Not in hot water

Today I had a maintenance guy from the gas company come around to replace our hot water meter. This is a periodic thing they do every 7 years for all customers, to ensure the meters are up to date and working properly. They gave me a window of 10:00-12:00 when the guy would arrive. Of course, there was no sign of him until almost 12:30. Then it took half an hour to do the job. Meanwhile I was hoping that Scully didn’t suddenly need to go out for a toilet, as I would have had to ask the worker to leave while I took Scully out. I don’t want a stranger in our home while nobody else is in here.

But Scully was fine, and after the guy finished replacing the meter we went out for a walk. The morning was cool and cloudy, with heavy rain from about 6am to 9am. It cleared up, and by the afternoon it was warm and sunny, though not too hot. The next three days however are forecast to be heatwave conditions, with temperatures around 40°C across parts of Sydney.

There’s also the tropical low off Queensland which is expected to be declared Tropical Cyclone Kirrily some time tonight. It’s still tracking to hit Townsville, and forecast to dump over a meter of rain the next few days to a wide area still recovering from widespread heavy flooding.

I spent much of the day writing new lessons for the new week of ethics classes. I have split topics for the two age groups this week: Gift Giving for 10-12, and Employment for 13-15. I managed to complete both of them by mid-afternoon, which is really good going. I also cleaned up the laundry a bit since that’s where the hot water meter is, and threw out some old cleaning products that we were unlikely to use. So that felt pretty productive.

For diner tonight I made calzones, filled with broccoli, pumpkin, and ricotta. Topped with a chilli and garlic tomato sauce, they were really good.

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A writer’s block day

I spent a few hours today staring at a text file, failing to write any comics.

Other than that, I did another 5k run this morning. The heat/humidity conditions were just as bad, and I was also silly enough to do my more strenuous route, with more hills, so I went even slower. But still, it felt good afterwards to have gotten some exercise.

Not really much else to say about the day…. OH! I remember. I spent a couple of hours housecleaning. Not that that’s exciting, but at least it explains the time spent without doing anything else interesting.

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Kondoing the bookshelves

This morning I had the first older student ethics lesson on Probability. Unfortunately only one student turned up, and that’s always a bit challenging because we end up going through all the questions a lot faster, especially if the student isn’t very talkative. I ran out about 5 minutes before the end and had to wing it by making up some more questions on the fly.

At lunch today I took Scully on a walk around to one of the local cafes where I had lunch. Last time I had the “Ultimate Sandwich” and chose the pulled pork option. But they also have a grilled chicken option, which I tried today.

Ultimate sandwich, grilled chicken edition

Yeah, that’s pretty ultimate. I did actually manage to fold the bread roll and encase most of the filling and eat it with my hands like a sandwich, but there were a few chunks of chicken and salad that fell out. It was good, but I think I slightly prefer the pulled pork version.

After lunch I dedicated a couple of hours to cleaning up the bookcases. They’ve been needing a proper dusting for a while, which is a chore I always put off because we have a lot of random little knickknacks and stuff on most of the shelves in front of the books, so it’s tedious. But I also had a pile of new roleplaying game books sitting on my desk that needed to be shelved, and I had to rearrange some things to fit them in. So I bit the bullet and tackled the job.

I went through everything on the shelves and tossed out some old stuff that I’ve never really used and couldn’t foresee a use for. Also some random things like the polystyrene spheres I used for this Proof that the Earth is a Globe. I also had about 20 card boxes full of plastic card sleeves just taking up space, which I moved to a large storage box to reduce the clutter. I moved some loose art supplies into the art supply box. And so on.

I found a large, folded-up sheet of paper. When I unfolded it, this is what I found:

Wave Echo Cave

It’s an artefact from when I ran The Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure for my Dungeons & Dragons group, back in 2017. We drew a large map of Wave Echo Cave as we played. I decided to throw it out, but I took this photo first to have a memory of it.

Tonight for dinner I bought a bunch of fresh basil from the corner store while taking Scully for her evening walk. I made pesto with that, a garlic clove, toasted pine nuts, grated pecorino (I know, but I’d run out of Parmigiano Reggiano), and extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. We had it on penne pasta and it was really good.

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A pleasant Saturday for… housecleaning

What it says on the tin. It was a reasonably nice day, not too chilly. There were storms hanging off the coast all day, quite intense looking, but they failed to track inland over us so we had fine conditions, until just a few minutes ago when rain began hitting – but it’s after dinner and we’re comfy inside.

I did a big round of housecleaning: vacuuming, dusting, getting into some areas that I don’t do very often. Changing the damp absorbers in the closets and storage cupboards. Cleaning the bathroom and shower. And giving Scully a bath too!

In between I worked on some new Darths & Droids comics. And I played a playtest game of Ninja Grandma with my wife – this is the game I’m working on developing with the kids in the current Creative Thinking/Game Design course. In this first version every player has a team of 4 ninjas: a dragon, a panda, a tiger, and a penguin. The penguin was the idea of one of the kids. They visit various areas of Grandma’s ninja training castle to level up in skills, make sneaky potions to affect enemy ninjas, and smear peanut butter on floors to make them slippery so enemy ninjas can’t perform as well. There was plenty happening in the test game, but no clear goal to work towards, as I haven’t decided yet how to win the game! Probably the most important part, but I’m going to let the kids come up with ideas for that as part of the class.

We felt like something a bit different for dinner tonight, so we took Scully for a walk and passed by the nearest supermarket to grab a pack of corn chips and make nachos. Yum!

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COVID day 9

Feeling mostly better from COVID, I did another rapid antigen test today, expecting it to be clear. But, lo… it tested positive. Apparently my body is fighting it off nicely, but hasn’t vanquished the foe fully yet.

This morning I felt well enough to go on a 2.5k run. I felt like I took it a bit easy, not wanting to strain myself, but I ended up recording exactly the same time as my last pre-COVID run. Although in hindsight, that was probably during the incubation period, before I’d started noticing any symptoms, so I might have been a bit affected then, too.

After the run, I did a housecleaning, since I missed it last weekend due to being sick. Washed the bathroom and shower, vacuumed everywhere, emptied and refilled the damp absorbers.

Also did a long walk with Scully and my wife (who is still home sick from work, of course). And a shorter one in the early evening, when I took the chance to pop into the small local supermarket to buy some biscuits and mascarpone to make myself some pseudo-tiramisu for dessert, since we’re out of any other sort of sweets. I made a variation of this recipe for peanut butter and jam tiramisu. I made it with hot chocolate instead of coffee, because I don’t eat/drink coffee. They’re in the fridge chilling, and I’m looking forward to trying one later this evening.

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Water damage x2

Friday was a hectic and slightly disastrous day. I started picking up the weekly groceries from the supermarket. When I got home I discovered that the ice cream I’d ordered online was missing from the order. In hindsight, it was a prelude to a bad day.

After my pre-lunch ethics class, I drove over to my wife’s work to pick up Scully. I needed to refuel the car on the way home, and the shortest route past a petrol station went by the Naremburn bakery, so I decided to stop in there for a little while and grab another of those delicious cheesecake tarts that I’d had on Thursday.

As we left, it started to sprinkle. We got back in the car without getting too wet, and I drove to the petrol station to fill up the car. By the time we left, the rain was heavy and getting heavier. It was now I realised that I’d left all the windows open at home, since I hadn’t expected it to rain when I left. The petrol station is only about a kilometre from home, but we got stuck in some traffic and caught at a couple of red lights, and it took longer than usual to get home. I ran inside and found the rain had come in the bedroom window, soaking the carpet, some piles of clothing, and a wooden storage chest.

I spent about the next hour cleaning it up, soaking up the water with towels, moving the furniture to get behind and underneath it, then wiping things down with weak bleach to discourage mould growth. By the time I’d done, it was only ten minutes until my next ethics class – and I had three in a row, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to take Scully out if she needed to toilet. So I grabbed her and rushed downstairs to try to get her to go before the class. Fortunately she went quickly and we rushed back upstairs. By now the sun had come out and the air was getting steamy and humid. So I closed all the windows and turned the air conditioner on.

I did my three classes in a row. In quiet periods I thought I could hear some sort of intermittent plinking sound from behind me. My wife has recently brought home a bunch of pots from her beginners’ pottery class, and some of them are pinging with the glaze under stress from the firing (apparently this is a common thing). So I thought it might be that, and I was too occupied with my class to check more closely.

After the last class I finally took my headphones off, and heard the noise again. It didn’t sound like the pinging, but more like dripping. After hearing a couple more drips I located it… It was the air conditioner unit mounted on the wall above the bookcase, dripping water onto the bookcase! I quickly turned it off and grabbed more towels and a chair to stand on, so I could mop up the water that had pooled up there. And then I noticed the drips were going down behind the bookcase, between the furniture and the wall as well!

I got some plastic containers to catch any further drips, then got a strong light and a mirror so I could see down behind the bookcase to check how much water was down there. I really didn’t fancy having to empty the bookcase, move it, and dry the wall and carpet. That would have been an all-day job, since it’s a very large and heavy bookcase – taller than I am and about 2 metres wide, full of books. Fortunately it didn’t look very wet down there. A bit of water had run down the back side of the bookcase, but it was already drying, and it hadn’t penetrated to the front where the books are. Rather than spend all day Saturday moving the bookcase… I think I’m just going to leave it and hope it dries out.

After all that I needed to relax, and spent the rest of the evening playing board games online with friends in our weekly game night. I was a little frazzled and didn’t do very well at all, but at least it relaxed me a bit before bed.

Today, Saturday, I went for a 5k run in the morning. Then I spent the rest of the morning working on the game design for the Creative Thinking course. I told the student I’d get the game to her before the weekend, and fortunately I had a few hours since she’s in the USA and it was still Friday evening there. I had to iterate a lot as I wrote up the rules and created cards for cutting out, when I kept realising certain things wouldn’t work. Eventually I got it in a workable state (I thinK!) and finalised the file and sent it off.

This afternoon I went to the home appliances store to oder a new air conditioner. I might have been able to fix the current one, but it’s actually over 20 years old and I’ve been thinking about upgrading it to a more modern unit for a couple of years already. So rather than risk more dripping water, we decided to just go ahead and get a new one. I bought a unit and organised installation for this coming Wednesday.

Unfortunately… that means we won’t have it in time for the forecast next three days, which the Weather Bureau is warning will be the three hottest days Sydney has seen for almost a year. The highest temperature Sydney had all summer was barely above 30°C, but now we’re into autumn and the next three days are forecast to be 33°, 36°, and 34°. Great.

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How to rig an election

Yesterday was online board games night with my friends, so I didn’t have time to write a blog entry. I picked up the grocery shopping in the morning, then picked up Scully from my wife’s work at lunch and took her to the Italian bakery. Oh that’s right, it was raining most of the morning.

I had four ethics classes to teach, including one of the older kids, on the topic of “how to Rig an Election”. I promised last post that I’d share some of my teaching examples, so here’s a crash course in how to gerrymander!

Let’s imagine this map is a state with 5 orange voters and 4 purple voters, for a total of 9. Let’s say we want this state to elect 3 representatives to Parliament. The way to get 3 representatives is to split the state into 3 smaller regions, and then each region elects one representative. If we split the state into 3 regions of 3 houses each by horizontal lines, we get more orange votes in two of them, so orange gets 2 representatives and purple gets 1. Is that fair?

gerrymandering example

If we split them up vertically, we get the same result. Two regions with 2 orange votes, so 2 orange representatives and 1 purple. But now let’s imagine you are a purple party politician, and you are given the job of drawing up the voting districts. Can you draw them differently, to give the purple party more than 1 representative?

Here’s one possible solution.

In this map we have 13 orange voters and 12 purple voters, for a total of 25. We want to split it up into 5 districts, with 5 voters each. Because orange has slightly more voters, a fair outcome might have 3 orange districts and 2 purple. Can we divide the districts so that purple wins 3 (or more!) districts?

gerrymandering example

Here’s one possible solution.

So by being careful about the way we draw the districts, we can change the outcome of the election, even though the voters don’t change their votes. This practice is called gerrymandering. Here’s a slightly different map of 25 voters. If we want to gerrymander this map to have 4 purple districts, we need to do the same thing, have a district with 5 orange voters in it. Can we manage to do that?

gerrymandering example

Here’s one possible solution.

The basic idea of gerrymandering is to create districts that contain as close as possible to 100% of the voters you want to lose, while other districts contain just over 50% of the voters you want to win. You spread out the voters you want to win into lots of districts, so they can win lots of districts, while concentrating the voters you want to lose into a small number of districts, so they only win a few of them. An obvious feature of gerrymandered districts is often the strange shapes.

In this map we have 20 orange voters and 16 purple voters, for a total of 36. We want to split it up into 6 districts. A fair outcome might have 4 orange districts and 2 purple, or 3 of each. Can we gerrymander this map so that purple wins 5 districts and orange only 1?

gerrymandering example

Notice I didn’t say the districts all have to be the same size! Here’s one possible solution. We can do this if we change the numbers a bit, and make some districts bigger than others. This is another trick that someone can use to control the outcome of an election.

Now let’s have a look at a few real electoral districts. (I show the kids a nice, almost rectangular district, which is not gerrymandered. Then I show them this:) This one is the 4th District of Illinois. Does this look reasonable?

gerrymandering example

Now let’s have a look at the voting district overlaid on a map of Chicago showing areas classified by the racial background of the majority of voters.

gerrymandering example

You can see that this district has deliberately been chosen to include almost only yellow areas, which corresponds to Hispanic people. See how carefully it’s been drawn to exclude the green areas! This district has been gerrymandered so that the Hispanic people of Chicago will only be able to elect one representative, rather than getting two or three if they had been spread out between multiple districts.

I go on to ask the kids their thoughts about all of this, and their opinions on who should draw up the maps of electoral districts, and why. The class also includes a discussion of different types of voter suppression. I’ve done this class with two different groups of kids now, and it’s been a real hit each time. I could see their eyes light up as they figured out how to gerrymander, and they were all very vocal about the unfairness of it!

Today I spent much of the morning housecleaning. We had a new mattress delivered today, so I had to strip the bed and get the old mattress ready to be carted away. We bought it just before Christmas, but they did quote us 2-4 weeks for delivery, so we expected it around now. We paid a tiny bit extra to ave them remove the old mattress for recycling too – much easier than us disposing of it ourselves.

After they delivered the mattress, and I waved the delivery guys off with a cheery “thank you” and wishing them a good afternoon, I was struck by a thought: If this was the USA, would I have been expected to have given them a tip? I’m again very thankful that I don’t live in a tipping culture.

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Games night and housecleaning

Friday was games night with my friends, and this week I hosted at my place. A few of the guys couldn’t make it, so we only had four of us, but that was good because we got stuck into a nice four-player game of Viticulture (Essential Edition).

This is a board game in which each player operates a vineyard and competes to fulfil wine orders in order to gain victory points. To fulfil an order—which are given on cards that you draw from a deck—you have to have the correct wines of the required quality. To make wine, you have to have grapes. To get grapes, you need to harvest from fields that have grape vines planted. And so you need to plant grape vines in your fields as the first step. Turn sequences go in years – you plant grapes in summer, and harvest and make wine in winter. You also have access to decks of cards that provide special people who give you the ability to do extra things or combine actions in useful ways. Other things you can do include training extra workers, or building various structures to help your vineyard become more efficient in various different ways. So there are lots of options.

İt’s fairly intricate, but straightforward to learn and understand. We all had fun playing it, and it was a moderately tight finish, although I think I concentrated on the wrong thing early on and ended up coming last.

After this we played a game of Welcome to the Moon. This has multiple different boards, but we actually played the same tower building one I’ve played before. These two games pretty much filled the evening.

Today I got stuck into housecleaning work. I cleaned the shower and bathroom, vacuumed the house, washed the kitchen floor, changed the damp absorbers in the closets and storage chests, cleaned all the spider webs off the balcony, and swept and cleaned the balcony of leaves and dust.

This morning I did the grocery shopping, and saw that fresh basil was o special, so I got some and for dinner tonight made pesto from scratch for pasta.

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Games night, and a very special lunch

Friday was online board games night with my friends, so I didn’t have time to write a blog entry. I took Scully for the usual couple of walks, had two ethics classes, and completed another week of Irregular Webcomic! strips assembled from the photos I took a couple of weeks ago.

For games we played Fruit Picking, Can’t Stop Express, Point Salad, CuBirds, Kingdomino, Just One, Stella: Dixit Universe, 7 Wonders. I managed to win the games of Fruit Picking and Kingdomino. Which is better than I usually do!

Today we dropped off Scully at doggie daycare and my wife and I went into the city for a super special lunch, to celebrate a major wedding anniversary. We went to Nel, a very fancy restaurant. It’s a fixed degustation menu – you just show up and they serve you – there’s no choice of different dishes, though they do cater to dietary requirements, so we forewarned them that my wife is vegetarian, and I don’t eat anything with coffee or tea in it.

The current menu is “A Night on Broadway”, inspired by Broadway musicals. Each dish was named after a song or feature from a stage musical. Here’s what we had:

The Book of Jesus Christ

The Book of Jesus Christ. A sweet potato tuille wth smoked eel cream. (My wife had a vegetarian cream.)

Is This Your Wand?

Is This Your Wand? Cheese and onion eclair with mushroom tapenade.

Frosty's Diner

Frosty’s Diner. Beef brisket croquette with burger sauce, tomato water and basil oil shots. (Wife had a cheese croquette.) This was really good. The croquette was tender and juicy, and chasing it down with the tomato/basil shot was amazing – very flavourful.

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata. Pineapple glazed brioche with beef fat butter. (Wife had plain butter.)


Masquerade. Kingfish tartare with native plum jam, macadamia cream, apple and cucumber sauce, freeze dried rose petals. (Wife had smoked tofu tartare with the same toppings.)

French Revolution

French Revolution. Cheese soufflé with cauliflower soup.

Please Sir, I Want Some More

Please Sir, Can I Have Some More? Pan fried salmon on tomato pearl barley porridge, pecorino, chives, black onion. This was really good. (Wife had marinated eggplant replacing the fish.)

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina

Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina. Seared Murray cod, charred onion, mushroom, beef au jus, coriander parsley mojo verde. Reading the menu, I assumed this course would be beef, as it came in the right place, and that’s what Argentine is famous for, so I was surprised to get fish again. It was delicious. When I got home, I saw on the restaurant’s Instagram that this dish is indeed supposed to be beef, but it is cooked with coffee – so my dietary requirement kicked in and they replaced the beef with fish. (Wife had confit carrot instead of the beef/fish.)

Wicked Witch's Hat

Wicked Witch’s Hat. Pistachio daquoise, lime sorbet, passionfruit mousse, apple tuille. This was a really amazing dessert. It looks just like a witch’s hat! lots of good flavours and different textures.

Milk and Kibble

Milk and Kibble. Toasted barley gelato, milk and dark chocolate pearls, sugar crisp, warm chocolate milk.


L’Amour: Petit-fours of chocolate, raspberry sauce, vanilla cream.

It was an amazing lunch. We spent 2.5 hours there, and had a really lovely time. On the way home we popped into a few shops to look at some things we wanted to check out. I bought the 6th and final volume of Peter Ackroyd’s History of England, finishing of this history series that I started reading several years ago.

Back home, I spent the rest of the afternoon working hard at housecleaning. I vacuumed, and then I did a task I’ve been putting off for months – sweeping and washing the balcony. It still had autumn leaves on it! And lots of spider webs and dust. I swept it all up and then washed the tiles down with soapy water before rinsing it off. Much better now. I really should clean it every week, but it gets nasty during winter.

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Games night Friday, and humid Saturday

Last night was board games night with friends, so I didn’t have time to write a blog entry. Most of the guys happened to have other things on, so only three of us attended. But this gave us a chance to play a long game, without worrying about people showing up late or leaving early.

We played Arkham Horror. Three turned out to be a good number for this cooperative game, where we’re pitted together against the Cthulhoid forces of darkness.

I took an investigator role, while the others played the muscle, and the mystical. My main task was moving around the map board and working to ward off Doom as it slowly accumulated in various places, while the muscle guy intercepted the various Cthulhu mythos monsters that kept spawning and trying to hunt us down. The mystic was searching for clues and artefacts to help us. The scenario we played was protecting Innsmouth from an incursion of Deep Ones, manipulated by Dagon and Hydra behind the scenes. We had to uncover enough clues to work out how to summon the malign entities and then trust that we could defeat them with a combination of muscle and occult knowledge.

After 3.5 hours of play which became increasingly tense, we confronted the main horrors and beat them, only to discover that we couldn’t figure out what the winning condition of the game was. The owner of the game later told us that he’d missed a single card in the setup stages of the scenario – and that card happened to be the one informing us of the winning condition! But we’d satisfied its requirements and won the game, even if we were confused about it at the time. It was a tight-run thing – there were several decisions that could have led us to disaster along the way, so it felt like a sweet, hard-earned victory.

Besides the usual online classes, I spent time yesterday and today doing Darths & Droids writing and comic making. Oh, and I did some major housecleaning today, doing a long overdue thorough dusting of everything in the living room, polishing up the wooden furniture, and vacuuming floors.

The other main thing to talk about is, of course, the weather. We’ve had more intermittent rain, and the humidity this week has shot through the roof, hovering around 80-100% at different times of the day. Sydney has had 170 rainy days so far this year, today being the 295th day of the year. The annual mean is 99 rainy days. Since we broke the annual rainfall record back on 6 October, we’ve had more than 200 mm more rain. The forecast is for rain every day for at least the next week, with some really heavy rain tomorrow. There continue to be severe floods in rural areas.

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