Making the commodity, plus Richard Scarry

For a media future’s subject I had to give a presentation of a [poorly translated and/or written piece that took complete obfuscation to new levels] essay by Georg Lukács called “The Phenomenon of Reification.”

To highlight one part of the essay, I called upon Richard Scarry.

Richard Scarry

I loved his books as a kid. I would pour over them for hours, looking at Mr and Mrs Cat raising their kids in these idealised animal towns. There’s a kind of “lie to children” that we tell that’s exemplified through Richard Scarry. We show kids futures were they could be a police officer, or letter carriers. But at no point will you see a whole bunch of mice working in a call centre. There isn’t a “Richard Scarry’s Day at the Abattior”, which defines all of the roles people could have on the factory chain.

Actually, that last one could be the thing of nightmares…

The Watchers teaches kids about online privacy

The Watchers is a game designed by seven kids with two game designers. It plays on iPad, but has a neat ‘real world’ board game feature.

The Watchers isn’t like other edugames out there. It was designed with a team of 7 kids, who injected it with imagination and humour, while pushing for creative approaches to the presentation of educational content. The game doesn’t attempt to teach dry skills; rather, its goal is to stimulate discussion and raise awareness about tough questions.

Rather than teaching children to memorize ways they can avoid “stranger danger,” the game facilitates the development of autonomous privacy decision making skills. In so doing, children can use the game to practice making assessments about which individuals or companies they should share their information with, as well as critically thinking about what the consequences of those choices may be.

Also check out their design diary for the project at the Gaming Privacy blog.

(Thank Kate Raynes-Goldie.)

Destination: Honours

Part of this year is dedicated to doing a project through GEElab – RMIT’s Games & Experimental Entertainment Laboratory. Specifically, I’ll be looking at games in science education, with the view of making a game for a secondary school audience.

I’ll be posting bits of research as the year goes on through this blog, which will include pedagogy and teaching ideas, as well as views and rants about Media and Communications at RMIT.

Rough Science LIFE update: A Giant Cell

One of the features of Rough Science LIFE is a giant model of a cell.

For this build I went scrounging in my Useful Cupboard. A couple of years ago someone had gifted me some plastic drop sheets to use in some of Rough Science’s messier (as opposed to Messier) holiday activities. I tend not to use plastic sheets for safety (they are extremely slippery to stand on) and environmental reasons, so these sheets have waited for a rainy day.

First some calculations: cells come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on what it is could be anywhere from 10µm to 100µm.

(Quick definition: µm stands for micrometres, which is one-millionth of a metre. The funny u is the Greek lowercase letter “mu”.)

The show is looking specifically at plant cells at this point, so (kind of arbitrarily, I admit) I chose 100µm to be the length of the cell. I want the model to be around 1m long, which means it is around 10,000 times the size of a living plant cell. Give or take.
Diagram of a Plant Cell
For now I just want to make the cellular membrane and the nucleus. I cut the dropsheet in half and taped the edges together to make a tube around 1.5 metres long. I used rubber bands to seal the ends. Now to inflate!
Don't do this
See the above set up? The bicycle pump with a hose leading into the giant cell? DON’T DO THIS. After about ten minutes of pumping, and the metal fittings getting burning hot due to Charles’ Law, the model was still a saggy bag on the floor.

Instead, I held one end open and ran up and down the corridor like Darby O’Gill trying to catch a leprechaun.
Gabe and the Giant Cell
Next: making the cell contents.
Giant cell with nucleus

Supernova month!

Supernovae are like buses: there’s nothing for ages, then two of them turn up at once.

Earlier this month a supernova was discovered in M82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy.

Over the past couple of days, another supernova has been confirmed in M99. (M99 has already had three supernovae since its discovery in 1781. This new supernova makes the count four.)

Two stars explode in the same month? Signs and portents!

On the other hand, a great cosmic coincidence?

The galaxy M82 is 12 million lights years away, and M99 is 60 million. At some point, 60 million years ago, a massive star at the end of its life lost its delicate balance between the gravity from its mass and the force from its nuclear furnace, and exploded.

48 million years later, and 55 million light years away, two stars in orbit around each other were completing an eons-old dance. A large star was being stripped of gas by its white dwarf companion. The white dwarf’s mass reaches a critical limit, and explodes.

12 million years later, the light from both of these events reach us.

2014-01-31 11.00.51

I like to think of it as ever expanding bubbles, as the light from both explosions moves through the universe, and intersects where (and when) we are.

Appendix: Getting Numbers

Wolfram-Alpha constantly surprises me in its power, particularly interpreting my prattlings.

“distance to m99″

“distance to m82″

“distance between m99 and m82″

And my favourite surprise: “angle between m99 and m82″