An expedition for cotton

It was a lot colder today than yesterday. After the 33°C of yesterday, a cold front came through overnight, and today’s maximum was only 20°C, which felt really nice and cool after that heat.

My wife wanted to get some more cotton thread for her sewing, so we took a drive over to Birkenhead Point, where there is a large shopping centre with a branch of the fabric crafts store that she likes to go to. I dropped her off there and took Scully with me to a nearby bakery to get some lunch. We walked down to a park to sit while I ate, and she got to explore a new neighbourhood.

This afternoon I prepared the last lesson of my Creative Thinking and game design class for the students. It was really going over any comments and ideas they had on the second iteration of the Ruin the Wedding game that we’ve developed, giving them another creative thinking technique, and wrapping up with tips on how to use everything they’ve learnt in the future. The class went really well, and I think they really enjoyed the whole course.

Shakshuka with spinach

This evening for dinner I made shakshuka. I searched for some recipes and just figured out the common ingredients and threw it together, adding some spinach for greenery. Rather than bake it, I just let it sit in the frying pan on the stove top with a metal backing sheet over the top to keep the heat in and cook the eggs on top. It turned out pretty good!

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And a busy Friday to finish the week

Today I had to deal with questions from university students that I didn’t have time to handle last night. They stretched my knowledge a bit so it took a lot of time to handle them. I’d wanted to dedicate the day to writing comics and other such activities, but I only got a little of that done.

The other thing about today is that it was very hot. 33°C in the city, up to 34°C in some suburbs. It was the first real blast of heat as summer closes in. And windy – the sort of day with a strong hot wind blowing trees and leaves and pollen all over the place. That made it rather unpleasant being outside.

Tonight my wife is having a night out with her friends. I am looking after Scully, so I took her up the street to a burger place where we could sit outside while I ate. And while waiting for my food, my wife walked past with one of her friends! So Scully became super excited, because she loves that friend (having stayed with her for a couple of weeks while my wife and I were travelling). And then when I came home, Scully didn’t want to come with me – she wanted to go back to the restaurant where my wife always goes with her friends!

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Saturday morning Friday catchup

On Friday night I went out for dinner with my wife and Scully – the first time we’ve been able to do this since June when Sydney’s COVID lockdown began. We drove out to a Thai restaurant in a small suburban cluster of about 5 shops – nice and isolated from any crowds. This restaurant is only about 100 metres outside the 5 kilometre radius from our home that we’ve been restricted to since June, making it the furthest we’ve travelled from home in that time.

The weather yesterday was spectacular. We had scudding thunderstorm cells crossing the city all day. We got intense bursts of heavy rain and lightning, separated by bright sunny skies.

Greenwich Wharf wet and windy

During my wife’s work-from-home lunch break we took Scully for a walk It was raining heavily when we left, but within minutes it had brightened up as the storm passed, leaving blue sky overhead. This shot (above) is from Greenwich Wharf, where the wind was making the water choppy and it was a bit unpleasant exposed like this.

Greenwich stormy city view

This is from a vantage point on a street along the walk back home. More clouds were rolling in already over the city.

Greenwich stormy city view

And a wide shot from the same spot. It’s a great view from here in a clear day, but with stormclouds it becomes amazing.

After getting home from our delicious Thai dinner, I played some online games with friends. I actually won a game of 7 Wonders, which is an unusual but welcome occurrence. It was weird because I felt like I was doing better in the first game, which I came second last in (out of 5 players), while the next game I was sure I wouldn’t win, but I did.

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Storms and banana bread

The morning here was fine. I walked with Scully up to the local shops to get some sushi for lunch. There’s a small square with some grass which is a nice place to sit and eat lunch, so I went there. It’s good having Scully with me, because this is the turf of some very aggressive magpies who hang out and try to steal people’s lunches. At first they gave me a wide berth because of Scully, but they got bolder and bolder…

Sushi thief posse

They didn’t quite get close enough to steal any of my sushi, but I’m sure they would have tried if not for Scully.

Back home I made some banana bread. This time I decided to add some choc chips, and leave out the yoghurt. And I made extra certain to bake it long enough, after the one I made a couple of weeks ago turned out a little soggy in the middle.

Normally to test cakes, I use a metal skewer to probe the middle and see if it comes out clean. I’ve done it that way for as long as I can remember. But I read recently that you should use a wooden skewer, because metal is too smooth and the texture of the wood holds the undercooked batter better, so it’s a better indicator. Curious, I did a bit of Internet searching… and I was astonished to find the most common question asked about testing cakes was:

How can I test if a cake is done if I don’t have a toothpick?

Toothpick??? Who tests cakes with toothpicks??

Apparently everyone according to the Internet. But I’d honestly never heard of using a toothpick for this before. It’s weird the stuff you discover sometimes. Anyway, the banana bread turned out brilliantly this time.

Choc chip banana bread

As I type, there was just a huge flash of lightning and a loud peal of thunder. It’s been storming on and off all afternoon, with really heavy and violent storm cells sweeping across Sydney. Early this afternoon the weather bureau even issued a tornado warning:

THIS INCLUDES A TORNADO WARNING. […] Tornadoes, destructive winds, large, possibly giant hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding are likely.

I’ve never seen one of these before. Tornadoes have historically been extremely rare to non-existent in Australia – we just don’t have the geography for them. But they’ve been becoming increasingly common in recent years. There was a very destructive one reported a couple hundred kilometres west of Sydney a week or two ago, which destroyed some properties. But this is the first time I’ve seen a specific tornado warning for the Sydney area. I strongly suspect that with climate change this is going to become more common in this region.

There was destructive hail and wind and flash flooding in parts of Sydney, but mostly west and south of where I live. We got some heavy rain and spectacular lightning here, but nothing destructive.

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Ethics of Disgust

Today is the start of a new week of online ethics classes, and this week we’re talking about the ethics of disgust. I wrote the class material this morning, and have just run the first three lessons tonight, and it went really well. This is a really interesting subject to explore from an ethics viewpoint. Disgust is an instinctive reaction we feel at certain things and situations, but it translates into actions that can affect people in illogical ways.

I go into the reasons why we feel disgust – it being an evolutionary instinct to protect us from potentially dangerous things like disease. Most of the things we feel disgust towards tend to be things with a high risk of carrying pathogens. The problem is when that instinct is transferred by association to things that don’t pose such risks, and when that influences how we behave.

I have examples including why people are advised to dress and groom well for a court appearance. Research shows that juries and judges are less sympathetic to more scruffy appearing people – and lawyers know this. There’s also differences in the way people react to other people in need of help – they’re more likely to help clean looking people than dirty looking ones. And then there’s disgust in the area of medical research – a lot of things done to further medical knowledge and save lives are things that people consider disgusting, both in modern times and centuries ago. I tell the story of how doctors used to have people go and dig up freshly buried bodies so they could dissect them to learn about how the body works – and how the dissection of bodies was deemed so disgusting by society at large that they made it illegal, thus forcing the doctors to these extreme measures.

It felt like the kids really enjoyed this lesson, and there was a lot of good discussion about the topic as we went through the examples.

In other news, it was very rainy again today. Apparently it’s going to rain until Friday, then be sunny on the weekend, and then the rain will return from Monday again! The Australian Bureau of Meteorology released a long-term forecast for the summer, indicating we’re likely to be in for a cooler, wetter summer this year, with above average rainfall and likely a lot of storms, due to ongoing marginal La Niña conditions. When the pendulum finally swings and we got a hotter, dryer summer it’s going to be one to watch.

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Another cold Monday

We seem to be in a pattern of spring weather where the weekends are hot and then Monday dawns cold and wet. It’s been raining on and off all day and it’s really quite chilly.

I went out early with Scully for a short walk, because I had an ethics class at 10:00, followed immediately by a Zoom meeting at 11:00 with the lecturer of the University data engineering course that I’m helping him to redesign for next year. We’re both pretty happy with where it’s going and agreed to drill down to the next level of detail – roughly describing what will be included per slide in the lecture material. We split up the weeks so that we can work on different ones according to our preferences and experience and it divided pretty neatly.

While out in the rain, I took a couple of photos:

Golden elm

Wet bottlebrush

New spring foliage of golden elm, and a bottlebrush (or Callistemon species) flower. I think this makes a nicely contrasting pair of photos: green with green background, and red with red background. (Apologies to anyone with red/green colour blindness – my colour blind proofing tool shows the bottlebrush in particular doesn’t appear anywhere near as dramatic for you.)

The other big thing about today is that COVID lockdown restrictions have eased in Sydney today. After 107 days of being unable to travel more than 5 kilometres from home, we can now travel within the entire Sydney region. But we’re still not allowed to travel outside the city. Also a lot of businesses such as gyms and hairdressers are now allowed to open again. There were huge queues at barber shops and hair stylists starting from midnight – I heard reports that walk-in appointments had waiting lists of over 5 hours. Also pubs are open again, and cafes and restaurants can have seated customers. There are restrictions on numbers of patrons per floor area, which will remain for some more weeks until they are eventually rolled back.

I didn’t take advantage of any of this but I did drive over to the nearest state government service centre (which is within 5 km anyway) to do an eye test for my driver’s licence renewal. I think I was in there for less than a minute – I went in, took a number, and it was the next number they called. I showed the lady the letter that said I needed to do an eye test. She asked me for my licence, got me to read a line off a chart, hit a button on her computer, and told me it was done.

Tonight it’s project work for the students in the image processing course. Several of the student teams have had questions about their assessment tasks and the reports they are writing, but it seems mostly they are on track and doing good work. I’m actually excited to see how they go on the image processing tasks they’ve chosen to work on.

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Planning for how to do planning

Today I had a Zoom meeting with the lecturer of the Data Engineering course that I’m helping to redesign for next year, as well as one of the university staff working in the area of assisting lecturers to plan and design their courses. She had a lot of good input on various teaching methods and ways we could approach delivering the material. I took a lot of notes, and we also went through a bunch of online tools that we can sue to coordinate the course redesign.

I need to get stuck into that soon, but first I had to finish off the lesson plan for this week’s online ethics classes in time for teaching three of those this evening. I don’t think I had quite enough written yesterday, so I added a few extra questions.

I’m a bit concerned about the landscaping work that council workers are doing in the park across the street. You may remember a couple of weeks ago I reported on them killing the grass on the slope facing the street. And that when I phoned the project manager to find out if herbicide had been used, she said that they had originally planned to remove the grass, but now had decided not to change it – so they killed the grass for no reason.

Well, today it looked like this:

Landscaping work

They’ve removed the dead grass, leaving bare soil. Obviously in preparation for doing something with it, but I’m not sure what yet. They have done some landscaping with bark chips and new plants in the small area at the bottom of the photo, but that was done and completed before the dead grass was removed – so I don’t think they’re going to extend that treatment to the whole area.

The problem is that they’ve left bare soil today… and the next three days in Sydney are forecast to be extremely wet, with possible thunderstorms each day. I expect the rain will wash a lot of that soil off that quite steep slope. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens and what sort of muddy mess is left at the end of the week.

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Killing grass

I live near a small park, where I take Scully to toilet and to play in the grass a bit, nearly every day. The local council posted notices several months ago that they were planning landscaping work in the park. A couple of weeks ago they fenced off part of the park to start work. The park is on a slope, and Scully likes to lie on the top of the small hill so she has a good view of the surrounding area. The place she likes to lie is just outside the fenced off area, so I assumed it was fine for us to be there.

Then about a week ago the grass started going brown. Subtly at first, but then very noticeably, over a few days. Yesterday it was very clear that the grass was dying. Which was very weird, because there was a pretty stark line between the dying grass outside the fenced off area, and the still green grass inside the fence.


I started wondering if the grass had been sprayed with herbicide, as I couldn’t think of any other reason why it would suddenly die like this. I found the contact details of the local council project manager on the information sign posted on the temporary fencing, and phoned her up. I said I was a local resident, and I noticed the grass was dying in the area next to the fenced off works area, and asked if herbicide had been applied. She confirmed that the area had been sprayed with a glyphosate-based herbicide.

I pointed out that the area sprayed was outside the fenced off works area, and that people and dogs walked across the area every day, and that no notice of any sort was given that herbicide would be used on the area, nor any sort of warning that people might want to stay off the grass.

Then I realised that about a week ago Scully had been sick for two days, vomiting, and avoiding food. That would have been around when they must have sprayed that grass. I’m no expert – I don’t know if glyphosate can cause that in dogs, but it’s a little worrying. So I’m a bit upset about this.

To add to the stupidity, the project manager told me that the slope had been sprayed to kill the grass in preparation for removal and relandscaping the slope with sandstone and concrete, but they’d since decided they weren’t going to do that, and it will now be left the way it was! So they actually killed all that grass for no reason! Ugh.

In other news, today was very warm. We recorded 29.3°C, the warmest day since 13 March. It’s definitely an early, hot spring. We’re supposed to get similar temperatures tomorrow. My wife and I took Scully for a long walk early, before the heat of the day. There were a lot of people out and about, walking around, enjoying the warm weather. We’re wondering if this is a harbinger of a very hot summer coming up.

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Warm spring weather

It was beautiful and warm day today. I ditched the long pants of winter and went out in shorts today. First chore was picking up the groceries that I’d pre-ordered online. Then made some comics. Went for a walk over lunchtime with my wife and Scully. Taught a couple of ethics classes online.

For dinner tonight we ordered some take-away from a local Turkish restaurant for a change. It’s a place we eat at occasionally for a special treat, so we treated ourselves at home tonight.

And tonight is virtual games with my friends. We have a new implementation of the game Spyfall, which one of my friends coded up as a Discord bot.

Oh, and in another context, I wrote a series of haiku, as part of a contest to describe where I live using haiku, without saying it explicitly:

Lazy bee buzzes
Stars of white lay their fragrance
Frangipani summer

Drifts of leaves and seeds
Pale brown mountains in the streets
Plane trees in autumn

Yellow balls of fuzz
The bush is punctuated
Gold wattle winter

Purple blossoms crowd
Islands across the city
Jacaranda spring

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Winter storm incoming

Any story of today has to be about the weather. After yesterday’s 27°C winter heat, the cold front moved in overnight, bringing rain and cold. Today’s maximum temperature was recorded at 6:02 am, at just 11.4°C, making today the second coldest day of the year (10 June was just 10.3°C). It’s now 8 pm and Sydney has recorded 37 mm of rain in the city, up to just under 50 mm at the airport. The rain is expected to get heavier tonight, with accompanying gale force up to storm force winds. Wind gusts are already up to 70 km/h on Sydney Harbour. There are fears of beach erosion with the high seas that may threaten some coastal properties.

While this was unfolding today, I had a bunch of stuff to deal with. When we moved in here, there was an in-sink garbage disposal unit, for mulching food scraps into the drain system. I’d never lived with one before, but we started using it and got used to it. But last week it gave up the ghost, the motor seizing up. I called a plumber to see if we could just get it removed and replaced with a regular drainage pipe. No problem! And home repairs are one thing that is allowed to continue under our current COVID lockdown rules, so this morning the plumbers arrived to do the job. Rather than just replace the disposal unit, they redid all of the pipes leading from the double kitchen sink to the drainage port in the floor, replacing the semi-clogged trap and the old pipes that would threaten to start leaking a some point with brand new ones. The sink drain holes also have shiny new grilles in them. And there’s more space inside the cupboard under the sink where we store all the cleaning stuff and other things (watering can, toolbox, light bulbs, candles, matches, etc), so we used that to clear away some stuff off the kitchen bench. Overall a big win!

Then at lunch time I had to go pic up the car from some minor repairs. The repair place is about 20 minutes walk away. In the pouring rain and freezing cold. They had to pick the one day of the week when it was the absolute most miserable to be outside. Well, I took advantage of having to walk over there to stop in at a pie shop on the way for some lunch. As well as repairing the car they’d washed and detailed it nicely. Which didn’t last long…

Back home, I used the newly repaired car to take Scully to doggie daycare. And brave the rain again. In the afternoon I actually did some productive stuff, writing my class notes for this week’s new ethics topic: Fairness in Sport.

Then in the early evening I went to pick up Scully. When the rain and wind had intensified. When she goes to daycare, apparently she has so much fun playing with the other dogs that she completely forgets any need to pee or poo, with the result that as soon as I pick her up she has to rush to the nearest grass and relieve herself. With the rain coming horizontally and my umbrella threatening to turn inside out. And then once both of us were thoroughly wet we climbed inside the car to head home.

Here’s Scully on a sunnier day, last Saturday (bandana by Scully xo, my wife’s Etsy shop):

Scully at Oyster Cove

For dinner tonight I tried something new: sourdough pizza dough. I’ve been making pizza dough for a while now – it’s incredibly easy and I don’t know why I didn’t try it earlier. This time I tried adding some leftover sourdough starter to the mix to see how it works, and it turned out really good!

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