About this time ten years ago I travelled for a week in Japan. Towards the end of my stay, I took a shinkansen south from Tokyo to Hiroshima. On the way I passed the time memorising the kanji of the cities the train passed through. I hadn’t really appreciated before the trip just how Japanese writing worked, with each character taking a specific syllable sound, and once memorised, I began to see them repeated in other words.

東京 To-kyo
京都 Kyo-to
大阪 Osa-ka
広島 Hiro-shima

I was travelling to Hiroshima in order to see the peace park that had been constructed after it was bombed in 1945. I had been told the story of Sadako (貞子) and the one thousand paper cranes when I was in grade 6, and learned how to fold an origami crane. Some time later while at university, I wrote a philosophy of science piece about the Little Boy bomb in the moment it was suspended above Hiroshima and below the Enola Gay, using actor-network theory to explore the stories that rolled from it.

When I told people that I was going to/had been to visit Hiroshima, the first thing they ask was “Isn’t it radioactive?” I’ve always thought that it was the bombing of the city that changed the way we approached the word “radioactive.” Before this, radioactive material were seen as wonder stuff, with health spas advertising their health-giving waters that contained traces of radium. After the bomb, and when Time magazine sent in a photographer to record the destruction, the world saw effect the demon touch of high density gamma rays could have on concrete, wood, and flesh.

The residual radioactive material in and around Hiroshima today is very minimal. The mass of uranium used in the Little Boy was 64kg, which would amount to a volume a bit less than a soccer ball (enriched uranium is very dense stuff). When the bomb exploded, a little of it was converted to energy, while the rest was scatter over the city and surrounding country. When I was there, this radioactive fallout that killed many of the survivors with strange varieties of cancers had long since been diluted by 60 years worth of time.

I had spent the afternoon in the peace park, visiting the museum, reading and seeing stories of individual survivors of the blast, with word rolling around my mind like searing, flesh, hanging, rags, heat, blast, crying, wreckage, rubble, burning, fire, blaze, melting. I went and stood on the hypo-centre of the bomb, and looked up, imagining a human-made sun blooming above my head. I made a paper crane and left it in the park.

To clear my mind I walked a block away into a mall, and into Japanese normality. Teenagers were hanging in groups laughing and talking to each other. Shoppers hurried between stores, carrying bags home in the evening peak hour. Music played. It was a summer night in a city.

Having reached my cultural threshold, I bought McDonald’s, and a bottle of saki. Walking back to my hotel, I walked over a bridge where guitar players were singing covers of Elvis. That night, I got drunk, ate maccas, and fell asleep watching a Korean horror movie.

Some time later, in London, I bought a folio of atomic test explosion photos by Michael Light off a remainders table for two pounds.

Daily Risk Generator

The school that author John Marsden founded, Candlebark, (possibly) has a motto: “Take care, take risks.”

(Which, incidentally, because things sound better when said in Latin, is: “Providendum est. Assumam extrema temptaturum.”)

I wonder how someone, who has learned to live without taking risks, can learn risky behaviour?

Ultimately, I guess, the object is to explore an outcome-space. I like to think of it like the decision tree of an adventure game. Sometimes, to get to those outcomes over there you might need to step off the edge of a cliff. Or pick up a snake. Or run with scissors. Carefully.

So maybe a lists of daily challenges for someone to explore perceived risk, and learn not to fear risky behaviour?

Try this: Roll a die. Or hit this random number generator.

Now use that number to define your risk:

1. Climb a tree.
2. In a public space, spin on the spot 10 times.
3. Ask a stranger for their phone number.
4. In a public space, stand in the Karate Kid “Crane” pose for 5 seconds.
5. Lock eyes with a stranger. (If they question you, tell them why you’re doing it, and challenge them to take a risk.)
6. In a public space, sing the theme to “Astro Boy”. (Lyrics.)

Take the risk before the day’s end. (And take care!)

Got suggestions for daily risks? Share them in the comments!

The Value of Giving Up

I passed a man in an alley who was standing in front of a brick wall, slowly beating his head against it. His forehead was bloody, and it was clear he was in lots of pain.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

*thump* “I need to get through this wall,” he told me. *thump*

“Dude! You’re hurting yourself!” I said.

*thump* “I know.” *thump* “But I mustn’t-” *thump* “-give up.” *thump*



I’ve grown up with the mantra of “don’t give up” and it works really well for many situations. Sometimes I have needed to hold course and endure.

And sometimes I’ve found myself in a cul-de-sac, and I’ve worked and worked and worked, and haven’t moved. And in those times I needed to stop, and climb out.

This has been true for personal relationships and professional jobs. Enduring has been causing me more harm than walking away.

The question is: how do I recognise the difference between the thing I should endure and the thing I need to give up?

Sometimes, it’s not a matter of giving up entirely. Sometimes, I might just need to rethink my approach.

Recognise that I might be using my head the wrong way to get through a brick wall.


I saw Vincent Van Gogh today. He was driving a car, but I still recognised him from his red hair and red beard. He was wearing black-framed glasses, which suited him, but I imagine he only needs to wear while driving. Traffic police, if they ever had cause to pulling him over, might notice this while mispronouncing his surname. Slightly more educated police end up calling him (still incorrectly) Van Go, which Vincent might chuckle at, thinking that it would make a nice name for a courier company, or a mechanic specialising in Ford Transits.

Young Louis Pasteur

I think this story is apocryphal, like the tale of the monk running from Brie to Camembert and took the secret of cheesemaking with him. I like the idea of Young Louis Pasteur…a bit like Young Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps he could hunt vampires in his spare time.

Learn her cycle


A few days ago an Instagrammer called rapikaur_ uploaded a series of photos on Instagram on the theme of her menstrual cycle. Instagram took them down. She put them up again. They removed them again. Internet outrage ensued, and Instagram finally relented with an apology.

During this there was also a large amount of outrage against the photos, most of which seemed to be some version of “ooh, yuk.”

I believe that this is a learned societal taboo, and we can change this attitude. Menstruation is something that one-half of the population has to deal with on a near-monthly basis. For a lot of guys in relationships, the menstrual cycle is A Thing That Happens To Her. Anything more than this, and guys run off with their fingers in their ears singing “Ta-La-La.”

Far be it from me to lecture other men about knowing someone’s fertility cycle, I instead want to present a challenge. And it’s all about information and communication.

When I was younger, I was vaguely aware of what girls around me were going through during ‘their period’, but only just. The first lot of sex ed at school was when I was twelve, and consisted of a general FAQ told to the whole class, followed by splitting girls and guys into two separate groups so that we can watch videos about specific (and secret) things happening to our discrete gender.

(This was a Catholic education. It included the dichotomy of “Yes, God says that condoms are evil, but please use a condom.” The Authority Of The Church was rendered toothless by puberty.)

To tell the truth, there was plenty we thought we knew as teenaged boys at school; making jokes about it being so-and-so’s time of the month, and the time we made a huge deal out of finding a tampon in the boy’s toilets.

I was well into my twenties and the menstrual cycle was still a complete mystery to me. And I’m sure it is to many guys out there.

To demystify it, I have a challenge for every guy who is in a committed relationship: learn her cycle.

Step one: get permission. Please don’t start collecting information about her body without her knowledge. So at least start a conversation. “I want to learn more about your cycle,” is a good start.

Second: if you don’t have a diary, get one. If you do have a diary or online calendar or something, then make a mark or entry on the first day of her period, which is to say, the first day the bleeding starts. Be discreet with this mark. The last thing you want to be doing is writing in big bold red lettering “THE FIRST DAY OF HER PERIOD”. In my experience, diaries tend not to be the bastions of privacy that we might like to think they are, so emblazoning it so that other people can read it at a distance is the height of misusing the information given to you in confidence. All you need is a mark, something that you know the meaning of. An asterix, smiley face, the letter p. Whatever works for you.

And that’s all it is. Make a mark in your diary for first day of the every period.

The rest you can figure out from this information: Firstly, just how long your beloved’s cycle actually is. Most average out at about 28 to 30 days. Some might be longer, like 35 days. Others might be much shorter, around 25 days. Remember, deviating from the societal mean is to be expected; every body is different!

Now you can also determining ovulation. The rule of thumb is about halfway between periods, but again it’s different for different people. For a few days she experiences lots of great hormones that can make sex is intensely desirable. It is also when she is at her most fertile, so this is the time to be trying for babies, or being really careful with your own emissions. If you don’t want to get her pregnant, then use a condom (remember, they’re only 98% effective.) Also be aware that your sperm can survive for some time inside her. I have read sources that say sperm can live up to five days inside the female body. I’ve read other sources that say ten. The short of it is that unprotected sex before ovulation can lead to pregnancy. This is both you and your partner’s responsibility, and being aware of her cycle is a great way to start that conversation.


I’ve always thought that both people should own the sexual health of a partnership, and that’s includes the crampy, difficult times. In my experience, women experience different levels of pain. Some women just take few pain killers and walk out into the day. Others are struck hard with gut-wrenching agony. As guys, there is nothing biologically equivalent that we experience. Be at the ready with hotwater bottles, cuddles, a warm hand on her belly, and compassion.

And yes, you can have sex during this time. There’s some research (and plenty of anecdotal evidence) that says that period pain is lessened by orgasms and vaginal stimulation. If you’re squeamish about the blood, remember there’s plenty of other fluids involved in sex; this is just one more. Put down a towel. You can have a shower later.

Information and communication. This mix isn’t going to work for all couples, but do start a conversation. Find out what works for you. At very least, don’t be deliberately ignorant of her cycle.

YouTube is extending my 8 year old’s vocabulary

A faggot of wood
I’m as guilty as the next parent for letting electronic devices do a little free babysitting for me while I knuckle down and catch up on the housework or sleep. And over the last few years I have noticed a gradual shift in what my son likes to do with screen-based entertainment. Currently, it seems it’s less about playing games and more about using YouTube to watch other people play games.

And for the most part it been an okay deal. My son was into watching The Diamond Minecart, who is aware a lot of his audience comprises people under the age of ten, as opposed to SkyDoesMinecraft, who has saltier language than a sailor at the annual “Get Ya Salt Out” salty language competition.

But then two things happened. Because of the general disruption of loud YouTubing at 7am on a Saturday morning when I do some intense catching up on checking the inside of my eyelids for leaks, my son started watching YouTube on the iPad with headphones. Combined with this was the feature of YouTube videos ending with a list of recommendations, not really knowing who the viewing audience actually is.

So I was a little taken aback last night when, in tucking him off to bed having brushed teeth and done stories, he asked me “Dad, what’s a faggot?”

Admittedly, I wasn’t too surprised, as the previous week he asked what “teabagging” was.

My mind went in two different ways. Of course there was the obligatory “What an incredibly irresponsible father I am and need to immediately turn myself in to child protection services” mantra, which, after years of chewing at the back of my mind is getting easier to subdue. The second direction was “What do I tell him?”

Although my private life tends to be a thin tissue of lies that seem alright at the time but later becomes a raging awkward social monster that I have to deal with while cursing myself for not telling the truth in the first place, when it comes to my son I have always tried to be honest. This began when he was quite young when I refused to baby my language for him. That isn’t a “birdie”; it’s a “peacock”. We’re not in a “brum brum”; I’m driving a “car”. Don’t call that a “monster”; it’s “The great and terrible Cthulhu who waits dreaming in his house at R’lyeh”. It’s gratifying years later when he sometimes pulls out words that are three syllables or longer in general conversation, and I can barely contain my pride.

So I began by asking where he had heard it. And, yes, it was a Let’s Play of a computer game on YouTube. “You’re a faggot, Harry,” was the context. I took a deep breath, and plunged in.

“A faggot…” I began. I outlined that for a long time in our society, people who identify as gay have been seen with fear and/or loathing. As such, there are bad names for gay, and faggot is one of them. And people sometimes call each other faggot as an insult. And that faggot was once a word meaning “bundle of sticks”.

Actually, it was less like a lecture and more like a conversation. He was initially frightened that he had done something wrong, but was engaged with listening to me. When I told him faggot used to have a different meaning, he chimed in to say that he knew gay once meant happy. Ultimately, I want him to understand that the world of words is a large and powerful place. To use a word like faggot as an insult is also demeaning to a whole group of people. I told him I didn’t want him using that word, and he agreed. We also agreed to have a longer conversation about some of the things he’s watching on the Tube of Yous.

My instinct is to not shy away from difficult moments with “Uh, I’ll tell you when you’re older,” and instead engage them head on now with the intention to build a social responsible young man who might be able to one day engage with his peers in telling them that faggot is not an appropriate word to use unless they are collecting firewood. My son is going to engage with media in places where I don’t have direct control over it, and being open to his questions about what he has seen and heard is the first step in helping provide a framework for understanding the greater world out there. I want him to be polite and socially responsibly, and most importantly, know who Cthulhu is.

Marscraft, the beta

I have uploaded the VSSEC Marscraft beta to my public Dropbox. Download the files here.


1. Unzip the Marscraft Files.zip to somewhere convenient.

2. Inside is a folder called “The Resource Pack”. It has a single folder called “Marscraft”. This needs to go into the Minecraft resourcepacks folder. The easiest way to get to it is:
o Start Minecraft;
o From the main menu, go to “Options…”
o Go to “Resource Packs…”
o Click “Open resource pack folder”.
o Copy the whole “Marscraft” folder into “resourcepacks”.

3. In the “Select Resource Packs” menu, move Marscraft from “Available Resource Packs” to “Selected Resource Packs”.

4. Now for the “Marscraft 3.3” folder in “The Save Game”. This needs to be copied to “saves” folder in the “minecraft” folder (just under the “resourcepacks” folder.)

Playing the Marscraft Adventure Map.

You are an explorer on Mars. You wake up one bright Mars morning in the Gale Crater to the sound of alarms. The Lovecraft rover has gone haywire, and needs to be retrieved.
Your mission is to:
1. Track down the Mars rover.
2. Repair the return trail between the base and the rover.
3. Write down the Rover report data, and note it down its location on this sheet.
4. Ride the rover back to base!

If you download the file and try it out, do let me know! Drop me a line either to my email sean.m.elliott@gmail.com (subject line: Marscraft beta) or contact me through Twitter @seanmelliott. I will put your name down on the “Testers” credits, and will send you a thank you present.

Rough Science: LIFE. The wrap-up.

It was several months ago now that I put in the application to be part of the 2014 Melbourne Fringe. The final night for the show was on Saturday, and had an amazing sold-out performance, and a really great review!

It’s left me today reflecting on a few things over the past few months that made Rough Science: LIFE the success that it was. (Images by Fenstar Images.)

Rough Science on Stage

To get it on stage, I ran a crowdfunding campaign through Pozible. This is the second time I’ve run a Pozible campaign, with the first one being an unmitigated disaster — a disaster I learned quite a lot from. This time I had a closely planned budget, carefully thought-out rewards, and all of my social media posts lined up for the next few weeks. The campaign finished past the funded mark, with two people going for the extra-special $200 reward of a Rough Science birthday.

Rough Science: LIFE Pozible

It’s not a One-Man-Show
The next time I do something like this, I will be pulling together some kind of production team. In the meantime, I had a small and brilliant group of volunteers helping out at various stages of the project. (Though I couldn’t pay people, where I could I arranged Fringe Artist Passes, which get you into other performances for free and discounts at the Fringe Club.) They were: Astrophysicist Katie Mack, Astrophysicist Ruth Pearson, Paul Elliott, and Fenstar Images.

And my parents stepped up to the plate every night.

The Performances
Ira Glass has this quote where he talks about the disappointment we may feel when our work does not live up to the image in our heads. When I performed Rough Science: LIFE at the Adelaide Fringe for the very first time, the gap between what I had presented and what I wanted to present was enormous. In the twenty-four hours between the first and second performance, I had some coaching from Cobi Smith, plus I added something new to each section. That second performance was closer to my vision.

Several months later, and the Rough Science: LIFE experience was still closer to what I wanted to present. It had moved away from being a lecture, to being a more dynamic and engaging science show.



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For next time
It is possibly time to put Rough Science: LIFE to bed and move onto another project. What happens next? Well, if (and when!) I write another show, I am definitely going to put together a team to help with all the aspects of the production. As much a I want to have my hands on all parts of the show, the last few weeks have been intensely stressful!


Breaking even, and possibly making a profit, is intrinsic to making the process sustainable. Another Pozible is definitely in the future.

In the meantime, there is a mass of goodwill and good feelings from the audience who came and the people who supported the show. I love you all!