I’m still reeling from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my top five actors of all time and hands down one of the greatest thespians of his generation. Think of a non-heartthrob actor who can boast the same CV as Hoffman. Think of any actor who has anything close to Hoffman’s range. Think read more
[Note: Travel Diary has been updated to include Munich (including Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau Concentration Camp) and Berlin!] I never thought I would say this, and undoubtledly it will be heavily disputed, but in my opinion it’s true: Prague is overrated! When I first arrived in the UK, Prague was near the top of my list read more
I had no idea The Wolf of Wall Street was a comedy until it won the Best Motion Picture in the Musical or Comedy category at the recent Golden Globes. Leo DiCaprio plus Martin Scorcese usually equal serious, violent, gritty flicks like The Departed or Gangs of New York, but this time, they’ve teamed up to give us one of read more
One of the best books I read this year, and certainly the most fascinating, is the book everyone has been reading — Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (apparently the only authorised biography of the Apple co-founder). I was entranced by this mammoth book (surprising considering I’m neither an Apple fanatic or hater) and ploughed through it read more
I decided my long-awaited first post of 2013 should, naturally, be a New Year’s resolution. Now before I am reminded of my abysmal New Year’s resolution record, let me assure you that I think this one is totally achievable.
When I used to work crazy hours I often wondered what it would be like if I worked a regular 9-5 job and what I would do with all that extra time. Now that I practically do work such hours (9-6, but close enough), the amount of stuff I get done after work is not actually all that different. Yes, there is the problem of a little boy who has completely changed my life, but he usually goes to bed by around 7:30pm-8pm, and even when you factor in the time it takes to wash and clean all his stuff every night, it’s not really an excuse. My goal is to sleep at 10:30pm every night, which usually means at least an hour and a half of leisure time before I close my eyes.
As is probably the case with most people, a significant part of my inability to do anything constructive during my free time stems from my smartphone and tablet usage, especially just before bed. I don’t know why these damn things are so addictive, but they are.
Recently, I have become obsessed with this smartphone app called Letterpress (following my previous obsessions with Words with Friends and Scramble with Friends). You know I don’t like to brag, but I am such a beast at this game. I remind myself of a 2010 movie title starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine about a runaway train. But my awesomeness is also a curse because I’m always staring at the damn phone wondering when my opponent(s) will make their next move.
My wife reminded me the other day that the reason why our sleep hasn’t been so great recently, apart from a sometimes sick or restless child, is because our eyes are always fixated on electronic devices shortly before bed. It’s not just the smartphones or tablets either — we often watch a TV show or movie in bed or I’m writing something on my laptop. On the odd occasion I might be playing a console video game. I used to spend some of that time exercising, and I’m still working to get myself back into that.
Most of us have probably read research which states that staring at light-emitting screens an hour before bed will likely affect your sleep as it inhibits the proper release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your body’s natural sleep cycles. I knew about it but conveniently wedged it away in the back of my mind so I could keep dominating in the word games and keep telling myself that I’m actually working on my vocabulary so I can be a better writer.
So my New Year’s resolution is very simple: no smartphones or other electronic devices (save for emergencies) in the 30 minutes immediately prior to sleep. Instead, I will be reading. A book. Made of paper. You may have heard of them.
One of the best books I read this year, and certainly the most fascinating, is the book everyone has been reading — Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (apparently the only authorised biography of the Apple co-founder).
I was entranced by this mammoth book (surprising considering I’m neither an Apple fanatic or hater) and ploughed through it faster than any book I read this year, even though I was still halfway through a couple of other books at the time. Amusingly, I read the e-book version on the iPad.
There are enough reviews out there, so all I will say is that I enjoyed it immensely — Isaacson’s style is fluid and easy to read, and considering the plethora of information at his disposal, Isaacson did a fantastic job of structuring it into roughly chronological, theme-based chapters.
Isaacson also managed to keep himself out of the narrative, for the most part, while allowing the minor characters to rise to the forefront. Though the book is about Jobs, I felt I gained amazing insights into the personalities and quirks of all those who touched his life, either positively or negatively.
The biggest praise is reserved for Isaacson’s courage — he did not shy away from the negative aspects of Jobs’s life and difficult personality; in fact, it’s more accurate to say he embraced it. At a time when the world was mourning Jobs’s death and remembering him as some kind of god-like figure, I’m sure it would have been a shock to many Apple product faithfuls to discover just what a colossal prick Jobs was sometimes (or most of the time). Kudos to Jobs too, for giving Isaacson free reign on how to portray him in the book.
5 out of 5!
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to note down some things I learned from reading this book. You might know some already, you might not.
1. Jobs was indeed a genius
Before reading this book, I always thought media folk threw out the word “genius” too liberally when it came to Steve Jobs. I knew he was a great visionary and a leader, but genius? I thought it was a vast overstatement.
However, I was wrong. Jobs was a genius. Not a technical genius like his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Jobs didn’t really know the ins and outs of the technology side that well — he knew enough, but he was not an engineering guy), but a genius at getting things done, a genius at developing products, a marketing genius, and a genius at figuring out what people wanted before they did. Sure, Wozniak developed the first Apple computer, but without Jobs bringing the products out there, Apple would have never gotten anywhere. There are lots of great inventors out there who have created magnificent products — but it’s a waste without someone who knows how to make people want the products.
2. Jobs deserved the credit he got
Another thing that irked me before reading this book was that Jobs got all the credit for Apple’s success. It wasn’t something he purposely promoted, but it wasn’t something that he shied away from either. I had always thought: Apple is a huge company, and Jobs must have only been a small part of the equation. He only got all the credit because he was CEO.
While Jobs obviously did not deserve all the credit for Apple’s success (indeed, some key Apple players resented the fact that Jobs did), he certainly deserved a lot of it. I simply cannot imagine how Apple could have become as successful as it is today without Jobs.
Jobs was literally involved in every aspect of the product development process and was not merely a figurehead for the company. He made all the key decisions, whether it was product, marketing or strategy. He hand picked the teams (only “A players”, as he liked to call them) and pushed them to achieve things they never thought they could. He came up with a lot of the original ideas, or at least contributed to them. He even came up with the idea and the design of the famous Apple stores around the world. When he saw something he wanted he made sure it was integrated into his products. When he didn’t like something, instead of putting out a crappy product, he made the tough decision to tear it down and start over.
Check out the famous 1984 Apple commercial, widely considered one of the best TV commercials ever. Jobs had a significant hand in how it was developed and chose to run it despite staunch opposition.
3. Jobs was a prick
To describe Jobs, I feel it is necessary to invoke the wise words of Jay Chou (Kato) from The Green Hornet: “He was a complex man.”
Like many people who did not know much about Jobs’s personality, I was stunned when I read the book to discover that he was a colossal prick (and a prick with bad B.O as well — as he believed his vegan diet made him immune).
There’s just no way to sugar coat it (Isaacson certainly didn’t). Jobs was narcissistic, arrogant, petulant, bratty, liked to take credit for other people’s work, enjoyed destroying people (mentally), was vindictive, disloyal and could be bitterly cruel to everyone around him, including his family. He would shoot people down, he would be a dick just because he could, he would scream until he got his way, or cry (literally) when he didn’t.
To be fair, he did respect the people that stood up to him or proved their worth to him, but for the most part he was an extremely difficult person to be around. No wonder he was ousted from Apple the first time round, and even now, people that respected him deeply still have no qualms acknowledging what a flawed personality he had.
4. Jobs saved Pixar
Before reading this book, I thought Jobs was merely responsible for the iPod, iPhone and iPad. I heard that he bought and then sold the animation studio Pixar, making a healthy profit in the process, but I had no idea that he essentially saved Pixar from going under by pouring his own money into it and actually spent a lot of time there helping them develop the films. Without Jobs, we probably would have never been blessed with movies such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, WALL-E, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, and so forth. Wow.
5. Not everything Jobs touched turned to gold
It’s easy to remember only one’s successes, but Isaacson’s book touched on many of Jobs’s failures. He was at the helm of several failed Apple products and the company he formed after being kicked out of Apple in the 1980s, NeXT, was also ultimately a failure.
We often only remember the mega successes and forget the failures, but it was these failures that helped Jobs learn from his mistakes so that he could grow and evolve. Without these earlier failures he would never have had the successes he experienced later.
6. Jobs saved the music industry with iTunes
I don’t know if this is an overstatement, but the book certainly made it feel legitimate: Steve Jobs essentially saved the music industry by introducing iTunes.
Personally, I hate iTunes for the restrictive way it operates and how it forces you to sync everything. But a time when music piracy was (and still is) spiralling out of control, and with both music labels and technology companies struggling to come up with a way to stop the bleeding, Jobs’s iTunes offered a simple solution for everyday users to obtain the music they want at a reasonable price. Apple’s rivals readily acknowledged that Jobs had come up with something they should have, and that they had dropped the ball with their own clunky versions. Key members of the music industry also openly acknowledged the effect iTunes had on their businesses.
The mammoth success of iTunes speaks for itself, but what was more amazing for me to learn was that Jobs had personally reached out to a lot of artists to agree to be included so that iTunes would have the widest possible range of music. The fact he picked up the phone and did that himself, from U2 to Madonna to Eminem, blows my mind.
7. Jobs and Bill Gates loathed each other
One thing I was surprised to learn was that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were born in the same year (1955). Because Gates’s fame and fortune came earlier, and Jobs’s not until the last few years (and let’s face it, Apple was not on most Aussie’s radar during Microsoft’s years of dominance), I had always thought Gates might have been older (despite looking younger…it’s a confusing world).
But as the book revealed, not only were the two contemporaries, they also once worked together before becoming mortal enemies. Well, maybe those words are too strong to describe the relationship, but it’s safe to say that they hated each other. Then again, Jobs hated everyone that posed a threat to him.
According to Isaacson, Jobs hated Gates because Gates was a pragmatist. Jobs saw himself as an artist who needed control of all the hardware and software to ensure his “art” would not be not spoiled by outsiders, whereas Gates was an unimaginative hack simply copied other people’s work and sold out by licensing Microsoft software to all compatible hardware, whether they were any good or not. I think that’s a good description of how Jobs felt, and perhaps there was also a tinge of jealousy over Gates’s early success.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in 1985 -- though they would eventually make peace, the two hated each other for a very long time
Gates, on the other hand, didn’t think Jobs knew the technology well enough (which was probably fair), but I think the real reason he became a dick to Jobs was because Jobs was a massive dick to him first, for no good reason either. The book recounts the time when Gates visited Apple’s offices, and Jobs purposely kept him waiting for a very long time while being in plain sight, before belligerently tearing into Gates and his company.
Perhaps it is because Jobs has passed, which explains why Gates appears to only have respectful things to say about Jobs in the book (despite a few jabs at his difficult personality), but it is heartening to learn that the two men kind of made peace before Jobs passed. One of the most moving parts of the book was when Gates visited Jobs at his home (where Jobs was almost on his death bed) and the two recounted old times. Jobs finally gave due respect to what Gates did with the computer industry, though he remained defiant on his own methodologies.
8. Jobs had the ability to distort reality
One of the most talked-about things in the book was Jobs’s “reality distortion field”. It sounds ridiculous but people who know Jobs swear it exists.
It refers to Jobs’s ability to distort reality by making the impossible possible. He would be able to use his charm, wit and skills of manipulation to convince people to do things or see things in a certain way. He would also use his power to pressure people into doing things they never thought possible.
The reality distortion field was in full effect numerous times throughout the book, usually when someone who worked with or under Jobs recounted how they never thought something was possible, either in terms of time constraints or technical capability, and yet Jobs would use his reality distortion field to make it possible.
I’m sure at the time these people would have hated Jobs for pushing them to do what they felt was totally unreasonable, but the way he got his staff to continuously achieve the impossible is why Apple ended up with these amazing products.
9. Jobs was a man of contradictions
Steve Jobs was a man of contradictions. He was adopted and desperately wanted to feel wanted, but when the opportunity came to reunite with his biological father (whom he had unknowingly stumbled across several times because he enjoyed dining at a restaurant his father worked at), he steadfastly refused. He was abandoned by his biological parents, but he also abandoned a biological child (a daughter) for several years before eventually reaching out to her.
One of the most fascinating things about the book was the fact that Jobs made these Apple products because always saw himself as a rebel and a representative of the counterculture, and yet he made people more materialistic with them.
He hated companies that dominated the market like Microsoft, comparing them to tyrants and “Big Brother”, but Apple eventually became a dominant player itself that bullied anyone who wouldn’t bow to its closed ecosystem.
In many ways, Jobs was the ultimate dictator — he was a tyrant of a boss who wanted to control everything — from the tiniest little screw to the design of the Apple store to the way the product boxes were opened. And if you ever crossed him he would remember it and make sure you regretted it.
Jobs, of course, never saw himself as that tyrant, which brings up some interesting Annakin Skywalker/Darth Vader analogies. Jobs preferred to see himself as the underdog — he wanted to be David, not Goliath — even when reality reflected otherwise.
10. Success comes from hard work
A valuable lesson to be learned from the Steve Jobs biography is that true success really does come from hard work. People who put in the hard yards might not always succeed, but people who succeed always put in the hard yards.
Jobs was the poster child of hard work. He practically worked around the clock and often forced his subordinates to do the same. He was once the CEO (official or otherwise) of two massive companies, Apple and Pixar. He was the type of person who would call people up at 3am to discuss an idea he came up with. Even when he was facing death he still wanted to make sure that Apple didn’t stuff things up. Often luck plays a significant role, but if you really want to succeed at something you have to be willing to put in the time and effort.
Interestingly, Jobs always said, prophetically, that he did not think he would live a long life, which is why he was always pushing himself to achieve more and more greatness. We all have a finite time on this earth, so it’s a mentality we can certainly learn from.
And here’s that legendary Stanford address video, which Isaacson says is probably the best university opening address of all time.
11. Don’t do something for the primary reason of making money
Another valuable lesson is that if you do or make something, don’t do it just because you want to get rich and famous — do it because you want to do or make something the best it can be.
It’s easy to say but hard to put into practice. Whenever I think of an idea, it is inevitably always linked to how I can monetise it. But for Jobs, it was never about the money — it was always about making the best products possible, products he would want to have. The money and success become a by-product of creating the best products.
He became a multi-millionaire in his 20s (and this was 70s money) — most people would have been happy to put their feet up and enjoy the rest of their lives in luxury, but Jobs cared so much about what he was making that he wanted to keep doing it.
A fascinating snippet from the book was when Jobs had been ousted from Apple and was thinking of a way back in. His wealthy friend, Larry Ellison, suggested that he buy Apple and nominate Jobs as the new CEO. When Jobs came up with a less expensive way (he would get Apple to buy his company NeXT, which would get him on the board, and he would fight for control from there), Ellison was confused.
“But Steve, there’s one thing I don’t understand,” he said. “If we don’t buy the company, how can we make any money?”. It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison’s left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, “Larry, this is why it’s really important that I’m your friend. You don’t need any more money.”
12. Why Apple is so popular
At last, we get down to the big question: why the heck is apple so popular? It was something I pondered a year or two ago in this post, and I didn’t have the answer back then. But after reading the book and gaining an insight into Apple, Jobs and the whole phenomenon, I think I am beginning to understand.
It’s actually quite simple: Apple either made existing products (usually still in their infancy) better, or it managed to get the first foot in the door for new products. Apple made the products simpler, more intuitive and user-friendly. Jobs and his team created products they would want, not products they thought would make the most money (which is a fine, but important distinction) — often practical concerns would force CEOs to make compromises, but Jobs made sure quality was never compromised. It was all or nothing. Even the inside of the products needed to be beautiful.
And of course, there is the brand Jobs built. He understood the importance of branding and not just marketing. The slick design of the products, the Apple stores, the grand product unveilings. These are the things ordinary people might think important but not crucial in the grand scheme of things, but Jobs poured countless hours into perfecting every little aspect of every decision until it was just right. He made Apple cool. Apple still has a lot of haters, but those with Apple products believe they are cool, which is all that matters. Unfortunately, a lot of them have also become Apple-apologist douchebags who tear your head off for even looking like you might want to criticise Apple or praise a competitor, but it’s just something the world has to live with.
Through a combination of luck, learning from experiences and failures, genius and extremely hard work, Jobs turned Apple into the richest company in the world. He put effort into the little things, things other people would consider irrelevant or negligible; while a lot of these things probably were, the sum of them all ultimately made Apple better and stronger, whether it was in terms of its products or image, than its competitors.
Jobs’s obtuse personality also played a role. His philosophy of creating a closed ecosystem with fully integrated hardware and software — it didn’t make sense economically (Microsoft proved licensing was the way to go in the computing world) but it allowed Apple to create a better and more complete user experience, which eventually allowed them to overcome the shortcomings of the strategy. In fact, with iTunes, Apple proved that the opposite of Microsoft’s approach was the way to go when it came to the music industry.
So there you have it. The 12 things I learned from the Steve Jobs biography. If you haven’t read the book already I urge you to do so.
Finally, I have successfully migrated my old blog from pacejmiller.wordpress.com to my own domain at pacejmiller.com. It was a little shaky at first but I think the blog has finally settled in.
The Big Move
To cut a long story short, I ended up doing it all myself, and it took a good couple of days and hours and hours of messing around and reading (and deciphering) online guides to move the blog over from the WordPress domain to my own purchased domain (from SiteGround) and to get it into the shape it is now.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I was going to pay the $119 fee for WordPress.com to do a ‘Guided Transfer’ for me, after previous attempts to export the material on my old blog to new blog failed miserably. However, as it turned out, WordPress can only do Guided Transfers for people who have purchased a domain from one of their affiliates. So I got the kind engineers at WordPress to do a full refund for me and I proceeded to do the damn thing myself, including how to redirect traffic from the old site to the new one.
For those interested to learn how it is done, I am going to do a post shortly that sets out exactly what I did, where I looked and where I sought assistance. Hopefully it can help people in my position — ie, want to move your blog to your own domain but don’t really know what the difference will be and find the whole process a little overwhelming.
New Blog, New Features!
The first thing you’ll notice on this new and improved blog is that I have a new theme. From day one I stuck with Regulus (a free theme from WordPress.com) and it served me fine for more than two years, but I felt it was time to go with a slicker, more professional look that made better use of the space.
So I ended up picking a new theme called Custom Community by Themekraft. Custom Community is also a free theme but you can upgrade it (for $39) to gain access to more custom features, widgets and so forth. The best thing about this theme is that it already has plenty of customisation options — the ‘how to’ guides are not necessarily the best, but if you muck around with it for long enough you’ll eventually figure it out.
The most noticeable difference with this new layout is that I have a massive slideshow just below the banner. I have customised the slideshow so that every time someone opens the Home page it will display four random posts from my new ‘Best Of’ category. Essentially, I picked out around 20 or so posts which have either been highly popular at one time or another or represent some of my better works and ideas and put them in this category, and I customised the slideshow to show posts only from that category and at random.
The second main difference is the three image boxes directly under the slideshow, which lists my three most recent posts. Personally, I would have preferred to get rid of them but they are not customisable in the free version of the theme. [Correction: I just figured out that you actually can get rid of the post list under the General/Default Homepage tab under Theme Settings but I realised the blog looks better with them so I put them back in]
The biggest hassle with the slideshows and image boxes is that I have to create these new Featured Images on my existing posts. There’s a new box in the new post creation screen and I have to separately upload an image to it — and the image has to be resized (to 756px in width) in order for it to fit properly. And I had to crop the images in cases where the slideshow zoomed in on the wrong part of the picture. Hours of work, I tell ya. Hours of work.
Those are the most obvious differences but boy did I have to do a lot of stuff. Even though migrating your blog keeps all your old posts and comments, etc, none of the widgets in the sidebar are moved over, so I had to redo everything from scratch. On the bright side, it allowed me to clean out a lot of the old stuff and links that weren’t being used.
Lots of other customisations that you probably won’t think much of but took me forever. For instance the header of the blog (that little blue strip of the night sky), which I grabbed from my old theme — that alone took like three hours because I had to get the size and placement exactly right. The drop down menus as well — the colour, the shape, the shadows — all that crap had to be customised.
One of the biggest changes I’ve had to get used to is all the Plugins that I have to install in order to replicate some of the features I had on WordPress.com as well as the new ones to give me additional features that weren’t available on WordPress.com. It’s been a struggle but I am slowly coming around.
The next step is to install Google Adsense and other advertising mechanisms to take advantage of the ability to advertise (something which WordPress.com prohibits). I’ve already signed up for Adsense but it might take a few days before the application is approved.
Another thing I will have to go through is the wealth of information provided on SEO (search engine optimisation), which is crucial if you want to increase your blog’s exposure and traffic.
In the meantime, life will be back to normal and I will continue to pump out posts. I already have a handsome backlog.
Anyway, take a look around at the new site, check out the new features, and let me know what you think. Any comments or suggestions would be much appreciated!
I’m finally doing it. At last. Well, not me specifically, but someone at WordPress.com is doing it, for a handsome fee.
What am I talking about?
Well, in Feb this year, after consulting my blogging guru friend, I purchased my own domain name at pacejmiller.com. This friend told me that my blog had potential but was been kept in shackles because it was being hosted by the free and wonderfully user-friendly WordPress.com. However, being a free blog, there are of course restrictions on what you can do with it, including how it looks and operates, and the big killer, the inability to advertise. Accordingly, it was time for the blog to break free and soar to new heights.
So I purchased a domain (on special) at Siteground for a very very cheap price and it appeared as though everything was ready to go.
However, being a complete tool at the Internets, I got a bit overwhelmed by the numerous step by step instructions (which weren’t step by step at all!) on how to migrate my current site over to the new address. After all, my current blog is where everything is at — I lose the content I have on it and I lose everything. It was, frankly, a tad frightening.
I tried to use the supposedly simple migration process stipulated in the help articles at WordPress.com, which involved ‘exporting’ everything on my blog into a single file, which I would then take over to the new blog and ‘import’. Sounds easy enough, right?
Not quite. I made several attempts to create the export file, but perhaps it was because I had too much content or something, the system kept crashing. After a frustrating struggle, I finally obtained an export file, but the import process just wouldn’t work. The export file was corrupt or incomplete or just plain evil.
And even if it was successful, I’m not sure if everything could be moved over smoothly. For starters, I read somewhere that the embedded videos will not make the migration. Secondly, is it just the posts or do my numerous pages get moved over as well? What about all the custom drop down menus I painstakingly created? What about all the widgets (including the text ones I created myself)? Do I have to do everything again myself? And more importantly, what about my existing visitors and my Google rankings and what not? Will they become innocent victims in this seemingly innocuous move?
It was blowing my mind, and in any case I wasn’t in any particular rush. I also had a bunch of other things I had to take care of, so the migration almost entirely slipped my mind.
More recently, I started getting quite a few requests for advertising, which rekindled my passion for the migration. I had already wasted 6 months and who knows how much that has already held my blog back? But with a massive move on the way, job applications, freelance work, freelance work seeking and other crap, I just wasn’t prepared to go through all the time and effort of relearning how to migrate the blog and doing it myself again.
Thankfully, WordPress.com offers a ‘Guided Transfer’, which can be found in the ‘Store’ tab towards the top of the left side menu when you log in to the WordPress dashboard. In short, it’s $119 bucks and you work with an expert to do everything for you — seamlessly, of course. You agree on a date and time for the migration and they even stick around for a couple of weeks afterward to answer any queries and guide you into the world of WordPress.org.
Anyway, there’s no turning back now because I have just purchased the Guided Transfer, so the move will be imminent. I’ll keep everyone updated and informed on how things go, but in hopefully it will all go smoothly and visitors to the current address will automatically be redirected to the new one.
Moving forward, I think I will start a series of posts on the actual experience of migrating from WordPress.com to WordPress.org — including whether this Guided Transfer was worth it, any obvious differences between .com and .org, the impact of the migration on my visitors, rankings and stats, and (fingers crossed) my foray into running advertisements on the blog, in particular the best options for bloggers and the effectiveness they have in generating revenue.
So if you’re interested in any of that crap (told from a web moron’s perspective), stay tuned, and if you haven’t already, subscribe!
On a final note, having tried a couple of other blogging platforms, I can honestly say that WordPress.com has been absolutely fantastic and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone thinking of starting their own blog.
I’ve always loved science museums. In fact, a visit to a science museum as a child may have prompted me to tell everyone that I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up. Having the worst science teachers (one threw a metal dust pan that narrowly missed a student’s head) and performing poorly in science during my formative school years (I was told to stand in a corner after tracing light rays on the table instead of my workbook during an optics experiment) quickly put those dreams into a permanent coma. But my passion for science museums remains alive.
And so during our recent trip to Canberra, my number one must-visit was Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre. Questacon is located at King Edward Terrace, home to a bunch of other galleries and museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Australian Democracy, and is adjacent to Parkes Place, which is where the High Court of Australia current sits. By the way, Australia’s highest court of law is a dump.
Questacon is undoubtedly designed for curious children, but that didn’t stop me and many other adults from trying out the 200+ interactive exhibits across the 8 galleries in the museum. The layout is uniquely designed. You start off on the first exhibition hall on the top floor, then slowly make your way down the circular walkway through the various halls until you reach the eighth and final one on the ground floor. Reminded me a little of the astoundingly good aquarium at Osaka (Kaiyukan), which has a similar design.
Burn your shadow onto the wall!
For us, we started off with a dry ice show in one of the theatres on the ground floor (there are a few throughout the day, and this one was supposed to be the best), which was very cool. I learned a few things and was surprised by how many children were willing to volunteer to answer questions they clearly did not know the answer to.
The famous free fall slide!
I’m not going to bother going through all the exhibits they had — you can check them out for yourself at the Questacon website. For me, the coolest were the ‘Perception Deception’ gallery (especially the ‘phantom limb’ — that was freaky!), the ‘Awesome Earth’ gallery (where you could experience earthquakes and massive lightning strikes) and the ‘Sideshow’ gallery (like a free theme park with those rotating clowns, roller coaster simulators and a six-metre free fall slide!).
The only clowns that don't scare me...ok, maybe just a little bit
Questacon was a lot of fun. It was hygienic too, with free hand sanitizer pumps in every gallery. We went during school holidays, so there were a lot of kids (though I imagine not as many as there would be on the weekend), but the good thing is that as an adult you can just shove them out of the way.
Questacon is open 9am-5pm every day except Christmas Day
Adults $20, Concession $15, Children (4-16) $15, Family (2 adults+3 children) $60 + $7 for each additional child.