Full weekend in one post

I missed yesterday’s entry because I was out for dinner and didn’t come home until late. It was a dinner with the guys from Puzzling Old Man on Twitch. These were the guys who streamed live their solving of the mezzacotta Puzzle Competition a couple of years ago. At the time they did it, I offered to buy them dinner if they could solve all of the Group 4 puzzles (written by me) in one show before quitting for the night. Well, they pushed themselves to the limit, but they managed to scrape it in just before midnight and triumphed.

We were organising a meet-up at a restaurant for dinner with a couple of my other mezzacotta friends… and COVID hit. So we’ve delayed this dinner by a bit over two years now. But finally we managed to get everyone together, and last night we enjoyed a Thai meal at a nice restaurant, and spent the evening discussing puzzles and other nerdy stuff.

In the morning yesterday, I went for a drive with my wife and Scully to Geranium Cottage, a cafe out in the more rural suburbs of Sydney, the sort of place where there are lots of plant nurseries, dog & cat boarding kennels, and people with large properties with a few sheep on them. We went to get some Devonshire tea (a.k.a. cream tea, oddly enough, in Devon shire). The scones at this place are really nice, and it was good to have a drive in as close as we can get to “the country” within half an hour’s drive or so. We also took Scully to a nearby park to run around and chase a ball a bit.

Today I spent mostly at home working on some comics stuff. I also baked some sourdough bread, and went for a run, and taught a couple of online ethics classes. Nothing particularly exciting, but the good thing is it hasn’t rained for several days, and things are starting to dry out a bit.

New content yesterday:

New content today:

Trying a burger

I think the most exciting thing I did today was try a hamburger at a place I haven’t eaten before. My wife wanted to take a long walk with me and Scully on her day off and suggested the same bakery I went to yesterday. It’s a nice walk, but I didn’t want to eat from there again. There are a few other shops adjacent, including a place that specialises in hamburgers. So I tried one of those.

Yeah… I don’t think I’ll have a burger from there again. It was okay, but decidedly average. If I don’t want to have anything from the bakery again, I think I’ll try the fish & chips shop instead. Or maybe the Thai place.

Other achievements: Grocery shopping. Broccoli is still insanely expensive due to the floods, so I’m cycling through all the other green vegetables instead of buying broccoli. Today I got string beans.

And I did a 2.5k run. In the cold. The maximum temperature today was only 15°C – very cold, although it was bright and sunny.

New content today:

Art and weather

Today I spent time working on brief lesson outlines for upcoming ethics/critical thinking classes. I do this for classes 4 weeks in advance, so parents and students know what topics are coming up. I write the detailed lesson plans later, closer to when they are done. This week I was a bit behind, so I did two brief outlines, on the topics of art and weather. I’ve done art before, in January this year, but I had a new student join last week, and she specifically requested art as it’s her favourite subject. So I went back and looked at the previous lesson and came up with a bunch of new questions that I can ask.

For lunch I took Scully for a walk and went to the nice bakery. They had a raspberry chocolate gateau today, so I tried a slice of that after my chicken pie. It was very good.

An amusing thing that my friends and I have been doing the past few days is making AI-generated Magic: the Gathering cards, using Urza’s AI, a tool written by some fellow MtG/AI enthusiasts. It’s quite fun, and produces some amusing and interesting cards sometimes (among a bunch of random semi-rubbish). You give it a card name, and it produces all of the other text and artwork for the card. The flavour text is often the really good part. To get ideas for new cards I like to use snippets of the flavour text from the last card.

Some examples (link to permalinks of the cards I’ve generated):

One thing we’ve noticed is that it tends to produce a preponderance of blue cards, and few of any other colour. My theory: Blue cards have a broader and more general vocabulary on them, whereas cards of other colours are more specific and focused in their language. So when you type in some random phrase, it’s more likely to be a closer match to the blue vocabulary.

New content today:

Being a busy bee

I had a full day today. I started with my Year 6 ethics class at the local school. We’re in the middle of three lessons talking about tolerating other people’s beliefs, and today we explored what it actually means to tolerate something. Does it mean you don’t try to convince them they’re wrong? Does it mean you should try to understand the reasons why they hold those beliefs? Does it mean you don’t make fun of them? Does it mean their beliefs are as good as yours? This is a well-behaved group of kids, but this morning I had to encourage them to speak – I asked some questions and got silence a few times.

I did a 2.5k run when I got home. And then took Scully for a walk at lunch time.

The afternoon I spent writing up my report for the ISO Photography meeting I attended in Cologne last month. I have to send this to Standards Australia, prior to our follow-up local meeting, which is on Friday next week. This involves going through all my notes from the meeting, plus the various reports that were presented, and distilling it down to highlights and significant events. I completed it and sent it off… just before starting my three online ethics classes in a row.

So it was a very busy, but productive day.

New content today:

Thinking about superstitions

This week’s new topic for my ethical/critical thinking class is superstition. I spent the morning writing the new lesson, and had three classes this evening with the new material.

There’s a set-up story about a girl who has “lucky socks” that she wears when she plays soccer, and questions about why she would think this, and what might happen if she can’t find her lucky socks on the day of a big match.

Then I go into exploring what effects superstitions have – if they are harmless beliefs, or if they can have actual bad effects on people, or on others and society as a whole. And then we ponder the question of whether we should respect people’s superstitions, or if we should ignore or dismiss them.

Besides the three of those classes, I also had an extension class for last week’s Food topic, going through homework essay questions for one student. I normally do this on Mondays, but he needed to shift the time this week, so it ended up being today, meaning I had 4 classes in a row. Phew… that’s a big chunk of work.

New content today:

Eggs and pizza

I had three ethics classes this morning, which basically eats up the whole morning. I took Scully for a walk while I got some lunch, and on the way home I bought eggs, since we were low at home. For dinner I made pizza. Um… oh, I went for a 2.5k run. I did a better time than yesterday, when I took it a bit easier.

New content today:

Housework and running

Today was a day of housework. I vacuumed everywhere, cleaned the bathroom, washed the shower stall, baked some bread. And I took advantage of the sunny morning (no rain!!) to go for a 2.5k run for the first time since straining my back almost a week ago. It’s still a tiny bit sore, but 95% okay, and the physiotherapist said I should rest up for a few days but once it’s close to normal going for a run will be fine.

We all went for a big walk today, to the Italian bakery. This is the longest regular walk we do, almost 6 km round trip. A few other destinations are close to the 5 km mark. Today the bakery had the banana caramel croissants that I got once as a special item and really liked, so I grabbed another one. They are really really good.

And this evening I had two more ethics classes, and a science class with the girl who has been doing these long-term. Today I went through the immune system with her, explaining how our various blood cells fight diseases and produce immune reactions, and how vaccines work.

New content today:

A Zoom and a tunnel

Friday night was virtual board games night with my friends, so I didn’t have time to write up a blog entry. I picked up groceries, taught some online classes, and started working on a new online class for Outschool. I’m planning to run some Dungeons & Dragons or other roleplaying games for kids. D&D classes are very popular on there. I think a lot of kids these days are getting exposure to D&D online when they don’t have local groups to play with—or maybe some are getting an extra fix—and Outschool is a perfect platform for them to find adult DMs with experience running games for kids.

During games night, we played Sushi Go Party!, which I won, amazingly. And 6 Nimmt, Splendor, and Jump Drive, all of which I lost badly, unsurprisingly. We also tried a new game: VektoRace, which is an analogue car racing board game in which you use distance templates to move car tokens around a race track. It seemed an odd thing to port to an online version, but seemed to work okay. I took an early lead and the other players struggled to catch me, and we decided to quit after a bit more than 1 lap of the 3 in the race as it wasn’t particularly interesting. It’d probably be more fun with actual miniatures and a table.

Today I went to visit my mother, who lives up north, an hour’s drive away. While on my recent trip to Europe, my wife and I visited my aunt, my mother’s sister, in her nursing home in Germany. In the past year or so, we’ve had Zoom calls with her and several members of our family (organised by one of my cousins), but my mother has never been in on the call, because she’s not computer savvy and panicked when I suggested she set up Zoom on her computer. So when we saw my aunt in person, I asked if she’d like me to set up a call with her sister (my mother), and she sounded very enthusiastic about that. So when we got home from Europe, I phoned my mother to see if we could visit and take a laptop and do all of the Zoom setup for her, so she could talk to her sister. She thought that sounded great, so I emailed the nursing home in Germany and set up a call.

Today was the day, so my wife and I drove up to have an afternoon tea with my mother and then set up the Zoom call. It was scheduled for 5pm here, which was 9am in Germany. I took a laptop, and connected it to her WiFi (after struggling to find the password, before finding it written on the bottom of the modem), and ran the Zoom from there. It worked well and my mother and aunt had a rather emotional chat for a while, not having spoken to one another for many years, since the last time my aunt had visited Australia. My aunt tires quickly, so we didn’t stay on too long.

I knew we’d be leaving my mother’s around 6pm, so we decided to have dinner somewhere on the way home. Before we left, I found a nice restaurant in northern Sydney, just off the freeway exit and before the long slog through the suburbs back home. As we approached the freeway exit, we were nicely 10 minutes before our reservation – perfect timing.

But I hadn’t counted on NorthConnex. This is a new tunnel extending from the freeway, under multiple suburbs, bypassing a notoriously slow surface road. This was the first time I’ve driven back into Sydney from the north since the tunnel opened. We were approaching our exit, so naturally I moved to the extreme left lane (remember, we drive on the left in Australia). But then suddenly I was in unfamiliar territory, and wondering what the “NCX” written on the roadway meant… and before I knew it we were in the tunnel.

This is a 9-kilometre tunnel, with no exits. There was no way back. So we missed our dinner reservation, because by the time we exited and drove back it would have been half an hour or more later. And we paid a toll for the privilege. And we ended up far from home and had to take another tolled motorway to get home. So that was a bit of a debacle. We ended up stopping near home and grabbing something at an Indian restaurant for dinner. A place we hadn’t tried before which… was a bit substandard, and not somewhere we’d go again.

New content today:

A nice seafood lunch

My wife was home from work today so we took the opportunity to go and have a nice lunch out. There’s a place near us that does oven grilled salmon and other things. She felt like that salmon so suggested we go there. I chose a “seafood stew” which looks suspiciously like cioppino – a dish I had once in the San Francisco Bay area and which was delicious. So when I saw it on the menu I decided I’d try it. It came with flame grilled rye sourdough slices and was indeed good.

Speaking of rye, I tried making rye sourdough myself today for the first time. I’ve been looking for rye flour for a while, but the supermarket doesn’t stock it. I found some in a health food shop the other day and bought a small amount to try it. I made a loaf with about 1/3 rye flour and the rest white bread flour. It turned out really nice!

Rye sourdough

Oh, and an interesting observation from my ethics/critical thinking classes so far on the topic of Food. Most of the kids think it would be a good idea if there were rules or regulations to restrict how unhealthy restaurant food can be. Like a maximum proportion of butter or salt in dishes. Very few of them have said that restaurant chefs should be free to make food with any amount of unhealthy ingredients they want.

New content today:

Back to school

The new school term started this week, so this morning it was back to school for me, in my volunteer teaching role with Primary Ethics. I’d missed the last two classes of last term, when I was away on my trip to Germany and the Netherlands. It turned out that the coordinator hadn’t managed to find a replacement teacher for my class, so the kids missed out on two lessons. So they were happy to see me again today. I think. Or at least I hope so.

We started a new topic on Beliefs and Tolerance. The opening lesson is about some kids discussing smoking, with one of them saying they think it’s not as dangerous as people say, and she might try it when she gets older. The discussion is around whether that girl’s belief should be tolerated or respected, and what the difference is between those things, if any. And if she should be allowed to publish her views in the school newsletter or not.

It was a very interesting and engaged discussion, with lots of the kids offering thoughtful ideas and comments. I’ve definitely got a good bunch of kids this year.

Other happenings: My back feels much better than yesterday. Not 100%, but definitely well on the way to recovery. I’ve been using the ice pack again a bit today.

And… of course it’s been raining. The forecast is rain showers every day for the next week. I don’t think it’ll be long now until we break the wettest year on record.

New content today: