Cristy Burne eating grilled cricket

Mmmm. Eating grilled cricket at Scitech. Tastes like toast.

You read it here first:

This year I am finally going to finish that book. You know. The one I’ve been writing for THREE YEARS!!

It should never have taken this long. I have all the excuses, and it has been a fabulous learning journey, but at the end of the year day, it’s time to put the thing to bed.

This year is the year.

I hereby swear and promise: if I don’t finish writing (and editing!) my book this year, I’m going to eat a grilled cricket. Make that two grilled crickets.

Oh, that’s right. I’ve already eaten two grilled crickets. (All in a day’s work.)

But seriously. This year is the year.

So, enough of this post. I’m off writing!
And enough reading of this post: be off with you too. Go and do something you desperately want to do.

Happy New Year people!

DemographicsWhat’s on your reading list for 2015?

Any books featuring diverse characters?

Julie M. Fiedler recently contacted me about the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award and prepared a fabulous presentation on the award, which is for diversity in children’s fiction, and was won by Takeshita Demons in 2009.

Diverse books to read in 2015

In her presentation, Julie recommended a number of books featuring diverse characters for use in the classroom, and I’m adding them to my To Read list for 2015: lack of diversity

  • Esperanza Rising – by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Bud, Not Buddy – by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes – by Eleanor Coerr
  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly – a collection by Jewish children who lived in the concentration camp Theresienstadt

And I recommended one of my all-time favourite books:

Take The Long PathTake The Long Path – by Joan de Hamel

This is the book my Kiwi grandfather gifted to my youngest sister, just weeks before he passed away, so it’s special in our family as well as being an incredible book: a thrilling adventure story about belonging and heritage.

It has everything I think a great children’s book should have and I’ve just bought myself a copy for my birthday.

I can’t wait to read it again! Have you read it? It can be tough to find a copy, so good luck (or you can ask to borrow mine :-))

Download Julie’s presentation on the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

There’s nothing I like more than making lists to mark the start of a New Year, and 2015 is no different.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to clear out the Piles of Important Things, to leave more space for thinking and writing and creating New Important Things.

And while clearing, I found this:

Santa science show

Graham Walker and I with our hands-on Santa-science show. What fun!

It’s a clipping from the local paper, celebrating a super-cool science show that the fabulous Graham Walker and I wrote and performed at the Canberra Centre a few more than ten years ago, just for laughs, just because we loved doing science shows, just because we could make up bad puns and people would clap :-)

The G-nome project?

Liquid nitrogen and Rudolph’s nose?

Teleportation down the chimney? (Remember this was the year that Australian National University scientists teleported a laser beam for the first time! Oh, the magic!)


As you can see, I’m having a ball going through the pile, and sticking to the Do It Now school of meeting your New Year’s goals.

Help! It’s Jan 1 and already I’m flailing!

If you’d like a little nudge for making your own New Year resolutions, you might like to paint eyes on a daruma, read my #1 recommendation for writers writing resolutions, or simply soak up some encouragement from another of the Important Things: my first ever letter of acceptance.

Happy 2015 everyone! Let’s make it a ripper!

What are your resolutions this year? Care to share?



Sophie Sakka dressing NAOAs well as being an amazing scuba instructor, experienced Japanophile, and all-round-fabulous-woman, my lovely friend Sophie Sakka is a humanoid robotics researcher.

When we first met, Sophie was teaching a robot to jump.

Now, she’s launched a non-for-profit organisation aimed at bringing robotics and the arts closer together, and within the reach of ordinary people.

8706_679726695425929_4471715117916355550_nI think Sophie’s terrific, and wanted to share her work with the kids of Australia, so I wrote an article for CSIRO’s Scientriffic magazine.

And now, with thanks to Scientriffic, I’d love to share that article with you…(and PS: if you have curious kids aged 7 to 10, and you’re looking for something fun to read and do, I totally recommend a Scientriffic subscription.)

AtSuper-models-Scientriffic just 58 centimetres tall, NAO is dressed to impress. Modelling outfits by French designer Marie Rebérat, the robot recently starred in its own fashion show, performing dance routines programmed by robotics researcher Sophie Sakka.

“I entered Marie’s shop to buy clothes for myself,” says Sophie, founder of arts-and-robotics organisation Robots! and researcher at the Research Institute in Communication and Cybernetics of Nantes, in France. “I had the robot with me, and Marie fell in love with it.”

Sophie and Marie decided to stage a fashion show, starring NAO.

“We used Marie’s outfits and my programming,” says Sophie, who is teaching NAO how to copy human movement. “The show was such a success that we extended the idea, running public shows for a month.”

Performing might come easy for some, but for NAO, every move must be carefully programmed.

“NAO can also sit down and stand up,” says Sophie, “and I’ve made it climb stairs. The hardest thing for NAO is balancing.”

And as we approach the mad, final run-up to Christmas, it feels like the hardest thing for me is balancing too. I hope you’re having a great Silly Season and I’m looking forward to a fab 20145 (already?)!


The finished product: the text panel for Guanlong – hooray!

Want to be paid to learn new things?

Be a science writer!

I recently worked as a writer on the Australian Museum’s TYRANNOSAURS – MEET THE FAMILY exhibition, now touring New Zealand.

Prior to this job, if you’d said “tyrannosaur”, I’d have screamed “Rex!” and started running. I knew they had teeth, I knew they had claws, I knew they were extinct.

And that was it.

Well, turns out, there’s a whole lot more to know about tyrannosaurs, and I was lucky enough to learn some of it on the job.

Making every word count

The process for writing museum panels is a long one.

– Each panel is short — some less than 100 words — but they each have to grab attention, communicate a message, and add value to the visitor’s experience.

– The TYRANNOSAURS panels had to work for kids and adults

– They also had to steer clear of any typically Aussie references: the exhibition is touring different countries, so it needed to work for audiences around the world.

–  Accuracy is most important of all. I worked with a paleontologist on the panels for this exhibition, to make sure everything was spot on. Every fact was triple-checked, every sentence was scoured for ambiguity.

Ten drafts, 200 words

The panel pictured above introduces a primitive tyrannosaur named Guanlong wucaii, meaning Crown Dragon. We’ve only found two Guanlong specimens, so not a lot is known about this dinosaur. It was my job to communicate the key facts in something super-interesting and engaging. What do you think?


Guanlong wucaii: the crown dragon

Guanlong is one of the oldest tyrannosaurs known: it hunted 95 million years before T. rex.

Height: 1.1 metres tall at the hips.                 

Length: 4 metres.

 Lived: 160 million years ago (Late Jurassic).

Discovered: By T. Yu in 2002, Xinjiang, China.

Meaning crown dragon, Guanlong was named for its flashy head-crest. Fragile, hollow and made from fused nasal bones, the crest may have been attractive to other Guanlong. Such a showpiece is unusual in a predator.

Shaking hands with Guanlong
Guanlong isn’t your typical tyrannosaur: it has long arms and three-fingered hands for grabbing and ripping. But the shape of its teeth, skull and pelvis all link it to the tyrannosaur group. Like many tyrannosaurs, it almost certainly had feathers.

Trapped in a footprint
The two known Guanlong died in the same way: they fell into the muddy footprint of a massive herbivore and were trapped. The 6-year-old died first and was probably trampled by the adult, who arrived later. Both skeletons are almost complete.

Likes: Elaborate headwear.

Dislikes: Being called primitive.




Ever feel like the night life in your city just isn’t cutting it?

Check out my review of Alcatraz+ER, a science-themed Tokyo pub, originally published in Cosmos magazine. I dare you to read it and not secretly wish you could be there. I still have nightmares…

Alcatraz science barPub crawl – Alcatraz meets E.R.
Ever felt it might be easier to ingest your drinks by drip? Maybe you’d prefer alcohol in a capsure? By test-tube? Perhaps a giant syringe is more to your liking? Or you might skip all these niceties and drink straight from the beer bedpan. The only hard-to-find drinking vessel at Alcatraz+ER is a glass.

One of Tokyo’s kookiest and most fashionable bars, Alcatraz+ER is a mish-mash of emergency room, prison and morgue. Just the place for fine dining and a cold one, especially if you don’t mind sharing your space with preserved body parts, blood spatters and X-rays (spot the axe).

Looking from the street you’d never know. But step out of the lift on the second floor of this nondescript building, and things quickly become a little disconcerting.

For a start, there are no people. No reception. Not even any noise. The silent walls are decorated with mugshots and chemistry equipment. At the far end of the otherwise empty room is a barred cabinet holding four buttons: “Press your blood type,” the sign commands. For those who reach through the rusty bars to hit a button, there’s no turning back.

The doors that slide open reveal a cacophony of shrieks, clangings, techno music and reruns of Silence of the Lambs. A nurse in a miniskirt appears with handcuffs and a giant syringe. She cuffs you, then leads you through a maze of dimly lit corridors (the giant floors of which occasionally reveal buried bodies) to the table of your choice.

Less adventurous diners may choose to be locked in a concrete cell and fed through iron bars at a stainless-steel table. Braver punters, unphased by bloodstains and second-hand surgical instruments, can opt to dine in a dimly lit operating theatre. On a first date? Skip those awkward moments when you’re alone as a couple by sharing a cell-for-three with a hunchback or a bloodied mummy.

And just as you start to feel comfortable using tweezers to select tasty morsels from a preserving jar, or sipping from the pot marked ‘Biohazard,’ there’s a blood-curdling scream closely followed by sirens. The place goes pitch black.

If you’re lucky, an ultraviolet glow will light the chaos before the escaped lunatic murderer finds your cell. Wearing striped prison garb with hurricane hair, he sprints through the corridors in an attempt to evade the armed guards who will eventually wrestle him to the floor. Sedation with a giant hypodermic quickly follows, he’s led away, and you’re free to get on with your drinks. Tokyo sure knows how to party.


WIll they still need us? Will they still feed us?

Will they still need us? Will they still feed us?

Laurie Oakes spoke tonight at Curtin University on political journalism in the digital age. It was terrific.

I’ve never identified as a journalist (I’m a writer), so I don’t suffer from the same issues that besiege modern journalists, but I can look around and see the world is changing, and the job of a professional writer with it.

DIY political journalism

Politicians with a story to tell need no longer rely on town criers, carrier pigeons or traditional media.

Oakes pointed to the White House and its 20-something-strong team of PR people, all cranking out material freely available on social networks and picked up by mainstream media to fill the gaps between ads.

The middle-man, otherwise known as the journalist, no longer needs to worry about getting quotes right or finding a suitable photo: politicians are providing the world with their own quotes, photos, videos, tweets, and (new to me as well) 5-second Vine videos.

The stories they don’t want told

To survive, says Oakes, journalists need to find the stories politician’s don’t want told. This relies on cultivating sources, but who wants to be a source when your phones can be tapped, your emails hacked, your credit card records seized, your phone’s GPS tracked… Anyone? Anyone?

The fight with Big Brother, says Oakes, can partially be won by combining studies in journalism with computer science, so our journos are tech-savvy and practice good IT hygiene. “Computers and journalism are fused now,” he says. “You’ll never prise them apart.”

Oakes’ 6-point “listicle”: Reasons for optimism

Despite the challenges, Oakes was optimistic: “Journalism is coming back, or will come back…Every time there’s a change, it increases your ability to tell stories.”

So why the optimism? Well, here’s his 6-point “listicle”:

1) Newspapers are still with us. As far as reasons for optimism go, this is right up there alongside Today I didn’t get hit by a truck. And yet, it is true. Newspapers have proven to be more resilient than expected, Oakes says, and are adapting to the “uber platform” and finding new ways to finance journalists at the same time.

2) Quality journalism is still being produced. Despite reduced ad revenue, reduced circulation and reduced employment opportunities, Oakes believes great stories are still being told and great truths unearthed.

3) Paywalls are working. The reader-pays system of providing online content has been slow to take off, says Oakes, but has seen “encouraging results.” And paywalls encourage quality: “If you want to see something, it has to be worth buying.”

4) Quality is winning the quantity war. Outlets are financing quality journalism thanks to “rubbish that makes money on the net.” The old she’ll-be-right slap-something-together attitude to online publishing is no longer cutting it.

5) Stories need to be told, by someone. You can leak all the documents you like, but unless somebody takes that information and sifts through it to give it meaning, your story won’t really be heard. Journalists, says Oakes, are still relevant.

6) We have new storytelling tools galore. Real-time videos, live translation apps, phones that edit and record and tapdance (okay, not that last one), and the ability to broadcast from anywhere, anytime. “It’s almost enough to make an old hack wish he was just starting out,” says Oakes. “I’m in awe of what can be done now in storytelling.”

And as well as provoking thought on journalism, democracy, and privacy, Oakes provoked some thoughts I rather wish I hadn’t had: apparently Kevin Rudd paid his way through uni cleaning houses, including Oakes’ place, and “he was pretty good on the s-bend,” he jokes.

But jokes aside, I agree with Oakes: it’s a wild and crazy time to be a journalist. And sometimes, the most amazing things rise out of wild-and-crazy times.

The climate is right for bold, IT-savvy journos to really make a different to the way we see the world. So go forth, meet sources in lake-edge car parks at midnight, and don’t forget to leave your phones behind. I say, good luck to you!

Image credit: Bryan Ledgard


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