Fire and Ice

Today I planned to do another 5k run in the morning, but when I got up more bushfire smoke had blown in overnight, and the air was pretty awful to breathe. It was bad enough going outside for a couple of minutes – I didn’t want to be out running around and inhaling deeply, so I abandoned the exercise plan. This smoke is still being blown across Sydney from the large fires burning in bushland north-west of the city.

By lunchtime the day had warmed up a lot. And then the weather turned. It got very dark, and there was a lot of thunder. And then as I was watching through the glass balcony door, there was a sudden huge gust of wind, and a spray of water smashed into the glass, as if someone had thrown a large bucket of water at it. My chilli plant was blown off the table on the balcony and smashed to the floor, scattering soil everywhere. Hailstones clattered on the bricks and tiles.

And then a minute later it all stopped. 15 minutes later and the sun was out again. It was the most incredible blast of storm, lasting only a short time, but in that time it certainly packed a punch. It was part of a line of storms that left a swathe of destruction across Sydney. The highest recorded wind gusts were 96 km/h. In some suburbs, multiple trees were toppled, destroying several houses and cars, and bringing down power lines, leaving over 50,000 houses without power. Fortunately nobody was killed, although it could easily have happened. Here’s a news story about the storm.

The damage at my place was limited to my poor chilli plant. Once the storm had passed, I went out to the hardware store to buy some potting mix, so I could repot the plant. After doing that, I had to clean up all the spilt soil, from all over our outdoor furniture and the balcony floor. Overall, including the time to go to the hardware store, I spent about 4 hours cleaning up the mess caused by the storm.

New content today:

Report writing

Today was a working day. I needed to write a report on my recent trip to Germany for the ISO Photography standards meeting in Cologne. Standards Australia requires a meeting report, and I also need to prepare notes for a follow-up meeting with photography experts here in Australia, to report on what was discussed in Germany. Part of the meeting outcomes was a plan to host a meeting in Sydney in February 2021, which we now need to begin planning.

So I spent most of the day writing that report. Later in the afternoon we had a big thunderstorm crash through Sydney, although we only caught the edge of it and didn’t see a lot of rain, but we certainly got a lot of lightning and thunder. We have more storms forecast for tomorrow. It’s good to get some rain, although it’s not clear if it’ll make much difference to the current drought. Sydney goes onto Level 2 water restrictions in a couple of weeks, because our dams continue to dry up.

New content today:

Smoke and wind

This morning I’d planned to go to the local golf course to play a round of golf. This would be my first time on a full sized course, as opposed to the short “pitch and putt” course I’ve been playing on with my friend. I thought I’d have a go myself to try to get a bit of practice before playing a full course with my friend.

But when I got up this morning, there was a faint smell of smoke in the house. Overnight, a pall had descended on Sydney, blown in from the out of control bushfires north-west of the city. It resembled a thick fog, reducing visibility to maybe a couple of hundred metres or so. Despite having the windows all closed overnight, it had permeated into the building. Going outside, the smell was overpowering.

So I called the golf course and postponed my round until tomorrow. They were very understanding about it. And rather than let my wife and Scully walk to work as they usually do, I drove them up, in the car with the vents closed to try to stop the smoke getting in.

Here are links to a couple of reddit posts with photos taken by other people in Sydney this morning:

The smoke hung around all day, so I didn’t go out at all, until it was time to take Scully to the park for some exercise this afternoon. By then it had cleared a bit with a stiff breeze, but the sky was still grey and you could still smell the smoke faintly. The weather bureau says it won’t clear fully until some time tomorrow. But that it’s likely to come back several times over this summer as more fires burn around the city.

New content today:

Fire day

The main thing about today was not anything I did, but the weather and the resulting fires across the Eastern parts of Australia. We’ve had out-of-control bushfires burning in various parts of New South Wales and Queensland since the weekend, and today’s weather was very hot and windy. The combination resulted in declarations of (a) total fire bans across all of NSW and Queensland, (b) “catastrophic” fire conditions in the Sydney and surrounding regions – the first time this warning level has ever been issued for Sydney, and (c) an official state of emergency in NSW from today, for the next seven days.

Over the past few days, several hundred homes have been destroyed by fire, and a handful of people have been killed by the fires. We expected the worst today, as temperature rose to 37°C in Sydney, and hotter in some rural areas, with very low humidity and high winds. Throughout the day as the temperature climbed, I kept up with the news, hoping not to hear of further tragedies.

While this was happening, I spent the morning back at the school I went to yesterday, working with a couple of the kids in the Science Club, to prepare a short slideshow presentation of the work we’ve been doing all year. The older kids in the Science Club are going to present the experiments we’ve been doing to the whole school at an assembly in a couple of weeks. They have a 15 minute slot, so I made sure to keep things tight, and helped them write a script to read from.

I was home around lunch time, and then began work on getting a result from our solar shadow measuring experiment, that the kids have been working on since May – recording the length of a shadow each day as the sun moves.

Later I went out with my wife and Scully to the pet shop, for some exercise, since it was a much cooler option that going to the park. We walked over to the hardware store as well, and a couple of other places nearby to buy a few odds and ends. Scully enjoys going to the pet shop, as there are so many interesting things to smell. But she was getting restless again early this evening, so I braved the heat and took her to the nearest park to chase a ball around for a while until she got exhausted. While we did this, I could see the smoke from the bushfires around Sydney drifting across the sky.

Scully and the bushfire smoke

(This photo was walking home, not at the park.)

New content today:

Comic writing slog

I need to get another batch of Irregular Webcomic! made before I leave for a week in Germany on Friday, so I spent most of today struggling to write scripts. It’s bad when you need to write and you can’t think of anything. To distract myself and shift mental gears hoping that that would kickstart things, I did various housework and took Scully for a big long walk.

The weather was hot and sunny when we left, but as we walked the dark grey clouds rolled in, and it started raining by the time we got home.

Scully before the storm

Fortunately we got in with just the first few drops beginning to fall.

This evening I watched the Rugby World Cup quarter final game from Japan: Australia v England. What a debacle. 🙁

New content today:

Caught in the rain

Housework this morning – cleaning the bathroom, shower cubicle, vacuuming the carpet. Then I spent the rest of the morning making tomorrow’s Darths & Droids strip, after last night’s writing session.

After lunch I took Scully for a walk while my wife went off to an appointment. We went for a longish walk around the neighbourhood, up and down several of the hills, through a park, past a favourite bakery, and then back along the harbour shore to complete a big loop. Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on the weather, as it began raining when we were most of the way outbound, and I hadn’t brought anything for wet weather. We sought shelter under someone’s carport for a while during the heaviest part, and I checked the rain radar on my phone to see how long it might last. But eventually we just had to push through it and walk in the rain, thankfully a bit lighter, but heavy enough to make us moderately wet.

But the good thing about this sort of weather is you can get dramatic photos:

Scully: rain mood

This was one shot of many – it’s hard to get Scully to pose and sit still for more than a few seconds!

Tonight for dinner my wife and I went out to Via Napoli, a pizza place a short drive away, one of only a handful of places in Australia certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana as making true Neapolitan pizzas. They are really good, and they had a special “10 cheeses” pizza tonight, which we had to try. It was amazing. (Unfortunatey we tucked into it before I thought to take a photo…)

New content today:

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: