The feel of autumn

I really noticed today that autumn is in the air. The weather has turned crisp and cool – the maximum temperature today was only 24.6°C, although it was cooler this morning when I was out and about. After my Ethics class I drove out to the Pitch-and-Putt golf course where I met a friend and we played 18 holes. The trees around the city are looking autumny – at least the ones that actually change colour. Liquidambars are going red, and the plane trees are going that dull brown colour and starting to drop their leaves.

It was the last Ethics class of the school term, with the students getting two weeks of holidays for the Easter break, so I have two weeks off now before the second term begins in mid-April. Today we talked about what constitutes punishment: is it punishment if it’s accidental, or unintended, or if the recipient enjoys it, or if it’s imposed by someone with no authority. (The last one was illustrated with the example of a boy who teases his younger sister, and she gets back at him by hiding his cricket bat. Is losing his cricket bat punishment, or is it only punishment if one of his parents takes it away?)

We had a good discussion. At the end of the class, one of the boys said he would be moving to a new school, so he wouldn’t be in the class next term. This reduces my class size down to 12 students. Which is much more manageable than the 21 I had last year.

At golf, I did poorly for the first 9 holes, but got my eye in and scored really well on the last 9.

Back home this afternoon I worked on photos and writing up my trip from a couple of weeks ago as a full travel diary – expanding the entries I posted here to add more details and photos.

Oh, I should mention that Comments on a Postcard is running low on submissions. This is the easiest webcomic in the world to submit material for! If you’re reading this, you probably have what it takes to submit some stuff – so please take a look.

New content today:

Non-market rainy Sunday

The weather today wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected, given yesterday’s dire forecasts. It was quite rainy, but there were a few dry spells, and the rain didn’t get really heavy until this evening. Monday and Tuesday are forecast to have heavier rain again though.

There is major flooding along much of the coast from Sydney north to Port Macquarie (where we were staying the last week). Some regions have been hit with what the emergency services are calling a “once in 100 years” flood. As of now, 137 schools will be closed on Monday due to flooding. Parts of western Sydney around the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers are expected to get floods roughly at the levels of a flood which occurred in 1961. Water levels there are expected to peak late Monday or on Tuesday. A “major flood” of the Hawkesbury River is defined as a water level of 12.2 metres above normal, and the predicted peak at the moment is 15.6 metres.

Oh, I just checked the latest news, and the Nepean River has now exceeded the flood level of 1961. This is crazy stuff.

I’m fine – we’re not in a flood-prone area. I spent most of today working on new Darths & Droids comics, catching up for the week spent away on holiday. And a bit of time building a new Lego set that I spoilt myself with recently. I also went out in a relatively light drizzle to take Scully for a walk, and get a few groceries for dinner and breakfast. I’m planning to do a big grocery shop tomorrow morning, when most people are back at work. Sunday shopping is always really busy, so it’s better to avoid it.

Oh, yesterday I also worked on some more photos from the trip. I have some birds to show off:

Bar-tailed godwit

This (above) is a bar-tailed godwit. These birds migrate to southern Australia from northern Siberia. This species in particular has the longest non-stop migration flight of any known bird. This guy will be heading back to Siberia some time in the next month or two.

Sooty oystercatcher

A sooty oystercatcher.

Pied oystercatcher

Two pied oystercatchers.

Little wattlebird

A little wattlebird.

Willie wagtail

A willie wagtail.

Superb fairywren

A superb fairywren.

Diamond python

Not a bird… I think this is a diamond python. It was very close to where we were walking I could probably have reached out and touched it.

New content today:

Extreme rainfall

It continues to be about the rain here in Sydney. We’ve had 150 mm of rain in the last 24 hours, and advice from the Bureau of Meteorology is that the rainfall will get heavier in the next 12 hours. They also say it won’t stop raining until at least Thursday. Also, when I woke up this morning, we had no power. It was out for over two hours.

Many towns up the coast north of Sydney are experiencing flooding and have evacuations ongoing to get people away from rising floodwater. Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main water reservoir, is at 100% capacity and spilling over. The river downstream has a wide flood plain, covering dozens of Sydney suburbs, which are now anxiously watching and waiting for evacuation orders. The highway north is cut off at Taree, which we drove through yesterday. If we’d left Port Macquarie a day later, we may not have made it home at all.

Here’s what it looked like outside this morning:

Heavy rain

The rain has been heavy to extremely heavy almost all day, with just a few brief periods of light or no rain. The garage downstairs in our apartment block got flooded:

Flooded garage

Fortunately my car space is up the slope, and stayed dry, but some people’s spaces were ankle deep in water. The water was deepest near the garage entrance door – about calf-deep:

Flooded garage

There’s a lift here, and it was sandbagged to try to keep water out of the lift shaft:

Flooded garage

It couldn’t hold all day though, and water eventually got in and flooded the lift shaft. In a separate incident, some people got stuck in another one of the lifts, even though the shaft wasn’t flooded. It was a family with a baby. The lift guy arrived after about 45 minutes and I happened to be outside when he got here, and since I had keys I ended up helping him get to the floor above the lift so he could climb onto the roof of the lift car and release the doors to get the people out:

Rescuing someone stuck in the lift

Beyond staying indoors and avoiding the rain, I mostly spent the day working on photos from my trip. I have some to show off, but maybe tomorrow. It’s been a curiously exhausting day, following the news for weather alerts and flood warnings.

New content today:

Australia Day 2021

It’s the last day of the unofficial four-day weekend, and also the hottest day of the current four-day long heatwave that is clenching south-eastern Australia. We are expected to get some reprieve from the heat tomorrow, but there wont be a sudden cooling down this evening – it’s still going to be quite warm at midnight, and cool gently into a milder day tomorrow.

I got up this morning, had breakfast, and was just about to get a batch of sourdough that I’d made yesterday out of the fridge to shape into a loaf for baking… and the power went out.

A check of the power company website confirmed a blackout across a couple of suburbs, affecting approximately 1700 homes. Interestingly, my property was right on the edge of the affected zone, as shown on the map. Close enough such that the block of townhouses next door to us still had power. Anyway, not knowing when I’d have power to use the oven, I left the dough in the fridge, and hoped that the blackout wouldn’t last long enough for frozen things to start melting.

It’s sobering how little of your normal daily routine you can do with no power. Instead I did a session of stretching exercises. Then I was bored enough to clean the bathroom, thoroughly washing the floor and then polishing the tiles, and start work on cleaning the kitchen. The power came back about 9:30 am, and I immediately turned the air conditioning on, because it was already getting very hot.

Sydney city reached 37°C, and some suburban areas approached 42°C. The city is almost always cooler because it’s close to the coast, and inland suburbs hotter. It was the hottest Australia Day for some large number of years which I forget – something of the order of 50 or 60 years. And, including the day before the heatwave officially began, Sydney recorded its 5th consecutive day of temperatures above 30°C – which is a thing that has happened only 7 times since weather records began in 1858. And all 7 of those 5-day high temperature streaks occurred either this summer or last summer. Sydney had never experienced 5 days that hot in a row before 2019.

Outdoors was oven-like, and also very humid by the way. This was not a “dry heat” by any stretch of the imagination. It was oppressively humid. I had to take Scully out for toilets a couple of times, and although I stood still, in the deep shade of a tree, and in fact there was a bit of a breeze, I was still dripping with sweat after a couple of minutes. So we spent most of the day inside with the air conditioning making things bearable.

Until about 3:20 pm when my wife and I settled down to watch the first episode of series 11 of Doctor Who – the first Jodie Whitaker episode. I had navigated the DVD menu and my thumb was just about to press the button to start playing the episode… and the power went off again. Checking the power company map on my phone, the same area was affected, but with a few additional small areas as well.

Again, it didn’t come back on for a couple of hours, during which the house slowly got warmer. So we had about 4 hours without power in total, over two separate blackouts. I have no idea what the problem was. I can only hope that it doesn’t occur again.

Time for some ice cream… I think.

New content today:

Long weekend by proxy, day 3

It’s the Monday before Australia Day, and my wife has taken the day off work, so it’s kind of a 4-day weekend for us.

A new poll released this morning finds that 48% of Australians think that Australia Day (our official national day) should remain on the 26th of January, while 28% think that the date should be changed (with 24% not committed either way). This is a never-ending public debate, which, frankly, will continue to never end until the date is finally changed. The tide is slowly turning – those numbers in favour of changing the date have been increasing over the years, and they will continue to increase as younger generations of Australians replace older ones.

For anyone not aware, Australia Day is the 26th of January, which is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of English settlers (and convicts) to arrive in Australia, in 1788. Australia’s indigenous population, quite naturally, don’t view this is a particularly good date to be celebrating – seeing it instead as a date when their land was stolen and their culture upended. Older, conservative, white Australians tend to say it’s a day for all Australians to come together and celebrate being a united nation, blind to the fact that this is insulting to the indigenous population. Younger Australians are more sensitive to this sort of issue and are starting to get behind the calls to change the date of Australia’s national day to something less offensive and more actually unifying.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the date of Australia Day will be changed in the future. It’s just a question of how soon. It’ll take the order of a generation, for the older conservative population to die away and the younger population to replace them. Interestingly, Wikipedia’s article on Australia Day has half the entire content just on the campaign to change the date.

Australia has this weird relationship with so many of our national symbols. There’s also a strong movement to change the flag, to remove the Union Jack from the corner, as it’s an old symbol of allegiance to the United Kingdom, which feels inappropriate to growing numbers of Australians. The flag change movement was gaining in strength up until New Zealand had a referendum on changing their flag (for the same reason) in 2016. That failed to pass 57%-43%. If it had passed, the push to change Australia’s flag would have intensified, but the failure of NZ to change their flag (this time) has dampened our own flag change campaign for the past few years.

But again, I have no doubt Australia will change its flag in the future, because the younger generations now replacing the older ones will see it as more of a priority.

Another inevitable change is changing our form of government. We already had one referendum in 1999 on removing the Queen (Elizabeth II) as our head of state and becoming a republic. That quite possibly would have passed if only the government of the time hadn’t deliberately worded the referendum questions to cause maximal disruption to the republic movement and actively campaigned for a no vote. But it will come up again, and it will pass one day.

The fourth symbol is our national anthem – the lyrics of which were actually changed just weeks ago, on 1 January. One word of Advance Australia Fair was changed, from “Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free” to “Australians all let us rejoice, For we are one and free”. The original lyric was seen as being insensitive to the indigenous population and their 40,000+ year old culture, implying that Australian culture was “young” – in other words, implying that Australian culture began when Europeans arrived. This change had been proposed for a while but its adoption by the current government came out of the blue with an announcement just before the new year.

As it stands now, the Australian national anthem is the least reviled of our national symbols, but there is a small movement to change it – mostly because some people simply feel it is dirge-like and tedious as a song. I don’t think this change movement has legs, and I don’t believe the anthem will change any time in the foreseeable future.

But the others: Australia Day, the flag, and our system of government, they will all change. Probably within the next 20-30 years, if not sooner.

For Australians, this is the state of our existence, the mixed feelings many of us have for our national symbols, or the outright hostility we have for them and the desire to change them. We live with this constant public debate over each and every one of them. Australia Day does not unite Australians – it serves to remind us that we don’t agree on the basic symbols of our country, and that an ever growing proportion of our population want to change them.

I don’t know if this makes us unique in the world, or at least in first world democracies. Can you imagine 30% of Americans actively wanting to change the national day from the 4th of July to some other date, 40% of Americans wanting to change the American flag, 50% of Americans wanting to fundamentally change the American system of government, and maybe 10% of Americans wanting to change the national anthem from The Star Spangled Banner to something else? Imagine if this were the case – how would Americans feel every time the 4th of July rolled around and all of these things got splashed all over the media again and again and you were subjected to endless TV debate and discussion about how all of these things are offensive to large segments of the population? It’s hard to imagine, but that’s what it’s like to be Australian.

None of this is going to die down and go away, until these things, our national symbols, are changed. It’s only going to get more discussed, and more rehashed, and more protests and more public campaigns until it happens. It’s just so constantly tiring to hear it all again, every year, for as long as I can remember.

Anyway.

Today was as hot as yesterday, and tomorrow is going to be the peak of this current heatwave, with the hottest temperatures yet in the city. A cool change is forecast to hit tomorrow evening, and Wednesday should be cooler, thankfully. I basically spent the day indoors, using the air conditioning to stay cool – except when I had to take Scully out. But after dinner, we went for a walk with my wife up to the local shops to get some gelato for dessert. The breezy evening air after the sun had set was very nice, if still warm and humid. I had a very nice lamington gelato: chocolate gelato with chunks of chocolate, sponge cake, shredded coconut, and raspberry jam ripples. It was a special flavour for Australia Day, and it was delicious.

At least that’s something we can agree on.

New content today:

Long weekend day 2

The heatwave has really hit today. Yesterday was hot, but today was hotter, and also more humid. Fortunately near the coast we had a sea breeze keeping things somewhat cool, and the CBD registered only 34°C, but some outer suburbs reached above 40°C. Over in South Australia Adelaide city reached 43°C and some suburbs got as high as 45°C.

So mostly today we rested indoors, trying to keep Scully from wanting to go outside too much. She has a weird thing she does when she goes outside in very hot weather. As soon as she leaves the shade and enters the sunlight, she lies down on the ground. I’m not sure if she likes sunbaking, or if it’s just suddenly all too much and all she can think to do is collapse. She doesn’t lie in the sun in cooler weather.

My wife and I made three more attempts at Codenames Duet Vatican City in our ongoing campaign. The first two games ended quickly as we picked assassins in early turns. But the third game was a nailbiter, and we got down to sudden death time with only one spy left to guess, and I had a clue, but it was very loose, because she’d had to indicate three words with her final clue. Unfortunately I chose the wrong word, and we lost by the closest margin possible. We shall have to give it another go another day.

We also watched the Doctor Who special “Twice Upon a Time” – the one which ends Peter Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor and begins Jodie Whitaker’s. Yes, we’re a few seasons behind still – this is the first time we’ve watched up to this point.

And… for dinner I made potato salad. With purple potatoes. The local supermarket recently renovated a bit and now they have fancy potatoes, so I thought I’d try the purples one. They taste… just like potatoes. But they do look cool!

New content today:

Learning to drive

I didn’t mention yesterday when talking about my neighbour’s offer to give me some of her late husband’s golf gear, that she told me to take whatever I wanted to test it out first. I took the driver (the biggest, long distance club, for use in teeing off) on a test run today, playing a round at my local course.

The first hit I tried flew an impressively long way, but sliced badly, ending up in some trees. I corrected my grip for the next hole, and was blown away by how far and how straight the ball flew off the tee. I had a couple more marginal drives, but by the time I reached the 7th hole I was hitting the ball much cleaner and further than I’d ever managed with my own driver. I hit the tee shot on the 7th and it was without a doubt the best distance shot I’ve yet played. The hole curves slightly to the left around heavy forest, and my drive skimmed the inside of the curve within spitting distance of the trees, flying straight and true. I made a map of today’s drive compared to where I’d previously managed to hit the tee shot on this hole:

Hole 7

And then for good measure on the next hole I hit an even sweeter drive:

Hole 8

Wow. I’m just blown away by the difference this new, modern driver makes. The lesson I had a while ago also helped a lot, as I now have the basic knowledge of how to use this club effectively. So I’ll be happy to accept this gift from my neighbour. I started making dough today for a batch of sourdough which I’ll bake tomorrow, and take a loaf down for her.

I played early in the morning, and was home by 9:30. I had a shower, since it was already hot. The weather has turned from the cool and rainy of the last month to hot and sunny more typical of summer in the past few days. I thought my excursions were done for the day and planned to relax at home in the cool of the air conditioning.

Until my wife called at lunchtime and reminded me that I had agreed yesterday to go to her office and pick up Scully… So I had to venture out for a hot and sweaty walk to bring Scully home. And then I figured I may as well take her to the dog park later in the afternoon. The walk that the regulars do there along the waterfront has a final section which we call “The Gobi Desert”, because it so exposed and hot in hot weather. Normally we brave the heat of the Gobi Desert, but today everyone stopped short and turned back early.

So yeah, I’ve had another shower tonight.

New content today:

Sourdough #4

Following on from yesterday’s sourdough dough making, this morning I formed the chilled dough into a loaf, let it rise a couple more hours and come to room temperature, then scored the top ready for baking:

Sourdough before baking

35 minutes later it looked like this:

Sourdough bread!

It turned out really good, and the best of the four sourdough loaves I’ve made so far since getting the starter just before Christmas. So kneading the dough was a good idea, and I’ll definitely be doing that from now on.

In other news, yesterday (Saturday 9 January) was the first day with no rainfall recorded in Sydney since 28 December, and only the 5th dry day since 12 December. So basically we’ve had four whole weeks with only 5 days with no rain. It really has been a cool, wet summer so far, as predicted from the current La Niña phase in the Pacific.

Apart form baking bread, and cooking soup for dinner, and helping with the laundry and stuff, it was a pretty relaxing day. It’s good to have a bit of a break sometimes.

New content today:

A big storm

Rather than just light rain today, we had a full on summer thunderstorm.

storm

That was the rain radar image at one point. It was spectacularly heavy rain and intense lightning and thunder. The thunder just kept rumbling and more lightning would add more thunder before the previous peal had died away, so it was continuous rumbling thunder for several minutes at one point. Before the storm (which hit about 4 pm) it was very warm and humid – very tropical feeling weather.

I spent the morning shooting photos for Irregular Webcomic! My wife was back at the office for work, so I had time alone to spread the Lego boxes all over the floor and generally make a mess, before cleaning it all up in time for her to come home. So she doesn’t know about the mess… except she reads this blog so now she does!

Also today I received a package in the mail, all the way from the USA. I did a food swap with a friend in the US, and they sent me a bunch of American foods, while I sent them a bunch of Australian stuff.

American food care package

Some of these things I’ve had before and know I like, while some will be a new experience, including the Twinkies, Goldfish Crackers, stuffed marshmallows, Goober Peanut Butter and Jelly. And I told them I like hot sauces, so I got a cool selection of new ones to try! It’ll take me a while to get through all of this stuff.

New content today:

D&D neighbours

I ran into a neighbour from our apartment complex today while we were out walking our respective dogs. His dog is Tex, a chihuahua, and Tex and Scully get along really well. They love playing together, and running rapid circles around the park across the street. It’s always good when they play together, because it wears them both out, and we know they’re going to be exhausted and quiescent during the evening.

Anyway, a few days ago my wife ran into the same guy and he was wearing a Dungeons & Dragons T-shirt. She asked him about it, and told him that I play D&D as well. Today was the first time I’ve seen him since then, so we chatted about it a bit. He said he played when he was a kid, but stopped for many years, only picking it up again recently when 4th Edition was current. And now he organises tournaments and uses them to raise money for charity. So that’s pretty cool.

I’ve noticed for a few years prior to this that another neighbour must be (or have been) into D&D as well. In one of the garages in the basement, a neighbour has a huge pile of D&D books, as well as piles of boxes of gaming miniatures and other stuff. The books there are mostly 2nd Edition, I think, so it’s possible this neighbour hasn’t played for a while. Unless they have more recent editions upstairs in the apartment. So in my building I know there are at least three people (including me) into D&D.

Weatherwise, we had more rain again today. Although it was confined to the morning, and the overcast broke up enough for a touch of sunshine around mid-afternoon, before closing in again. Now as I write, it’s sunset, and I can see some patches of blue sky. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get heavy rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon, so perhaps the morning will be dry.

What I really hate about this type of weather is the oppressive, unending humidity. It’s not hot, but it’s always just so sticky. Towels don’t dry – you can have a shower, and 24 hours later your bath towel that’s been hanging up all day is still damp. And hand towels stay damp all day from all the hand washing and drying. The pages of books go all crinkly from the humidity, and I worry about mould growing on stuff around the house. We have calcium chloride damp removers in the wardrobes and linen closet, and they fill up with water from the atmosphere in a few days, so I’m constantly having to change them. But at least you can see they’re removing moisture from the air. I should stick some more in some other storage places, maybe.

I finished writing that batch of Irregular Webcomic! today, ready for photography tomorrow. My wife returns to work tomorrow, so that will give me uninterrupted time to get it done. We were both concerned that she’d be ordered to work from home, given the current COVID situation here, but her work has told her to come into the office.

The news on COVID in Sydney is not good today. It’s been revealed that two staff at a liquor shop were infected and contagious while working several shifts over Christmas. Over 2000 people have been contacted directly from the customer COVID contact tracing register at the store, and they and all their subsequent close contacts (family and friends) have been ordered to get tested and self-isolate for 14 days. That adds up to probably well over 10,000 people. Not all will have caught the virus, and hopefully the number will be low, but it’s concerning that the potential number is so high, and that it could easily spread further if some people are not diligent in isolating. We’ll see how this plays out in the next few days.

New content today: