Boxing Day

Today was very lazy, after the excesses of Christmas yesterday. I lounged around a lot, watching the Boxing Day Test match cricket from Melbourne, Australia v New Zealand. And during the lunch break, the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. I was struck by how all the large yachts have black sails – a few years ago yachts all had white sails. I wondered if it was some new advance in materials technology that meant sails had to be black now, so I searched the Internet for information and discovered that black sails are actually nothing more than a fashion trend. Yacht sails are by default white and can be dyed any colour – black is just the current cool trend.

This afternoon my wife and I took Scully on a long walk to the dog park and back. Normally we drive there, so adding the walk made it a real outing, and Scully is completely worn out this evening.

I played a couple of new games that I received for Christmas with my wife: Fluttering Souls, and Claim 2. They’re both quick 2-player card games, and after trying them we both agreed that Claim 2 was the superior game.

The other thing I did today was finish off writing an old travel diary, from a trip I did to Vancouver in 2014 to attend the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference. For some reason, I never kept a diary during this trip, so I had to reconstruct it from memory and my photos.

New content today:

Christmas Day

My first task this morning was to bake the ham that we’d be taking to Christmas lunch at my wife’s family gathering. This is not a large gathering – there were only eight of us, plus a few drop-ins who showed up briefly. So I’d bought a very small ham to avoid ridiculous amounts of leftovers. Which meant it took only a bit over an hour to bake.

We packed that and the remaining lentil balls and drove over to my in-laws’ place, which is a small waterfront property on Sydney Harbour. It has easy access to a small secluded beach which is never very busy. Anchored offshore were several yachts and small cruising boats, with people having their Christmas lunches on the water, and spending time leaping into the harbour to cool off from the warmth of the day. The weather was warmish, but relatively mild for this time of the year, which was nice.

We had pre-lunch nibbles – cheese, crackers, dips, breadsticks. Then the gifts were handed out. Scully got a few, and enjoyed tearing the wrappings off:

Scully opening Christmas presents

Then was lunch: ham, turkey, lentil balls, roast potatoes and pumpkin and carrots and onions, salad, bread. And then dessert: traditional Christmas fruit pudding, ice cream, and a deconstructed pavlova platter which my nephew made, with custard, cream, and tons of fresh fruits: passionfruit, mango, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. This was a really great dessert, as everyone helped themselves to exactly the proportions of pavlova, custard, cream, and fruit they wanted. It was delicious!

Deconstructed pavlova grazing board

After the meal we lazed around for a while, too full to do anything else. Then my two nephews and I decided to go for a swim down at the beach. We took Scully as well, so she could run around and play on the sand. I didn’t swim for long, but did a couple hundred metres of freestyle stroke out from the beach into deep water amongst the boats and back. There are supposedly bull sharks in Sydney Harbour, but I’ve swum here many times and never seen any.

Following the swim, we pulled out some board games. We played a couple of games of Codenames and then Azul (which my wife won handily).

By now it was evening and the tradition of watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on the TV had begun. My wife and I watched a bit of it with everyone, and then headed home for the remainder of the evening.

New content today:

Christmas Eve

I got up early this morning and went to play golf with my friend Andrew, the one who got me started playing golf this year. We’d only played together on the short par 3 “pitch and putt” course where I started learning, but today he came along to the local course near me at Lane Cove, and we played 9 holes. I felt like I was dong poorly, because I didn’t do very well on any hole, but neither did I have any blow-outs like a 10 or 12 which I’ve had previously, and I ended up with a total of 57, 2 strokes better than my previous best at this course. So that was pretty good!

Andrew hit the shot of the day, a gorgeous long, straight drive off the 9th tee… until it hit an overhead power line and bounced off straight down into the turf. That easily cost him 50-100 metres of distance on the shot. My skew-whiff tee shot skimming across the grass ended up going virtually the same distance.

After returning home I relaxed a bit, before my wife and I dropped Scully with our neighbour for dogsitting, while we drove about an hour across Sydney to my aunt & uncle’s place where they were hosting my family’s Christmas dinner. We’ve always done a big family gathering on Christmas Eve, being the German tradition, and it’s convenient because all the people then visit the spouse’s family on Christmas Day. Tonight there were several aunts and uncles and cousins and kids of cousins, and a few friends of the family who aren’t related but just came over because why not?

We caught up and chatted over drinks and pretzels, and then dinner was served and people helped themselves to cold plates of ham, chicken, roast pork, a beef salad, a green salad, a pasta salad, roast potatoes, and the spicy lentil balls that we made yesterday.

After dinner was the giving of gifts. A cousin got dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out all the gifts from under the Christmas tree. The children get most of the gifts as usual. The gifts were then opened and everyone showed off what they got. It’s interesting the contrast between Christmas traditions. In my family it’s always been the case that someone dressed as Santa hands out all the gifts, and people collect a small pile of wrapped presents next to them. Then once they’re all handed out, everyone opens them all simultaneously, and there’s shouting and excitement and people yelling “Thank you!” across the patio as everyone is ripping off wrapping paper. But I’ve been at other family Christmas gatherings, where each gift is handed out, and then the recipient opens it while everybody watches, and then the next gift is handed out, and so on.

After gifts, dessert was served. This is always a highlight because the wife of one of my cousins is a great cook and always makes amazing cakes and treats. This year she’d made a super moist date cake and a batch of reindeer cookies. There were also cheesecakes and whipped cream and custard. After this my wife and I said goodbyes and we came home to retrieve Scully from her playdate with the dog next door. She’s exhausted, as are we!

And tomorrow, Christmas Day, we get to do it all again with my wife’s family!

New content today:

Christmas cooking

Being two days before Christmas, it was time to get down to some preparatory cooking today. My family has a gathering on Christmas Eve, while my wife’s has the traditional Christmas Day lunch, so we manage to attend both events every year.

I began this morning with a trip to the supermarket to get some last minute supplies: celery, onions, milk, and some other stuff. Then we hit the kitchen and cooked up a big batch of spicy lentil balls using an old recipe we’ve made many times. These are good because you can make them ahead of time and keep them for a few days, they’re easy to reheat, and they’re nice bite-sized finger food. We’ll be taking half to Christmas Eve, and the rest for Christmas Day.

This afternoon we took Scully to the dog park. We know most of the regulars there, but today I saw someone I hadn’t seen there before: Trent Zimmerman, our local Member of Parliament for North Sydney. He’d brought his dog, Simba, to play in the park. The regulars said he often comes down to the park with his dog, so I must have missed him on every other occasion. One of the regulars went over and had a chat with him, and reported back that he’d asked him about the Government’s policies on climate change, given the recent bushfire emergency and the record breaking heatwave and drought we’ve been experiencing. Zimmerman is a relative moderate in the mostly conservative right-leaning Liberal Party, and he said he expects that there will be a shift towards policies that are more responsive to climate change and reducing carbon emissions. Well, we can wait and see – he’s only a backbencher.

New content today:

Proofing Sunday

Much of today I spent finishing the Proof that the Earth is a Globe that I started yesterday. I ran into problems making diagrams, with my installation of Inkscape on my iMac, which was running as slow as a dog, with extreme lag in the interface. After struggling with this for some time I searched for any possible help and discovered that a new beta version of Inkscape was released just a few days ago. I downloaded it, and lo, it run much faster and was much more usable.

This morning Scully went for a pre-Christmas wash and groom at the dog groomer. While she was away, my wife and I took the opportunity to go to a cafe together and sit inside and have a decadent Sunday breakfast. We split a huge plate of roasted cauliflower, broccolini, chick peas, quinoa, and some other stuff, served with poached eggs on toast. It was meant to be a single breakfast, but we were both full after having just half each.

The weather was much cooler today, almost chilly, which is very unusual for around Christmas. The forecast for Christmas Day is only 27°C, which is relatively cool. Thankfully – I’ve had enough 40°C Christmas Days to last a lifetime.

New content today:

And exhale…

Saturday dawned ominously here in Sydney, with catastrophic fire conditions officially declared, temperatures forecast as high as 47°C, and fires approaching population centres on the outskirts of the city. I spent much of the day monitoring news, in between starting work on a new Proof that the Earth is a Globe (not ready to post yet). Fortunately, things didn’t go nearly as badly as feared. Temperatures barely broke 40°C across Sydney (possibly because heavy smoke kept some sun out). A few homes were destroyed in the town of Lithgow, and as I type this one man is missing – hopefully he’ll be found alive. The three highways west and south of Sydney were all closed due to fire today – at one point there were only two viable routes to travel out of or into Sydney – but these have been reopened this evening. Things could easily have been so much worse.

The weather forecast for the next few days is a lot cooler, slowly building up to hot again after Christmas. Hopefully the firefighters can take advantage and limit any further danger to populated areas.

New content today:

Watching and waiting

This afternoon/evening was a family day, so not much to report other than that, and doing some grocery shopping in the morning.

My main preoccupation the last few days has been monitoring the news about the bushfires around Sydney, and the heatwave weather conditions. We had a brief respite today with lower temperatures with a sea breeze cooling things down along the coast. Tomorrow however is going to be the worst day of this heatwave, with temperatures of 47°C expected for parts of Sydney. Several temperature records are likely to fall.

And the fires have approached dangerously close to several towns. More homes and buildings were lost today, as well as two firefighters’ lives. Tomorrow is going to be terrible. Mass evacuations and some destroyed houses at best. I don’t want to think about the worst.

New content today:

Fires and heat

I’m writing this entry earlier than normal today because I’ve planned to go see Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker with some friends tonight. I spent this morning rewatching both Episodes VII and VIII, so I’m all prepared.

This afternoon, however, I’ve been doing essentially nothing but monitoring the news for updates on the bushfire situation around Sydney. We’re in the second day of an Australia-wide heatwave, and although Sydney was spared yesterday since we’re on the east coast, the hot air has moved east and the full force of it hit today. We had temperatures of 39-42°C across the city, and higher in some inland areas not far west. There’s too much information, so I’m going to go to bullet points.

  • Tuesday saw a new record average temperature across all weather stations in Australia, with 40.9°C, beating the previous record of 40.3°C.
  • Wednesday’s average reading was 41.9°C, breaking Tuesday’s record by a full degree. Forecasters say there’s a strong possibility this record could be broken again today, and then again tomorrow.
  • Today the maximum December temperature for any station in Australia was broken, with 49.6°C at Eucla, Western Australia.
  • Fires are burning essentially all around Sydney. Not close to urbanised areas, yet, but with potential to move towards them in the coming days. There are several areas of high concern:
  • Fire has reached the road next to Mount Piper Power Station, a major station supplying 10% of NSW’s electricity. It’s a coal-powered station, situated next to an open pit coal mine, and with large reserves of mined coal sitting in mounds on open ground. If falling embers ignite the coal, it’s feared it may burn for weeks or months, and take out the entire power station.
  • Fire is burning south and downwards into the Grose Valley, which is immediately north of the main road west of Sydney through the Blue Mountains, with dozens of towns along it. If the fire reaches and jumps the river, it will likely race uphill to the towns. Residents there are preparing to evacuate.
  • Fire has cut the main highway south of Sydney, and destroyed several homes and other structures today. This one is likely to spread towards more settlements, and there is another coal mine in the path.
  • Another fire further south at Tianjara may enter an ex-army firing range, which still has unexploded 25-pound shells scattered around. Obviously this is too dangerous for fire crews to go near.
  • Sydney has been covered in another pall of smoke today, with air pollution readings again at many times the hazardous level.
  • Friday is forecast to be a bit cooler, giving some relief, but Saturday is forecast to be even hotter than today in the Sydney region. By then the fires will be close to several population centres, if they haven’t already reached them, and the weather that day is going to be horrendous for further spreading of the fires.

New content today:

Job interview, round 1

This morning I had a first interview for a casual job I’ve applied for. Primary Ethics, the non-profit organisation that organises the children’s ethics classes that I volunteer to teach, is looking for people to train new volunteer teachers. I’m qualified because I’ve been teaching ethics for 3 years now, and I have relevant experience in training adults, and satisfy all the other requirements (ability to work weekends and sometimes weekdays, and willingness to travel to regional towns within NSW). I put my application in a couple of weeks ago, and they arranged an initial phone interview.

My phone rang at the appointed time. The first thing the interviewer said to me was: “You attached your cover letter and CV as [MacOS] Pages files, and we couldn’t open them, so I know nothing about you.”

Ooops. Not a great start.

But it didn’t seem to be a deal breaker, and I think I made a good impression in the interview. I sent my CV and letter in PDF format as soon as the half-hour conversation ended. They’re looking for three people, and at this point I’m pretty confident that I’ll be called in for a face-to-face evaluation. That will involve doing a roleplay in which I demonstrate training someone, and then they’ll decide from there. Given next week is Christmas, they’ll let me know some time in January.

Also today I went for a short walk to test out some video capturing stuff. I have a small video project planned, and wanted to test out some different methods of camera stabilisation. While I was walking, I came across a brushturkey, and got close enough for this video:

This is an Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), and they’ve become very common across Sydney in the past decade or two. Before then they were never seen in the city, but they’ve expanded their habitat and can now be found practically everywhere in the city. This individual is tagged (#038), as part of a research project into their movements.

Tonight my wife and I played a game of Azul: Summer Pavilion. It was a hard fought game, and she beat me 92 points to 91. I’m having real trouble beating her at any of the Azul series of games. I must practise more…

New content today:

Dental

I had a dental appointment today, for a clean. The hygienist reported everything looks good, so that’s always good news. My appointment was shortly before lunch, not far from my wife’s office, and she finished early today, so we met up to have lunch at a place nearby that does dim sum, and had a nice meal together, before heading home.

The other thing I’ve done today is put the finishing touches on my new photography website, which I’ve set up as part of my effort to generate some income through my photography. I’m planning to sell framed prints of some of my photos, and am currently doing some research into suitable printing and framing companies where I can get them made. I also have a new Instagram account dedicated to the sort of high quality photos that I’ll be selling – please follow it if you’re interested! (I also have a more general Instagram account, with more casual day-to-day photos on it.)

Oh, I also did some Standards work, follow-up tasks from the meeting I had a week and a bit ago. I’m in the process of organising to host an international photography standards meeting in Sydney in early 2021. There are people to contact and things to book and agreements to get signed.

And gosh, it’s only Tuesday! It’s going to be a full week by the time it’s over.

New content today: