And exhale…

Saturday dawned ominously here in Sydney, with catastrophic fire conditions officially declared, temperatures forecast as high as 47°C, and fires approaching population centres on the outskirts of the city. I spent much of the day monitoring news, in between starting work on a new Proof that the Earth is a Globe (not ready to post yet). Fortunately, things didn’t go nearly as badly as feared. Temperatures barely broke 40°C across Sydney (possibly because heavy smoke kept some sun out). A few homes were destroyed in the town of Lithgow, and as I type this one man is missing – hopefully he’ll be found alive. The three highways west and south of Sydney were all closed due to fire today – at one point there were only two viable routes to travel out of or into Sydney – but these have been reopened this evening. Things could easily have been so much worse.

The weather forecast for the next few days is a lot cooler, slowly building up to hot again after Christmas. Hopefully the firefighters can take advantage and limit any further danger to populated areas.

New content today:

Watching and waiting

This afternoon/evening was a family day, so not much to report other than that, and doing some grocery shopping in the morning.

My main preoccupation the last few days has been monitoring the news about the bushfires around Sydney, and the heatwave weather conditions. We had a brief respite today with lower temperatures with a sea breeze cooling things down along the coast. Tomorrow however is going to be the worst day of this heatwave, with temperatures of 47°C expected for parts of Sydney. Several temperature records are likely to fall.

And the fires have approached dangerously close to several towns. More homes and buildings were lost today, as well as two firefighters’ lives. Tomorrow is going to be terrible. Mass evacuations and some destroyed houses at best. I don’t want to think about the worst.

New content today:

Fires and heat

I’m writing this entry earlier than normal today because I’ve planned to go see Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker with some friends tonight. I spent this morning rewatching both Episodes VII and VIII, so I’m all prepared.

This afternoon, however, I’ve been doing essentially nothing but monitoring the news for updates on the bushfire situation around Sydney. We’re in the second day of an Australia-wide heatwave, and although Sydney was spared yesterday since we’re on the east coast, the hot air has moved east and the full force of it hit today. We had temperatures of 39-42°C across the city, and higher in some inland areas not far west. There’s too much information, so I’m going to go to bullet points.

  • Tuesday saw a new record average temperature across all weather stations in Australia, with 40.9°C, beating the previous record of 40.3°C.
  • Wednesday’s average reading was 41.9°C, breaking Tuesday’s record by a full degree. Forecasters say there’s a strong possibility this record could be broken again today, and then again tomorrow.
  • Today the maximum December temperature for any station in Australia was broken, with 49.6°C at Eucla, Western Australia.
  • Fires are burning essentially all around Sydney. Not close to urbanised areas, yet, but with potential to move towards them in the coming days. There are several areas of high concern:
  • Fire has reached the road next to Mount Piper Power Station, a major station supplying 10% of NSW’s electricity. It’s a coal-powered station, situated next to an open pit coal mine, and with large reserves of mined coal sitting in mounds on open ground. If falling embers ignite the coal, it’s feared it may burn for weeks or months, and take out the entire power station.
  • Fire is burning south and downwards into the Grose Valley, which is immediately north of the main road west of Sydney through the Blue Mountains, with dozens of towns along it. If the fire reaches and jumps the river, it will likely race uphill to the towns. Residents there are preparing to evacuate.
  • Fire has cut the main highway south of Sydney, and destroyed several homes and other structures today. This one is likely to spread towards more settlements, and there is another coal mine in the path.
  • Another fire further south at Tianjara may enter an ex-army firing range, which still has unexploded 25-pound shells scattered around. Obviously this is too dangerous for fire crews to go near.
  • Sydney has been covered in another pall of smoke today, with air pollution readings again at many times the hazardous level.
  • Friday is forecast to be a bit cooler, giving some relief, but Saturday is forecast to be even hotter than today in the Sydney region. By then the fires will be close to several population centres, if they haven’t already reached them, and the weather that day is going to be horrendous for further spreading of the fires.

New content today:

Job interview, round 1

This morning I had a first interview for a casual job I’ve applied for. Primary Ethics, the non-profit organisation that organises the children’s ethics classes that I volunteer to teach, is looking for people to train new volunteer teachers. I’m qualified because I’ve been teaching ethics for 3 years now, and I have relevant experience in training adults, and satisfy all the other requirements (ability to work weekends and sometimes weekdays, and willingness to travel to regional towns within NSW). I put my application in a couple of weeks ago, and they arranged an initial phone interview.

My phone rang at the appointed time. The first thing the interviewer said to me was: “You attached your cover letter and CV as [MacOS] Pages files, and we couldn’t open them, so I know nothing about you.”

Ooops. Not a great start.

But it didn’t seem to be a deal breaker, and I think I made a good impression in the interview. I sent my CV and letter in PDF format as soon as the half-hour conversation ended. They’re looking for three people, and at this point I’m pretty confident that I’ll be called in for a face-to-face evaluation. That will involve doing a roleplay in which I demonstrate training someone, and then they’ll decide from there. Given next week is Christmas, they’ll let me know some time in January.

Also today I went for a short walk to test out some video capturing stuff. I have a small video project planned, and wanted to test out some different methods of camera stabilisation. While I was walking, I came across a brushturkey, and got close enough for this video:

This is an Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), and they’ve become very common across Sydney in the past decade or two. Before then they were never seen in the city, but they’ve expanded their habitat and can now be found practically everywhere in the city. This individual is tagged (#038), as part of a research project into their movements.

Tonight my wife and I played a game of Azul: Summer Pavilion. It was a hard fought game, and she beat me 92 points to 91. I’m having real trouble beating her at any of the Azul series of games. I must practise more…

New content today:


I had a dental appointment today, for a clean. The hygienist reported everything looks good, so that’s always good news. My appointment was shortly before lunch, not far from my wife’s office, and she finished early today, so we met up to have lunch at a place nearby that does dim sum, and had a nice meal together, before heading home.

The other thing I’ve done today is put the finishing touches on my new photography website, which I’ve set up as part of my effort to generate some income through my photography. I’m planning to sell framed prints of some of my photos, and am currently doing some research into suitable printing and framing companies where I can get them made. I also have a new Instagram account dedicated to the sort of high quality photos that I’ll be selling – please follow it if you’re interested! (I also have a more general Instagram account, with more casual day-to-day photos on it.)

Oh, I also did some Standards work, follow-up tasks from the meeting I had a week and a bit ago. I’m in the process of organising to host an international photography standards meeting in Sydney in early 2021. There are people to contact and things to book and agreements to get signed.

And gosh, it’s only Tuesday! It’s going to be a full week by the time it’s over.

New content today:

Golf and chores

I left home early this morning for a round of golf at the Lane Cove course I’ve played before. I think I’m getting a bit better slowly, but I messed up some long putts today and didn’t score much better. I did at least manage to finish with the same ball I started with, rather than losing several balls like last time, so that’s something!

At one point I caught up to a group of 4 players, and they invited me to tee off with them and play through. Under the pressure of them watching me, I flubbed my tee shot badly, ending up in thick brush about 10 metres left of the tee. One of them joked that he was happy to see a shot worse than his. They helped me look for my ball a minute, before heading off to play their own, leaving me lagging behind again. I did find my ball a couple of minutes later, but had to take a drop to make it playable.

After finishing, I went home and then walked up to the supermarket to get some food supplies. And when I got home I turned to some chores that needed doing. I’ve been putting off calling a plumber for a noisy, vibrating bathroom tap for ages. I thought maybe it needed reseating and asked a friend I know who is much more of a handyman then I am how difficult a job this is, and if he thought I could manage it. He suggested that the vibration I described was more likely caused by the type of valve/washer I’d installed last time I replaced the washer, and to try a traditional flat washer instead. So I did that, changing the washer… and lo… the vibration problem vanished! However, my friend suggested I should probably also get a reseating tool and use that on the tap to ensure no leaking. So I’ll do that another day.

I also did some other general housecleaning, and I emptied the damp collecting tubs in the wardrobes and closets and replaced the absorbing crystals. Normally I have to do this every couple of weeks because Sydney is generally a bit humid, but it’s been so dry lately that it’s been a couple of months since I did it last.

New content today:

Family lunch

Today I took a road trip with my wife and Scully, up the coast an hour and a bit to visit my mother for lunch. We went to a nice cafe, which is attached to a local art gallery. I don’t see my mother very often, so it was good to catch up and share stories from my recent travels and what I’ve been doing lately.

We got home late afternoon, and were all pretty exhausted from the day and all the driving, so it’s been a lazy evening, watching a Harry Potter movie (Goblet of Fire, perhaps the worst one, but it’s what we’re up to in a full rewatch).

New content today:

Hard Coding

It’s Saturday, normally a day of relaxation, but today I spent most of the day in a partner debugging session with Andrew, my collaborator on the mezzacotta Generators project. Gory details follow (feel free to skip if you’re not interested in boring computer programming stuff):

We started by updating our code to use Python version 3, rather than the old Version 2.7 that it had been running on. This required some code changes, which then had to be tested. And there was a strange bug that caused some of the generators, but not all of them, to intermittently fail when run by loading them from a web browser, but they all worked fine without failing when the same code was run from the web server command line.

After several hours of testing, we determined that the bug was being caused by a stray non-ASCII character in an input file. But it was only causing a problem when run by the web server, because it was operating in a different environment, and the default I/O encoding environment variable was set to ASCII on the web server, but UTF-8 on the command line. Setting that variable to UTF-8 in the wrapping PHP fixed it!

Anyway, we can now show off the Band Name Generator. If you have a garage band you need a name for (or even if you don’t), give it a try!

New content today:

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:

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: