Archive for the ‘August 2013’ Category

Day 365. The finishing line

In August 2013 on August 11, 2013 at 5:37 pm


Here I am at 365 days, my last post in a year of daily blogging about the science in my life.

True to my usual form, it’s been a jam-packed day and I’ve spent it doing a multitude of activities, all the while turning over in my head what I might write.

I started the morning with a long run through the Adelaide’s inner western suburbs and along the River Torrens.

–> Wow, I didn’t know that black swans had a layer of white feathers under their wings.

–> I reckon these shoe inserts are changing the mechanics of my foot and leg.

–> Why on earth are these blokes fishing for carp, the rats of the river?

Next, I returned home to refuel on food and coffee.

–> Hell, better tidy up the garden a bit since I’m hosting a National Science Week ‘Brain Break’ morning tea on Wednesday.

–> How much can I eat before I’ve compensated for all those calories I’ve just burnt? Two criossants? Three?

Best zip over to Mum and Dad’s place to collect oldest two children., who’ve been swimming laps with Grandma.

–> Arrive, kids and grandparents are playing Bird Bingo.

–> Mum gives me a present for reaching 365 days, a most excellent-looking book entitled Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living – a novel.

–> Dad promises to bake scones for the Brain Break morning tea.

–> Turn into our street, spot enormous blue tongue lizard crossing the road. Everybody out of the car to prod it with sticks and force it back into the bushes to avoid death by enormous neighbourhood 4WDs. Stop and think for a minute why it’s warm enough in August for a cold-blooded reptile to be moving about.

Dash home, leap into shower, head to city with my daughter to watch Australian Classical Youth Ballet‘s production of Mary Poppins.

–> Frantic with worry watching young ladies en pointe, stressing that their very fine ankles will snap. Remind myself that they have been training for years and that the human body can do such things.

–> Daughter and I walk up from the Festival Centre to the City, catch bus home. Wonder why it costs so much – $7.50 for two people to catch a bus 4kms. How is such a high price going to help traffic congestion and reduce car use in our city? And pollution?

–> Whilst on bus, use twitter App on my phone to chat with scientists like @Mozziebites, @westius@DrYobbo, @AusScienceWeek and @DoUBelieveinDog.

Home again, onto computer.

–> Normal round of twitter and Facebook checks and chats.

–> Log on to storify and finish collecting tweets for the excellent RealScientists project.

And now here I am at 5pm.

My day says it all really. To all my normal demands of family life and work commitments, I apply science and the scientific approach to query, analyse, plan and digest. It’s just how I operate. I hope this and the 364 posts that came before it have accurately revealed my support of Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb’s comment in 2012 that

““an education in science is valuable beyond the labs and fields of research”.

Please hang around while I have a week or so off, and then please do join me for Phase 2 of ScienceforLife.365.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s read, commented, shared and contributed to ScienceforLife.365 during the past year.

Special thanks also to my husband and family for supporting this commitment, and to Kristin Alford and James Hutson for their initial and ongoing advice. 

[image thanks to comedy-nose on flickr]

Day 364. Cabinet of Curiosities

In August 2013 on August 10, 2013 at 9:00 pm


As part of South Australia’s Living Arts festival (#SALA), a public art exhibition is being held this weekend at my children’s school.

The semi-alfresco presentation of many beautiful, intriguing and diverse artworks is a credit to the organising committee and the artists alike.

My favourite aspect was the Cabinet of Curiosities, installed by James Parker as a tribute to historic compilations of artistic, architectural, historical and natural artefacts collected by (typically) gentlemen of a bygone era on their travels.

Normally presented in small cabinets or designated rooms in private homes, the temporary space set up for the exhibition consisted of a cosy corner enclosed by 3 walls, and filled with antique furniture, biological specimens, stuffed creatures and beach-combing treasures.

On the walls were presented small framed items of art created by the artists participating in the exhibition at large. To generate the pieces, each participant was presented with a small frame, a piece of Hahnemule (cotton) paper and a few guidelines, such as,

it should be curious, it should include text, it does not need to be two dimensional.

The results were intricate, curious, delightful, delicate and often scientific.

Here are some samples, and photographs of other curios found in the space:







Day 363. The other half

In August 2013 on August 9, 2013 at 9:25 am


I often write about my kids, and occasionally my parents and siblings.

Rarely do I mention my husband.

He’s quite a private fellow, and wouldn’t want his name trawled through this forum. But he does love a bit of science here and there, especially as it relates to childrearing, sports and piscatorial adventures. I should also mention he’s been completely supportive of this blog through thick and thin, including publishing a book of my first 100 posts as a Christmas present in 2012 (made me weep like a child, it did).

Here’s a quick interview on the science in Mr K’s life.

How do you see science in your daily life?

We live eat and breathe it in our house – it is everywhere and in everything that we do.

You don’t work in science directly now, but was there a time when you considered it?

No – I bombed physics and chem at high school. That encouraged me to focus on my strengths in other areas.

What will you do if your children say they want to be scientists?

Support and encourage them and imbue them with a keen sense for perseverance in adversity (and probably bankroll their existence).

What’s the past year of ScienceforLife.365 blogging been like from your perspective?

Really informative and eye-opening – a great learning experience. 

Are you glad the post-a-day phase of ScienceforLife.365 is coming to a close?

Yes and no. Yes, I will have my wife back for conversations on the couch at night. No, because I think it is an important piece of work and would be concerned if no-one was pursuing its theme and building upon its very significant foundation. 

Would you consider writing a guest post in the coming year ahead, as ScienceforLife.365 transitions to phase 2?


I shall be holding him to that promise.

Day 362. A day at home

In August 2013 on August 8, 2013 at 9:51 am


My two oldest kids needed a day at home yesterday.

A combination of minor physical ailments and the need for a mental health break were good enough reasons for me.

The night before, I had rinsed out some small pear nectar bottles and left them on the sink – they’ll make beautiful little vases. As shown above, Miss 8 had other ideas.

Her sign propped up against the wall reads:

I filled these bottles with different amounts of water to make different notes when I blow on them or tap them with something!

Why? Science Fair Adventure Explains:

The more water in the bottle, the lower the pitch will be when played. This is because the sound vibrations you can hear come from the actual bottle, as you add water it takes on greater vibrating mass. The less water that’s in the bottle means there is less weight that vibrates and the pitch is higher.

She’s got science in her life, that girl.

Day 361. What’s next?

In August 2013 on August 7, 2013 at 10:06 am


I started ScienceforLife.365 in August 2012 for many reasons.

I felt the urge to share how my daily life was shaped by my education in and love of science.

I wanted to get into the habit of writing every day.

I was looking to develop the ways I thought about science, and the communication of it.

I hoped to expand my skills in presenting ideas to different audiences.

I wanted to get a better grip on how to use blogging, Facebook and twitter as integrated tools for marketing science writing.

I sought to join new online communities to support my move into freelance writing (often a lonely kind of existence).

I am thrilled to have nearly reached a full calendar year of daily blogging, and am delighted to say that I’ve managed to meet all these expectations, plus a few more along the way.

Having said all that, it has been a mammoth task, and one which I cannot sustain at the current pace for much longer.

Therefore, ScienceforLife.365 will enter a new phase beyond National Science Week 2013.

The overall theme will remain the same: how science can frame and inform daily life, with an even sharper focus on daily life. Posts which directly explore the theory and nature of science writing and career development will be posted at my general website or at the ScienceOnlineAdelaide website (in development).

There will be less emphasis on my life. I’d love to present and discuss more stories from and about others, both scientists and non-scientists.

The blog will transition away from a post every day, and become a several-posts-a-week entity.

Each week will feature a guest post. Guest posts are a great way to introduce new perspectives and have been very popular during the first 365 days.

Have you got any ideas that you’d like to see reflected in phase 2 of ScienceforLife.365? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[image thanks to SAN_DRINO on flickr]

Day 360. Thank-you

In August 2013 on August 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm



Ok, so I’m into the 360s now and it’s pretty exciting.

As I approach the finishing line, I’d love to send a huge shout-out to all of you who’ve come together and formed this blog’s two audiences: the WordPress supporters and the Facebook friends.

It’s been so interesting to keep an eye on what has tickled the fancies of readers. Over the course of a year of blogging, the two audiences have maintained slightly differing interests (see prior discussion of this point at Day 100. A tale of two audiences).

WordPress supporters liked art, food, fashion, literature, writing and discussions around journalism and communication.

The top 10 ScienceforLife.365 posts during the past year for WordPress supporters were (most popular at the top):

Facebook friends were interested in animals, science humour, new ways of thinking about science and the more personalised aspects of science and learning.

The top 10 ScienceforLife.365 posts during the last year on Facebook were (most popular at the top):

Just by way of a little explainer, most WordPress supporters arrived on site after following tweets from my @sciencesarah account. Others found it because they were official followers of the blog (183 people in total), happened upon a post whilst browsing other blogs, or had searched for a key word.

Facebook friends found the posts by following the page itself (261 likes to date), through me sharing posts via my personal Facebook account, and click throughs of ‘friends-of-friends’ and other contacts.

Thank you all once again, and I look forward to holding your attention into the next year of ScienceforLife.365

[image thanks to Lauren Manning on flickr]

Day 359. We love dinos!

In August 2013 on August 5, 2013 at 4:10 pm

dino eye

Mr 3 requests a prehistoric tale nearly every night at the moment.

I must say I really don’t mind at all.

Here’s what we chose from:

What’s you’re favourite dinosaur book?

[image thanks to on flickr]

Day 358. I said no!

In August 2013 on August 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm

angry mum

I seem to say no! to my kids an awful lot.

No, you can’t play Wii unless it’s the weekend.

No, you don’t need over-packaged deep fried ‘portioned’ snacks in your lunch box.

No, you can’t have Coke at the movies.

No, I’m not buying you McDonalds for dinner.

No, you don’t need a Playstation.

No, you’re not wearing an off-the-shoulder-crocheted slouchy T shirt with something that resembles a bra underneath. You are eight.

I say no because I have strong feelings about what is healthy and reasonable for children. And although I know it can’t last forever, I hope that somewhere deep down it rubs off on them.

But sometimes I wonder if I’m just creating more work for myself.

Each weekend is spent negotiating and dividing screen time on a limited number of electronic items between three children.

Dinner time is often accompanied by food refusal and demands to know what is for dessert.

I battle with the little one to actually go and watch a sibling play sport without resorting to games on my phone after five minutes. It inevitably turns into a prolonged whining session by the kid, and me speaking from behind gritted teeth, searching for new ways to say,

“No! And stop asking me!”

I imagine other parents look at him as an eternal whinger, and me the constant nasty mother.

Perhaps I should just suck it up and give in?

Eat whatever you want.

Play electronic games in every spare minute, go on then.

Spend your money on lollies and super-sized bottle of soft-drink, yeah sure!

It’d be a hell of a lot easier in the short term.

[image thanks to Punk Toad on flickr]

Day 357. Snappy science apps

In August 2013 on August 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm


It’s a wet and windy winter weekend in Adelaide, and I’m wondering what on Earth to do with my kids over the next 48 hours.

Luckily, teacher and science communicator Kirsti Abbott sent in some brilliant new entertainment options in the the following guest post entitled Snappy science apps:

Like me, you might have of those families whose members fight over the iPad.

    • Whose turn it is;
    • The angle it’s held at;
    • Whether there is an equivalent distance between each kid and the screen;
    • …and more.

We’re also told over and over again by the mainstream media that our kids are having way too much screen time.

It’s enough to make a parent lock up the electronic devices for good.

But why we don’t just relax a little and explore how these tools can bring a sense of joy and wonder into our lives? Tablets offer unique pathways for learning that our grandparents and even parents could only dream of.

As an example, perhaps they could provide opportunities for science to be part of our everyday life in interactive and technological ways? In ways that would not require parents to dig out every quantitative instrument in the house, or end up with piles of clothes caked in mud and other sticky stuff from experimental activity.

In our family we bring science into games on the iPad wherever we can.

Angry Birds teaches us about trajectories.

Where’s My Water raises issues about water distribution, delivery and wastage.

Juice Box and Move It! teach spatial awareness and connectivity.

There’s a fabulous new climate change app that provides projections, impacts and adaptation options for coastal Australia: check out CERCCS.  ClimateWatch is also a good one to grab, and Skeptical Science encourages you to know thy climate change science.

I’ve also uncovered recently an insane number of citizen science apps. Albeit based mainly in North America (both US and Canada), they are interactive and allow actual input into the scientific process.

I desperately want REDMAP to create an app (there is one in development right now! – Sarah), but the Atlas of Living Australia has OzAtlas that does suffice for many of the creatures we come across. I love being able to feel like David Attenborough in Australia.

There are also plentiful museum apps, as well as field guides, glossaries and atlases.

My recommendation? Hide the dress up, drawing and Disney apps for a while, and use your iPad to explore science. With or even without any kids.

With problem solving and strategic games high on our agenda, here are a few more apps that we enjoy and you might like to check out:

    • Field Guide to Victorian Fauna – gorgeous photos, accurate explanations and SOUND!
    • Oh No Fractions! – Oh yes. It makes maths fun.
    • WWF Together  – Designer quality images & layout, accurate information and connection with WWF.
    • Go Sky Watch – Point your iPad at something in the sky and it will tell you what it is. Yay.
    • NASA – seriously awesome space stuff.
    • 3D Brain – learn what amygdala and cerebellum really mean. Great 3D graphics of our brains.
    • iSeismometer – record the movements of your device on the richter scale. If you have it in your pocket and in an earthquake, put it on the ground! Or run for it…..

A ScienceforLife.365 guest post by Kristi Abbott.

Kirsti is an invasion ecologist and ant lover. She is passionate about teaching and communicating  science, and proudly enjoys science in her and her family’s everyday. Having just left Monash University where she was a lecturer for 6 years, Kirsti is now attempting to inspire first year biology students at the University of New England. You can find Kirsti on twitter as @BeyondBuggirl

[image thanks to panina.anna on flickr]

Day 356. The Sleep Doctor

In August 2013 on August 2, 2013 at 7:09 pm

sleeping baby

“Children who do not start receiving complementary solids from four months of age are often hungry, sleepless and upset”

according to Dr Brian Symon, a GP known as ‘The Sleep Doctor’ amongst new parents in Adelaide’s Eastern suburbs.

As World Breastfeeding Week kicks off,  Brian was splashed all over Australian media these past couple of days with his claims that some babies are being fed exclusively on breast milk for too long, at the expense of their and their parent’s sleep. He also raised the possibility that exclusive breastfeeding may be linked with increased incidence of food allergies if other foods aren’t introduced.

His advice is viewed as controversial by some, as it conflicts with the WHO’s recommendation that babies do best if fed only from the breast for the first 6 months of their lives.

Controversy aside, some couples claim he saved their sanity in the weeks and months after returning from hospital with their first child. Brian sees families in his general practise medical clinic, where he offers advice on sleep and feeding for infants but also consults in general medicine. In my family, we visited Brian on several occasions – initially with our first child in a desperate attempt to encourage self-settling after 8 months of increasingly poor sleep, and in the early weeks after our second child was born to set up some good patterns. (By the third one, we felt semi-competent.)

Although we didn’t apply everything Brian suggested, as a scientist I found it very comforting to get a feel for the natural sleep cycles of babies, and what we could reasonably expect in sleep and feeding behaviours.

Brian has published some of his data. You can read it for free online in the following papers (language is quite readable for general audiences):

He has also published a book, and related CD and DVD – see his website for more information.