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22 July 2020 – Present situation

My schedule is quite full at the moment, and my waiting list is only getting longer, so it's unlikely I'll be able to provide new students an available tutoring slot. However, enquiries are welcome.

I have a couple of evening slots still available, which because of the late times are more suitable for senior students.


20 March 2020 – Present situation

My schedule is pretty full at the moment, so it's unlikely I'll be able to provide new students an available tutoring slot, but enquiries are welcome. I have a waiting list which I am happy to add potential clients to.

With the announcement today that New Zealand is at Alert Level Two for COVID-19 I'm happy to tutor using Skype or Zoom.


1 Mar 2020 – Asphixiating gas

In what appears to be a very sad sequel to the Particulate Fireballs story I posted in July 2017, three people in Russia have died after dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) was dumped into a private pool in a bath house in Moscow to create a visual effect for a party. It basically created a carbon dioxide gas chamber resulting in the deaths, while six or seven others were admitted to hospital in intensive care.

When put into warm water, dry ice quickly sublimates – it turns from a solid straight into a gas. It makes a wonderful cloud effect from water droplets suspended in the air, but carbon dioxide gas is heavier than air and can form an asphixiating layer on top of the water. Breathing high concentrations of carbon dioxide can also form very unpleasant amounts of carbonic acid in the lungs, and result in too much carbon dioxide in the blood.

The Taiwan government minister from 2017 said "if there had been someone with a basic understanding of science at the scene, the tragedy could have been prevented." The "influencer" who was celebrating her birthday is said to be a highly qualified pharmacist, while her now-deceased husband had a "higher technical education."

I said in 2017, science enriches lives, broadens horizons, and can save lives. But we have to use it sensibly.

29 Feb 2020 (updated 2 March) – It's all coronavirus!

What the news media is not telling you: Every Almost every cold you've ever caught is caused by a coronavirus. (Update – actually, a lot are caused by rhinoviruses. About 15% of colds are caused by coronaviruses.) Every flu you've ever suffered through is caused by a coronavirus. Coronaviruses have been in New Zealand for over a hundred years and killed hundreds of New Zealanders in the 1890s; they have not just arrived, "coronavirus" is not new. Coronavirus-caused diseases kill up to 650,000 people worldwide each year. COVID-19 is not coronavirus.

A coronavirus is a member of a particular group of viruses that cause respiratory tract infections and have "corona" in their name because of their appearance. Flu and the common cold are both caused by any of multiple different coronaviruses.

"Coronavirus" is not the name of the virus discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. That virus has a name: SARS-CoV-2. (The name has been criticised.) The disease it causes has a name: COVID-19, which stands for COronaVIrus Disease 2019, the year it was discovered. If someone is talking about COVID-19 they should be referring to a disease, not a virus. COVID-19 is certainly not "the coronavirus". The phrase "COVID-19 coronavirus" is almost completely nonsensical.

Almost every mention of "coronavirus" in the news is wrong. The New Zealand and international news media are being very irresponsible in their reporting.

To be clear: Coronavirus is any virus from a particular group of viruses. SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus. COVID-19 is a disease, and not a virus. SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19.

COVID-19 preferentially affects the elderly and those with coexisting conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and hypertension. The elderly and people with these conditions are much more likely to develop pneumonia, and much more likely to die from it than are members of the general population. For these people, it's a very serious disease, and great care needs to be taken.

However, 80% of total cases are mild. Unusually for a coronavirus, young people are very little affected. As of mid-Feb, no known deaths of children under 10 have occurred, although hundreds have had COVID-19. Children have also been found to be carriers of SARS-CoV-2 but without showing any symptoms of COVID-19.

20-02-2020 – The effect of bullying

Australian boy Quaden Bayles is nine years old and has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. He has been bullied so badly he has wanted to kill himself since he was 6 years old. His mother has had enough and posted this video (on Facebook originally; warning, strong content).

More on the story here (including NZ support phone numbers), Aus news article here, and a follow-up here. Update: Here as well.

One of my students of the last four years has a form of dwarfism. Dear chap – he has now finished school. It was a pleasure and a privilege tutoring him.

5 December 2019 – Auckland Grammar School 2019 Dux

A big congratulations to Alex Hornung, Auckland Grammar School 2019 Dux. Over the last five years Alex has worked incredibly hard to achieve fantastic results. I've found he's someone who is not satisfied with just knowing answers; he also wants to know why things work the way they do. His work ethic and desire to understand whatever he learns will serve him well as he heads to university. I wish him the very best.

26 November 2019 – More NCEA maths exam errors

Well, another exam season and sure enough, there were errors in the NCEA Level 2 Mathematics and Statistics exam. I've made an answers page looking at some of the questions, with worked solutions and comments on the questions.

15 November 2019 – Youngest ever electrical engineer

Laurent Simons looks like a pretty typical 9 year old boy from Amsterdam. But...

Laurent graduated from secondary school in the middle of last year aged 8 after completing six years of work in just a year and a half. He said at the time maths was his favourite subject "because it's so vast – there's statistics, geometry, algebra". He took a two month holiday then started at university. A year and a half later he's due to graduate next month (December 2019) as the youngest ever electrical engineer.

Universities around the world are reported to be offering Laurent scholarships for Masters and Doctorate degrees. He and his family have not announced where he will be studying, but it'll be a PhD in electrical engineering while also completing some medical studies.

He has considered becoming a heart surgeon, an astronaut, "going into computers", and is now interested in making artificial organs and robotics. (His choice of study thus makes a lot of sense.) Congratulations Laurent.

Update 13 December 2019: Laurent Simons' parents have pulled Laurent from Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) before he graduated because TUE wanted Laurent to take more time, graduating in the middle of next year. TUE also warned against putting too much pressure on Laurent.

The delay was not acceptable to Laurent's father Alexander, as he had specifically wanted Laurent to graduate while he was age 9 in order to become the youngest ever university graduate; Laurent turns 10 on 26 December.

The family will likely next be heading to a university in the USA.

19 September 2019 – Girls in STEM

Mikayla Stokes, a first year engineering student at University of Auckland, found that events aimed at encouraging girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) weren't doing the right things in the right way, so she and Amelia Lockley set up TechGirlsNZ with the aim of putting that right.

In May this year the two ran the first TechGirlsNZ event, aimed at secondary school girls.

A youth for youth event on a mission to create a new type of innovative event for teenage girls thinking about getting into STEAM, where they can make meaningful connections, learn new things, network with others, and truly be inspired with a more hands-on and unique approach.

This article on Stuff outlines some of the struggles Mikayla has faced with stereotypes and sexism.

30 August 2019 – Spiderman is a vigilante

A physics project at the 2019 NIWA Auckland Science and Technology Fair has shown that Spider-Man is a vigilante, killing at least 85% of the people he punches using his most powerful upper cuts.

Student Bianca Santayana analysed punches thrown by the crime-fighting superhero in the game Spider-Man PS4 and found that the amount of force exerted by Spider-Man in order to punch his opponent (or victim) off the ground by up to 3.25 metres was more than enough to cause an internal decapitation. Explaining the consequences of this in her project she says "only 30% of cases do not end in immediate death and an extra 15% of cases where people survive until the emergency room and die in their subsequent hospital stay."

She thinks "the world is better off without him" and finishes "it should now be clear that Spider-Man should be classified more as a vigilante than a hero which was proven through the experiment and calculations."

Visitors to the NIWA Science Fair tended to agree, but one thought that the word vigilante was too euphemistic. "He's basically going about murdering people" said one surprised father after reading the project.

The science fair is open to the public on Saturday 31 August 2019 from 10am to 5pm.

29 August 2019 – Science Fair

It's that time of year again. The NIWA Auckland Science and Technology Fair is on tomorrow, Friday 30 August, in the Mt Roskill Grammar School hall. Open to the public from around 6pm, and on Saturday. More info at www.scifair.org.nz.

29 August 2019 – Maths Grid new record time

On 15 August one of my year 8 students broke an almost seven year record for the standard maths grid (which features the 2x to 12x tables, skipping the 10x table, in a 10x10 grid). Her time beat the old record by two seconds. Two other year 8 students have also recently demonstrated they are capable of the same speed or even faster, but have not yet achieved perfect accuracy (or legibility). A fourth year 8 student is less than 20 seconds behind. I expect more records to be set in the coming weeks.

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