Games night and cake day

Friday was fortnightly games night with my friends. My wife took the car to visit her mother with Scully, so I caught the train to the venue at one of my friends’ place. I stopped off on the way to grab some Thai food from the place near where we used to work.

We played Viticulture first. This is a game where to win you need to be the first to score 20 points. To score points, you (1) acquire grape cards, (2) plant grapes in your fields, (3) harvest grapes and put them in your mash barrels, (4) create wines from the grape mash, (5) optional, mature your wines a bit, (6) fulfil orders by selling wines to buyers. It’s only when you reach step 6 and sell your wines that you gain victory points.

There are a handful of other ways to earn points. You can get a consolation point for choosing to go last or second last in a given round (during the phase where everyone chooses their ordering – going earlier gives you smaller consolation rewards). You can get a point by being the first in a given round to choose to sell some mashed grapes, before they get turned into wine. If you build the windmill, you get a point whenever you plant some grapes. And there are “visitor” cards which represent various people visiting your winery, and they have various effects, allowing you to do bonus actions (such as harvesting extra grapes, or making more wines, or whatever). A few of the visitors let you do things like sacrifice money or grapes for a point or two.

Anyway, the game start is partly randomised by each player being dealt a Mama and a Papa who own the winery together, and they each grant different initial resources. My Papa gave me an option of taking an extra 3 coins, or starting with the Cottage building (which normally costs 4 coins to build during the game). I elected to start with the Cottage, which gives you an extra visitor card draw each round. So I thought I’d go for a visitor-heavy strategy, and my first few turns were spent doing actions to collect more money, since I started with less than anyone else, while everyone else started planting grapes. The first two visitors I got were a great combo: A wedding party, where I got to give up to 3 players 2 coins each, and collect a victory point for each player I gave money to. Since I had a lot of money, I gave 6 coins away and collected 3 points. Then the other visitor I played on the same turn immediately after allowed me to ask for 2 coins from each player. For each player who chose not to give me coins, I would gain a victory point. Since they were all short of cash, they elected to keep the coins, and I gained another 4 points! I was now 7 points clear of everyone, and I still hadn’t even planted a grape!

I continued to play by collecting extra visitor cards and using visitors to gain points where possible, and choosing some of the actions that granted me points. I built the windmill and planted some grapes (gaining points). After I harvested the grapes, I chose the action to sell the mash and gain points, rather than turn them into wine. As the game progressed, it reached this stage:


I was green, and you can see on the scoring track at the bottom of the board, I was way ahead on 17 points, with the next nearest player on 10, and the others behind. But… by now they were all selling wines and gaining points quickly, while I had not produced a single wine in my winery! I wondered if my strategy would run out of steam and they would overtake me before I reached 20. But I drew into some more visitors who gave me points and managed to win the game, although it turned out to be closer in the end than shown in the photo. My nearest rival ended on 17 points, and he said he would have been able to reach 20 if he’d had just one more action on his last turn. So, I won with the unusual strategy of not bothering to make any wines!

Next we played Through the Desert, which is an older game we played many years ago. The simplest way to describe this is as a kind of multi-player version of Go. You play camels to create connected caravans and try to enclose areas to score points.

Through the Desert

This game I came second in, which felt like a good effort, because it’s a fairly intense game where it always feels like you don’t have enough camels to do what you want. These two games were long enough that we called it a night after that, and I got a lift home from a friend.

Today I tried my new running shoes which I bought last weekend. They feel good, and I ran my fastest 2.5k since the first half of last year, breaking the 12-minute barrier at 11:54. I’ve been trying to get below 12:00 again for months. I wonder if the new shoes really helped.

I did a big round of housecleaning: vacuuming, draining and refilling the damp absorbers, cleaning the bathroom and shower. Workshopped some new Darths & Droids strips with a co-writer. And this afternoon I baked a cake!

Orange almond cake

It’s an orange and almond cake, made with this recipe. Only 5 ingredients (and one is just a teaspoon of baking powder), and dead simple. It looks like it turned out beautifully, and I’m looking forward to trying a slice tonight for dessert.

New content yesterday:

New content today:

New pizza tray

It was a pretty bog-standard Monday. Three ethics classes, to wrap up the topic of Games with the younger students. One particular question that I asked was very interesting. It needs a bit of introduction to set up, and there were other questions I asked along the way, but I’ll condense it down to the essentials for the pertinent question:

Tegan, Josh, and Adele are playing a board game together. They roll dice and play cards and move pieces on the board, chatting and laughing while they play. At one point in the game, Tegan makes a really good move which forces Josh to lose a bunch of points.

Later, as the game nears the end, an interesting situation develops. All those points that Josh lost put him in last place, and he only has one turn left. He knows he can’t score enough points to win. Tegan is currently in the lead, and she will win the game… unless Josh uses his turn to steal points off her. If Josh does this, Adele will win the game. Or he can just try to score as many points as he can, in which case he’ll still come last and Tegan will win.

While Josh is thinking about what move to make, Adele sees that he can steal Tegan’s points. She says, “Josh, if you take her points and make me win, I’ll give you a chocolate bar!”

If you were Josh, how would you respond to Adele in this situation?

Most of the kids throughout the week said they’d accept the chocolate and steal Tegan’s points, letting Adele win the game. (One of the earlier questions asked if it was okay for Josh to steal Tegan’s points, and most said yes, because it’s within the rules of the game.) A few kids said that accepting the chocolate would be bad, because it’s bribery outside the game – there are no in-game rules for chocolate bars, so it shouldn’t be allowed, and Adele was bad for trying it.

But in all the classes I did this week, one kid said:

I’d turn to Tegan and say, “If you give me two chocolate bars, I won’t steal the points from you.”

Honestly I burst out laughing at that point. I thought it was a brutally honest and clever answer. One of the other kids in the same class said, “Ooh, start a bidding war!” It was a great moment.

The rest of my day was pretty standard. Took Scully for a couple of walks, got fish and chips for lunch, made a sourdough loaf, and also made pizza for dinner tonight. I tried using the brand new pizza baking tray I bought last week, so we have a second one, to enable me cooking multiple pizzas on Friday night when the guys come over for Dungeons & Dragons. Our first pizza tray has holes in the bottom, which allows heat to bake the crust from beneath, making it crisp. But I didn’t find any with holes, so this new one is a solid aluminium pan, and the pizza turned out with the base a lot less crisp. I considered a pizza stone, but they’re expensive and I didn’t want to start messing around with that. I’m wondering now how difficult it would be to drill some holes in the aluminium pan.

New content today:

Korma Chameleon

Last grocery shop I bought some paneer, intending to use it in a curry some time this week. Today I decided I’d try my hand at making korma. I looked up a few recipes and got the gist of the ingredients. I had almost everything I needed in the kitchen, except for ground almonds, and the recipe I decided to follow also used fresh mint leaves. So during my afternoon walk with Scully I popped into the small nearby supermarket to get some of each.

I used plain yoghurt instead of buying Greek yoghurt, and that gave the resulting korma a bit of a tang, but it was fine and delicious. I also added some finely chopped broccoli to give it some more green content.

Most of today I spent assembling and then writing annotations for the remainder of that last batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I photographed a week ago. That means I’m now buffered up to the middle of January, which is good! I’ll try to make another batch before the end of the year, and I’ll have a nice safety buffer heading into the new year.

The other main thing that happened today is that I finally heard back from Lufthansa about our claim for compensation for the 24-hour delay we had in Singapore back in June. They have agreed to pay us the 1200€ EU-stipulated compensation for travel delay and reimburse most (though not all) of the additional expenses we incurred because of the delay. The email they sent says they have already processed the deposit into our bank account, and we should see the money in a few days. It’s not 100% of what we asked for, but it’s close enough, and I’m happy enough not to bother trying to squeeze out the few extra euro.

New content today:

Faster running and okonomiyaki

Today was warmer than yesterday, but I pushed on and did another 2.5k run, in the heat and higher humidity, but managed 12:14, 31 seconds faster than yesterday. So I’m not sure what was wrong yesterday that made me go so slowly.

I mostly worked on Darths & Droids comics today, in between relaxing and leisure activities like taking Scully for a walk. For dinner I made okonomiyaki, as foreshadowed by buying cabbage yesterday.

As it was foretold

New content today:

Exploring gas to induction conversion

We’ve had a gas burning cooktop for as long as I’ve lived in my current home (which is many years). For several reasons I’ve recently been thinking of having the gas cooktop removed and switching to an electrical induction cooktop.

  • Gas is a fossil fuel, and I don’t really want to be burning it.
  • Burning gas produces waste products known to exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions. Although I don’t suffer from these, it’s clearly got to be healthier not to be burning this stuff in my home.
  • Burning gas also produces water vapour, contributing to internal humidity. This became a major concern over the past couple of years of unusually wet and damp weather we’ve been having here, where keeping mould at bay has become harder and harder. Anything to reduce humidity in the home has to be welcome.
  • Natural gas prices are predicted to outpace the rise in electricity prices, so in the long run this is going to save money.
  • The gas cooktop is a bit old now and has accumulated wear and grime that is difficult to clean because of the shapes.
  • An induction cooktop should be safer, in terms of potential gas leakage, and also burn hazard.
  • As a bonus, if we ditch gas we can cap the gas line at the wall behind the oven, which will free up some depth behind the oven – so that we can push the oven all the way into the cabinet space. We replaced our oven a few years back when the original one kicked the bucket, and it turned out that a standard depth oven wouldn’t fit into the gap in the cabinet work, because the gas line for the cooktop protrudes from the wall too far, blocking it from being pushed in. There were no similar ovens of lesser depth, so ever since then we’ve been living with our oven protruding from the cabinetry by about 4 centimetres. being able to push it all the way in flush with the cabinetry would be awesome.

So anyway, I’ve had the thought to get onto this for some time now. Today I decided to start seriously looking at options. I checked a couple of models of induction cooktop from retailer websites and found some that have good reviews. And then I checked the installation dimensions. One model I liked the look of says it fits in a 560 mm wide cut-out hole in the bench top. The existing gas cooktop is about the same size…

I pulled the oven out a bit so I could poke around under the gas cooktop. I found I could push it up a centimetre or so and, with a bit of awkward difficulty, see the cut-out hole it sits in. I wedged some post-it notes under the lip of the cooktop, lined up with the edges of the hole as best I could manage, and then measured the distance between those with a tape measure. 555 mm. Great.

I did a search for induction cooktops with a smaller cut-out width, and found one that was listed at 555 mm. It cost $800 more than the first one I found. So… if I assume the measurements are all correct, I can either pay $800 extra for a very slightly narrower cooktop, or I can find a stonecutter to cut the solid granite bench top to widen the hole by 5 mm. So I need to get a quote to find out how much that will cost.

Although… it’s highly possible that one or more of these measurements are sightly off. In particular, I’m not sure of the accuracy of my own measurement. To see how big the cut-out is, I really need to remove the gas cooktop first, so I have full access to it. But to do this I need to get a gasfitter in to disconnect the cooktop and cap the gas outlet. And once I commit to doing that – we can’t cook until a new cooktop is actually installed.

Anyway, if I do that, then I can confirm the cut-out size and either order an appropriately sized induction cooktop, or get a stonecutter in to widen the hole. And then! We need an electrician to install the induction cooktop. The gas cooktop is plugged into a standard 10 ampere power point to supply power for the spark ignition system. But an induction cooktop (the one I looked at) draws 27 A. So it needs a custom cable wired from the fusebox and an extra circuit breaker installed. The wall behind the oven and cooktop is solid brick, but there’s a power cable to the oven, so presumably there is a conduit that an extra cable could be threaded through for the new cooktop – though I don’t know how an electrician would do that.

I mentioned this to a friend, and he said there may also be a safety issue having two high amp cables running through the same channel because of potential induction effects between the cables. So… this means before I even think about having the gas cooktop disconnected and taken out so I can have a look at what size the cut-out hole is, I need to get an electrician in to look at the wiring and confirm that it can be done, staying within safety regulations (and presumably give me a quote for the work).

To summarise:

  1. Get electrician in to confirm if installation is possible and supply quote for cost.
  2. Get gasfitter in to remove gas cooktop and cap gas pipe.
  3. Measure cut-out hole accurately.
  4. (optional) Get stonecutter in to enlarge hole in granite bench top to fit preferred induction cooktop.
  5. Order induction cooktop to fit cut-out hole.
  6. When it’s delivered, have electrician back to install it with new cabling.

This is sounding like a significantly bigger project than when I first began thinking about it. I need to mull it over a bit more before deciding to either go ahead, or just live with our existing gas cooktop for a few more years. So a lot of thought and effort went into doing pretty much nothing today. I suppose I have a better idea that I don’t know if we should do this or not!

In other activities, I spent some time preparing a science lesson on the topic of weather for my occasional online science student. I have more to do on this, which I’ll do in the next few days, as the lesson is on Sunday afternoon.

New content today:

Experiments in Asian cooking

Today I spent the morning writing the new lesson for this week’s round of online ethics classes. It’s on the topic of ageing, and I use the story of Logan’s Run to introduce it. We explore a bunch of questions around the disadvantages and advantages of getting older, and ponder whether the life experience that older people have is relevant for the modern, rapidly changing world. I ran the first three lessons this evening, and it seemed to go okay, but I was unfortunately a bit distracted and tired so I felt it a little bit of a struggle to make it through. (One lesson I had to deal with an urgent parent inquiry about the next lesson, while trying to multitask and teach the current lesson at the same time.)

For dinner tonight I tried another variation of the vege patties and salad that I’ve been doing the past few weeks. I started with chick pea patties, and then tried lentil patties. Today I decided to change again and make corn fritters. I had two ears of fresh corn, which I removed the kernels from and combined with red capsicum and onion (and egg and flour) to make fritters. I decided the tahini sauce I’d been making wasn’t as good a match for this, so I tried making some Vietnamese nuoc cham. But my wife being vegetarian, I didn’t want to use the traditional fish sauce, so when I popped into the supermarket to grab some limes and lemongrass, I looked at the condiments aisle and selected teriyaki sauce as a potential substitute. (Turns out I should have looked at Wikipedia, as it actually says that vegetarians use so sauce instead of fish sauce – I could have just done that!)

Anyway, a friend of mine with cooking experience suggested omitting the sugar, as teriyaki is sweet already. So I did, and actually it turned out all right. It wasn’t really the same sort of taste as nuoc cham, but it was perfectly fine as a topping for the fritters and a salad.

New content today:

A drenching

One more online class on Monsters this morning.

The morning was warm and sunny. I had some lunch and then went to take Scully out for a walk. I looked outside… yep, very sunny. I smothered myself in sunscreen to ward off the ultraviolet rays. Took Scully and we set off on one of our loop walks that takes about an hour, with time for some ball chasing at the park down by the water.

We got about a quarter of the way and the clouds closed in thick and very very fast. It started raining. It looked like it could be a serious storm. And I’d left most of the windows at home wide open. If the wind blew from the wrong direction, we could have arrived home to a sodden bedroom or living room. The rain got heavier and the wind picked up.

I aborted the walk and we took a shortcut home as fast as practicable. Which wasn’t all that fast, as part of it was up a steep slope. Scully got soaked. I got soaked. I dreaded getting home and finding the bed and the carpet soaking wet.

By the time we made it home… the sun was out again! We got in and I rushed to check the windows. We were very lucky. Open windows facing two different directions had not a drop on them. I’d left a window facing a third direction closed, and that window was soaked on the outside. I dried Scully off with a towel. I did a complete change of clothes, drying myself with a towel as well, and hanging up the wet clothes to dry.

And then the entire afternoon was hot and sunny again. We’d somehow chosen the exact 10 minutes that the weather turned into a stormy downpour to be out walking around, not expecting it.

Speaking of weather, our Bureau of Meteorology a short time back changed the way they format rain forecasts, to make them “simpler and easier to understand”. We used to get rain forecasts that looked like “1 to 3 mm of rain”. They thought this was “confusing” because it was a probability band corresponding to 1st and 9th deciles or something, so you could in fact possibly get more than 3 mm of rain. To avoid this “misleading” information, now we get a set of explicit probabilities, and today’s included this:

50% chance of at least 0 mm of rain.

Seriously. Much more useful. 🙄

Tonight for dinner I wanted to use up some mushrooms that I’d bought, but wasn’t feeling inspired. I didn’t want to make risotto, which would be the usual thing to make to use up mushrooms. So I searched for mushroom recipes, and I found this one for mushroom and caramelised onion quesadillas. I had everything except the rocket leaves, so I took Scully out for her evening walk past the nearest supermarket and grabbed some, and then cooked it up when I got home. Turned out good!

New content today:

Science and engineering of photography

Today I spent most of the afternoon working on a presentation for the university Image Processing course, to be delivered to the students on 10 October, during the first of their project work face-to-face sessions. The lecturer asked me if I wanted to give a guest lecture as part of the session, and I agreed, thinking I could do one on the Science and Engineering of Photography.

I did an outline of the presentation, then started working on slides. This is the part that takes time, as I have to source images that can be used without violating copyright, or make my own. I got through the camera obscura, pinhole camera, what a lens does, how a camera focuses, circle of confusion, and point spread function. I still need to do slides on convolution, the Fourier convolution theorem, pupil function, optical transfer function, depth-dependent blur, aberrations, camera sensor construction, imaging noise, colour filter arrays, image demosaicing, and other post-capture image processing operations. There’s heaps more that I could go into, but I need to keep it down to about 45 minutes.

The slightly annoying thing is that I had a good presentation on exactly this stuff at work, when I used to work for Canon, which I presented a few times to other staff and to visiting interns and students. But since I made that presentation at work, it was on work machines, and I couldn’t bring it home with me. But at least after I do this, I’ll have one handy for future use. I could even adapt it for use to teach kids about how cameras work on Outschool.

This evening I made a special dinner. I’ve always liked fried cauliflower, but it’s a bit of a mess to make. But today we had most of a cauliflower left over as the remaining vegetable before grocery shopping tomorrow, so I decided to go for it. I cut it into florets, coated them in flour, egg wash, and breadcrumbs, and shallow fried them in a pan until golden brown. I served them with a mix-it-yourself set of sauce ingredients: yoghurt, tahini, sriracha, chutney, and mayonnaise. It turned out great! (Except I left a couple of pieces a bit too long before turning them and produced a bit of smoke, but fortunately it dissipated without setting the alarm off.)

New content today:

Making an apple pie from scratch

Okay, not quite from scratch:

But tonight I tried my hand at sweet shortcrust pastry for the first time, and tried making an apple pie. I think I added a bit too much milk to the pastry, because it was very sticky when I tried to roll it out, and I had to mix in a bit more flour before I could manage to roll it. it’s in the oven now for the final bake, so let’s see how it turns out.

There’s been a bit of cooking tonight, as my wife made pizza dough and topped it with things for dinner. So the oven’s been going for some time.

Okay, half an hour later… the apple pie turned out… rustic.

Apple pie from scratch

New content today:

New pastry

Friday was online games night, so I neglected to write a blog post. There’s not a lot to say anyway – I’ve bene busy working on my secret project and doing online ethics classes.

I’ve also been organising a visit to my aunt, who is in a nursing home in Germany. We have some time before my ISO meetings in Cologne to visit Würzburg, where my aunt lives. I got contact details of the nursing home from my cousin and emailed to see if we could visit. They wrote back saying it would be fine, but there are some COVID safety rules we need to follow, including getting a test before going there. So I’ve been looking at where we can do that, as well as booking a hotel. I also need to work out train trips from the airport and so on.

Tonight for dinner I made quiche. I’ve been making the pastry using plain flour, but a few days ago I happened to see a Jamie Oliver cooking show where he was making pastry, and he said to use strong flour. So today I tried making it with bread flour. The pastry ended up less crumbly and held together better. I think it was a better result for quiche, whereas the plain flour one would be better for a fruit tart or something where you want a crumblier pastry.

New content today: