Unexpected golf

When I got up this morning, I opened some windows… and immediately closed them again. Smoke had descended on Sydney again, from the ongoing bushfires. It wasn’t as bad as it has been, but certainly bad enough to avoid opening any windows and avoid going outdoors if possible.

But then I got a message… A guy from Houston who had posted on a forum asking about golf in Sydney a few weeks ago – and I had responded with some info – had just touched down here at 06:30 , and wanted to hook up for a game. This morning.

I told him I needed to be home by 2:30 pm, so we’d have to tee off no later than about 10 am to give me us time to play and me to get home. A few frantic messages later, we had a 09:44 tee off time booked at Moore Park Golf Club… and I had to leave almost right away to get there in time. Fortunately by the time I got there a storm had moved in and some rain had cleared the sky out a bit, so it wasn’t so smoky by the time we started playing. It rained on us a bit during the first few holes, but then cleared to a muggy overcast.

Moore Park is a longer course than I’ve ever played – it has four par 5 holes, and I’d never played a par 5 hole before. Our visitor was much more at home, and played the course a lot more competently than I did. However, I did manage to par the par 3 fifth hole:

Hole 5, Moore Park

And I scored two single bogeys, on par 3 and 4 holes. So I was happy with that, although my score on several other holes really blew out. Here’s the 17th hole, a par 4 on which I scored 8.

Hole 17, Moore Park

We finished the round in good time, and I made it home a bit before 2pm, so that was good. My wife had an appointment at a nearby hospital and I had to look after Scully. The appointment was a positive one – it was her orientation as a Delta therapy dog owner, prior to her first patient visit with Scully, which is on next Tuesday! While my wife was out, I took Scully to the dog park for a run around and a walk along the shore.

And then this evening we all went for dinner at a Thai restaurant that we like, a short drive away. They have outdoor tables, so we can take Scully. I was really hungry after the golf, and not having time for a proper lunch!

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Retrieving my sunglasses

This morning I walked over to the golf course to pick up my lost sunglasses. It’s a fair walk, and very hilly – it took me almost exactly an hour to walk there and back. Here’s a view looking down one of the hills.

Downhill and the city

Scully was doing a lot better today, after yesterday’s sickness. I took her to the dog park down by the water this afternoon and we had a walk with the other dogs and owners there. She had a good run around and has her appetite back.

Oh, and I updated the Irregular Webcomic! poll question. From Christmas decorations to… mint…

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Losing my sunglasses

Scully woke up early this morning, around 5:30, and wanted to go outside, so I had to take her downstairs. I got to see the pre-dawn light suffuse the sky. It’s amazing seeing actual clouds and sky – we’ve been under a smoky haze for so long that it really felt unusual.

Being up so early, I decided to head out early for some golf at the local course. I started well today, but dropped off in the last few holes, scoring 58, one shot worse than my best so far for the 9 hole course. My first tee shot was awesome though – so much so that I took a photo of where my ball landed:

Tee shot landing position, hole 1

When I got back to the car, I realised I’d lost my sunglasses somewhere along the course. I phoned up later and the clubhouse said they had my glasses, so I’ll have to go back and pick them up tomorrow.

At home, I spent some time researching e-commerce solutions for my new photography website. I’m planning to sell framed prints, canvas prints, and other things with some of my photos on them. So having an online shop seems like a good move! I’m thinking of going with WooCommerce, since it’s open source and free to use, as opposed to something like Shopify, which charges a monthly fee plus a percentage of your sales. I don’t expect my volume to be very big, so I want to avoid monthly fees if I can!

This afternoon I got a message from my wife that Scully had been sick at work, vomiting a couple of times, the first being a weird red-brown colour, and had been lethargic all day. We were concerned enough that we booked a visit to the vet this evening. By then Scully had perked up considerably, and the vet was happy with the examination, deciding it most likely wasn’t anything serious, and Scully just had a reaction to something and would recover naturally. She does seem a lot more back to her normal self now, so that’s good.

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Hmm, what did I do today?

Not much. I started installing a MacOS update this morning, and it stalled for some reason. I let it run for a few hours in case it was just slow, and while I waited I just sat on the lounge and watched the Australia v New Zealand cricket match on TV. I had some leftover Christmas ham on sandwiches for lunch, and about mid-afternoon I finally decided to hard shutdown the computer and restart it. That fixed the problem and it installed the update okay after that (taking about half an hour to do so).

I made tomorrow’s Darths & Droids strip and uploaded it to the web server.

Oh, that’s right! The other thing I did with most of the morning was housecleaning. Vacuuming the house, washing the balcony (there was so much ash from the bushfires on it, fine-grained and gritty), then emptying the vacuum cleaner and washing the dust receptacle. Then I decided to clean the air filter in the vacuum cleaner, and discovered that the sponge-like filter which is supposed to last “the lifetime of the cleaner” had deteriorated and crumbled into a fine powder when I removed it. So I have to get a new filter before I vacuum again. I also cleaned the air filters on the air conditioner, which were pretty clogged with dust.

You know if you have an air conditioner, you’re supposed to clean the filters every now and then, right? Maybe you better check it!

This afternoon my wife and I walked up the street with Scully, stopping to exercise her a bit on the way, throwing a tennis ball for her to chase in a local park. There’s a small park on a hill, with terraced grass levels that she can run up and down. Getting her running up the hill chasing the ball is a good way to tire her out quickly! Then we went to a local bar for dinner, having some nice wine and some share plate style food, which was nice. They even let Scully into the interior courtyard! It’s very unusual for eating establishments here to allow dogs inside; normally we have to find places with tables outside on the footpath, which limits our dining out options a bit. (Or get a dogsitter, which we’ve done a few times when going somewhere fancy.)

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Christmas Day

My first task this morning was to bake the ham that we’d be taking to Christmas lunch at my wife’s family gathering. This is not a large gathering – there were only eight of us, plus a few drop-ins who showed up briefly. So I’d bought a very small ham to avoid ridiculous amounts of leftovers. Which meant it took only a bit over an hour to bake.

We packed that and the remaining lentil balls and drove over to my in-laws’ place, which is a small waterfront property on Sydney Harbour. It has easy access to a small secluded beach which is never very busy. Anchored offshore were several yachts and small cruising boats, with people having their Christmas lunches on the water, and spending time leaping into the harbour to cool off from the warmth of the day. The weather was warmish, but relatively mild for this time of the year, which was nice.

We had pre-lunch nibbles – cheese, crackers, dips, breadsticks. Then the gifts were handed out. Scully got a few, and enjoyed tearing the wrappings off:

Scully opening Christmas presents

Then was lunch: ham, turkey, lentil balls, roast potatoes and pumpkin and carrots and onions, salad, bread. And then dessert: traditional Christmas fruit pudding, ice cream, and a deconstructed pavlova platter which my nephew made, with custard, cream, and tons of fresh fruits: passionfruit, mango, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. This was a really great dessert, as everyone helped themselves to exactly the proportions of pavlova, custard, cream, and fruit they wanted. It was delicious!

Deconstructed pavlova grazing board

After the meal we lazed around for a while, too full to do anything else. Then my two nephews and I decided to go for a swim down at the beach. We took Scully as well, so she could run around and play on the sand. I didn’t swim for long, but did a couple hundred metres of freestyle stroke out from the beach into deep water amongst the boats and back. There are supposedly bull sharks in Sydney Harbour, but I’ve swum here many times and never seen any.

Following the swim, we pulled out some board games. We played a couple of games of Codenames and then Azul (which my wife won handily).

By now it was evening and the tradition of watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on the TV had begun. My wife and I watched a bit of it with everyone, and then headed home for the remainder of the evening.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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