Scully’s birthday lunch

Today is Scully’s 6th birthday! My wife took the day off work, and we had booked a lunch in a fancy restaurant in the Hunter Valley wine region, north of Sydney. We left home at 9am to drive up there and arrived just after 11 o’clock. This gave us some time to stop off in the Hunter Valley Gardens to look around some of the shops there. I tried some liqueurs and bought a few bottles: butterscotch liqueur, chocolate/hazelnut vodka, and passionfruit vodka.

Then we drove over to our lunch venue in one of the vineyards. Here’s Scully in the vineyard:

Scully's 6th birthday

We went to Leogate Estate winery and their restaurant, The Gates. Being a Tuesday, it wasn’t very busy and we had the only occupied table outside on the very shady veranda area. There were a few other diners inside, but we were enjoying the warm day and the solitude being outside, with a view of the vineyard and the nearby hills:

Leogate Winery

The lunch was excellent. My appetiser was seared scallops with textures of spring peas:

Seared scallops, textures of spring peas

Followed by confit duck with pancetta, bok choy, and sticky soy glaze:

Confit duck leg, sticky soy glaze

And the dessert was something special. Caramel bombe Alaska:

Caramel bombe Alaska

Both of the waitresses recommended this, and they were not wrong. It was amazing and absolutely delicious. Crispy meringue crust, soft meringue inside, encasing chocolate and vanilla ice cream, sitting on top of what was like a slice of sticky date pudding, and surrounded by delicious caramel sauce, all sprinkled with bits of raspberries. It was so good. After we’d finished, one of the waitresses asked how I’d liked it, and said that some people come to this restaurant just for that dessert. It was a really good lunch. And Scully enjoyed a tiny piece of the duck that I gave her for her birthday.

After eating, we went into the wine tasting and sales room to buy some bottles of the wines that we’d had during the lunch. Then we stopped at another winery nearby to get some of the sparkling wines that my wife likes (and I like them too, but they’re her favourites).

We left the Valley via a slower back road to head home, rather than take the freeway all the way back. It’s slower, but more scenic and enjoyable. We arrived home about 5:30pm. The total distance driven just to have lunch today was about 340 kilometres.

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Teaching about plotting

It was a bit of a rainy day today, though I managed to avoid most of it. I drove Scully to my wife’s work before returning home and then hopping on the train into the university for today’s lecture on Data Engineering. This week we did the topic on data presentation, which was mostly about how to prepare graphs, plots, and other data visualisations so that they are clear, concise, easy to interpret, and not misleading or confusing. It sounds simple enough but that’s enough material to fill a 3-hour lecture and tutorial session. I may have mentioned this in past years, but we conclude with a brief study of COVID data reporting, and examine how the state of Florida in the US deliberately changed the way it reported and presented COVID deaths in 2020 to give the impression that the pandemic situation was improving, when it was actually getting worse.

Before the lecture I stopped in at one of the university’s food outlets for students and tried one of the offerings there for lunch. It was a place that makes Malaysian meals, and I tried the nasi lemak with beef rendang, which is one of my favourite Malaysian dishes. It was pretty good, though not exceptional. The lecturer told me later that he rates the Malaysian place across the road as slightly better.

Back home in the afternoon I made another weekly batch of comics for Irregular Webcomic! and uploaded them to the buffer queue. Then before my evening ethics classes online I had the leftovers from last night’s Indian curry for dinner.

And then into three classes in a row, on this week’s new topic of “Countries”. I got some interesting answers and discussion, and there were some interesting disagreements on the question of whether each cultural group of people should have their own country or not.

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New old furniture and peanut butter bars

I forgot to mention yesterday that our new neighbours from South Africa finally got their furniture delivered. They moved in in mid-January and shipped their furniture over from South Africa, but it was held up in customs and strikes and so on, and only released last week. So all day yesterday there were movers bringing things in, and causing Scully to growl at the noises in the hallway.

I kind of wondered why they’d go to all the expense of shipping furniture internationally, rather than just sell it and buy new furniture here. From what I saw, I think a lot of it must be antique, so I guess they were attached to it.

Today I wrote my next ethics class; this week it will on the topic of Artificial Intelligence. I had too much to talk about – there are more questions than I can possibly ask in most of the class groups. But that’s better than not having enough material!

I did some comics stuff. And I took Scully for a walk at lunch and got myself a Ridiculously Delicious™ cherry and coconut peanut butter chocolate bar at the grocery store.

Ridiculously Delicious peanut butter bar

I tried this brand some time ago and found they were indeed ridiculously delicious as claimed on the wrapping. They come in three flavours: orignal crunch, salted caramel, and cherry coconut. I think last time I had the original crunch one, which was fantastic, and today’s cherry one was too. They’re not too sweet, and have a very adult blend of flavours, which is better than the overly sweet taste of most chocolate bars.

Oh, and I had a weird dream last night. I was playing some sort of 500-like card game with people. I got dealt a hand and it was like 40 cards or something – so many I couldn’t sensibly hold them and see them all of them in my hand at once. I had a lot of hearts, so I started confidently bidding hearts, and I guess my partner thought I had high hearts so joined in, and we ended up in some huge hearts bid.

Then when we started playing, a few tricks went by, and then suddenly an opponent played something like a 14 of hearts. I was surprised, not expecting to see anything different to a normal deck, since all my hearts were in the range 2-10. And then they explained it was like a 6-handed deck with numbers that go up to 13, except this deck went all the way from 2 up to 25 before the face cards and ace.

I told this dream to my friends on our Discord and two of them immediately said that it couldn’t have been a hand of 40 cards – it must have been 28. Nerds. 🙄

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Unusual pizza and Scully dinner habits

Monday, and it was a lot cooler today and not so humid, which was a nice change. It felt like a preview of autumn, although warmer weather is coming again later in the week.

I went to the post office to mail a Magic: the Gathering card which I’d sold to someone online. A fairly old and valuable one, a few hundred dollars. I’ve decided to start selling some more of my old cards again, so this is hopefully just the start of getting the ball rolling on that.

After getting back from the post office I photographed the next batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. I did six weeks of strips in two hours! Then I had to make tonight’s strip and get it ready for publication. Cutting it close to the bone – but I managed it. Tomorrow I’ll probably get the rest of this week completed and uploaded, and then add the next five weeks over the next week or so.

For dinner tonight I made pizza, and decided we should try something different. So I made a spicy satay sauce and used that instead of a tomato sauce base. And then the topping was broccoli and cashews. I think satay sauce is ideal with chicken, but also great with broccoli, and since my wife doesn’t eat chicken we went with the latter. It turned out pretty good, I thought, though the peanut-based sauce is a bit richer than a tomato sauce, so probably not something we’d want to do too often.

But while I was cooking, Scully needed to go outside for a toilet again. She’s been getting into this habit lately. I think this is now four times in the last eight days (it was three in the past week yesterday). And since I’m cooking, my wife has to take Scully out, and comes back several minutes after dinner is hot on the table. So she’s been having to eat lukewarm dinner several times in the past week. Hopefully it’s just a coincidence and not a conspiracy by Scully!

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A birthday brunch

This morning we dropped Scully with one of our neighbours to mind for a few hours. They also own a dog, named Spike, and the two of them get along pretty well. They haven’t minded Scully before, but we thought they were a good choice from people we knew. They took her and Spike to Centennial Park where they said they had a good time running around.

The reason was because my wife and I were going to a birthday brunch for her mother’s birthday. It was at Long Reef Golf Club, so we couldn’t take Scully. There were seven of us there. They were only serving the breakfast menu before switching to the lunch menu later on, so we had a limited choice of things. I chose the chilli scrambled eggs, which had chorizo and cherry tomatoes as well, on sourdough toast. It was pretty good. We had a nice view of the beach as we ate.

Long Reef Golf Club cafe

We were back home by 13:00. Our neighbours were still out with Scully and Spike, but brought her back over when they returned an hour or so later.

My wife and I played another game of Root this afternoon with the robotic Marquise faction. We upped the difficulty by adding a couple of the optional trait cards to the Marquise, which made it a lot more formidable. It was also lucky, drawing a lot of bird cards in a row, while I, playing the Eyrie, didn’t draw any birds for about the first half of the game, which really cramped my options a lot. I came a dismal last, behind my wife, who just edged out the Marquise.

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A new vanilla slice

My Snot Block & Roll food review blog has languished a bit since the COVID pandemic, but today I finally managed to find a new vanilla slice from a bakery I haven’t visited before. We felt like going out for a bit of a drive for afternoon tea today, since it was hot and humid and not good weather for taking Scully for a walk. I checked Google Maps and found a bakery not too far away and we headed over.

Biga Artisan Bakery

When we got there, they had vanilla slices and they looked decent, so I decided to get one. It was pretty good, though with one caveat. You can read the full review here.

After we got home, I played another game of Root with my wife. This time we used one of the automated “robot” factions to add a third opponent to the mix. We used the Mechanical Marquise, I played the Eyrie, and my wife played Woodland Alliance for the first time. The robot factions have variable difficulty levels, and we used the default, which is the second highest from (easy, default, difficult, nightmare). It didn’t pose much of a problem for us, though I suspect part of that was caused by some bad luck with the robot Marquise drawing three mouse cards in a row, which really limited its ability to attack and damage us. My wife won in the end, running away with spreading sympathy throughout the robot player’s territory without much opposition.

Root with Mechanical Marquise

I spent much of the morning doing house chores. I vacuumed and then emptied water from all the moisture absorbers in all the closets and storage areas, including the cabinets in the garage, and refilled them with dry calcium chloride crystals. It’s astonishing the amount of water these things have been sucking out of the air in the recent high humidity. Definitely better doing this than getting mould.

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Last ethics classes for a week

I had my final ethics classes for the next week today. I’m taking a break for a week because next week is the ISO Photography Standards meeting in Tokyo. I’m staying home and attending virtually. It’s going to be a long one, because there’s a lot of technical discussion sessions on high dynamic range format specifications. The sessions begin 08:30 Tokyo time and run to 18:00, which corresponds to 10:30 to 20:00 in my time zone. At least I don’t have to get up early!

For dinner we went to our local pizza place. We chat with the owners and they know us as regular customers, but ever since COVID they’ve been a bit down about their business falling off, and it seems it hasn’t yet returned to prior levels. We noticed last time and confirmed it this time that they’ve shrinkflationed their pizzas. They’re a little bit, but noticeably, smaller than they used to be, for the same price. It’s not actually a big problem for us, because we used to g home stuffed full, but now we’re a little less so. It’s still enough for dinner.

This morning I finished my presentation on Astronomy/Photography/Human Vision and sent it off to Loreto school, so the teacher there can load it up on their presentation system for my talk next week.

And tonight is online board games night with my friends. I just joined in after dinner and we’re playing Just One.

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Mango weather

Last night was very warm, 25°C minimum temperature, with close to 100% humidity. We slept with the air conditioner on, which we never normally do. It would have been an awful sleepless night otherwise. The day warmed up slowly since it was overcast, but midday was around 34°C and so humid that the “feels like” was almost 40°C. I just stayed indoors as much as possible and only took Scully out for necessary toilet breaks.

I finished off the “Hoaxes” ethics classes today. I’ve started work on the next week’s topic, which is “Why?” – examining the idea of seeking reasons for everything. That one should be interesting.

After my last class we had a mango for dessert – a new variety that we haven’t tried before I keep tasting notes on all the different mango varieties, and this is the tenth one, a new variety here in Australia called Scarlet Delight. My tasting notes: Smallish, red skin. Firm smooth flesh, rich tropical orange-passionfruit flavour. Small seed with not much hair.

Not much else to say. I’m just relaxing now and waiting for this overnight cool change to come through. Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler and rainy.

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Planning ahead for classes and meetings

Today I did some calendar planning for February. I needed to get a couple of topics ahead on my advance planning for ethics classes. I chose to do brief planning write-ups for topics on “Sleep” and “What is Ethics?” for the younger kids, and “Sleep” (same material but framed for more mature kids) and “Confession” for the older kids. BY Confession I mean mostly just confessing to misdeeds or crimes, but I’ll also touch on the religious rite of Confession as a thing and ask some questions about that.

Planning ahead into late February, I also decided to skip a week or ethics classes to accommodate my next ISO Photography Standards meeting, which is on 19-22 February. It’s in Tokyo, but I’m not travelling to this one, and will participate in the whole meeting by Webex (a remote meeting app kinda like Zoom). It’s only two hours later than my own time zone, which is good for sleep cycles, but it means it clashes with enough ethics class times that it makes sense to cancel a full week of them.

I took Scully on a couple of long walks this morning. At lunch it was warm, but not too hot to go for a long walk, and we went to the bakery down by the harbour for a yummy lunch, then walking back along the shore, which is always nice, with the yachts and the waterbirds. I spotted an unusually high number of kookaburras today, eight of them. One young one was making a horrible noise like a crying baby.

After lunch I did some comic work on Darths & Droids. I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with for the script of this one. I made a new sourdough loaf (currently baking in the oven as I write this), and for dinner lentils with pumpkin and coconut, served over brown rice. I need to make dinners to eat before my three-in-a-row classes start at 6pm, but it has to be something that will last for my wife to eat a bit later. Lentils or vegetable curries with rice work pretty well.

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Back to work Monday

It’s the Monday after the long summer holiday and the Australia Day long weekend. Which means lots of people returning to the city after being away up or down the coast, and the beginning of the new school year (which starts tomorrow). Not that I have much to do with any of this, but it’s another of those big marker events in the year that tracks the slow change of the seasons. There’s definitely a different feel when kids are back in school compared to the long summer days when kids can be seen all over town enjoying their time off.

I mostly stayed in though. The weather was warm but not oppressive. I had three more classes this morning (and another to come later tonight). I took Scully for three walks – one in the morning before the day heated up; a short one at lunch time; and a longer one up to the grocery store in the late afternoon so I could get some potatoes for dinner. In the middle of the day the street surfaces are too hot for bare feet or dog paws, so I end up having to carry Scully part of the way, and only let her walk on grass or shaded paths.

I wanted potatoes since I bought vegetarian sausages and my wife suggested a good old bangers & mash for dinner. We have a jar of spicy chilli and capsicum jam which went really well with the sausages.

Not much else to report… oh, I also assembled a week’s worth of Irregular Webcomic! strips, to last through this week. I’ll try to finish off the rest of the whole batch later in the week.

New content today: