Heat and Smoke

Today was an awful day, weather-wise. It was hot, and the wind blew in a lot of smoke from the bushfires west of Sydney. And it just got worse as the day wore on.

It didn’t begin too badly. I was up early and decided to go to the local golf course to play 9 holes.I was there not long after 7am, and finished well before 9 o’clock. Last time I scored 64, and today I managed 59, improving by 5 strokes. I still lost a few balls, hitting wild shots into the bush surrounding the course. Unfortunately one of those shots was on the par-3 6th hole, and since the ball only went about 10 metres before disappearing into thick undergrowth, I decided to tee off again with another ball. That shot landed on the green, and I sank it in two putts. If only I hadn’t skewed the first tee shot into the bush I would have got a par! Oh well, maybe next time.

Most of the day I spent indoors, writing annotations for the latest batch of Irregular Webcomic! I finished all of those off (I started yesterday). And then I started work on preparing for a Standards Australia meeting on photography standards tomorrow, which I’m chairing. This meeting is primarily for me to report to the Australian experts on what transpired at the international meeting I attended in Cologne back in October. So I need to be up to speed on everything that happened there and all of the reports submitted at that meeting.

This afternoon I took Scully out for a play at the dog park and a walk along the harbour shore with the other owners and their dogs. We left at 3:30pm, and as we drove down to the park I could see the smoke smeared across the sky. And once we got there and out of the car… wow, it was really bad. Here’s the park, with a view to the office buildings of North Sydney in the background:

Bushfire smoke

The walk goes down by the Harbour shore, where there’s a view across to the Harbour Bridge and the city central business district:

Bushfire smoke

We walk along this path which leads through an old oil terminal site on the shore, where tankers used to unload petroleum. The site has now been cleaned up and turned into this park. Today the afternoon sun burned down redly through the smoke haze:

Bushfire smoke

Here’s Scully (the black dog at centre) and some of our fellow dog walkers, approaching the far end of the walk along the shore:

Bushfire smoke

Coming back, the view of the city looked like this:

Bushfire smoke

The air was very unpleasant to breathe, and my throat is now scratchy and irritated. Unfortunately, the forecast with the fires and the winds is that this sort of smoke will linger over Sydney for several more days before we get a wind change that blows it away. But alas it will most likely return after that, and it’s possible – even likely – that we’ll be having to deal with this on and off throughout the whole summer.

New content today:

My trip to Essen

So, it’s Saturday evening and I’ve been home almost 12 hours now, after not sleeping since Thursday morning. I can never sleep on planes – just too uncomfortable. I am however surprisingly awake. I’m about to watch the Rugby World Cup final game between England and South Africa, before dropping into bed for hopefully about 10-12 hours, and waking up Sunday morning with no jetlag. We’ll see how that plan goes.

As mentioned in the previous short update, I couldn’t log into this blog from my iPad/phone, so I couldn’t update while travelling as I’d planned to do. Which means I have a full trip to report on. I kept a detailed travel diary as I usually do, and will be formatting that into web pages and posting it with photos over the next few days, so I’ll just mention some highlights here.

My wife and I flew out of Sydney on the afternoon of Friday 25 Oct, and landed in Frankfurt on Saturday morning 26 Oct. Which doesn’t sound so bad, until you realise Frankfurt is 9 time zones later than Sydney, which adds another 9 hours to the transit time. We got a train to Essen and spent the afternoon/evening exploring the centre of the city.

Essen Cathedral (it’s not very big):

Essen Minster

A wurst hut:

Wurst hut

On Sunday we went to Spiel, the huge board games exhibition. I have photos, but haven’t processed/uploaded any yet. But here’s a photo of the haul of games I bought/was given:

Spiel haul

Top left: a pack of exclusive bonus cards for Race for the Galaxy. Below that two bonus tiles for Roll for the Galaxy, then bonus dishes for Sushi Go Party!, and a pack of bonus words for Codenames (in German). Next column is Cultistorm Face 2 face, a quick card game spinoff from the huge Cthulhu mythos board game Cultistorm. Below that Walking in Burano, a pattern construction game, with a pack of bonus cards exclusive to Spiel. Some Lego minifigures my wife and I made from the custom figure construction bins at the Lego store in Cologne (so not from Spiel). And finally Deep Blue.

On Monday-Wednesday I attended ISO Photography Standards meetings in Cologne, while my wife explored Cologne. Then Thursday we explored together before catching a train back to Frankfurt and flying home.

New content today:

Improving golf

Andrew C. suggested we play golf today, so we met up at the Terrey Hills Par 3 course where we’ve played before. I’m still a rank beginner, and this was only the 4th round of golf I’ve ever played. The course is “pitch and putt”, and I talked about our last two rounds here and here. I’ve put the scorecards into a spreadsheet, and discovered that Andrew’s arithmetic left a little to be desired, as my scores for the previous two rounds were 91 and 93 (not 92 and 95 as he’d calculated!).

Since last time I’ve acquired a very cheap second hand set of clubs. I found someone local selling cheaply on eBay. Andrew inspected the clubs and was impressed, saying I got a real bargain – the seller must have just wanted to get rid of them quickly, because he probably could have got twice or more the price for them if he’d wanted.

Today I played a couple of great shots. One tee shot bounced on the green and hit the flag! That was exciting, but unfortunately it bounced quite a way, and I couldn’t get the birdie, but managed to par the hole. The second god shot was after I landed a tee shot in a bunker. I hadn’t played a decent shot from the sand yet, but today I managed to not only scoop it out of the bunker, but stop the ball maybe 40 cm from the hole. Alas my putting still needs work, and I 2-putted for a bogey.

My total score for the round was 81, a full 10 strokes better than my previous best of 91. So it was a good day! After the round, we went to the driving range next door and Andrew showed me how to hit some longer clubs, a 5 and 3 iron, and a driver. I managed okay with the irons, but I can see the driver will take a bit more work. Andrew reckons I’m ready to tackle a longer course, so our plan is next time to play at the Northbridge Golf Club. The course is a par 64, with only a single par 5 hole. Apparently it has one of the most famous holes in Sydney, the par 3 fifth hole, which involves teeing off at the edge of a cliff, to the green far below. Here’s a photo from the tee (from the golf club’s website):

5th hole view

Scary!

After driving practice, we separated and I drove out to the coast to get some lunch. On the way home I drove along Sydney’s northern beaches, stopping at Bilgola lookout to take a couple of photos. Looking south:

Bilgola view

And looking north:

Bilgola view

I relaxed back at home a bit and had a nice dinner out with my wife (and Scully). All in all, an excellent day!

New content today:

Homeless Ethics

Today was my first Ethics class of the new school term, the last term of the year. Just nine lessons to go until the end of the year and my kids move on to high school, and I get a new batch of Year 6s next year.

We started a new topic today: Homelessness. The first lesson today was really just talking about what homelessness is, and how being homeless might affect people – making them feel unsafe, unhappy, making it harder to eat healthy food, keep clean, etc. In the next two lessons we’ll be talking about what people and society can or should do about homelessness.

The teacher’s materials started with introducing the topic to the children with a short story, and then telling them we’d be discussing homelessness, and to tell them that some people in the class might know someone who has been homeless, and so to be mindful of that during the discussion. The teacher’s eyes only notes contained advice that this topic might upset some children, and to be aware of their behaviour and handle it appropriately (using our training materials). The discussion was going really well, and the children were a bit more engaged than usual – it’s clearly a topic that some of them had pretty strong feelings and ideas about.

Then one girl put her hand up, and when I called on her she said, “My parents told me that before I was adopted I was living on the streets.”

I don’t remember what I said in immediate response. I had to handle this sensitively and keep the class both moving on with the topic and from harassing this girl with inappropriate questions. I must have said something sensible because we managed to move on with the discussion. Fortunately the girl didn’t seem upset in any way – I guess it’s a fact about her past that she’s already internalised and become comfortable with. So that was an interesting revelation – I had no idea this girl was adopted before.

The other good thing about today’s class was another girl who is usually very quiet and says nothing volunteered to answer a question, and gave a very well-considered response. I had this girl in my Year 4 class two years ago and she was similarly quiet. I feel her thought processes are not as rapid as most kids her age, but since then she seems to be gaining in confidence and ability to absorb and discuss a topic. It’s really wonderful to see her develop and become more intellectual in this way.

After my class, I took a long walk home, detouring past the new location of a kitchen supply shop that used to be near us, but recently moved. They had a normal sort of retail store before, but now they’ve moved to an industrial area and are operating out of a warehouse. It was hard to find – I walked past the building twice looking for any signs, but saw none, then finally had to go knock on a door and ask the woman who came to answer it. When I said I was looking for Kitchen Kapers, she directed me to walk around to the back of the building, through the car park, where I found the place with a giant open garage door and no signage whatsoever. I had to confirm with a guy that they were open for retail sales, which they were. Given my recent experiences with shops in industrial areas, this was relatively positive. I didn’t end up buying anything though.

This afternoon I drove across town to pick up some super cheap second hand golf clubs that I won on eBay. Andrew C. has been suggesting I move up from playing a “pitch and putt” course to a full length golf course. I’m keen to try, but needed some clubs suitable for a beginner without a job. The ones I picked up have seen some heavy use, but should do the trick. We’re planning to go play a round of the short course on Friday, followed by some driving practice at the range next door, so I can start to get a feel for hitting with more power.

New content today:

Bread and Codenames

Saturday – more housework! After cleaning various things this morning I got stuck into writing some new Irregular Webcomic! scripts. I want to get another batch made next week if I can, and then complete another batch before I leave for my trip to Germany at the end of October. I wrote about half the batch today – hopefully I’ll have time to finish it off tomorrow.

It was approaching lunch time and I was getting hungry, so I checked the kitchen. We had 2/3 of a loaf of bread bought from the supermarket on Thursday, so I planned to make myself some sandwiches. I grabbed the bread… and noticed that the plastic bag had a large hole in it at the bottom end. Ragged, like it had been torn open. And a big chunk of the bread inside the hole had been… eaten away. It looked like mouse or rat damage.

Now I’m pretty sure we don’t have mice in the house, and we store the bread under a plastic cake cover so there’s no way anything could get in. So this must have occurred at the supermarket, and we just didn’t notice it until now. My immediate problem was that this left me with nothing straightforward to eat for lunch. (I wasn’t going to eat slices of a loaf that’s had mice/rats chewing on it.) So I took the rodent-gnawed loaf and went for a walk up to the supermarket to exchange it, and to buy some lunch on the way. I got sushi. The supermarket exchanged the bread for a new loaf with no issues, and the woman I spoke to said she’d show the damaged loaf to the manager.

This afternoon: more comic writing, distracted a bit by wondering if I have a Lego Boushh or not, and how much it would cost to acquire one (about $35 it turns out – too much for one comic). Then I watched Australia’s first game in the Rugby World Cup in Japan, as they played against Fiji in Sapporo. Fiji got off to a good start and led the scoring until the 62nd minute, when the Aussies finally pulled ahead – and from there the Fijians were visibly fatiguing while the Aussies stormed all over them, scoring multiple more times to win comfortably in the end. Our next game is against Wales next weekend.

After the game my wife and I took Scully to the park for some exercise. We’re trying a new training treat: tinned salmon, which she gets a morsel of for successfully responding to our call to “come here”. She obeys that one reasonably well, but not if she gets distracted by something, so we’re working on strengthening it. The good news is she likes the salmon, and was very keen to “come here” to get some.

This evening I played some games of Codenames Duet with my wife. We lost the first game when I guessed an assassin card. Here’s the layout midway through the second game, where we’re going better:

Codenames Duet

At this stage I had to clue to my wife MARATHON, ST PATRICK, WEREWOLF, and MONKEY. I considered “hairy” for WEREWOLF and MONKEY, but was stymied by the presence of BEARD. I plumped for “person” to clue ST PATRICK and WEREWOLF, which thankfully worked, and after that it was all downhill to the finish, as we won it handily. So 1 loss, 1 win.

New content today:

Golf

Andrew C. invited me to play golf again this morning, at the same par 3 course we went to 4 weeks ago. We started early, before 9am.

Terrey Hills Par 3 Golf Club.

The weather was fine and warmer than it has been the past couple of weeks, so it was pleasant walking around in short sleeves and shorts. This was only my third time playing golf, and I was hoping to improve on my 92 from last time, but I had a couple of terrible holes, losing a ball, and getting stuck in a sand trap for several strokes. It was the first time I’d really had a serious attempt at extracting a ball from the sand, and it took me a while, but I eventually got the swing right and ejected the ball. I managed par on just one hole, compared to two last time, and my final score was 95, three strokes worse than last time.

However on what was ranked the most difficult hole of the course (I think because the green is very shallow, and overshooting it at all ends up with a ball lost out of bounds), both Andrew and I did very well – both our tee shots landed on the green, and I was actually closer to the hole:

Tee shots

Unfortunately my putting let me down and I ended up with a 4. I kept track of my walking using Strava while we were playing, and the map is fascinating. You can see the route I took through the 18 holes of the course, punctuated by a visit to the clubhouse toilets after the first 9. You can see the amount of back and forth across the greens on some of the holes, where I kept overhitting the ball! And the hole shown above is hole 12 – you can see the hole numbers if you click through to the larger image.

Par 3

After we’d finished, I drove home and picked up some pies for lunch on the way. I took them down to Collaroy Beach to eat while sitting on the grass and looking out over the beach.

Lunch lookout

So it was a very pleasant morning! The afternoon began with me getting home and walking up to the dentist, to have the crown fitted after last week’s preparation. Not so pleasant, but fortunately it seemed to go okay. It didn’t require any anaesthetic, which is good, because I avoided having my mouth numb for the next few hours.

Nevertheless, I’d planned to make soup for dinner tonight just in case. I made a curried potato and lentil soup. Unfortunately, when I went to blend it into a nice smooth puree, my stick blender refused to work. It’s been a bit dodgy for a while and it finally gave up the ghost. So I had to mash the soup by hand and it ended up a bit lumpy, but my wife said it still tasted good.

New content today:

Games day

Updating Saturday morning because I was busy Friday night. It was a day dedicated to games!

Andrew C. is an experienced golfer, and a few months ago invited me and another friend to try playing a par 3 “pitch and putt” course. We had no experience hitting a golf ball, and it took us a while to start to get the hang of it, but I managed to hit a few half-decent shots (as well as losing two balls). Yesterday Andrew and I went to try the course again. The 18 holes have par 54. Andrew scored 61, while I managed 92 (better than my first effort). I tied one hole with Andrew, and won two holes. My technique is still terrible, but improving! Here’s a photo of one of my best shots of the day. These are our balls after our tee shots on this hole: mine is nearest the hole, Andrew’s is in the foreground. Unfortunately I didn’t sink the putt for a birdie.

Tee shots

After that we grabbed some lunch at a Japanese place and had a bit of a drive along the beachy coast to head home. All up, a good morning/lunch time. Although it’s still the depths of winter here the day was sunny and warm.

And Friday evening was our fortnightly board games night. We had 5 people, which is a little on the low side, but enough for plenty of games. We started early and had a writing session for Darths & Droids, writing four strips before moving on to the games.

We played a quick game of Ingenious to warm up, then when our host’s daughters arrived home from dance lessons one of them joined us for a game of Junk Art, which was a lot of fun. We liked that one because Steven – who is the most serious game player and strategist and hence who often wins games of strategic skill – needed to use dexterity skills instead, and so most of us beat him!

After the girls went to bed, we started a game of Power Grid, with the Italian map board. I got off to a reasonable start, but by the time we’d estimated the game would finish we were still clearly only about halfway through. It was getting late and I’d promised my wife I’d be home by a certain time, so I had to leave mid-game. The others continued, playing me as a robo-player by making reasonable decisions for me in my absence. And I ended up coming second! So that’s pretty good.

New Friday content: