Summery Friday

It was hot today: 33.5°C in Sydney. Summer has definitely arrived early. Not only is it unusually warm, but much of south-east Australia is in the worst drought in recorded history. Several towns are in imminent danger of their water supplies running completely dry. Dubbo, a large regional town announced upgrading to Level 4 water restrictions this week, which makes showers longer than 5 minutes illegal and all watering of lawns illegal. Sydney is currently on Level 1 water restrictions but it probably won’t be long before we start climbing the levels too.

Another big fear is bushfires. As the weather heats up towards summer, the dry vegetation all over south-eastern Australia is going to be at great risk. It’s been a couple of decades since the last disastrous level fires with tens of lives lost, but everyone is nervous about this summer.

I stayed in out of the heat today and tended to a stack of odd jobs I had piled up – literally – on my desk. I sorted through the pile of papers and paid some bills, filed some documents, organised things needed for my upcoming trip to Germany, and collated data collected from the laser experiment during my last school science visit. I calculated the wavelengths of the lasers we used from the interference patterns the kids traced and put it into a slideshow to show them on my next visit. It turned out that their sketching skills were not great, with some individual wavelengths being out by almost 100 nanometres, but luckily the averages of three measurements made with different slit configurations turned out to be within 9 nm (or under 2%) in each case. A good result, if honestly more by luck than careful measurement!

For dinner tonight my wife and I went to a French crepe place that we discovered recently. It’s run by four French immigrants who loved everything about Australia, except for the fact that they couldn’t find good crepes anywhere, so they decided to start their own restaurant. Both the savoury galettes and dessert crepes are really good, washed down with imported French cider. And outdoor seating, so Scully is allowed to sit with us.

New content today:

Caught by rain

I went for a long walk today to get some exercise and some lunch. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on the weather turning while I was out. I was 3 km from home having a slice of pizza for lunch from an Italian bakery, and it started raining. The sky was dark and it looked like there would be heavy rain, and I had no protection from the elements.

I took shelter in a small shopping centre, and wandered into a supermarket to kill the time. They had some cheap roasted cashews, so I grabbed a bag. Fortunately the rain stopped while I was inside, but the sky looked threatening, so I scurried home.

On the way, I stopped at St Thomas Rest Park, a local historical cemetery, converted into a park, although still with many old gravestones on the site.

St Thomas Rest Park

The most significant is a pyramid-shaped tomb, under which are buried Alexander Berry, his wife, and her brother Edward Wollstonecraft (a cousin of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), who were pioneers of the settlement of North Sydney, across Sydney Harbour from the main colony of Sydney.

Alexander Berry Pyramid

This is an important historical site in the area, and it’s pretty cool that it’s been preserved and made accessible as a public park.

Back at home, I wrote annotations for the recent batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips, which finishes off the work on that batch. Time to start the next batch!

New content today:

Some cooking

This morning I finished off that new article for 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe that I mentioned yesterday. I’m very pleased with this one, as it’s so surprising how the shape of the Earth becomes important to a topic where it initially seems completely irrelevant.

Around lunch time I went for a walk, since the rain finally decided to stop late this morning. We had almost twice the average September rainfall in three days, but nobody’s complaining because it’s the only significant rainfall we’ve had since May and we really need it. The one thing it did was really increase the humidity, and although it wasn’t hot it was a bit sticky after walking a few kilometres.

Besides taking Scully out to enjoy the weather and get some exercise too, I spent much of the afternoon cooking. I boiled up some chick peas I had soaking since the morning, and then fried them up with some chopped potato, carrot, broccoli, onion, garlic, and a bit of tikka masala paste. This became a stuffing to go into some puff pastry, which I then baked in the oven for dinner. I also made some sweet treats for dessert. Mashed up a carrot cake loaf (bought from the supermarket), mixed with cocoa powder, apricot jam, and rum, then rolled it into balls and coated them in chocolate sprinkles – et voila! Home made rum balls. Last time I made them I used a banana cake and they turned out really nice, so I thought I’d try carrot cake as the base this time. Recipes I’ve seen all say to use a plain vanilla butter cake, but I like the extra flavour.

Another small thing I did today was that I found an interesting photo while trawling through my old photo folders looking for photos to illustrate my Globe proof. It’s not a great photo, but it is a photo of some very interesting birds:

Little penguins

These are little penguins, which I photographed back in 2006 while on a trip along the south coast of Australia. They are the only penguin species to nest on mainland Australia – in fact there’s a colony in Sydney Harbour, not far from where I live. The reason I was excited to find this old photo, despite the long distance and somewhat blurred image, was that I hadn’t counted this species among my list of bird species that I’ve photographed. I keep a list, and try to add to it whenever I get the chance, and I’m now up to 276 species.

I maintain a manual list here, and a while ago I started work on a version with a database of all my photos behind it. The new version isn’t fully populated yet, so most of the links lead to empty pages, and the page design needs to be made a bit more fancy, but you can see where it’s going if you click on some of these species: Bell miner, Crimson rosella, Little wattlebird, New Holland honeyeater, Pied oystercatcher. It’s going to be a bit of work adding in all of my photos…

New content today:

Rain!

It’s raining today! It’s been raining all day! This is exciting because of the horrible drought we’re in – everyone in Sydney is all over social media saying how good it is to have rain.

One result was I stayed in most of the day, only heading out briefly with Scully to the hardware and pet supply stores, which are in neighbouring buildings, mainly so she could get a bit of walking exercise without getting soaked and chilled. She loves the pet store, because she’s allowed to walk around in there and there are so many interesting things to smell. In the hardware store I checked the garden section and bought a small chilli plant. I’m going to try growing chillis on our balcony. I hope there’s enough sun for them; I guess I’ll find out.

Scully in raincoat

At home I wrote up a new article for 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe. As usual, that took several hours of research, writing, and collecting and formatting suitable images. I was very pleased to find an actual published astronomy paper that explicitly compared flat Earth and spherical Earth models for the phenomenon I was researching, and concluding that the flat model wasn’t adequate.

It’s still raining heavily. Yay!

New content today:

Home handyman day

Today I installed the new kitchen cupboard shelves that I bought last week. First I walked to the hardware store in the morning to get a drill bit. When I got home I pulled all the mugs out of the cupboard and removed the existing shelf, then marked up locations for drilling holes for the mounting pegs for the new shelves. A bit later, I had nice new shelves installed!

Here are before and after photos:

Cupboard before and after

After lunch I picked up Scully from my wife’s work and then took her to a dog park for some exercise. It rained a bit, big cold raindrops, but not very intensely or long. And there was a really bright rainbow against the dark grey clouds. We need some rain, it’s been so dry for so long. There are dangerous bushfires burning out of control in both New South Wales and Queensland, and it’s extremely early in the fire season – we’re barely out of winter. I fear this summer is going to be terrible for fires across Australia.

New content today:

The gravity of the situation

Most of today was spent writing a new article for 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe. It’s about the variation in the strength of gravity over the Earth’s surface. It was hard finding a map of the actual value of the acceleration due to gravity across the Earth, rather than maps showing the local anomalies compared to a smoothly varying reference value. There are hundreds of the latter, but I only found one of the former, copied on a few different blogs, and it wasn’t clear where the original came from. I finally tracked it down to the Western Australian Geodesy Group at Curtin University, but the link I found led to a 404 page. So I emailed the professor of the research group there to ask if the diagram was really made by them, and if not, if he knew where it came from. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ll update the article if and when I do.

For lunch I went on a longish walk over to a bakery called The Grumpy Baker, near the dog park where I take Scully a couple of times a week. With Scully we always drive because it’s a bit far to walk with her, but I did the trip on foot today, almost 5 km there and back. The weather was glorious – it really felt like summer already, even though we’re barely a few days out of winter. I walked there on an inland route, and then walked back by the shore of the harbour to make it a loop. This is Oyster Cove:

Fence and boat

And then this afternoon the temperature got even warmer. Between 4pm and 4:30pm the temperature rose by 6.2 degrees Celsius (11.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Yes, in half an hour! A strong westerly wind was bringing in hot air from central Australia. The wind was really strong too, gusting up to 100 km/hr across Sydney, and causing some significant structural damage and bringing down several trees. A few cars got crushed and people hospitalised, and there were blackouts from power lines being downed. Nothing severe near me, but there were some small tree branches littered about the road. And when my wife and I walked up the street for dinner, the fire brigade was dealing with a damaged tree as we walked past.

And then later it rained, very heavily, while we were eating dinner. That brought a steep drop in temperature, back down 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) between 6 and 7pm. Fortunately the rain stopped before we walked back home, but the walk was uncomfortably cold.

Today I also raided the garage to find tools to install the new kitchen shelves I bought from the hardware store on Tuesday. I found an electric drill, but no bits. I’ll probably have to go buy the bit I need.

New content today:

Rainy day writing

It rained more today, heavier than yesterday. I wrote Irregular Webcomic! scripts in the morning while listening to the music of Five Year Mission.

After lunch I collected Scully from my wife’s work, and then had to keep her amused for an hour before taking her to doggy daycare. Wife had booked her in for daycare today because of the weather forecast – as we discovered yesterday it’s difficult to get her some good outdoors exercise when it’s cold and raining heavily. I couldn’t let her run around and get soaked in the rain, so I took her to the pet shop where she likes to roam up and down the aisles sniffing everything. And then we went to the daycare place, which is probably her favourite place in the world (besides home of course!). She gets to play with lots of other dogs and usually comes home exhausted. Here’s a photo the daycare people took of her with a friend:

Friyay at doggy daycare

I wrote more comics in the afternoon. Writing a batch of comics can take up to two days of work. I’ll have to finish this batch off tomorrow. That was basically it for the day. Writing comic scripts is the most time consuming part of making Irregular Webcomic!, because of periods of writer’s block, and other periods of doing research. For one strip I wrote today I spent a couple of hours researching the history of various Greek provinces during the Roman era, which included this tweeted appeal for assistance. (I found the answer.) You can probably guess what theme it was for. It’s amazing the amount of research I put into a simple gag comic strip sometimes.

This evening was a relaxing dinner out with wife and Scully at one of our favourite Indian restaurants. We walked up the street, with the rain thankfully just light, easing off for the night.

Rainy night at Crowie

New content today:

Lunch

It was supposed to rain today. The forecast was for 25 mm of rain, which is a lot. As it turned out, there was barely a spot, and much of the day was partly sunny. Even when it’s supposed to rain, it seems the weather is determined to keep Sydney dry.

I spent much of the day out, returning the lasers and diffraction slits I borrowed to the Sydney University Physics Department, and then having lunch with a friend nearby. Here’s the main Quadrangle at Sydney University:

Quad

We ate at The Pie Tin in Newtown, which has delicious meat pies (and vegetarian ones too). After having a savoury, I eyed the sweet pies. They had a cherry ripe pie, with bits of Cherry Ripe bars in it. Cherry Ripe is an Australian chocolate bar, and one of the most enduringly popular bars in the country. It’s made of cherries, coconut, and chocolate. So a cherry ripe pie sounds pretty good.

But next to the cherry ripe pie was a “cherry, chocolate, and coconut pie”. I kid you not. The exact same three ingredients. But it didn’t have bits of Cherry Ripe bar in it – it was just cherry, chocolate, and coconut. To be fair, the two pies looked very different, with the cherry ripe one appearing to have a lot more chocolate, while the other was more of a coconut cream topping. Anyway, I selected the less chocolatey one (as I’m trying not to eat too much chocolate), and it was very good.

Cherry chocolate coconut pie

I stopped off in the city on the way home to do a bit of shopping. Then this afternoon my wife and I took Scully for a walk and exercise at the dog park.

Um, and we watched the last of the first set of 10 episodes of Disenchantment. We were a bit behind on watching this series, but it turns out our timing is good, as the next series of episodes is released in September. So it’s been a bit of a wash as far as creating stuff today, but sometimes you just need a day off!

New content today:

Laser day

Today was my visit to the primary school to talk to the older classes about the solar system, and to supervise my Science Club class while we did experiments with laser diffraction. We measured the diffraction patterns of red, blue, and green laser light through double slits, replicating Young’s seminal experiment which established that light had the properties of waves. We ran out of time to do all of the calculations, but very quickly I got a rough figure of 620 nanometres for the wavelength of the red laser (which actually has a wavelength of 632.8 nm, so we got pretty close). Over the next while I’ll refine the measurements and calculate the other wavelengths too.

It was rainy today in Sydney. At least on the coast. It was dry as I drove towards the school, which is near the coast, and as I came down the hill from the plateau to the coastal strip, it began raining, and was really heavy by the time I got to the school. Unfortunately, we need the rain inland, where the dams are for our water supply.

New content today:

Cathedral framed

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: