Catch-up puzzling Sunday/Monday entry

I neglected to write a blog entry yesterday due to being preoccupied solving puzzles in the Galactic Puzzle Hunt. My team is doing reasonably well, but there are several huge teams of dedicated puzzle solvers who have completed all the puzzles already. I was up until after midnight last night folding bizarre origami shapes and … well, I shouldn’t say much more about what I was doing with them because that might spoil the puzzle, and the competition is still ongoing.

I’ve also been doing some comics writing and assembling, and going on walks with Scully, and avoiding going outside for any other reason due to the COVID restrictions. On Sunday we had 163 new cases, and today 145. They still haven’t announced a lockdown extension past Friday, but I’m sure that will be coming tomorrow or Wednesday. We had local council elections due on 4 September, but it’s been announced that they will be postponed until 4 December. They’ve already been postponed a full year, having been supposed to be held in September last year. So that’s an indicator of what some people in government are thinking in terms of when we might actually get out of this lockdown.

The other thing happening is the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I was really looking forward to being able to watch the swimming finals while relaxing in the evening, since Tokyo is very close to my own time zone. But I discovered that, in contravention of all championship swimming event protocol, for this Games they’re having the heats in the evenings and the finals in the mornings, due to greedy American TV networks wanting to show them live in USA prime time. This is made more annoying by the fact my wife is confined to working from home, in the lounge room as our only available makeshift workspace, so I can’t really have the TV on during work hours. So I’m somewhat fuming that Americans are spoiling things for people in other countries, again.

Just for fun, a panorama I took of the harbour from the dog park this afternoon. It was a lovely day today.

Harbourama

We had cold weather on the weekend, but we’re warming up this week. The forecast for Sunday is 26°C, which is indeed warm for winter.

New content today:

The COVID, it hurts

New South Wales recorded 163 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24-hour reporting period, well up from yesterday’s record of 136. It takes a week or two before the effects of increased lockdown restrictions make themselves felt in lowering case numbers, but this is starting to look depressingly like they’re not working. The state and federal governments are scrambling trying to get this under control before it spirals into a complete disaster, ruining the year and a half of good work we’ve done in keeping the virus at bay in Australia. This is the scariest and most dangerous period in this country so far. And the mood of people is really starting to reflect it.

There was a fairly large protest in the heart of Sydney today, by people unhappy with the current lockdown restrictions. I knew about it from looking at some news reports during the day, but it wasn’t until I saw video coverage on the evening news on TV that I realised just how terrible it was. It turned into close to a full-on riot, with people throwing dangerous objects at police. There was an image of a man striking a police horse in the face. 57 people have been arrested and charged, and police are analysing video and interviewing people trying to track down more offenders so they can be charged as well. Story here.

And this in the middle of a time when people should be staying away from other people. It’s feared this event may end up spreading the Delta COVID variant to hundreds, if not thousands more people. I’m just absolutely sickened by what has happened here in my city today.

Trying to not think about it too much, I spent much of today collaborating with friends solving puzzles in the Galactic Puzzle Hunt, which began this morning our time. We’ve solved four of the puzzles so far, and have made substantial progress on a few others. They’re good puzzles, well constructed, but gosh some of them are difficult.

I’m about to go offline for the evening and just switch off, watching a movie…

New content today:

Piratey games night

What did I do today?

I went to the supermarket to pick up my big weekly grocery shop, that I’d ordered online for fast pickup. This time I said I was “in my way” a good ten minutes before I left home, and when I arrived it was ready for me to grab and go, which was better than the waiting around I had to do last week.

I did discover a slightly annoying thing. The minimum order of green beans from the fresh vege section was 0.25 kg, so that’s what I ordered. It turned out to be about 5 times as many beans as I normally buy! We’ll be eating beans with a lot of meals over the next week. And… the same thing with mushrooms.

From 11 am I had a photography standards meeting. This is the Standards Australia meeting to follow-up from the international ISO meeting I attended last month. As the chair of the Australian committee, I presented a report on the international meeting for the benefit of the Australian experts. Our committee is doing really well, having grown in membership recently, so this is really satisfying work.

Then at 4 pm I had another ethics class, with the prejudice topic.

And now in the evening it’s virtual board games night with my friends. We started with a game of Nidavellir, which is one of our current favourites. And I actually won the game, although I’m not sure I have a good grip on the strategy yet. We’re now into our ongoing game of Forgotten Waters, that we started a few weeks ago.

In COVID news, NSW recorded 136 new cases, which sets another new record for the year. Case numbers have gone up alarmingly in the past two days, and the number of people infectious without being in isolation is going up too. It feels like the outbreak is slipping out of control, despite the current lockdown regulations. The lockdown was scheduled to end on 30 June, but I can’t see any way that it won’t be extended, and in fact tightened even further. I feel like the only thing we can do now is hunker down, avoid people, and wait for our second vaccinations.

New content today:

Double ethics!

Today I had a first – I scheduled a second online ethics class at 6pm immediately after my established Thursday class at 5pm. The evening timeslots in my time zone seem popular, and by the time the class started I had three new students signed up. These later slots are picking up more students in Europe and the UK. So today I had a total of 6 students – it would have been 7 but one of the ones in the first slot couldn’t make it this week.

This morning, despite trying not to spend time going to the supermarket because of the current COVID outbreak here in Sydney, I had to go to a different supermarket to buy a few things that I couldn’t order from my own local one. Specifically, I couldn’t order a large 5 kilo bag of bread-making flour online – it just says it’s only available in-store. And also my local supermarket doesn’t stock the bran that we use when making our own muesli, so I have to travel a couple of suburbs over to another supermarket that does stock it. And we needed an extra carton of milk, before I pick up the online order tomorrow morning. So I combined all this into one very quick shopping trip, and spent as little time as possible int the supermarket, at 7am when it’s at its emptiest.

The COVID stats here today were bad. NSW had 124 new cases, which is the highest number of cases recorded in Australia for the whole of this year so far. The government is hinting at further lockdown restrictions if the numbers don’t start turning down soon.

New content today:

New week of ethics

I start my new topic for the week of ethics classes on Wednesday (for historical reasons). The first thing I needed to do today was write the lesson plan! I’d advertised in advance that this week we’d be looking at “Prejudice”. But when I sat down to start writing a lesson, I realised it was going to be slightly tricky not to just give examples and questions that resulted in all the kids simply agreeing that prejudice was a bad thing.

So I looked for examples of positive prejudice as well, where people assume good things about people based on their appearance or other initial impressions. So I had a couple of examples of that, with some questions. Then I asked my friends what I could do with this subject, and one suggested a real world case where prejudicial thinking is actually used by a common industry: insurance.

Specifically, I used the example of car insurance. Statistically, drivers under the age of 25 are in around three times as many accidents causing injury or death than drivers aged 30 or more. And insurance companies (at least in Australia, whose figures I looked up) charge drivers under 25 roughly twice the premiums of drivers aged 30.

So I gave the kids the statistical fact about accidents first. Then I asked if they met someone aged 20 and someone aged 30, and didn’t know anything else about them, would it be reasonable to assume the older person was less likely to have a dangerous car accident? There was a 50/50 split among the 4 students in today’s class – two said yes, that’d be reasonable, the other two said no, you can’t make a judgement like that because for all you know the younger person might be a better driver. Then I asked them if they were an experienced 30-year-old driver, and they saw an 18-year-old driving nearby, would they drive more carefully around them, or not? The first two kids plus one of the others said yes they would, while the fourth doubled down and said no, they’d drive just as carefully around anyone.

Then I asked them about the insurance – was it fair to charge younger drivers more? Back to 50/50 split, the first two kids saying yes, the other two no. So this was good! There was a lot of good discussion, and I asked them all to give their reasons for their answers, so they heard a good deal about the opposing points of view.

Then came the crunch question. Imagine you run a delivery service and you’re hiring a new driver. You have two applicants, a 20 year old and a 30 year old. Their resumés are identical, except for their ages, and they agree to the same salary. Which one do you give the job to?

Well, almost predictably they split down the middle again. Two saying obviously the older one, because they’re a safer driver. The other two kids chose the younger one, saying you can’t just assume they’re not a good driver, and they probably have more energy and enthusiasm since they’re younger! I ended the lesson saying they should all go and think about everything we did today, and maybe talk with their parents about it and ask them the same questions.

So it ended up a fun class for everyone, and I enjoyed it too.

New content today:

Dungeoneering & Data-wrangling

Today I worked on some comci writing, but I also got caught up in writing the front end for a new random text generator developed by a friend using our mezzacotta generators framework (source available on Github).

He’s been working on a random D&D-esque adventure module generator, using some CSS to theme it so that it looks like old school D&D modules. We’re still tweaking the code a bit, but you can take a look at the results here.

I went to the dog park today for the first time in about three weeks. We want Scully to keep gong there, even if we can’t mingle and chat with the other owners like normal due to the COVID restrictions. When I arrived, none of the usual crowd were there, so I sat and waited a bit, then went on the usual walk alone with Scully. It turned out several of the regulars had arrived earlier and gone on the walk before me, and I passed them coming the other way. One woman had her new puppy, a west highland terrier, which I’d only heard about up to now. A cute fluffy blob of white hair.

New content today:

Expedition to the Hardware Store

98 new COVID cases in NSW today. The numbers are holding steady, which is not great, but not terrible. Hopefully in a few days we’ll start to see the numbers dropping as the current lockdown rules impact the spread.

We were a bit concerned that the dog groomer hadn’t shaved the hair inside Scully’s ears on Friday when they gave Scully her haircut. The vet on Saturday said that she had a lot of hair in there, which isn’t good because it traps moisture and can lead to infections. So my wife called the groomer to ask about the ear hair, and the groomer said to bring Scully in again today for a few minutes and they’d do her ears. (Some people pluck the hair out of their dog’s ears, but our groomer doesn’t do that and the vet doesn’t recommend it because it’s painful for the dog.)

So I had to venture out to drop Scully off and then wait outside for them to bring her back out. The dog groomer is now also doing contact-free drop-offs – no customers are allowed into the premises; you have to hand your dog over at the front door.

Earlier I’d looked at the hardware store website, intending to order some necessary items for pick-up collection, but I saw that it was still open for normal business. And now I was out with Scully just around the block form the hardware store, so I decided to pop in very quickly and grab the things I needed. It was spookily empty – I have never ever seen the hardware store car park, or the store itself that empty. Which was good, because the fewer people around the less chance of anyone infectious with COVID. I was in and out in about 2 minutes.

I ran into our neighbour outside with her poodle Luna, at the grassy patch across the street where we take the dogs for toilets. We’re all wearing masks for stuff like this now, because of the government rules about masks in shared spaces of apartment blocks. I asked how she and her partner were going, and she sounded a bit resigned, but managing okay. I asked if they’d be interested in some sourdough bread, since I’m baking it and I need to bake every couple of days to keep the starter in good condition. She said they’d love that, but just bought two loaves of bread yesterday, so maybe in a few days. So maybe at the end of the week I’ll bake a loaf to give to them.

For dinner tonight I made some red curry vegetables with rice, and I decided to add some protein in the form of hard boiled eggs. Unfortunately I simmered the eggs at too low a temperature, or maybe started the timer too early, and they were still very soft when I started peeling one. Fortunately it was just hard enough that I could pop them back into the hot water and the partly peeled one kept its shape. In the end I eventually had two hard boiled eggs to add to the curry, and that worked really well.

Finally, a couple of photos I took on the weekend and forgot to share:

View from Berry Island

The view looking towards the city from the park by the water where we took Scully for a run around.

Midwinter magnolia

And a magnolia tree in full flower! In the very middle of winter! I’ve been watching magnolias blooming earlier and earlier over the past several years, but I’ve never seen one so full of flowers this early.

New content today:

Brainstorming in finer weather

Today was a much nicer day than yesterday, weather-wise. Warmer, and much less windy. My wife and I took Scully on another long walk. I planned to grab a pie from a cafe we walk past for lunch, but when we got there there was a huge queue snaking out the door and around the corner. I didn’t fancy waiting there amongst the crowd of people (keeping a very rough 1.5 metres apart) for 10 minutes or so, so I skipped the pie. Which means for the second day in a row I had to complete a long walk before returning home for a late lunch!

The COVID news was not great again, with 105 new cases in NSW, although the fact that it isn’t climbing rapidly means it’s better news than it could be. We’ve now had four deaths in this outbreak, the only deaths from COVID this year. After yesterday’s significant tightening of the Sydney lockdown, the screws were tightened only a little bit more today.

Mostly I worked on Darths & Droids writing today. Not so much actually script writing, but brainstorming ideas for some of the events in later movies, which relate to events in Episode VII that will be coming up soon. I had a long online discussion with some of the co-writers about stuff, coming up with and rejecting many ideas, but also coming up with some good material.

New content today:

Vaccination and Doctor Who

One of the family got vaccinated today. It was time for Scully’s annual vet checkup and booster shots. Her appointment was at 2pm.

The daily COVID press conference by the NSW Premier was at 11am, so we watched that – 111 new cases in the last day, which is not good. They also announced a new set of lockdown restrictions. People living in the three worst affected local government areas (i.e. administrative areas covering roughly 20% of Sydney) are now forbidden from leaving home to go to work, unless they work in health care or emergency services. People with any other job cannot travel to work at all. My brother lives in the affected area, but I’m in a different part of the city.

They also announced that non-essential retail shops are not allowed to open, and released a list of what is considered essential: food, health, maternity, baby, and pet supplies; hardware, agriculture, and office supplies; banks, finance, and post offices. Every other retailer must close to shoppers – though they can offer online ordering. Additionally, all construction projects other than urgent repairs have been shut down, so construction workers will no longer be travelling to work.

These new restrictions last until 30 July, but may be extended if necessary. This is now, finally, slightly more restrictive than the lockdown we had at Christmas last year. Whether it’s enough to halt the spread of the Delta variant, we’ll have to wait another two weeks to see.

After the press conference, we went for a walk with Scully. The weather was sunny, but very cold and windy. The maximum temperature today only reached 14.6°C, and we had wind sustained around 40 km/h with gusts over 70 km/h, so it felt bone-chillingly cold. When we went out I thought we were doing a quick walk and coming back home, so I could have lunch before my wife took Scully to the vet. But it turned out she intended to stay out the whole time, and go to the vet on the way home! We ended up doing a huge walk – I think Strava tracked it something over 8 kilometres.

I left them near the vet just before 2pm and went home and had lunch. The vet is only doing contactless consultations. A nurse comes to the door and takes your dog, and you have to wait outside. It was like this last year too for her previous annual checkup. But the report was good, Scully is in perfect health, and has had her booster vaccinations.

Tonight my wife and I (finally) watched the last episode of the new Series 12 of Doctor Who. This is the most recent series they made, aired in 2020, but we missed it on TV, and have only now caught up on DVD. It took a little to get into Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, but I really like her now.

New content today:

COVID-Virtual games night Friday

Tonight would have been face-to-face games night with the guys, but under the current COVID lockdown we’ve converted it to virtual once again. The COVID numbers rose again today, with 97 new cases in NSW. Nothing particularly new in terms of lockdown restrictions, just more urging people to do the right thing and stay home.

I did mostly. It was time for the weekly grocery shopping, but rather than go through the supermarket myself, I signed up for online shopping. Unfortunately the delivery fee scale is such that for people like me who do small weekly shops, the fee is high, whereas it gets lower if you buy more, until if you buy over $300 of groceries delivery is free. I kind of get it, but as someone who usually spends $80-$120 a week, I don’t want to have to add another $15 on top for delivery.

So instead I chose the free “pick up from store” option. At least it saves me from walking around the aisles, and I could spend only a couple of minutes in the supermarket picking up my stuff instead of half an hour. As it turned out, when I got there they didn’t have my order quite ready, so I had to wait a little while they ran around grabbing bags from storage lockers and fridges and stuff. But it was quicker than doing the shopping myself, so that was worthwhile.

The other reason to go out today was that Scully was booked in for her grooming day. She was getting very shaggy, but now after picking her up she’s velvety smooth.

For games night, the first game we played was Nidavellir, which is a game I enjoy, but I haven’t really got to grips with the strategy yet. Yet, somehow, I managed to win! By a single point. But a win is a win! Now we’re playing some games of 7 Wonders, which is a virtual games night staple. I came second in the first game, and… just won my second game! With an unconventional science + military strategy.

New content today: