School presentation and birds

This morning was the end of year Presentation Day assembly at the primary school where I do my volunteer science teaching stuff. As in the last few years, the school invited me to present the Science Award to the best science student. I get a reserved parking spot, and a seat on the stage with other special guests – it’s pretty cool. They present a whole bunch of academic, sports, and community awards to students, and “graduation” awards to the departing Year 6 class, going on to high school next year. This was the last time I’ll visit the school before the new year starts, and I wished the kids I saw from my Science Club a good Christmas holidays.

Afterwards, I decided to take advantage of being up on the northern beaches and took a walk for about an hour and a half around the Long Reef headland, which is a good spot to do some bird watching. I opened my account today with a crested pigeon:

Crested pigeon

I got a good shot of a red wattlebird (the bird isn’t red, it has red wattles, below the eyes):

Red wattlebird

And I managed to get a decent shot of a bird I hadn’t photographed before, a nankeen kestrel. It was flying overhead and I couldn’t tell what it was, silhouetted against the sky. I boosted the exposure and shot wildly, trying to follow it across the sky:

Nankeen kestrel

I could go on, but rather than post all the photos here, I’ve stuck them in an Imgur album with species IDs, which you can check at your leisure if interested. (They’re also in my Flickr stream, link below.)

I had some lunch nearby, and then drove a few minutes to Warriewood Wetlands, which is another bird hostspot, and photographed some more birds (also in the album). I got home just in time to take Scully out to the park for afternoon exercise. And then I spent the rest of the evening processing and uploading bird photos. 🙂

New content today:

Final Ethics of the year

This morning was my last Ethics class of the school year. I walked to the school (3.1 km away) because the weather was cool and winds had blown yesterday’s smoke away, thankfully.

In this class we didn’t discuss ethical questions, but instead reflected on the year gone past and what the students learnt. I asked them what topics they enjoyed most, which ones made them think when other students expressed different opinions, and which, if any, changed their minds. We had a really good discussion, and the kids’ behaviour was excellent. Towards the end of the lesson I handed out completion certificates to each child. I told them I wished them well as they begin high school next year, and said I would miss them, as this would probably be the last time we ever see each other.

I genuinely will miss (most of) them, and it makes me a bit sad to think that I really won’t ever see any of them again. However when the bell went, they basically just got up, waved bye, and filed out the door. I think at their age it doesn’t really hit them when they have to say goodbye to someone forever. Come February I’ll have a brand new class with new names to learn, and no doubt I’ll grow fond of the new kids as well.

I decided to walk home through the Lane Cove Bushland Park, which is more or less an alternate “shortest” route home. The track passes through some dense bush, and it would be very difficult to go cross-country off the established walking track. I should have emerged back into a street near my place, but when I was almost there I found a fence blocking the track, with signs indicating that it was undergoing repairs and was closed for safety due to heavy equipment being used. The idea of jumping a safety fence and incurring the wrath of construction workers didn’t appeal, so I had to backtrack through much of the park and emerge an extra kilometre of so away from home, adding maybe 2 km to my journey.

On the way though, I went down some streets I’ve never walked down before, and found a lovely old estate house on a big block of land:

Fancy house

Back home, I didn’t have much time before picking up my wife and Scully to take them to their very first job as a Delta Dogs therapy dog team! This was an event held at Macquarie University for international students who won’t be travelling home to see family over Christmas, with the dogs there to give them some good cheer. They had a team of seven dogs there today, with Scully among them. Normally she’ll be working solely with my wife on hospital visits, but occasionally they have other sorts of events like this as well. Here’s Scully in her Delta uniform:

Delta Dog

While I waited to pick them up I had lunch at a nearby friend’s place, and we played a game of Wingspan (the same game I played last Friday games night), which I won handily. Then I picked up Scully and my wife to head home.

I spent this afternoon and evening doing some coding work on the mezzacotta generators, adding some stuff to a new band name generator which we’ve been collaborating on.

Oh, and last night I made a batch of eggnog, using Jamie Oliver’s recipe. It had to refrigerate overnight, so I didn’t taste it until tonight. Actually, I had some commercially produced eggnog at my friend’s place at lunch today, to compare it against. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever had eggnog. The commercial stuff tasted okay, but honestly not something I’d buy.

But then I had my own home-made eggnog tonight… and it was delicious! A much nicer drink than what I’d had at lunchtime.

Home made eggnog

Yummo! I’ll definitely be making more of this some time.

New content today:

Smoky day

When I woke up this morning the smoke had blown in over the city. It was really terrible, even worse than last Thursday. I drove my wife and Scully to work so they didn’t have to walk out in the smoke.

I planned to spend the day writing a new 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe, but I kept interrupting myself by trawling the news for updates on the weather and the smoke. It got worse as the morning wore on, getting so thick that I couldn’t see some of the buildings in the distance that I can normally see out the windows. At one point the Air Quality Index (a measure of gas and particulate pollution levels) reached a score of 2200 in my location, and as high as 2550 in other parts of Sydney. For reference, the scale is as follows:

  • 0-33: Very good
  • 34-66: Good
  • 67-99: Fair
  • 100-149: Poor
  • 150-199: Very Poor
  • 200+: Hazardous

So yes, we were over 12 times the amount needed to qualify as “hazardous” level. I stayed indoors with all the windows closed, but the smell of the smoke permeated the house. Around midday, my wife messaged me, saying that the fire alarm in her office building had been set off by the smoke, and they had to evacuate. I drove up to pick up Scully, because my wife didn’t want her sitting outdoors in that smoke for too long – she’s only a small dog. When I got there, the office buildings of the area were mostly obscured by the smoke in the air:

Bushfire smoke

When I got back home, there was news that the smoke was setting off fire alarms all over the city – it said that over a hundred office buildings had been evacuated because of smoke alarms going off. And according to fire regulations, each building has to be inspected by the fire brigade before they can turn the alarm off and let people back inside. But there were so many going off at once that the fire brigade were stretched beyond capacity, and some buildings ended up abandoned with the alarms going off for hours before they could be attended.

If there was one good thing about the day, the smoke shielded the city from the worst of the sun, and the temperatures didn’t quite get up to the forecast maxima of over 40°C. This also kept the fires from spreading too far or too dangerously close to inhabited areas, and there were no reports of property loss today (that I saw).

This afternoon the wind changed and blew in fresh air from the south, and by this evening it was cool and possible to open the windows without making the house smell worse. And I even managed to finish writing my 100 Proofs article.

New content today:

Bracing for Tuesday

I’m currently reading a book about Sydney, and it says that Sydney is a city governed by three winds. The nor-easter, the westerly, and the southerly. And it’s so true.

  • The nor-easter brings in warm, moist air from the Pacific Ocean. It brings warm, humid weather.
  • The westerly brings in hot, dry air from the interior of the Australian continent. It drives the very hottest weather, but keeps the air dry.
  • The southerly is the wind of the cold change and storms. It brings cold air up from the south, often moist and laden with rain and violent winds.

On a hot day, especially in summer, the westerly wind will bake the city and dry everything up, parching the grass and blowing dust into the air. And people will wait for the southerly change, known as the “southerly buster”, to bring relief and rains.

The past few weeks the westerly has brought not only hot, dry air into the city, but also the smoke from the bushfires west of the city. But today was a blessed relief, with the nor-easter blowing fresh air in from the sea. The smoke was gone this morning, and I could see actual clouds in the sky, rather than just a uniform grey-orange pall blanketing everything. There’s still some smoke high up in the upper atmosphere, so the sky wasn’t really blue, it was more brownish, but at least today we could go outside and breathe. The only issue was that it raised the humidity a lot. I did a lot of walking today, and although it wasn’t hot, the humidity was a killer.

First thing this morning I had the car booked in for an annual service. I dropped it off at the service centre at 7:30, which fortunately is within walking distance of home. But I didn’t go straight home – I headed to my barber for a haircut. I knew he opened earlyish, but it turned out I got there at 8 and he didn’t open until 8:30. So instead of getting a haircut, I went to the supermarket and did some grocery shopping, which I carried home.

Once I’d unpacked the groceries and put them away at home, I headed out again. this time to the post office to mail a Christmas gift. I’m taking part in the reddit Secret Santa, and had a box of goodies to be sent to my secret giftee. I had good luck with the packaging – I grabbed a likely looking box from the Post Office packaging supplies and my gifts fit perfectly into the box. They were snug without being tight, and required no extra padding to stop them rattling around. This may be the first time this has ever happened!

After sending my gifts, I went back to the barber and got my haircut. I was a dollar short of the price on the wall, and said I’d go get some cash from an ATM, but the barber said he had EFTPOS now! I’ve only ever seen anyone pay cash there before, so that was a bit of a surprise. Saved me a walk to the ATM though.

Then I walked home and, not 10 minutes after I walked in the door I got a phone call from the car service place saying my car was ready to be picked up. So I walked back up there to get it. I tracked my walks on Strava and by the time I picked up my car I’d walked over 8 kilometres (5 miles). As well as servicing the car they’d washed and detailed it. When I got home I decided it was a good time to wax the car, seeing as it was now clean – and water restrictions mean it will be harder to wash again from tomorrow (more about that later).

But first I had lunch while the engine cooled down, and then after eating I waxed the car. I’d intended to start writing a new 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe today, but time really got away from me with all the various chores to be done. Late afternoon my wife and I took Scully out to the dog park for some exercise in the fresh air.

Now about water restrictions. Sydney has been on Level 1 restrictions for some time now, but Level 2 restrictions go into force from midnight tonight. The city’s water supply is at 45% capacity, and that triggered this change. From tomorrow, it will be illegal to use a hose for any purpose other than fighting fires – no garden watering, no washing of cars. Gardens can only be watered by drip irrigation or watering cans, and only before 10am or after 4pm. Cars can only be washed with a bucket (which makes it more difficult and laborious than using a hose – I think this measure is really designed to deter people from washing cars altogether, rather than to make everyone change from hoses to buckets, which I really don’t think saves much, if any, water as the bucket is so much less precise and you have to slop water all over the place with it to rinse the car properly).

Level 2 is mild compared to some rural towns which are on Level 4 or 5 at the moment. The details vary from town to town, but these include measures such as watering lawns and gardens allowed for a maximum of 30 minutes only by hand watering can on Sundays only before 9am or after 6pm, complete banning of washing cars by any means (you’re only allowed to wipe clean windows and mirrors), and restricting people to one shower of a maximum of 5 minutes per day or a bath with a maximum water depth of 10 centimetres. These are towns of 30 to 40,000 people with these restrictions. The drought in south-eastern Australia is terribly serious.

And the forecast for tomorrow in Sydney is not good. The westerly will be back, and with it smoke from the fires. It will bring temperatures over 40°C to the suburbs (the city is by the coast, so is usually a bit cooler, but it’ll be high 30s), as well as strong, and dry, winds. And there may be some dry lightning storms as well. All of this is a recipe for danger with regard to the ongoing bushfires. Hot dry winds will whip them up and carry embers further east, towards the city. Last Friday we had ash falling on the city as far east as my home, and some of my friends reported burnt leaves falling from the sky.

So everyone in this city of 5 million people holds their breath tonight.

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:

Friday/Saturday Double

I missed yesterday’s post because I was out most of the day, so I’ll cover Friday and Saturday now to make up for it.

Friday morning I had a meeting at Standards Australia, chairing the committee on photography standards. I caught a train into the city, where Standards Australia has their offices in the Australian Stock Exchange building. So you have to check in and get a security pass, and the lifts have this weird operation where you swipe your visitor card and a lift comes and takes you to the floor you’re allowed access to, without you having to press any buttons – in fact the lifts have no buttons at all inside them.

We have committee members form various research and cultural institutions, as well as representatives form industry and professional photography associations. I reported on the work done at the international standards meeting in Cologne that I attended in October. One particularly interesting project is updating the formulation of visual noise measurement in photos, to revise the current international standard. Experimentally, the current definition doesn’t correlate very well with human observer opinion on how much noise is in an image. People from several countries have been doing experiments designed to derive and then verify a new formula based on image statistics – including an experiment that I ran in December 2018 (while I was still employed). The work is approaching the final stages and a revision of the standard should progress through the approval process in the next year.

After the meeting closed, I walked through the city to do some Christmas shopping. For someone I wanted to get some classic thriller movies, so I checked out a major retailer and their BluRay section. They had a bunch of Hitchcock films, and I thought I’d get Psycho and Vertigo. Both were available for $12.95, but Psycho had a discount sticker on it saying “2 for $20”, while Vertigo had a sticker “Buy 2, get 1 free”. I grabbed them and went to the counter and asked if they could treat the second sticker like the first and give me both titles for $20. The person said no, the stickered items were very strictly applied, and they couldn’t change the discounts. Feeling cheated of a bargain, I walked out empty handed.

A few blocks south, there was another shop of the same retailer, so I went in to see if their stick was any different. Again Psycho and Vertigo for $12.95, but here Vertigo had a “2 for $20” sticker, while Psycho had no discount sticker. If I’d managed somehow to get Psycho from the first shop and Vertigo from the second, I could have had them both for $20! But at this shop they again refused me the combo discount, so I stubbornly refused to buy either of them. If the stickers are “strictly applied”, how come the same titles are stickered differently at different shops??

Anyway, I progressed through a series of other shops, buying gifts along the way. The shopping areas were moderately crowded with Christmas shoppers, but not as bad as it’ll get in the next few weeks. Then I headed home on the train again. The sky was very grey and smoky still from the bushfires, but it seemed higher up, and not clogging the ground level with smoke like it had on Thursday.

After a brief stop at home, I set out for fortnightly Friday games night at a friend’s place. We started early, to give us an hour and a bit to write some Darths & Droids comics, at which we made good progress, writing four new strips. We’re still finishing off the Muppet storyline, and haven’t started work on The Force Awakens yet. We’re planning a group viewing of The Rise of Skywalker when it’s released in a couple of weeks, after which we’ll sit down and figure out our storyline through the final three films.

Then it was into games! We started with The Quacks of Quedlinburg, in which each player is a quack doctor, brewing magic potions in an attempt to sell them to suckers patients, in order to buy more ingredients to make more profitable potions:

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

This game was interrupted a bit by several of us veering off to play Magic: the Gathering games to complete the high-powered cube draft we started back in September. The final few games were completed, and Steven ended up winning, while I managed to come dead last, despite being the only person who knew in advance what cards we were going to be playing with! While this was going on, other players played hot seat in the Quacks game, taking over as other people subbed out to play Magic. I started the game in one seat, but returned later to take over another seat, from where I managed to come second in the game – while the seat I started in came last!

After this, we split into two groups to play two different games. I ended up playing Wingspan, which I’d never played before. It’s a game of collecting different birds, using food to gather them, and then they lay eggs, and various other things happen that score points.

Wingspan

This was two rounds in; I was playing the board at the bottom with the red cubes, and I thought I was going rather poorly. But by the end of the game:

Wingspan

I had a lot of birds, with a lot of eggs. My birds were not worth many points compared to the other players, but I had so many eggs that I won the game by 3 points! (89 on the score sheet in the photo.) It was a fun game, and I’m definitely keen to try it again.

The other guys were all ribbing me during the game, saying I’d find factual errors or stuff on the bird cards, since I’m interested in birds. I don’t recall the details, but I certainly made some erudite bird comments during the game, which only served to prove their point!

I got home late, so didn’t make a post last night. Today, Saturday, I spent the morning cleaning the bathroom and then making one of the new Darths & Droids strips that we write last night. And then after lunch my wife and I went out with Scully to a market, to meet her mum and sister there. Scully got to chase ducks and geese, which I don’t think she’s seen before. The geese were three times her size, but she was keen to chase them! The market ate up the afternoon, and then this evening we went out for dinner at a Greek place near us – that was established in 1969, so is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Today was warmer, and the sky a smoky grey all day. This smoke is really starting to get to people, me included. It feels like we haven’t seen blue sky for weeks. And the outlook isn’t good either, with forecasters saying it will most likely hang around Sydney for weeks, if not months. Blah.

New content yesterday:

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:

Rhino poaching

Today was the second last Ethics class of the year, and I started a new topic with my class this morning. It was about the dangers of false beliefs, and started with a story about rhinoceroses being endangered by poaching, driven by the trade in horn for traditional medicines. There was a sharp increase in rhino poaching after 2010, when a prominent Chinese politician declared publicly that rhino horn had cured him of cancer. The question put to the children was: Who is to blame for the rhinos being endangered?

There were several possible answers: The politician, practitioners of traditional medicine who push the “cures”, the masses of people who believe that rhino horn will help them, and the poachers. Most of the kids agreed that the poachers deserved most, or even all, of the blame, as the ones who are actively killing the animals.

There were a few other short questions on who is to blame for various things, such as a cricket player hitting a ball out of the field and damaging a car (the kids mostly agreed the player should not be blamed). And then we ended with some questions about various false beliefs, and if it matters whether people believe them or not. It doesn’t matter if a young child believes superheroes are real, but it does if an adult believes it, because they might be regarded as crazy. It matters if people believe smoking is not harmful. It matters if people believe rhino horn can cure cancer.

Back at home, I avoided going out again because of the ongoing smoke in the air around Sydney. There are now stories every day about the adverse health effects of this bushfire smoke hanging over Sydney. The air quality has been awful for days on end now, and it’s forecast to stay until at least Saturday. Today was warm and tomorrow will be hotter, and the fires continue to burn. I saw a story on the news today that said that in parts of Sydney the smoke is so heavy that being outdoors for eight hours is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes.

So I stayed indoors and assembled comics from the photos I took yesterday. I also briefly drove Scully to doggy daycare, so she could get some exercise and play time with other dogs, because it would be bad to take her out in the smoky air outdoors.

For dinner tonight I tried a new combination: mushrooms, broccolini, pine nuts, garlic, and a bit of basil pesto as a sauce for pasta. Normally when we do pesto we just have that, but throwing a couple of vegetables in added some nice body and texture to the dish.

New content today:

Comic photos and walking

This morning I spent taking photos for the new batch of Irregular Webcomic! This involved cleaning my desk off for setting up the Lego sets, which prompted me to do a proper dusting and cleaning… and then of course I had to clean a bunch of other dusty surfaces around the place. Oh, and I also had to clean up the balcony after yesterday’s super windy conditions and the toppled plant mess that I hadn’t cleaned up yesterday.

My right thumb is a bit swollen and red from the bee sting, but it doesn’t hurt, unless I put pressure on it. Hopefully it’ll be fine in a few days.

I went for a walk to get lunch, and then took a long way home, going along three bushwalk tracks which skirted the edge of the harbour, in and out of the coves along the way.

Red gums

It’s nice being able to walk along paths that look like you’re in the middle of nowhere, even though you’re really in the middle of a big city. Occasionally you get glimpses of the city through the trees.

City from the bush

This area was home to a tribe of Aborigines at the time the English settlers arrived in Sydney, and there’s still evidence of their inhabitation, in the form of shell middens and carvings in some of the rocks.

In the afternoon I started assembling the photos from this morning into new comics. I still have most of them to do, which will take another day or so of work.

New content today:

Man 0 – Nature 3

Remember last Tuesday, when we had that incredibly intense but short storm? And it blew over my chilli plant, and I spent hours cleaning up the mess and repotting the plant?

This morning I woke up, and the chilli had been blown over again by strong wind during the night, spraying the new soil all over balcony. I quickly collected as much as I could with a dustpan and broom, and returned it to the pot. The plant is now leaning over again, so I’ll have to re-insert the stake and tie it up to hold it vertical again. But I didn’t have time to do that in the morning, because I had to leave to go the school where I talk to the kids about science, and run the Science Club.

Today I had the older classes, from year 3 to year 6, and I did a general Q&A session with them. They had a lot of good questions today, on a variety of topics, covering astronomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and geology. I talked through most of the answers, but a couple I had to admit I didn’t know the answer to and suggested they look it up later. The session with the Year 6 class, one boy asked the very first question: “How big is Uranus?” – setting off a lot of giggling. I quickly said something factual about the planet and then moved on. Only afterwards did I realise I should have answered: “Not big enough to be sat-urn. Next question.”

After the group sessions (and the recess break) I had Science Club with my 13 students who I’ve been working with all year. As this was our final session, I didn’t have time to run another experiment, so we just sat and had a discussion about what we learnt this year, about science in general, about what sort of jobs you can get in science, and then I let them ask any questions they had, and tried to answer those. Here’s the whiteboard we were using, at the end of the session:

Science Club board

I cam home mid-afternoon. I went out on the balcony to assess the leftover mess from the chilli plant blowing over. And then, as I was standing out there, another gust of wind blew over the basil plant I’m growing for use in cooking! Soil went everywhere, and because the balcony door was open, including inside, on the carpet, and even on the dining table!

Today was really windy. I had a late lunch out, after finishing Science Club, sitting by the beach, and the wind was blowing wildly, making trees sway violently, generating huge whitecaps on the ocean. It was really awful conditions. Oh, and as I was driving to and from the school, I passed some of those areas where the power lines were still down today, 6 days after the storm last week. A friend of mine had no power from last Tuesday to Sunday night – 5 full days.

Anyway, with the wind still blowing strongly, I just quickly swept up the largest piles of soil, righted the basil, and placed the plants in sheltered positions against a wall, so hopefully they won’t blow over again.

I also decided not to take Scully out to the dog park where we meet other people and dogs, as it’s down by the water and it gets windy there even on calmer days, so today would be intolerable. Instead I took her downstairs, intending to cross the road to the nearby park which is a lot more sheltered, and let her just chase a ball for a while. As we were coming out of our property, Scully pulled up lame, favouring a rear leg. I thought she must have a burr or something stuck on her paw, as she was trying to get something off. I grabbed her leg and brushed the base of the paw, finding a sticky lump, which I pulled off…

It was a bee.

Next thing I knew, I had a shooting pain in my thumb. It stung me right on the pad of my thumb. I’ve never been stung by a bee before, so my lifetime record is now trashed. The bee fell to the ground, but the sting was stuck in my thumb. I scraped it out with a fingernail. It hurt a lot – but honestly nowhere near the pain I got from a jack jumper ant sting a couple of years ago. Given a choice, I’d take the bee sting any day. Anyway, I aborted the park trip and went back inside with Scully to wash the sting area and apply ice for a while.

Ten minutes later I was fine and resumed taking Scully out for exercise. (The jack jumper ant sting throbbed for months.) We played in the park a while. Then, just as we were turning to head home, a huge gust of wind blew into my face from the south, bringing a strong smell of smoke.

The bushfires around Sydney have been burning for a couple of weeks now, and every few days the winds bring the smoke into the city. Some days it’s been really terrible – horrible choking smoke everywhere. Today had been okay, up until that moment. As we walked home, I could see clouds of smoke, made orange by the late sun, wafting across the sky.

Here’s a photo someone posted to reddit as the smoke drifted in: [photo]

And another photo from nearby shortly afterwards: [photo]

In the endless struggle of Man versus Nature, today Nature won.

New content today: