Dog party!

Somehow I got stuck with the job of baking a ham for Christmas lunch with my wife’s family. So this morning I ventured out to acquire a ham. When I got to the supermarket, I found a section with Christmas hams… they were about $20 a kilogram, and all huge slabs of meat weighing 4, 5, 6+ kilos each. Christmas lunch will be for about 8 people… I really don’t think we could get through $100 worth of ham. So I wandered off to get some other groceries, wondering what to do. But then I ran across another section of the store where they had baby hams, closer to 1 kilo. Perfect!

Ham acquired, I bought some other stuff and went home. On the way, I popped into my dentist, as I was walking past and it reminded me that I’m overdue for a teeth clean. The receptionist wasn’t at the desk, so I had to wait a couple of minutes to make my appointment, and I looked over at the coffee table covered in magazines for waiting patients to read. And I spotted something interesting:

Mechanical Dentistry by Charles Hunter

Mechanical Dentistry by Charles Hunter

Well it’s good to see that my dentist is up on all of the latest techniques and practices! There was even a chapter on how to alloy gold for use in a filling or for a false tooth!

The rest of the morning I spent cataloguing all the bird photos I took yesterday, extracting photo metadata (date, time, GPS coordinates, etc), matching it to species IDs, and then importing the lot into my bird photo database. (You can browse this database, but it’s still under construction – I have to go back and import all my historical bird photos. At the moment it only has photos I took this year, so many of the birds click through to an empty page. For one with several photos, try the New Holland honeyeater.)

This afternoon, we had another Christmas party that Scully was invited to – this time at her dog park that we go to a couple of times a week. It was just organised by the group of regulars there, who invited everyone and their dogs to show up with a plate of food. We arrived early, to go for the usual walk along the shore with the group of dogs that Scully has become familiar with. By the time we got back from the walk there were maybe 20-30 dogs plus their owners there, enjoying plenty of food and drink.

Dog park party

As you can see, Scully was wearing her festive kiwifruit bandana. We stayed for a couple of hours, until about 6pm, when we left to go in search of dinner (the food we ate there was really more of an appetiser than a meal). We ended up at an Italian place, walking a large circuit from our place via the dog park. In total it was almost 8 km we walked this evening. Scully should sleep well tonight, as hopefully will I!

New content today:

Puppy Party

This morning my wife and I took Scully to her groomer/doggy daycare’s Christmas party. They held it at a nearby dog park.

Bloomingtails Doggy Christmas Party

They had special treats for the dogs:

Bloomingtails Doggy Christmas Party

Scully (centre) even got to meet our local federal Member of Parliament (centre, brown trousers, dark blue shirt), who was there with his own dog:

Bloomingtails Doggy Christmas Party

I considered telling him how the Government is doing a terrible job, but given the occasion I settled for exchanging a few words about our dogs and what a nice party the grooming/daycare place had put on. They even had a Santa Claus:

Bloomingtails Doggy Christmas Party

Scully asked for some special treats for Christmas:

Bloomingtails Doggy Christmas Party

It was a really great event, and they also had human food, and personalised gift bags for each dog. The grooming/daycare place is a small business run by one woman and her husband, and everybody loves the place. They won a local small business award recently, and deservedly so.

After the fun, Scully was worn out, and we relaxed at home for the Sunday afternoon. My wife and I played some board games and I made lentil and potato dhal for dinner, using the very first mature chilli from our chilli plant! It was good – I just chopped it all up and threw it in, and it added the right amount of heat to the dish. There are lots more chillis on the plant, with a few more starting to turn from green to red. So it looks like we’ll have plenty to use in the near future.

New content today:

Heat and Smoke

Today was an awful day, weather-wise. It was hot, and the wind blew in a lot of smoke from the bushfires west of Sydney. And it just got worse as the day wore on.

It didn’t begin too badly. I was up early and decided to go to the local golf course to play 9 holes.I was there not long after 7am, and finished well before 9 o’clock. Last time I scored 64, and today I managed 59, improving by 5 strokes. I still lost a few balls, hitting wild shots into the bush surrounding the course. Unfortunately one of those shots was on the par-3 6th hole, and since the ball only went about 10 metres before disappearing into thick undergrowth, I decided to tee off again with another ball. That shot landed on the green, and I sank it in two putts. If only I hadn’t skewed the first tee shot into the bush I would have got a par! Oh well, maybe next time.

Most of the day I spent indoors, writing annotations for the latest batch of Irregular Webcomic! I finished all of those off (I started yesterday). And then I started work on preparing for a Standards Australia meeting on photography standards tomorrow, which I’m chairing. This meeting is primarily for me to report to the Australian experts on what transpired at the international meeting I attended in Cologne back in October. So I need to be up to speed on everything that happened there and all of the reports submitted at that meeting.

This afternoon I took Scully out for a play at the dog park and a walk along the harbour shore with the other owners and their dogs. We left at 3:30pm, and as we drove down to the park I could see the smoke smeared across the sky. And once we got there and out of the car… wow, it was really bad. Here’s the park, with a view to the office buildings of North Sydney in the background:

Bushfire smoke

The walk goes down by the Harbour shore, where there’s a view across to the Harbour Bridge and the city central business district:

Bushfire smoke

We walk along this path which leads through an old oil terminal site on the shore, where tankers used to unload petroleum. The site has now been cleaned up and turned into this park. Today the afternoon sun burned down redly through the smoke haze:

Bushfire smoke

Here’s Scully (the black dog at centre) and some of our fellow dog walkers, approaching the far end of the walk along the shore:

Bushfire smoke

Coming back, the view of the city looked like this:

Bushfire smoke

The air was very unpleasant to breathe, and my throat is now scratchy and irritated. Unfortunately, the forecast with the fires and the winds is that this sort of smoke will linger over Sydney for several more days before we get a wind change that blows it away. But alas it will most likely return after that, and it’s possible – even likely – that we’ll be having to deal with this on and off throughout the whole summer.

New content today:

Delta Dog training

Last night was fortnightly games night with the guys. We played Azul: Summer Pavilion, which I picked up last weekend:

Azul: Summer Pavilion

And Deep Blue, one of the games I got in Essen:

Deep Blue

I didn’t win either game, alas.

But on to today: After Scully passed her Delta therapy dogs exam last weekend, my wife had her training scheduled today. The training is for human handlers only, so I had to look after Scully for the day.

We dropped my wife off at the training place before 9am this morning, and then Scully and I drove back home. She was a bit distracted on the trip, and kept putting her front paws on the armrest console, thus activating various buttons. She does this occasionally when in the car with just a driver. She can turn the radio on and off, change the station, one time she set up a new favourite station. Today she managed to activate the satnav and store a new favourite address!

Back home, she relaxed in her dog bed while I made a new Darths & Droids strip. We went out for a bit of fresh air in the park across the street, and then it was time to go get some lunch. We drove back to a bakery near where my wife was training, and I got some pies for lunch. We walked over to a nearby park where Scully could run around and chase a tennis ball. The park is on a slope running down to Drummoyne Oval, where a grade cricket match was in progress.

Watching cricket at Drummoyne Oval

At one point I tossed the ball, and it rolled down the hill with Scully chasing it… but she’s not a terribly agile dog like some others, and generally has to wait for the ball to roll to a stop before she can pick it up. I could see what was going to happen and ran after her, but by the time we got to the bottom of the hill, the ball had rolled under the fence and into the cricket ground. I could see it, some 10 metres inside the fence. So we had to walk around the outer fence to find a gate that was open, and then go inside the spectator area, and walk around the edge of the playing field while the game was in progress, to retrieve her ball. Fortunately grade cricket matches don’t charge admission for spectators, so we could get in and out without any trouble.

After an hour of playing in the park, we went to pick up my wife. Her training went fine, and she’s selected some hospitals near us that she’d like to visit with Scully as part of the Delta program. They won’t start until early next year, but she’s pretty excited.

New content today:

Good news and bad news

Good news first:

Scully had her behaviour and obedience test today to qualify as a Delta therapy dog (see part 1 from last Thursday). I drove Scully and my wife out to the testing site, where there were dozens of other dogs trying out. This is my wife’s initiative, and she wants to be the human companion when Scully is on duty, so it was up to her to accompany Scully for the test. She didn’t want me around to be a possible distraction, so, I went over to a nearby shopping centre to pass the time.

When I got back, my wife reported that Scully had passed! Now they have to do a day of training, and then I’m not sure what the next step is. But we could have Scully visiting local hospitals to cheer people up pretty soon!

Bad news:

My webhost has been reminding me repeatedly to upgrade my servers to PHP 7.2 (from version 5.6), with a deadline of some time in November before they just do it for me. Well, the upgrade happened today. Most of my sites are fine… except for the Irregular Webcomic! forums. The upgrade has utterly broken them, and the forums are now inaccessible.

The problem is that I installed phpBB forum software ages ago, and upgrading it was always a pain in the neck due to my UI customisations, so in 2005 I gave up upgrading phpBB. Up until today the forums were still running code from 2005. Unfortunately, that code relied on PHP 5.6, and is incompatible with PHP 7.2. Thus the brokenness.

I’m still pondering what to do about this. The database is still there, with all of the users and posts. It’s just the web page code that can’t run any more. Theoretically, it should be possible to install a current version of phpBB and import the data from the old database into the latest database format. But in practice I don’t know how easy this will be. If I can’t find someone with a convenient script to do all the work, the odds that I can do it myself are extremely low. I may have the necessary coding skills, but I certainly don’t have a spare month to do the work.

At this point I have to estimate that it’s probably 95% likely that the old forums are completely gone forever. It’s my own fault, really, for running such outdated software – it was bound to break eventually.

If anyone reading this knows phpBB and would like to help me, please let me know!

New content today:

Fitness Thursday

I’ve been busy every morning this week so far, so today was the first real chance to go for a run. I did my now usual 5k run route, from home up* to the nearest sports oval, and then laps until I reach the 5k mark.

* Literally up. From my place to the oval is an elevation rise of 40 metres. There are stairs.

I tried to beat my previous best effort, by doing longer running segments and fewer walking segments, and I succeeded, with a time of 5:49 per km, beating my previous best of 5:52. (i.e. 29:05 for the 5k, versus 29:20.) One annoying thing I discovered with my new phone is that it’s impossible to unlock it while running. My previous phone had fingerprint unlock, which worked fine, but the new one has face ID, which I could not get to work while running – I presume because it needs your face to be relatively still, not bouncing around all over the place. And forget trying to type my password while running, without my reading glasses. So I couldn’t get lap times or anything, and had to wait until I’d completed the run and stopped before I could unlock my phone and stop the timer.

For lunch I went out to the fish & chip shop, but this time I decided to try one of their burgers rather than seafood and chips. I got the basic beef burger, which of course comes with tomato, lettuce, fried onions, and sliced beetroot. It was good! I’ll have to get burgers from there more often.

To eat I went to my favourite lunch spot, about which I previously wrote about someone illegally poisoning the trees. The shade trees are now even more dead looking, and throwing essentially zero shade on the seats. I sought a shady spot down the slope, sitting on the grass under a large gum tree, where the view isn’t as good as this:

Lunch spot view

To head home, I decided not to walk along the streets, but to take the bushwalk route along the creek. It’s a steep set of carved sandstone steps down from the lookout point to sea level, where you walk along a mangrove swamp for a bit, before heading inland and uphill, following the creek gully.

Gore Cove mangroves

It’s a 1 kilometre walk up the creek back to my home, and was very pleasant being in the deep shade of the forested gully, rather than the hot and sunny streets. I really like having areas, albeit small, that look like wilderness so close to home.

This afternoon, Scully had her first exam to qualify as a Delta therapy dog. My wife organised this to see if we can volunteer with Scully to visit hospitals and so on, to let patients interact with a dog to help brighten their day. The Delta Society is a volunteer organisation that does this. They have pretty strict requirements on the dogs, so we have to go through a bunch of tests. Today was the physical exam by the vet, which Scully passed with flying colours. On Sunday we do a 15-minute interview during which they test Scully for obedience, calmness, and ability to be handled by strangers without reacting adversely. We don’t know if she’ll pass that one, but we don’t think there’s any obvious issue that will instantly rule her out. It’s going to be a matter of degree and how strict they are. We have our fingers crossed.

New content today:

Fire day

The main thing about today was not anything I did, but the weather and the resulting fires across the Eastern parts of Australia. We’ve had out-of-control bushfires burning in various parts of New South Wales and Queensland since the weekend, and today’s weather was very hot and windy. The combination resulted in declarations of (a) total fire bans across all of NSW and Queensland, (b) “catastrophic” fire conditions in the Sydney and surrounding regions – the first time this warning level has ever been issued for Sydney, and (c) an official state of emergency in NSW from today, for the next seven days.

Over the past few days, several hundred homes have been destroyed by fire, and a handful of people have been killed by the fires. We expected the worst today, as temperature rose to 37°C in Sydney, and hotter in some rural areas, with very low humidity and high winds. Throughout the day as the temperature climbed, I kept up with the news, hoping not to hear of further tragedies.

While this was happening, I spent the morning back at the school I went to yesterday, working with a couple of the kids in the Science Club, to prepare a short slideshow presentation of the work we’ve been doing all year. The older kids in the Science Club are going to present the experiments we’ve been doing to the whole school at an assembly in a couple of weeks. They have a 15 minute slot, so I made sure to keep things tight, and helped them write a script to read from.

I was home around lunch time, and then began work on getting a result from our solar shadow measuring experiment, that the kids have been working on since May – recording the length of a shadow each day as the sun moves.

Later I went out with my wife and Scully to the pet shop, for some exercise, since it was a much cooler option that going to the park. We walked over to the hardware store as well, and a couple of other places nearby to buy a few odds and ends. Scully enjoys going to the pet shop, as there are so many interesting things to smell. But she was getting restless again early this evening, so I braved the heat and took her to the nearest park to chase a ball around for a while until she got exhausted. While we did this, I could see the smoke from the bushfires around Sydney drifting across the sky.

Scully and the bushfire smoke

(This photo was walking home, not at the park.)

New content today:

Le Marché Français

Today was a family Sunday! My wife heard about a French market day being held at a school ground in a suburb not far from us, so we drove over with Scully to check it out. It was way busier than we’d expected!

French market

We were lucky to get a parking spot within two blocks in the normally quiet back streets, which were absolutely chocka with cars. Fortuitously we spotted my wife’s sister and mother arriving as well – we’d planned to meet up here at the market, but it would have been tricky with the crowd, so it was fortunate that we happened to run into one another right after finding parking spots. There were dozens of stalls selling all manner of things with a French theme, and also dozens of food tents and trucks selling crepes, raclettes, pomme frites, gateaux, cheeses, baguettes, pastries, sausages, and all sorts of other French food. And there were also several portable amusement park rides for the kids, including slides, merry-go-rounds, and even a dodgem-car pavilion. All this was set up on the school’s playing fields.

Scully had a good time exploring and sniffing everything.

Scully sur le marché français

And I found these amazing eclairs (L-R: Salted caramel and peanut; mango, lemon, and raspberry; guava and banana custard; and pistachio and blueberry):

Gourmet eclairs

They were as delicious as they look!

After spending a good chunk of the day at the market, I spent some of the afternoon cleaning the bathroom again. Not a regular weekly clean, but I finally got around to scraping the excess plaster and paint off the wall tiles. It’s been there for decades, and slowly getting discoloured and more noticeable, so I took a knife to the walls and spent an hour or so scraping them clean. It looks so much better now.

And I went grocery shopping. Mostly for supplies for tomorrow’s Science Club experiment at the school. But I’ll describe that tomorrow after we’ve done it!

New content today:

Recovery Sunday

I slept soundly from 22:30 (after the Rugby World Cup Final) to 05:30, when Scully woke me up requesting to go downstairs to the grass for a toilet. I climbed back in bed about 6 and dozed for another 3 hours, while my wife got up and pottered around.

After a late breakfast, we took Scully for a walk. It was a hot day in Sydney – reaching over 30°C by 11:00. But it was cloudy and a cool wind picked up, reducing temperatures through the afternoon until we got a huge thunderstorm around 15:00. A bit after that we invited Luna (next door’s poodle) in for a puppy play-date for about an hour and a half. The dogs love each other and raced around the house playing and fighting over toys.

I didn’t do much else, taking it easy to get over the travel, except for uploading some more photos from Germany – including my day at the Spiel board games exhibition.

Spiel bisected

I also formatted my travel diary into HTML and uploaded that to my website. I’ll add photos to it a bit later, but you can read the text now.

New content today:

Arts & Crafts Market

Sunday was cool and a bit rainy in the morning, but fined up during the day. My wife wanted to go check out a new market that we hadn’t been to before, dedicated to arts and crafts, at Gymea, a suburb in the south of Sydney. A friend of mine who used to live in the area told me that the venue used to be an old heritage estate, with a house and large grounds, but fenced off and inaccessible, with a bit of a spooky reputation. But in the 90s they opened it up to the public and turned the house into an arts centre. It has a gallery and studios where they hold classes in painting, pottery, and so on.

The market had stalls both inside the gallery and spilling out all over the lawn, with maybe a hundred or so different stalls. There was also a stage with a band playing live music, and a small cluster of food stalls. Several other people had brought small dogs, so Scully got to meet some of them.

Hazelhurst market

After browsing around all the stalls, we sought some lunch, heading a block over to Gymea’s shopping strip, where we found a place called The Portuguese Bakery. Figuring this was… wait for it… a Portuguese bakery, we grabbed a table and got some savoury pastries for lunch. Of course they had the well known Portuguese egg custard tarts, so I had to try one.

The Portuguese Bakery

But wait, there’s more! When we’d visited Portugal earlier this year, naturally we tried tarts in many places. All the bakeries there make them. But they make them all in the very traditional way – flaky pastry base, filled with custard. They were great, but quite similar to one another. But the great thing about a traditional baker emigrating to Australia is that they start to incorporate the local tastes into their products. They had not only traditional tarts, but also passionfruit, orange, raspberry, and fig custard tarts!

You would never see such sacrilege in Portugal, but here it makes sense. Passionfruit in particular is used a lot in baking and desserts, and marrying it with a custard tart turned out to be a genius level inspiration. Because I had one, and it had a layer of fresh passionfruit pulp under the custard, which added a pleasing fruity tang to complement the sweetness of the custard. The Portuguese may deny it, but I think this creation is even better than the traditional version. It was that good.

We got home in the mid afternoon and relaxed a bit, before taking Scully out for a run around the local park and chasing some tennis balls. And that about filled out the day!

New content today: