I am become Dropsy, destroyer of technology

I don’t know what it is. I’ve dropped two expensive pieces of kit this year. First, my new Samsung Galaxy S3 phone about a month after I bought it. It’s got a crack in the screen in one corner. Luckily it is still usable and doesn’t bother me all that much day to day.

But this week I also dropped Jett’s ASUS TF202 Transformer tablet. I honestly don’t know how it happened. I was cleaning up in the family room, picking up this and that and somehow lost traction when I picked up the tablet. Gravity took care of the rest. I almost caught it, but it dropped right on the corner.

I felt like such and idiot. I’ve always impressed on the kids how expensive these are, and to treat them delicately. But here comes dad and practically throws it on the ground.

Jett insists, rightly I guess, on a replacement. The good thing is he wants a smaller Nexus 7 rather than a 10-inch tablet. And because the 2013 N7 just came out, the first gen are being dumped  on ebay for about 40% of the new price, even New In Box.

Breaking Bad: The best TV in the last 5 years

I picked up on Breaking Bad from some workmates during the third season. They told me it started well and remained strong through the second season which is almost rare nowadays. So I decided to give it a go.

Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, who’s had the rough end of the pineapple for most of his life: clearly a brilliant chemist, he was a co-founder of a company but left for personal reasons only to see it grow into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. He is relegated to teaching high school chemistry to uninterested, disrespectful uninterested students, and takes a second job cleaning cars at the local car wash to supplement his income. He’s married, and has a teenage son with Cerebral Palsy. He’s just turned 50, and has found out his wife is pregnant. And that he has inoperable terminal lung cancer.

Knowing he will soon die, he must find a way to ensure their financial security after he is gone.

Watching a news report on a drug bust, he is impressed by the amount of money confiscated by the authorities. He accompanies his DEA brother-in-law on a drug bust and sees a former student, dropout Jesse Pinkman, fleeing the scene. Later he looks up Jesse using the school records and forms a partnership. “You know the business, and I know the chemistry”.

The series explores the changes overcoming Walter as he deals with his own mortality. As the series progresses, he becomes darker and more sinister but at every turn he is only doing what he thinks is best to provide for his family. Pride, at losing out on selling his share of the company he founded for $5000, is also telling and changes how he views his new successes.

HeisenbergIndeed, he changes his whole persona and appearance taking on the Mr Hyde of “Heisenberg” to his own Dr Jekyll of mild mannered Walter. After his cancer goes into remission he becomes an unstoppable force, feeding an insatiable need to succeed and build an empire.

Breaking Bad is full of strong characters and memorable dialog. We’re half way through the last season with the last episodes coming in August. These two videos are a great summary of the show and should be enough to convince you to pick it up if you haven’t already.


How to play both sides like an expert

Joan Pujol Garcia

Joan Pujol Garcia

Meet Joan Pujol Garcia. He was a WW2 spy. Actually, he was a double agent during the Second World War. The British knew him by his codename of Garbo; the Germans knew him as Arabel. As Arabel, he was paid $340,000 to support his network of agents, which at one point totaled 27 fabricated characters supplying complete misinformation to the Germans. For his efforts in aid of the Allies Garbo received an MBE from the British. In an ironic twist of fate, following the war he ended up encountering one of his German handlers, who gave him the Iron Cross for his contribution to the German war effort, an award normally reserved for front-line fighting men; the Nazis never realised that Garbo had fooled them, and thus he earned the distinction of being one of the few people during World War II to receive decorations from both sides.


I’ve stood all I can stand, I can’t stands no more

Wow, almost two weeks since I posted to my own blog. Been spending far too much time using Google+ as a substitute blog.

I hate to start the new year with a downer, but I screamed at a neighbour last night. I don’t want to be accused of slander so I won’t go into all the stuff they’ve done in the last 8-9 months since moving in, but I have been very tolerant of their antics. I have not once been the one to call the cops on them, who pay them a visit at least three times a week and even three times a night at times.

But last night snapped in me.The family had been out for New Years Eve celebrations but came back around 2am and sat out the front of their house, directly opposite our house, with their car radio up real loud tuned to the local top 40 station. It didn’t immediately wake me but Suzanne stirred and we couldn’t get back to sleep.

After 30 minutes I’d had enough. I got dressed into some street clothes and marched over the road and asked them very civilly, if not in a civil tone to “TURN THAT RADIO OFF PLEASE“.  Not wanting to appear the party pooper, I suggested that they “TAKE IT INSIDE, OR TAKE IT OUT THE BACK. THE WHOLE STREET DOESN’T WANT TO HEAR IT“. I then thanked them for complying with a courteous “THANK YOU” and walked back home over the road.

A couple neighbours popped their heads out of their doors with “Thanks, Brian” and clapped in applause, so I knew I’d done the street a service.

Was I too harsh? Should I have allowed these guys to continue partying in their front yard, especially given that it was NYE? Or was I right to ensure the rights of the neighbours to a good night’s sleep?

Regardless, I’ll need to watch my car, plants, and letter box for a while as I suspect they will be targeted.

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.