Announcing mezzacotta Café v2.0

It’s Wednesday, Ethics teaching day. I walked to the school, taught my class, and walked home – a total walk of 8 kilometres. Well, I took a slightly indirect route home because it’s a more pleasant walk than along the main road.

Back home, I did a bunch of work for the ISO Photography standards committee that I’m still on. I started on this committee back with my old job at Canon Information Systems Research Australia. When the company decided to close down, I decided to continue working on the committee, since it’s a good way to keep up with professional photographic technology research, and I wanted to make sure Australia maintained its role in the international committee. Anyway, I had a bunch of documents to go through, so that took some time.

Then I spent time solving puzzles from the 2019 MUMS Puzzle Hunt, which started today. I’m part of the team “mezzacotta” with some of my friends.

In between I worked on integrating HTML/CSS to make the new mezzacotta Café look nice. Here’s the old original version. And here’s the new updated version made with our new mezzacotta Random Generator technology. The new version began with the same vocabulary a few days ago, but has had a few new additions made to it already. And it looks nicer!

Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal

This morning I woke up with the idea for a new random text generator: Random breakfast cereals! But more on that later. First it was a Sunday morning walk with the wife and Scully. We did a roughly 5 kilometre loop, stopping at a nice bakery/cafe along the way for morning tea.

Back at home, I finished work on tonight’s new Darths & Droids comic. Then I implemented the random breakfast cereal generator. Technical coding details follow in the next paragraph (feel free to skip it if not interested in coding nitty-gritty):

One issue critical with this generator was a problem that Andrew Coker and I have wanted to tackle for some time. The idea was to generate a cereal name (e.g. Crunchy Chcolate Bombs), and then a description of the cereal. But the description should use some of the same words as in the name, so that it’s described as “Scrummy bombs of chocolate with extra marshmallow bits” rather than, say, “Yummy shreds of bran with raisins”. To do this we needed to store some of the randomly generated words in a context dictionary and then recall them later on using variable names, rather than just generate more random text. Doing this required quite a bit of code refactoring, and a lot of heavily nested text replacements in the partially munged output string. This of course generated a slew of bugs with other replacements such as capitalisations and stuff. So we worked together to track them down and squash them. After a few hours of coding, we think we have it working properly.

TL;DR: Here’s the brand new mezzacotta breakfast cereal generator!

Another thing I’ve been doing is getting back into my Italian language practice. I’ve been practising regularly on Duolingo for a few years, doing some every day, but I slipped after my last overseas trip and didn’t start up again when I got back home, until a few days ago. Now I’m back into doing some revision every day. Fortunately it seems like I haven’t forgotten too much! If you use Duolingo, you can follow my profile here.

And a photo today, another behind-the-scenes of a set I built for the Cliffhangers theme. It might not be obvious where they are from this, but when you see the actual comic hopefully it’ll be convincing enough.

The train to Abydos

Unforeseen events

Today I planned to photograph a batch of new Irregular Webcomic! strips that I’ve written over the past few days. But first thing this morning I had to visit the dentist for a routine hygiene/clean thingy. Alas, it turned out that I had a cracked tooth, which needed filling…

I ended up spending over two hours there, and left with a numb face. Arriving home a lot later than I thought and not feeling the best, I decided to give the photography a miss and leave it until Thursday. Instead I did some more prep for Friday night’s D&D game, and a bit of coding on a secret new random text generator, which promises to be a lot of fun.

Oh, and on the way home from the dentist, I got swooped by a magpie! It’s still the middle of winter, but it’s so warm and spring-like already that the magpies are apparently nesting already. It hit me full in the back of the shoulder and head as it dive-bombed me. I was rather shocked as I haven’t really been attacked by a magpie for several years – I’m usually pretty cautious when I know they’re nesting, but it never would have occurred to me that they’d be laying eggs so early in the year.

It really has been an amazingly warm winter here. There are still trees with autumn and even pre-autumn green foliage that hasn’t dropped, while other trees are sprouting new spring foliage already. And the magnolias are in full bloom:

Winter Sunday

Spent time with the wife and Scully today. We did a 5 km walk around the neighbourhood, passing two dog parks along the way where Scully got to run around and chase a tennis ball. We stopped at a bakery for morning tea, and then walked home via the marina down in the bay.

At the marina

Work-wise, I wrote some scripts for new Irregular Webcomic! strips, tidied up tonight’s new Darths & Droids strip for publication, and worked a bit on the mezzacotta random generators. Andrew Coker, whose original idea led to these random generators, did a lot of coding work today, developing a new generator to produce random art description plaques, like you see in art galleries, that give the title, artist, and a description of the work. It’s not quite ready to show off yet, but if you look at the Github project you can see the code as we commit and push it.

Here are some preview samples of the sort of artwork titles we can generate:

  • Portrait of the artist’s sister-in-law
  • Composition of pentagons and squiggles
  • Self-portrait as Agamemnon
  • The perfection of love in the toe of someone laughing
  • Allegory on the vision of Satyr

New movies!

Bit of a hodge-podge day today. Made a dentist appointment, dropped off some dry cleaning, did some grocery shopping…

Oh, I worked some more on the D&D adventure I mentioned yesterday. It’s not complete, but it’s now in a state where I can share it with interested people to get some comments, and see if they want to try playtesting it with their own D&D groups. I’ve uploaded it to my Secret Patron Page, which Patreon patrons have access to. (If you’d like to see work in progress like this, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon!)

And I did a bit more coding work on the mezzacotta random generators, exposing the board game description generator (work in progress), and the version 2.0 incarnation of mezzacotta Cinématique (that link is version 1), the random movie generator. And it has a shiny new high-res logo (click on the image or here to go to the new version 2.0):

Cinématique v 2.0 logo

And finally I did a thing I’ve been meaning to do for some time. I contacted the after school child care centre near the school where I teach Ethics classes, and volunteered to supervise kids one afternoon a week. Specifically on Wednesdays, during the weekly chess/games club. I’m offering to supervise a group of 4-6 children and Dungeon Master a game of Dungeons & Dragons for them! I don’t know if they will take up my offer, but at least I’ve made the move. One thing I have going for me is that I have a few years of experience working with primary school students, as well as being accredited by the State Government to work in a child supervision role. So hopefully it’ll work out! I’ll keep you updated.

Ethics day

This week is the first week of the third school term of the year, and on Wednesdays I volunteer to teach a class on Ethics to Year 6 children at a local school. This is part of the New South Wales Primary Ethics program, a volunteer program to offer classes in ethics during the weekly lesson time set aside for religious education, as an alternative for parents who don’t want their kids to attend religion classes. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now.

Today we started a new topic: Moral Responsibility. The first lesson involved a couple of stories providing contrasting choices: helping storm victims who live near you, versus tsunami victims in another, poorer country; and providing mining and forestry jobs, resources, and money for schools and hospitals, versus leaving wilderness areas untouched for future generations. We read the scenarios and then discuss them. The kids were pretty evenly split on helping local disaster victims versus foreign ones, but they were mostly in favour of preserving wilderness, even at the expense of jobs and infrastructure for people in the present. It’s always interesting listening to kids’ perspectives on these topics.

I walked to the school and back home, a trek of 8 kilometres according to my fitness tracking app. So that took up most of the morning. This afternoon I took it a bit easy, hacking a little bit on the mezzacotta random generators code.

On the walk home, I found a patch of nasturtiums in the warm winter sunlight. They looked cool from above, but even cooler from below:

Under the nasturtiums

And we’re live!

Hi everyone! I’ve been thinking for quite a while about making a new portal page for people interested in following my creative work and other stuff. Yesterday I decided to knuckle down and make it, and I previewed it early to my Patreon patrons to get some feedback while I was fiddling with the graphic design.

(Techy details: I had to dig pretty deep into WordPress custom CSS to get the design working how I wanted, removing a lot of excessive negative space in the sidebar. And then it turned out I’d stupidly installed the code into a sub-subdirectory rather than a subdirectory of my web root, so I spent another couple of hours moving directories, editing config files, and trawling through the WordPress database to edit all mentions of the sub-subdirectory. And then hack the .htaccess file to change the default landing page for the web domain. Thankfully it all seems to be working, but it’s possible there’ll be a glitch somewhere.)

TL;DR: It took more work than I’d expected, but we’re up and running!

The other thing I did today was write a new Proof that the Earth is a Globe: #21. Zodiacal light. I started about 9am and worked on that to about 2pm, so that was most of the day. But I’m pleased with this one. How often do you get to cite Brian May’s Ph.D. thesis in a piece of scientific writing?

Then I took Scully (my dog) out for a bit of walk, and spent the rest of the afternoon getting this new home page up and running. Here’s a photo of Scully (taken a couple of days ago):

Scully on a bushwalk

Isn’t she cute?