Winter blast

Today was cold and windy. It really felt like winter for once. I went out for lunch and the sky even had clouds in it! They were pretty thick and grey in fact, and I thought it might rain, but the promise of any precipitation turned out to be false.

Besides being a very warm winter, it’s also been extremely dry. We’ve had just 3 mm of rainfall so far this August, and Sydney’s average August rainfall is 80.3 mm. In July we had 43 mm of rain, mostly loaded into the first week, while the July average is 95.7 mm. So we’ve basically had 6 weeks with almost no rain at all. The news tonight reported that Sydney’s water supply dam level is now below 50% – the last time this happened was 15 years ago.

Besides the false promise of rain, the weather was pretty wild. I took Scully out to the dog park, and even though I rugged up in a jumper (sweater for the Americans) and a windproof jacket, it was still nastily cold with the wind blowing off the harbour. While there and chatting with some of the other dog owners, we heard a big crack, and we turned to see that a branch had fallen off the huge Moreton Bay fig tree that we were sitting/standing under (there are wooden benches there for sitting, which many of the owners do). Fortunately, it was on the far side of the tree, and didn’t land on any of us or our dogs. It landed on the street beside the park, narrowly missing someone’s parked car (lucky it didn’t land on that too).

A few of us dragged the branch off the street to clear it for traffic, and I took a photo. It’s not a huge branch, but would certainly have caused an injury if it had fallen on someone, or dented the roof or smashed the windscreen of a car. You can see it’s longer than a car, and it was fairly hefty.

Fallen branch

That’s Scully on the right, with the red doggy-jumper. Next to her is Monty, a chihuahua-Jack Russell cross. Up on the street is Scout, a west highland white terrier. As you can see, all the dogs are rugged up for the winter weather!

Also today I contacted Sydney University again to arrange to borrow some lasers and diffraction slits for my next visit to the school where I teach my Science Club class. We’re going to measure the wavelengths of different colours of light! I’ll go in tomorrow to pick them up.

New content today:

Sunday walking

Today was mostly a day spent with wife and Scully. We took a couple of long walks to exercise Scully, around the neighbourhood. The council has laid poison fox baits in one of the bushland areas that we like to walk through, so we gave that a wide berth, taking a detour up a very steep hill to avoid them. Here’s Scully at the marina this morning:

Scully at the marina

On the afternoon walk we want a different way. There’s a street lined with cherry blossom trees, and they’re all in flower at the moment, so it’s very pretty. It’s rather early in the year for this, but our winter has been so warm that the plants obviously think it’s spring already.

Cherry blossoms in August

At home in between and then this evening, I’ve been shuffling between two thing: building the Stranger Things Lego set that I got the other day, and working some more on my secret Magic: the Gathering project. The date for the Magic draft event with my friends is set for Friday 27 September – it’s the earliest date that we can all make. So we have a bit over a month of anticipation. When it happens I’ll definitely report on it!

New content today:

Bento box

Today was a bit of a lazy day, work-wise. I actually spent most of my time at home refactoring code, which didn’t achieve anything tangible beyond making it easier to add on more stuff later.

I also spent a lot of time out. I arranged to meet a friend for lunch at a Japanese place near the station two stops away from where I live. I could have caught the train, but I decided to walk to get a bit of exercise.

Now let me tell you about the area where I live. It ain’t flat. Not by a long shot. There are hills everywhere. My tracking app (I use Strava, if you want to follow my profile) tells me the walk there by the most direct route was 3.72 km, with an elevation gain of 103 metres. (I ended up only 29 m higher than I began, so I also went downhill 74 m.) The restaurant does bento boxes, and I had one with some sushi, a bowl of udon soup, and something I’ve never seen before: fish katsu! It was good.

For the walk home, I took a longer route, covering 5.55 km, with an elevation gain of 72 m. Later in the afternoon I also took Scully for a walk and play in the park. The weather’s turned windy here, but it wasn’t very cold – the forecasters say tomorrow we’ll get a blast of colder air. Anyway, here’s Scully, posing after fetching her ball in the dog park.

Chasing the ball in late winter sunshine

Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal

This morning I woke up with the idea for a new random text generator: Random breakfast cereals! But more on that later. First it was a Sunday morning walk with the wife and Scully. We did a roughly 5 kilometre loop, stopping at a nice bakery/cafe along the way for morning tea.

Back at home, I finished work on tonight’s new Darths & Droids comic. Then I implemented the random breakfast cereal generator. Technical coding details follow in the next paragraph (feel free to skip it if not interested in coding nitty-gritty):

One issue critical with this generator was a problem that Andrew Coker and I have wanted to tackle for some time. The idea was to generate a cereal name (e.g. Crunchy Chcolate Bombs), and then a description of the cereal. But the description should use some of the same words as in the name, so that it’s described as “Scrummy bombs of chocolate with extra marshmallow bits” rather than, say, “Yummy shreds of bran with raisins”. To do this we needed to store some of the randomly generated words in a context dictionary and then recall them later on using variable names, rather than just generate more random text. Doing this required quite a bit of code refactoring, and a lot of heavily nested text replacements in the partially munged output string. This of course generated a slew of bugs with other replacements such as capitalisations and stuff. So we worked together to track them down and squash them. After a few hours of coding, we think we have it working properly.

TL;DR: Here’s the brand new mezzacotta breakfast cereal generator!

Another thing I’ve been doing is getting back into my Italian language practice. I’ve been practising regularly on Duolingo for a few years, doing some every day, but I slipped after my last overseas trip and didn’t start up again when I got back home, until a few days ago. Now I’m back into doing some revision every day. Fortunately it seems like I haven’t forgotten too much! If you use Duolingo, you can follow my profile here.

And a photo today, another behind-the-scenes of a set I built for the Cliffhangers theme. It might not be obvious where they are from this, but when you see the actual comic hopefully it’ll be convincing enough.

The train to Abydos

Winter Sunday

Spent time with the wife and Scully today. We did a 5 km walk around the neighbourhood, passing two dog parks along the way where Scully got to run around and chase a tennis ball. We stopped at a bakery for morning tea, and then walked home via the marina down in the bay.

At the marina

Work-wise, I wrote some scripts for new Irregular Webcomic! strips, tidied up tonight’s new Darths & Droids strip for publication, and worked a bit on the mezzacotta random generators. Andrew Coker, whose original idea led to these random generators, did a lot of coding work today, developing a new generator to produce random art description plaques, like you see in art galleries, that give the title, artist, and a description of the work. It’s not quite ready to show off yet, but if you look at the Github project you can see the code as we commit and push it.

Here are some preview samples of the sort of artwork titles we can generate:

  • Portrait of the artist’s sister-in-law
  • Composition of pentagons and squiggles
  • Self-portrait as Agamemnon
  • The perfection of love in the toe of someone laughing
  • Allegory on the vision of Satyr

Sunny Saturday

It’s Saturday evening here and it’s been another beautiful warm winter’s day. I know there’s currently a record-breaking heatwave in Europe. It should be winter here at this time of year, but I swear it’s almost as if autumn never really ended, while spring has already begun. There are a lot of deciduous trees with old leaves still on them, while at the same time a lot of trees are flowering for spring already. There are magnolias, cherry blossoms, rhododendrons, camellias, and some others that I don’t know the names of flowering all over the neighbourhood. Oh, the golden wattle is also flowering, but then that always flowers in winter:

Wattle flowering

Today I took Scully to the vet for her first annual booster vaccination. She’s 16 months old now, and the vet says she’s looking fit and healthy.

I was planning to write a bunch of Irregular Webcomic! strips today, as I want to photograph and make a new batch in the upcoming week, but I never got around to it, doing other little things and household chores that chopped up the day. I’ll have another go tomorrow.

But what I did complete today was uploading photos for another day of my travel diary from my trip to Portugal back in May. I posted the diary entry over on my personal blog, where I post such things.

And we’re live!

Hi everyone! I’ve been thinking for quite a while about making a new portal page for people interested in following my creative work and other stuff. Yesterday I decided to knuckle down and make it, and I previewed it early to my Patreon patrons to get some feedback while I was fiddling with the graphic design.

(Techy details: I had to dig pretty deep into WordPress custom CSS to get the design working how I wanted, removing a lot of excessive negative space in the sidebar. And then it turned out I’d stupidly installed the code into a sub-subdirectory rather than a subdirectory of my web root, so I spent another couple of hours moving directories, editing config files, and trawling through the WordPress database to edit all mentions of the sub-subdirectory. And then hack the .htaccess file to change the default landing page for the web domain. Thankfully it all seems to be working, but it’s possible there’ll be a glitch somewhere.)

TL;DR: It took more work than I’d expected, but we’re up and running!

The other thing I did today was write a new Proof that the Earth is a Globe: #21. Zodiacal light. I started about 9am and worked on that to about 2pm, so that was most of the day. But I’m pleased with this one. How often do you get to cite Brian May’s Ph.D. thesis in a piece of scientific writing?

Then I took Scully (my dog) out for a bit of walk, and spent the rest of the afternoon getting this new home page up and running. Here’s a photo of Scully (taken a couple of days ago):

Scully on a bushwalk

Isn’t she cute?