Things are heating up

It was another hot day today, as we progress towards summer. The channel-billed cuckoos are laying eggs, and there’s a chick in a next outside y kitchen window, screaming raucously for food from its adoptive parents. The Pacific koels are also back from their winter migration, with their loud calls too. And there are starting to be cicadas droning during the day and crickets chirping in the evenings.

We are also, unfortunately, having a noticeable increase in the number of rats around the area. Every night for the past week or two when I take Scully out for a toilet just before bed time, she is growling and barking at rats as they scamper off the footpaths for cover. My wife said she saw a cat the other day catch a rat. When we met Luna’s owners on Saturday, the man said that the rats probably migrated over from the new building site a block away, where a couple of dozen houses were demolished recently to make new apartments. I don’t know, but I guess that it makes sense that old houses might have sheltered rats, and now they’ve had to move somewhere else.

I finished off the Candy topic with my ethics classes today. Next up we’ll be tackling the science fiction idea of shrinking and enlarging people, which I’ll need to write a lesson for tomorrow. This topic will be interrupted my my trip to Europe and resumed when I get back home.

New content today:

A week to Rome

We’re starting to prepare for our trip to Europe, departing on Saturday. Laundry was done to wash clothes that we plan to take. We also prepared our chosen shoes by spraying them with Scotchgard to improve waterproofing. We only take one pair of shoes each and it would be bad if they got soaking wet, either in rain or the possibility of snow in Finland. We’ve also been getting a bunch of reminder emails about checking in and stuff from the airline.

This morning I did a 5k run. But we slept in and I got up a bit later than normal, and it was a warmer day, so it was significantly warmer than when I ran yesterday morning. After showering and changing (and cleaning the bathroom and shower) it was almost time for lunch.

We went for a walk to the Grumpy Baker at Waverton, where we had spicy vegetable rolls. And the took Scully down to the waterfront park for some ball chasing exercise. It was a pretty standard day for the most part.

This evening I had my first set of ethics classes that will be the last ones before our trip. I told the kids I’ll be away for the next three weeks, and will see them next on Sunday 26 November. So yeah, the trip is getting close now!

New content today:

Catching up with Scully’s old friend

Back in June, our neighbours in the apartment next door moved out, taking Scully’s fellow poodle and best friend Luna with them. We hadn’t seen them since – in fact for the past month or more they’ve been in Spain (with Luna being boarded at a dog stay farm here near Sydney). But they’re back, and my wife organised a casual meeting since they were in the area today to visit Luna’s vet for routine vaccinations.

We met up in the park across the street from our place. It was so funny because I saw them all walking down the hill towards the park and when they passed our place Luna turned to walk in, just as if she still lived there! But when she saw us and Scully, she got super excited and wanted to run across the street to say hello, and Scully was the same. We let them off their leads in the park and they ran around together for several minutes, playing and chasing each other. It was great to see. And we caught up with Luna’s owners, discussing their trip, and also our trip to Japan back in June, and how their new home is, and so on.

A few hours afterwards, late in the afternoon, my wife suggested we take a walk with Scully over to Naremburn, where one of our favourite bakeries is, but also the Flat Rock Brew Cafe, which brews its own beers. She said we could get a drink and a snack before dinner. I had a very nice milk stout, my wife some pinot noir, and we shared a bowl of beer-battered chips.

After walking home and allowing that to go down a bit, I made baked cauliflower and hummus for dinner – something simple and not too heavy after the chips. It turned out really nice.

Oh, and this morning I did a 7.5k run. I felt I could push past the 5ks I did last weekend, but not quite up to another 10k yet. And I spent a bit of time today looking at restaurants in Rome, where we’ll be in a couple of weeks. I thought I could do a bit of research and book a couple of nice ones in advance. I’ve booked one, but a couple of others had no free bookings when we’ll be there. I might look a bit more tomorrow.

New content today:

Another cold and wet day

This weather is crazy. I went to take Scully for a walk today. I looked at the rain radar and it looked pretty clear for the next hour or so at least. I looked at sunshine outside and grabbed my sun hat and sunglasses. 10 minutes into the walk, it started pouring.

Fortunately I also decided to take an umbrella, even though I thought for sure I wouldn’t need it, just because I thought the weather might change ridiculously and I didn’t want to be caught 20 minutes from home in rain without one. So that was okay. But then by the time we got home the rain had stopped and the sun had come out again!

Tonight is inline board games night with my friends. We’ve been playing a new word game that one of them invented and implemented on his Discord bot. It’s pretty fun! And right now we’re enjoying another game of Heat: Pedal to the Metal.

New content today:

A very cold October day

I saw a story a week or two ago about why Sydney experiences such changeable weather in spring. I mentioned this here as well at the beginning of October – how we seem to have hot days and cold days interleaved, and a mild or pleasantly warm day is a rare thing. The article explained it in terms of the prevailing weather systems at this time of year, how hot air masses from the tropical north compete by pushing south against cold Antarctic air masses from the south, and they see-saw back and forth, giving us alternating periods of hot and cold weather. It’s different in autumn, when we generally have a pleasant gradation of days from the heat of summer into the cool of winter.

Anyway, yeah. Just two days ago we had the hot, with temperatures over 36°C in parts of Sydney. Whereas today the maximum was just 16.1°C, and with strong winds that pushed the wind chill temperature as low as 7°C as I looked at when I took Scully out for her lunch time walk today. We’re going to have this cold again tomorrow, but the forecast is warming over the weekend and up to 32°C on the coast and 36°C in inland suburbs again by Monday.

I had 5 ethics classes today. And took Scully for a drive at lunch, to drop off some extra cold weather clothing for my wife at her office after she messaged me in the middle of the day to say she needed it. After dropping that off, I took Scully to the Italian bakery at Cammeray for lunch. Normally I sit on a bench nearby to eat, but it was so cold and windy that I retreated with Scully and broke one of my strongest taboos: I sat and ate in the car. I never do this. I think I’ve eaten food in my car maybe twice in my life – I vaguely recall doing it once about 20 years ago.

I actually feel ashamed now.

New content today:

Late night Zoom meeting for photography standards

I’m up late tonight because I have a Zoom meeting for ISO Photography Standards, beginning at 11pm. I’m on a special ad-hoc committee to consider the issue of skin tone colours on photographic test charts. We specify various International Standard printed test charts that people can use to test camera colour reproduction. And of course skin tones are of crucial importance because of how sensitive we are to when they don’t look quite right, so many of the charts include patches of colours meant to represent skin tones. But the issue is that many of these were designed decades ago, and the representation is mostly based on European, light skin tones, with few or no darker tones.

So we’ve assembled a group of experts from around the world to consider how we specify these going forward, in a more inclusive way. We need to think about and discuss what range of colours to specify, how they should be reproduced and displayed, and how their reproduction should be quantified and measured. It’s complicated by the fact that our visual system is very finely attuned to skin tones, not just as flat colours that might be printed on a chart, but also by spectral reflectance, lighting and metamerism effects, subsurface scattering, angular effects, and salience effects caused by our brain’s innate ability to recognise the difference between an actual person and a patch of colour.

Some of the group members have been discussing in email the potential need to specify test charts with fully three-dimensional models of human faces with synthetic skin that includes translucent layers, which is a far cry from the traditional methods of testing camera colour reproduction with a printed flat chart with square patches of solid colour. So… I expect this Zoom meeting is going to be concentrating on what exactly the scope of our problem is, and how complicated we should go in addressing the fundamental problem of expanding the range of skin tones in our standards.

In other happenings, I basically spent all day today writing my lesson plans for this week’s new Outschool ethics classes, on the topics of Candy for the younger kids, and Fossil Fuels for the older ones. I also made quiche for dinner, using cauliflower leaves as the vegetable in the filling, which turned out pretty good. I’m pretty stoked to discover that the leaves on cauliflowers are not only edible, but yummy.

New content today:

Turkeys, turkeys, everywhere

Around where we live it’s easy to find Australian brushturkeys. Here’s a photo I took of one a while back:

Australian brushturkey

They’re big birds, and have become more and more common in this area over the years. They scrape for food in leaf litter, and this time of year they build large mounds of litter and mulch to incubate their eggs, using the warmth of the decaying mulch rather than sitting on the eggs. So they move around a lot of leaf litter. And this year in particular I’ve been noticing that a lot of the footpaths we walk on around the neighbourhood are constantly being covered in a layer of leaf litter, sometimes so thick that you almost have to wade through it. While the adjacent garden beds are scraped clear of mulch and have large patches of bare soil.

There’s been a bit of this in previous years but this year it’s particularly bad. I’m guessing a lot of residents are constantly scraping or sweeping mulch back into the gardens and off the footpaths, or maybe their are council workers going around and doing it. I’m starting to wonder how much of this the gardens can take before the birds become real pests and start having an adverse effect on plants. Being native birds they’re a protected species, so there’s nothing anyone can do about them, legally.

In other news today, I received my Kickstarter copy of Dungeon Crawl Classics #100: The Music of the Spheres is Chaos. This is a wacky dungeon adventure with some cool bonus stuff because it’s the 100th adventure in Goodman Games’s series. Should be fun!

And tonight was another project tutorial session at the university for the image processing course. For dinner beforehand I tried a new burger and wings place. I had the chicken burger with peri-peri sauce, which came with a side of chips. It was pretty good! I’d go back here again some other time. Though not this semester since I’m still trying to eat somewhere different and new every week.

And after the project session with the students, the professor, who’s an old colleague from the previous jobs we did together at Canon, asked me if I wanted to fill in for him in teaching the next 18 months worth of his courses, as he has an offer to do some outsourced research work which will take up all his teaching time. This means I’d be organising the courses and giving the lectures for the courses – which involves some time commitment, but also extra income. And it’s a great opportunity to do some more university level teaching. So I’m very interested! I just need to see how many hours a week of work will be required, and fit that into my current Outschool schedule.

So this is pretty big news, and I’m a bit excited!

New content today:

MRI scan time

Today I had my MRI scan appointment, for the nerve issues I mentioned last week. They did a scan of my lower spine, looking for pinched nerves or something. The neurologist will tell me what they found in our follow-up appointment.

I’ve done a few MRIs before, but all cerebral ones. The machine is very noisy, and they give you earplugs and headphones, but it still makes a racket. But I have to say that scanning your lower spine is a bit easier and less claustrophobic than a cerebral scan where they lock your head in a face clamp.

Apart form that I did 4 ethics classes, finishing off the “Success and Failure” topic for the week, and worked on comics for a bit. I’m rushing to get enough comics buffered for our trip to Europe in two weeks. I’m concentrating on Darths & Droids, and don’t have any Irregular Webcomic! buffered, so this week I’m doing the hiatus thing and running reruns on IWC.

For dinner my wife made pizza dough and I topped it with cheese, pumpkin, asparagus, and walnuts. I was thinking what other nuts would make sense, and I think some time I’ll make another satay sauce pizza with broccoli and cashews. (Neapolitans are spinning in their graves, but I reckon you can put whatever you like on a pizza and it’s valid.)

New content today:

Sunday in brief

It felt like a busy Sunday. I went for a run in the morning, but the weather was much warmer than yesterday, around 23°C instead of 18°C. I found it a bit tough but managed 5k before stopping.

I spent time writing new Darths & Droids comics, building up the buffer for my trip in a couple of weeks. And had three ethics classes tonight.

Also tonight I cooked linguini for dinner, with roasted cauliflower and pesto (from a jar). I discovered that cauliflower leaves were also edible, so I roasted some of those with the florets and they added a nice green element to the dish. The pasta was fresh hand-made pasta from the farmers’ market that my wife visited yesterday. It was really good!

New content today:

The Wyrm of Brandonstead, session 2

On Friday night I ran the second session of the Wyrm of Brandonstead D&D adventure with my friends. I’ll paste the session log in here, but a few other things first.

On Friday I had a busy day, with 4 ethics classes. I had a 4-hour break in between after the first morning class, but I needed to use this time to travel out to Macquarie University to a medical clinic there to get a nerve conduction scan done. I’ve had some loss of sensation in my left leg for several years, just a very slight numbness, like 80-90% normal sensation, just enough to be noticeably not normal. I had some scans done years ago when I first noticed it, but nothing conclusive came up. It doesn’t really bother me, but recently I noticed the numbness spreading, and so my doctor referred me to back to the neurologist, who ordered another set of scans.

For this one, they place electrodes on the skin of the leg, and then use an electric probe to send small currents through the nerves. It’s not painful but it causes a jolting sensation and the leg muscles twitch quite strongly. After doing a few of those, there’s a needle test, where they stick a needle into the various leg muscles and again pulse electric current through them to measure the conduction of the nerves. This is all to measure if the nerves are conducting electric signals at the normal strength or not. On Monday I also have an MRI scan scheduled to check if there’s some sort of pinching of the nerves at the base of the spine.

At the university I also found this beautiful flame tree:

Flame tree

Anyway, that done I returned home and immediately went out to the doggy daycare place to pick up Scully, who I’d dropped off earlier, first thing in the morning. Then I had three more ethics classes, and that led right up to the D&D evening. So it was a pretty full day. There were six players who had said they’d show up for D&D, but one called in sick with a cold, and another said he was very tired so elected not to drive over, but he did join in by telepresence. I set up my wife’s laptop on the table so he could join in!

Virtual D&D

We added the gloves for amusement.

Today I did a 5k run in the morning, which was tough because it was close to 100% humidity. Then I spend time writing up the adventure log from last night. In the middle of the day my wife and I went for a drive out to the beach and the pie shop there for lunch, then dropped in on her mother for a visit on the way back. While near the beach, we passed a park where some people were playing cricket. And since everyone knows that a cricket field needs a picket fence around it, with a gate so the players can get in and out, they had set up a picket fence gate:

Picket fence gate at cricket field

This evening we walked up the street, intending to get dinner at a cheap Asian place, but they didn’t have any unreserved tables available. So we wandered up the main street looking for somewhere else to eat. The trouble is Saturday night is very popular and busy, so most places didn’t have tables free. We finally found a table at a restaurant which is pretty fancy and expensive. We like this place, but don’t go there often because of the expense, but we decided to just splurge for no particular reason.

With that out of the way, here’s the log of last night’s D&D session:


As the party contemplated what to do, footsteps and the familiar voice of Brother Leonardo approached. He had completed his penance for overly beseeching his god and travelled to Brandonstead to seek out the rest of the group. There, the innkeeper Bentley had told Leonardo that the group had set out for Sir Brandon’s tomb this morning. Leonardo followed their footsteps and found the retainers waiting outside the tomb. They told him to go in and turn right and he might find the rest of the party.


The party decided messing with the antlered clay statue and its encircling stones was too risky and explored the passage to the west. Here they found a 4-foot deep circular pool of water, scummed with algae and slime, but beneath it a faint glitter of gold from the bottom. This also struck them as risky, so they retreated back to the main corridor and advanced west towards the chittering sound.

A long corridor led west and turned south into a room where they found 8 giant rats, the size of large dogs, squabbling over half-rotten food that had spilled from large broken clay amphorae. The amphorae looked like they’d been tipped over and smashed on the stone floor.

Drashi tossed a ration of food over the rats towards the far opening in the southern wall, causing them to race over and fight over the fresher food. Garamond rigged his lantern full of oil and threw it hard at the rats, attempting to spread oil over them and set them on fire, but his throw was poor and the lantern smashed short of the its target, creating a pool of fire between the heroes and the rats. The party took this chance to move into the eastern exit while the rats were busy and partly blocked by fire.

In the eastern room they found nine amphorae, intact and standing upright, with an odour of dust and lavender. Someone knocked one over and it smashed on the floor, spilling cloudy old lavender oil all over the floor. Garamond and Nogge worked together to carry an amphora into the rat room and smashed it on the floor, creating a large pool of fire. Three of the rats died in the conflagration, screeching horribly, while the remaining five scurried away to the south.


With the way blocked by fire, the party retreated back to the earlier oom the the antlered statue. Here Drashi tried breaching the circle of small black stones to approach the statue, intending to toss a coin into the offering bowls. But as he stepped into the circle of stones, they began jumping and clattering on the floor, making a loud sound. Nogge collected the stones, and they quietened down as they came together. Drashi tossed a gold coin into an offering bowl, but nothing happened.

They went into the room with the slimy pool of water and Nogge tossed in one of the black stones. Then they noticed that as someone stepped between Nogge and the pool, the stones began rattling in Nogge’s hands. They figured if someone was between the stones they would jostle and make noise.

They were interrupted by an approaching sound, clanking and the scraping of metal on stone. Attracted to the noise they’d been making was a large skeleton, 7 feet tall, wearing rusty armour and a silver death mask with a bushy moustache on it. The skeleton wielded a large two-handed sword. The heroes attacked, with Notgandalf striking with another well-aimed thrown dagger. After a a few rounds of fighting, they prevailed over the skeleton and Nogge claimed the two-handed sword.

Now they decided they had to retrieve the one in the pool in order to make the best use of the stones. But they also realised that in the chaos, the goblins they had captured had snuck away and fled, nowhere to be seen.

Nogge: “Can I carry the others stones around the pool and see when they vibrate, to determine if there’s anything alive in the pool?”
DM: “We’re just one step away from you wanting to do computed tomography on the pool”.

Nogge waded into the pool and got covered in green slime, which began eating away at his armour and skin. He jumped out of the pool and grabbed a torch from Tarlan the cleric, and burnt the slime off, taking a bit of damage from the fire himself. Nogge then waded back into the pool with bare feet, searching the bottom with his feet to find the black stone. He also found a human skeleton, which had two gold teeth in its skull, and an ornate silver dagger. Notgandalf took the dagger to use.

The party went back to the rat room. The lavender oil fire had died out, but the remaining five rats had returned to get more of the food. The group decided to just attack and kill the rats the old-fashioned way this time, making swift work of them with weapons.

But the noise appeared to have attracted more attention! Maniacal laughter approached from the south. Quickly, the heroes hatched a plan: spill another amphora of lavender oil across the southern entrance and set it on fire, to prevent whatever it was from approaching them. Fire set, the party girded themselves and waited to see what new foe appeared. A floating skull with big yellow eyes swivelling in its sockets approached, flying right over the slick of fire! It cackled as it approached. Notgandalf wasted no time and cast Magic Missile at it. Nogge then swung his new two-handed sword at the skull, cleaving it in twain, and revealing the sword to be magically empowered.

The ghost!

The next room to the south was an old armoury, with shattered weapons and shields strewn about, covered in thick spider webs. Notgandalf cast Detect Magic to see if any of the equipment was magical. Finding none, he then ran back to the room with the antlered statue to see if there was any magic there. He found a small golden amulet, hidden behind one of the offering bowls, which had a folded up piece of paper inside, inscribed with a Protection from Evil spell.

After he returned, the group headed east into a lounge area with carved stone armchairs and a table with an empty bronze pitcher on it. The next room to the east held nine 5-foot tall stone statues of warriors, each armed with a real wooden, metal-tipped spear. While deciding what to do, a ghostly apparition of a bearded priest appeared and drifted towards them! It screamed that the party was trespassing on hallowed ground and ordered one of the stone statues to attack. The statue charged at Nogge, who took a spear hit, before the statue froze again.

Severely wounded and not willing to risk fighting all of the statues, Nogge suggested a retreat. The party fell back, but Garamond and Notgandalf loosed Magic Missiles at the ghost. They hit it with three Missiles, which caused the ghost to dissipate.

Safe for now, but wounded and out of Leonardo’s healing spells, the party decided to retreat and return to Brandonstead for a day of rest.

The upper chapel

After resting for a full day to recover and make use of Leonardo’s healing spells, the party felt strong enough to return to Sir Brandon’s barrow.

First they tried exploring the western passage from the entry chamber on the upper level, which they had ignored until now. The first room contained four 8-foot tall statues of knights in different poses, with words carved on the plinths: “Valour” gripping sword and shield; “Piety” praying, with a staff resting on one arm; “Wisdom” reading a book; “Duty” bent over carrying a load.

This led to another chamber west, a chapel with stone pews facing a stone statue of St Arthur, patron of hunters. Water dripped from a root-penetrated hole in the ceiling, onto the states face, which was partly covered in mould. Brother Leonardo decided to clean the mould off with his robes, which released as cloud of spires that he managed to avoid. After cleaning the statue to look respectable again, Leonardo felt blessed by the good grace of St Arthur.

The crypts

Returning to the lower level, the party returned to the armoury room and headed south, finding a priest’s work room with a desk, and a footlocker full of rocks. One the desk was a magnificent illuminated book with velum pages, titled Lives of the Saints. Leonardo said it told the stories of several of the local saints venerated in the region. In the desk drawers were a small hammer, chisel, quills, and dried bottles of ink.

A room to the east was a crypt, containing a sarcophagus, the lid carved to show a human with a long beard. Next to the sarcophagus was a small table with three dusty bottles, containing greenish, purple, and yellowish liquids respectively. They took these then opened the sarcophagus, revealing a headless skeleton which attacked with a great silver-bladed axe. The heroes defeated the skeleton and Drashi claimed the axe.

Nogge: “Can I put one of the black stones on either side of a sarcophagus to see if theres anything alive inside?”

The next room east was another crypt, with the sarcophagus lid broken on the floor. Inside was the desiccated corpse of the priest, with platinum coins over the eyes. It held a carved stone tablet in its crossed arms, which Leonardo determined was a clerical spell of Bless.

The next room along was a third crypt, this one with the sarcophagus lid shattered on the floor, as if pushed violently off from inside. The sarcophagus was empty except for rotting shrouds exuding a musty smell.

From here a passage headed north to the room of the nine stone statues again. Brother Leonardo used the Blessing spell from the stone tablet on everyone, before they tried prodding the statue carefully in case they animated. But they remained solid, and they tipped them over to smash them on the floor.

Progressing east they found an antechamber with great stone double doors leading south, shut and blocked by a statue of a noble woman wearing a crown, holding a stone sword out horizontally in front of her. Brother Leonardo decided to kneel beneath the sword. He heard a woman’s voice in his head: “What makes a true knight?” Leonardo answered with the inscriptions from the statues in the upper level: “Valour, piety, wisdom, duty”. The statue moved slightly to dub Leonardo on the shoulder with the sword, and the double doors slowly swung open.

Revealed inside was the crypt of Sir Brandon. His sarcophagus was in a small ship, the lid carved in Brandon’s likeness. The group removed the lid carefully, finding Sir Brandon’s body resting peacefully within, clad in plate armour, with a shield, magnificent sword, and jewelled chalice.

The group took these items before letting Sir Brandon be, reasoning that they had need of dragon-slaying gear in their present adventure. On the way out of the barrow they also grabbed the coins and five small rubies from the offering bowls in the antlered state room.

Character moments

  • Brother Leonardo – Cleaning the statue of St Arthur and getting spore clouded in his face. Kneeling before the sword-wielding queen statue.
  • Drashi – Tossing rations to giant rats. Breaching the circle of rattling stones to toss a coin into the offering bowls.
  • Garamond – Making a molotov cocktail out of an oil lantern. Failing to hit rats with it and creating a flaming pool in front of them.
  • Nogge – Wading into the slimy pool and immediately getting covered in green slime. Obsessing over magical rattling stones. Cleaving the floating skull in twain.
  • Notgandalf – Hitting with daggers again! Casting Detect Magic and then running back through the tomb alone to check other rooms.


  • 10 small black “warning” stones – magical, Nogge
  • Two-handed Sword of Sir Alfred – magical +1 sword, Nogge
  • 2 gold teeth – estimated value 20gp
  • Ornate silver dagger – Notgandalf using
  • Golden amulet – value: ?
  • Scroll: Protection from Evil – Notgandalf
  • Illuminated book: Lives of the Saints: value: ?
  • Silver Axe of Sir Wyllt – Drashi
  • Stone tablet: Bless scroll – used
  • 2 platinum coins
  • Sword of Sir Brandon – magical, Garamond
  • Plate mail of Sir Brandon – Garamond
  • 45sp and 20 gp – from offering bowls
  • 5 small rubies – from offering bowls

New content today:

New content today: