Orange trip, day 3

We all slept a lot better last night. Scully was much more settled, which meant my wife and I could get a good sleep too. We were so tired after not sleeping the previous night that we slept in until after 8:30. When we got up, it was raining steadily outside, as forecast. I took Scully down to the grass for her toilet, which was wet but not as cold as I expected.

We had breakfast (mine was the leftover pizza from Parrot Distillery), then had showers and got ready to head out in the wet. M. wanted to go to Ever Coffee Roasters cafe, which we’d spotted yesterday on the other side of the railway station. It’s a short walk from our hotel, just over the railway line. They had some tables outside under a wide awning, so we could sit while my wife had her coffee, though it was pretty chilly. While we sat there, we could see through a window into the home decoration shop next door, where a toddler was crawling around and sitting in a display box of little coloured samples of carpet.

Rainy day in Orange

We walked back through the rain to the hotel. Then we hopped in the car to drive out to Spotlight, so my wife could look through some of the fabrics there to choose some for making dog bandanas. This was a backup time filler while it was raining heavily. The car navigation system tried to take us along a road that had been permanently blocked off, and then when we went around we ended up on a brand new road that didn’t exist in the navigation database. Fortunately I had a good idea where we needed to go, so we ended up there without too much trouble. Scully got to explore the store while my wife found a bunch of fabrics she wanted to buy.

From there we drove over to the Nile Street Cafe, where we’d booked lunch. Earlier my wife checked by phoning up that they had somewhere we could sit outside but out of the rain, which they confirmed. The cafe was a converted house in the middle of a residential street. It looked nice and had a fairly fancy menu. I had the battered barramundi with chips and salad, and then a slice of a Persian tart, which had lots of almonds and pistachios in it, topped with dried rose petals, and infused with rosewater, which was really nice. As we ate these, the rain eased off and stopped, and the sun came out, filtering through the clouds. We decided it would be a good chance to walk Scully around the block to get some exercise before leaving. But as we packed up to go, the rain started up again, and it was heavy by the time we went back to the car and climbed in.

Ask for Mayfields

While at the cafe, I found and contacted Brangayne Winery, which was the first one to come up for dog-friendly wineries in the region. I left a message and a woman phoned back to confirm that yes, we could bring our dog and do a wine tasting, indoors out of the rain. So we drove over there through the rain and entered the vineyard, which had a nice view over a broad valley looking back towards Orange. The tasting was in an old apple storage shed, which the woman there told us was used to store fruit from when the property was originally an orchard, growing apples and stone fruits. It converted to a vineyard in the 1990s.

Brangayne Winery, Orange

We did a full tasting of the wines: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, and the winery’s signature “Tristan” blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. The Chardonnay was named “Isolde”, as the winery itself was named after Brangayne, a handmaiden of Isolde as told in the Arthurian legend. We bought a half dozen bottles to take home, mostly the Merlot and the red blend, which were the best in our opinion.

The rain had started again heavily while we were inside, so we decided to wait a bit before braving it to get back in the car. After a while, I realised that there was a loading ramp under cover, and I could go get the car and back it onto the ramp and then we could load the car without having to deal with the heavy rain. So we did that and then headed off back to Orange.

Brangayne Winery, Orange

At the hotel, the rain had stopped again, and we set out for a bit of a walk to give Scully some more exercise. But it started raining yet again, and we decided to keep it short, just going around the block. For dinner we decided to order take-away from an Indian restaurant. I chose The Upper House, which was highly rated online. We had dhal tadka and malai kofta with rice and a piece of roti. I considered some of the meat dishes, but after having duck two nights ago and lamb last night I didn’t feel like any sort of meat tonight, so went for the extra vegetarian option. I went out in the rain again to pick it up, leaving M. and Scully in the room to stay dry. The food was very good, with the dhal being a bit spicy even though I’d asked for mild when they asked how spicy we wanted it.

It’s still raining steadily. Checking the Bureau of Meteorology, I see we’ve had close to 40 mm of rain in the Orange region today. The forecast is for it to continue until about 7am but then start clearing up. So hopefully tomorrow we’ll have some better weather.

Orange trip, day 2

We had a very restless night last night. Scully was on edge all night and kept wanting to get up and look around the hotel room, and twice she wanted to go outside to toilet. So I had to get dressed in multiple layers of clothing to survive the polar temperature outside and take her out in the middle of the night. I don’t even know what time it was, but maybe midnight and around 2am. And in between she was almost constantly moving around or growling at noises outside in the street. I think overall I got maybe an hour or two of sleep.

My wife and I were up before 7am as Scully got up with the sun. I took her down to the grass across the street again for the usual morning toilet. After that I went for a walk a couple of blocks to the nearest supermarket to buy some muesli and milk for us to eat in the room for breakfast. I paused to take a photo of this gorgeous Art Deco hotel on the main street:

Royal Hotel, Orange

After eating, we went for a drive to check out some of the local wetlands for bird life. I took my SLR and long lens and we stopped first at the Brooklands Wetlands. This was a bit disappointing, being a creek running behind a row of houses, and accessible only by a strip of muddy grass. I didn’t see many birds at all, and got my shoes wet enough to soak the socks. After a bit we gave up and returned to the car to try driving over to the Coogal Park Wetlands. This was much better! There was a paved path running along a stream lined with bullrushes and other wetland vegetation. We followed it north for about a kilometre, and spotted a dozen or more different bird species. I managed to get some hopefully decent photos of a crimson rosella parent and a juvenile still in the nest, and a grey fantail.

We stopped to fill the car with petrol on the way back to the hotel. Then we went for a walk through the centre of Orange, checking out the main street and one of the small parks, where we let Scully play in the grass a bit. We wanted to get her walking a lot today to wear her out for tonight so she sleeps!

Now it was approaching noon and we walked over to Parrot Distillery where we’d booked a lunch. We found the distillery and they welcomed Scully inside, where there were several tables in the shed where they did the distillation, with a bar and a pizza oven on the side. I got a tasting board of three of their exotic gins: sloe gin, oriental gin, and bush botanicals. They were all very different and good. To go with the drinks we ordered a rosemary bread, which turned out to be a pizza crust with rosemary springs and large flakes of salt, which was good. Then we ordered a margherita pizza and a pizza with local pork and fennel sausage and potato on it. They were both really good. We took a few leftover slices back to the hotel.

After lunch, we decided to take Scully out to the Orange Botanic Gardens. I didn’t feel like driving after all the gin, so we walked. It was a fair way, over 4 km each way. The gardens were very nice, but a little bare coming out of winter into early spring.

Orange Botanic Gardens

There were some magnolias in flower, and wattle trees, but not much else.

Orange Botanic Gardens

We walked back, with Scully walking all the way home. She should be really tired tonight!

We stopped in at the hotel briefly before heading out again for dinner, at the Union Bank restaurant. We sat in the very nice courtyard, which was not as cold as sitting outside at the Peacock Lounge last night. We shared a cos salad, a cheese platter, and the lamb dish, sliced and served with baba ganoush and some pickled vegetables and chilis. It was good, but not as good as last night’s dinner. Then we walked back home to the hotel for the night.

Tomorrow will be interesting. The forecast is for up to 40 mm of rain in the region, and catching the evening news tonight we saw that authorities are concerned about potential flooding.

Orange trip, day 1

This morning I woke up, had breakfast, and packed our things in the car for our driving trip out to Orange. We left just after 9am, hitting the road: my wife, Scully, and me.

We drove west, taking the Great Western Highway across the Blue Mountains. Over the other side of the mountains we descended towards Lithgow, and stopped briefly at a highway rest stop to stretch our legs and let Scully use the grass. From there we continued west to Bathurst, where we stopped for lunch just a few minutes after midday.

We found a cafe with outdoor seating, although all the other customers were sitting inside in the warmth, because it was 12°C outside. My wife had q quiche and I had a chicken wrap, both of which came served with chips (“fries” for the Americans). We also got one of the home made caramel slices – the sort of rustic, obviously hand-made dessert you expect in country towns. It was all reasonably good.

After lunch, we continued, turning south to the town of Cowra. This was a detour to go visit the dog breeder where we got Scully four years ago! We hadn’t seen her since we got Scully, and my wife said we would be in the area and asked if she’d like us to drop in. The breeder said yes, so we went. “In the area” here means within 120 km, because that was about how far out of the way we had to drive!

We expected that we might be able to see Scully’s mother and litter-mate brother, who the breeder had kept for breeding future generations. But when we arrived, she said that Scully’s brother, Presley, had actually grown too large, so didn’t have ideal genetics for breeding, and so she’d given him to a family as a pet. But Scully’s mother, Paige, was there!

Scully and her mother Paige

Scully and Paige hadn’t seen each other for over 4 years, and it seemed as though neither of them recognised the other. They had a bit of a curious sniff, but then were happy to mostly ignore one another. But the breeder was delighted to see Scully and hear our stories about her.

After spending close to an hour chatting with her, we continued on our way. We stopped briefly at the Cowra Japanese Gardens, which is the largest Japanese garden in the southern hemisphere. I’ve never visited here before, and it was a good chance to pop in briefly, though we didn’t have time to really do it justice, just taking a quick walk around the garden on one of the walking paths.

Cowra Japanese Garden

Cowra Japanese Garden

The gardens were lovely, although it was perhaps a few weeks early for most of the flowers. Some magnolias were in bloom, but the cherry blossoms needed a bit more spring.

From here we drove back north again to Orange. We arrived just after 5pm and checked into our hotel for the next few nights. It’s nice and central in the town, and a nice room we have, with a kitchen and dining area. The next issue was where to get dinner. We’d had trouble finding places in Orange where we could take Scully, because apparently very few places here have outdoor seating for dinner. We had one place in mind for tonight, but checking their website showed that they don’t open at all on Tuesdays. So we had to find somewhere else. My wife called a few places, and found one that had a beer garden, but they said it wouldn’t be open for business until October. But when she explained why we wanted to sit outside, they agreed that we could eat out there, if we came inside to order our food at the bar, rather than them send a waiter out.

So we did that, showing up at The Oriana, where we ordered our dinner from the Peacock Lounge. This was a pretty fancy place! I had duck cooked two ways, while my wife had a beetroot tart, and we had some green beans and broccolini on the side, and some house baked sourdough bread. The meal was really good, washed down with glasses of some local Orange wines.

(No comic content updates while I’m travelling.)

Plumbing skill +2 level up

I had a lot of things to do today. I started with the last three classes of my ethics topic on waste, from 8am. These were done by midday, and then I made myself some lunch before getting stuck into trying to fix our leaky toilet cistern.

After yesterday’s examination, I felt like I knew exactly what I had to do. But first I needed some tools. A spanner of the right size to start with. I thought I had a set of spanners down in the garage, and went searching for them, but after a few minutes I had run out of sensible places to look. Fortunately at that moment my neighbour entered the garage with his dog Luna (Scully’s best friend). He was taking her out to the park, but I intercepted and asked if he happened to have any spanners that I could borrow. He said he did, but then he spent several minutes looking for them and failed to find them too! But he didn’t manage to find a couple fo adjustable wrenches, which I said would do the job.

I took those inside and began disassembling the toilet, taking off the cistern cover, turning off the inlet tap, flushing to empty the cistern of water. Then I removed the outlet valve to give me room to work. I put some towels on the floor to absorb any remaining water that might spill out when I loosened the pipes. I unscrewed the locking nuts on either end of the short pipe connecting the tap to the inlet valve, and when that pipe popped out the remaining bit of water in the cistern spilled out onto the towels. Then I could loosen the locking nut and pull out the old inlet valve.

So far, so good. Now I inserted the new inlet valve, configured with the extendable pipe to set the water level to the desired depth. The locking nut went on, and then I inserted the connecting pipe and tightened up the locking nuts. It looked good. But when I turned the water back on, it sprayed everywhere out of the connection between the pipe and the inlet valve! Ugh.

I turned the tap back off and undid the locking nuts, and then realised that there was a problem. There was a nylon plug around the pipe, clearly designed to fit into the valve pipe to form a watertight fit. But the inlet pipe on the new valve wasn’t quite as long as the pipe on the old valve, so the nylon plug wasn’t in the right place – it was too low, leaving a gap that water could leak out of. Being a metal pipe, I didn’t have any way to modify its size.

I was ready to give up and call a plumber. I reported my failure to friends on our Discord chat, showing them the photos I took of the problem. One friend suggested I get a new flexible connecting pipe, pasting a product link for me. Now that looked like it should solve the problem! I quickly dashed out to the hardware store and bought a 225 mm flexible connecting pipe, costing just $4.

Back home, I replaced the solid metal pipe with the flexible one, connecting both ends and tightening the locking nuts. I turned the water back on… and the cistern started filling up, without any leaking! Woohoo! And as a bonus, the water level exactly reached the fill level mark before the inlet valve cut out, which fixed the original leaky cistern problem that instigated this entire job.

So, I think I levelled up another two times in plumbing skill today.

That took up much of the afternoon, and I didn’t have much time to anything else before cleaning up, showering, and getting changed for tonight’s image processing lecture at the university. After all that handyman work, I felt like spoiling myself with a dinner at a Thai restaurant. I loaded Google Maps, centred it on the university, and searched for “Thai restaurant”. Then I chose the top rated one out of the dozen or so hits within 3 blocks of the university. I went there and had a red curry chicken with rice, which was really nice. Good recommendation, Google reviewers!

And finally, back at home after the university course, I need to pack my bag for our trip tomorrow. We’re hoping to leave by 9am, so we can make lunch in Bathurst on the way.

New content today:

Plumbing skill + 1 level-up

Today I finally tried to fix the leaky inlet valve on our toilet cistern. I had a replacement valve which has been sitting around waiting for me to get to it, and I finally decided to bite the bullet and attempt to install it today.

I learnt a few things. Firstly, replacing the valve was a bigger job than I realised. I’d assumed that I could unscrew the old one and screw the new one in. But no, it doesn’t rotate within the cistern because it hits the cistern walls. To remove/replace it you have to undo two nuts on the connecting pipe from the tap on the wall and remove that pipe, then undo a lock nut on the valve and lift it out, then reverse the procedure to install the new one, re-hooking up the pipe.

I think I could have achieved this – taking maybe an 30-60 minutes longer than I’d expected for the whole job. But while fiddling around and figuring all this out, I also learnt how to adjust the float lever on the existing valve to hopefully turn it off earlier in the fill cycle, so it would stop the leak. I experimented with that a bit and found a setting which seemed to work, so I abandoned the idea of replacing the entire valve, and returned the toilet to working order.

But after a couple of satisfactory flushes, it started dribbling again – even worse than before. I think the valve is simply cactus, and I’ll have to get stuck into the full replacement at some point when I have time. 🙄

Apart from that, I spent time writing and making comics again today, preparing for my week away this week.

Oh, and I also had a bit of time to finally go through some of the photos I took on my trip to Germany back in June. This is the Falkenhaus in Würzburg:


It’s adjacent to the Marienkapelle:


And the Alte Mainbrucke bridge with Festung Marienberg castle on the hill across the river:

Alte Brucke

All from our first day after arrival.

New content today:

Games night and comicking day

Friday was games night at one of my friends’ place. First up we had a quick game of Draftosaurus. I actually managed to win this one, with a big collection of diverse dinosaurs in one pen that got me a lot of points.

After that we played a new game: Awkward Guests. It’s a bit like Cluedo, only done right, without the superfluous dice rolling and moving around a game board. And there are hundreds of clue cards, which can be combined in multiple ways to construct many different crimes to solve. The piecing together of clues is clever and fun, and it really requires some thought to play effectively and hopefully pin down the murderer correctly and first.

After that we played a game of 7 Wonders, an old favourite online, but with physical cards, which is something we haven’t done for many years. And then we split into two groups of 3 players each and I played Quacks of Quedlinburg – I don’t remember what the other group of 3 played.

I didn’t win any of the other games, but had fun, so that’s all that matters!

Today (Saturday) I did my 2.5k run early, and then spent much of the day writing and making new Darths & Droids comics. I need to get a few queued up before the trip to Orange that I’m taking with my wife and Scully from Tuesday.

I’m also trying to use up all our vegetables before we leave. I was talking with my wife about how to divide them up into dinners, and we decided tonight to make mushroom and zucchini risotto. Tomorrow will be mushroom and spinach pizza, and Monday will be spinach and potato dhal.

New content yesterday:

New content today:

A double Conjuring

This week I’ve watched two movies: The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. The first one seemed familiar about halfway through, and the more I watched the more I got the feeling I’d seen it before. One problem I’ve found with Netflix is that there’s no indication if you’ve watched a movie before or not. So it’s possible to find something and think it looks interesting, and start watching it, and only realise partway through that you’ve seen it before.

Anyway, it was still enjoyable, and I was inspired to watch the (first) sequel, curious if I’d recognise it too. But no, it felt completely new to me. One thing that stood out to me was the early scene inside the famous Amityville Horror house. It was instantly recognisable from those quarter-circle windows.

The Amityville Horror was a transformational part of my childhood. It’s actually one of the first movie experiences I remember. I was definitely too young to see it by any reasonable measure, but my mother took me and my brother into the city and the huge cinema complex there for a full day, in which we saw three movies. The other two were The Muppet Movie and Meteor. Amityville was obviously my mother’s choice – she’s always been into horror. And she was never shy about exposing us kids to it. I remember seeing a whole bunch of classic Hammer horror movies as a kid.

Anyway, I was instantly reminded of it by the house’s appearance in The Conjuring 2. That got me on a nostalgic Wikipedia dive to read up on it and remind myself. I was a little surprised to find that the Amityville house still exists. Curious, I checked it out on Google Streetview, but was disappointed to see that it’s been blurred out beyond any visibility. Presumably precisely because so many people want to gawk at it.

Today I took Scully out for a total of three walks, because my wife had a day off work but used the opportunity to go into the city and check out some shops and have a leisurely morning tea and so on. And otherwise I finished off writing a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. I’ll photograph them tomorrow.

New content today:

Finding dog-friendly dining

I mentioned briefly last Saturday that my wife and I are taking a short trip next week, to the country town of Orange, west of Sydney. I said we had dog-friendly accommodation, so we can take Scully.

We’ve been trying to book places to eat that have outdoor dining areas, where we can take Scully as well. (In Australia, dogs—other than assistance dogs—are banned from indoor seating areas of establishments serving food, but are okay in al fresco areas.) But we’ve run into a bit pf a problem. There are many cafes with outdoor seating that serve lunch, but they are all closed for dinner. And despite a couple of days of searching, we’ve found only two places in all of Orange that serve dinner and have dog-friendly seating options. Neither of them take bookings either, so we just have to show up and hope they have a free table.

A friend of mine’s parents live in Orange, and he’s contacted them to ask if they have any other suggestions, but he hasn’t heard back yet. I suppose if worst comes to worst we can get take-away food from somewhere and eat in our hotel room. But oh well, we have other things planned and I’m sure we’ll enjoy the time away!

Today I had my face-to-face ethics class at the school. We talked about cheating in sports, and it was a really good and lively discussion. Several of the kids had pertinent examples for the questions, some from professional sports they have seen, and some from their own sports that they played at the school. One girl said that in one netball game they played against another school, the opposing team were being really physical, making a lot of illegal contact, and the referee wasn’t calling penalties. So she said her team “had to” start doing the same, in order to be on an even footing. She said she doesn’t even remember who won, but that it was most fun game of netball she’d ever played in!

New content today:

Ethics of waste; and Stable Diffusion

Today was the start of a new ethics topic for my online lesson: Waste. I wrote my lesson plan this morning, and did the first three classes tonight. It runs through a series of questions for the kids on: how we handle our waste, is it ever okay to litter, is it okay that some people make a living by waste picking, what can or should governments do to encourage/force people to produce less waste, and whether the global waste trade is okay or not. Towards the end we talk about whose responsibility it is to ensure that toxic waste (including domestic toxic waste such as batteries) is handled correctly, and then talk about nuclear waste. I leave them to think about the problem of designing effective long-term nuclear waste warning messages for future civilisations.

Also today I signed up for another AI art generation application: Stable Diffusion. I spent a bunch of my free credits experimenting with it, and I think I’m of the opinion that it’s not as good as DALL-E, at least for generating the sort of medieval fantasy scenes that I’ve been trying to produce these past few days. No matter what prompt I tried, I simply could not get Stable Diffusion to generate a picture of a castle drawbridge.

New content today:

Quick Monday update

A quick one tonight since I’m home late from my university tutoring job.

I had the last three online ethics classes this morning on the bionics topic. Then I had some lunch and then took Scully out for a walk down to the harbourside. Then came home and wrote some comics and got ready to go to university. I grabbed some sushi on the way, ate it outside the lecture room, and then spent 3 hours with the lecturer and students in there.

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