web experiment


By | archive, creative, humour, web experiment

Original article can be found at our Science Scout site.

- – -

(Acronyms used: SSBFME = Science Scout Badges Free Market Economy)

So… It’s been a few years since the Science Scouts were born, and (at last count) we have received over 300 emails from various Indian or Chinese Embroidery companies looking to “offer their badge making services.” Finally, we’re now of mind to finally lay out a game plan for the selling and obtaining of these Science Scout badges, physically.

And basically, we’re going with the free market model – specifically the SSBFME.

In other words, if you want to make them, you are more than welcome to make them and then sell them as you see fit. You can even change the look of the badge, because we figure if you do a good job, then who are we to say that what you’re doing is wrong. Likewise, if you want to make badges with gold leaf and sell them for thousands of dollars, make scratch and sniff badges, or provide badges embedded with LCD screens that twinkle annoyingly, then who are we to stop you? This is, after all, about community, and science, and (of course) badges.

We do, however, like to say that we are not, ourselves, responsible for any of the shenanigans involved in this science scout badge economy. In other words, we’ll take an arms length approach, happy to just look on, with amusement and a bit of pride as well.

In fact, here is the fist batch.

Don’t they look wonderful? In fact, they are lovingly crafted by Rachel Newlin, and you can get them at her Etsy link (better hurry actually: being hand made, they are in limited supply)!

All to say, that we are thankful to Rachel for providing the proverbial catalyst for this market, and also hopeful that others will join in too. Anyway, if you do plan on becoming part of the SSBFME, then do make sure you leave a note on the Science Scout site – maybe at the actual badge post – and we’ll also try to do our best to showcase your endeavors.

Happy collecting!

About The Science Creative Quarterly

Castigat ridendo mores.


By | archive, humour, web experiment

(You too can follow the @physicallaws of the universe).

- – -

The physical laws of the universe have just started a twitter account.

Not surprising, but the 1st law of thermodynamics doesn’t think much of unicorns.

The physical laws of the universe are at the mall.

As usual, Archimedes Principle is hogging the bathroom.

Even @rainbows should follow the physical laws of the universe.

The physical laws of the universe have a thing for graphing calculators.

Are you there @God, it’s us the physical laws of the universe.

The physical laws of the universe would just like to say that they are in no way responsible for the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

Even if @god doesn’t want to follow the physical laws of the universe, maybe a get together for drinks is O.K?

The physical laws of the universe do not get the TV show “Lost.”

5 out of 5 dentists prefer the physical laws of the universe to credulous irrational beliefs.

The physical laws of the universe love walks on the beach, puppies, and scented pillows: but most of all, they love entropy.

The physical laws of the universe would just like to apologize for their part in this crazy weather you’re experiencing.

About The Science Creative Quarterly

Castigat ridendo mores.


By | archive, classroom, creative, visuals, web experiment

(From http://phylomon.org)
(Facebook group: link)

- – -

“When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.”
~ E. O. Wilson.


Well 2010 is here, a.k.a. the International Year of Biodiversity, and to us at the SCQ, it means that we’re finally ready to go ahead with our long awaited phylomon project. Please repost, reblog, retweet, phone a friend – whatever you can do to spread the word.


Good question. Well, it’s an online initiative aimed at creating a Pokemon card type resource but with real creatures on display in full “character design” wonder. Not only that – but we plan to have the scientific community weigh in to determine the content on such cards (note that the cards above are only a mock-up of what that content might be), as well as folks who love gaming to try and design interesting ways to use the cards. Then to top it all off, members of the teacher community will participate to see whether these cards have educational merit. Best of all, the hope is that this will all occur in a non-commercial-open-access-open-source-because-basically-this-is-good-for-you-your-children-and-your-planet sort of way.


Well, it was conservationist Andrew Balmford’s letter (Why Conservationists Should Heed Pokemon, Science. 2002 Mar 29;295(5564):2367.), published in Science, that provided the proverbial kick in the pants. Essentially, he did this eye opening study to show that children as young as eight had the remarkable ability to identify and characterize upwards of 120 different Pokemon characters. However, when the same rubric was applied using photos of “real” flora and fauna (animals and plants that lived in the children’s back yards) the results were simply horrendous.

“Our findings carry two messages for conservationists. First, young children clearly have tremendous capacity for learning about creatures (whether natural or man-made), being able to at age 8 to identify nearly 80% of a sample drawn from 150 synthetic “species.” Second, it appears that conservationists are doing less well than the creators of Pokemon at inspiring interest in their subjects: During their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokemon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50% of common wildlife types. Evidence from elsewhere links loss of knowledge about the natural world to growing isolation from it. People care about what they know. With the world’s urban population rising by 160,000 people daily, conservationists need to reestablish children’s links with nature if they are to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation.”

In effect, Andrew asked, “Can we do whatever Pokemon does so well, but with the reality of biodiversity and ecology providing the content?” With this brilliant seed of an idea, the folks behind the SCQ have been wondering whether the ideals of this thing called “WEB 2.0” can work towards Andrew’s suggestion. And with his blessing, we are now ready to pursue his idea full heartedly, optimistic that the good old internet, its social networking ability, and its often wonderfully active and engaged citizens will deliver something amazing.



Well, as we speak, a website is being carefully developed, but more importantly, it is being programmed using the nuts and bolts of the open source WordPress software and the remarkable image organizing prowess of Flickr. The idea here is that whatever template is produced, it will be relatively low maintenance to use and to look after, and that there will be ample opportunity for others to use it in their own locales, and for it to be tweaked, improved, for further use. If you’d like to see the initial layout for this website, you can download this pdf which includes the general logistics and rough design schematics. At this point, we are planning to launch the website at phylomon.org sometime in late February, early March 2010.


In a nut shell, our first order of business is to drum up enthusiasm from the graphic design and illustration community. We’re actually hoping for something wonderful (and a bit viral) like the 700 Hoboes Project (another great web based art collaboration). In this respect, here are a few things you can do to help:

1. You can spread the word to as many folks as you can. In particular, any courting of the character design community to play would be brilliant, although any word of mouth is also greatly appreciated.

2. As images begin to come in, feel free to comment at the Flickr group site. It is this sort of feedback that will help guide our choices for images used in the actual cards. We’re actually quite curious what type of imagery will be presented (will it be ultra realistic, more character design focused, something in between, or a bit of everything)

3. Better yet, if you are an artist, or just someone who is intrigued, then do submit a picture. If so, here are a couple of things to consider.

FIRST: whatever image you provide, the copyright will still remain with you, the artist. What you agree to, is allowing us the use of the image in a non-commercial educational format specifically for the home printing/production of phylomon cards.

SECOND: the image you supply would only need to be given at relatively small dimensions (150dpi at 2.4 inches x 1.5 inches or 360px X 225px). This is done on purpose so that the small size of the image limits its usefulness for the more unscrupulous folks out there. As well, attribution and linkage to the artist’s personal website will be provided throughout the process. This way, if a viewer loves the artist’s image, and, say, wants to buy it full size, or wants to inquire if it’s available as a t-shirt, he/she will have the option to follow up on to the artist’s personal URL.

THIRD: Submissions will occur via a Phylomon Flickr group (links provided below). Full submission details (i.e. specific size of images and tags to include) can be found at the Flickr group pages. As we plan to incorporate a variety of communities in this project, we will start by creating three Phylomon submissions groups. One for the graphic design/illustration community, one for the photography community, and also one for the school community (i.e. kids and students can play too!). We do plan on initially focusing on the illustration elements (where perhaps reality can be embedded during gameplay – i.e. the card can do extra when coupled with a photo brought in by the child), but go ahead, check them all out below and submit away!

- Phylomon submissions (Graphic Design and Illustration Community)

- Phylomon submissions (Photography Community)

- Phylomon submissions (School Community)

FOURTH: It is hoped that a large repository of great images will collect over time. From these pools, specific images will be chosen for card production. This will involve our team contacting the artist for permission to include the image in the main Phylomon flickr account to create a “card queue” which in turn will be worked upon by a community of biodiversity scientists (graduate and undergraduate students, with some oversight from Faculty/Research Scientists) who will be assigned the task of providing scientifically literate content for each card. This content will also provide and inform logistics for gameplay design.


Anyway, if you have any questions about the project please do contact me via email or twitter. I would love to hear feedback and your ideas!

Dave Ng
Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada (11/01/2010)

Big thank you to Randy Laybourne, Colin Moore, and Ele Willoughby for use of their awesome images; and, of course, to Andrew Balmford and his colleagues for the wonderful idea.

About The Science Creative Quarterly

Castigat ridendo mores.


By | archive, contest, web experiment

Data obtained November 13, 2007

It seems obvious to most people that iPods are a ubiquitous part of culture. But for folks like myself who also look after a website, the notion of an iPod contest is just as pervasive. A good indicator of this is to simply google a few pertinent terms. In fact, when I did that with the phrase “Win an iPod” (in quotes) I was actually returned with an astounding 2,000,000 hits.

More enlightening, is if you narrow down the search to limit the term mentioned within the last week (2570 results), or even the last 24 hours (498 results). In fact, there is even a site that tries to aggregate current iPod contests (link), listing about 125 such contests that are active.

Just to rehash the details of our iPod giveaway – we’re hoping to coerse folks to link to our truth experiment, and that, in a nutshell, is all there is to entering our iPod contest. The truth, more or less, encompasses some excellent social justice, social equity, and scientific items that I think the vast majority of reasonable people would agree with. Included also are a few non-sequitur statements, just to mix things up a bit, primarily added to play into the oddness that is web dynamics. The goal, of course, is for our list of truths to climb up the google rankings (we were #6 on google.com at time of writing).

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that this type of contest is not an original idea. So the question that begs asking is: why play with ours? Therefore, herein lies some web research on some of the nuances of the ubiquitous iPod contest, and how why ours in particular is worthy.

- – -



We’re essentially giving away a 30G video iPod, which granted is a generation back, but is still more or less on par with a smaller memory size video iPod Classic. Looking at the top 20 results for “win an iPod” under the 24 hour parameter, we have: 3 iPod Touches, 1 Video iPod, 9 iPod Nanos, 3 iPod shuffles, and 2 instances where the iPod didn’t appear to be specified. We’re easily in the top half of that list.

- – -



We’re just looking for a link. Basically, all you have to do is copy-paste some code (<a href=”http://scq.ubc.ca/?p=677″>truth</a>) – this doesn’t even require any need to think about composition, about what to write etc. Also no personal details are needed, although if you win, you would of course at some point, need to pass on your address. We plan on using google and technorati to track who linked to the truth, and if you want to play it safe, you can always email us at tscq@interchange.ubc.ca

Seriously, our contest is so easy compared to the others. If we focus on the top 20 hits again, entering involves the following instructions:

“signing up and making one sale”

“subscribe to our email letter”

“obtain the most sales in one month”,

“win some kind of Warcraft tournament after paying a $20 submission fee”

“answer three quick questions”

“update your personal account details”,

“participate in a webcast”

“send us your details” (easily the most common)

“respond intelligently to a post”

“tell us what you think”

”win an iPod Touch by paying $600!” (??)

“submit a letter”

” provide your name, email, country and a few other bits and pieces”

”compete in a cricket pool”

“send in a testimonial”

- – -



The process to win our iPod ultimately enables our truth experiment to climb up the internet rankings. This way, we’re creating a teaching anecdote which can shed light on things such as global warming, IPCC reports, Millenium Development Goals, the Intelligent Design debacle. All good stuff in my mind.

I was actually surprised at how trivial the contests in the top 20 were. Participate in a cricket pool? Compete in a game of Warcraft? Leave your particulars to what is essentially the world of commerce? So much for social justice.

- – -

Anyway, in case you missed the details of the contest – they are short and sweet. They entail giving the iPod (a new unopened white 30G video iPod) to some random person who chooses to link to the truth before December 13th, 2007. We’ll be using primarily technorati.com or google to track linkage, but if you fear missing out, please send us a note at tscq@interchange.ubc.ca. On the 14th, we’ll figure out some random way of choosing a winner, and will then courier the iPod immediately – should make a nice little Christmas bonus.

The code: <a href=”http://scq.ubc.ca/?p=677″>truth</a>

Click here to see the truth.

Good luck!

About David Ng

David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and also as an occasional blogger at boingboing.net. If you're looking for a graphic for your next science talk, he encourages you to check out his blog, popperfont.net.