The COVID, it hurts

New South Wales recorded 163 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24-hour reporting period, well up from yesterday’s record of 136. It takes a week or two before the effects of increased lockdown restrictions make themselves felt in lowering case numbers, but this is starting to look depressingly like they’re not working. The state and federal governments are scrambling trying to get this under control before it spirals into a complete disaster, ruining the year and a half of good work we’ve done in keeping the virus at bay in Australia. This is the scariest and most dangerous period in this country so far. And the mood of people is really starting to reflect it.

There was a fairly large protest in the heart of Sydney today, by people unhappy with the current lockdown restrictions. I knew about it from looking at some news reports during the day, but it wasn’t until I saw video coverage on the evening news on TV that I realised just how terrible it was. It turned into close to a full-on riot, with people throwing dangerous objects at police. There was an image of a man striking a police horse in the face. 57 people have been arrested and charged, and police are analysing video and interviewing people trying to track down more offenders so they can be charged as well. Story here.

And this in the middle of a time when people should be staying away from other people. It’s feared this event may end up spreading the Delta COVID variant to hundreds, if not thousands more people. I’m just absolutely sickened by what has happened here in my city today.

Trying to not think about it too much, I spent much of today collaborating with friends solving puzzles in the Galactic Puzzle Hunt, which began this morning our time. We’ve solved four of the puzzles so far, and have made substantial progress on a few others. They’re good puzzles, well constructed, but gosh some of them are difficult.

I’m about to go offline for the evening and just switch off, watching a movie…

New content today:

COVID-Virtual games night Friday

Tonight would have been face-to-face games night with the guys, but under the current COVID lockdown we’ve converted it to virtual once again. The COVID numbers rose again today, with 97 new cases in NSW. Nothing particularly new in terms of lockdown restrictions, just more urging people to do the right thing and stay home.

I did mostly. It was time for the weekly grocery shopping, but rather than go through the supermarket myself, I signed up for online shopping. Unfortunately the delivery fee scale is such that for people like me who do small weekly shops, the fee is high, whereas it gets lower if you buy more, until if you buy over $300 of groceries delivery is free. I kind of get it, but as someone who usually spends $80-$120 a week, I don’t want to have to add another $15 on top for delivery.

So instead I chose the free “pick up from store” option. At least it saves me from walking around the aisles, and I could spend only a couple of minutes in the supermarket picking up my stuff instead of half an hour. As it turned out, when I got there they didn’t have my order quite ready, so I had to wait a little while they ran around grabbing bags from storage lockers and fridges and stuff. But it was quicker than doing the shopping myself, so that was worthwhile.

The other reason to go out today was that Scully was booked in for her grooming day. She was getting very shaggy, but now after picking her up she’s velvety smooth.

For games night, the first game we played was Nidavellir, which is a game I enjoy, but I haven’t really got to grips with the strategy yet. Yet, somehow, I managed to win! By a single point. But a win is a win! Now we’re playing some games of 7 Wonders, which is a virtual games night staple. I came second in the first game, and… just won my second game! With an unconventional science + military strategy.

New content today:

COVID lockdown – super extended edition

COVID case numbers for New South Wales – 65 new cases in the past 24 hours, plus 97 yesterday (Wednesday) and 89 on Tuesday which I didn’t report. Down on the peak of 112 cases we had on Monday, but still too much, and too early to know if it’s a downward trend or just day to day statistical variation. With that, the Government announced that the current Sydney lockdown will continue for (at least) another two weeks, until the end of 30 July.

There’s been a lot of criticism of the Government for making this lockdown too weak and wishy-washy. Although the rules say that you can’t leave home except for “essential work that can’t be done from home” the Government refuses to define what is “essential work” or what “can’t be done from home”. Which means effectively that any boss who thinks their workers need to be in the office instead of working from home can just say “you have to come into the office”. Also a lot of retailers are staying open, and calling their staff in, because the Government refuses to define what is an essential business. So, for example, you can go shopping for jewellery, because the Government refuses to say that jewellery shops aren’t essential, so jewellers are all staying open, because if they close, then their competition will get all the business.

So there’s incentive for businesses to stay open, and neither incentive nor direct order for them to shut down and keep their workers at home. In the previous Sydney lockdown last year, we had Federal support with payments for people whose work was impacted, which meant businesses could shut down – but not this time.

Epidemiologists are saying that with the current restrictions and behaviour, they can’t see infection numbers going down before the end of August. Australia had been doing so well up until three weeks ago, but now we’re being undone by politics. It’s very annoying.

Fortunately I’m in an area of Sydney that hasn’t yet had any COVID exposure site alerts. But my brother lives in a region which is pretty much the epicentre of the current outbreak. In that local area there are additional restrictions, including that anyone who travels to work must get a mandatory COVID test every 3 days. Fortunately he’s been staying home from work and basically not going out or seeing anyone at all.

One valid reason to leave home is still to take exercise, so my wife and I took the chance to go out at lunch together today to walk Scully. It was actually a gorgeous day, with the temperature reaching 23.4°C, making it the warmest day so far this winter. We went to a park by the harbour and let Scully run around and chase a ball. My wife asked me if I could take a photo of Scully running towards the camera. I’ve done this a couple of times with my DSLR, but I said that it wouldn’t really work with a phone camera.

Scully on the run

I think I may have been wrong…

Scully on the run

The focus isn’t quite where I’d like on the second one, but still not bad for a phone!

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Organising recipes

First the COVID news: 112 new cases in New South Wales in the last 24-hour reporting period. The Government expects the numbers to keep going up for a few more days until the effects of the lockdown start being felt and, hopefully, bring them back down towards zero.

And in personal health news, my throat is feeling a lot better after the tonsillectomy. There’s just a little residual pain when I yawn widely, or move my tongue around to extreme positions in my mouth. But it’s still improving day by day and feels pretty close to back to normal. I think the coughing and phlegminess is reducing each day as well.

I worked on writing Irregular Webcomic! strips today, hoping to have a batch done in time to photograph tomorrow morning, but I don’t think I’m going to make it. It’ll probably have to be photography on Wednesday.

Something else I did was look into recipe organiser apps for my desktop machine. I’ve been collecting recipes using OneNote, which I use as a general note-keeping app for many types of information. It’s been okay so far, but it’s getting to the point where it’s difficult to find recipes, and I’m wishing for features such as search by ingredient and better categorisation using tags. So I’ve looked around and am currently trying the free version of Recipe Keeper.

I’m impressed with it so far. It’s not overly complicated or feature-bloated, but it has just the right set of features for organising recipes. There are three different groups of customisable tag sets. It imports recipes automatically from URLs from many popular recipe sites – and worked flawlessly for one I use a bit, the Australian site SBS Food. And it does automatic unit conversions from American units! No longer will I have to wonder what an “oz.” is. It also has a meal planner and automatic shopping list generator, although at this stage I’m not sure how much I’ll be using those features. I’m going to give it a few days, but I’m already thinking I’ll pay for the “pro” version, which gives you unlimited recipe storage and ability to synch to phones and iPads.

Oh, I was out walking Scully this afternoon when we met Billy, a 14-week-old toy poodle, black like her! He reminded me exactly what Scully looked like when she was a puppy!

Scully and Billy

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Baking and waking in the rain

First, today’s COVID news. NSW recorded 77 new cases in the last 24-hour reporting period, up 27 from yesterday. 33 of those cases were not isolating, so potentially infection in the community. And in very bad news, Australia recorded its first COVID-19 death of 2021. The screws continue to tighten with new restrictions and stern recommendations. It’s now strongly recommended not to go into supermarkets or food stores at all – if you possibly can you should arrange home delivery of groceries. On the current trajectory, officials are expecting over 100 new cases tomorrow, with numbers continuing to rise due to the delay between implementing stronger lockdown measures and reduction in case numbers.

My wife and I took Scully for another big walk today. We also tested out a new accessory, a K9 Sport Sack carrying backpack for Scully. The reason for this is that we’ve been using ferries to travel around the city with Scully, since you could take dogs onto ferries as long as they’re on a lead. Well, it turns out that the law doesn’t actually say that – it says you can take dogs on ferries if they are confined within a carrying container. The ferry crews have long turned a blind eye to this and not enforced the rule. But that changed from 1 July – the State Government has ordered ferry crews to begin enforcing the rule, and not to allow dogs on board if only restrained by a leash. Apparently this change of policy was precipitated by a complaint from a ferry passenger after being bitten by a dog.

M. and Scully

We were a bit concerned if Scully would like getting into the backpack, or if she’d struggle and try to wriggle out. We tempted her with peanut butter (one of her favourite treats) and did things slowly and gently, and she never protested once. And once clipped onto my wife’s back and we went outside, Scully positively seemed to enjoy being up there, looking around as we walked. So I think it was a positive experience for her and we’ll be able to carry her around in this backpack whenever we need to use some transport that demands dogs be confined. (Someone online checked specifically if these sort of backpacks would be acceptable on ferries and was told they are.)

At home I had a bit of a baking afternoon. I’ve been making my own pastry for quiches recently, but previously I’ve been neglecting to chill the pastry in the fridge before rolling it out. So today I made the pastry at lunchtime and stuck it into the fridge until dinner time. I honestly haven’t been very pleased with my home made pastry – it’s turned out to be very friable and sort of powdery/floury when baked. It handles well when rolling not too sticky or too crumbly, so I think the consistency there is good. I was hoping that the refrigeration before rolling and baking would fix the post-bake consistency, but no, it turned out almost the same as before. So I’m not sure what to do to make it hold together better after baking. Google suggests it might need a bit more water when mixing, but I really don’t want to make it any stickier during the rolling phase. I guess I’ll try it next time and see what happens.

I also put together another sourdough loaf, to be let rise overnight for baking in the morning. It’s amazing how much flour you go through when you’re baking stuff all the time! I’ve also been making an apple crumble about every 5 days for a warming fruity dessert for me and my wife. Normally she eats raw apples, but she’s decided that a nice warm crumble is more acceptable for winter night…

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Triple plus lockdown Saturday

50 new COVID cases in NSW in the last 24-hour reporting period, with only 13 of those in isolation, meaning 37 were out in the community while infectious. With the numbers still going up, the lockdown rules have been tightened again. New today: masks are now mandatory in common property of strata residences (i.e. you have to wear a mask in corridors, lifts, and lobbies of apartment buildings); masks must be worn on outdoor construction sites; and only one person per household may leave home for shopping purposes for essential items, and only one time per day. Among some other new restrictions on things like crossing the boundary between Greater Sydney and surrounding areas.

The State Government seems intent on slowly turning the screw on tighter restrictions, and seeing on a daily basis if it makes any difference – rather than implementing a raft of hard restrictions in one hit. Officially the lockdown is still slated to end on Friday 16 July but epidemiological experts are of the opinion that it’s going to have to be extended until at least September.

It was also cold and gloomy today, though the rain held off until after lunch. We took the time to take Scully on a longish walk in the morning. We met one of her doggie friends in a park and the dogs played around while we chatted with the other owners from a distance of a few metres. It’s all a bit surreal again, like the lockdown we had last year.

This afternoon I started writing a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. Hopefully I’ll get them done tomorrow for photographing some time during the coming week.

Oh! And I spent time this morning watching a new live action performance of Darths & Droids. The stage show originally premiering in 2018 in Florida has been produced by Hole in the Wall Theater in Connecticutt, and they premiered their version today. It was really good – you can watch it on YouTube here.

New content today:

Double plus lockdown Friday

Today’s COVID news in Sydney was even worse than yesterday. 44 new cases in the 24-hour reporting period (6 more than yesterday), and more of those cases than yesterday were circulating in the community rather than being isolated as known contacts of infected people. So basically we have more people spreading the virus further. The NSW Government announced further lockdown restrictions, as well as indicating stricter enforcement.

We are now prohibited from leaving the house for any reason except (1) medical reasons, (2) to get food or other necessary supplies, (3) for work or education if those cannot be done at home, or (4) for exercise. Additionally, we are prohibited from travelling more than 10 km from home, and are strongly advised not to leave home for any shopping if we can arrange home delivery. If you do go shopping, it must be directly to buy specific needed items – browsing in shops is prohibited. If you leave home to exercise you may only meet one person who does not live in your household. You may not visit anyone else’s home, and you may not have any visitors in your home. Facemasks must be worn in every indoor location except your own home, plus on public transport, and also outdoor locations where people gather.

This lockdown is supposed to end Friday next week, but given the trajectory of cases at the moment I expect it will be extended further.

So, I spent the day at home. Which I probably would have done anyway given that it started raining today and it was extremely cold and miserable. The maximum temperature in Sydney was a bone-chilling 12.1°C, which made it the second coldest day of the year so far.

Fortunately I went out and did my weekly grocery shopping first thing in the morning, before the new restrictions were announced. Although that would have been allowed under them, since it’s food we’re going to eat. And toothpaste.

This evening we did a virtual board games night. Played a few games on Board Game Arena: 7 Wonders, 6 Nimmt, Coloretto, and also Sketchful, and an implementation of Codenames on the game’s own website.

Oh, and I forgot to mention yesterday that I got up to 365 consecutive days of Italian language practice on Duolingo. A full year since I started this daily streak. So that feels like an achievement!

New content today:

COVID Sydney update

Today the news about the current COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney got worse. New South Wales recorded 38 new cases in the last 24 hour reporting period, which is the highest number of new cases we’ve had in the past 14 months. This takes the total number of cases in the current outbreak (from 16 June) to 396. The Delta variant is spreading much more aggressively than previous variants, and in today’s daily press conference the authorities were very harsh on people flouting the lockdown rules.

I know from the context of some other countries that 396 cases may not sound like much, but here it’s horrifying. We’ve been living with close to zero cases for over a year. And Australia’s vaccination rate is the lowest of any country in the OECD – because for so long it wasn’t considered an emergency to get people vaccinated, so our acquisition of vaccine doses has been very delayed compared to most countries. At present just 8% of Australians are fully vaccinated, and 17% have had a first vaccine dose (me among those with one dose).

So we need to clamp down and stop the spread of this Delta variant lest all the good work to date go to waste and suddenly we have it running rampant through the largely unvaccinated population. This right now is one of the scariest phases of the whole pandemic for Australia.

Having said that, it feels a little odd to move onto my next topic for today, which is that I went to play golf (at a non “pitch & putt” course) for the first time in ages – since April I think. Even through the strictest lockdown here (a level we’re not quite back up to yet), golf was always available as an acceptable outdoor exercise activity, since it’s about the most socially distant sport one can play.

I went to my closest course. Normally I go first thing in the morning, when it isn’t busy, and go around the course alone. But a 7:30 am start in the middle of winter didn’t appeal to me, especially given the course is in a narrow valley and it’s very dewy in the mornings, even sometimes in summer, and I didn’t fancy playing in the wet in 8°C temperatures. So for the first time I booked a tee time later in the day, just after lunch. This meant the course was busy, and I was partnered with two strangers for the round. Fortunately, neither of them were especially good players either, so I didn’t feel too outmatched.

I played a middling sort of round, totalling 54, compared to a 55 last time I played that course back in April. So I’m moderately happy with that. And it felt really good to be outside and getting fresh air and exercise (apart form just walking) for the first time in many weeks.

In my online ethics class tonight I did the same stealing topic as yesterday. And I got some very interestingly different answers. In the lemon example I mentioned yesterday, all three students initially said that taking a lemon from the tree was stealing. But this time when I said that everyone that knew the owners of the lemon tree never used the lemons, the first kid immediately switched to, “Oh, well then it’s fine to take a lemon.” And the other two kids then followed suit in agreement. I suspect that once one kid gives an answer, others are more likely to go along with it, unless they really have a strong preconceived opinion otherwise. So that was interesting!

New content today:

Casual job application

The top news today is not necessarily the state of my throat following the tonsillectomy, but I’ll provide an update anyway. It’s continuing to be less sore, but I still have significant pain when trying to move my tongue around or—as I discovered today—when trying to suppress a sneeze. I was eating breakfast and had some residual cereal and milk in my mouth that I hadn’t been able to flush clean with dextrous tongue movements between mouthfuls, when I suddenly had to sneeze. I ended up having to clean up splatters of cereal and milk off the carpet.

My wife and I took Scully on a big walk today, getting our lockdown exercise time out of the house. We met a little puppy, just 9 weeks old, whose owners still hadn’t even decided what name to call him, thought they said they were thinking Winchester. Scully and possibly-Winchester had some fun playing a bit. She likes playing with little dogs, especially any smaller than her.

But the main thing I did today was complete the application for that casual teaching position at the University of Technology, Sydney, that I mentioned two days ago. I didn’t complete it then because I got to page 3 of the online form, after filing in simple things like my name and contact details, and found that it asked for a full curriculum vitae, including things like my philosophy of education, evidence of sensitivity when teaching students of diverse cultural backgrounds and identity, and experience teaching in a university context with feedback from students! So I deferred that to today, and spent some time sprucing up a CV and composing answers to the various questions.

I finished that just after lunch and submitted my responses and uploaded my CV, and then discovered that page 4 of the online application form requested a 5 minute video with myself answering questions about what practices are important for teachers to engage students, give a “rich example” of a teaching method I have used, give an example of when I have adapted to student feedback in my teaching strategy, and talk about why I want to teach and what benefits I would bring to the faculty!! Holy cow!

So I spent much of the afternoon writing a script and then recording a video of myself. Hilariously, the first take went perfectly… except that I thought I’d started recording when I actually hadn’t, and when I hit the record button again after I’d finished in order to stop the recording, it actually began recording. So I had to do the whole thing again from scratch.

Eventually I completed the video, uploaded that, and completed the application. Here’s hoping that after all this effort I get the job!

I intended to do some comics work in the afternoon, but I was so mentally worn out, and it was getting late in the afternoon and time to think about what to make for dinner, that I never got into it.

I’m now trying a larger fraction of Seedlip Spice 94 (mentioned yesterday) in an alcohol-free drink with some lemon juice and soda. I’m still not getting it. On a more careful sniff with more of the product in a glass, the aroma of the Seedlip is subtly attractive, with warm spicy notes of cloves and cinnamon, but the flavour is, well… pretty flavourless. It has a hint of citrus on the palate, but the spice doesn’t really come through very much at all. I’m going to persist trying it in various combinations until I empty this bottle I bought, but honestly I can’t see myself ever buying it again. In my opinion, it’s a complete debacle for the $50 a bottle price tag.

New content today:

Tonsil recovery day 9

My throat continues to improve. There’s little pain eating and swallowing now, but it is still pretty sore when I move my tongue around too much, and I have developed a hacking cough and it seems impossible to clear all the phlegm from the back of my throat. Well, at least it seems to be improving overall.

Today I dealt with some bathroom cleaning, and also some cleaning up of my wife’s phone. She’s been collecting thousands of photos and video clips that she’s taken over the years, and her phone was just about out of memory, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and copy it all to our desktop computer, and delete it from her phone. There was stuff on there dating back several years.

I am in the habit of copying across photos from my phone to the computer every day, and keeping the camera roll on my phone empty, but my wife has never developed this habit, despite me reminding er that if she lost her phone she’d lose all of those photos, whereas once they’re on the computer they get backed up regularly so the chances of losing them are virtually zero. Anyway, I spent a few hours going through all the photos and videos and sorting them into suitable folders on the computer. And suddenly she has nearly 100 GB of empty space back on her phone!

The other thing I did was recopy all our music and ebooks back to her phone – it seems at some point the phone rebelled and decided to start deleting music and books. For some reason the books got lost from both our iPads as well. I dunno what it is with Apple’s management of ebooks – it’s just terrible. I’m exploring some alternative ebook reader apps now, thanks to recommendations from friends.

One Friday while shopping I saw that our local supermarket now stocks a wider range of non-alcoholic drinks. (Unlike the USA, supermarkets here do not sell alcohol – you have to go to a specialist liquor store to buy alcohol. It always freaks me out a little when I visit the US and go into a supermarket and see beer and wine on the shelves.) Anyway, along with the small range of alcohol-free wines, they also had some Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits. I’ve been meaning to try these for a while, since I like gin, but you can’t exactly drink it with wild abandon. I’ve heard that Seedlip provides the same sort of herbal/spicy flavour experience of gin, just without the alcohol. But I’ve also been reluctant to try it because it’s so damned expensive. A bottle of Seedlip costs pretty much the same as a nice bottle of gin, even though there’s no alcohol in it (and hence it doesn’t attract the alcohol excise, so they’re actually grossing more of the sale price).

But now the supermarket had it right there, and I figured this is probably about the cheapest place to buy it, so I grabbed a bottle of Seedlip Spice 94. And now I’ve tried it and can make some comments…

Well. I opened the bottle and had a sniff. It’s very subtle. You obviously don’t get that whiff of alcohol carrying the other aromas like when sniffing gin, whisky, wine, or any other alcoholic drink. So it was difficult to smell much of anything, honestly – just a vague spiciness, a bit like a cold cup of herbal tea. I poured some and had a sip neat. Yeah, totally underwhelming. It tasted like someone had put a chai-spice herbal tea bag in cold water for a while. I normally have gin with soda (I like tonic, but I find it too sweet for regular use), so I added some soda and had a swig. Yeah…. okay. I was kind of prepared to be underwhelmed, but I was amazed at how underwhelming this was as a drink.

I’m not passing final judgement yet – I’ll give it a few more chances – since I have a full bottle fo the stuff now that I paid $50 for. I might actually try it in a martini style drink, with some actual vermouth, and see what that’s like.

And in another topic, yesterday while chopping salad ingredients for lunch, I inflicted a small accidental cut on my thumb. I swear, I really like these new knives I bought a while back, but I’ve been cutting myself with them semi-regularly. I’m sure I never cut myself anywhere near this much with my old kitchen knives that had trouble maintaining a sharp edge.

I see it said often that “a sharp knife is safer than a dull one”, but honestly it seems in my experience that’s simply not true. I’m positive I’ve cut myself significantly more frequently with these lovely sharp knives. It’s not like I’m a knife novice either – I cook nearly every night and have been using knives almost daily for decades. I do get the the sharp knives are nicer to use – I really love them, but dang, they love nicking my fingers.

I’ve set up a new Irregular Webcomic! poll question to explore other people’s experience with sharp and dull knives…

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