Virtual walking

Today was the end of the working from home week for my wife. She said the week had gone quickly, being hectic with plenty to do.

This morning I finished off the work on the new 100 Proofs That the Earth is a Globe entry, and posted it. Then I went for another long walk to get out in the fresh air and get some exercise.

Berry Island lookout

I went down to Berry Island, which is a tied island in Sydney Harbour. I took a lot of photos on this walk, and rather than upload everything to Flickr and format them here into this entry, I’m just going to link to this Imgur album, which has plenty of photos with detailed commentary.

Tonight we were supposed to have our fortnightly games night gathering, but with the coronavirus social distancing we’ve converted to a virtual games night, using the Board Game Arena online platform for playing board games. I’m actually in the middle of playing games with my friends as I type, in combination with a Discord voice chat, and it’s working really well. So far we’ve played 6 Nimmt, Perudo, Colt Express, and Niagara.

New content today:

Adventure creation

I dedicated today to writing more of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure for my gaming group. We’re partway through the adventure, and I need to write more of it before we play the next session.

I also went out to buy some groceries. The supermarket had no toilet paper at all, but there were stocks of everything else. Although apparently some people have no idea how to cook at home, since half the shelves of instant cup noodles were empty. And apparently people want to stock up on no added salt/sugar peanut butter. That’s the sort I buy. There was heaps of the regular peanut butter that most people normally buy, but virtually none of the no-added salt/sugar type. I have no idea, because normally the no added variety doesn’t sell as much.

New content today:

Sunrise at the beach

On Friday I set an alarm for 5:45, but I woke up just before 5:30. I got up, had a quick breakfast, and set out for the beach!

Sydney has a lot of beaches, and choosing the right one for a sunrise photo shoot is a matter of weather conditions, tide, time of year, angle of sunrise, personal preference, travel times, and other factors. I used an app – The Photographer’s Ephemeris – to map the direction of the sunrise from a few beaches. One constraint I had was that I had a booking for golf at 8:00 with a friend, at Cammeray Golf Club, so wherever I went I had to have enough time to drive back there, in peak hour traffic, to make tee-off.

The closest beach I could think of was Balmoral Beach, which is not an ocean beach, but a harbour beach, facing the protected waters of Sydney Harbour. I knew that Balmoral has a very small view of the open ocean, threading in between the two sandstone promontories of Middle Head to the south and North Head to the north. I checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris for the direction of the sunrise:

Photographer's Ephemeris for Balmoral sunrise

It was almost perfect! The yellow line to the right shows the direction of sunrise on Friday, and it threads the needle right between the two headlands. Because of the motion of the sun with the seasons, this coincidence probably only happens on a few days of the year. So with a perfect combination of convenience and opportunity, I selected Balmoral as my target. (I did this calculation the night before.)

As I drove to Balmoral before 6 am, I could see stars in the sky. At least it wasn’t raining like last week. I got to the beach and headed down to a small exposed sandstone rock platform, jutting from the sand into the water. The tide was low – at high tide these rocks would be covered with water. The sky was just beginning to lighten, but unfortunately the cloud cover was highly sub-optimal for sunrise photos:

Edwards dawn

There was a dark, thick band of cloud right on the horizon, and barely any cloud in the nearby sky above. This is exactly the opposite of what you want for shooting a sunrise: a clear horizon for the sun to shine through, and lots of cloud above for the golden and red light to bounce off and set the sky ablaze with colour. Oh well, I was here, so I shot what was available.

First light at Edwards Beach

Early morning swimmers and joggers appeared on the scene, providing small points of interest for photos. After a while the tide started coming in, so to avoid being stuck on the rocks and having to wade back, I moved back across the sand and took photos from the path behind the beach. You can see the rocks I had been standing on in the middle of this next photo:

Dawn fisheye

This was also taken with a different lens, a fisheye, for a super wide view. As the sun continued rising, it became light very quickly. I ditched my tripod (I’d been taking exposures up to 30 seconds long), and walked around, taking handheld shots.

Morning kayakers

I packed up about 7:15 and headed to the golf course to meet my friend. We played one round of the 9 hole course, having a lot of fun. It was the first time he’d been to this course, and it has a few interesting holes, which I showed off last time I wrote about it. It had rained – a lot – since that visit, and this time the water feature at hole 6 was full (compare to the third photo on the previously linked entry):

Cammeray Hole 6

Unfortunately this meant we both landed our tee shots in the water! But I had a great tee shot at the par 3 9th hole. My ball landed on the green, pitching just 1 metre from the hole! Although it rolled a fair distance from there and I had a long putt, ending up with 4 strokes. But wow that was a great tee shot.

After golf I went home and worked on those sunrise photos, as well as some comics stuff, before preparing to head out to fortnightly Games Night with friends. We agreed to “socially distance” ourselves to minimise any disease transmission by touching as little as possible and using hand sanitisers, but of course playing board games means some interaction. Still, coronavirus isn’t very widespread here yet and it’s unlikely any of us has been exposed yet, so we felt okay with our level of precautions.

We played some games of the Throne of Eldraine Magic: the Gathering draft that we started a few weeks ago. I had two long games that both stalled with tough creatures on both sides. I ended up losing one, and winning the other, both by narrow margins. After that we split into two groups, one playing Spirit Island with 4 players, while I played Everdell with 3 players. It was a fun game, and I managed to pull together enough constructions and critters to score a lucrative 9 point bonus card, but it wasn’t quite enough – I ended up coming second with 51 points, to the winner’s 54.

New content today:

Friday Games Night – Throne of Eldraine

Last night was fortnightly Games Night, so this is Friday’s post a bit late.

My contact from the USA who I played golf with last week suggested we try a different course: Cammeray Golf Club. We arrived at 10:00, and the day was already very warm and sunny, so I made sure to put lots of sunscreen on, and wear a large-brimmed hat, and carry a bottle of water.

The Cammeray course is a shortish 9-hole course, no par 5 holes. There were lots of trees down the edges of the fairways, and I took advantage by “playing in the shade” on some holes – i.e. mis-hitting my ball so that I had to hack my way under the trees instead of along the fairway.

Hole 3, Cammeray Golf Club

Above: a view down to the hole 3 green, but this is from about halfway up the hill that leads to the tee position (another group were teeing off as I took the photo). From the tee this is quite a drop down to the green.

Hole 5, Cammeray Golf Club

Hole 5, a longish par 4. We played the course twice through, for a total of 18 holes. My first time on this hole I hacked my way slowly up the fairway, but my second time around I managed a good solid drive, and followed up with a long second shot that landed tantalisingly close to the green – just a few centimetres off it. Essentially I made the “green in regulation” (i.e. reached the green in 2 shots under par – giving me two putts to make par). Alas the putt was very long and I didn’t hit it well, so ended up with 6 strokes.

Hole 6, Cammeray Golf Club

Hole 6 is the water hole. You have to hit directly over this little lake. The lake is unfortunately low because of the current drought conditions – the water level should be a metres or so higher as you can see from the edges. Nevertheless, on this day it sported a nice variety of birdlife: I spotted a white-faced heron (the prominent upright grey bird on the near shore), little black cormorants and little pied cormorants (on the small rocky island), Australian wood ducks (two near the signpost in the bend on the prominent path at left, anther at the base of the large dark tree behind the lake), and masked lapwings (none that I can spot in this photo).

We finished close to 2 pm, and I rested for a while in the clubhouse air conditioning before heading home for a long, cold shower. It was very hot and humid, but good to get some exercise!

In the evening I headed to Games Night, where we began a Magic: the Gathering draft tournament with 8 players, using the recentish Throne of Eldraine set. This set has a fairy tale theme, and I really wanted to give it a try.

During the draft, I mostly picked green cards, and settled on white as a support colour. I considered grabbing a couple of giant spiders, with their ability to block flying creatures, but I realised I was seeing very few flying creatures go past, so I de-prioritised flying defence in favour of other things. I won my first game fairly easily as my opponent struggled to get much on the board. But in my second game, I saw where all the flying creatures had gone! My opponent played four flyers one after the other, and I had no way to stop them, and lost that game quickly.

We played a few more games before it got too late to continue. We’ll finish off the round-robin games in later Games Nights. But everyone agreed that the set was fun and interesting, so it was a big hit!

New content today:

Golf and Ramen

Missed last night’s update, so I’m writing this on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday my friend Andrew suggested we play a short round of golf at my local course (where we’ve played before). We assembled there at 07:30, and teed off at the first hole. We both hit our first drives handsomely down the fairway, drifting a bit to the right near a clump of trees maybe 120-130 metres away. We chatted as we walked off to locate our balls. We found them:

Tee shot balls, hole 1

Over 100 metres from the tee, and the golf balls were within half a metre of each other! I hit first because I was about 5 cm further from the hole.

As our round continued, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a good day, for either of us. We both struggled to hit later tee shots, with several dribbling just a few metres and necessitating trying to smash the ball 100 metres or more out of thick grass, or worse, leaf litter and sticks in close proximity to trees. I scored my worst score on this course for 9 holes: 66, my previous worst being 64. Oh well, at least we got out and had some exercise!

We returned to my place and played a few games: Fluttering Souls, Claim 2, and Codenames Duet. Then we headed up the street to get some lunch somewhere.

We didn’t have anywhere in mind, and walked past a tiny Japanese place that I’d seen before, but never gone inside. It had a hand-written sign outside advertising $12 ramen for lunch. That’s cheap for Sydney, so we poked our noses under the hanging cotton banners to have a look and the man behind the counter said, “Would you like some ramen?”

We said, “Sure!” and went in to grab a seat at the small bench.

Ramen Shimizu

The menu was simple. The hand-written sign stuck to the array of roughly a thousand different types of Japanese whisky read: “Lunch Menu: Mon-Wed. Tonkotsu Ramen $12 (this is the only option)”. So we had the tonkotsu ramen.

Tonkotsu Ramen

It was thick and rich and absolutely delicious. This is an absolute steal for $12.

Andrew headed off and I returned home. In the afternoon I dealt with some administrative stuff for ISO Photography standards, as well as trawling AirBnB for accommodation for a short Easter road trip that My wife and I are planning. We’re taking Scully with us, so we needed to find places that allow dogs to stay, which cuts down on the options a bit. We couldn’t even find affordable accommodation in Orange, where we’d planned to spend a couple of nights, so had to reconfigure our itinerary and instead decided to visit Singleton, where I found a suitable place to stay.

New content today:

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 voilĂ , 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…

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.

New content today:

Visiting my brother

This morning I went to visit my brother and pick up a few old games from his place. I took over my game Azul, and taught him how to play, and he showed me a new game he’d got recently, Unspeakable Words, which was fun. Then he showed me his new PlayStation VR headset and after I looked at one of the VR demos I played a bit of the VR Golf game. The VR experience is pretty good, and it was fun. The golf swing mechanism was a bit artificial, but I adapted pretty quickly and I think enough experience form playing for real leaked across that I was able to hit the ball reasonably well after a few tries.

We had lunch at a pizza place near his place, and then I came home. I took Scully to the dog park this afternoon, and now this evening my wife and I have just watched most of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 – pausing it until tomorrow so we’re not up too late.

So… a fairly relaxing day.

New content today:

Unabridged writing

Early this morning I took to the local golf course to hit a ball around and get some exercise. I felt like I was doing poorly today, mis-hitting a lot of strokes, but I ended up scoring 60 (for 9 holes), which is only 3 worse than my best on that course, so I suppose that’s not too bad.

Back home I dedicated the day to doing some writing. I’m working on starting a series of tabletop roleplaying game supplements, which I hope to offer for sale through DriveThruRPG, to try and turn this time away from a job into some sort of income. I started jotting down ideas about bridges as significant structures in an adventure campaign, and I’ve got a few thousand words of stuff. I think I need a few more days of work to polish it up and format it, and then see about setting up a seller account.

So hopefully in the not too distant future you’ll start seeing RPG titles from me available. I have a whole bunch of other ideas for PDF gaming books as well. The ideas are actually the easy part – the hard part is spending the time to write them up as coherent and useful text!

New content today:

Safety and games

My aunt has made it out of the bushfire danger area, after four days stranded at her holiday home, cut off from all external access by the bushfires. The road reopened briefly and emergency services personnel escorted vehicles out to safety in small groups – in case damaged trees fell across the road and cut travellers off, they wanted to make sure they knew where everyone was. She’s now back with family and safe. Whether her holiday house survives today is another story which we have to wait and see.

To take some pressure off, last night I attended the fortnightly games night of my group of gaming buddies. I played a game of 7 Wonders: Duel with the host while waiting for others to arrive. I hadn’t played this game for several years and was trying to remember strategy on the fly, so was at a bit of a disadvantage, but I managed to only lose by 2 points: 64-62, so I was pretty pleased with that.

When others arrived we had dinner, and then launched into a game of Wingspan.

Wingspan game

Rather than collect birds with lots of activated powers, like most people do, I tried a very different strategy, going for birds that gave me extra Goal cards, and then trying to fulfil as many of the goals as possible. I ended up with 4 Goal cards, requiring me to collect: birds that only nest in wetlands, birds that only eat invertebrates, birds with wingspans under 30cm, and birds with anatomical body parts in their name (e.g. roseate spoonbill). I managed to maximally fulfil 3 of the 4 goals, and partly complete the fourth, for a total of 25 goal points, which was way more than anyone else got. The issue was I got zero egg points, and moderately low scores for the other point categories. I was worried that pursuing a radical strategy might not be viable, and I’d lose by a lot, but it turned out those 25 points helped me to third place out of 5 players, not far behind second place, so again I was fairly happy with that result.

New content today: