Science with a Splash of Comedy: FameLab

Science with a Splash of Comedy: FameLab

With the start of the Melbourne Comedy Festival, here is an alternate event for those looking for entertainment with some scientific facts thrown in.

FameLab is an international plain science speaking competition, run by the British Council. When we say plain – we mean for non-scientists. Young researchers get 3 minutes, no PowerPoint allowed (props are ok) to explain what they are researching to an audience just like you and me.

The Victorian Semifinal is going to be on at the Melbourne Museum next Wednesday (28th March). Best of all it is going to be free!

Check out last year’s international winner, explaining how to use wheat to harvest gold – literally. We found it quite entertaining:

More past Fame Lab competition, visit their youtube channel .

Details

Date: Wednesday 28th March 2018, 6.30-8.30pm

Cost: Free, but booking needed

Location: Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton

**Reminder**

Some of our free postage group delivery deadlines for our handmade, organic ingredients Hot Cross Buns are closing on Monday.  Get your order in before you miss out!

International Women’s Day: A Shout Out to All the Women that Rocked Science

This is a tribute to all the women out there who have made their contribution to science, some of this in the limelight, some not so much. What binds them all is the difference they have made on people’s lives through the cool field of science.

Mary Winston Johnson

The first black female engineer within NASA. She did work throughout her 30+ years career contributing numerous research to the American space program. Towards the end of her career with NASA, she worked in influencing and assisting the career paths of minority background scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

She was immortalised in the book “Hidden Figures” and corresponding movie. Highlighting her and 2 female colleagues’ contribution to the space race.

Kathy Reich

Trained and certified in forensic anthropology, Kathy has lent her skills in various disaster situations to help identify and get information about victims of tragedies, such as genocides. These are often used in a legal settings that contribute to justice and history.

She went onto write a series of best seller fiction books, which were turned into the TV series “Bones”. This catapulted the field of forensic anthropology into the popular conscience.

Ada Lovelace

Daughter of Lord Byron, the poet, Ada was one of the first to recognise the potential of “calculating” machines that we come to know today as computer. She looked beyond the calculator like function of early computers. She predicted that, rather than just analysing music, the machine will be able to compose music of its own accord. She wrote what is recognised as the first algorithm to be used on one of these machines. Though she never got to see it tested, her notes influenced people to look beyond the dogmatic execution of instructions.

Today her thoughts are still relevant with the onset of artificial intelligence in everyday applications.

These are just tip of the iceberg when it comes to varied ways women have contributed to science, and hence our everyday lives. A lot more make their contribution day to day without any accolades or limelight.

Do you know of any, famous or not? Write below, so we can celebrate them!

Sanity Savers: Science School Holiday Activities

Sanity Savers: Science School Holiday Activities

With the festivities over, the summer now stretches to long days of play, treats….and driving parents crazy.

If you are looking for some activities to occupy the little ones, there are some last minute options:

  • Apple Kids and Parents Programs – Held at various flagship stores, these are mainly one hour programs that uses apple products.  We were there for a session that teaches kids how to use Sphero the robotic ball using an iPad.  Its was a free session but we were decently surprised by the quality of the instructor. (Click on Kids & Parents to filter out the other programs below the calendar.)
  • The Brickman Experience (aka Lego Exhibition by a Licensed Lego Professional) – Held in an unobtrusive corner of Docklands, its a nice place to get out of the heat.  While not as sophisticated as Lego Discovery Center, it provides plenty of space, less queues and some long table for kids to go mad with lego parts and put them on display. (Note: Cash free venue, remember to bring your card.) See the photo for what we created.
  • Scienceworks – 2 Levels of exhibits in all aspects of science with plenty of interactive displays.  The second level has been recently revamped with a preschool display with hands on creative and problem solving activities. Free for kids up to 16 years old.  Adults can either purchase a museum membership for free entry or pay a single entry fee.
  • The Paper Market – Origami being the earliest form of engineering.  The kids can gets some hands on with this ancient science.  Its running until 19th January.  Free at the State Library of Victoria everyday.
  • Lego Free Play – Available at various libraries, check your local public library school holiday program.  Average an hour play sessions of Lego.  The best part? You won’t have stray pieces to step on the floor afterwards.

Hope this saves your sanity as the countdown to the first day of school begins in the summer heat!

Disclaimer

This is an unpaid blog post for your enjoyment.  We are in no way associated with Apple Inc, Brickman or public libraries.  We do have access to a Victoria Museum membership.

Thank You and Sharing the Love (Including Last Minute Ways to Do it)

Thank You and Sharing the Love (Including Last Minute Ways to Do it)

Its been an incredible first 6 months with all your support. Looking back, above the ability to share joys through our products, is being able to meet many of you who have many great ideas and opinions that enabled us to grow.

We want to take this opportunity to thank you for all your support, and look forward to seeing you all again in the New Year!!!

In the spirit of giving thanks, on Monday, we took a step back and decided to give back. We dropped in some gingerbread houses, tree and tree decorations to Knox Infolink.

 

 

 

 

 

Knox Infolink is a charity run by a small number of staff and an army of volunteers that distributes food and essentials, for people in Knox area who cannot afford them. Their hamper service is a lifesaver to households who are struggling, many through an unfortunate set of circumstances.

While they have now closed for donations for their hampers (mark November in your calendar next year for those who wish to contribute), there are still many last minute options available out there.

Last minute options for sharing:

  • Kmart Wishing Tree – Just pop in any Kmart and drop a toy/essentials to the Wishing Tree and get a tag for your Christmas tree at home. These are redistributed by charities. This is a great opportunity for kids to participate. They will gladly accept all new items – not just purchases from Kmart.
  • Salvation Army Donation – For those who cannot make it to a store physically you can donate cash which the Salvation Army can use to fund many projects across the country.
  • Volunteering – many organisations needs specific set of skills that can make a big difference. Some organisations that are looking for ongoing volunteers include Melbourne City Mission , Salvation Army , The Smith Family

We will be taking a short break for the festive season (returning on the 15th Jan 2017). In the meantime, stay safe and be kind to each other….

Holiday Watching: Genius, How Innovation is More Than Technology

Holiday Watching: Genius, How Innovation is More Than Technology

There is a perception that the latest technology leader has to be a technology genius that knows their field inside out. But in reality, many innovators are people who developed a curiosity and passion in the field of their choice. Combine that with ability to see how to put solutions together and tenacity.

A series currently available on SBS on Demand very cleverly illustrates that. Genius is an 8 part series that traces rivalry between competing innovators in the same field from Colt (of gun fame) to Steve Jobs. While it focuses on the rivalry, really its a portrait of a very human drama that end up defining history.

If nothing else, its very entertaining to watch.

Honorable Mention: If you are more into science and food, there is a series called Food Lab By Ben Milbourne. It is an attempt to bring together a cooking show and science theory behind it.

While the central idea is great, I struggled to watch more than one episode at a time. Involvement with University of Queensland scientists are a good touch. But I can’t help but mentally compare it to Alton Brown whose entertainment level compel one to bring out a notebook and pen to take notes in the middle of a recipe.

But if it means this is the start of many more science focused shows, bring it on!

Disclaimer

This is an unpaid post and we have no affliation with SBS or Alton Brown.

*** Reminder: Our sale day is on tomorrow.  Hope to see you all there! ***

A Not So Dumb Way to Get Your Message Across: A Look at Metro’s “Dumb Way to Die”

One thing I love about the technology and science field is that how great ideas come from the strangest and most unexpected left fields.  Very often these people, unconstrained by conventions or prior experience use technology in a way that really cut through the noise in very effective ways. Dumb Ways to Die team has definitely hit the ball out of the park when they decided to go one step further than most marketing team would have envisioned.  Turning a technology that is associated with entertainment, mobile game, into an educational tool.

Dumb Ways to Die, for those that don’t take public transport in Melbourne, was Metro Trains’ public safety announcement campaign pushed out in 2012.  It went viral overnight with its catchy tune and video.  Today it has spawned a series of sequel app games, junior games, soon to be upcoming VR game (more on this in a minute) and merchandise lines.

Looking for an innovative way to catch the attention of teenager and young adult bracket (“who thinks they are invincible”), Metro’s marketing team decided to approach it from a fun perspective.  The brilliant step was that, rather than stopping at the usual passive channels (e.g. poster, ad, song) of an advertising campaign, they went further in releasing a mobile app game where you actively prevent your “bean” from dying in a really “dumb” ways.

By making their audience participate, it reinforces the message but it also helps the message stay relevant.  There have been game updates for every major event to the game and their social media.  And as anybody who plays mini-games know, limted time updates are the key to keep people coming back for more.

But I think the most important point of this story is that by using technology in a way that works with human behaviour (rather than getting human to adapt to technology…looking at you iPhone X…), Metro has found a way to get their message out and stuck in the minds of people (over 10 million downloads of the original game at last count).

How effective was their campaign? As one of the panelist mentioned during the Dumb Ways to Die discussion at PAX Australia, “To have a mother once wrote to us saying you have saved my daughter’s life today. That is what matters.”

As mobile device (and hopefully one day our Internet infrastructure) technology becomes more sophisticated, it is shown time and again that technology originally made for entertainment would be used in everyday functional ways.  I am sure the game developers on the Dumb Ways to Die never imagined that their game writing skills would indirectly save someone’s life.  This is true in a lot of technology careers, just because a piece of technology doesn’t seem useful right now, doesn’t mean it never will be….

Good on Dumb Ways to Die team for showing us that!

(If you want to have a catchy tune stuck in your head for the next few days, have a look at their YouTube video above.)

For the original mobile app games and Junior games (latter more appropriate for the 3+ age group): Android Play Store or iTunes

The VR Game

As a sneak preview, they showed at PAX Australia their in development game in VR. While it is still in a mini-game format, the VR has allowed them to put in a dimension of multi-tasking that is required.  The aim is that character “Botch” is in a camping ground and you must keep him warm, fed and safe all at the same time…. which I am sure a lot of parents will find familiar.

It is not available yet, but I hope it is released soon.  We had a tonne of fun playing it.

Disclaimer

This is an unpaid post and we have no affliation with Metro Trains, Dumb Ways to Die or PAX.

Kickstarter Questions Reminder

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Why cake decorators and puzzle gamers should look into cyber security as a career

When an ex-colleague forwarded the Defence Industry Cyber Security Challenge to me, the old IT itch starts rearing its head. This is one of the few IT “white hat” challenges that are not restricted to students or specific groups.

One of the most unexpected things that I took away from the weekend is how similar cyber security is to puzzle games and cake decorating.

Problem Cyber Security Professionals Cake Decorators Puzzle Gamers
Tools Defined standards many openly available e.g. html Anything you can get from the shops e.g. flour, eggs etc and an oven Defined by what you have been given in the game
Patience level Firewall number 3 to break through. Bring it on! 2 dozen hand made sugar roses for the topper later… you still have to do the rest of the cake Level 230a, b, c and d…
Empathy Level How did the person who put together the code think that I can spot vulnerabilities? People see Tardis and see blue, phone box and flashing light. Make sure that goes into cake. If this character is thinking and feeling that, they must have dropped that clue around here somewhere
Persistent Level I know its in here somewhere! I will brute force it if I have to I will get that cake edges razor sharp, even if it takes me hours Final level at game play hour 160+ anyone?
Think outside the box All the websites logins are locked down. What about the file upload API in the backend? Hanging upside down tiered wedding cake…defying gravity and laws of physics If I can’t get the key, I will tunnel through or jump over.

I can go on and on, but truth is all 3 of these are master problem solvers. Tools used are different but ways of thinking is the same underneath the hood.

If it comes up again, I would encourage anybody who has a passing understanding of the Internet to give it a go. You can do it from wherever you are, unlike a lot of hackathons, you do not need to travel. Its an exciting weekend and learn new things even if you don’t win…I am living proof that you can run off the adrenaline for days afterwards!

So How Hard Was It?

What makes this challenge a standout is that majority of the challenge can be done with ordinary tools that are available to everyone. The key here is that you need to think like a hacker (qualities see above).

Without giving the answers away, majority of the challenges can be done with standard web browser tools and desktop/mobile applications freely available to everyone. Hence you do not need to wear glasses, sit in a darken room with ones and zeros streaming through the green screen to participate.

It will help if you have used open source tools and some programming in the past, however, in my opinion this will only give you a time advantage to get the answers quicker and in a bit more depth.

Side note: There was one section where I suspect you need some prior knowledge of data science which I struggled with a little. I will update this post once the expected answers become available.

Edit 02/10/2017: I have since spoken to some of the winners who completed this challenge.  They did have a background in machine learning, which helped in their responses.  However having said that I personally didn’t but had fun approaching this from a commonsense angle.

Disclaimer

This is not a sponsored post. I have no affiliation with ACSGN other than being an unpaid participant of their challenge.

Edit 02/10/2017: I should probably disclaim that after this post I won the best female award for this cyber challenge – which I did not know at the time of the original post

Sneak Peak Number 3

You do not want to get in the way of this little squirrel’s poison dart.

As Old As Time – or is it?

We are all familiar with the expression, “as old as time”, but did you know that time as we know it today only existed about a couple of centuries?  It was only in the past couple of hundred years when the world gradually agreed to one standard measure of time that time became a universal concept.  Until then people worked and rested by the rise and fall of the sun.

The (clear) glass we are used to are brought about by the government confinement of glass craftsmen to the island of Murano (to stop fire and the skills from escaping…).  Otherwise we will probably still be using vases that looks like it has been chiselled out of quartz.

This is something that we should remind ourselves, as we increasingly look to technology sector as miracle workers that both disrupt and benefit society. No invention occurs in isolation.

Innovation/problem solving/’scientific discoveries’ started when caveman wondered what that burning bush struck by lightening is.  It’s an essential skill in today’s increasingly fast paced world.  A kinder teacher I know, instead of googling answers herself, involve students in working out the answer to their questions.  This means a lot more work for her, but I look forward in 10 years time to the next young batch of inquisitive young scientists/engineers/makers.

For more information about time and glass, Steven Johnson has an excellent series called “How We Got to Now” episodes of which is available now on ABC iView.  Time and glass episode have expired now, but cold and light are still on.  I am sure you can get the DVD/downloads from the usual retailers if you want to catch up.

PS I am coining the term “Science Anthropology”.  Let us know if you think there’s a better (or more official) name out there.

Disclaimers

This is not a sponsored post, nor do we have any association with ABC or Steven Johnson.

Why the short post!?

This post may seem out of style with our usual posts, but we are madly working on 2 concurrent exciting projects at the moment (yes yes, I know what people say about multitasking…).  Stay tuned for sneak peeks and news over the next few weeks!

Why are Fridge Doors Magnetic?

I was explaining to a child recently how the fridge door works (two magnets or a magnet and piece of metal stick together to hold the door closed).  The child then asked the inevitable question, “Why a magnet?”

This started me on a journey that reminds me of how much human oriented design every product should be…

Warning! Contains content not safe for children. Click here for full post.

In the good old days, fridges came with a handle and a latch.  It was the best way to make sure that the door was sealed tight against the fridge body, keep the cool air in.

However that had an unintended consequence….it created a airtight seal between the outside and inside.  Good right? Only until children realised that fridges were the best places for playing hide and seek in…

The airtight seal kept fresh air out and screams from inside the fridge in.  After a few accidental deaths, the US government brought in legislation that require fridge doors to be able to opened from the inside.

So what did the designers do?  After all the old design latch was good at holding the door closed.  After due consideration, they went back to experiments on how much force a child can push with from inside a confined space.  With that data, they hit upon the magnet that generated enough force to hold the door close, but not too much…

 

This is a classic tale of how a product evolved because of human behaviour.  It is not a consequence that any designers could have foreseen.  The latch was, and is still, the best solution to hold doors close. However it is good design principle to design with human behaviour in mind, even if it means compromises. After all there is no point in putting out a product that nobody can/will use.

How do we get there? Now that’s a whole different discussion altogether…

Do you know of  times when design had to unexpectedly bend around human behaviour? Tell us below.

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