Have I turned the corner?

Last night was awful. I managed to fall asleep soon after going to bed, but I was awake around 3am and the rest of the night was spent coughing horribly, blowing my nose, and racing out to the bathroom to spit out horrible chunky phlegm that the coughing brought up. At one point I felt like I was going to vomit, but I managed not to (maintaining my vomit-free streak since 2001).

By a bit after 5:30 I couldn’t handle it any more and just got up. It actually helped to be up and puttering around the house rather then lying in bed and trying to rest. As the morning progressed I felt better, and for the first time since I got this last Friday I can say that I felt like today was better than yesterday. So hopefully I’ve turned the corner and things will only get better from here.

I was fine during the day, and I took Scully on a long walk to the Italian bakery where I got a slice of pizza for lunch. I also got a pistachio and chocolate snail, but felt full enough that I decided to bring it home for dessert this evening.

I spent time at home marking more university assignments. I’ve dne them all now, except for one final video, which the students had placed on Google Docs as a slide show, with small individual videos embedded in the slides. I can see a few of them, but most I don’t have permission to view, so I’ve contacted the professor to get him to see if he can get the students to grant me viewing permission.

This evening my condition is deteriorating again, as it has every night. Fortunately I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. I suspect the throat thing might be a secondary bacterial infection, so some antibiotics will hopefully help it clear up faster.

In other fun news, my webhost attempted an automated update from PHP 7.4 to 8.1 overnight. Most of the stuff worked okay, but there was a small issue with a custom WordPress theme on this blog. That was easy to fix. But now I’ve discovered the new version of PHP breaks my private MediaWiki installation, which I use for note taking and sharing stuff with my circle of friends.

Checking, I found out I’m running MedaWiki 1.24, which was deprecated in 2015. The latest version is 1.39. So… I have to brace myself to try to upgrade MediaWiki from an 18-year-old version. And it has custom mods for security – I’ve set it so that nobody can see anything but the front landing page unless they’re logged in. So I’ll have to upgrade, hope it works, and hope I can redo the custom mod successfully. Otherwise I’ll have to run PHP 7.4 until I can… migrate everything off the wiki to some other solution. Yuk.

I’m gonna save this load of fun for a day when I’m not dying of flu.

New content today:

Editing comics

I’m currently reading a book on editing comics that I got from Kickstarter: Filth & Grammar by Shelly Bond. The book is all about what a comics editor does.

One main part is about what a comics editor should look for when giving feedback/requests to the author/artists. One thing it really emphasises is that every page of a comic should have around 3 or 4 bolded words to indicate speech stresses. If a page comes in with no words bolded, send it back and tell them to bold some.

I’ve long noticed that comics seem to do this – have multiple bolded words on each page. But I always thought the propensity of bolded emphasis words in comics was way too overdone. I find it distracting and annoying. I wonder who in the comics industry decided that comics had to have bold-emphasised words on every single page.

In other news, I got an invitation for DALL-E today, and I’ve been playing with it a bit, generating some artwork. Not too much because it’s easy to burn through your 50 free credits and have to start paying money to keep using it.

It also came with some free credit to try using GPT-3 text generation. I gave it this prompt:

Write the rules for a Euro-style board game based on medieval monks brewing beer.

And here’s what GPT-3 produced:

1. The game is played with two to four players.

2. Each player has a monastery, and starts the game with two brewmasters and two workers.

3. The game is played over six rounds. In each round, the players take turns performing one of the following actions:

a. Collecting ingredients: The player rolls two dice. They may choose to collect either the number of hops or barley indicated by the dice. If they choose to collect hops, they take that number of hops from the supply. If they choose to collect barley, they take that number of barley from the supply.

b. Brewing beer: The player spends one hop and one barley to brew one barrel of beer. The player may choose to brew either ale or lager.

c. Selling beer: The player may sell up to three barrels of beer. They may sell either ale or lager, but not both at the same time. They receive three gold pieces for each barrel of ale sold, and four gold pieces for each barrel of lager sold.

4. At the end of each round, the players check to see if they have enough beer to satisfy their workers. If they do not, they must pay one gold piece for each worker that is not satisfied.

5. The game ends after six rounds. The player with the most gold pieces wins the game.

Wow. That’s almost a sensible game. There are some obvious issues, but you could certainly start from this and tweak it into a playable game.

New content today:

Online grocery shopping shenanigans

This morning I was determined to do my online grocery shopping order for pickup on Friday, because for the past two weeks Ive been too busy and forgot to do it in time, and ended up having to go and do all of the shopping manually, walking around the entire supermarket to grab stuff, which takes significantly longer.

I normally like to pick up between 7-8am on Friday, but when I went to select a pick-up time, I saw that slot wasn’t available, and in fact they had nothing before 2pm. So I shrugged and selected 2-3pm.

Then at 2pm today I got a text message on my phone saying my order was ready to pick up! I’d accidentally selected today instead of Friday. I couldn’t go get it today, as I had things to do, and I was looking after Scully as well, so I couldn’t go into the supermarket with her. So I had to phone the supermarket and say I’d accidentally selected the wrong day, and could I please pick up my groceries tomorrow instead. They were very understanding and helpful and said that would be fine (I guess they get this problem a lot). The woman asked me what time tomorrow I’d like. I should have said 7am… but wanting to cause as little fuss as possible I just said “the same time, 2pm will be fine”.

Then on the way home from university this evening I suddenly realised I can’t pick it up at 2pm tomorrow either! I have an online ethics class at 2pm! Ugh. So now tomorrow morning I’m going to have to call them up again and change the pick-up time again.

Tonight was the last teaching night of the Data Engineering course at university, so from next week I’ll have my Thursday evenings free again. That should make my current time pressure a bit easier.

For lunch today I took Scully for a walk to the fish & chips place and we had a nice lunch overlooking the harbour, on what looks like being the final sunny day for a while. The weather forecast for the next week is back to rain every day. But the brief dry spell was glorious while it lasted. All… (checks Bureau of Meteorology website)… Good lord. We’ve had just three days without rain, and it feels like it’s been sunny forever.

For dinner tonight before the university class, I went to Chinatown, which is just a couple of blocks from the university. I found a place with outdoor tables and a bunch of noodle restaurants, where I got a cheap and huge bowl of fried hand-made noodles with chicken and vegetables.

Knife-cut noodles, Chinatown

Delicious and very filling!

The other issue that arose today was the database for Irregular Webcomic! got updated to a new MySQL version the other day. It seemed to be working fine, but people pointed out issues with UTF-8 encoded characters not rendering properly. It seems something in the upgrade changed the encoding of characters in the database fields. I need to have a close look and figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it, which is not something else I needed to add to my over-full to-do list. So it’ll have to wait a bit.

New content today:

Scully’s grooming day

Today I dropped Scully off at the dog groomer for her regular clip.She was getting quite shaggy, but now after the grooming she’s trim and velvet-fuzzy again.

In between I did my last couple of ethics classes for the topic of Artificial Intelligence. I did some comics stuff. And now that I’ve finished off the paper proofreading that occupied last week it’s time to start working some more on the data engineering course that I’m helping out with. This week I need to produce some exercises for students to do on summary statistics and data presentation, and also make some graphics for the data visualisation slides for the lectures.

This involves writing some actual code for the first time in ages. Both Matlab, and also some Python to massage some of the raw data downloads I’ve found into better shape for exercises.

Oh, and when I was outside doing stretches in the park across the street after my run, I saw about a dozen ravens circling right above my home. I can only presume this means something ominous. And for reference, I know that our place is built on the site of a former church, which must have been demolished to make way. So… it’s entirely possible that the place I live in is built on a former graveyard…

Maybe I’ve been watching too much horror on Netflix.

New content today:

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:


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: