Mar 212014

thinkspaceautumnThinkspace has once again got a wonderful range of courses available for kids during the school holidays.

There are some old favourites but also new courses in making games in Unity and Stencyl. There are several courses just for girls  and some interesting electronic courses in addition to the programming ones.

Thinkspace has really been a pioneer in offering such fascinating courses. The good news is, though, that other options are now opening up too. We just got a flyer for which is running a holiday course on building iPhone apps.

Such a lot of cool opportunities for the school holidays.

Mar 102014

a-feature-phoneHarriet and Helena Scott were Australian scientific pioneers. With collecting boxes, notebooks and paintbrushes in hand they became two of 19th Century Australia’s most prolific natural history illustrators. The Australian Museum has just released an iPhone app showcasing their work.

Their work is beautiful in the way that science used to be: The paintings are detailed scientific studies while also being fascinating and wonderfully composed. Moths and butterflies are good subjects, but to capture them by hand with this level of detail and beauty takes real talent.

While the works are wonderful and the sisters’ life interesting, the app is only so-so. Like so many of these ventures it’s hard to see why it’s an app instead of a website. The technology to create an app is becoming so accessible that it’s tempting to go for the cool app every time. But the question really ought to be: What value do I add with an app over a website? The answer might well be ‘more publicity’, but that seems to be an ephemeral benefit. In this case the app works fine, but adds little to the experience. The downside of choosing an app is that, right now at least, it is iPhone only. So it is not available for Android, nor even optimized for the iPad which would be a much better viewing platform for the wonderful illustrations.

Anyway, the drawings are beautiful and the app is free; if you have half an hour to immerse yourself in life and science from another era it is absolutely worth a look.

The Art of Science

The Art of Science

View in ITunes. $free

Image: Australian Museum.

Mar 062014

Thinkspace MinecraftThinkspace is calling for people aged 7+ to be part of a massive Minecraft building collaboration to create worlds inspired by the classic games featured in the Powerhouse Museum’s Game Masters exhibition. It will be, according to Thinkspace, fully supervised and moderated Minecraft game-jam called Minecraft100.

Up to 100 players will “craft together in the Powerhouse Museum’s unique Minecraft mod, ‘Powercraft’, featuring over 50 unique elements, blocks, textures and items”.

The opening weekend is 5-6 April when it runs from 10:30am-4:00pm; then it’s on throughout the School holidays running from 10:00am-3:30pm. The cost is generally $100, with a $10 discount for members.

It might appear that for a lot of kids this would be a bit of a busmans’s holiday – take a break from playing Minecraft to go an play Minicraft: But Thinkspace always does great stuff and so I’d anticipate this will be a lot of quality fun for those involved.  And right now, there, sadly, don’t seem to be any of the more usual School holiday programs running at Thinkspace, so this is the only game in town.

Feb 052014

mascot and title2_black_big“Hello and welcome to the Australian Museum’s event calendar where you’ll find something for people of all ages” was the greeting on the latest newsletter I received form them.  Yes, but there seems to be a gap…

First on the list of events is the excellent Tyrannosaurs exhibition which we went to see during the holidays. It’s a great show with a lot of interesting insights strung together with the Museum’s usual panache. I can’t argue that it has something for all ages, so overall the Museum’s greeting is accurate (although during the holidays when we visited, at least, the experience was marred by the huge number of families with very young kids treating the interactive parts as a playground.)

But what of the rest of the events touted by the Museum? There are a bunch of events covering ages 1-5; something which, speaking as a parent who had a Museum membership largely on the basis that they used to have the best indoor playground in Sydney, I applaud. And then there’s the cleverly named Tyrannosnore  sleepover in February for kids aged 5-12.

Finally there are a series of really interesting looking talks on dinosaurs and evolution: All of which are for adults only.

As far as I can see the evolutionary gap involves anyone aged between 12 and 18. Surely the Museum can find activities that would appeal to that age group? Why not open the Tyrannosaur exhibition one evening without the under 5′s smearing the touch-screens with lolly-enhanced hands? Or allow teens to attend the talks? I’m struggling to see that any 16-year-old who is persuaded to come along to a talk on the origin and history of life on Earth is going to be disruptive or see anything inappropriate.

The Australian Museum is not alone in failing to cater for teens; but for an institution that otherwise shows such imagination and creativity, it could do better.

UPDATE: The swift and efficient @ausmus Twitter team have informed me that there is in fact no problem with anyone going to the talks and the ‘Adults only’ tag will be removed. Great news.

Jan 142014


Cockatoo Island tunnel.

Cockatoo Island tunnel.

What would you do for a geeky day out in Sydney? Serious question: What would you do?

I recently got an email from Sharon, who said:

I live in Melbourne but I’m surprising my boyfriend with a trip to Sydney for his birthday. He is quite interested in tech and geeky things and I was wondering if you could please suggest any places to go or things to do in Sydney that he would possibly find interesting?

It’s a great question and a surprisingly tricky one to answer. ‘Geek’ can mean different things to different people. But here, while trying to keep it mainstream, was my answer:

  1. Spend a couple of hours at The Powerhouse Museum or the Nicholson Museum. The Powerhouse is the most obvious technology venue in Sydney. The Nicholson is not such an obviously geeky place, but it’s an absolute gem of a museum with lots of historical exhibits and has the LEGO Colosseum.
  2. For some fresh air, catch a ferry to Cockatoo Island and stroll amongst the huge industrial remnants. It’s a lovely ferry ride from Circular Quay and has a nice bar for a drink once you’ve been through the tunnels and stared at cranes.
  3. If you have some more time on the Harbour take a look at some old tech, and visit Fort Dennison. History and cannons make a great combination.
  4. For a shopping experience catch a bus over the Bridge to Crows Nest – great place for a meal – and visit Professor Plums. It’s small but filled with geeky things to buy (probably wouldn’t do this by itself, but combined with a meal or coffee it’s worthwhile).
  5. I’d finish the day at the Sydney Observatory  - especially take a look at what they have going on in the evenings. Even if they aren’t running something, the surrounding park is a perfect place for a view of the Sunset.

So what else should I have suggested?

Image: Cockatoo Island.

Dec 132013

IMG_0194_0smThe Powerhouse’s shiny new exhibition is Game Masters. It features over 100 playable games showing how games can be art and how games have developed over time. There is also an accompanying app which is something that’s worth downloading even if you’re not going to visit the Exhibition.

So often the apps that accompany exhibitions are awful – which makes this a nice change. Game Master: The Game doesn’t purport to guide you through the Exhibition although there’s a small canned summary of what you’ll see. No, it’s focus is a rather nice version of pong that shows off some of the different game genres. The closer tie-in with the Exhibition is that you can get a bonus level if you visit the Museum and collect a series of QR codes.

Even if you can’t visit the Games Masters Exhibition, it’s worth downloading the free app for a few minutes of fun.

For all the gory details on the Games Masters Exhibition see here.

Game Masters - The Game

Game Masters - The Game

View in ITunes. $free
Dec 052013

AustmuseumgiftIf you’re thinking of visiting the Australian Museum’s Tyrannosaurus exhibition, the Museum has a deal for you. New memberships come with free tickets to the Exhibition. For a family that means you are in effect getting a membership for $26.

Sadly the deal does not apply to those renewing their membership.

Membership to the Museum gives you:

  • Free general admission
  • Discounts at special events, Shop & Cafe
  • Private Members Lounge with complimentary tea, coffee & biscuits
  • Explore Magazine subscription
  • Giveaways and deals via their fortnightly newsletter

Perhaps equally importantly in today’s climate, membership directly supports the scientific research, collections, education and community programs of this great Institution – and it appears they need all the help they can get.

The Museum has also just announced an Aztec exhibition opening early next year which looks interesting.