How not to enjoy Scitech Discovery Centre

Scitech Discovery Centre

I took a day off work so we could all go to Scitech Discovery Centre in West Perth. It’s a great place for kids to learn about science in a fun, interactive environment. We’ve tried to take the kids there at least once a year so they can have fun and be stimulated. They keep good opening times, the cost is reasonable and it’s fairly easy to get to with City West Railway Station nearby. They have a core display that hardly changes involving various physics experiments and displays, plusanother area for “Feature Exhibitions” which seasonally rotate. In the past they’ve had features on Dinosaurs, on Microscopic Worlds, on Electricity and such.

This season, the feature is “Whodunnit?”, where you play the part of a forensic scientist to solve a murder mystery. It’s a great display, teaching about various forensic science principles like finger printing, chromatography, balistics, DNA, autopsies and even entomology where you determine the age of a corpse by measuring the size of the maggots found. The story goes that a body has been found on the Rhino enclosure at the zoo, and you’ve been called in to work out what happened to the poor soul who happens to be a zoo security guard. This was a great opportunity to get the kids excited about forensics and science. What kid doesn’t love maggots?

So we started out by having a look at the “body” which was a dummy covered with a sheet. There were posters around prompting you to look for clues like foot prints, finger prints, the bruising on the leg, the Mag-Lite torch with a huge dent in it and the broken watch. “The watch is broken. What do you think that might tell us?” I asked. The kids twigged on immediately and said that it might tell us what time he died. We had a little booklet to write clues and information in so they dutifully wrote it down along with other observations they made.

We then looked at a list of suspects and their background stories which might come in useful.

It turns out he’d been shot and the bullet had been recovered. I told the kids that we might be able to tell who’s gun the bullet came from because each gun puts marks on the bullet when it fires, and makes the bullet spin so that it doesn’t fly off in a random direction. They found this interesting so we went and had a look at the Ballistics display. Besides the bullet recovered from the victim (I was throwing these terms around like I was Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami) the police had already got a hold of the guns from each of the suspects and fired test bullets from them. All we had to do was match the pattern on the crime bullet to the pattern on one of the test bullets. Of course, these bullets were all in pristine condition and 20x original size to make things easier for kiddies. After studying the bullets for a few minutes we decided the crime scene bullet came from the gun owned by “Alice” (or whoever), so I asked if we should go and arrest Alice. I was able to teach them about not jumping to conclusions, because even though it was Alice’s gun she might not have been the one to fire it.

So this led onto another display at Alice’s house showing how we can reveal footprints and find fingerprints, which lead to other displays on taking footprint casts and using high tech computers that go beep to instantly find matching finger prints and on and on. Each of these clues worked either for or against each of the suspects until we ultimately found who we thought was involved.

It was a great day and we had a lot of fun. Ashton in particular really wanted to find all the clues and learn all she could. It might have been a bit much for Jett as he’s a bit younger.

But it was also frustrating, in a way, too. All I could see snotnosed kids mashing buttons. They’d walk up to the display, mash the first button they saw and wait for a light to turn on, all without reading the instructions or putting any thought into what they were interacting with. Depending on the display they might get a light to turn on or a dial to move but it’d all be over in seconds and they’d move onto the next button to mash.

And it wasn’t just the kids. The parents simply weren’t getting involved and taking the opportunity to teach their kids. I just wanted to scream at them, “Hey, your kid has the opportunity to learn something valuable here. All he needs is some guidance from you and his life will be enriched!” Whether the parents were taking a back seat because they weren’t comfortable or confident with the principles being taught, or because they were enjoying the convenience of their brat children giving them a moment’s respite from continual pestering is unclear. It just made me sad and angry that such good resources were going to waste when all the kids needed to do was lift their eyes and read the instructions and explanations written above each display.

Parents really need to get involved with their kids learning. They can’t teach themselves. Well, they can after a while but they really need to be taught how to learn. I have a couple books I’ve used which have some good ideas on how to teach and how to learn. There’s a couple by Edward de Bono, and one we’ve been using recently called How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius.

So, if you’re a parent I can only beg and plead with you. You might not be a teacher, but your kids will learn more from you than from anyone else. You have a great responsibility, but it’s a good one to have.

WordPress upgrade status: SUCCESS!

I upgraded from 2.9.0 to 3.2.1, after deploying a couple test sites to try the procedure out on first, then making multiple backups of the core, the plugins, the themes the images and files, the scripts and static web pages.

I left nothing to chance.

Not that any of you will see anything different, but WordPress 3 provides some extra fancy stuff behind the scenes.

My thoughts on the last Space Shuttle mission

STS-135, the last in a long ling of Space Shuttle missions, takes off in less than 12 hours time. I have mixed emotions.

On one hand, it’s sad to accept that NASA will, at least for a time, have no manned space capability. They simply won’t be able to launch their own astronauts into space and will be completely reliant on Soyuz. It’s also sad that Obama overturned the one good thing George W Bush did in office when he scrapped NASAs future manned missions. America has different priorities, I suppose. For example, The US spends more on air conditioners for their troops in the Middle East than they do on NASAs entire budget.

On the other hand, I’m kinda happy that the Shuttle is being retired. Coming out of the Apollo programs of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a need was identified for a reusable manned orbiter that could shuttle astronauts, experiments and equipment into low earth orbit.  The premise for this need was to reduce the exorbitant cost of the “one and done” space capsules of earlier NASA programs. But at $500 Million per launch, it was anything but cheap. And the turnaround time was designed to send dozens of missions into orbit yearly, but that schedule was certainly never delivered. The money spent to maintain the Shuttle program has cost many other unmanned and scientifically significant missions their own chance at success.

So we’re left with an fairly impotent Space Administration with no real goal to aim for, and no foreseeable future perhaps until changes are made to US foreign policy which might free up some cash.

All the Space Shuttles, except Enterprise

Google+: a better social networking framework

OK, been playing with Google+ for a day or two. Once I get a critical mass of friends over there, I plan on dumping Facebook. Well, maybe not dumping it but I don’t really want to actively use it any more, like I’m over it.

If you’re new to Google+, I have a couple suggestions:

  1. Change your default email notifications – By default Google+ sends you notifications for anything involving your new account. Go to the Google+ section of your Google Accounts settings page and change what gets sent to your email and what gets sent to your phone. Once you hit triple digits in your active Google+ friends, it might start to get overwhelming.
  2. Change your profile’s field-sharing settings – For each field in your Google Profile, you choose what to share and how far to share it. As above, go to the Profile and Privacy section in your Google Accounts settings and set it how you want it.
  3. Disable Resharing – Sure you can choose who you share stuff (photos, posts) but you can stop others passing this on by disabling Resharing. This is set on a post-by-post basis, but will likely be found as a default in the future.

Oh, and add the Android App to your phone for that mobile experience.

So, come on over to the smart side with Google+. Look me up and add me to your circle of friends!

The unholy stench under the kitchen sink

Our 6-month maintenance has finally come around. This is where the builder of your new home contacts you and asks if there’s any new issues such as cracked walls etc. We have a couple:

  • Water doesn’t want to drain from our shower, sometimes. This probably means that the pipe has collapsed and is filling with sand. It occasionally gets washed away because the water sometimes does drain.
  • The front door seems to be sagging, so the locks are difficult to operate because the bolt doesn’t line up with the recess and the door tends to stick. This can make it difficult to open the door in the winter because it’s usually dark and nobody thinks to leave the light on for me when I come home from work.

There’s a few minor things, too, which aren’t worth mentioning. I’m happy with the brick- and plaster-work because I haven’t found any cracks in the walls so far. Man, our previous house looked like it was on a fault line because there were so many cracks.

Bu there was one minor issue which we thought we’d let the builder know about. From day one there seemed to be this strange, sour smell coming from under the kitchen sink. We’d take out the pots and pans to take a look, but never found anything. We’d take them out again a few days later to scrub it all down with cleaning agents to try and mask the smell. We’re both pretty easy going about things, but this was really driving me nuts. Since we couldn’t find anything obvious we concluded one of two things: it was either the glues used to stick the benchwork together, or tradesman had left his lunch underneath one of the panels and it had been sealed in. Either way there was nothing we could do.

We thought we’d throw it into the 6-month maintenance to see what the builders could do with it. We might be lucky. To give someone in their office a laugh we described the problem as:

  • Unholy Stench emanating from underneath kitchen sink

Indeed, when the maintenance guy called back he went through each of the points one by one saving this one for last. “In all my time as a maintenance guy, I’ve never had to deal with anything like a “Unholy Stench” before”. This had been passed around the office, he said, and everyone had had a good laugh. He knew exactly what it was right away, and it is easily fixed but he was surprised that hwe had put up with this Unholy Stench for 6 full months. What can I say? We really had no way of knowing what it was or how to fix it, so we thought we could manage and get by.

Anyhow, it’s all working out in the end.