The end of the spring that never was

Tomorrow is the first day of summer, making today the last day of spring, despite it not really feeling like late spring. La Niña has made a mockery of spring, as we experienced wintery temperatures and unusually high rainfall for the past several weeks. Indeed, the Bureau of Meteorology reported today that New South Wales just had the wettest November since 1917. (Despite the cold, wet conditions in south-east Australia, the north-west is experiencing extreme heatwaves already.)

I mentioned how unusual it was that the sun came out briefly yesterday – well today it didn’t appear at all again. We had heavy, low overcast, with tall buildings disappearing into the low cloud, and it rained a bit around midday.

This morning I went on a trek into the city, to the University of Technology, to meet my friend who is the lecturer of the courses in Image Processing (that I tutored for this past semester) and Data Engineering (that I’m helping him redesign for next semester). The plan was to go over our course plan, discuss various issues, and decide on what needs to be done next to get it ready in time. I also picked up my university ID card, finally, which had been waiting for me in the security office since August.

After the meeting, I walked around to a book shop to pick up a copy of The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor, the first graphic novel by Shaenon Garrity. I had to get it, considering I know Shaenon and we try to meet up every time I travel to the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor

I also picked up a copy of Troy by Stephen Fry, since I found one in the smaller size that matches my copies of the previous two books in his Greek mythology series. I saw it in another book shop the other day, but they only had the larger paperback size for some reason, so I passed it up, and thought I’d have to wait months for the smaller size release. But it’s good to have it now!

And I went to the game shop and picked up a couple of Dungeons & Dragons books. Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons has just been released, and they also had a sale on Candlekeep Mysteries, which I’d declined to purchase some time ago because I don’t really need more books of adventures, but which I figured I’d grab for the bargain price when I saw that it was a compendium of one-shots which I might get use out of, rather than an epic campaign that I’m much less likely to use.

I spent the afternoon writing a lesson for tonight’s one-on-one class with my science student. She’s into art, so I decided to do a lesson on colour mixing, and why what people say about “primary colours” is so confusing and often wrong. She really seemed to like it, and get a lot out of it, so that was good!

New content today:

The sun come out today!

It didn’t rain today, and the sun actually peeked through the heavy cloud for a few minutes. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen sunlight for about a week and a half, at least. I went for a 2.5k run, and took it a bit easier today. Yesterday I really pushed hard to make a good time, so I thought I could ease off a bit today.

I had the last two lessons of the ethics class on introduced species. One of the last questions I’ve been asking in each class is about domestic cats, which are of course introduced species in much of the world. They cause particular problems here in Australia, where cats kill an average of 75 native animals each, every year. Yes, that means for every cat that’s kept indoors and doesn’t kill any, there’s a cat out there killing 150 animals a year. Domestic cats have caused the extinction of at least 22 species of native Australian animals. It’s even worse in New Zealand, where they’ve caused the extinction of over 70 native species. Some councils in New Zealand have considered banning the owning of pet cats. They haven’t enacted this, because there’d be a lot of upset cat owners.

I put the question to my students: should pet cats be banned, if it can save native species from extinction? The response was pretty uniform: no. The all thought that was going too far, that it’s not fair to ask people to give up owning a cat. I reminded them that it would save entire species from extinction. They said it would be nice to do that, but there’s no way a government could ever enforce a ban on owning cats – too many people would just ignore it. I hadn’t really expected the answers to be so uniform to this question.

Because I’ll be busy tomorrow, I worked on the next class for the coming week, with lessons starting on Wednesday. This week the topic is organ donation.

I also took the opportunity today with the lack of rain to take Scully to the dog park this afternoon. In a couple of weeks they’re going to have the traditional dog park Christmas party. I’ve gone to the past few, since we got Scully, and it’s always a fun event, with everyone bringing some food or drink and sharing everything. We get about 20 dogs and their owners.

Oh, and one of our neighbours has decorated the lift and the ground floor entry foyer with Christmas decorations already. I’m not sure which neighbour it is, but we have our suspicions. There’s an entire tree on the ground floor. Fortunately Scully ignores it!

New content today:

Slicing sourdough

I’ve got a couple of new kitchen gadgets. Firstly, I’ve been making sourdough bread since December last year, when one of my friends gave me some starter. I’ve kept that starter going and been baking a couple of loaves every week since.

One of the things you need to do is slash the dough just before putting it into the oven. This breaks the skin that has formed while the dough is rising, and allows the bread to expand as it bakes, making the texture lighter and airier. Up to now, I’ve been slashing the dough with a sharp kitchen knife, but that doesn’t work perfectly because the blade has some thickness to it, and it drags through the dough, squashing it down a bit as you cut.

True bread artisans use a tool known as a lame (not pronounced the way you think). It’s basically a razor blade on a handle, so you can slash the bread without slashing your hand. My friend has been using one for ages and told me about it, but I hadn’t got around to getting one until just recently. I used it today for the first time… and it is indeed much better than using a knife. Check this out:

Home made sourdough

I may also be able to do some interesting new patterns in the loaf. The other thing I got was some muslin cheesecloth, which I’m going to use to try making labneh, after seeing it done on a cooking show recently.

Other things I did today: Wrote some Darths & Droids strips. Went on a long walk with my wife and Scully, to get some things from the Italian bakery. 2.5k run.

New content today:

Voting and pizza

The weather was a bit better today, at least after mid-morning when the rain cleared up. I went on a big walk with my wife and Scully, down to the local council chambers, where they had pre-poll voting open for the local council elections that will be held next Saturday. We decided that we’d take the opportunity to vote early, rather than on election day, to avoid the crowds.

Here in Australia we have three levels of government, and so three types of elections. Federal government (which will be coming up for election early next year), State government, and local government. This is a local election, to elect the mayor and councillors of local government areas, which are essentially either towns, or chunks of large cities – for example Sydney has 12 local government areas. So anyway, this was a local government election, which had been postponed last year due to COVID, and then again this year for a few more months, so it’s about 16 months overdue.

There were almost no other people there to vote, so we didn’t need to wait at all – it was just straight in and out. There were a few campaigners outside trying to talk to anyone going inside. I got to snub the mayor. I always just ignore all of the campaigners and walk straight past them.

I worked on some Irregular Webcomic! strips and annotation this afternoon. And for dinner we went out for pizza at the local place up the road. It was a good casual dinner, simple, with some cheap chunky glasses of red wine, and staff who know us and stop to have a chat while serving.

New content today:

Extreme wet Friday late update

On Friday morning I received an email response to a question I’d sent to Outschool. (Friday morning here being Thursday evening in the USA, which is relevant.) It said that they’d get back to me in a while, because currently staffing was very low due to the holiday. My first thought was, “Are they all on Christmas holidays already?”

It took me a few minutes to realise it was Thanksgiving in the USA. This happens every year around the end of November – people all start wondering why nobody in America is answering their emails all of a sudden. Just one of those weird international things.

Friday was wet – very wet. The rain was pretty heavy most of the day, with very brief periods when it eased up a bit. I managed to get a 2.5k run in, starting with no rain but it was drizzling again by the time I finished. I had a couple of Outschool lessons and there was thunder and lightning.

Sydney’s not even copping the worst of this weather. Inland is getting a lot more rain, which is causing widespread flooding. Some places have received triple the average November rainfall in the past week, and some of the flooding is approaching “worst ever” conditions. Meanwhile, nearer home, Warragamba Dam is reported to be overflowing this morning. This could cause floods in north-west Sydney, downstream from the dam.

During the day I worked on a report for Standards Australia on the latest ISO Photography Standards meeting I attended back in October. We have a follow-up Australian meeting next week, so I had to get this report written.

And in the evening was virtual games night. I played Balloon Pop, 6 Nimmt, 7 Wonders on Board Game Arena, then we played Scattergories and finished with a round of Gartic Phone.

New content today:

Rain, sushi, and data engineering

More weather – more rain. The morning was cloudy and the rain started a bit after lunch – while I was taking Scully home from my wife’s work. I went via the shops to get some sushi rolls for lunch and we sat under a plane tree for shelter in the village square. Fortunately it didn’t rain too hard while we were there.

But I did hear a woman get attacked by magpies. She was sitting and eating her lunch, which looked like a box of hot chips and something, maybe fish or a burger or whatever. She was there for some time with magpies stalking around her, looking for a handout. The magpies don’t bother me while I’m eating there because I have Scully with me and she gives them the evil eye. I was looking the other way when suddenly I heard a loud scream, and I looked around the the woman was beating off magpies from the lunch on her lap. I didn’t see, but I assume one jumped right onto her food, because she got up and threw the lot into a bin.

This is the problem with feeding birds in urban areas. They get used to handouts, and they get aggressive when people are eating.

My main work today was planning out lectures for next year’s data engineering course at the university (for which I’m assisting the lecturer in redesigning the course from this year). I wrote lecture outlines for a lecture on data presentation, and one on data fitting and modelling. Next Tuesday we have a meeting to go over and discuss the plans to start locking things into place and moving onto the next stage of developing the course. We need to figure out the assessment tasks, and weave them into the course material.

New content today:

Introducing species

The weather today was forecast to be rainy again but the morning seemed dry, so I went out for a run while I could do so without getting wet. It was time for another 5k, and I agonised over whether to do laps of the oval, which is nice and flat, but incredibly boring, or do my street route, which is much more interesting, but also much more hilly. I decided I’d go for interesting, and grit out the hills. Given the humidity (91%), maybe it wasn’t the best choice, because I was struggling by the end.

And then it wasn’t helped by the fact that the footbridge I usually run across to cross the creek in the last few hundred metres was closed for construction work when I got there! I had to take the alternative route which goes down into the gully via a series of steps—about 30 or 40 steps—followed by climbing back up the other side. That slowed me down a lot, but I managed to finish the 5k in 30:15. Phew!

Today I worked on the new ethics class material for the week, on introduced species. Then I ran the class this evening with the first three groups of kids. The kids never fail to surprise, and really keep me on my toes. I’d written a sequence of questions beginning with the idea of culling to control introduced species that have become invasive and are serious pests, destroying native species and costing billions of dollars in crop damage (specifically starlings in North America). I’d kind of assumed that the kids would be okay with controlling the species in this way, and staged my follow-up questions based on that. But I was surprised when two of the kids in the first class said that culling should not be done, because it’s cruel, regardless of the fact that the birds cause immense damage. So I had to think on my feet and restructure the follow-up questions, to avoid it descending into a series of “Same as my previous answer” responses.

The next two classes went a bit more according to plan, but now I have some alternate pathways through the material depending on what responses the kids give to the early questions. I do this a lot with the classes. Usually by the end of the week the sequence of questions is quite different to what I started with, as it evolves every class.

New content today:

A couple of 500 milestones

In a strange coincidence, two milestones involving the number 500 occurred in the last few days:

I reached a 500 day streak of Italian practice on DuoLingo. I’m not sure if this is my longest streak. I had a long streak going a couple of years ago before it got interrupted by travel. But a few minutes of language practice every single day has become a habit now.

And my wife reached 500 sales of dog bandanas on her Etsy shop!

Also, not quite 500, but today’s 2.5k run this morning brought me up to a total of 60 kilometres run this month so far. The weather was intermittent light drizzle today, but we have heavy rain coming up for the next few days.

Today I worked on science slides for tonight’s one-on-one science lesson with a student online. I’m doing chronological dating tonight, explaining carbon and uranium radioactive dating, and dendrochronology using tree rings.

New content today:

Chilly and a bit wet

The cool wet week continued on this Monday, but it wasn’t as rainy as yesterday. I had to bake a sourdough loaf this morning so that we had bread, so I didn’t have time to go for a run before my two ethics classes.

That finished off the week of the topic on cancel culture. It was an interesting topic to discuss with the kids, because there was a wide range of opinions about it. Some of them thought it was fine to cancel celebrities who do something offensive, because they’re in the public and eye and need to behave themselves, and if they suffer the consequences then it’s their own fault. While others thought that the public acting as judge, jury, and executioner, potentially ruining someone’s career and life because they said something online, was going way too far. And there were a range of kids in between, thinking it was fair enough for really offensive things, repeated, but not for mildly offensive things, or things that might be one-offs or accidents.

After my classes I had some lunch and then picked up Scully from my wife’s work. I used the afternoon to write annotations for a new week’s worth of Irregular Webcomic! When my wife got home I went for my daily 2.5k run, then came home and made pizza for dinner (I’d made the dough just before my wife got home).

New content today:

A very rainy Sunday

Sydney was cold and wet today. We only got up to 16.3°C, which is ridiculously cold for late November, and it rained basically non-stop all day. This is only the beginning too, as rain is forecast every day for at least the next week, with significant amounts on several days. Warragamba Dam, our main water supply, is already full to capacity, and the surrounding catchment area is already saturated from rain last week. If it has to be spilt to release water, it could lead to flooding downstream. It could in fact lead to the second “once in 100 years” level flood event in Sydney – this year, after the floods of February.

This is La Niña in action. We were told months ago we’d be in for a cool, wet summer, and it looks to be the case. Although in some sense it’s better than El Niño and the dry hot summer we had two years ago, with all the terrible fires.

Despite the rain, I gritted it out and did a 2.5 km run. I picked a period where the rain radar showed what looked like easing conditions, but it lied, and the rain actually got heavier as I ran. Since this exercise routine is still very new, I haven’t done a run in steady rain before. It was somewhat unpleasant… but at least I didn’t get too hot. Oddly, although a do a there-and-back sort of route, somehow the wind was blowing the rain straight into my face for about 90% of the route.

In the dry comfort of home, I worked on comics again. I managed to churn out three new Darths & Droids strips and five new Irregular Webcomics, so that gives me some breathing room to work on other things for the next few days.

New content today: