Dog party!

Today was the Christmas party organised by the regulars at Scully’s dog park.

Dog Christmas party

Here’s Scully with Scout, and the table of goodies in the background. Surprisingly, almost none of the dogs tried to jump on the table and eat all the food!

Dog Christmas party

Here are just some of the dogs at the park. There were maybe 25 all together.

Apart from that it was mostly another comic production day, and then dinner out with my wife at a local Indian restaurant, before joining my friends online for a virtual games night, playing some things on Board Game Arena.

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Shopping chores

I went out this morning to pick up some new prescription lenses for my reading glasses (after having an eye test a couple of weeks ago, which concluded that I need to up my prescription a notch). They had made the lenses, but needed to install them in my existing frames, which they said they could do in about an hour if I dropped the old glasses in first thing in the morning. So I planned to get there when they opened at 9 o’clock, and do my weekly grocery shopping while they switched the lenses.

But when I got there, the lady told me that it would take about two hours to change the lenses. I didn’t want to hang out around the shops for two hours. So I decided to leave the car in the car park, which was free parking for up to three hours, and catch a bus a couple of suburbs over to a much larger shopping area, where I could get some new underwear from a department store, and also some replacement water filters for our water jug.

I got there, and was still doing this shopping, when the optometrist messaged me to say my new glasses were ready -just an hour after I’d dropped them off! So I could have done my original plan and just done my grocery shopping, picked up the glasses, and then gone straight home. Instead I was now two suburbs over and had to finish shopping then catch the bus back. And then after picking up my glasses I decided I may as well do the grocery shopping now anyway, as I was there at the supermarket.

Anyway, I ended up not getting home until 11:30. I did a bunch of little chores: getting the mini Christmas tree from the garage, and the lights. I added another new greeting card design to my Etsy store. I made a couple of comic strips. Did a bit of cleaning up. Made fried rice for dinner.

It was a real bits and pieces day.

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Catch up lunch

Today I had a lunch appointment with a friend to catch up and have a chat. We don’t see each other much since he left the company we used to work for, so I like to schedule lunch every now and then, where we can just chat and share stories about what we’re up to. This guy is a major creative inspiration for me, and he’s always working on various projects. He’s into creating board and video games at the moment, and told me about the interesting game mechanics he’s using, and the creative backstory writing he’s trying to do.

We ate at a place called the Old Paint Shop Cafe, which was indeed an old paint shop, now converted into a cafe. My friend recommended the burgers, and I had one, which was both amazingly good and amazingly good value.

Apart from the trip to lunch and back, I relaxed after yesterday’s exertions on the golf course, and worked on Darths & Droids comics, writing and production. That’s about all to report for today.

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Boomerang Golf

My golfing friend invited me today to join him for a round at Boomerang Golf Course. This a shortish 18-hole course about 60 km south of the city centre. It’s situated on top of the Illawarra Escarpment, a plateau that drops off in a cliff to a narrow strip of land along the coast. So in some places on the course we had views of the ocean, and also back north along the coast to the city. It’s not a particularly fancy course, but was nice enough. It has three holes where you have to hit over water hazards.

Hole 5: Boomerang Golf Course

This is the 5th hole. You have to hit over the water and towards the yellow flag in the distance (between the two golfers). This was scary, because I’m still getting the hang of hitting my driver with the new techniques I picked up during the lesson I had a couple of weeks ago. On the first four holes I’d hit poorly with the driver, sending the ball skimming low across the grass. So I really needed to hit this one well to clear that water. Fortunately I managed to connect cleanly and made it over easily with a nice drive.

A couple of holes later is another water hazard, this course’s signature hole:

Hole 7: Boomerang Golf Course

Hole 7 is a short par 3 across this small pond. This photo actually shows my ball after I hit my tee shot. It landed on the green, about 40 centimetres from the hole (I saw the pitch mark where it had bounced), and rolled a couple of metres further behind. I had a chance at a birdie if I’d sunk the putt, but I needed two putts, so scored par.

I did however manage a birdie on a later hole, the par 4 13th:

Hole 13, Boomerang Golf Course

The tee shot here is blind, with the green behind a clump of trees. I hit around the left of the trees and ended up here as shown in the photo. I did a pitch over the sand and landed on the green, about 2.5 metres from the hole. And then I putted it in for the birdie! That was the highlight of the day.

My friend had invited me for this round as it was his birthday. He said he hoped to score under 100 as a birthday treat. Totalling up our scores after 18 holes, he had scored exactly 100 strokes. I scored 103. I was very pleased with that. Previously on 18 hole courses I’d been scoring totals around 130-140 strokes.

We finished at lunch time, so stopped on the drive back to have lunch at a place not far from the golf course. Then it was the drive back home to his place, where I’d left my car, and I drive home from there. I got home around 3pm. Exhausted, but having had a really fun day out.

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Just another menial Monday

I had plans for today, really I did.

First up I had to take my car in to be serviced. The service place opens at 7:30. I got there ten minutes early, and there were already ten people queued up in front of me at the door (which wasn’t open yet). However they process drop-offs very quickly and I didn’t have to wait too long once they opened up. From there I walked back home – about a 25 minute walk.

Back home, I spent the next 3 hours troubleshooting my email, which had started acting up yesterday. If you want to skip the gory details, scroll down to Long story short: near the bottom.

Playing with Thunderbird, I managed to coax it to bring up an error dialogue, reporting that the security certificate for the mail server was not valid. It looked valid, so I did what everybody does in this situation, and clicked the “Trust” button. (I can see the cybersecurity experts out there cringing. Yes, I know, I know.) Unfortunately this didn’t fix things, and Thunderbird went into another endless attempt to contact the server. I tried quitting and restarting Thunderbird several times, but it always did the same thing.

I checked my webhost’s status page, and it reported that email was working normally. I logged into the webmail interface and accessed my overnight emails that way. Then I tried checking mail on my phone… It also failed to connect to the server, and it also gave an error message saying the certificate was invalid.

I figured there must be some certificate error on my webhost’s mail server. I decided I’d contact them for support. Their support interface first tries to channel your through their KnowledgeBase, to see if you can find the answer yourself, and I found a page about certificate errors. It suggested you might need to explicitly tell your mail client to trust a new certificate, and contained this image, showing you the button to hit on your iPhone:

iPhone certificate trusting

My error looked essentially the same as that image, except there was no “Trust” button! I mentioned this to my friends in chat, and one said:

A lot of things used to have trust/ignore buttons, but some wiseacre realised that the whole system is useless if people just click “trust” every time they get an error. Then rather than coming to the correct conclusion that certificates are indeed useless, they got rid of the trust button instead.

Digging around further in the KnowledgeBase, I found a page with email server settings. It indicated that I should use the webhost’s domain for the mail IMAP and SMTP servers. My mail clients had been configured to use my own personal domain for the servers. Now I recalled that many years ago when I originally set up my email with this webhost, they said to use my own domain for the mail servers, but they changed that a couple of years ago, recommending moving to the webhost’s domain. Since my email was still working, I didn’t want to fiddle around with the server settings – on the principle of if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. But now it seemed that with the expiry of a certificate, they’ve removed support for the old server names.

So now I had to try changing the server settings in my mail clients. I tried changing the server names in Thunderbird, but after extensive fiddling and restarting and trying different port numbers and security methods I couldn’t get anything to work.

I gave up and tried changing the server settings on my phone to see if I could get that to work. No luck. Now I was getting to the point where I considered deleting the entire account information from the mail clients and setting up a new account. I know from hard experience that in Thunderbird at least editing an existing account often fails to do what you want and the best thing is to set up a brand new account from scratch. Since Thunderbird had all my email downloaded already, I didn’t really want to do that unless I had to, so I decided to start with my phone.

I deleted my mail account from my phone, and then set up a new one, using the mail server settings as recommended by my webhost’s KnowledgeBase. It asked me for the password for the mail server, which I typed in. It said the password was incorrect!

Now, I thought I knew what password I should use, but it was telling me it was wrong. If it was wrong, I had no idea what else the password could be, so I decided to log in to my webhost’s account administration system and change my mail password. I picked a new password, typed it into the password field, and the verification field. The I typed it into my phone’s mail server settings as the password… and it worked!

I now had restored access to mail from my phone. Buoyed by this success, I decided to bite the bullet and delete my account settings from Thunderbird and set up a new account with the recommended server settings. I set up the new account, confirmed with a server ping that the server and port settings were correct, typed in my new mail password, and hit go. Thunderbird told me… my password was incorrect.

I retyped the password, it must have been 5 or 6 times. No luck. It kept telling me it was wrong.

At this point I decided to give it a rest for a bit, because there was some urgent stuff I needed to do – updating Sunday’s Darths & Droids comic with notes from our commentator Keybounce, who had mailed them in a bit late. I really wanted to access the comments on my desktop, so I could copy and paste them. But now I only had access to email on my phone. I thought for a minute how I could copy and paste from my phone to my desktop, and then I realised I could use webmail on the desktop and copy from there.

I went to webmail and logged in with my new mail password…. And it told me I had the wrong password. I tried again a few times. No luck – wrong password. What the heck was going on?!?

At this point I tried setting up mail on my iPad. I deleted the old account settings and set up a new account exactly as I had on my phone. Typed in the new mail password, hit enter… and it told me my password was wrong! Wait – this was exactly the same settings as on the phone, which had worked, but here it was telling me my password was wrong??

I tried to think what possible scenarios could have resulted in the password being incorrect on Thunderbird and iPad. I thought: what if I had accidentally mistyped my intended password in both the “new password” and “verification” fields when setting a new password, so that the password actually had a typo in it. And then when setting up the new account on my phone I had mistyped it with the same typo? As unlikely as that sounded, it would explain it.

Since something was clearly up with the password, I tried resetting it again. I typed my intended password, taking extra care not to typo it. After changing it, I checked my phone, and mail said I now had the wrong password! I typed the new password again, carefully, and it worked!

I went back to Thunderbird, and had it try to connect to the mail server again… and it worked! I opened my iPad… and it already had two new mail messages waiting for me, having connected automatically now that the password matched what was on the server! So everything was working again… and I think I got into a mess by accidentally mistyping my password not once, not twice, but mistyping it the same way three separate times before I managed to type it the way I intended to.

Long story short: I spent the entire morning up to lunchtime troubleshooting my email and not getting anything else done. But in the end I succeeded. Phew.

After lunch I did a bit of photography sales related stuff, preparing files for printing, and boring stuff like paying invoices and updating my spreadsheet for tax return calculations.

Then at 2:30 I had to go pick up the car. It was badly in need of a wash, but I’d put off washing it because I know when they service the car they give it a wash as well for free. Except when they phoned to tell me it was ready, they said the car wash machine was broken, so instead they’d give me a voucher and I could bring the car back another day for a free wash! Which is useless because I don’t want to take the car over there and hang around for an hour in the middle of an industrial area with nothing to do while they wash it – it’s easy and faster just to wash it myself at home.

I took Scully up with me on the walk to the car service place, and once we had the car back we drove over to the dog park to play there for a bit with the other dogs and owners.

For dinner tonight I’d planned to make an Indian style curry, with chick peas, potato, and cauliflower, to use up a bit of coconut milk that was leftover from when I made Thai curry last week. Only I’d soaked the chick peas and chopped onions and potato and went to the fridge for the Indian curry paste… and there wasn’t any. I’d forgotten I’d used the last of it a couple of weeks ago, and hadn’t put it on the shopping list. So now the only sensible way to use up the coconut milk was to make Thai curry again!

Wow. What a day.

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What did I even do today?

It’s Sunday… I slept in a little bit, took Scully out, um… went for a long walk with my wife and Scully…

I wrote a lot of annotations for the next batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. Played three games of Codenames Duet with my wife (we lost all three – the campaign challenges are getting harder). Made quiche for dinner.

And here we are.

Oh… my mail client (Thunderbird) has for some reason been unable to connect to my mail server all day. My ISP reports that the mail server is operational. But Thunderbird just goes into a “contacting mail server” wait mode, and never leaves it. I’m accessing mail through a web interface, but it’s annoying.

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Weird food day

The day started oddly, because my wife had an appointment and couldn’t take Scully, so I had to mind her at home. Scully doesn’t like it when my wife leaves the house, and sits and pines at the door. I had to distract her with peanut butter.

But I was also making myself French toast for breakfast, using some leftover challah that we’d bought the other day. I’ve done this a few times and it’s really delicious. I prefer French toast with salt and pepper, as I grew up with it as a savoury dish. I remember when I found out that other people put sweet things on it, and I thought that was really weird. I’ve tried it that way, but I still prefer salt and pepper. Even with the slight sweetness of the challah instead of normal bread.

My wife had another appointment at lunchtime, and this time I walked up the street with her and Scully, and I sat at a cafe with Scully and had lunch while we waited for her. This was better than being at home, as Scully doesn’t seem to mind being out alone with me – it’s only when we’re all home an my wife leaves that she gets really upset.

I had an açai bowl for lunch. I love these things. It’s totally like having a huge bowl of ice cream for lunch, except everyone thinks you’re being healthy! It’s just win-win.

Açai bowl

And then for dinner tonight my wife felt like having something fast and greasy, so we went up the street to a place called Plan B, which does American style burgers and sides. I had the chilli cheeseburger. (N.B. This was several hours later than the açai bowl. I’d had time to get hungry again.)

Chilli cheeseburger

I’m savvy enough to know that perhaps this is not authentically American, but to an Australian this style of burger looks very American, with the mayo and the melted cheese and stuff, and the lack of tomato and lettuce. It was indeed particularly greasy, and I’m not a fan of this “American style” processed cheese, but it did taste pretty good. Overall, it was a positive, but I don’t feel compelled to return here again in a hurry – there are several nicer meal options in the area.

Oh, in other news, I’ve hit a 150 day streak of Italian language practice on Duolingo again. I had a slack period at the start of the year, but I’m back into making sure I do a few minutes of practice every day now.

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Friday Games Night post on Saturday morning

It’s been a busy 36 hours. Last night was fortnightly Friday night Games Night with the guys, and our second in-person meeting since COVID-19 shifted us to virtual back in March. We only had four attendees, but that was a good number as it meant we could all play the same games together. It was also hosted at a friend’s house near where we used to work, and I suggested we get dinner from the Thai place where we often went for lunch. It’s possibly my favourite Thai place in Sydney, and I haven’t been there for ages. I was missing their delicious massamam curry, as well as all the other dishes they make. SO we did that, and it was just as good as I remembered.

I was the third to arrive, and played a few games of Klask first, which the host had recently bought. It’s basically a miniature air-hockey table, with magnetic paddles and a ball and a couple of other little complications. It was amusing fun, and when our fourth arrived we had a short knockout tournament.

The first three of us also played Arboretum while waiting for the fourth. This is a simple looking card game, but the strategies are complex and brainbusting. Naturally, I did poorly.

When we were up to four players, we launched into a game of Treasure Island, a new one for most of us. This was a lot of fun. Each player is a pirate, but one is the infamous Long John Silver, and the other pirates have initially captured him and are now searching for Long John’s buried treasure before he escapes and goes to dig it up himself. Long John’s player mark a secret map with the location of the buried treasure, and then according to the rules of the game is slowly coerced into handing out various clues to the other pirates. The other pirates all race around the island and try to find the treasure by searching in areas that they actually draw on the board using erasable markers. Long John tells them if they’ve found nothing, or perhaps if they’ve found another clue. (Or if they indeed find the treasure, they win instantly!)

Treasure Island

Here’s my friend drawing a search circle on the board. You can see a few other circles in various colours, and also lines which mark where pirates have moved, or areas of the board where Long John has given a clue that the treasure is not located. Oh, the other thing about the clues is that Long John is allowed to lie, but only a limited number of times, and you don’t know for sure if he’s telling the truth or lying about any given clue, but you can privately inquire into this – so it ends up with each pirate having a unique set of knowledge about where the treasure might be, which overlaps that of the other pirates. So you can also get hints by watching where the other pirates go to search.

Treasure Island

Here’s the board late in the game, and you can see my secret miniature map of the board behind the screen, where I’ve marked areas where I am sure the treasure is not located shaded with hatching, and there are also some areas I’ve marked off where Long John has told me the treasure is not located, but I suspect he may be lying.

As the game progresses, each pirate narrows down the search area. But at some point Long John escapes, and he gets to move directly towards where he knows the treasure is. If he gets to it first, he wins. As it happened in this game, one of the other pirates found the treasure just one turn before Long John was due to escape, so it was a tight game.

As I said, it was a lot of fun. But honestly much of the fun is generated by the interactivity with the map board, moving your pirate around and drawing lines and circles all over the board. There’s a large luck element to the game, as it’s possible for a pirate to luckily search the correct area on the very first move of the game and win instantly (although given the area involved this will happen very rarely). And although each pirate is using logic to narrow down the area, it’s still luck involved when one of them actually searches in the correct place. So it’s a lot of fun, and there is logic and strategy involved, but I think the luck factor dominates in determining who actually wins. You could be the best player in the world at this game and still win only 25% of the time in a four-player game. I’d call this more of a shared experience like a roleplaying game, than a cut-throat competitive game.

After this we played a quick game of Railroad Ink as it was getting too late for another long game. This is a lighter game, but definitely with more skill involved in determining the winner. It was fun too. Pretty much everything we played was a hit tonight, and we all had a great time!

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The weirdness that is Aldi

I had occasion to go into North Sydney today, which is a commercial centre on the north side of Sydney Harbour, across from the main city centre of Sydney. It happens to be a walkable distance from home for me, taking about half an hour to get there, including up and down some healthy hills.

In North Sydney is an Aldi store – the closest one to me. I never do any large grocery shopping here, since parking in the area is impossible, but I like to pop in when I’m walking around to see if they have anything interesting. I find being inside and Aldi store like being in a strange parallel universe. They have similar looking products to the brands in the regular Australian supermarkets, but they’re all unfamiliar Aldi custom brands. But the weirdest thing is the packaging, which is designed to look almost exactly like the packaging of the brands in other supermarkets. Honestly, I don’t know how they get away with it without facing multiple lawsuits over trademark/trade dress infringement. Because some of the packaging looks almost identical in design to the regular brands, just with a slightly changed brand name.

(EDIT: I mentioned this to my friends in our online chat tonight and they pointed me at this article about this very issue, which goes some way to explaining it. Quote from one friend: “Oh, sure, it’s bollocks. But it’s legally acceptable bollocks.”)

Anyway, being a German chain, Aldi is the one reliable place that I know will have stollen around Christmas time. Having a German mother, stollen was always a major part of Christmas when I was growing up, so I like to have some if I can. I bought a large one, and also some Christmasy biscuits, and a few other things. But not too much, because I had to carry it all home.

Apart from dropping into the alternate Aldi universe, I write some Darths & Droids comics today, and took Scully to the dog park… and that’s about it. Oh, I made mushroom and green bean risotto for dinner, which I mention mostly because it’s so labour intensive, so it took a significant time to make…

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Final ethics

Today was my final Primary Ethics class for the school year. We finished off the topic on questioning authority. Most of the last lesson goes through the story of Rosa Parks, and how she defied segregation laws by refusing to stand up for a white person on a bus. After reading this to the class, the question was: Did Rosa Parks do anything wrong?

Most of the kids said no, because the law was wrong and unfair, while one kid said she did do something wrong because she broke the law. We had a good discussion about it, and I managed to keep the behaviour mostly under control, so lots of kids got to contribute. There were several other questions, and the continuation of the story with the bus boycotts organised by Martin Luther King Jr, leading ultimately to the Supreme Court decision that struck down the segregation laws.

After the discussion, I had to say my goodbye to the class. I wished them a fun Christmas holiday and good luck with high school, which they’ll be starting next year. It’s unlikely I’ll see any of these kids again. I had some very tough kids to control in the class, and honestly I’m glad I won’t have to teach them again, but I also had some very good kids, well behaved, with thoughtful contributions, and it’s sad to see them go.

I don’t think kids that age have the same reaction to seeing someone—someone they’ve known for a full year—for the last time. The bell went, I dismissed them, and they just ran out of the classroom. I don’t know if any of them felt any sadness or other feeling about never seeing me again – they certainly didn’t give any indication of it.

After the class I had a bit of a celebratory piece of cake from a nearby cafe, then returned home to work on assembling that batch of comics I photographed yesterday.

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