We have had a few birthdays around the lair this week. Zaltu turned three, along with a few other mini-minions around the neighbourhood. And with birthdays come the parties, and with parties come balloons.

At one party, Zaltu became enamoured with a big bright blue balloon. It had a shiny skin and a sparkly silver tail trailing down to her tiny little wrist. It was almost as big as her eyes.

And then she stepped outside.

And whichever numpty tied the balloon to her wrist was clearly not a knot-expert.

<it was me>

There is nothing as forlorn as a small child watching their big bright blue balloon float up into the big bright blue sky.

Well, except for seeing said child staring helplessly at the balloon stuck in a tree just out of reach. 

To Zaltu’s credit, she didn’t freak out or throw a tantrum, or collapse into a meltdown. She was upset, and there were some quiet tears, but instead she turned to me and asked: “why does my balloon fly away?”


<insert dodgy 80’s music>

And we talked about Helium (remembering she is 3yo):

We talked about how the air we breathe is made of lots of different gases; some gases we want to breathe in like Oxygen because it is how we live. Some gases we breathe out, like Nitrogen because we don’t need it in our body in such a large dose. Another gas is Helium, which we can neither see, taste, nor smell. 

Helium is really light compared to other gases. For example, the nitrogen we breathe out is about 8 times heavier than helium. When we blow nitrogen into a balloon, the balloon weighs it down so it only has a light buoyancy – enough to sort of bounce, a bit.

Helium, however, is light enough to lift a lot of things, at a rate of about 1 gram to every litre of helium you are using.

This also means you can weigh down a helium-filled balloon, without impacting on its buoyant appearance. This could be a rock, or a tree, or a person. 

Over time, the helium will leak out the balloon – it is a gas do it can leak out even the smallest gap. The more that leaks out, the less helium available to float the balloon.

While we were having this discussion, the lovely hosts of the birthday party brought Zaltu another balloon. They also taught me how to tie a better knot. Because evidently, I suck at it.

However, Zaltu stopped them from tying it to her wrist.

Instead, she looked at the balloon. Then looked at her body, then looked at me.

Back to herself. Back to me… 

“Mum. You better hold my balloon. Your bigger weight is better to hold my balloon down.”

Yeah. Thanks for that. 

Fine. I’ll have another piece of cake, thanks – for Zaltu’s sake, of course. 

Sidenote: there’s a bit of debate on whether helium balloons are environmentally friendly. The Surfing Scientist said it best with his fairly detailed answer. And yes. We did go back to collect the ribbon once the first balloon came down from tree.

Beat The Computers: Be Human

This post is part of a new series “If I Ran The People Zoo”, looking at the impact Artificial Intelligence will have on our spawnlings and their future.


So the last post in this series was a bit of doom and gloom. I pretty much said your spawnlings are going to be in the People Zoo for the Masters of the Robots: Either as exhibits, or serving coffee, or managing the elderly, or if they are really lucky – nail technicians.

I’m just a positive ray of Unicorn faeces.

Look, I’m not trying to be the naysayer of the future. Remember: I live here too! I love technology and opportunity and all the other sweet treats that feed my burning desire to take over the world and re-model it in a GREATER geeky fashion.

But I am thinking long and hard about the education of our spawnlings, and their entire generation. Because that’s what we should be thinking about if we truly want to prepare them for an ever-changing future.

Australia recently had its Federal Election, and this whole topic wasn’t mentioned. The United Kingdom had their own Brexit issues recently (still ongoing, I think) and again – no discussion about visions for the future employment and education. Well, at least not beyond “Don’t let the foreigners take your job”… I suppose automation and Artificial Intelligence could be considered foreign to most… Nope, still don’t think it registered on the UK political radar.

The United States is amping up to their election in November. No mention of future jobs and skill preparation. Has anyone heard anything from the Japanese elections?

The only people talking about it appear to be scientists (like Prof. Brian Cox) and a bunch of coding clubs like Code Rangers and Code Club Australia.

Don’t get me wrong. Coding clubs are pretty awesome. Teaching our kids how to code and program is becoming more and more like an essential life-skill. With technology stepping into every element of our lives, even our own generation should know the basics of computers. But let’s be honest – not every kid is going to be a programmer. And the competition in this particular field is becoming tighter every year.
It is, however, a Band-Aid solution. A quick-fix. It is catering to a small number of kids who might perform well in this small area, without addressing the majority of kids who will not be working directly in IT.

So what skills can we teach the spawnlings so they can beat the computers?

We’re talking creativity. We’re talking emotional intelligence. We’re talking the ability to correlate two distinctly different disciplines who can both contribute to a solution. None of these are directly addressed within the usual set curriculum at your standard school. You are at the mercy of the teacher.

At least one school has the right idea: Check out the Australian Science & Mathematics School in South Australia. It is a school aimed at senior students (years 10 – 12), with a really strong STEM focus. However, the subjects are allowed to mix together, reflecting real-world problem solving by working across multiple disciplines.

This is a school which recognises the need for enterprising skills; basic knowledge that will transfer directly to the real world. They even have the equivalent of a Science Fair: group assessment to come up with a product, develop it as a complete design, and then market it at the fair. The school brings in genuine business mentors to review the products, and possibly even offer some business advice to make it happen. Last year, two projects were considered totally marketable as billion dollar businesses. From a Science Fair. At a High School.

The thing is, it’s not just the STEM aspect that is being pushed here. There are a whole heap of ‘human skills’ being nurtured. Our education system cannot continue pushing “English and Maths” as the only subjects of importance, with a little computer stuff on the side to show how futuristic we are. It needs to encourage our humanity!

You want to beat the computers? Be everything that is GREAT about being a human.

For example: Improv. I cannot rave about Improv enough. I’m telling you, improvisation skills are the first key step in our spawnlings future. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again – Improv builds resilience and creative thinking. It encourages spawnlings to not be afraid of the unknown. Instead, improv encourages them to embrace it. To say YES and see where it takes them.When I wrote about Improv previously, I introduced you to the awesome Stony Brook University (US). They have the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and offer a grad course on improv to help fresh scientists express their ideas without sounding like a text book.

Now, imagine a school that combines both ASMS and the Alan Alda Centre…

THAT’S the school I would send our spawnlings too! The kind of school that blends disciplines within a STEM focused environment. The kind of school which encourages thinking across multiple fields to find the solution.

When I think of THAT kind of school, I remember a study years back—tracking the migration of whale sharks. Seems like fairly standard marine biology research. And yet, when they hit a snag with how to track whales through markings on the skin, the researchers turned to … Astronomers? You bet! They used the same algorithms from the Hubble telescope for starscape surveys to track individually marked whales. Creative alternative human thinking.

That’s the advantage our spawnlings will have over computers.

Next post in this series, I’ll look at the impact of future AI on the humanities. Yeah, I wasn’t sure about that combination either, but cross-discipline development is the way of the future!!

And if you know of schools like ASMS, share them in the comments. 


Census Fail: Aust Just Can’t Handle It

Well done, Australia!!

For the last week or two, the Australian Government has been nagging all the Aussie minions about their ‘patriotic duty’ to participate in the National Census on 9 August 2016 (which is tonight – at the time of writing).

That was the first line of BS – it is not patriotic; it is compulsory.

I’m fine with the whole census thing. I see the benefit of the census and consider it a good thing. The data from the census goes towards a good number of things. Yes, yes, yes – it is primarily used by a handful of policy makers and a bunch of civil engineers and local councils. But without the census, those poor minions would simply tick the welfare box on Census Night.

Seriously, census stats are used for determining a range of things: school zones; park development; large building approvals. Yes, it may feel like only policy makers and academic read the damn things, but they are the harbingers of change in our society.

Geez, I sound extremely naive about the romanticised nature of our society. Quick, dose me up with some Stephen Colbert

And that was for the United States of America in 2013. How dare we expect Australia to have caught up three years later?

I mean, c’mon. They spent all this time and money on organising the Census to be electronic. YAY! Digital evolution!!

Oh wait, you haven’t submitted your census details yet? Well, why not?

WHAT?!? The website has CRASHED?!?


But surely not! The Aust Govt told us it wouldn’t crash!! They promised us the smooth path of enlightenment into the digital world of the future!!


The good news is that this is a nation-wide documented event. You’re pretty safe from being fined if the census data is late.

Of course, there are some who are considering not submitting it at all. At last count, Senator Nick Xenophon, Senator Jacqui Lambie, and five other Green Senators have all said “No thanks” due to concerns regarding privacy and security. We even have a former deputy privacy commissioner, Anna Johnston, boycotting the event.

The problem with this is not everyone can rally the financial support to take on the ABS with this protest. Once they figure out you boycotted, they can start fining you $180 per day for withholding information. This kind of limits the protest vote to those with enough Klout (you can find my FundMe website … Nah, too lazy).

And while some may parry with “The Census is no different to Facebook” – please note the biggest difference of all:

Facebook is elective. If you don’t like the privacy settings, you don’t have to participate. The Census is a “patriotic duty”, remember?

I’ll be honest – I am really torn on this one. As a social antagonist (read: hobby sociologist), I love census and all the stupid it collates. But on the other hand, I have heard reports of the ABS being violated electronically up to 14 times in the last three years. I’m not sure if I want my personal details (including MY NAME) associated with that sort of behaviour.

I have a reputation to uphold. 😛


Soooo… will you “census”?
UPDATE: Apprently the Census site did not crash, it was hacked – 4 times!!

ABC News is following up on the statement from ABS. I would not want to be an ABS employee today. Or any day really.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Turns out it was just DDoS, or a bunch load of people accessing the site all at the same time…

So why did they release a statement saying “hack attack” to begin with? And is IBM going to do its job now? 

Review: Monstrous (The Game)

Out of all the elements of this new game, the one that hooked the spawnlings was:

Throwing Cards Inside

Despite all of their Evil Genius training to take over the world, they are still little spawnlings at heart. Awwwww…

Of course, they also loved the mythical monsters, the references to Greek Mythology, the fantastic artwork, and especially the competition to be the GREATEST OF ALL GODS!! But let’s be honest here: Any game that allows them to break what is usually a standard rule in the house is ALWAYS going to win esteem points in their minds.IMG_0879

Monstrous was sent to me to play and review by Good Games (Australia). The deal was simply to play it with EG Inc and tell Good Games what I thought. They are familiar with my blog and my ever endearing personality – so they know they are going to have an honest and upfront assessment of this game. As will you.

So What Is It?

IT is a ‘tabletop’ game with card-throwing as a key feature. As individuals, 2 to 5 gods can play; as teams, you can have up to 10 gods fighting over the table. The box says “ages 10 and up” but 7yo Nefarious handed me my glorified derriere so I think you can safely include younger spawnlings. Zaltu (2yo) was not invited to play – I’m already at risk of injuring myself. I don’t need to add her to the mix.


Photo by Good Games


General Guidelines

All the players are gods (it doesn’t matter which god you are – if someone asks if you are a god, you say YES!). And all the gods are a little miffed about dwindling faith on Earth, with offerings and sacrifices and what-not. So Zeus commands the gods to ‘thrown down some monstrous pets’ and scare a little faith out of the pesky mortals.

The real stars of this game are the monsters – and don’t they look beautiful! I have been a fan of Greek Mythology since I was 8, especially the artistic interpretation of the mythic creatures. Monstrous is true to form.IMG_0900

Each monster has a range of powers to use, and it totally depends on which side up your card lands. There are TRAP powers, MONSTER powers, and LOCATION powers. Some of these powers release a ‘Faith’ count to you. And the god with the most faith at the end of the game wins.

Let’s Play

I’m just going to pre-empt all of this with a single statement: I am an un-coordinated git on the best of days. The spawnlings know this. It’s pretty fair to say I lost the game.

The order of events is like this:

  • Throw a Monster
  • Check for Traps (if you have landed on another monster)
  • Check for Monster powers
  • Check for Location powers
  • Collect your Faith tokens (if any)
  • Draw a card
  • End your turn

IMG_0898So, you set up the Locations. Each god has a Player Card, with instructions and guidelines (very handy). You have your Monster Deck, and your Underworld (discard pile). It is easier standing around the table when you have your turn to throw – if your hand crosses the edge of the table, your throw is discounted and your Monster is discarded to the Underworld. Position is everything; Distractions are hilarious.

See – fairly easy going game, right?

Until you have your spawnlings (and husband) start setting up traps on your closest location.

To be honest, I was surprised at how much room there was for strategy in a game I thought was just ‘card throwing’. Each of the monster powers can be used in unique ways to give you the greatest impact on the table. If you’re a complete klutz like me, Pegasus will be your best friend – he has extra throws. Gorgons have always been, and will always be, absolute b*****s. Land on one of those and your card is GONE. And the Harpy – she steals your Faith, just like the lunch of King Phineus.

However, if you’re fellow gods pick up on your inability to throw a damn card, they are likely to start setting up traps on your more … ‘reachable’ locations. Once trapped, you lose your buddy Pegasus FOREVER!! L

Did we like the game?

Oh, yes! I have never played a game that required throwing things at the table. That’s not to say I haven’t thrown things across the table in frustration, but never as part of the game. This was novel and lots of fun.

There are lots of powers and interactions to keep track of during the game, but the rules and structure of the game are very simple to follow. The spawnlings loved it and have asked for it again next weekend. The best part is, you can change the game with locations and layouts, so maybe next time I will have a chance? Unlikely…IMG_0899

If there was anything I would change about the game, it would be the value of the Faith tokens. They come in 1, 3, 10, 30. I think I can see why they went with these combinations, but for the younger age groups, it adds a little extra work. If we had 1 and 2 value tokens, we would probably need more of them – though, the spawnlings would be faster in calculations.

For a throwing game, the cards are pretty good quality. Good durable card with a smooth glossy finish that won’t fade with wear anytime soon. Even when the Cyclops misjudged his step and went skidding across the table into a nearby wall, he walked away without even a scratch.

Monstrous is available through Good Games, for $39.95. Tell them I said hi. And thanks for the Pegasus.