Photographing Lego and writing ethical dilemmas

My two big tasks for today were photographing the new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips, and writing a new lesson outline for the next week of online ethics classes.

I got stuck into the comic photographing early, after I’d finished breakfast. Normally a batch takes me all morning, finishing around lunch time, but I raced through it today and finished a bit early. This gave me time to take Scully for a walk and buy some milk which we needed.

And then I did a bit of administrative work for ISO photography standards. I forgot yesterday that I had to write some comments documents for a group of five photographic chemical standards which are up for renewal this year. These standards failed to be renewed because not enough countries indicated they were still using them, so now we have a ballot to object to their withdrawals, which was something that was agreed we should do during the meeting in June, since obviously a lot of people still do chemical based photography. Anyway, I had to pull out my wife’s laptop again because I had to write comments in MS Word.

That done, I turned to writing my lesson plan for the upcoming week of ethics classes I’m teaching, starting this evening. So I had a hard deadline of a few hours. I wrote a class about ethical consumerism, and during this evening’s class we discussed the ethics of developed nations asking tropical communities to cut down forests in order to grow cash crops such as sugar, coffee, and palm oil. We went from there to product choices in supermarkets, and pondering whether ingredients should be labelled with source information, so consumers can choose products with awareness of such issues.

Last week in this timeslot I had only one girl in the class, but today there were two new students, and it was a nice variety of opinions. One was pretty adamant that companies should be forced by law to label products sourced from ethically questionable practices, and that people not buying those products would effectively stop the practices, while another kid was of the opinion that companies should not be forced to do anything, but rather provided incentives such as lower tax if they use ethical sourcing, and that consumers boycotting products was pointless because not enough would ever do so to have any effect. So it was a good class!

New content today:

Comics and Standards reporting

I did two main things today: Finished writing that batch of new Irregular Webcomic! strips, and wrote a report on the ISO Standards meeting I attended a few weeks ago. There’s not too much to say about the first, except that finished the batch, so I’m ready to do the photography first thing tomorrow.

The second: I have to write a report on each international standards meeting I attend, to deliver to Standards Australia, and then go through with Australian experts during a follow-up meeting. We have that meeting next week, so it was time I wrote up the report. It’s a little tricky because the template I have to use is a Microsoft Word template, but I don’t have Word on my Mac. Apple’s Pages will open the document, but it gets the formatting badly wrong – so badly that it’s impossible for me to edit the document in Pages. So I have to edit it in Word. My wife has Word on her laptop since she needed it for work purposes – so I’m not about to pay for another license to put it on my desktop. So… I have to set up file sharing between the two machines, transfer my docs to the laptop, edit in Word there, then export to PDF and then transfer the lot back to my desktop. Which is why I tend to put off the task until I can’t any longer.

Anyway, it’s done now, so I can breathe easy again for a while.

For dinner tonight I tried a new recipe, from a TV show I saw a few weeks ago. They have the recipe online, so I can just link to it for you: Forever-roasted pumpkin with lemon pepper butter. I tried to find curry leaves in my supermarket, but they didn’t have them, so I settled for sage instead. It turned out delicious, although an entire half butternut pumpkin was very filling as a meal for me and my wife. Next time I’ll do half as much, and serve it with a light side dish.

We both separately tried taking Scully out in her new doggie-carry backpack today. She’s a little tricky to get in, being a bit squirmy, but once tucked into the pack she settles down nicely and really seems to enjoy the ride. We want to keep using the backpack regularly so she gets used to it and sees it as something totally normal.

New content today:

Organising recipes

First the COVID news: 112 new cases in New South Wales in the last 24-hour reporting period. The Government expects the numbers to keep going up for a few more days until the effects of the lockdown start being felt and, hopefully, bring them back down towards zero.

And in personal health news, my throat is feeling a lot better after the tonsillectomy. There’s just a little residual pain when I yawn widely, or move my tongue around to extreme positions in my mouth. But it’s still improving day by day and feels pretty close to back to normal. I think the coughing and phlegminess is reducing each day as well.

I worked on writing Irregular Webcomic! strips today, hoping to have a batch done in time to photograph tomorrow morning, but I don’t think I’m going to make it. It’ll probably have to be photography on Wednesday.

Something else I did was look into recipe organiser apps for my desktop machine. I’ve been collecting recipes using OneNote, which I use as a general note-keeping app for many types of information. It’s been okay so far, but it’s getting to the point where it’s difficult to find recipes, and I’m wishing for features such as search by ingredient and better categorisation using tags. So I’ve looked around and am currently trying the free version of Recipe Keeper.

I’m impressed with it so far. It’s not overly complicated or feature-bloated, but it has just the right set of features for organising recipes. There are three different groups of customisable tag sets. It imports recipes automatically from URLs from many popular recipe sites – and worked flawlessly for one I use a bit, the Australian site SBS Food. And it does automatic unit conversions from American units! No longer will I have to wonder what an “oz.” is. It also has a meal planner and automatic shopping list generator, although at this stage I’m not sure how much I’ll be using those features. I’m going to give it a few days, but I’m already thinking I’ll pay for the “pro” version, which gives you unlimited recipe storage and ability to synch to phones and iPads.

Oh, I was out walking Scully this afternoon when we met Billy, a 14-week-old toy poodle, black like her! He reminded me exactly what Scully looked like when she was a puppy!

Scully and Billy

New content today:

Baking and waking in the rain

First, today’s COVID news. NSW recorded 77 new cases in the last 24-hour reporting period, up 27 from yesterday. 33 of those cases were not isolating, so potentially infection in the community. And in very bad news, Australia recorded its first COVID-19 death of 2021. The screws continue to tighten with new restrictions and stern recommendations. It’s now strongly recommended not to go into supermarkets or food stores at all – if you possibly can you should arrange home delivery of groceries. On the current trajectory, officials are expecting over 100 new cases tomorrow, with numbers continuing to rise due to the delay between implementing stronger lockdown measures and reduction in case numbers.

My wife and I took Scully for another big walk today. We also tested out a new accessory, a K9 Sport Sack carrying backpack for Scully. The reason for this is that we’ve been using ferries to travel around the city with Scully, since you could take dogs onto ferries as long as they’re on a lead. Well, it turns out that the law doesn’t actually say that – it says you can take dogs on ferries if they are confined within a carrying container. The ferry crews have long turned a blind eye to this and not enforced the rule. But that changed from 1 July – the State Government has ordered ferry crews to begin enforcing the rule, and not to allow dogs on board if only restrained by a leash. Apparently this change of policy was precipitated by a complaint from a ferry passenger after being bitten by a dog.

M. and Scully

We were a bit concerned if Scully would like getting into the backpack, or if she’d struggle and try to wriggle out. We tempted her with peanut butter (one of her favourite treats) and did things slowly and gently, and she never protested once. And once clipped onto my wife’s back and we went outside, Scully positively seemed to enjoy being up there, looking around as we walked. So I think it was a positive experience for her and we’ll be able to carry her around in this backpack whenever we need to use some transport that demands dogs be confined. (Someone online checked specifically if these sort of backpacks would be acceptable on ferries and was told they are.)

At home I had a bit of a baking afternoon. I’ve been making my own pastry for quiches recently, but previously I’ve been neglecting to chill the pastry in the fridge before rolling it out. So today I made the pastry at lunchtime and stuck it into the fridge until dinner time. I honestly haven’t been very pleased with my home made pastry – it’s turned out to be very friable and sort of powdery/floury when baked. It handles well when rolling not too sticky or too crumbly, so I think the consistency there is good. I was hoping that the refrigeration before rolling and baking would fix the post-bake consistency, but no, it turned out almost the same as before. So I’m not sure what to do to make it hold together better after baking. Google suggests it might need a bit more water when mixing, but I really don’t want to make it any stickier during the rolling phase. I guess I’ll try it next time and see what happens.

I also put together another sourdough loaf, to be let rise overnight for baking in the morning. It’s amazing how much flour you go through when you’re baking stuff all the time! I’ve also been making an apple crumble about every 5 days for a warming fruity dessert for me and my wife. Normally she eats raw apples, but she’s decided that a nice warm crumble is more acceptable for winter night…

New content today:

Triple plus lockdown Saturday

50 new COVID cases in NSW in the last 24-hour reporting period, with only 13 of those in isolation, meaning 37 were out in the community while infectious. With the numbers still going up, the lockdown rules have been tightened again. New today: masks are now mandatory in common property of strata residences (i.e. you have to wear a mask in corridors, lifts, and lobbies of apartment buildings); masks must be worn on outdoor construction sites; and only one person per household may leave home for shopping purposes for essential items, and only one time per day. Among some other new restrictions on things like crossing the boundary between Greater Sydney and surrounding areas.

The State Government seems intent on slowly turning the screw on tighter restrictions, and seeing on a daily basis if it makes any difference – rather than implementing a raft of hard restrictions in one hit. Officially the lockdown is still slated to end on Friday 16 July but epidemiological experts are of the opinion that it’s going to have to be extended until at least September.

It was also cold and gloomy today, though the rain held off until after lunch. We took the time to take Scully on a longish walk in the morning. We met one of her doggie friends in a park and the dogs played around while we chatted with the other owners from a distance of a few metres. It’s all a bit surreal again, like the lockdown we had last year.

This afternoon I started writing a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. Hopefully I’ll get them done tomorrow for photographing some time during the coming week.

Oh! And I spent time this morning watching a new live action performance of Darths & Droids. The stage show originally premiering in 2018 in Florida has been produced by Hole in the Wall Theater in Connecticutt, and they premiered their version today. It was really good – you can watch it on YouTube here.

New content today:

Double plus lockdown Friday

Today’s COVID news in Sydney was even worse than yesterday. 44 new cases in the 24-hour reporting period (6 more than yesterday), and more of those cases than yesterday were circulating in the community rather than being isolated as known contacts of infected people. So basically we have more people spreading the virus further. The NSW Government announced further lockdown restrictions, as well as indicating stricter enforcement.

We are now prohibited from leaving the house for any reason except (1) medical reasons, (2) to get food or other necessary supplies, (3) for work or education if those cannot be done at home, or (4) for exercise. Additionally, we are prohibited from travelling more than 10 km from home, and are strongly advised not to leave home for any shopping if we can arrange home delivery. If you do go shopping, it must be directly to buy specific needed items – browsing in shops is prohibited. If you leave home to exercise you may only meet one person who does not live in your household. You may not visit anyone else’s home, and you may not have any visitors in your home. Facemasks must be worn in every indoor location except your own home, plus on public transport, and also outdoor locations where people gather.

This lockdown is supposed to end Friday next week, but given the trajectory of cases at the moment I expect it will be extended further.

So, I spent the day at home. Which I probably would have done anyway given that it started raining today and it was extremely cold and miserable. The maximum temperature in Sydney was a bone-chilling 12.1°C, which made it the second coldest day of the year so far.

Fortunately I went out and did my weekly grocery shopping first thing in the morning, before the new restrictions were announced. Although that would have been allowed under them, since it’s food we’re going to eat. And toothpaste.

This evening we did a virtual board games night. Played a few games on Board Game Arena: 7 Wonders, 6 Nimmt, Coloretto, and also Sketchful, and an implementation of Codenames on the game’s own website.

Oh, and I forgot to mention yesterday that I got up to 365 consecutive days of Italian language practice on Duolingo. A full year since I started this daily streak. So that feels like an achievement!

New content today:

COVID Sydney update

Today the news about the current COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney got worse. New South Wales recorded 38 new cases in the last 24 hour reporting period, which is the highest number of new cases we’ve had in the past 14 months. This takes the total number of cases in the current outbreak (from 16 June) to 396. The Delta variant is spreading much more aggressively than previous variants, and in today’s daily press conference the authorities were very harsh on people flouting the lockdown rules.

I know from the context of some other countries that 396 cases may not sound like much, but here it’s horrifying. We’ve been living with close to zero cases for over a year. And Australia’s vaccination rate is the lowest of any country in the OECD – because for so long it wasn’t considered an emergency to get people vaccinated, so our acquisition of vaccine doses has been very delayed compared to most countries. At present just 8% of Australians are fully vaccinated, and 17% have had a first vaccine dose (me among those with one dose).

So we need to clamp down and stop the spread of this Delta variant lest all the good work to date go to waste and suddenly we have it running rampant through the largely unvaccinated population. This right now is one of the scariest phases of the whole pandemic for Australia.

Having said that, it feels a little odd to move onto my next topic for today, which is that I went to play golf (at a non “pitch & putt” course) for the first time in ages – since April I think. Even through the strictest lockdown here (a level we’re not quite back up to yet), golf was always available as an acceptable outdoor exercise activity, since it’s about the most socially distant sport one can play.

I went to my closest course. Normally I go first thing in the morning, when it isn’t busy, and go around the course alone. But a 7:30 am start in the middle of winter didn’t appeal to me, especially given the course is in a narrow valley and it’s very dewy in the mornings, even sometimes in summer, and I didn’t fancy playing in the wet in 8°C temperatures. So for the first time I booked a tee time later in the day, just after lunch. This meant the course was busy, and I was partnered with two strangers for the round. Fortunately, neither of them were especially good players either, so I didn’t feel too outmatched.

I played a middling sort of round, totalling 54, compared to a 55 last time I played that course back in April. So I’m moderately happy with that. And it felt really good to be outside and getting fresh air and exercise (apart form just walking) for the first time in many weeks.

In my online ethics class tonight I did the same stealing topic as yesterday. And I got some very interestingly different answers. In the lemon example I mentioned yesterday, all three students initially said that taking a lemon from the tree was stealing. But this time when I said that everyone that knew the owners of the lemon tree never used the lemons, the first kid immediately switched to, “Oh, well then it’s fine to take a lemon.” And the other two kids then followed suit in agreement. I suspect that once one kid gives an answer, others are more likely to go along with it, unless they really have a strong preconceived opinion otherwise. So that was interesting!

New content today:

Cooking leftovers, a new Ethics class, and one less Ethics class

Today I did some housework, vacuuming and then refreshing all of the damp absorbers in the wardrobes and storage chests. Sydney is a humid place to live, and we use damp absorbers with calcium chloride crystals to avoid problems with mould.

I had my first lesson in a new timeslot for online ethics classes, at 5pm today. My other three classes are all either full or close to full, so I listed a new timeslot just last week, and by the time it started today I had two new students signed up. Unfortunately one had connection problems and dropped out after a few minutes, but I had a very good class with the remaining student.

We discussed stealing, and I presented a range of scenarios. One began with imagining a lemon tree inside someone’s property, but close enough to the fence that you could reach through and pick a lemon. Is doing so stealing? (The girl said yes.) What if everyone in the neighbourhood knows the people who own the house never use the lemons, they just let them fall off the tree and rot – would it still be stealing? (Yes.) What if one fell off and was sitting on the ground – would it be stealing to reach through the fence and take it? (Yes.) What if it fell off and rolled through the fence, onto the footpath – would it be stealing to take that lemon? (She said no.) I was also asking her to explain her answers, and at this one she said that the difference was that the lemon was in a public place now, so it was fair game to take it.

I switched and said what if someone dropped their wallet in a public place? Would it be okay to take it and not give it back, or would that be stealing? (She said it would be stealing.) So what’s the difference between the wallet and the lemon, if they’re both in a public place? She said the wallet was valuable, and could cause a lot of problems if they didn’t get it back.

I said what if someone is buying groceries and while loading their car a lemon – something not very valuable – falls out onto the car park, a public place. Is it stealing if someone else takes that lemon? She said yes. So I asked what’s the difference between that lemon and the one that fell off the tree and rolled through the fence?

By this point she was grinning and almost laughing each time I ramped up with a new question – she clearly realised what I was doing in making things trickier and trickier for her to answer consistently. I told her that I was trying to make her think really hard about her answers and try to come up with clear reasons why one thing is stealing but some similar thing is not.

By the end we’d gone through 5 or 6 similar scenarios, and given her brain a good workout. She said she really enjoyed the class. So hopefully she’ll be back next week, and the other student will get his connection problem sorted. And maybe we’ll even have another new enrolee.

In other news, school was supposed to start again after the winter holidays next week. But today the NSW Government extended our current COVID lockdown another week, and said all schools in Sydney would be doing home learning rather than face-to-face classes. This means my face-to-face Ethics class on Wednesday morning is cancelled, for next week at least. Given the current state of spread of the COVID Delta variant here in Sydney, I have trouble seeing that just one more week of lockdown will get it under control. They’ll play it by ear as the days go by, and I guess we’ll see.

For dinner tonight I used the leftover sweet potato, beans, and corn from Monday’s dinner, added some chopped onion and tomato and chilli and spices, and made enchiladas!

Sweet potato, beans, corn enchiladas

It was a nice change from the usual Mexican-spiced pinto beans we normally use. Really good – definitely a recipe to add to our list of semi-regulars.

New content today:

A big lockdown walk – and backups

My wife had her first COVID vaccination this morning, and I went out at the same time to take Scully on a walk while my wife went to the clinic. I decided on a longer walk to get some fresh air and exercise – during this COVID lockdown in which exercise is one of the valid reasons for being out of home.

I walked a couple of suburbs over to the Italian bakery that I like. It’s a bit under 3 km away, according to my Strava tracking. It was close to midday, so I stopped in for a pie for lunch. There was some confusion as I asked if they had the roast chicken pie and the lady said they only had curry chicken left. So I asked for a curry chicken pie and a beef pie, and she said no they only had curry chicken. I could see maybe 30 pies spread over two shelves of the pie warmer, thinking that normally the chicken pies would be on one shelf and the beef pies on another shelf – so I’d naturally assumed they must have had some beef ones in there.

Okay then. I asked for a chicken curry pie and a sausage roll. The lady said they were out off sausage rolls, despite the fact that I could also see three of them right there. I was a little lost for words as I looked blankly between her and the pie warmer. It was only then that she said that most of the pies and all the sausage rolls had been sold, they were just waiting to be picked up by customers.

With comprehension finally dawning, I realised I’d need something else to make up my lunch. I looked at some sweet options, but I hadn’t wanted to get anything sweet. Then the lady suggested the pizza slices! So I went with a curry chicken pie and a slice of potato and rosemary pizza. While bakeries in Australia virtually all sell meat pies, it’s very rare for them to sell pizza. It’s only because this bakery is extremely Italian that they do pizza as well.

Anyway, I enjoyed my lunch, sitting on a nearby bench with Scully. We saw someone walk by with a standard poodle, deep black like her, and about 5 times as tall! The contrast was pretty amusing. Back home I did a bunch of maintenance tasks on my computer and with various bookkeeping stuff that needed to be done. I squeezed in a bit of comic writing as well.

Oh, and I looked into some offsite backup options for keeping my files safe. One possibility I looked into was iCloud. I haven’t been using iCloud to store my Desktop and Documents from my Mac, because I have way too much stuff for the free file storage limit. I noticed that Apple offers 2 TB of iCloud storage for a not-unreasonable monthly cost, which would be enough to copy all of my roughly 1.3 TB of documents, photos, and videos. It should be as simple as subscribing to the monthly payment plan, and checking the box on my machine’s iCloud storage preferences marked “Desktop & Documents Folders”…

But some research indicates that:

  • My current Documents folder (without photos and videos) is 113 GB.
  • The typical upload speed on my broadband access is 19 Mbps.
  • This means it would take at least 13 hours to upload(!).
  • When you check the box to store “Desktop & Documents Folders” on iCloud, it just starts uploading everything, chewing up as much bandwidth as possible, until it’s done. And there’s no way to manage it by splitting it up into smaller sections or scheduling chunks to be uploaded at some slower speed.

Now, I could work around this by manually moving chunks of documents to another location temporarily, to give me some chunking control of the uploads at least. But I don’t know what this will do to my local incremental backups of my entire machine… I don’t want to suddenly have duplicates of 100 GB of files in my backups. Not to mention that if I want to put all my photos into iCloud, that’s another 1.2 terabytes (or 140 hours) of uploading…

So… I think iCloud will need to stay as just a method to share the relatively fewer documents that I really want to access on my iPad or phone, and I’ll have to look at some other solution as an actual offsite backup. To be clear, I have a full local backup system in place. I just want to add the extra protection of an offsite backup. I’ll either have to look into other cloud solutions or, possibly more likely at this point, just buy another 5 TB drive, do a second local backup, and give the drive a place to live away from home somewhere (a friend or relative’s place), where I can retrieve it every week or two to update the backup.

New content today:

Ad-libbing dinner

It’s Monday, and the start of another week in COVID lockdown. My wife is working from home, while I had an online ethics class at 9:00 this morning. The issue was that she is set up on the dining table, which is behind me when I’m doing my Zoom lessons, so the kids would have been able to see her. So I used a background replacement to hide her and the room. This was the last lesson of media bubbles – I start a new topic with the next lesson, which will be on stealing.

Today I mostly worked on Darths & Droids, writing and producing a full 3 strips, a week’s worth. Which is pretty productive – that takes several hours of work.

For dinner tonight I tried ad-libbing a recipe, based in a quick glance of something on a cooking show I saw on TV. I basically just saw sweet potatoes, cut in half, with the inside scooped out, and stuffed with… something, I couldn’t’ tell what. I decided to go for a stuffing of mixed beans (kidney, lima, chick peas, and something else – it was a can of “4 bean mix“), fresh corn cut off the cob, and chopped cashews. I made up the recipe basically from scratch.

Sweet potato stuffed with beans, corn, and cashews

It turned out really good! My wife loved it and asked if we could have it again another day. Here’s my recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • half a can of “4 bean mix” or similar, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc
  • half a cob of corn kernels
  • about 1/3 cup cashews, coarsely chopped
  • cumin
  • sweet paprika
  • cinnamon
  • a small chilli

Method

  1. Wash the sweet potato and slice in half lengthwise. Bake at 240°C for… I thought it would take maybe 20 minutes, but it was more like 40-45. Until soft enough that you can scoop the middle out, leaving boats.
  2. Meanwhile mix the beans, corn, and chopped cashews. Season with ground cumin, paprika, and a little cinnamon and salt. I also added a small chopped chilli.
  3. Save the scooped out sweet potato for another day. Spoon the bean mix into the boats, drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 180°C for 10 minutes.

I just served it with some steamed broccoli, but you could do it as a side for a meat dish if you wanted, or make it a vegetarian main with something else on the side.

New content today: