Easter lunch and more puzzling

Jigsaw puzzle update:

Jigsaw progress

I don’t think we’ll get this finished by the end of the long weekend on Monday night!

Today being Easter Sunday, we had a lunch with my wife’s family. Just six of us, since one nephew and girlfriend had gone down the coast for the long weekend, while the other nephew and girlfriend were actually departing Norway today for their move to New Zealand.

Lunch is a traditional roast: lamb, vegetables, with gravy. I’m not a big fan of gravy though, and my wife’s mother has learnt to bring out things like mustard and pickles for me, which I much prefer. Afterwards of course there was plenty of chocolate, plus a delicious cannoli cake that my brother-in-law had made.

Easter dessert

The cake was so good that I asked where the recipe was from, and he said it was from the Smitten Kitchen website. I’m going to try making this some time to share with my friends on a games night. (And I just noticed you can see Scully in the background, top left corner of that photo.)

Now it’s well after dinner time and I haven’t eaten anything because I’m still full from the lunch…

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Puzzling times

It’s the Easter long weekend, which began yesterday on Good Friday. My wife cracked a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle that she’s been meaning to work on, hoping to get it done over the 4-day weekend. I’m not sure we’ll make it.

Renoir jigsaw

We basically just relaxed on Friday, and took Scully for a long walk down by the harbour. I baked a damper since we needed bread and I forgot to feed the sourdough starter early enough. Since damper uses baking powder to rise instead of yeast, it’s much faster.

The evening was online games night with my friends. We had six people and played games of Just One, 7 Wonders, and some other things when different people stepped out for a bit to have dinner and other stuff, including Can’t Stop, Stella: Dixit Universe, and one of the word games that my friend invented and implemented.

Today was another somewhat lazy day. We spent more time working on that jigsaw puzzle. It’s definitely going to take more than this weekend to finish! Scully got a long walk, and then at home we gave her a bath.

Oh, I did do 5k runs yesterday and this morning, so that accounts for some of the time too. And cleaned the shower today. Life is so interesting sometimes…

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Refreshing the bathroom

Today, without my usual array of online ethics classes, I spent a bit of time attending to housework chores. I went to the hardware store and bought a brand new toilet seat, to replace our old one, which had been getting scratched and discoloured due to age. Then I had to figure out how to install it and wrestle it into place. The screws have a lot of horizontal movement in them to allow positioning of the seat relative to the toilet bowl, which is good, but meant that actually getting it into the right position and staying there while I tightened the screws was tricky. But the result looks good, literally like brand new.

I also grabbed some more calcium chloride crystals for the damp absorbers around the house. And then emptied the water out of those and refilled them with crystals. It’s shocking how much water can be absorbed from the air so quickly around here.

At lunch I took Scully out for a walk to the fish and chips shop and got a take-away to eat at my favourite lookout spot with a view across the water to the city. The sky was dramatic with dark grey clouds. It was a cool and cloudy grey day, but the only rain was early in the morning.

I worked on some future topics for my critical thinking/ethics classes. I’m planning one on dreams—as in sleep dreams, not aspirations—and one on asking “why don’t we” questions, to get the kids thinking about things like “why don’t we eradicate fleas?” or “why don’t we ban unhealthy food?” Things with different reasons: economic, social, scientific, and so on.

This evening we went out for dinner, since the usual Friday night tomorrow is Good Friday and most places won’t be open. We felt like Thai food, but since our favourite Thai place closed down there aren’t any within walking distance that have dog-friendly seating. So we drove a few suburbs over to the one we usually go to now with Scully, only to find their outside table was occupied. We drove back another suburb and thought we’d just get out and have a look around the shopping area to see what restaurants were there, and we found a Thai place with several tables outside! It turned out they were all booked (by other diners with dogs), but the staff were happy to carry an extra table out onto the patio for us.

The food was great too! My wife ordered a vegetable and cashew stir fry which was very tasty and spicy, and I tried the daily special, which was a black pepper and chilli sauce over sliced chicken pieces. It was all very good and the staff were really friendly. I think we’ll add this to our list of good Thai places to go to.

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Gas bill shenanigans and visiting the old dog park gang

We got our quarterly gas bill this morning, and it’s way higher than normal. I checked the itemised details and discovered the anomaly began when we had our new hot water meter installed on 23 January.

The old meter was used for 34 days during the billing period, and recorded usage of 91 megajoules, for an average of 2.7 MJ/day. I checked and this has been roughly consistent for the past couple of years at least – going up a bit in winter when we take warmer/longer showers.

The new meter was used for 57 days during the billing period, and recorded usage of 1164 megajoules, for an average of 20.4 MJ/day. Over 7.5 times as much!

So I spent a half hour on the phone to the gas company to complain and request an investigation. Thankfully the guy I spoke to agreed that it looked fishy. He asked me to go have a look at the meter and tell him the reading on it. I went and looked. Unlike the old meter which had a physical dial showing digits, this one has an LCD screen It was blank. There was a red button and I asked the guy on the phone should I press the button to activate the display? He said no, don’t touch it – the display should be always on and it was very weird that it wasn’t.

Anyway, the upshot is we don’t need to pay our bill for a month while they investigate. He said someone may contact me to come inspect the meter.

After that fun, I took Scully to my wife’s work and headed into the city on the train for today’s Data Engineering lecture at the University of Technology. Today we did model fitting and hypothesis testing – least squares, residual analysis, goodness of fit, t-tests, and ANOVA. During the tutorial breaks I spoke to several of the student teams about their plans for their end-of-subject projects.

One team wants to try testing the idea that beer becomes more bitter the more hops you add. I suspect one of them is a keen home brewer. The plan was not to use actual beer, but to boil hops in water for different amounts of time, and get volunteers to blind taste the resulting solutions and rate them in bitterness, and then do a bunch of statistical tests on the results. It seems like a decent project – we like to see some creativity, and we love it when students do their own experiments rather than just downloading online datasets to trawl through.

Another group wants to test what factors influence educational outcomes in school children. They plan to look at things like socio-economic background, private vs public schools, and so on.

And another group is thinking of testing whether more healthy or less healthy foods cost more. I said this is interesting because it’s not entirely clear how “healthy” a food is – there may be differing opinions. But they could look for correlations of price versus fat content, sugar content, sodium content, fibre content, etc., and then make some conclusions based on those. This got them talking excitedly and planning more, so it was good to see they took that on board and were keen to explore the possibilities.

After the lecture, I picked up Scully on the way back home. We took a detour to the dog park that we used to visit a lot to meet the crowd there at 4pm. We haven’t done this for a long time, maybe a year or so, because I’ve been too busy with my classes. But since I’m currently on a week’s break for Easter I decided to take the opportunity. Most of the same old regulars and their dogs were there. It’s funny… today the other dogs there were: Basti, Bentley, Bertie, Betty, Beau,… and Ruffy.

From there we headed home via the waterfront by the harbour. It’s a nice walk, but made the overall walk home pretty long. I was a bit worn out, and Scully is exhausted for the evening!

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Scully’s birthday lunch

Today is Scully’s 6th birthday! My wife took the day off work, and we had booked a lunch in a fancy restaurant in the Hunter Valley wine region, north of Sydney. We left home at 9am to drive up there and arrived just after 11 o’clock. This gave us some time to stop off in the Hunter Valley Gardens to look around some of the shops there. I tried some liqueurs and bought a few bottles: butterscotch liqueur, chocolate/hazelnut vodka, and passionfruit vodka.

Then we drove over to our lunch venue in one of the vineyards. Here’s Scully in the vineyard:

Scully's 6th birthday

We went to Leogate Estate winery and their restaurant, The Gates. Being a Tuesday, it wasn’t very busy and we had the only occupied table outside on the very shady veranda area. There were a few other diners inside, but we were enjoying the warm day and the solitude being outside, with a view of the vineyard and the nearby hills:

Leogate Winery

The lunch was excellent. My appetiser was seared scallops with textures of spring peas:

Seared scallops, textures of spring peas

Followed by confit duck with pancetta, bok choy, and sticky soy glaze:

Confit duck leg, sticky soy glaze

And the dessert was something special. Caramel bombe Alaska:

Caramel bombe Alaska

Both of the waitresses recommended this, and they were not wrong. It was amazing and absolutely delicious. Crispy meringue crust, soft meringue inside, encasing chocolate and vanilla ice cream, sitting on top of what was like a slice of sticky date pudding, and surrounded by delicious caramel sauce, all sprinkled with bits of raspberries. It was so good. After we’d finished, one of the waitresses asked how I’d liked it, and said that some people come to this restaurant just for that dessert. It was a really good lunch. And Scully enjoyed a tiny piece of the duck that I gave her for her birthday.

After eating, we went into the wine tasting and sales room to buy some bottles of the wines that we’d had during the lunch. Then we stopped at another winery nearby to get some of the sparkling wines that my wife likes (and I like them too, but they’re her favourites).

We left the Valley via a slower back road to head home, rather than take the freeway all the way back. It’s slower, but more scenic and enjoyable. We arrived home about 5:30pm. The total distance driven just to have lunch today was about 340 kilometres.

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The passing of a tree

I took Scully for a walk after lunch today, one of our favourite loops around the neighbourhood, which passes through a park and then past a nice bakery, then down to the waterfront by the harbour where there’s a grassy area away from traffic where Scully can run free and chase a tennis ball. Except when we walked through the park today, was different.

Here’s a photo I took back in 2020:

Brennan Park

The tree that dominates the left side is a jacaranda, native to South America, but grown all over Sydney and much beloved for their beautiful purple flowers in spring. Since that photo was taken, the paved path has been renovated, and they chose to do a curving diversion around the tree to avoid being too close to the roots.

When we got there today I was shocked to see this:

Brennan Park tree gone

This must have happened recently since we walk this way about once a week, so it can’t have been too long since last time, and then the tree was fine. It looks like it fell over, as looking at the other side you can see the large roots have snapped. Obviously the council had already removed most of the tree – it would have been blocking the path and a hazard for people. I presume at some stage they’ll remove the rest and get rid of the stump. Maybe they’ll plant a new tree there, but if they choose to just lay grass over the site, then future people might wonder why the path makes such a strange deviation for no apparent reason.

So we mourn the passing of this lovely tree. You can see in the second photo that they have also planted small jacarandas either side of the path. So hopefully in a few years we will have a nice avenue between jacarandas to replace the old one.

This morning I had three ethics classes, and this evening my last one for the next week. I’m taking a week off for Easter, so that gives me a chance to catch up on some other things. I also spent this afternoon finishing off making the last batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips, which will last through the next three weeks of buffering. So hopefully I’ll get ahead start on the next batch!

Tonight I made broccoli and cashew pizza. I don’t know if Italians would be horrified or not, but it’s a nice combination, especially with a touch of chilli oil after cooking.

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My wife did the most interesting thing today. I stayed a home and made some comics, while she went to an all-day course for beginners in felting – making things out of wool felt. She came home with a simple sheet which could be used as a table placemat, and also a very cool felt bowl. The bowl is shaped like a rough sphere about the size of a rockmelon, with an opening large enough to put a hand in. She said I could use it for putting things in during Dungeons & Dragons games. Like lollies or maybe game tokens. Or slips of paper with rumours on them – yeah, that’s a cool idea.

Scully was again off her food today and wanting to go outside several times to eat grass. This is the third time in three weeks. I was wondering if it might be the peanut butter we’ve been giving to her as a treat on Fridays – but she’s always had that and has never been sick from it before. My wife thinks it might be psychosomatic, caused by her going away to do these courses on Sundays and not being at home. Which might possibly have some truth to it, because Scully wolfed down her neglected breakfast once my wife arrived back home.

The weather continues to be nice, not too hot, and pleasantly cool in the evening and mornings. I went for another 5k run this morning, but deliberately took it easy after my exertion and fast time yesterday.

For dinner I made vegetable fajitas. It’s tough predicting exactly how much vegetables to chop and cook. Sometimes we end up with not quite enough and sometimes there’s cooked vegetables left over after we’ve finished off all the tortillas. Today we had a generous serving. I used onions, garlic, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms. Sometimes I use zucchini in place of one of the other vegetables. And I just make a simple “Mexican” spice mix using individual herbs and spices: dried oregano, sweet paprika, chilli, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon. And a bit of lemon juice at the end. I found this mix somewhere online ages ago and it works pretty well. Just fry it all up and serve in a bowl with implements for people to fill their own tortillas.

Last night I started watching Oppenheimer on Netflix. I got 2 hours into it, but had to go to sleep, so I have the final hour to watch tonight. I’m enjoying it, but it takes a lot of concentration to follow the frequent flashback/forward time jumps as the story unfolds. The really cool thing is that being a physicist I recognise the names of all the scientist characters.

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Games and eye tests

Friday was board games night at a friend’s place. It was a new venue as he’s moved recently, and he cooked an Indian style beef curry with rice for dinner for us. I arrived in the middle of a game of Last Message.

This is a game where someone has been murdered and one player has to give the solvers clues as to who it was, by drawing their clues on a small erasable whiteboard. Then another player, who is trying to prevent the others from solving the murder gets to erase parts of the clue before anyone else sees it. The whiteboard is divided into 9 squares, and in the first round the obfuscater can erase I think 5 of the squares, leaving the other 4. Then the solvers have to try to interpret what’s left of the clue to identify the killer… from a large Where’s Wally-like drawing containing hundreds of slightly different characters! So it ain’t easy!

If they fail, they get another clue, and this time the obfuscater gets to erase one less square. You continue for four rounds, and if the solvers haven’t identified the killer with four guesses, they lose and the obfuscater wins. We played a few games and it was tricky, but we always managed to identify the killer in time.

After that we split into two groups since there were a lot of people, and I played a game of The Guild of Merchant Explorers while the other group played Heat: Pedal to the Metal. I’d played this game once before and liked it, so it was good to give it another go, even if I came equal last of 4 players. Then we played a game of Through the Desert while the others finished Heat. We finished those two games almost simultaneously, so everyone joined together for a game of Codenames. I was a spymaster, but despite valiant cluing and guessing we lost by just one card.

Today, Saturday, I did a 5k run in the morning. The weather being cooler meant I could go a bit faster, and I recorded my third fastest time: 26:33.

Mid-morning I went with my wife to get our annual eye checkup at the optometrist, to see if our glasses prescriptions need updating. The optometrist also took fundus photos and optical coherence tomography (OCT) cross sections of our retinas to check for any abnormalities. We came out with a clean bill of eye health, which is good.

After this we grabbed some lunch from the nearby shops (I got sushi) and sat in the park and let Scully run around a bit, before heading home. This afternoon I worked on writing several new Darths & Droids strips.

For dinner I made okonomiyaki. We ran out of seaweed flakes last time and I tried to find more in the Asian grocery store, but I couldn’t find it pre-flaked, so I bought a small pack of seaweed sheets, thinking they’re brittle enough that I could quite easily crush them into small flakes. But they turned out to be tougher than I expected, so we had rather large flakes. Oh well.

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The problems with countries

With five classes on this week’s critical/ethics topic of “Countries”, I got a lot of varied opinions from the kids today. One girl in particular was fixated on power plugs.

What are some disadvantages of the fact the world is split up into different countries? “The power plugs are different. You have to take adapters wherever you travel.”

Some time in the future, it might be possible to abolish countries and have everyone on Earth be one big community. What challenges would we face if we tried to do this? “We’d have to change all the power plugs so they’re the same everywhere around the world.”

In between classes I took another trip to the post office to send off more cards – this time a bulk lot of Netrunner sealed packs (vintage 1996!), with a couple of Magic cards thrown in.

And I did some comic writing. Struggling with a series of interconnected dialogue that needs several strips written out in full before I can make them.

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Teaching about plotting

It was a bit of a rainy day today, though I managed to avoid most of it. I drove Scully to my wife’s work before returning home and then hopping on the train into the university for today’s lecture on Data Engineering. This week we did the topic on data presentation, which was mostly about how to prepare graphs, plots, and other data visualisations so that they are clear, concise, easy to interpret, and not misleading or confusing. It sounds simple enough but that’s enough material to fill a 3-hour lecture and tutorial session. I may have mentioned this in past years, but we conclude with a brief study of COVID data reporting, and examine how the state of Florida in the US deliberately changed the way it reported and presented COVID deaths in 2020 to give the impression that the pandemic situation was improving, when it was actually getting worse.

Before the lecture I stopped in at one of the university’s food outlets for students and tried one of the offerings there for lunch. It was a place that makes Malaysian meals, and I tried the nasi lemak with beef rendang, which is one of my favourite Malaysian dishes. It was pretty good, though not exceptional. The lecturer told me later that he rates the Malaysian place across the road as slightly better.

Back home in the afternoon I made another weekly batch of comics for Irregular Webcomic! and uploaded them to the buffer queue. Then before my evening ethics classes online I had the leftovers from last night’s Indian curry for dinner.

And then into three classes in a row, on this week’s new topic of “Countries”. I got some interesting answers and discussion, and there were some interesting disagreements on the question of whether each cultural group of people should have their own country or not.

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