Dungeoneering & Data-wrangling

Today I worked on some comci writing, but I also got caught up in writing the front end for a new random text generator developed by a friend using our mezzacotta generators framework (source available on Github).

He’s been working on a random D&D-esque adventure module generator, using some CSS to theme it so that it looks like old school D&D modules. We’re still tweaking the code a bit, but you can take a look at the results here.

I went to the dog park today for the first time in about three weeks. We want Scully to keep gong there, even if we can’t mingle and chat with the other owners like normal due to the COVID restrictions. When I arrived, none of the usual crowd were there, so I sat and waited a bit, then went on the usual walk alone with Scully. It turned out several of the regulars had arrived earlier and gone on the walk before me, and I passed them coming the other way. One woman had her new puppy, a west highland terrier, which I’d only heard about up to now. A cute fluffy blob of white hair.

New content today:

A possible lockdown Christmas

Today: 30 new COVID-19 cases in Sydney. All confined to the Northern Beaches area, so no sign of it spreading into the rest of the city yet. All of Sydney has gone back into restrictions on gatherings of people, but no enforced stay-at-home order yet. Home gatherings are banned in the Northern Beaches, and restricted to 10 people in the rest of Sydney – but all these still expire by Christmas Eve. I suspect they’re avoiding announcing restrictions extending into Christmas Day in the hope that they won’t be necessary, but I expect they will most likely be extended.

Another complication for us is that I was tagged to make a glazed ham for Christmas, and that ham is sitting in our fridge awaiting the cooking. But if we can’t see our family over Christmas, I’m going to end up with 4 kilos of ham to consume by myself (since my wife is vegetarian, and Scully won’t get any because it’s too salty for dogs). I’m already starting to think about what I can cook that I can easily add some ham to…

In other news, I threw together a quick technobabble generator, using the mezzacotta generator codebase. The good thing about this code is if you have an idea, you can execute a basic proof-of-concept in about 5 minutes. Adding all the vocabulary goodies is what takes most of the subsequent development time.

I also did some lockdown baking, rather than go out to the shops for a loaf of bread. I made damper:

Damper

I forgot that I used to make a double sized batch, and it turned out rather small – most of it’s gone already after my wife and I had lunch.

Oh, and to end on a sunny note, some sunflowers I noticed while out walking Scully this afternoon:

Sunflowery day

New content today:

More calm before the storm?

So they told us that we’d get heavy rain today. It hasn’t rained a drop, and was sunny most of the day. There was some dramatic cloud building up late this afternoon, but as of mid-evening still not a drop of rain. Supposedly we’re still in for heavy rain and strong winds tomorrow… but I’ll believe it when I see it. It was cold though.

This was the view over the city about 4:30pm.

Incoming storm

This morning I walked up to the shops to buy a couple of things. I needed to get some batteries because the ones for the remote in our air conditioner died and we couldn’t turn the heat on or off without raiding the DVD remote for batteries – and then couldn’t control the DVD player without switching them back. And since I was going to the shops anyway, I thought I’d get some chocolate sprinkles that I want for a dessert. However when I was up there I completely forgot to get the chocolate sprinkles.

And then later in the morning I took Scully out for a walk, and I went the other direction to the other nearby shops, where there’s a small supermarket. While there, I popped in to get the chocolate sprinkles… and they had ten different varieties of cake sprinkles… all colours and flavours, but no chocolate! So in two trips to two different supermarkets I didn’t manage to get them.

I also failed to get another thing I wanted from the Japanese grocery store. I wanted ramen noodles so I could make myself some ramen for lunch. But they only had udon and somen noodles, which are thicker and thinner respectively. I made do with somen, but honestly I find them too thin. But I did use them to make a pseudo-ramen for lunch:

Home made ramen

I even made a soft-boiled egg to put in. It turned out pretty good. And for dinner I roasted some kipfler potato slices and pumpkin chunks and a clove of garlic, before putting them on a pizza.

Potato and pumpkin pizza

This afternoon I worked a bit on a new tagging system for Square Root of Minus Garfield (plus other mezzacotta comics). I made a database table and populated it with tags and descriptions. This is a project that’s been on my to-do list for ages, and I though it wouldn’t be too difficult or time consuming, and I have a volunteer on the forums who wants to go through and tag all the comics, so that makes it a good opportunity to get it done.

New content today:

A miraculous recovery

So, two days ago I wrote about how my photography website had become corrupted due to a bad WordPress update. I decided to finally bite the bullet and start building my own site, starting with some catalogue pages to show off my work, and then think about adding shopping and payment facilities later. So I sat down and thought the first step was to blow away the WordPress and WooCommerce installs to start from a clean slate.

But first, I’d take a quick look at the WordPress code to see if I could figure out what the error was, just in case it was something I could discover and fix quickly. So I started by loading the site to see what the error message was… And the site loaded! With all my stuff there! The WordPress theme had defaulted back to the default, but my content was all there. It looked like the theme files for the theme I’d chosen were corrupted, so I deleted them and reinstalled the theme… And the entire site was back, including the customisations I’d made to the theme, with colours and header image graphics! What’s more, the admin pages now seem to be working without the intermittent server errors that I was having before the automated upgrade. So it’s actually working better than it was before.

I have no idea what happened, that made the site look completely trashed for a week or two, and then magically brought it back to life. But whatever happened, I’m happy that I didn’t have to either diagnose and debug WordPress/WooCommerce. Or build my own shop site from scratch. Phew!

Today was again cold, but also cloudy, and it’s started raining this evening. I only went out once, to take Scully for a walk before lunch, and spent much of the day writing and making Darths & Droids strips. I read another 6 pages of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Si Salvi Chi Può in Italian, making 10 pages in 2 days. Since the book is just over 200 pages long, if I keep that rate up I can finish in 40 days, so it’s not really that big a task.

New content today:

Sunday roast, and discipline

Today we had Sunday lunch with my wife’s family, a total of eight of us (plus Scully). It’s the first time we’ve all gotten together since Christmas, so it was good to catch up and hear what everyone’s been doing during the COVID isolation. We had a traditional roast pork and vegetables lunch, followed by a nice butterscotch pudding and ice cream.

We were a bit full still from the lunch, so I didn’t cook a proper dinner tonight. We just had fried eggs, my wife on toast, while I had mine on a couple of the leftover lunch bread rolls.

I’ve also been thinking about how to restore my photography site web store. Given the issues I’ve had with WooCommerce, I really want to ditch it. I looked into the Square payment processing API a bit this afternoon and I’ve almost decided to give that a go. It means building a whole web store site by myself, then handing payment processing over to Square, and populating my own order information database. It’ll be a bit of work, but at least it’ll be code that I understand and trust not to be unreliable. It’ll take a week or two to do the work – I’m hoping to get at least a catalogue up and running by the time my market stall is on, two weeks from today.

The other thing I did today was to restart my stalled Duolingo Italian lessons. I restarted them a while back, but was interrupted by the knife injury to my hand, which made it hard to type rapidly, and hadn’t restarted again until today. I read a thing somewhere (reddit probably) recently about how to get motivated to do stuff – and was struck by several comments saying that seeking motivation to do something is the wrong approach. You need to have discipline. You need to go and do the thing that you want to do, or know you should do, rather than wait/seek for the motivation to do it. Discipline is the only way to get through a lack of motivation, and often the only way to actually get stuff done.

I want to learn Italian and get better at it, but I was slacking off. So I decided to be disciplined and just start today, and make sure I keep practising every day. No excuses. Just do it. I’m also going to start the other exercise that I’d previously been doing, which is to read the next book in the Wimpy Kid series, in Italian. So far I’ve read the first five books in the series, which are at about the right level for me to read in Italian – not so easy that I am not learning by reading, and not so hard that I have to stop and look up words too often. I can make it through about 5-10 pages in half an hour or so, which is a pace that isn’t too frustrating. I finished the fifth book at the end of 2018, but hadn’t managed to get motivated to start the sixth book. But today I’m applying discipline and putting the book – Si salvi chi può – on my desk, to begin reading tomorrow.

I’ve also decided I’m going to start doing my 5k runs again this week. At least once a week.

I’m going to get busy again.

New content today:

A WordPress mess

I got up this morning and checked my email. There was an automated mail from one of my WordPress installs, saying that it tried to do an automated update but something went wrong.

I checked my various blogs and everything looked okay. Then I checked my professional photography site…

The blog and shop were down, showing error messages. I’m running the shop on the site using the WooCommerce plugin for WordPress. It’s given me grief before, and seems a bit flaky and unstable. It performed fine for the public facing pages, which looked good and loaded fine. But all of the administration pages were unstable and gave me time-out errors and internal server errors maybe 30% of the time. I just put up with it, hoping it would magically be okay.

But it looks like this aborted update has really broken things. I could spend time debugging and (hopefully) fixing it, but I’m highly demotivated to even try, because it just seems like an unstable mess that will probably break again at some point.

I’m thinking I need some other solution. I can fairly easily make my own catalogue pages. The only really hard part is accepting payments, doing all the API work with credit card companies or PayPal or whatever and with secure encryption and stuff. I’ve never done that and it would be very bad to get it buggy or insecure. I’ll have to consider for a while.

In other news, today was Luna’s 2nd birthday (the poodle next door and Scully’s best friend). They both went to doggie daycare today, and they held a birthday party, with a special doggie cake and everything. Here’s a photo from the daycare’s Instagram, showing Scully lower left, Luna right, and the cake in the middle.

New content today:

Photographic archaeology

Monday! Today I discovered an old folder full of animal photos from a visit to the zoo back in 2009, and it had a bunch of photos of birds that I hadn’t recorded in my bird photos database. So to scratch the itch of completionism, I ended up spending much of the day processing the bird photos I hadn’t done before, posting them on Flickr, identifying the species, and doing some coding work to make it easier to enter them into my database.

Nicobar pigeon

I also went for another longish walk, and along the way I passed an electronics shop, so I went in to buy some parts to make a small LED light to attach to Scully’s collar when going out for walks at night. Because she’s black, and some of the streets around us a dimly lit, it’s almost impossible to see her in some places where we walk after sunset, which is much more often in winter than in summer. There are commercial dog lights you can buy, but most are too bulky and heavy for Scully. I bought s smaller one last year, but it was so badly constructed that it fell to pieces the first time I tried to turn it on! I returned it for a refund.

Anyway, I figured I could make one myself, so with a bit of assistance at the electronics shop I got a selection of LEDs of different brightness, some resistors, a battery holder for a CR2032 button battery, one of those batteries, and a micro PCB switch. I’ll borrow a soldering iron off one of my friends and make myself a super-light and cheap light to attach to Scully.

New content today:

Seriously knuckling down

I’ve been very busy and productive today! Yay!

I started with some stretching and core strength exercises, to get the blood pumping and work on some of the neglected muscles and things that haven’t been pushed lately, to avoid things like back strains and so on.

Then I got stuck into some ISO standards work. I let the documents and ballots build up for a few weeks and then clear them all out at once. I had to download and read a bunch of documents, and then vote on various proposals, and write up some comments documents for various drafts of proposed photographic standards, collating comments from other members of the Australian expert committee (which I chair). This took all morning and I didn’t finish until after lunch, but it cleared away a big chunk of my to-do list that was slowly getting more urgent.

To wind down from that, I did a bunch of photo uploading and writing a web page for a new Sydney photo walk that I did on Tuesday. This included doing research on places like this:

Pallister House

This is Pallister House, which is a significant heritage building – so much so that it even has its own Wikipedia page. It was fascinating learning the history of this place and writing it up for my photo essay.

I also finished up the database additions for the bird photos I took yesterday. My bird photos database is on this web page, but it’s not fully populated with historical photos taken before last year, so a lot of the birds show no entries. But if you click something like Superb fairywren you can see all the photos I’ve taken of this species since last year. Adding older photos is another task on my to-do list…

Oh, and I updated the news blog on my professional photo site with a news post and some sample photos from my bird expedition yesterday.

Tomorrow night is fortnightly board games night with my friends. To prepare for another virtual gathering (due to COVID restrictions on physical gatherings), we bought Asmodee’s Humble Bundle of board games on Steam, and I spent some time installing those and playing tutorial versions to learn the rules.

And… hmm, I feel like I’ve done even more than that. It’s definitely been a full day.

New content today:

Chilly Monday

It was a grey and chilly day here, with some mist. I didn’t go out much, except to take Scully out for some brief exercise.

I worked more on some Darths & Droids story plotting, examining some situations later in the trilogy for how they inform what happens soon in the story. And I worked on some web pages, converting my Imgur albums of the Sydney walks I’ve been doing into web pages hosted on my own server. I’ve converted three so far it’s going to take a fair bit of work doing the rest, especially the really long ones.

For dinner tonight I cooked vegetable fajitas, using a basic spice mix recipe I’ve used many times before. It gets a bit pungent cooking up the spices and chilli, and sometimes I have a bit of a coughing fit over the stove. Today it wasn’t so bad, and I didn’t have any issues… but Scully was a bit disturbed and ended up moving by degrees from the lounge room, to the hall, to the front door, and into the bedroom, where we found her cowering between a chest of drawers and the blanket box, basically as far as she could get away from the kitchen.

We had to open all the windows wide (in the cold weather) to air the place out, and take her outside a bit for comfort while we did that. Poor girl. I wonder what made her rect that like this time, and never previously.

New content today:

Puzzle archives

Today I completed the work I began yesterday with those old computer files. It was to put on my website a mirrored archive of the old CiSRA Puzzle Competition that I ran with some friends of mine from 2007 to 2013 at our old employer. After the company shut down last year (and we all lost our jobs), the original website vanished. There’s a copy on archive.org, but nowhere else. I decided some time ago to host a mirror myself, but haven’t sat down to do the work to reformat the links and make an index page until now. But now it’s done! Another task I can tick off my long to-do list.

I’ve also been doing some administrative work related to ISO photography standards. I’ve probably mentioned that we have a planned meeting to be hosted in Sydney in February next year, and as the chair of the Australian photography standards committee, it’s my job to keep that on track. But of course with the COVID-19 restrictions on meetings and international travel, ISO is currently running all standards meetings virtually – currently until at least the end of August, but that could easily be extended. So it’s not clear at all if the Sydney meeting will go ahead as a physical meeting, or a virtual meeting, or perhaps a physical meeting with some delegates unable to attend due to travel restrictions in their countries. So today I had a bit of back and forth emailing to the international conveners and Standards Australia, to raise the issues and ensure that there are no problems that may arise that we need to deal with now. (It’d be nice if I got paid for any of this work…!)

Oh, and Scully got a wash and trim at the dog groomer today. She’s looking neat and tidy, but with her fur trimmed short and the nights getting colder here, she definitely needs the pyjamas I showed a few days ago.

New content today: