One of those interstitial Saturdays

After the late update for yesterday, I don’t really have a lot to report on today. It was a day of mixed housework and getting a few odd jobs done.

The major unusual thing I did was to update the Irregular Webcomic! forum software version. My webhost is deprecating PHP version 7.2, and doing an enforced upgrade to 7.4. Since my phpBB install was a few versions behind, moving to 7.4 broke it, so I had to update it to the latest version. And updating phpBB isn’t a job for the faint-hearted – it’s not press a button and it all happens automatically, like WordPress. You have to download a zip file, backup your database and installation files, then modify some configuration stuff, then copy a whole bunch of files over the top of the previous version on the webhost machine, then run a database update script, then check and possibly update all your plugin extensions, and make sure everything works, and then redo any customisations that you made by editing the source code.

So it was a solid couple of hours of work. But I’m happy to report that it all went well and the forums now seem to be working fine under the new PHP version 7.4. I should keep them more up to date… Last time I neglected to update the version for several years and a change to PHP completely broke things so badly that I had to spend a whole day or more doing a complete reinstallation and migration of the database using an upgrade tool that I fortunately managed to find. That was almost a disaster, and I don’t want to go through that again.

Apart from that it was mostly housework. But my wife and I took some time to relax this evening at a Turkish restaurant up the street. They do some really nice food there.

New content today:

Instant noodles

Today was mostly a chore day. I did the weekly grocery shopping. Most weeks recently I’ve been getting falafels and flatbread from the supermarket to make falafel wraps for lunch, and I put tahini, sliced tomato, and chilli sauce on them. But today I decided I’d try something different for the next week, and make falafel salads, with lettuce and cucumber and other fresh stuff instead of the flatbread. And also in the fruit & veg section I saw pomegranates and thought why not? So maybe I’ll throw some of that in too.

And I found some fresh mozzarella, packaged in whey. I got some to try making a Margherita pizza in a few days.

A bit later I went to a new Asian supermarket that opened nearby recently. It’s really good! It’s mostly Japanese products, but there was also stuff a mix of other things. I found the Singaporean brand of instant noodles that make an absolutely amazing laksa. I’d previously got these from my regular supermarket, but they’ve stopped stocking it. Not only did they have the laksa version, they had a couple of other flavours I hadn’t seen before!

La Mian noodles

Black pepper crab and chilli crab! And they’re labelled “New! Must try!” Wow, I had to try these, so I got one of each.

At home I did a spring clean of the bathroom, emptying out the cabinets and going through all the items, cleaning off dust, throwing out old stuff, cleaning the cabinet interiors, and putting useful stuff back in neatly. I discovered that the toothpaste we get stands upright on the big flat lid! We’ve always stored toothpaste tubes lying on their side, but I tried this to save space, and it works beautifully! Now I’m wondering if everyone else has been doing this for years and I’ve just never thought of it…

New content today:

Another day ticking off tasks

I feel like I achieved a lot today. There were a lot of small tasks I needed to get done, most of which are not particularly interesting or fun. I just sat down and did them one after the other.

The most interesting one was creating a new Outschool course, based on my Ethical and Critical Thinking course that I created a week or two ago. I wanted to make a variant version in which all of the stories I use to set up the ethical questions and dilemmas come from the Harry Potter books. There seems to be a big demand for themed classes on Outschool, and of course lots of Harry Potter ones. So I spent some time going through the first four books and choosing plot points that raise ethical questions, then formulating a brief outline of each of the first four lessons based on these. I also had to draw a new course image – I adapted the “Thinker and Sherlock Holmes” artwork I did for the previous ethics course, replacing Holmes with a sketch I drew of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Other stuff I did was less interesting: Spreadsheeting receipts for tax purposes. Filling out some online forms with the tax office. Dusting off an old Lego set I’d had sitting out gathering dust, before putting it away inside a glass-doored cabinet which is now empty because of all the space I’ve freed up by throwing out DVD cases. Some bathroom and kitchen cleaning chores. Baking a sourdough loaf. Setting up my GitHub account access with token authentication instead of password (since they’re deprecating password access in August, and I’ve been putting off switching for months now). Some other stuff I can’t even remember now.

I didn’t get much fun done today, but I feel like I’ve achieved a lot.

New content today:

A very busy Saturday

I did a lot today… all of it basically household chores, rather than much fun or productive. I went shopping to buy another DVD wallet to store the remainder of our DVDs in, and then spent a few hours sorting through discs, putting them in the wallet, and then making multiple trips to the garbage room to throw the old cases and paper liners into the recycling bins. It’s astonishing the sheer volume of stuff I’m actually throwing out. Hopefully once the job is complete (i’m still in the middle of it), we’ll have reclaimed a significant amount of storage space.

I baked sourdough challah for tomorrow’s family Easter lunch.

Sourdough challah

I decided to make challah for Easter a while ago, thinking it would be a cool thing for us to have at the family lunch, and it was only later that I realised that challah is one of the foods that is definitively not eaten by observant Jews during Passover (which usually includes the Western Easter – although it’s complicated by the schism between different ways of calculating the holy days between the Eastern and Western religions). So apologies to any Jewish readers for the faux pas, but hopefully you can forgive this gentile weirdness.

But anyway, it looks to have turned out okay!

Sourdough challah

In the afternoon I went shopping again with my wife (and Scully), to the home-maker centre where we got some storage boxes and a table lamp. And then we went for a long walk to get Scully some exercise. A park by the water that we go to was very busy with picnicking families, making the most of the long weekend and the warm autumn weather. Then it was back home and more spring cleaning style activity, until I had to cook dinner.

Now it’s late and time to relax a bit…

New content today:

Reclaiming shelf space

Today was chore day. I did the weekly grocery shopping, on a Thursday instead of the usual Friday since tomorrow is Good Friday and thus a public holiday (and the supermarket will likely be more crowded with everyone off work and shopping for the Easter weekend).

And I decided to clear up some space by reducing our DVD collection by putting the discs into a compact wallet and throwing away all the plastic cases and paper liners and inserts. This sounds easy, but it was a lot of grunt work. First I had to order the wallet online and then go collect it from the store (since I didn’t want to wait for a delivery). I got a large one that holds 288 discs. I didn’t really have a good idea of how much of our collection that would account for. As it turned out, and with many of the movies having bonus discs of special features (most never watched!), it ended up – after about two hours of sorting, moving discs, pulling paper sleeves out, and piling up empty plastic cases for recycling – housing close to half of the DVDs we have. So I might buy another wallet and go through the whole process again.

But the good news is that it’s cleared a significant amount of shelf space, which can now be used for storing other things. And then I had to cart all the discarded stuff down to the garbage room, which took three trips! I never understood why when DVDs started being produced, they didn’t come up with a more space efficient way of storing them. Even CD jewel cases would have been vastly preferable to what they ended up with.

We went for dinner tonight at our favourite Italian place. And we’ve just received our NSW Dine & Discover vouchers – these are $100 of vouchers usable for dining and entertainment in participating retailers, supplied by the NSW State Government to all adults as a stimulus to get people out and spending money post-COVID to support local businesses. They’re split into 4 vouchers of $25, two usable on meals, and two on entertainment (such as cinemas, arts, museums, live music, sports, etc.). And they’re very sensibly restricted to not being usable for alcohol, tobacco, or gambling. Anyway, we had pizza tonight, mostly paid for by the government. Thanks!

New content today:

Super busy day

  • Took Scully for a super early morning walk, because my wife was busy with an appointment this morning, so she couldn’t do their usual morning walk.
  • Took Scully in to my wife’s work to drop her off there for the day.
  • Mixed together ingredients to make sourdough challah and kneaded it into dough, which then had to rise for four hours.
  • Did the weekly grocery shopping.
  • Went out to drive my mother-in-law home from an errand she had to run.
  • Rolled out the challah dough and shaped the loaves by braiding, then left to rise another five hours.
  • Worked on some comics, once I had a few spare minutes.
  • Made minestrone for dinner
  • Baked the challah.
  • Played online board games with friends.

Here’s some photos of the challah being made.

1. Ingredients: water, flour+salt, egg+oil+honey, sourdough levain.

Making sourdough challah

2. Mixing the levain and water.

Making sourdough challah

3. Mixing wet ingredients.

Making sourdough challah

4. Ragged dough.

Making sourdough challah

5. Kneaded dough.

Making sourdough challah

6. Rolling the dough.

Making sourdough challah

7. Plaiting the dough.

Making sourdough challah

8. Plaited loaves ready to rise.

Making sourdough challah

9. Risen loaves ready to bake.

Making sourdough challah

10. Finished loaves! Yum!

Making sourdough challah

New content today:

Rainy chore Friday

It’s been raining non-stop all day today, and much cooler than average summer temperatures. Which is a nice change from the heatwave we began the week with.

I had a lot of errands to run and little tasks to do today. I started with an ISO Photography Standards meeting at 8am, via Zoom. This was a preliminary scheduling meeting to go over the proposed agenda for the week-long meeting coming up in February. Last time someone suggested doing this to lock the agenda for the week in, and avoid having timetabling changes during the meeting. Some people schedule specific times to dial into the meeting, and discover that the technical discussion they were interested in happened a couple of hours earlier, or is moved to another day. To avoid that, this time the plan is to discuss the agenda a few weeks before, and for people to raise any issues that might cause sessions to move around, so we can move them now, rather than during the main meeting. We ended up cancelling one session and shuffling a couple of others around to improve the knock-off time for people who will be dialling in from Europe late at night.

That meeting took a bit over half an hour. I sent around a few emails to Australian experts to update them on the schedule changes.

Then I went out to do the weekly grocery shopping. And I decided I really needed a haircut, since I’ve been avoiding the barber for several weeks with COVID going around over Christmas. So I went to the barber first and had to wait for a couple of customers before me. After that I did the shopping.

This evening is fortnightly board games night, and we’re doing it in person again since New South Wales has now had no reported cases of COVID for getting close to two weeks now. I wanted to go out to the local craft beer shop and buy a bunch of random unusual beers for people to try. I also wanted to visit the kitchen supply shop next door to get some crumpet rings, for making sourdough crumpets. I drove over, and discovered the beer place didn’t open until midday! But at least I could run across the road into the kitchen place and buy the crumpet rings. Then I drove home, had lunch, and drove back out again afterwards to get the beer.

When I got home, my wife rang me to ask if I’d mind taking Scully to the doggie daycare this afternoon. Scully’s been going a bit stir-crazy in the rainy weather the past two days, and my wife thought she might get uncontrollable this afternoon and constantly want to go outside while she’s trying to work from home. So I met them outside and drove Scully over to the daycare place.

Back home, I needed to fill out some paperwork (online) to renew my Working With Children Check. My current one expires in March, and I need this to continue my volunteer work teaching Ethics and science in schools. It’s basically providing a bunch of ID information, then they give you an application number and you need to take all the ID in to an office to have someone physically check and confirm it’s you, and then they start the process of checking you out for child-related criminal offences or whatever. Speaking of Ethics, I got news that this year’s classes will start on 17 February.

Now I’m going to queue this up to post later tonight when the new comics go live, and get ready for games night!

New content today:

Parallax and gardening

The plan for today was to write a new proof for 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe. I managed to get one completed: 45: Parallax of the Moon. This proof includes a practical experiment that I can do, with the help of readers in different places around the world. So if you’d like to help, please give it a look!

After finishing that, I walked up to the hardware store to get some hex keys. I have a hand towel holder in the bathroom that’s been loose for ages. It’s held onto a wall bracket by a grub screw with a hex key head. In the past few days I searched for the original hex key, but couldn’t find it in the likely places, such as either the mini toolbox under the kitchen sink, or the big toolbox in the garage. So I had to go buy some hex keys. Measuring the size of the needed hex key was pretty much impossible, so I figured I’d just buy a set with various sizes.

Of course I got to the hardware stores and they have sets in both metric and imperial sizes, and of course I have no idea which one I need, so I end up having to buy both. Fortunately it was only $5 for a set of 8 keys in each type, so I paid $10 for 16 keys. I got home and picked a likely looking size – 2.5 mm from the metric set – and it fit perfectly. I tightened the grub screw… but the towel holder was still wobbly. So I unscrewed it completely and took it off the bracket, and discovered that the bracket itself was loose on the wall. So I got a screwdriver and tightened that up, then reattached the hook and tightened up the grub screw, et voilà! The hook is now firmly attached and not wobbly any more.

And I have 16 new hex keys, 15 of which I’ll probably never use. And one of which I might never use again.

This afternoon I went out to the park across the street to use my new weeding tool (bought the other day) to remove some bindii from the grass. I’ve never done weeding in a garden/lawn before, but it was pretty easy to figure it out. I used gardening gloves, but even so, the thorns from the bindii sometimes poked through the gloves and into my fingers. It was some work squatting on the grass and pulling weeds, but I collected half a bucket full in about an hour, clearing an area of a few square metres of bindii. This will make it much more comfortable for Scully to walk around, although I’ll need to clear quite a bit more space to get the little park fully clear.

Tonight is our fortnightly games night, still virtual because of COVID. I’ve managed to win a game of 7 Wonders and 6 Nimmt so far.

New content today:

Golf and chores

I left home early this morning for a round of golf at the Lane Cove course I’ve played before. I think I’m getting a bit better slowly, but I messed up some long putts today and didn’t score much better. I did at least manage to finish with the same ball I started with, rather than losing several balls like last time, so that’s something!

At one point I caught up to a group of 4 players, and they invited me to tee off with them and play through. Under the pressure of them watching me, I flubbed my tee shot badly, ending up in thick brush about 10 metres left of the tee. One of them joked that he was happy to see a shot worse than his. They helped me look for my ball a minute, before heading off to play their own, leaving me lagging behind again. I did find my ball a couple of minutes later, but had to take a drop to make it playable.

After finishing, I went home and then walked up to the supermarket to get some food supplies. And when I got home I turned to some chores that needed doing. I’ve been putting off calling a plumber for a noisy, vibrating bathroom tap for ages. I thought maybe it needed reseating and asked a friend I know who is much more of a handyman then I am how difficult a job this is, and if he thought I could manage it. He suggested that the vibration I described was more likely caused by the type of valve/washer I’d installed last time I replaced the washer, and to try a traditional flat washer instead. So I did that, changing the washer… and lo… the vibration problem vanished! However, my friend suggested I should probably also get a reseating tool and use that on the tap to ensure no leaking. So I’ll do that another day.

I also did some other general housecleaning, and I emptied the damp collecting tubs in the wardrobes and closets and replaced the absorbing crystals. Normally I have to do this every couple of weeks because Sydney is generally a bit humid, but it’s been so dry lately that it’s been a couple of months since I did it last.

New content today:

Bracing for Tuesday

I’m currently reading a book about Sydney, and it says that Sydney is a city governed by three winds. The nor-easter, the westerly, and the southerly. And it’s so true.

  • The nor-easter brings in warm, moist air from the Pacific Ocean. It brings warm, humid weather.
  • The westerly brings in hot, dry air from the interior of the Australian continent. It drives the very hottest weather, but keeps the air dry.
  • The southerly is the wind of the cold change and storms. It brings cold air up from the south, often moist and laden with rain and violent winds.

On a hot day, especially in summer, the westerly wind will bake the city and dry everything up, parching the grass and blowing dust into the air. And people will wait for the southerly change, known as the “southerly buster”, to bring relief and rains.

The past few weeks the westerly has brought not only hot, dry air into the city, but also the smoke from the bushfires west of the city. But today was a blessed relief, with the nor-easter blowing fresh air in from the sea. The smoke was gone this morning, and I could see actual clouds in the sky, rather than just a uniform grey-orange pall blanketing everything. There’s still some smoke high up in the upper atmosphere, so the sky wasn’t really blue, it was more brownish, but at least today we could go outside and breathe. The only issue was that it raised the humidity a lot. I did a lot of walking today, and although it wasn’t hot, the humidity was a killer.

First thing this morning I had the car booked in for an annual service. I dropped it off at the service centre at 7:30, which fortunately is within walking distance of home. But I didn’t go straight home – I headed to my barber for a haircut. I knew he opened earlyish, but it turned out I got there at 8 and he didn’t open until 8:30. So instead of getting a haircut, I went to the supermarket and did some grocery shopping, which I carried home.

Once I’d unpacked the groceries and put them away at home, I headed out again. this time to the post office to mail a Christmas gift. I’m taking part in the reddit Secret Santa, and had a box of goodies to be sent to my secret giftee. I had good luck with the packaging – I grabbed a likely looking box from the Post Office packaging supplies and my gifts fit perfectly into the box. They were snug without being tight, and required no extra padding to stop them rattling around. This may be the first time this has ever happened!

After sending my gifts, I went back to the barber and got my haircut. I was a dollar short of the price on the wall, and said I’d go get some cash from an ATM, but the barber said he had EFTPOS now! I’ve only ever seen anyone pay cash there before, so that was a bit of a surprise. Saved me a walk to the ATM though.

Then I walked home and, not 10 minutes after I walked in the door I got a phone call from the car service place saying my car was ready to be picked up. So I walked back up there to get it. I tracked my walks on Strava and by the time I picked up my car I’d walked over 8 kilometres (5 miles). As well as servicing the car they’d washed and detailed it. When I got home I decided it was a good time to wax the car, seeing as it was now clean – and water restrictions mean it will be harder to wash again from tomorrow (more about that later).

But first I had lunch while the engine cooled down, and then after eating I waxed the car. I’d intended to start writing a new 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe today, but time really got away from me with all the various chores to be done. Late afternoon my wife and I took Scully out to the dog park for some exercise in the fresh air.

Now about water restrictions. Sydney has been on Level 1 restrictions for some time now, but Level 2 restrictions go into force from midnight tonight. The city’s water supply is at 45% capacity, and that triggered this change. From tomorrow, it will be illegal to use a hose for any purpose other than fighting fires – no garden watering, no washing of cars. Gardens can only be watered by drip irrigation or watering cans, and only before 10am or after 4pm. Cars can only be washed with a bucket (which makes it more difficult and laborious than using a hose – I think this measure is really designed to deter people from washing cars altogether, rather than to make everyone change from hoses to buckets, which I really don’t think saves much, if any, water as the bucket is so much less precise and you have to slop water all over the place with it to rinse the car properly).

Level 2 is mild compared to some rural towns which are on Level 4 or 5 at the moment. The details vary from town to town, but these include measures such as watering lawns and gardens allowed for a maximum of 30 minutes only by hand watering can on Sundays only before 9am or after 6pm, complete banning of washing cars by any means (you’re only allowed to wipe clean windows and mirrors), and restricting people to one shower of a maximum of 5 minutes per day or a bath with a maximum water depth of 10 centimetres. These are towns of 30 to 40,000 people with these restrictions. The drought in south-eastern Australia is terribly serious.

And the forecast for tomorrow in Sydney is not good. The westerly will be back, and with it smoke from the fires. It will bring temperatures over 40°C to the suburbs (the city is by the coast, so is usually a bit cooler, but it’ll be high 30s), as well as strong, and dry, winds. And there may be some dry lightning storms as well. All of this is a recipe for danger with regard to the ongoing bushfires. Hot dry winds will whip them up and carry embers further east, towards the city. Last Friday we had ash falling on the city as far east as my home, and some of my friends reported burnt leaves falling from the sky.

So everyone in this city of 5 million people holds their breath tonight.

New content today: