I went for a walk around the deserted streets. (I was going to straighten this picture, but I forgot … sorry.)

And, just before heading to bed, I hunted out a photo to post to Facebook. I’ve been posting a “nice” (good/scenic/uplifting/spectacular) photo each day to share some of my favourite shots during this time of social and physical constraints, in order to “Take Your Mind Off Unpleasant Things”. Tonight was the 25th. I have rather a large number in the queue … but I hope this isolation period lasts nowhere near as long as my supply of photos.


* Family in-joke. It’s a long story.

[This is  “12 of 12” post number 128, all arising from a long-ago challenge to post 12 photos on the 12th of the month.]

Telescopic moon

Even before this pandemic drama began, the university bookshop was closing down. One day, as I was walking past, I saw that they were selling reasonably decent telescopes at half their usual prices. After some googling and will-I-won’t-I?, I impetuously bought one. I’ve always wanted to have a telescope, but had never really looked into it seriously, partly because I know how long it takes to find a good night for viewing and then actually find stuff in the sky (one star looks pretty much like another when you’ve only got one in the viewfinder!), and then things drift off the field of view as the earth rotates (it’s as well that the earth does this, but it’s annoying for astronomy!). The cool (and somewhat costly) thing about this particular telescope is that it can set itself up from three bright stars, will go find anything I tell it to, and will track things once I have (well, it has) found them.

It has taken me a while to get the hang of using it efficiently and effectively (the small scope wasn’t well aligned, but I managed to fix that), and I haven’t yet had a chance to have a good look at Saturn and Jupiter (although I have seen them briefly (they’re up in the wee small hours of the morning at the moment, and the timing hasn’t been right weather-wise and sleep-wise and don’t-disturb-the-rest-of-the-household-wise)), but I’m pretty happy with it. I bought an adapter so I can attach my big camera, and once I get better at using everything I might be able to produce some decent photos. In the meantime, here is my (near enough to) first shot with the telescope and camera set up: the full moon in April 2020 (reputedly a supermoon).

Moods of the Mountain #118

We are living in strange times*, but this post-apocalyptic sunset is due to a number of small fuel-reduction burns that have been taking place while the weather has been cool and calm.

I loved the smoky cloud formations so much that I had to take a close-up …

And then I noticed the newly emerging sliver of the 3-day-old new moon.

* The COVID-19 pandemic is in its early stages in Australia and drastic measures are being put into place to attempt to combat it. And one of the actions is that kunanyi/Mt Wellington is now closed, which means that I have to make the most of the long-distance views.

A strange new world

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has seen great changes to everyday life, as regular activities involving groups of people — where viruses might spread — have been shutdown. Church has not been meeting for a while, our TSO Chorus concert was performed to an empty hall and we are now rehearsing online from home, the University is shifting to online delivery of its courses and we’ve been encouraged to work at home, and although schools remained open for a while (an odd exception. given how difficult it is for young people to maintain social distancing) they are about to push those students who can stay at home to do so, and shift to other ways of teaching.

Scouts has not been immune to this. Although regatta went ahead, I think there was awareness that things were about to change, and then came the first cancellations of major events. We had a regular troop night last week, after an extended debate about whether or not to do so, but not long after this all face-to-face meetings were suspended.

So, what do we do? We embrace online technology. Tonight we all dressed in our uniforms at home, logged in to Zoom (as this platform started to become the communication conduit de jour for meetings in these strange times), and met online. I sat on the balcony — it is still daylight saving time, it was a nice evening, and I was trying to maintain some pretence of being outdoors — and it was actually heartwarming to see all the kids.

We had a fun night, working on an astronomy badge, and trying to adapt things to our new situation. We also gave the kids a chance just to socialise with each other, as they come to grips with the new circumstances.

12 of 12, March 2020

This is a 12 of 12 in two parts: the first from my class for future maths teachers this morning, and the second from tonight’s TSO Chorus rehearsal.

So, to my class. One focus for this semester’s unit is to look at different types of activity that get school maths students reasoning about conceptual ideas, instead of just doing routine procedural tasks that don’t get at deep understanding. I set the scene by providing my future teachers with four sets of numbers, and asked them which data set was different from the others (in fact it was possible to find reasons for each one to be judged different from the other three (for example, three of the data sets had the same mean/average, while the fourth didn’t; and then one of the other sets had its mode different from the remaining three, and so on*)).

I then took the teachers to our maths equipment storeroom, and allowed them to grab whatever they liked, and challenged them to come up with their own “one of these things is not like the others” collections. Here’s what they came up with (in many of the cases we could find reasons to make each one of the items the odd one out, but not always (or only by saying “it’s the odd one out because it’s the only one we can’t find a reason for it being the odd one out!” … but perhaps you can come up with reasons)).

1. Set of cubes (small, no hole, exception-because-it-isn’t-an-exception, different colour (assuming the first three are the same colour).

2. Mostly rectangular-shaped objects (not rectangular, no plastic involved, exception-because-it-isn’t-an-exception, multicoloured)

3. Sets of square tiles (not even, not a square number, exception-because-it-isn’t-an-exception, not a power of 2). (We tried hard to find a reason to exclude 4, but couldn’t come up with something that wasn’t too contrived).

4. Triangles (different colour, different size, exception-because-it-isn’t-an-exception, decomposed into smaller shapes)

5. Representations of 10 (different colour/shows 10 as a single unit; 10 as both single unit but with individual ones visible, 10 as 10 individual ones, 10 written symbolically)

6. Some prisms (triangular rather than quadrilateral, exception-because-it-isn’t-an-exception, decomposable prism, red not blue)

7. More prisms (exception-because-it-isn’t-an-exception, quadrilateral not triangular, not an RGB colour (!), large in comparison to others)

8. Random number generators where I had to do drawings because I didn’t have some of the objects I wanted (spinner not dice, has dot markings instead of numerals, has 12 equally likely outcomes instead of 6 (the bottom left picture was meant to be a standard dodecahedral die), there are two ways that each of the 6 outcomes can occur)


So, to part two: tonight’s TSO Chorus rehearsal. Mostly we rehearse on Tuesday nights but in performance week we have additional rehearsals, and tonight it was time to get together with the orchestra for a run through of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), which we are performing on Saturday night.** I was nurturing my voice this week: I limited my encouraging cheers of “Go La Per-oooouse” at regatta to two per race (and admit that even that probably overdid things!) and have been dosing up on butter menthols.

We gathered together for a warm up before going on stage.

Here is a couple of pages of the score. We’re getting better at singing in German, but sometimes it is really hard work getting the consonants out at the required force, especially when the tenor range already demands so much energy from me on the low notes.

Here’s the stage starting to fill up with musicians and choristers.

Finally, here is Maestro Eivind Aadland in action (the chorus wasn’t singing at this point, so I could sneak a photo).


* Well, that was what was supposed to happen, but I’d had to construct the sets in a screaming hurry, and didn’t get them quite as well designed as I’d intended. Fortunately my students got the idea.

** In fact the public performance was cancelled, due to coronavirus/COVID-19 precautions, but we still performed on Saturday night to an empty hall and a set of cameras and microphones, so that it can be broadcast at a later date. It was rather weird having no audience, and we missed some of the adrenaline that is generated by having spectators, but we managed to focus and generate a bit of atmosphere for ourselves.

[This is  “12 of 12” post number 127; are we bored yet?!]

2020 Scout Guide Regatta

The annual March long-weekend Regatta tradition continued this year. We had fewer numbers and smaller-sized people this year, and so our patrol boat rowing teams weren’t quite as strong as they have been, but we managed a win in the under 13 500m and very credible placings in the other races.

On Saturday, Tahlia (one of our leaders) took a crew out for a sail, with some of the kids helming.

Being in the water wasn’t greeted with as much enthusiasm this year as in past years, with the weather dull and occasionally drizzly, but there were still a few Scouts game to build a raft and compete in the raft race

And there were the usual dinghy races, with “Bob” and “Griffin” doing their usual sterling work (these events are among the Scouts’ favourites, and the kids get quite handy quite quickly at manoeuvring due to the number of events that they can go in).

There were a couple of surprising breaks with tradition. The tide was the lowest I’ve ever seen at Snug, making the beach quite wide … although the associated overnight high tide meant that we had to clear the beach of kayaks at the end of each day.

The other break with tradition came about because of a change of caterers. This was the Scouts’ reaction when they learned that the evening meal would not involve the traditional cardboard chicken schnitzel. They were most put out!

The female leader/parent rowing crew — a combined team from Clarence and Blackmans Bay — repeated last year’s winning efforts and ended up with the big pink oar. The mixed leader/parent race — always a hotly contested affair — was one of the closest and hardest fought in recent memory; and although we didn’t place we put up an almighty challenge, especially considering we did a lot of the distance with only five oars (the sixth popped out, and I have a bruise on my back to testify to the fact that getting it back in while still rowing was difficult for the person concerned!).

Finally, here’s the traditional end-of-Regatta Troop shot.

12 of 12, February 2020

I know I thought last month’s 12 of 12 was pretty lame, but this probably tops it. I had a work deadline, and so couldn’t get outside much and, when it came time for the one thing that might have generated a few fun photographs, I forgot that it was the 12th entirely.

Feel free to skip this month. Seriously.

If you don’t believe me, look how pathetic the first image is: it’s a screen shot of one of my spreadsheets which — “too much information” alert — I am using to determine whether or not (and how, if yes) my hot flushes are cyclic.

Just remember that I warned you. Here’s proof about the work deadline: some colleagues and I are applying for a grant. Riveting stuff. (Actually it is very important, but whether we’ve “sold” it well enough is another matter entirely.)

Oh, there is one bit of excitement. I am in the process of moving into a bigger office. There is long way to go and a lot of organising to do, but hopefully it will be better than my old one (although history’s evidence says that it will soon be as messy as I’ve ever been).

Something convinced ants that they needed to infest the building right up to the fifth floor via the fourth, with an exploratory raid into my office.

I tracked them down (I was sick of being in the office anyway!).

And now I have counter-measures.

In the evening Scouts started up again with a night of rowing. It was wet and cold, but we had a good evening, but I took no photos. I didn’t even think about it until I got home and realised I still needed some more to get the 12. So, you get this riveting photo of my wetsuit boots and will just have to imagine two boatloads of Scouts rowing around Kangaroo Bay in the mizzle.

And then I got distracted because someone had posted a stupid meme about how the numerical values associated with the letters A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E add up to 100, and isn’t that awesome instead of just being a complete fluke … so, after trying to come up with some more negative 100-total words by hand, I programmed a spreadsheet to let me try more possibilities faster. T-O-T-A-L C-O-N adds up to 100 as well.

(Now you know why Lisa got me T-shirt that says “I have a spreadsheet for that”!)

I did this while watching Hard Quiz on the television.

Rowing’s exertions — well, actually an awkward head angle — saw me putting a heat pack to good use late in the evening.

And I think the fresh air made me hungry for a snack before bed.

[This is  “12 of 12” post number 126; if you don’t know what it’s all about by now there are 125 previous posts on the 12th of every month to give you some idea.]

Last day of the school holidays

It was the last day of the school holidays and, having managed to sort out most of the back-to-school errands, we decided to indulge in a little recreation. I had hoped to do more activities over the summer with Imogen and Josh but I’ve also been working on getting their old home ready for sale … oh, and there’s been work as well to squeeze in somewhere … and so we haven’t had the time to do quite as much as I wanted. So, today was a welcome opportunity.

Our plans were relatively simple; in fact, there was, initially, only one thing on the plan, and that was to go for a jet boat ride on the Huon River. On arrival it was to discover that we were the only ones on that particular trip (I love it when this happens).

We did get to see some peaceful bits of the Huon River,

but mostly we made lots of noise racing up it and doing mad spins

which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

With that little bit of fun crossed off the list, we took advantage of the surrounding countryside to allow the L-platers to clock up some more kilometres, and eventually we ended up at the top of the mountain (kunanyi/Mt Wellington).

To our surprise there were a few little patches of snow, which inevitably resulted in a brief snowball fight (despite the mild weather, one of the key things that characterises the survival of snow is that it is very cold, and so certain people got slightly chilly fingers).

And if you have snow, not only must you throw snow balls, you must also make a snowman. We present the world’s largest miniature snowman.

I’m not sure any of us want to go back to school/work tomorrow. 🙂