Kicking off sourdough

I got into a discussion with a friend today about baking, since I was baking some bread this morning, and he’s been doing a lot of experimenting with sourdough ever since COVID restrictions began. My loaf was just using a prepared bread mix from the supermarket, which comes with yeast. I’ve made this a few times and it’s not difficult. Here’s what today’s loaf looked like:

Home baked loaf

I said I might try starting some sourdough at some point, and my friend offered to bring over some of his sourdough starter. I said that’d be great, but no rush, but he said he was looking for an excuse to get out of the house and go somewhere different. So he brought some over!

Bébé Fett

Yes, he named it Bébé Fett. He also typed out some instructions for me on how to feed it and pointed me at a couple of YouTube videos for how to bake bread with it. So I’ll try it out some time in the next few days (when we run out of the loaf I baked today).

In other news, my wife is back to working from home following the new COVID restrictions and advice here in Sydney. We had 15 new cases today, but the NSW Government hasn’t announced any big changes to restrictions. I suspect they’ll wait until Wednesday before announcing that the Northern Beaches lockdown and other restrictions will have to be extended over Christmas.

While staring out the window, she called me to look at a kookaburra that had perched on a tree outside. I grabbed my camera and took a few photos:

Laughing Kookaburra

Finally, in today’s grab bag of stuff, I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to get a look at the amazing conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn… because it’s been raining here in Sydney every day for the past week, and it’s been overcast every single evening. Right now as I type this it’s evening and would be a great time to go out and see it… except it’s raining again. And the forecast is basically for rain for the next week. 🙁

New content today:

A possible lockdown Christmas

Today: 30 new COVID-19 cases in Sydney. All confined to the Northern Beaches area, so no sign of it spreading into the rest of the city yet. All of Sydney has gone back into restrictions on gatherings of people, but no enforced stay-at-home order yet. Home gatherings are banned in the Northern Beaches, and restricted to 10 people in the rest of Sydney – but all these still expire by Christmas Eve. I suspect they’re avoiding announcing restrictions extending into Christmas Day in the hope that they won’t be necessary, but I expect they will most likely be extended.

Another complication for us is that I was tagged to make a glazed ham for Christmas, and that ham is sitting in our fridge awaiting the cooking. But if we can’t see our family over Christmas, I’m going to end up with 4 kilos of ham to consume by myself (since my wife is vegetarian, and Scully won’t get any because it’s too salty for dogs). I’m already starting to think about what I can cook that I can easily add some ham to…

In other news, I threw together a quick technobabble generator, using the mezzacotta generator codebase. The good thing about this code is if you have an idea, you can execute a basic proof-of-concept in about 5 minutes. Adding all the vocabulary goodies is what takes most of the subsequent development time.

I also did some lockdown baking, rather than go out to the shops for a loaf of bread. I made damper:


I forgot that I used to make a double sized batch, and it turned out rather small – most of it’s gone already after my wife and I had lunch.

Oh, and to end on a sunny note, some sunflowers I noticed while out walking Scully this afternoon:

Sunflowery day

New content today:

Sydney lockdown

Following yesterday’s COVID news, Sydney had 13 new cases of COVID-19 reported today, taking the total in the current outbreak from 28 to 41. The NSW Government announced an enforced stay-at-home order for the Northern Beaches area, from 5pm today until midnight on Wednesday 23 December, and flagged that it may be extended to all of Sydney tomorrow, depending on case growth in the next 24 hours. As it is, we’re under stay-at-home advice – which is basically a strong recommendation to follow the same rules, but not enforced.

The lockdown area includes my wife’s family, so we’re forbidden from seeing them until at least the day before Christmas. At the moment it’s just wait and see whether we’ll be able to have our planned Christmas lunch or not.

Before all of this was announced, we dropped Scully off for a pre-Christmas groom at the dog groomer. So now she’s all clean and has short velvety fur. Luna, the poodle next door, also got a haircut today, and her owners had her done with a Dutch poodle cut, with shaved face and paws (but without the puffy lion balls of hair). She looks very different from the puppy cut that both Scully and Luna have had for the past couple of years.

Apart from that I mostly stayed in, since it’s been a rainy day on and off, as it has been all week. The humidity is ridiculous – I’ve been holed up at home with the windows shut and the dehumidifier on. But I’m getting a good amount of comic writing done!

New content today:

Screaming COVID halt

The only news in Sydney today is the resurgence of COVID-19. After several weeks of zero or close to zero new cases(*) in Australia, yesterday we had 18 new cases suddenly appear in Sydney, and today they’ve announced another 10 cases. DNA testing indicates the cases are related to a USA strain of COVID, so it’s most likely that someone working in the airport/quarantine area has acquired the virus from an incoming traveller from the US and then spread it into the community.

(*) Locally acquired cases. There are cases who have arrived from overseas and are in quarantine from arrival.

The cases are clustered in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney, in the north-east of the city. That whole region – home to over 250,000 people – has been ordered to stay at home for the next three days, leaving only for essential business such as buying groceries or medical issues, and the rest of Sydney has been advised to avoid travel into the region. All contacts of the known cases and people who attended the same public venues as them have been ordered to get tested for COVID and self-isolate. Other states of Australia have already announced travel restrictions and quarantines or complete border closures to NSW residents.

Several people I know have told me that their families have cancelled their planned Christmas gatherings and travel plans. My wife’s family all live in the Northern Beaches region, so it’s not clear at this time if we’ll be able to have our planned Christmas lunch with them or not.

The next day or two will be crucial to knowing if we have this outbreak under control or not. 28 cases doesn’t sound like a lot to non-Australians, I’m sure, but after weeks of essentially zero new cases, this has got everybody edgy again.

[Written later] In further news today, I received notice that the market where I was to have a stall on Sunday has been cancelled. It’s not in the Northern Beaches region, but it is close, and several of the stallholders would have been travelling from there so couldn’t make it. The market organisers have cancelled both because stallholder turnout would be well down, and of course to avoid potentially spreading the virus further.

Not only was I expecting to make a good profit from Christmas shoppers, which will now be zero, I’d booked a hire car again to carry my stock and equipment to the market. So now I have to cancel that, and since it’s within 48 hours I only get 50% of the fee refunded. So instead of making a nice profit, I’ve made a loss.

And also in response to the news, my friends and I decided that we should convert tonight’s planned face-to-face board games night into another virtual online game session.

So, it’s been a bad day collectively for the city, and individually for me.

New content today:

Not being bored

On reddit today I came across a very interesting explanation of why we get bored (versus why lizards can sit there all day doing nothing, apparently without getting bored):

Most organisms are in a constant struggle for energy. Obtaining energy is dangerous, you have to leave your safe burrow or go risk injury in a hunt. That’s why many organisms develop strategies for minimising the risks they need to take. And one of the most popular strategies is simply having simple, low demand physiologies, slow metabolisms and generally low energy needs.

Warm blooded animals are fairly unique. We’re like a car with the engine constantly running. That means we’re ready to go from zero to 100 right away but we’re also guzzling gas constantly, even if we’re standing still. That’s why warm blooded animals need to constantly eat.

[Boredom is] really just another evolutionary adaption. There’s no advantage to boredom if your survival strategy relies on doing nothing. Boredom is essentially the inability to articulate what is a meaningful activity for you right now. It motivates you to change whatever it is you’re doing and find something meaningful or productive to do.

That lizard isn’t questioning what it should be doing. It’s surviving by doing nothing and not wasting energy. Humans on the other hand have so many needs that doing nothing is nearly always the wrong thing to do, so you get bored.

(My emphasis.) Anyway, I thought that was pretty cool.

I got up early this morning and went to the nearest golf course at 6:30, playing my now usual two simultaneous balls on each hole. I scored a par on the very first hole, and thought it might be a good day, but things went a bit downhill after that. My totals were 50 and 58 – the 50 is good, but 58 is not as good as I’ve been scoring lately.

When I got home, before 9 am, I was so hot and sweaty that I had to have a cold shower. The weather has been warm this week, but mostly ridiculously humid. It’s not actually too hot – but once you do anything you start sweating and it just doesn’t evaporate. I guess the “cooler, wetter” La Niña conditions for the summer are here.

I continued today working on Darths & Droids writing. I’ve been doing a lot of story planning this week, and it’s starting to pay off with the next few strips I’m having to write, because I know exactly what plot elements they need to touch on.

New content today:

Aussie care package

Today I had a task to go up to the supermarket and select some Australian goods to send to someone overseas – someone who had no experience sampling typical Australian snack foods. I started i the sweets aisle, and I basically went bananas. By the time I left the aisle I had a dozen different types of sweets, mostly in bags, but also a few chocolate bars. Of course I chose the iconic musk sticks, although I’ve yet to meet a non-Australian who can bear to eat more than a single bite.

I had so much stuff I completely forgot to get anything savoury, and even neglected to get some Vegemite. I went straight to the post office to get a box to pack it all in, and did that at home, then went back out to mail it. It cost nearly twice the cost of the sweets in postage, but that was inevitable. The person I’m sending this too is sending me a return package, full of American goodies. These packages will probably take a month or more to arrive, but it will be cool for both of us to open them up and see what’s inside.

New content today:

The Australian Museum

I had a strange dream about baseball last night. I was part of an amateur Australian team who had travelled to the USA to play one of the professional Major League teams. The pro team was so much better than us that one of their batters scored 64 runs in one at-bat. Not a whole inning, just one at-bat (I know this is impossible by the rules of baseball, but nonetheless). The team figured this was plenty of runs, so they didn’t bother finishing their inning and let us bat (again, against the rules of baseball as far as I know).

I was now up to bat. The pitcher threw a ball, then another ball, with me being savvy enough not to swing the bat. The pitcher indicated to me that this next pitch would be right over the plate, so I better swing at it. He threw it well wide, and again I didn’t swing, and the umpire called it a ball.

I said, “As if I’d swing at a pitch like that!”

At this, the other team took offence and walked off the field, refusing to play because of this deathly insult. I was forced to apologise to the pitcher, the opposing coach, and to their entire team, before they would agree to continue playing.

Now, I know baseball and I know this is all extremely unrepresentative of how it’s actually played, but it in the world of dream logic it seems this was all perfectly reasonable. The dream ended at that point, so I don’t know what happened next.

After waking up and having breakfast, I took a train into the city to visit The Australian Museum, the largest museum of natural history in Australia. The’ve been closed for 15 months for major renovations, and only reopened a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to go check it out before summer holidays start for the schoolkids.

Queuing in the rain

It was a rainy day, but that’s no problem. There was a considerable queue to get in ten minutes before opening time. Entry used to cost money for the past couple of decades or so (it was free when I was a kid), but it’s now free again after the reopening. They had a special exhibit on dinosaurs for which you had to pay, and most of the visitors today were going in there first, so I had a very empty remainder of the museum to walk around in.

First Nations gallery

The First Nations gallery (above) has many examples of cultural artefacts from Aboriginal peoples and Torres Straits Islanders.

T. rex

This T. rex skeleton is part of the free permanent exhibits on dinosaurs, not part of the special paid exhibit on dinosaurs (that I didn’t see).

The Long Gallery

This is the Long Gallery, which was one of the original display galleries in the museum. I remember coming in here when I was a child, and this was always the most exciting part of the museum.

Opalised pliosaur

This is very cool. It’s the fossilised skeleton of a pliosaur, from the early Cretaceous period, about 110 million years ago. But it was fossilised in the place that would later become Coober Pedy, South Australia, which is one of the largest opal fields in the world. The same geological processes that created opals here mineralised the skeleton, turning it into opal.

Honestly, I was expecting more from the refurbishment, especially after more than a year. I’d assumed they were doing major construction work of some sort, but nearly all of the rooms and galleries were pretty much as I remembered, and even most of the exhibits were the same ones I’d seen many times in the past. What they’d done is given the whole museum a thorough cleaning and a new modern look – removing old faded signs, dusty cabinets, etc, and replacing them with brand new fittings. So it’s all shiny and new, but generally mostly the same stuff behind it. The did remove the old special exhibition space from what was a courtyard in the original building but is now enclosed space – it’s now a spacious interior foyer space. I didn’t see the new special exhibition space on the lower floors, so I suppose maybe that’s all new.

Anyway, it was fun looking around, and great to get free entry again to one of the best museums in the country!

New content today:

Secret planning diagram

Not much I can report today, as I spent most of the day working on a plotting diagram for Darths & Droids, setting out planned future story events in great detail. Obviously I can’t show the result without revealing major spoilers for the story, so there’s not really much more to be said about that.

Um. The weather is cool and a bit rainy. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get heavy rain. I have a trip into the city planned – to do some Christmas shopping, and also to check out the Australian Museum, which has recently reopened after a major renovation, before it fills up with schoolkids during the imminent summer holidays. So tomorrow I should have more to write about.

New content today:

Thoughts on designing games

Prompted by an online discussion, I had occasion today to think about designing various types of games. Specifically roleplaying games and board games. (By “roleplaying games” I mean things like Dungeons & Dragons – the original RPGs – not video games that many people nowadays seem to think you mean if say “roleplaying games”.)

I remember when the only RPG I owned was Dungeons & Dragons, but I wanted to play a science fiction game. So I did what many young gamers do and tried to design my own game system to support it. The result wasn’t great.

When you try to design something given only one prior example, you can easily get stuck into thinking that things have to be done the same way, and the design space that you explore tends to be very restricted. When you encounter a different example, suddenly whole worlds of new design space are made evident and open up to you. You don’t have to use 20-sided dice. You don’t have to make rolling higher numbers more desirable. You don’t have to have armour make a defender more difficult to hit. You don’t have to assess damage by subtracting points off some numerical total.

To really get good at designing RPGs, you need to be exposed to a wide variety of designs. You need to read different rule sets and play games with different mechanics. You need a breadth of experience. I have something over 20 different RPGs, possibly up to 30 (which is actually not a lot compared to many gamers), and so I now realise the first attempts I made at designing RPGs were laughably narrow-minded and amateurish.

On the plus side, designing a roleplaying game is actually not as complicated a task as what may seem easier: designing a board game. A board game is much more restricted in what the players can do, whereas an RPG is open-ended and allows players to do virtually anything. But paradoxically this very difference is what makes designing an RPG relatively easy. In an RPG, if a player wants to do something and the rules don’t cover it, you can wing it. If you’re experienced enough, you can even wing it so seamlessly that the players never notice.

In a board game, on the other hand, you need a clear cut rule to cover every possible situation that can arise in the game. You can’t just tell the players to “do whatever makes sense” or for one player to decide what happens. You have to design the rules carefully and meticulously enough that this problem never arises. That’s really hard.

Finally, in a tangentially related topic, I was playing Scattergories online with some friends today and needed to name a title that people can have, beginning with W. Other answers included the valid Wazir and Wizard. I opted for Walgraf, which I honestly thought was a noble title from some European culture.

However, searching the internet for confirmation turned up virtually nothing! The only two seemingly confirmatory hits were the rulebook for a LARP (live action RPG) named Blackspire:

12.12 Titles of Nobility

12.12.6 Viscount/Viscountess Recommended title for serving a term with excellence as Champion in addition to winning the kingdom Weaponmaster tourney. Recipient may substitute an equivalent title name for this rank such as Vicomte, Viconte, Visconte, Vizconde, Visconde, Walgraf or Pasha.

And the second is a campaign log for a D&D game set in the Greyhawk campaign setting:

There are a few snickers in the small crowd of nobles, especially from Lord Galans and Walgraf Deleveu. Lord Galans owns lands that now border on the Watchlands, and Walgraf Deleveu holds title to the lands between the Watchlands and Celene.

Now… it’s odd that both of the references to the noble title of “Walgraf” on the net are related to RPGs. I thought it might be possible that the word was invented by an RPG author and I’d learnt the word from some of the old RPG books I own. I checked the World of Greyhawk books, and they have a list of noble titles, which includes “Graf”, but not “Walgraf”.

So this is a mystery. From where did I learn the word “Walgraf” as a noble title? And why does it appear in two places on the net, both of which are related to fantasy roleplaying games? I am truly stumped.

New content today:

Saturday breakfast out

This morning my wife had an appointment up the street, and suggested I walk with her and Scully, so I could look after Scully outside while she went in. So we did, leaving early, before we’d had any breakfast.

Afterwards, she suggested that rather than go home, we continue walking to North Sydney and have breakfast at a cafe near the library. Normally on a Saturday I have a very simple breakfast of Weet-Bix with milk. But when I go out I like to order eggs benedict, because I can’t be bothered making it at home, so it serves as the “fancy breakfast” that I get on the very rare occasions when I buy breakfast. Eggs benedict traditionally comes on a muffin, but it seems people like doing all sorts of weird variations these days – sourdough bread seems to be popular. But this one came on a brioche bun, which is kind of the opposite direction, being softer than a muffin, rather than harder and chewier like sourdough bread. It was a little odd, but okay.

We didn’t get back home until after 11 o’clock. Then I wanted to go into my Saturday housework, cleaning the shower and bathroom, vacuuming the carpets and floors, changing the damp absorbers in the closets. I also cleaned up the balcony and washed the floor out there, so it’s nice and clean. Which was good because tonight we ate dinner out on the balcony, in the cool evening air – something we don’t do often enough.

Oh, here’s one of the drawings from last night’s game of Sketchful, by one of my friends – you need to identify the thing being drawn. I completely failed to guess the answer, but all the other players managed to get it. It’s two words, (4, 3) letters.



New content today: