Game design convergence – grandma ninjas!

Sunday morning 10am – lesson 3 in my current iteration of my Creative Thinking & Game Design course. The students and I went through the potential themes for board games that we brainstormed last week, narrowing it down to a list of eight. After some constructive criticism of each idea, it came to picking the one theme that we will work on.

Student 1 picked his favourite. Student 2 picked hers, which was different. I asked for second preferences, and both picked other different things, so now we had four different options with no overlap!

To break the deadlock I suggested how about we combine the two favourite ideas, which were:

  • Ninjas – a ninja training course where we try to become the best ninja
  • Grandma’s evil mansion – a quest to find things in the mansion to defeat the evil grandma

So I said what about a ninja grandma? And both kids went, “YEAH!” So that’s the theme of our game. We’re not sure what the ninja grandma does yet – maybe players can be ninja grandkids and the grandma is training you or sending you on missions. Or maybe each player can be a different competing ninja grandma, training their own group of ninjas. We’ll figure that out next week.

Today’s weather was surprisingly nice, after the forecast 60 mm of rain bypassed Sydney and dumped on other parts of the state.

New content today:

Intro to Intro to Machine Learning

Today I worked on a presentation for the university Data Engineering course I’ve been tutoring this semester. I felt there was a bit of a gap in the course material. The first few lectures talk about types of data, experimental collection of data, basic statistics (such as mean, standard deviation, etc), plotting and presenting data, and fitting data (linear regression), and hypothesis testing.

And then the next lecture is a guest lecturer from MathWorks who comes in and talks about using MATLAB to do machine learning. It’s a large jump in complexity and depth of material, and I feel like many of the students are left a bit floundering like they’ve suddenly been thrown in the deep end. There’s no set up of the context or motivation for machine learning, or what it’s actually trying to do with the data.

Last lecture I spoke with the professor about this and he agreed with my idea of adding a bit of introductory context material to set up the machine learning content. We actually have an opportunity to deliver this because for the next three weeks we just have project sessions where the students show up to work in their teams and ask us questions if they need any guidance. We do the same thing in the Image Processing course in semester two, and there we’ve had a “bonus material” lecture at the start of one of those session. (Last year I did this, talking about the science and engineering of photography.)

So today I made a short presentation (just 9 slides), that we can give to the students on Monday. I set up the problem that we want to solve – classifying things by examining measurements—data—about them. I give examples to show how general this problem is and the wide range of important applications. Then explain why it can be difficult and how we can approach it in a data analytical way. And then how we can apply automated algorithms to do it in various different ways. Which leads into the machine learning examples that they did in the aforementioned previous lecture.

I tested it on my wife and it only took about 15 minutes. (And she now has a better understanding of the context of machine learning than most people!)

Also today I started work on writing a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. I hope to get that done in time to photograph Lego on Tuesday morning.

The forecast rain hit today – it was much cooler than yesterday. But still we managed to set a new record for number of consecutive days in Sydney with maximum temperature 20°C or more. Looking at the Bureau of Meteorology records, it looks like 193 consecutive days – the last day we had a maximum below 20°C was 17 October, 2022. The forecast for every day in the coming week is at least 22°C, so the streak will probably extend past 200 days.

New content today:

Tomb of the Serpent Kings, session 3

Not much to report today: grocery shopping, four ethics classes, made pasta for dinner, baked sourdough, played online board games with friends for our weekly games night. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to report on this:

Last Friday we played the third session of the Tomb of the Serpent Lords adventure that I’ve been running, using old school Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules. If you need a recap, the first two sessions are here:


Back in the village, Notgandalf used Detect Magic to determine that the stone eggs, snake carving, and wavy dagger were magical. The group traded away the other valuable items for 390gp, sharing 65gp to each participating adventurer.

Ratter slowly recovered from his encounter with the monster-girl, regaining his lost constitution. But it took several days and he took the opportunity to hone his thievery skills by hanging out with the village thugs. Volrak was still not done with his atonement, so also would miss the next expedition the the tomb.

The group rested for three days. Notgandalf suffered the effect of a curse on his magical ring, taking poison damage on one of the rest days. With Volrak still doing penance in the church, another young cleric stepped up to join the party:

Brother Leonardo – cleric, 4 Strength, 15 Wisdom, 5 Charisma. Mace and sling.

Trying to kill the basilisk

Convinced that the giant lizard chained in the pillared hall was a basilisk, Notgandalf was determined to retrieve the silver disc from the lightning trap room. He avoided the floor plate trigger and tried to remove the silver plate from the wall. It seemed harmless, so he pried it loose with a dagger and took it. The party returned to the eastern end of the lizard chamber via the chasm walkway. There, Notgandalf taunted the beast with a torch and waved the shiny reflective disc in an attempt to get it to see its own reflection. Unfortunately this failed.

They decided to explore down the stairs to the south-east, finding a square room with similar stone tiles to the ones covering the pit trap they’d pushed the jelly-skeleton into. Poking the tiles with a 10-foot pole revealed the pit trap. Avoiding it by walking around the edge, they proceeded to another room, containing a sloped pit full of fire, with some charred bones and streaks of molten gold at the bottom. They skirted this and entered a room to the south, a domed chamber with four doors. The southern door was heavy iron and locked.

Fungus goblin lair

The western door was smashed open. Beyond was a passage and room with more natural, less worked stone walls, and an angry small humanoid trying to push them back with a broom while chittering in an unknown language. The party tried to push their way past, but the creature yelled loudly and two reinforcements arrived, brandishing pointed sticks. Others were ready to fall back, but Brother Leonardo loosed a sling stone, hitting one right between the eyes and dropping it to the filthy floor! The other reinforcement fled back the way it had come. The party forced the creature with the broom to come with them at swordpoint as they pushed deeper into the natural caverns.

They came across a stinking chamber carpeted in muck and filth, with horrible fungoid growths, sickly plants, and other weird things apparently planted in the mulch: fingers, hands, sheep legs, sword hilts, etc. The stench was incredible. The party were reluctant to step into this mess. While hesitating, a group of six of the goblins charged to repel the invaders! Entering combat, the party took a few hits with pointy sticks and pitchforks. Garamond took a hit and retreated to avoid more damage. Notgandalf charged in and poked a goblin with the fang-like nail of his cursed finger, causing the goblin to clutch its throat and die horribly, foaming at the mouth. The group vanquished the six attackers, leaving their hostage gibbering. Leonardo healed Garamond.

Notgandalf cast Detect Magic to scry the room for any magical items. He located buried beneath the filth a silver ring, set with a semi-precious stone patterned like an eye. They found the north passage connected to the second entrance that Garamond had found on the previous expedition.

The south passage took them through an empty room—a filthy sort of bed chamber—and then into a throne room, where more of the goblins were paying respects to an effigy made of mud and sticks, sitting atop a crude chair, crowned by a headpiece made of sticks and bent cutlery. Edging around the room with their hostage, the party exited to the west. A passage led south to a room that stank even worse than the previous mulch room. They avoided this and proceeded through a room carpeted with live beetles and cockroaches. North from here they found the passage blocked by a huge vertical cylinder of stone.

The dwarves suggested the stone cylinder might rotate around a vertical axis and pulled it clockwise, revealing an opening in the stone large enough for a person to stand in. Nogge volunteered to step in while the others rotated the cylinder around a full rotation anti-clockwise, so Nogge could report back. Nogge returned, having been stabbed and wounded by a spear trap on the western side, saying that the way around on the eastern side was safe, and led to a passage that continued north. Leonardo tried to heal Nogge, but beseeching his god for an extra spell failed!

One at a time the party used the cylinder door to proceed into the north passage. They noticed a stone idol carved into an alcove as the cylinder rotated to the east.


The passage led up stairs to connect to the area Garamond had explored west of the basilisk chamber. Notgandalf used the opportunity to try to deal with the monster again, hiding around a corner, taunting it with a torch, and holding the silver disc to try to reflect its gaze. The monster noisily approached with hisses and the slithering clank of chain… and then silence fell.

Notgandalf: “Did it work?”
Brigette: “So… who wants to look?”

Brigette used the silver disc to look around the corner and see if the basilisk was still alive.

Brigette: Actually, it’s okay whether or not the mirror reflects the gaze attack. If it does reflect the attack, then it’s probably turned itself to stone so you’re safe. On the other hand, if the mirror doesn’t reflect the attack, and it’s alive, its reflection shouldn’t turn you to stone.

It turned out the basilisk had indeed been turned to stone. They noted the head harness and blinders, and a thick leather collar, as well as the heavy chains leading up to the ceiling, invisible in the darkness above, with the odd chittering of bats. Having a good look around the chamber for any treasure, they noted nothing but broken pieces of “statues”, as well as extremely realistic stone bats, huge spiders, and a few of the fungus goblins.

Exploring the passage west revealed two doors, one intricately carved with multiple snakes, and a gap matching the shape and size of the stone snake found in the monster-girl room. Brigette replaced the snake and the party watched as the stone snakes animated and slithered into the door frame, revealing a portal to a magnificent throne room, lined with red stone, dusty tapestries, and eight palm-sized mirrors mounted on wooden frames, surrounding a heavy stone, wood, and gold throne. Notgandalf sat on the throne and was overcome with feelings of powerlust and ambition. Refusing to get off the throne, Brigette, Drashi, and Leonardo lifted the rear and tipped him out. They determined the throne would take three people to carry, and decided to come back to retrieve it before leaving the tomb for the day.

The northern door opened to reveal a chamber lit with eerie purple light, the stone ceiling and walls carved to look like the inside of a snake’s ribcage. A thousand various smells assaulted their noses: herbs, spices, acids, yeasts, flowers, etc. Standing before them was Xiximanter, a shrivelled, desiccated human torso and head with snake fangs, atop a skeletal snake tail. His sunken eye sockets glowed with red pinpricks of light. He greeted the party, asking which was to be his new apprentice.

Notgandalf: “Seems like a reasonable gentleman.”

The party conversed with Xiximanter, determining that he was seeking a new apprentice, as well as ingredients such as elf ears (looking at Garamond) and dwarf beards (looking at Drashi and Brigette) for his potions. The party asked if Xiximanter had any potion that could reverse magical ageing of 9 years, and he replied that he did not, but he did have something else that might be of use. Xiximanter ushered them into the adjoining room, full of equipment and storage jars full of weird ingredients. Another door led to what Xiximanter said was his laboratory. Xiximanter often referred to “the priests above”, making the party suspect he had no idea that all of the serpent people in the complex were long dead. They even suspected that Xiximanter might not know himself that he was undead. They debated telling him, but decided better of it.

Notgandalf asked if Xiximanter could remove his cursed ring. Xiximanter exclaimed, “Where did you get that?!” and cast a spell and removed the ring, returning Notgandalf’s finger to normal. Xiximanter kept the ring…

Nogge: “You have fewer snake parts than when you came in.”

Eventually the party decided that getting away without angering Xiximanter was the best course of action, and they made excuses, saying they would return later. Their persuasiveness convinced Xiximanter to let them leave. They immediately jammed the door shut with iron spikes, grabbed the throne, and fled the dungeon back to Neensford.

Loose ends

The party returned a few days alter after healing and resting, to check a final location: the locked iron door south of the domed chamber. Not having found any key, they used tools brought with them to laboriously pry the door open, revealing a room full of treasure! Piles of coins, rolled silk tapestries, a small chest full of jewels, and two fine swords – one sword detected as magical. They also quickly checked the walkway in the cavern, finding it blocked to the north and south. They grabbed all the treasure and raced back to town.

At Neensford, Notgandalf decided to try on the magical ring with the eye-gem. When he put it on his left hand, his left eyeball fell out! But he could still see through it! It also turned hard as stone. Putting the eyeball back into the socket, it reattached and he could remove the ring.

Significant character moments

  • Brigette – Arguing it was safe to look at the basilisk in the mirror and then trying it.
  • Brother Leonardo – Deciding to lead the attack against the fungus goblins and killing one outright with his first sling stone.
  • Drashi – Getting offended at Xiximanter wanting to use his beard in a potion.
  • Garamond – Getting hit, retreating from combat to use bow.
  • Nogge – Going first through the rotating cylinder door and getting stabbed by the spear trap.
  • Notgandalf – Stoning the basilisk with its reflection. Getting cursed ring removed by Xiximanter.

New content today:

Toddling free

I did my first class on Fashion with the older students today, and it went really well. The class had two boys and a girl, and I could almost see the boys rolling their eyes at the beginning when I introduced the topic, but the way I approached it and the questions I asked got them engaged and giving thoughtful answers pretty quickly. It was a lively discussion and I think they all enjoyed it and got some good thinking material out of it.

At lunch I took Scully for a longer walk, over to the Italian bakery. I got a slice of pizza and a piece of ricotta cake for lunch. Scully really likes the ricotta cake – I give her a tiny piece of the sweetened ricotta filling.

While we were sitting on the bench and eating, a couple of what I assume were grandparents walked by with a toddler, a girl maybe three years old. Then a few minutes later the toddler came running back past us, followed by the grandparents, desperately yelling at her to stop. The kid blissfully ignored them and ran around the small plaza, deliberately dodging their elderly attempts to catch up and grab her. The kid ran towards the adjacent car parking area, which understandably freaked the grandparents out even more, but she stopped short of entering it. If I was near enough I would have grabbed the kid before she could get into the car park, but I was sitting on the far side of the plaza. Fortunately there was no incident, and after a few minutes the kid gave up and the grandmother grabbed her.

At home today I mostly worked on story planning and writing new strips for Darths & Droids. Oh, I also planned a few new topics for upcoming weeks in my ethics classes. One I’m planning for the older kids is “The End of the World”. That should be fun!

Weather-wise, we’ve had revisions to the forecasts for the next few days. Tomorrow was supposed to be hot, 26°C, and has been revised tonight to a degree higher at 27°C. But then a cold and stormy change is coming in. Saturday will be rainy, and Sunday very rainy. The forecast which had been sitting at 30 mm of rain for Sunday has been revised to 60 mm of rain!

New content today:

A nice lunch in a new place

Today I worked on my class plan for the older students, who are discussing Fashion this week. I know this is a topic which some kids might think will be uninteresting at first, but I think there’s some though-provoking questions for them to ponder. The most basic ones at the beginning ask the kids to think about what fashion really is, and how important it is. I get them to imagine a world without fashion… there are no choices you can make in clothing, or hairstyle, or shoes, or accessories. Everyone wears the same thing all the time, like a uniform. And then ask if the self-expression that we all exercise whenever we choose to wear this shirt rather than that shirt is an important part of human existence and culture.

Anyway, it should be interesting!

Scully had her regular groom today, clipping her hair down from unruly to neat. My wife dropped her off and then we went out for lunch to a nice restaurant that I’d found yesterday by searching for a good lunch spot. We could sit inside, without Scully! It was a delicious meal. I had Murray River cod with dashi broth, spinach, and pickled mushrooms. I saw it on the menu, but was still surprised when I tried the mushrooms and found them vinegary – it’s not a flavour you expect from mushrooms! It was good though, balancing the savoury aspect of the broth.

Murray cod, dashi broth, pickled mushroom

I also had a dessert, which was a crema catalana with burnt fig. Again I was surprised by the flavour. I expected the sauce to be sweet caramel, but it was a complex fruity flavour of the fig, with some citrusy sourness. It was surprising, but contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the cream, balancing it out.

Creama Catalana with burnt fig

Overall the meal was really good!

Back home I made a leek and potato soup for dinner – just something light as we were both so full from the lunch. Then three classes in the evening on the animal communication topic.

New content today:

If I could talk with the animals…

I spent most of today thinking about talking with animals. This is this week’s topic for my ethics/critical thinking class with the younger students. I spent time this morning writing the lesson plan and questions, and then had the first three classes tonight.

I introduce the topic by talking about Doctor Dolittle, and the fanciful way in which he learns to speak with animals. Then I go into discussing the experiments we have done with chimps like Washoe and subsequent research that has cast doubt on the initial optimistic early findings about ape intelligence and communication skills. I ask questions about the importance, relevance, and humaneness of such experiments.

And then I go into speculative mode and ask the kids questions about how our attitude to animals might change if we could communicate with them, and what we should do in various hypothetical scenarios in which we talk with animals. Should we continue eating cows and pigs and chickens if they could talk to us? If pet dogs and cats tell us they want their freedom, should we let them run free, or treat them more like children and confine them to keep them safe? If cockroaches could talk to us, should we still treat them as vermin to be exterminated? What would the world actually be like if suddenly we could communicate with animals?

In other items, I did a 2.5k run this morning. And baked the sourdough loaf I made last night and let rise overnight. It’s a special loaf with dried apricots, dates, and walnuts in it, by special request of my wife who likes a fruit and nut loaf now and then.

The weather has been glorious the past few days. Beautiful autumn weather, with cool mornings and evenings, and a pleasantly warm day in the middle – great weather to be out in, without being too hot. The deciduous trees are turning colours. We don’t have a lot – 99% of the trees around here are evergreen eucalyptus, ficus, bottlebrushes, wattles, banksias, and other native species. But there are dots of imported deciduous trees in places, and some are going lovely shades of red or yellow. I like the liquidambars the most, because of the vivid red leaves. The ginkgos are starting to go their beautiful butter yellow. Unfortunately there are also a lot of plane trees, which just go a dull brown colour and drop tons of leaves.

Oh, today is ANZAC Day too, so a public holiday here in Australia. It ends what I think of as the “public holiday season” – the four months from 25 December to 25 April contain 8 public holidays: Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Australia Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, and ANZAC Day. The remaining 8 months of the year only have two holidays: The Queen’s Birthday (I guess the King’s Birthday this year for the first time in over 70 years) in June and Labour Day in October.

New content today:

A survey of data engineering projects

Monday morning, 8am ethics class is the new schedule for winter. So I need to get up a little early and grab breakfast and get ready. We finished off the cloning topic, ready for Tuesday to start a new topic for the next week. Tomorrow morning I’ll need to write that lesson.

After lunch I walked Scully over to my wife’s work where she could mind her while I went in to the university for the first week of project work for the Data Engineering students. They have two weeks to write a project planning report, outlining what they intend to study and how, and then two further weeks to do the project and write a final report on the outcomes, as well as recording presentation videos. (All of which I have to mark…)

Today I walked around all the tables and asked each group what they planned to work on. It was a diverse range of project ideas. Some samples:

  • Looking at food prices in developing countries to see if they are affected/correlated with climate, economy, and other factors.
  • Examining agricultural output versus weather.
  • Checking for any effects on the consumer price index and other economic indicators of the COVID pandemic.
  • Collecting data on person and car movements at various times of the day and week in the vicinity of the university to determine any patterns.
  • Examining and comparing the image quality of difference phone cameras.
  • Studying the extent of glaciers over many years compared to weather records.
  • Determining if electricity consumption is affected by factors such as wind speed, temperatures, and building parameters such as height of building.
  • Characterising the popularity of video games on Steam versus time, looking at factors such as genre.
  • Modelling diabetes risk factor as a function of various demographic and health measurements.
  • Determining if the investment returns of US members of Congress outperforms stock market indices.
  • And the moon phase correlations one I mentioned last week.

So a really interesting range of projects!

For dinner tonight I made pizza. We got a new bag of bread flour in the groceries on Friday. Normally I get one brand, but it was out, so the supermarket replaced it in the online order with a different brand. It feels really different – finer and denser. And I think the pizza dough turned out a bit different, maybe a touch lighter, chewier, and crustier. I’m also making a new sourdough loaf tonight, so tomorrow morning when I bake it we’ll see if that is any different too.

New content today:

Brew 2

This morning I had lesson 2 of my current iteration of Creative Thinking/Board Game Design, with the two kids from last week, and the third enrolled student also showed up. So it got very interactive and was a lot of fun. We came up with a big list of ideas for possible game themes, and the kids have homework to rate them and also write down any new ideas, so next week we can pick a theme to work on.

My wife and I played another game of Brew, and it went faster and we had a better idea of what we were doing than yesterday. It was extremely close, and she ended up beating me 79 points to 78. After this we took Scully for a walk. We thought it would be cold and cloudy, possibly rainy, so we rugged up and took umbrellas. By the time we got home, it was bright and sunny and we were peeling off jackets to avoid overheating.

Three more classes tonight, and in a one hour gap between them I made fried rice for dinner. I think my wok is finally getting a decent non-stick seasoning layer on it. I’ve been too lazy to take the time to season it specifically. I heated it up clean with some oil a few times, but not enough to season it effectively. But using it for cooking is slowly building up a layer and tonight the fried rice was sticking noticeably less than last time I made it, so I guess that’s a good thing.

New content today:

D&D night, Brew day

Friday night was Dungeons & Dragons at my place. I ran the final session of the adventure Tomb of the Serpent Kings. We had a new player, one of my neighbours, who has been a long-time D&D player and I invited to join us. One of our regulars had to miss out, so we had 6 players again, the same as last time.

It was another good night, with plenty of amusing incidents and action and treasure. They defeated a basilisk by successfully reflecting its petrifying gaze back onto itself. They negotiated their way out of a dangerous encounter with an undead serpent-man wizard, through the fact that he was a bit absent-minded and didn’t realise that the serpent kingdom had collapsed on top of him hundreds of years ago.

Prior to that, Friday was grocery shopping, cleaning the house ready for guests, and teaching 4 ethics classes online.

Today, Saturday, was mostly spent making comics, and then writing up the adventure notes from last night. This evening my wife and I went out for dinner, getting French galettes and crepes. The weather has turned cold and drizzly and we needed real winter gear* for the first time this year.

* In Sydney terms: long pants and a light jumper/sweater.

Back home after dinner we played a two-player game of Brew, one of the board games I bought last week. The rules are not too long and the game play was fairly quick. It was of course just a learning game. (So the fact my wife beat me 67 points to 62 is irrelevant…)

New content yesterday:

New content today:

Solar eclipse day

Today there was a total solar eclipse visible from Australia. Totality was seen at the remote Western Australian town of Exmouth (pop. 2800), and virtually nowhere else on land. But the rest of Australia got various amounts of partial eclipse. Here in Sydney we got 19% totality. I was planning to go out with a pinhole and project the image of the sun with the moon partially obscuring it and take some photos.


19% solar eclipse...

I basically couldn’t see the sky all day. It was heavily overcast, and raining for much of the day. It reminded me of another partial eclipse, back in 2012, when we had 70% totality here in Sydney:

70% Totality Eclipse, Sydney

At least it’s consistent.

There was a break in the rain at lunch time and I took Scully for a walk. For dinner tonight I wanted to use some sweet potatoes and an eggplant, and I searched for some recipes for inspiration. I ended up making vege burger patties, which we ate on burger buns with tomato and salad greens (and chilli sauce on mine).

Sweet potato and eggplant burgers

They turned out pretty good!

Another thing I did today was work some more on porting my notes into Obsidian from OneNote. I’m getting close to having all my gaming stuff transferred. I’m really liking Obsidian and its superior organisational features. The fact that I can hyperlink documents is great, and it makes notes naturally form clusters of related concepts. And it has a graph feature where you can see your notes as nodes, with the links:

Graph showing document nodes and hyperlinks

Neat! This is mostly the gaming part of the graph. You can see some of the other topics I keep notes on on the right hand side.

New content today: