Pies are squared (away)

This morning I prepared some sourdough, to rise in the afternoon, then sit in the fridge overnight before baking in the morning. I’ve been using a simple “no knead” recipe that my sourdough friend pointed me to on YouTube. But after I’d prepared the dough he shared some photos of his latest dough, and it looked a lot nicer than mine. Smooth and clean, whereas mine looked… well, like this:

Sourdough before kneading

So I mentioned that I’m not kneading the dough, like the recipe he showed me, and asked if sourdough should not be kneaded. He said no, kneading it is fine and in fact good – he only showed me a “no knead” recipe because it was the simplest thing. I’ve been making bread from pre-mixed packets for months, so I’m familiar with kneading and how it changes the texture of the dough, so I was excited and went back and gave it a good 10 minutes of kneading. And then it looked and felt much, much better:

Sourdough after kneading

So this will be another experiment in my sourdough journey. But I’m confident and excited, hoping this will again be better than the previous one, in a steadily improving series of loaves.

In other food news, I went out for lunch with my wife and Scully, driving over to my favourite pie shop. It’s in the Northern Beaches region which has been under COVID travel restrictions for the past couple of weeks, but they’ve been relaxed now, so it was a good chance to go and get some pies. I had a butter chicken pie and a Mexican vegetable pie, both of which were delicious.

While there I added some masked lapwings to my eBird sighting list. That takes my eBird tally to 29 species spotted since 24 December. You can also add species you identify from their calls, but unfortunately I don’t know all of the bird calls that I hear around the region. I can identify several, but there are a few that I have no idea what bird they are, so unfortunately I can’t add them. Today I listened to 40 different Sydney bird call recordings from Birds in Backyards, but they didn’t include two of the most frequent ones I hear around here. I’ll have to find another site with more bird call recordings to learn what they are. One in particular is a distinct series of three descending whistling notes, which the repeats after a few seconds. I haven’t been successful in searching for that specific one.

To complete the food listing, this evening I made a spicy lentil dhal with potato chunks for dinner, served over rice. Very quick and easy, and delicious!

New content today:

Looking for birds

So as mentioned on 27 December, I’ve been getting into using eBird to record my bird sightings as I walk around the neighbourhood. I’ve been recording lists of sightings every day, which is training me to keep an eye and ear out for birds as I walk around.

Up to today, I’d recorded a total of 25 different species of birds. But today as I was out walking Scully I spotted the 26th, and a rather surprising one it was – an Australian pelican! They’re common along various Sydney ocean beaches and coastal strips, but I’m inland on the harbour shore, where they don’t often come. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the ground in this area – and in fact today’s was flying overhead. But as soon as I saw it I recognised it and was astonished that a pelican was flying so far from the sea. I watched it circle on a thermal over the harbour shore for a few minutes, wishing it would come closer so I could get a definite ID. After a while it did come close enough that yes, I can confirm with surety that it was a pelican. Cool!

Today I assembled the comics from the photos I took yesterday. It was a marathon effort, taking about six hours of solid work. The next step is writing the annotations, which I’ve made a start on, but will have to finish off another day.

The other thing I wanted to mention today is that I’ve been noticing a few discussion threads on reddit lately about colourblindness or other aspects of colour science. And I’m dismayed by how much misinformation there is and downright incorrect assertions that people make. I would be happy to provide correct explanations of things about colour and human vision, since this is part of my professional expertise, but it feels futile fighting against such a tsunami of misleadingly incorrect text. So it’s a bit depressing. I guess I should just stop reading anything about colour on reddit.

In COVID news, the Sydney outbreak seems to be being held under control, although there are still thousands of people under self-isolation orders. The number of actual new detected infections has been low the past few days, with testing numbers high. So if this continues, it looks like we have avoided an exponential spreading event. Fingers crossed!

New content today:

Back to COVID restrictions

Sydney moved back to the pre-Christmas COVID restrictions today, which means we can no longer visit my wife’s family. This lasts until 30 December, and what happens on New Year’s Eve and beyond is still to be determined. Sydney had 7 new COVID cases today. The outbreak seems to be mostly contained, but of course it’ll be another week or two before we really know for sure. And in the meantime the less people move around, the better.

My wife and I took Scully on a long walk this morning before it started getting hot. I’ve started using eBird regularly on my walks in the past few days, and it’s interesting to see just how many bird sightings I rack up in a simple walk around the neighbourhood. I don’t carry a camera, and a phone is usually not close enough to take a decent photos of birds, but I managed to get a welcome swallow this morning:

Welcome swallow

Here’s today’s list:

  • 1 Australian brushturkey
  • 19 Feral pigeons
  • 1 Little pied cormorant
  • 2 Little black cormorant
  • 1 White-faced heron
  • 3 Laughing kookaburra
  • 2 Australian king parrot
  • 41 Rainbow lorikeet
  • 20 Noisy miner
  • 1 Grey butcherbird
  • 3 Australian magpie
  • 5 Pied currawong
  • 14 Welcome swallow

I didn’t do much else today. Watched the cricket match, cleaned up a pile of old papers and things that I’d been meaning to get to for ages. Fed the sourdough starter in preparation for making dough tomorrow, for baking on Tuesday. Played some Codenames Duet with my wife… we’re really struggling to win the Bangkok campaign game. We’ve attempted and failed 12 times now. It’s going to feel really good when we finally beat it…

New content today:

Boxing Day relaxation

It’s Boxing Day, and that means sport. Unfortunately the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has been cancelled this year due to COVID, but the Boxing Day Test Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground began on schedule. India are here this year, and this game is the 100th Test match between Australia and India. It’s the second game of the series, and Australia won the first easily, but today India looked well on top, so it might turn into an interesting series.

Other than watch the game on TV, I didn’t do much else. My wife and I took Scully on a walk during the lunch break, and we waked along the creek near our place all the way down to the harbour. It’s an amazing urban bushwalk, through fairly dense wet sclerophyll forest, tall eucalypts overhead and ferns at ground level. Although it’s surrounded by houses, it’s difficult to see them, and you can in many places easily believe you’re in a wilderness.

At one point we saw a couple of kookaburras on a tree limb, and they stayed there as we moved closer. I managed to get remarkably close and took the following photo, with my phone! – not even an SLR with a long lens:

Laughing kookaburra

I think they were young ones, waiting for their parents to come back with food. Pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that close to a wild kookaburra before.

New content today:

Fish & chips & magpie

This morning I did the weekly grocery shop. There wasn’t much on the shopping list today, so it was a fairly light one. But the supermarket has started one of its periodic things where they move everything around for no reason, so it took me longer than normal to find things. The cheese is now where the eggs used to be, the eggs are where the yoghurt used to be, the yoghurt’s where the juice used to be, and so on and so forth. I’m sure they only do this to confuse shoppers and make them spend more time in the store. And I guarantee in a year they’ll do it all again.

Workwise I mostly spent the day doing comics stuff.

For lunch I went for a walk to the fish & chip shop and then down to my favourite eating spot.

Fish box lunch

That’s actually a “lunch box” special, with the chips replaced by potato scallops. And this guy tried to get close enough to steal some of my lunch:

Hungry magpie

I actually got several closer photos, but he was so close that the phone-camera didn’t focus properly. It’s an Australian magpie, by the way. They can be extremely bold, and even aggressive, although not as aggressive as silver gulls. Except when swooping during nesting season, when magpies are significantly dangerous. (Which is right now, but this one wasn’t protecting a nest, thankfully.)

Hungry magpie

I had to keep shooing him away, and managed to retain all of my lunch for myself.

New content today:

Full metal golf x2

My golfing friend invited me to play today at a new course: North Ryde Golf Club. We planned to play the first 9 holes and then decide if we wanted to continue with the second 9.

Hole 2, North Ryde Golf Club

It’s a nice course, with a few lakes. Being a large green area with water in the middle of urban Sydney, it seems to attract a lot of birds. In this photo (above), which is from the 2nd hole tee, you can see a group of Australian wood ducks.

Hole 3, North Ryde Golf Club

Hole 3 (above) is a nice short one. The course was busy, and we often had to wait for groups in front of us to move on before we played our shots. After completing the front 9, we decided to continue on and play the back 9. As soon as we teed off on hole 10, it started raining. Steady but not too heavy. We pressed on.

But after a few holes, my friend said his back was starting to ache, so he pulled the plug and left, but I decided to continue and finish the complete round. I was playing behind a group of four who were pretty slow, but there was no point playing through them as they were being held up by at least two other groups ahead of them. So I went into zen mode and just relaxed and enjoyed being outdoors on this chilly, rainy winter’s day.

Hole 17, North Ryde Golf Club

The rain eventually eased off and I approached the end of the round (hole 17 above). I actually joined up with the group of four for the last hole, and it turned out they were middle-aged beginners as well. They all teed off on the short par 3, hitting their balls in various skewy places. Then I stepped up and cracked my ball straight onto the green! My first putt almost went in too – it was a good 5 metres long, and it curled around the lip of the hole but didn’t fall in, instead continuing another metre or two (requiring another two putts for a bogey, alas).

Overall, I had a good time, getting some exercise, and also spotting all the birds on the course. I saw: Australian magpie, Australian raven, Australian white ibis, Australian wood duck, Dusky moorhen, Magpie-lark, Rainbow lorikeet, Sulphur-crested cockatoo, Welcome swallow, White-faced heron.

With travel time, I was out of the house over five hours. Throw in cooking dinner and walking Scully and that was pretty much the day.

New content today:

Job interview, round 1

This morning I had a first interview for a casual job I’ve applied for. Primary Ethics, the non-profit organisation that organises the children’s ethics classes that I volunteer to teach, is looking for people to train new volunteer teachers. I’m qualified because I’ve been teaching ethics for 3 years now, and I have relevant experience in training adults, and satisfy all the other requirements (ability to work weekends and sometimes weekdays, and willingness to travel to regional towns within NSW). I put my application in a couple of weeks ago, and they arranged an initial phone interview.

My phone rang at the appointed time. The first thing the interviewer said to me was: “You attached your cover letter and CV as [MacOS] Pages files, and we couldn’t open them, so I know nothing about you.”

Ooops. Not a great start.

But it didn’t seem to be a deal breaker, and I think I made a good impression in the interview. I sent my CV and letter in PDF format as soon as the half-hour conversation ended. They’re looking for three people, and at this point I’m pretty confident that I’ll be called in for a face-to-face evaluation. That will involve doing a roleplay in which I demonstrate training someone, and then they’ll decide from there. Given next week is Christmas, they’ll let me know some time in January.

Also today I went for a short walk to test out some video capturing stuff. I have a small video project planned, and wanted to test out some different methods of camera stabilisation. While I was walking, I came across a brushturkey, and got close enough for this video:

This is an Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), and they’ve become very common across Sydney in the past decade or two. Before then they were never seen in the city, but they’ve expanded their habitat and can now be found practically everywhere in the city. This individual is tagged (#038), as part of a research project into their movements.

Tonight my wife and I played a game of Azul: Summer Pavilion. It was a hard fought game, and she beat me 92 points to 91. I’m having real trouble beating her at any of the Azul series of games. I must practise more…

New content today:

Man 0 – Nature 3

Remember last Tuesday, when we had that incredibly intense but short storm? And it blew over my chilli plant, and I spent hours cleaning up the mess and repotting the plant?

This morning I woke up, and the chilli had been blown over again by strong wind during the night, spraying the new soil all over balcony. I quickly collected as much as I could with a dustpan and broom, and returned it to the pot. The plant is now leaning over again, so I’ll have to re-insert the stake and tie it up to hold it vertical again. But I didn’t have time to do that in the morning, because I had to leave to go the school where I talk to the kids about science, and run the Science Club.

Today I had the older classes, from year 3 to year 6, and I did a general Q&A session with them. They had a lot of good questions today, on a variety of topics, covering astronomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and geology. I talked through most of the answers, but a couple I had to admit I didn’t know the answer to and suggested they look it up later. The session with the Year 6 class, one boy asked the very first question: “How big is Uranus?” – setting off a lot of giggling. I quickly said something factual about the planet and then moved on. Only afterwards did I realise I should have answered: “Not big enough to be sat-urn. Next question.”

After the group sessions (and the recess break) I had Science Club with my 13 students who I’ve been working with all year. As this was our final session, I didn’t have time to run another experiment, so we just sat and had a discussion about what we learnt this year, about science in general, about what sort of jobs you can get in science, and then I let them ask any questions they had, and tried to answer those. Here’s the whiteboard we were using, at the end of the session:

Science Club board

I cam home mid-afternoon. I went out on the balcony to assess the leftover mess from the chilli plant blowing over. And then, as I was standing out there, another gust of wind blew over the basil plant I’m growing for use in cooking! Soil went everywhere, and because the balcony door was open, including inside, on the carpet, and even on the dining table!

Today was really windy. I had a late lunch out, after finishing Science Club, sitting by the beach, and the wind was blowing wildly, making trees sway violently, generating huge whitecaps on the ocean. It was really awful conditions. Oh, and as I was driving to and from the school, I passed some of those areas where the power lines were still down today, 6 days after the storm last week. A friend of mine had no power from last Tuesday to Sunday night – 5 full days.

Anyway, with the wind still blowing strongly, I just quickly swept up the largest piles of soil, righted the basil, and placed the plants in sheltered positions against a wall, so hopefully they won’t blow over again.

I also decided not to take Scully out to the dog park where we meet other people and dogs, as it’s down by the water and it gets windy there even on calmer days, so today would be intolerable. Instead I took her downstairs, intending to cross the road to the nearby park which is a lot more sheltered, and let her just chase a ball for a while. As we were coming out of our property, Scully pulled up lame, favouring a rear leg. I thought she must have a burr or something stuck on her paw, as she was trying to get something off. I grabbed her leg and brushed the base of the paw, finding a sticky lump, which I pulled off…

It was a bee.

Next thing I knew, I had a shooting pain in my thumb. It stung me right on the pad of my thumb. I’ve never been stung by a bee before, so my lifetime record is now trashed. The bee fell to the ground, but the sting was stuck in my thumb. I scraped it out with a fingernail. It hurt a lot – but honestly nowhere near the pain I got from a jack jumper ant sting a couple of years ago. Given a choice, I’d take the bee sting any day. Anyway, I aborted the park trip and went back inside with Scully to wash the sting area and apply ice for a while.

Ten minutes later I was fine and resumed taking Scully out for exercise. (The jack jumper ant sting throbbed for months.) We played in the park a while. Then, just as we were turning to head home, a huge gust of wind blew into my face from the south, bringing a strong smell of smoke.

The bushfires around Sydney have been burning for a couple of weeks now, and every few days the winds bring the smoke into the city. Some days it’s been really terrible – horrible choking smoke everywhere. Today had been okay, up until that moment. As we walked home, I could see clouds of smoke, made orange by the late sun, wafting across the sky.

Here’s a photo someone posted to reddit as the smoke drifted in: [photo]

And another photo from nearby shortly afterwards: [photo]

In the endless struggle of Man versus Nature, today Nature won.

New content today:

Bird photo walk

This morning I took a drive to Sydney’s northern beach suburbs, specifically to Narrabeen, where there is a large lagoon. There is a walking track all the way around the lagoon, over 8 km long. I didn’t walk the whole thing, but rather only a small section on the southern shore, passing through some bushland. I took my camera and longest lens, prepared to photograph birds.

Near the car park were several ducks. These are Pacific black ducks hybridised with introduced mallards. Mallards are much more aggressive breeders and hybridise readily with the native ducks. This is a concern for local wildlife experts, because it’s diluting the pure Pacific duck genotype, and may lead to the elimination of the Pacific black duck as a species.

Pacific black duck x Mallard

On the water were some black swans. Fortunately these don’t hybridise with the introduced mute swans that can be found in some places.

Black swans

The next bird I spotted was one I haven’t photographed before, a sacred kingfisher. Unfortunately I only saw it in the distance through dense foliage, and my camera refused to focus on it, so I had to fiddle with manual focus. This was the only photo I managed to get. Still, that’s another one added to my list!

Sacred kingfisher

Next is an Australian king parrot, this one a male, distinguished by the red head. The females look similar, but have a green head. These are moderately large parrots – larger than most species apart from the cockatoos. They are usually found in mated pairs, so there was probably a female hanging around somewhere out of sight. They’re very conspicuous. There’s a mated pair living in the park across the street from my home.

Australian king parrot, male

This is an Eastern yellow robin. These are fairly common, but tricky to photograph as they flit about a lot, and don’t sit in one spot very long. I have a few photos of these guys, but this might be the best shot I’ve achieved.

Eastern yellow robin

And finally, back at the water, were some little pied cormorants. These are pretty common and easy to photograph. I often see some around the harbour shore close to my home.

Little pied cormorant

After completing my bird trek, I drove to Broomfields Pies, a place I’d found by searching for pie shops, seeking a new meat pie experience for lunch. The place had a high Google reviews rating, and the menu on the website looked very intriguing. I was hungry after my walk and looking forward to it, but when I got there I found the place was in the middle of an industrial park, and it was just a wholesale bakery without any retail shopfront. The front door was locked, despite it being the middle of the day, and nobody answered the door buzzer. It looks like I have a habit of driving to places in industrial parks that aren’t open.

So instead I hopped back in the car and drove a few suburbs over to another pie place that I’d been to just once before, and wanted to go back to. I had a satay chicken and a Mexican beef pie – they were good!

This afternoon I spent going through my bird photos, processing, uploading, and entering them into my bird photo database, punctuated by taking Scully to the dog park for some exercise.

New content today:

Taking the crown

First thing this morning I had a dentist appointment. I went a few weeks ago with a tooth that was causing a twinge of pain when I bit down on something. My dentist said it was a cracked molar. Normally he’d fit a crown, but he thought it might be fixable with just a bit of a filling, so that’s what he did. Unfortunately it didn’t work and the tooth was still painful, so I went in again today to have the crown preparation done. This involves having several moulds made of the teeth using a quick setting rubber material, then the offending tooth is drilled and ground down to allow the crown material to be installed on top. The new crown is fabricated offline from the moulds, and I have to go back in a week to have that fitted. In the meantime the dentist has installed a temporary plastic crown, which he told me not to floss or chew with, as it is fixed only weakly and could come off if I’m not careful.

So, yeah. The anaesthetic didn’t wear off until a late lunchtime. Having tried to eat with dental anaesthetic in effect before, I waited it out this time to make sure I didn’t chew up the inside of my cheeks. Anyway, all this ate up the morning and I felt a bit unenthusiastic about doing much for the rest of the day. What I did was wash the car, which was way overdue, looking very dusty thanks to the extended period without rain, followed by the couple of rainy days we had last week to move all the dirt around and make it more obvious.

Oh, and I found this photo that a Reddit user took yesterday of a diamond python at my local railway station, just a few hundred metres from my home. And here’s a video. Pretty cool!

New content today: