Spit to Manly Walk

If you don’t know Sydney, the post title might be a little bit cryptic. “Spit” refers to “The Spit“, a locality in Sydney named after a spit of land in Sydney’s Middle Harbour, while “Manly” is not an adjective, but the name of a beachside suburb (although etymologically it was named by Captain Arthur Phillip for the “manly” demeanour of the native Aboriginal people who inhabited the area). The Spit to Manly Walk is a 10 km walk along the coastline of Sydney Harbour, through a mix of undeveloped bushland, parkland, a short section on urban streets, and ending with a coastal promenade.

Today I did this walk with a couple of friends. We started by crossing The Spit Bridge:

Spit Bridge

And heading east on the north side:

Ellerys Punt Reserve

The first small cove we passed was Fisher Bay:

Fisher Bay looking out

Past the Sandy Bear Cafe:

The Sandy Bear

Then along Clontarf Beach, where we had to squeeze between the high tide waterline and the back fence of some houses:

Clontarf Beach ahead

Past some small beaches of the Duke of Edinburgh Reserve:

Duke of Edinburgh Reserve

Up onto Dobroyd Head, where there are historical Aboriginal rock carvings:

Fish 1

And where there was a view of the city:

The city

Over the hill to a view of Crater Cove and North Head:

Crater Cove and North Head

Where we saw a water dragon:

Water dragon

Then down to Reef Beach (a former nude beach):

Reef Beach view

Out of the bush into more urban surrounds:

Fairlight house

Past the Fairlight Tidal Pool:

Fairlight tidal pool

Along the promenade, where there are warning signs to beware of the fairy penguins who nest around this area:

Penguin warning

Past Manly Cove Beach:

Manly Cove Beach

And into Manly, where we went to the 4 Pines Brewery for lunch!

4 Pines Brewing Company

I got home late in the afternoon and basically relaxed for the rest of the day, exhausted!

New content today:

Scully’s PB

So, Scully now has her own jar of peanut butter.

Scully's PB

This happened because we accidentally bought the wrong sort of peanut butter – my wife and I prefer the all natural stuff with no added sugar or salt. I have crunchy and she has smooth. But someone accidentally grabbed this jar. So now in a household of two people, we have three different types of peanut butter.

Besides grocery shopping, I spent the day writing another 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe.

New content today:

Caught by rain

I went for a long walk today to get some exercise and some lunch. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on the weather turning while I was out. I was 3 km from home having a slice of pizza for lunch from an Italian bakery, and it started raining. The sky was dark and it looked like there would be heavy rain, and I had no protection from the elements.

I took shelter in a small shopping centre, and wandered into a supermarket to kill the time. They had some cheap roasted cashews, so I grabbed a bag. Fortunately the rain stopped while I was inside, but the sky looked threatening, so I scurried home.

On the way, I stopped at St Thomas Rest Park, a local historical cemetery, converted into a park, although still with many old gravestones on the site.

St Thomas Rest Park

The most significant is a pyramid-shaped tomb, under which are buried Alexander Berry, his wife, and her brother Edward Wollstonecraft (a cousin of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), who were pioneers of the settlement of North Sydney, across Sydney Harbour from the main colony of Sydney.

Alexander Berry Pyramid

This is an important historical site in the area, and it’s pretty cool that it’s been preserved and made accessible as a public park.

Back at home, I wrote annotations for the recent batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips, which finishes off the work on that batch. Time to start the next batch!

New content today:

Comic Sunday

This morning my wife and I went for a long walk with Scully, taking her through the bushland near the harbour for the first time in several weeks. A bit over a month ago the local council deployed poison fox baits in the bushland in an effort to control/eradicate the feral fox population. The area was off limits for dogs, because the baits are also lethal to them, so we had to take alternate routes. But the area was posted as clear a week or so ago, so we took advantage today. And after the bush section we walked along the waterfront…

Scully on Sunday

We didn’t get home until close to lunchtime, since we stopped for morning tea at a bakery. They have the most delicious fruit danishes there – I had an apricot one. The pastry is incredibly crisp and flaky and buttery.

Most of the afternoon I spent completing the batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips I’ve been working on for the past week. The comics are now all assembled, but I still have to write all the annotations and enter them into the database where they’re queued up for publication. That’s another half day of work or so.

New content today:

Comic maker, makin’ comics

Besides the usual Saturday morning housework, today was mostly spent making comics. A new strip of Darths & Droids, and assembling strips from the batch of Irregular Webcomic! photos I took during the week.

Um, that’s about it. I went out for dinner with my wife to an Indian restaurant – a new one we hadn’t been to before. It was good.

New content today:

Late Friday: Magic event

Writing Friday night’s post on Saturday morning, because last night was the huge Magic: the Gathering games night event that I’ve been organising for weeks. So, now that my friends have been surprised, I can finally reveal some details!

I put together a cube draft tournament, selecting 360 Magic cards from various different sets, and randomly distributing them to produce 24 faux boosters, for the booster draft format. I even printed cover pictures for the faux boosters and sealed the cards inside. Here’s a picture of the 24 faux boosters – There’s a theme, which you might be able to recognise. Be quick, I’m going to spoil it in the next paragraph:

The theme is that all these things were released in 1993-1995. Not coincidentally, Magic: the Gathering was released in 1993. The gimmick with this cube draft was that many of the cards I selected were from some of the very early released sets of Magic. Now, some of those cards were very powerful and have never been reprinted, so they are scarce, and thus have become insanely valuable over time. The best known are the so-called “Power Nine” cards, which now change hands for prices of the order of several thousand US dollars each. I started playing Magic after these cards had stopped being printed, so I don’t own any of them. But I have a friend who started playing Magic before me, and he has a full set of all these early sets, including not only the Power Nine, but also dozens of other rare and very valuable cards. (If you know Magic, he has complete sets of Unlimited, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, and an almost complete set of Arabian Nights.)

He hasn’t played with those cards for some time, and wondered if I would like to use them in games with my Magic playing group. Needless to say I leapt at the opportunity to borrow them! I selected 360 of the most powerful cards I could get my hands on, including some cards from more recent sets from my own collection (I kept track of ownership in a spreadsheet). I double-sleeved the cards to protect them, then created the faux boosters ready for playing.

My friends had no idea what I had prepared; I’d only told them that I was organising a draft tournament and would provide all the cards. To get into the spirit of “old timey” stuff, I suggested we get dressed up in jackets and ties, and I brought several bottles over to make cocktails. While we waited for the last players to arrive, they speculated on what was in store. Someone suggested I had made an entire self-designed Magic set based on a James Bond theme.

Old Timey Magic draft

When everyone had arrived, I handed out the first booster packs. Everyone was intrigued by the cover design but nobody picked up on the theme. Then when they opened the packs and saw the cards within… It was great. Many expressions of shock and disbelief as most of them saw for the first time with their own eyes renowned cards they’d only ever heard about in hushed tones before, and realised they were going to get to play games with them.

We went through the rounds of drafting, with many expressions of incredulity at the cards they were seeing. And then built our decks and played the games, which led to several epic and hilarious plays throughout the evening.

For those savvy with the game, one memorable incident from a game I played: I mana-accelerated into Eureka, thinking my hand stacked with huge creatures would prevail over whatever my opponent had. He put out Nicol Bolas, which bemused me because he didn’t have the necessary lands to pay for the upkeep. But then he put out Tawnos’s Coffin, which I thought would neutralise one of my big creatures, but then he activated it to exile his own Nicol Bolas, and I realised his cunning plan. On his next turn he played the last land he needed to pay Bolas’s upkeep, and unleashed him from the Coffin…. and it was all over red rover for me, as Nicol Bolas proceeded to pound me for huge damage until I was dead.

By the end of the night, much fun had been had by all, and everyone agreed it had been one of our most memorable Magic tournaments ever!

(The other thing I did on Friday before going to games night was finish a new entry for 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe…)

New content today:

Photographic philosophy

Today on a Reddit sub that I read people were posting photos of sunsets they had taken. I posted this one, which I took at Port Willunga in South Australia some years ago:

Earth, Air, Water, Fire

One person asked me if I’d “tweaked” the photo from the original, or if this was the original photo. Here’s what I wrote in response (edited slightly for clarity):

I captured the original image in RAW mode, which basically just counts the actual photons in each colour channel of the camera. To make a JPEG file, it’s necessary to process it in at least some minimal way. Raw photon counts do not accurately track the human eye’s sensitivity to light, so if you just convert the raw numbers to RGB channels in a JPEG in a linear fashion, the image always looks dull and washed out. To get an acceptable image for computer display, you have to at the very least apply a tone curve – a non-linear mapping from photon counts to RGB intensities. In a camera that saves JPEGs, it does this processing automatically, and the JPEG you get is “straight out of the camera” in some sense.

My camera can capture in RAW mode, which I prefer, because I can adjust the tone curve at processing time, rather than use the default. This is a first level of processing where human judgement comes into making the picture look artistic.

The next level is choosing the colour balance. The human eye adapts to changing light conditions with an effect known as colour constancy – a blue object appears blue to us under white light, yellow light, green light, etc. A camera can’t tell what the overall lighting tone is, so a human needs to make that adjustment so that the photo better represents what a human would have perceived under those lighting conditions. Again, you can aim for varying levels of realism versus artistic representation.

The camera also introduces various distortions in shape and colour. The main one of interest in this photo is the vignetting, or darkening around the edges. This is an artefact of the lens, usually observed at the widest apertures, and does not reflect reality, but is so familiar to us in photos that it is perceived as an artistic effect. In processing you can choose to either remove the edge darkening to better reflect reality, or leave it in (or even enhance it) to enhance the artistic effect.

Finally, when dealing with my best photos, I often do detailed editing in Photoshop, adjusting the tone and colour and contrast locally by varying amounts in different parts of the image. I don’t remember exactly what I did with this one, but I’m pretty sure I applied this sort of detail editing quite a bit. Oh, I also straightened the horizon by rotating the image a bit. 🙂

The RAW image as processed into JPEG by the camera manufacturer software’s default tone curve looks like this:

So yes, there’s quite a big difference between that and the final version! But photography is an art, with artistic decisions made at many stages in the process. The final image better reflects my personal feeling of being there at that beach on that evening than the default image does. Unprocessed photos of sunsets often look underwhelming compared to the sense of being there yourself – because you really need to add some heartfelt artistic interpretation to the image to better capture that feeling.

Any photographer who tells you that an unprocessed image is “better” because it better represents reality is kidding you. Photos never accurately represent reality, because they can’t.

The one important take-away is that an “unprocessed” digital photo is still processed, just with some default generic decisions that somebody at a camera company made. There’s no reason to ever assume those default decisions are any better than processing decisions made by the individual photographer under individual conditions. In fact, for most purposes they can’t possibly be. Only the photographer knows what the intent of the image is, not the camera company.

So, that was my rant about processing photos. Some people occasionally express the opinion that digitally processing and adjusting a photo is somehow “cheating”, and that only the photo straight out of the camera is a true representation of reality, and therefore is somehow better or more pure. That’s simply not true, because photos straight out of a camera are affected by imaging artefacts and are processed according to the manufacturer’s algorithms. In one sense that actually makes them worse than photos edited by the photographer – though I’ll settle for just “different interpretations”.

Apart from that, today I mostly worked on writing a new Proof that the Earth is a Globe, but it’s not ready for publication yet. Hopefully tomorrow.

New content today:

End of term Ethics

This week is the last week of school term 3 in New South Wales, so it’s my last week of teaching Ethics class before a two-week break. We finished off the topic on “Jumping to conclusions”, which was really about applying a couple of rules of formal logic to language to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions from statements. (As discussed in the posts for the last couple of weeks.)

Today I thought I’d take some photos to show the classroom setup I use. This is the room after I go in and rearrange the furniture, putting enough chairs in a circle for the group discussion:

Ethics class setup

The school has very nice grounds, with plenty of trees and grassy areas. There are often Australian ravens (you can see two in the photo) and rainbow lorikeets and other birds on this patch of grass. This is the view from the door of the classroom I use:

Lane Cove Public School

After teaching my class, I walked home via Chatswood, a suburb with a large shopping centre, where I bought some new footwear for the imminent summer, and had some sushi for a slightly early lunch. I caught the train home and started work on assembling the new batch of Irregular Webcomic! that I photographed yesterday.

New content today:

Die Bahn

Two things today: I put the finishing touches on the preparation for Friday night’s Magic: the Gathering event. Phew. It was a lot of work, but it’s good to have it completed. Now I just have to wait with eager anticipation for Friday night, when my friends and I get to play this tournament!

And secondly I did some preparation for my upcoming trip to Germany for ISO photography standards meetings. My wife is travelling with me. Unfortunately because of the way the dates work out and the time zone shift, we have to fly back home from Frankfurt on the evening of the day before our wedding anniversary, and we don’t get home until the morning of the day after our anniversary. Basically, we’re going to lose our anniversary this year. We end up spending a couple of hours waiting for a connecting flight at 3am in Dubai Airport, but that’s not exactly conducive to a romantic meal or anything. So I’ve booked a fancy restaurant in Cologne for the evening before we leave, two days early. It’s a place we’ve eaten at before, so we know it’ll be good.

I also booked our connecting train tickets today. Die Bahn is a great service, but gosh the tickets are expensive. We’re travelling from Frankfurt Airport to Essen, where we’re going to attend a day of the Spiel board gaming fair, and then we travel back to Cologne for my ISO meetings, before heading home. It’ll be a short trip, but should be fun!

New content today:

Comic batching

I still had three or four strips to write in the latest batch of Irregular Webcomic!, so I started on those first thing this morning. I powered through writing them in about an hour or so, and it was still early enough to get to work on photographing, so I did. I had to run down to the garage to retrieve my Lego Jabba the Hutt for one new comic. It would have been ideal to have the Lego Boushh figure as well, but I don’t have that so I had to improvise:

... holding a thermal detonator!

Now that I look at it, I realise this scene shouldn’t have Leia in the slave outfit next to Jabba… but, oh well. Anyway, building sets and taking photos for the comics took several hours, and I didn’t finish until a late lunch time.

After lunch I took Scully for a walk and dropped in at the small nearby supermarket to pick up some fruit. And this afternoon I starting putting the finishing touches on the Magic: the Gathering thing I’m preparing for Friday night. It’s nearly finished – hopefully I’ll be able to finish it off tomorrow so I can work on some other things later in the week.

New content today: