Back to running

Wanting to get back into a regular exercise routine, this morning I took off for a 5k run. I jogged up to the local sports oval and then did the 9 laps that total to 5 km. Previously I’ve run partial laps and walked the remainder, but this time I jogged through the first 6 laps without dropping back to a walk. That was about all I could manage and I took some walking breaks during the next 3 laps. My time was about the same as previously – I think because the first 6 laps were at a slower jog than I would run partial laps, and it all evened out in the end.

Back home I finished off writing the annotations for the latest batch of Irregular Webcomic! While doing that I found a bug in the database updating code I use to add the comics and annotations, so I had to spend some time debugging that and checking that it works okay, which chewed up a bit of time.

I wanted to start writing a new Proof the Earth is a Globe, but ran out of time, so I’ll get onto that tomorrow.

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:

Hard Coding

It’s Saturday, normally a day of relaxation, but today I spent most of the day in a partner debugging session with Andrew, my collaborator on the mezzacotta Generators project. Gory details follow (feel free to skip if you’re not interested in boring computer programming stuff):

We started by updating our code to use Python version 3, rather than the old Version 2.7 that it had been running on. This required some code changes, which then had to be tested. And there was a strange bug that caused some of the generators, but not all of them, to intermittently fail when run by loading them from a web browser, but they all worked fine without failing when the same code was run from the web server command line.

After several hours of testing, we determined that the bug was being caused by a stray non-ASCII character in an input file. But it was only causing a problem when run by the web server, because it was operating in a different environment, and the default I/O encoding environment variable was set to ASCII on the web server, but UTF-8 on the command line. Setting that variable to UTF-8 in the wrapping PHP fixed it!

Anyway, we can now show off the Band Name Generator. If you have a garage band you need a name for (or even if you don’t), give it a try!

New content today:

Dog party!

Somehow I got stuck with the job of baking a ham for Christmas lunch with my wife’s family. So this morning I ventured out to acquire a ham. When I got to the supermarket, I found a section with Christmas hams… they were about $20 a kilogram, and all huge slabs of meat weighing 4, 5, 6+ kilos each. Christmas lunch will be for about 8 people… I really don’t think we could get through $100 worth of ham. So I wandered off to get some other groceries, wondering what to do. But then I ran across another section of the store where they had baby hams, closer to 1 kilo. Perfect!

Ham acquired, I bought some other stuff and went home. On the way, I popped into my dentist, as I was walking past and it reminded me that I’m overdue for a teeth clean. The receptionist wasn’t at the desk, so I had to wait a couple of minutes to make my appointment, and I looked over at the coffee table covered in magazines for waiting patients to read. And I spotted something interesting:

Mechanical Dentistry by Charles Hunter

Mechanical Dentistry by Charles Hunter

Well it’s good to see that my dentist is up on all of the latest techniques and practices! There was even a chapter on how to alloy gold for use in a filling or for a false tooth!

The rest of the morning I spent cataloguing all the bird photos I took yesterday, extracting photo metadata (date, time, GPS coordinates, etc), matching it to species IDs, and then importing the lot into my bird photo database. (You can browse this database, but it’s still under construction – I have to go back and import all my historical bird photos. At the moment it only has photos I took this year, so many of the birds click through to an empty page. For one with several photos, try the New Holland honeyeater.)

This afternoon, we had another Christmas party that Scully was invited to – this time at her dog park that we go to a couple of times a week. It was just organised by the group of regulars there, who invited everyone and their dogs to show up with a plate of food. We arrived early, to go for the usual walk along the shore with the group of dogs that Scully has become familiar with. By the time we got back from the walk there were maybe 20-30 dogs plus their owners there, enjoying plenty of food and drink.

Dog park party

As you can see, Scully was wearing her festive kiwifruit bandana. We stayed for a couple of hours, until about 6pm, when we left to go in search of dinner (the food we ate there was really more of an appetiser than a meal). We ended up at an Italian place, walking a large circuit from our place via the dog park. In total it was almost 8 km we walked this evening. Scully should sleep well tonight, as hopefully will I!

New content today:

Final Ethics of the year

This morning was my last Ethics class of the school year. I walked to the school (3.1 km away) because the weather was cool and winds had blown yesterday’s smoke away, thankfully.

In this class we didn’t discuss ethical questions, but instead reflected on the year gone past and what the students learnt. I asked them what topics they enjoyed most, which ones made them think when other students expressed different opinions, and which, if any, changed their minds. We had a really good discussion, and the kids’ behaviour was excellent. Towards the end of the lesson I handed out completion certificates to each child. I told them I wished them well as they begin high school next year, and said I would miss them, as this would probably be the last time we ever see each other.

I genuinely will miss (most of) them, and it makes me a bit sad to think that I really won’t ever see any of them again. However when the bell went, they basically just got up, waved bye, and filed out the door. I think at their age it doesn’t really hit them when they have to say goodbye to someone forever. Come February I’ll have a brand new class with new names to learn, and no doubt I’ll grow fond of the new kids as well.

I decided to walk home through the Lane Cove Bushland Park, which is more or less an alternate “shortest” route home. The track passes through some dense bush, and it would be very difficult to go cross-country off the established walking track. I should have emerged back into a street near my place, but when I was almost there I found a fence blocking the track, with signs indicating that it was undergoing repairs and was closed for safety due to heavy equipment being used. The idea of jumping a safety fence and incurring the wrath of construction workers didn’t appeal, so I had to backtrack through much of the park and emerge an extra kilometre of so away from home, adding maybe 2 km to my journey.

On the way though, I went down some streets I’ve never walked down before, and found a lovely old estate house on a big block of land:

Fancy house

Back home, I didn’t have much time before picking up my wife and Scully to take them to their very first job as a Delta Dogs therapy dog team! This was an event held at Macquarie University for international students who won’t be travelling home to see family over Christmas, with the dogs there to give them some good cheer. They had a team of seven dogs there today, with Scully among them. Normally she’ll be working solely with my wife on hospital visits, but occasionally they have other sorts of events like this as well. Here’s Scully in her Delta uniform:

Delta Dog

While I waited to pick them up I had lunch at a nearby friend’s place, and we played a game of Wingspan (the same game I played last Friday games night), which I won handily. Then I picked up Scully and my wife to head home.

I spent this afternoon and evening doing some coding work on the mezzacotta generators, adding some stuff to a new band name generator which we’ve been collaborating on.

Oh, and last night I made a batch of eggnog, using Jamie Oliver’s recipe. It had to refrigerate overnight, so I didn’t taste it until tonight. Actually, I had some commercially produced eggnog at my friend’s place at lunch today, to compare it against. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever had eggnog. The commercial stuff tasted okay, but honestly not something I’d buy.

But then I had my own home-made eggnog tonight… and it was delicious! A much nicer drink than what I’d had at lunchtime.

Home made eggnog

Yummo! I’ll definitely be making more of this some time.

New content today:

More comic writing Sunday

Much of today was dedicated to finishing off writing that new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips I started yesterday. I managed to finish the writing, so the next step is taking photos, which I’ll probably do on Tuesday morning, since I have another school Science Club visit tomorrow.

This morning I did some grocery shopping. My wife wanted a lift to Milsons Point, on the north side of the Harbour Bridge, so she could walk across the Bridge with Scully to The Rocks and check out the markets there, before walking from there all the way home. Rather than drive home and then walk to the nearest supermarket like I usually do, I decided to park near the Aldi at North Sydney and try that. I’ve only bought things from Aldi a few times, and never done a full grocery shopping there before, so it was a bit of a new experience.

Later in the morning I walked to a nearby park to practice hitting a few golf balls with a pitching wedge. Also in the park was a large picnic birthday party for a boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, and they’d hired a guy to run a Nerf gun battle thingy, complete with a marked combat zone with cloth barriers set up as cover This guy was herding 20 or so rowdy boys in the game, enforcing rules and keeping things running smoothly. At one point he told them that if anyone got out of line he’d get me to whack them with my golf club. I obliged by turning to face them and raised my club menacingly.

New content today:

The downslide

I spent much of today doing coding tasks as well, after yesterday’s epic effort. I did a lot of tidying up of minor things, in particular setting up the permissions on the IWC forums so people can’t do bad things and can do the things they should be able to do. phpBB’s permissions administration interface is not at all intuitive, and at one point it was configured so that nobody could read anything. I think I managed to sort it out now, though. I also added an anti-spam extension, and a dark theme for users who prefer that. (If you want to use the dark theme, you can access it thus: Click your username in the top-right corner of the forums, choose “User Control Panel”, go to the “Board Preferences” tab, and select your board style as “Prosilver (Dark edition)”, and Submit.)

I also installed a bunch of SSL certificates on all my sites, and then went through the tedious work of tracking down all the security errors and fixing them. Now all my websites should show shiny padlock icons in the URL bar, instead of the scary “Not secure” warning they used to show. (If you see any pages that don’t show the padlock, please let me know.)

Finally, in a stab in the dark, I decided to apply for a position in the 2020 Alaska Robotics Comics Camp. For years I’ve envied everyone who has gone to this annual event, and wished I could go. This time, I don’t have a job to keep me home… so I thought why not apply and see what happens?! It’s a lot of money, getting to Alaska and then paying for the camp, but if I get selected you can bet I’m going to do everything I can to afford it!

New content today:

Debug day

Ugh, what a day. I spent basically all day trying to reconstruct the Irregular Webcomic! forums after yesterday’s disastrous PHP upgrade event on my webhost.

I tried several things, battling with cryptic documentation and apparently non-working installers. I installed a brand new copy of the latest version of phpBB, expecting that I could import/convert the old database containing all the forum poster user data and posts. The installer said there was a convertor included, but when I got to that step, it just wasn’t there. I fiddled around for some hours, trying things, searching for help, discussing with other people. Eventually I tried the installer again, and lo, this time the mysterious convertor interface was there! I don’t know why it wasn’t there the first time.

Anyway, I managed to import the old database, so all of the old forum data is now in the new forums. It looks like it’s working fine, but all of my graphical customisations have vanished. I may try to reinstate some of them, but it was actually the extensive modifications I made to the previous forum’s appearance that caused me to give up upgrading the software in the first place, since the customisations and upgrades interfered with each other and made the upgrade process a real pain in the neck each time. So this time I plan to keep any modifications minimal, so that I can keep the software up to date and hopefully avoid this sort of issue again.

While doing all this, I also got a report that the PHP 7 upgrade has also broken the comics on mezzacotta.net. I spent a bit of time debugging that as well, replacing some deprecated/removed functions. The code now seems to run okay under PHP 7 on the command line, but for some reasons it’s still failing when run via the web page. So I’m currently stumped on that one.

I also squeezed in a few other minor coding tasks in between bashing my head on a brick wall all day. I finally figured out getting an SSL certificate for Darths & Droids, so now the site loads with that trendy padlock icon instead of the “This site is not secure” warning. I’ll add this to all my sites in the next day or so – there’s apparently an interaction with WordPress sites that makes it less trivial than what I did today.

And I set up my new photography website on a brand new domain: dmm.photo. I’ll be expanding this site a bit soon, with a view to offering photo prints for sale. Oh yeah, and it links to a trendy new Instagram that I’ve started too: @davidmorganmar. These two items are part of a campaign I’m beginning to try and make some income as a photographer. Since it’s something else I love doing, like making comics.

New content today:

Good news and bad news

Good news first:

Scully had her behaviour and obedience test today to qualify as a Delta therapy dog (see part 1 from last Thursday). I drove Scully and my wife out to the testing site, where there were dozens of other dogs trying out. This is my wife’s initiative, and she wants to be the human companion when Scully is on duty, so it was up to her to accompany Scully for the test. She didn’t want me around to be a possible distraction, so, I went over to a nearby shopping centre to pass the time.

When I got back, my wife reported that Scully had passed! Now they have to do a day of training, and then I’m not sure what the next step is. But we could have Scully visiting local hospitals to cheer people up pretty soon!

Bad news:

My webhost has been reminding me repeatedly to upgrade my servers to PHP 7.2 (from version 5.6), with a deadline of some time in November before they just do it for me. Well, the upgrade happened today. Most of my sites are fine… except for the Irregular Webcomic! forums. The upgrade has utterly broken them, and the forums are now inaccessible.

The problem is that I installed phpBB forum software ages ago, and upgrading it was always a pain in the neck due to my UI customisations, so in 2005 I gave up upgrading phpBB. Up until today the forums were still running code from 2005. Unfortunately, that code relied on PHP 5.6, and is incompatible with PHP 7.2. Thus the brokenness.

I’m still pondering what to do about this. The database is still there, with all of the users and posts. It’s just the web page code that can’t run any more. Theoretically, it should be possible to install a current version of phpBB and import the data from the old database into the latest database format. But in practice I don’t know how easy this will be. If I can’t find someone with a convenient script to do all the work, the odds that I can do it myself are extremely low. I may have the necessary coding skills, but I certainly don’t have a spare month to do the work.

At this point I have to estimate that it’s probably 95% likely that the old forums are completely gone forever. It’s my own fault, really, for running such outdated software – it was bound to break eventually.

If anyone reading this knows phpBB and would like to help me, please let me know!

New content today:

Comic writing slog part 2

Another day of writing comics. I managed to get some momentum today and finished off the batch, ready to start photographing them tomorrow.

In some spare time I worked on another mezzacotta random generator, this time a random bird name generator. This was inspired by me discussing some actual birds with friends, and someone suggesting that since so many birds are named after colours and markings, it’d be easy to randomly generate new names. And yes, it was very quick and easy, using our generator framework.

Tonight I cooked soup for dinner, and used my new Bamix stick blender for the first time. It works really well – I can tell immediately that it’s better quality than our previous one. The old one got noticeably hot very quickly from the motor, and had to be mashed up and down to access all the vegetable chunks in the soup. The Bamix stayed nice and cool, and it creates a vortex in the soup that sucks the chunks into the blades, so there’s a lot less manual motion required. Really nice. The soup was chick pea, cauliflower, and carrot.

New content today: