Cheesemaking!

Today I made three more Darths & Droids strips, which builds us up a nice buffer in the run-up to beginning Star Wars: Episode VII. I also discussed some of the aspects with the fellow writers online.

One of my friends decided to start a Google Docs spreadsheet listing all of the games that we have in our group, so we can know what’s available for Friday Night Games, and for borrowing from one another. So I spent some time going through my collection and filling in spreadsheet rows.

And the other thing I did today was make some cheese! I got my wife a cheesemaking kit for Christmas, and we decided to give it a go today. The kit makes a few different types of cheese, and we selected feta as our first attempt. It’s pretty easy, but it takes several hours of waiting around for the milk to curdle and the bacterial culture to start working. At the end of the waiting we had curds that could be scooped into cheese moulds:

Curd scooping

The cheese is now draining for a few more hours before being flipped upside down to drain even more overnight. And then tomorrow it goes into a brine solution, and voilà, we’ll have feta!

Curds in moulds

At least I hope we will. I’ll tell you what it tastes like when we try it…

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A nice dinner out

Today it was supposed to rain heavily here in Sydney. The forecast said up to 50 mm of rain. Which would have been welcome as we need the rain. However it turned out to be nothing more than an intermittent sprinkle all day, and as I type this now the official rainfall figure recorded for Sydney so far today is only 2.2 mm – less than 1/20th of the forecast. That’s kind of been the story for the past few days – forecast of heavy rain, and while we’ve had some heavy showers, the totals have been nowhere near the forecast figures.

Today I worked on Darths & Droids, assembling a couple of comics from completed scripts, and doing some background planning tasks.

And then this evening I had a nice dinner out with my wife, at one of our favourite fancy restaurants. We dropped Scully off with our neighbour for dogsitting, and drove about 20 minutes to Balmoral Beach. We had a lovely dinner, and the walk back to the car along the beach after dinner was beautiful.

Balmoral Beach night

New content today:

Games night and comic discussion

Last night was fortnightly Games Night again, which is why this update is a few hours late. It’s really early on Saturday morning, and I’m up because Scully apparently really needed to go out in the rain at 5am to sniff the grass. The rain has been on and off, but that’s definitely better than off for the past 4 months. It’s now so wet that the trees are weeping with joy:

Blood rain

And there are frogs roaming the streets!

Fence frog

I spent much of yesterday sorting and collating a couple of boxes of Magic: the Gathering cards that my brother had lying around. I’m planning to sell a bunch to get some money for him, since I have experience at doing this.

Games Night started early, so we could go over scripts for upcoming Darths & Droids strips. We also had a discussion about the future of the strip, and moving into Star Wars: Episode 7-9 now that 9 has been released. The logistics are going to be very different because we no longer work together, so can’t dedicate lunch hours to writing strips together in the one room. We decided that we have plenty of ideas for Episodes 7-9 and would like to make a story out of it, so we’re going to start on it and see how it goes.

The plan is that I will outline plot action for several strips and try to write skeleton dialogues for each strip, perhaps without punchlines if I can’t think of any. And then we’ll have short discussions, either in person at Games Nights, or via voice chat on Discord or something, to go over the scripts, fill in gaps, write punchlines, and tweak them with suggested changes. Hopefully this will be enough to enable us to go back to publishing three strips a week as we did before. We’re not sure if this will work long term, so it’s going to be a bit of an experiment to start with. But the gist of it is that we’re now ready to start Episode 7 after we wrap up the Muppets episode.

We moved on to games. First up was Werewords, a bizarre cross between Werewolf and a twenty questions type of guessing game. Since each game takes only about 5 minutes, we played several times. The young daughters (ages 8 and about 10?) of our host watched the first few times, and then decided they wanted to play too. They did really well, each one being the critical component of a victory for their side.

After the girls’ bedtime, we moved on to try The Shipwreck Arcana with four players, while another two played Marvel Champions at the same time.

The Shipwreck Arcana

Shipwreck Arcana is a very interesting logical deduction game. You draw two numbered tiles, then play one on a tableau of pseudo-Tarot-like cards which have rules for which numbers you can play on them, and everyone else has to work out what your unplayed tile is, by examining what you chose to play (and what you chose not to play). Everyone’s working together to guess a certain number of tiles before time runs out. We managed to win the game without too much difficulty – I think we got a moderately lucky shuffle of the deck. I can see how it could be a lot trickier.

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Smoky Sunday

Smoke descended on Sydney overnight, from the ongoing bushfires and backburning operations being carried out in an effort to stop the fires. When I got up this morning and opened the windows, I immediately closed them back up again, because the smell of smoke was so strong. There was a haze in the air, reducing visibility, but not as dramatically as it has been on some days recently.

We needed some groceries, and normally I walk up to the supermarket and back, but today I didn’t want to be outdoors breathing that air for a second longer than necessary, so I drove up. it did give me the opportunity to buy more than I’d normally be able to carry home. And I took a photo of the smoke haze form the roof of the supermarket car park:

Another smoky day in Sydney

Today I made a new Darths & Droids comic, and did some thinking about storylines for Episodes 7-9. And I starting editing some old photos that I scanned from film prints from a trip to Thailand I did back in 2005. These are photos I’ve never had in digital form before, which I scanned a while back, but hadn’t got around to editing yet. I’ll probably start posting some of these to Flickr in the near future.

New content today:

Friday/Saturday Double

I missed yesterday’s post because I was out most of the day, so I’ll cover Friday and Saturday now to make up for it.

Friday morning I had a meeting at Standards Australia, chairing the committee on photography standards. I caught a train into the city, where Standards Australia has their offices in the Australian Stock Exchange building. So you have to check in and get a security pass, and the lifts have this weird operation where you swipe your visitor card and a lift comes and takes you to the floor you’re allowed access to, without you having to press any buttons – in fact the lifts have no buttons at all inside them.

We have committee members form various research and cultural institutions, as well as representatives form industry and professional photography associations. I reported on the work done at the international standards meeting in Cologne that I attended in October. One particularly interesting project is updating the formulation of visual noise measurement in photos, to revise the current international standard. Experimentally, the current definition doesn’t correlate very well with human observer opinion on how much noise is in an image. People from several countries have been doing experiments designed to derive and then verify a new formula based on image statistics – including an experiment that I ran in December 2018 (while I was still employed). The work is approaching the final stages and a revision of the standard should progress through the approval process in the next year.

After the meeting closed, I walked through the city to do some Christmas shopping. For someone I wanted to get some classic thriller movies, so I checked out a major retailer and their BluRay section. They had a bunch of Hitchcock films, and I thought I’d get Psycho and Vertigo. Both were available for $12.95, but Psycho had a discount sticker on it saying “2 for $20”, while Vertigo had a sticker “Buy 2, get 1 free”. I grabbed them and went to the counter and asked if they could treat the second sticker like the first and give me both titles for $20. The person said no, the stickered items were very strictly applied, and they couldn’t change the discounts. Feeling cheated of a bargain, I walked out empty handed.

A few blocks south, there was another shop of the same retailer, so I went in to see if their stick was any different. Again Psycho and Vertigo for $12.95, but here Vertigo had a “2 for $20” sticker, while Psycho had no discount sticker. If I’d managed somehow to get Psycho from the first shop and Vertigo from the second, I could have had them both for $20! But at this shop they again refused me the combo discount, so I stubbornly refused to buy either of them. If the stickers are “strictly applied”, how come the same titles are stickered differently at different shops??

Anyway, I progressed through a series of other shops, buying gifts along the way. The shopping areas were moderately crowded with Christmas shoppers, but not as bad as it’ll get in the next few weeks. Then I headed home on the train again. The sky was very grey and smoky still from the bushfires, but it seemed higher up, and not clogging the ground level with smoke like it had on Thursday.

After a brief stop at home, I set out for fortnightly Friday games night at a friend’s place. We started early, to give us an hour and a bit to write some Darths & Droids comics, at which we made good progress, writing four new strips. We’re still finishing off the Muppet storyline, and haven’t started work on The Force Awakens yet. We’re planning a group viewing of The Rise of Skywalker when it’s released in a couple of weeks, after which we’ll sit down and figure out our storyline through the final three films.

Then it was into games! We started with The Quacks of Quedlinburg, in which each player is a quack doctor, brewing magic potions in an attempt to sell them to suckers patients, in order to buy more ingredients to make more profitable potions:

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

This game was interrupted a bit by several of us veering off to play Magic: the Gathering games to complete the high-powered cube draft we started back in September. The final few games were completed, and Steven ended up winning, while I managed to come dead last, despite being the only person who knew in advance what cards we were going to be playing with! While this was going on, other players played hot seat in the Quacks game, taking over as other people subbed out to play Magic. I started the game in one seat, but returned later to take over another seat, from where I managed to come second in the game – while the seat I started in came last!

After this, we split into two groups to play two different games. I ended up playing Wingspan, which I’d never played before. It’s a game of collecting different birds, using food to gather them, and then they lay eggs, and various other things happen that score points.

Wingspan

This was two rounds in; I was playing the board at the bottom with the red cubes, and I thought I was going rather poorly. But by the end of the game:

Wingspan

I had a lot of birds, with a lot of eggs. My birds were not worth many points compared to the other players, but I had so many eggs that I won the game by 3 points! (89 on the score sheet in the photo.) It was a fun game, and I’m definitely keen to try it again.

The other guys were all ribbing me during the game, saying I’d find factual errors or stuff on the bird cards, since I’m interested in birds. I don’t recall the details, but I certainly made some erudite bird comments during the game, which only served to prove their point!

I got home late, so didn’t make a post last night. Today, Saturday, I spent the morning cleaning the bathroom and then making one of the new Darths & Droids strips that we write last night. And then after lunch my wife and I went out with Scully to a market, to meet her mum and sister there. Scully got to chase ducks and geese, which I don’t think she’s seen before. The geese were three times her size, but she was keen to chase them! The market ate up the afternoon, and then this evening we went out for dinner at a Greek place near us – that was established in 1969, so is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Today was warmer, and the sky a smoky grey all day. This smoke is really starting to get to people, me included. It feels like we haven’t seen blue sky for weeks. And the outlook isn’t good either, with forecasters saying it will most likely hang around Sydney for weeks, if not months. Blah.

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Comic writing Saturday

I managed a bit of a sleep-in this morning, since my wife didn’t have to get up early to go to work. Then there was Saturday housecleaning, which today included vacuuming and washing the bathroom and kitchen and balcony floors.

But I spent most of the day writing comics, both for Darths & Droids and a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! that I want to get completed in the coming week.

And for dinner we went out to a newish place nearby for fish & chips. We hadn’t been there yet, and they had some outdoor tables where we could bring Scully to sit, but when we got there they had them all inside – possibly because the evening was cool. But we said we wanted to sit and eat with our dog, and they set up a table outdoors for us, so that was good. And the food was pretty good. I think we’ll go back there again.

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Ethics of eating animals, round-up

This morning was the last lesson of the current Ethics topic on whether it’s okay to kill and eat animals. Since most of the kids missed last week’s lesson when we went through arguments that it was okay, I did a quick recap of those arguments, before launching into today’s lesson on arguments why it’s not okay. It went fairly well, with fewer interruptions and blurting out, and more kids putting their hands up to speak, so we had a good discussion of the topic.

At one point the very quiet girl (who I’ve mentioned before) put her hand up and I noticed it – but I was busy quelling some diverging discussion between a couple of other kids. One had started talking about how vegetarians are hypocrites because plants are living things too and have feelings and feel pain, and then another kid interrupted and said no they don’t, and then the two of them were talking at once and I had to step in and quieten them both down. I said that we weren’t discussing plants, we were discussing animals, and to stick to the topic. Then I turned to the quiet girl and she had her hand down, but I asked her anyway if she had something she wanted to say – because I want to encourage her to speak whenever I can. She said, “No, it was about plants.”

My pleasure at seeing her raise her hand was somewhat deflated. But after the class, she hung around because this was her regular classroom. She always helps me put the furniture back from the circle of chairs to the regular desk layout. As we were doing this, I asked her what she was going to say during the lesson. She said that leaves of plants can die, so they’re definitely alive. Okay, it wasn’t that profound, but I was happy that she’d raised her hand, and that after the class I’d followed up and encouraged her to talk. I only have two more lessons with this group of kids, and this girl is the one I hope the most turns out to have a good life ahead of her. And that in some small way my teaching her helps lead to that. I mean, I hope all the kids do well, but I think this girl will need a bit more luck than most of the others, and I hope she gets it.

I’d walked to the school, and I took a longer route home, via the hardware store again to buy some garden stakes, because after yesterday’s repotting our chilli plant was leaning a bit, and I wanted to stake and tie it to keep it vertical. Along the way I passed a kitchen supply shop and decided to poke my nose in to browse around a bit, since I’d never been in there. It’s way bigger than I expected, and full of all sorts of fascinating gadgets, as well as cookware and tableware, and some other stuff on the extreme fringes of things related to food preparation and service.

As I walked home through the grounds of Royal North Shore Hospital, I saw that a whole tree had been uprooted and blown over, probably by yesterday’s storm.

At home, I spent the afternoon writing some Darths & Droids strips. Oh, and doing a bit more housecleaning – the job that never ends! And tonight played a couple of games of Codenames Duet with my wife. We managed to win both by the skin of our teeth, phew!

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Science Saturday

Besides the usual bathroom cleaning, I dedicated much of today to Science! I finished writing that 100 Proofs article I’ve been mentioning.

And I planned out what I’ll be doing with the school children on my next STEM Professionals in Schools visit on Monday. I wanted to do a Q&A session with all the classes, because it’s minimal preparation for me, but my contact said the kindergarten and Year 1 teachers requested me to do a presentation, because their kids are too young to be able to come up with sensible and meaningful questions. [It’s true – last time they got fixated on asking me “how many X are there?”, for X=(cats, animals, fish, bones, trees, etc).] SO I went through my old slides and found one I did on dinosaurs 5 years ago – so none of the younger kids will have seen that one. I refreshed myself on what was in the slides so I can talk about it on Monday.

And for Science Club I planned a new experiment. We’re going to make pH indicator using red cabbage, and then test various household chemicals. The usual suspects like lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, etc. Which meant I had to draw up a shopping list. I’ll have to go shopping tomorrow for everything I need.

Oh, and I spent a bunch of time making tomorrow night’s Darths & Droids strip, following the writing session yesterday.

And now, it’s late… time for bed!

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Games night!

Late update, because last night was fortnightly games night with friends. I took my new games acquired at Spiel in Essen, and we played Walking in Burano:

Walking in Burano

And Deep Blue:

Deep Blue

Burano was a hit. Deep Blue I think we need to play a few more games of, and with more players. We had four players for Burano, which was great, but two more people arrived after that, and Deep Blue only supports up to five, so we split into two groups of three. The box says Deep Blue plays in 45 minutes, but we took almost 2 hours to play the first game. It’ll speed up as we become more familiar with the rules and strategies, but my feeling is that more interaction with more players will be better as well.

We also played a new game that AS brought, The Quacks of Quedlinburg, a magic potion brewing game which was a lot of fun:

Quacks of Quedlinburg

Earlier in the day I wrote a few scripts for Darths & Droids, hoping to be able to go through them with the guys before games started. But AS was hosting, and it’s difficult to do at his place since he doesn’t get home from work until later, and by then everyone just wants to get started on the games. So we’re going to review the strips over online chat this weekend – hopefully in time for Sunday’s new one to be published!

Doing that, and other stuff, meant i didn’t have time to complete that 100 Proofs entry I started on Thursday. Maybe today??

New content today:

Games night

Friday was fortnightly games night with my friends (so this update is a few hours late, posted Saturday morning).

I spent the morning working on some scripts for Darths & Droids comics, to prepare for a group writing session before we got stuck into the board games. Sometimes at the writing sessions we sit staring at a blank screen for a while before figuring out what the story action is supposed to be. To avoid this loss of time, it helps if I write skeletons for strips containing the major plot points as dictated by the screencaps we’re using, which we can then either tweak or just fill in with jokes during the group writing time.

When we assembled early to start writing, it helped a lot, and we breezed through writing a batch of scripts for the next few comics. When I say “breezed through”, I mean at one point we spent 10-15 minutes discussing a single word of a script, looking up synonyms, trying alternatives, arguing about it, until we finally settled on the right word to be used – and then of course another 20 minutes or so going through the repercussions to the rest of the script and the plot of choosing that particular word and redrafting several other lines to make the word choice more significant.

We do this sort of thing quite a lot – during this process we recollected one time a few years ago when we’d spent almost an entire 2-hour lunch break arguing about the pluralisation of one word. An argument that continued later that day, and into the next week, including one of the writers logging onto chat during his honeymoon to continue the argument remotely. (When I say “argument”, these are academic arguments with points of logic, rhetoric, and carefully phrased rebuttals, not shouting matches. Mostly.)

After successfully completing the day’s writing goal, we turned to games. We still had some games from last fortnight’s Magic: the Gathering draft tournament to complete, so those players peeled off to do that, while others joined a couple of non-Magic players to start board games. Because people were in and out of Magic duels, we stuck to short games, rather than start anything too long. I played my last game of the tournament, and finally drew the Ancestral Recall that I’d drafted, so I got to cast it for the first and only time of the tournament. It didn’t help though, as Andrew S. used Armageddon to destroy my lands while he had creature advantage, and I couldn’t recover in time.

I played games of Magic Maze, Junk Art, Bärenpark, and a new playtest of the game that Andrew S. is working on developing: The Queen of England.

Bärenpark

The photo shows Bärenpark in progress. My bear park is at the bottom, Andrew C’s at left, Andrew S’s at top. Final scores: AS 96, AC 95, me 93. This game is often extremely close in scores at the end. Unfortunately I made an error in reading one of the symbols on the bonus tiles, and so concentrated on getting statues instead of sun bears, which probably cost me a few points, but oh well.

The Queen of England is a game that AS has been developing for a while now, and it seems to be approaching a version playable enough for commercial development. It’s a deck building game with vague similarities to Dominion, but with a board and area control components that add a big chunk of tactical depth. We may be ready for a wider playtest at some stage – I’ll have to ping Andrew about that.

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