Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 3

This week was the final week of the history part of this unit. We continued to discuss Marx and Heidegger in particular.

Kerry began the class by talking about an article about cyborg insects, you can read it here. This article is about scientists fitting a real dragonfly with a small backpack that can directly issue commands to the insects neutrons and can control its flight.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 5.23.17 pm.png

It is hoped this kind of technology could one day be used to treat humans with certain medical issues. A very interesting article.

Back to the philosophy and we discussed Karl Marx and his theory of Political Economy. Marx recognises that the labour process is man and nature participating together and we must obey the rules of nature, we are part of nature. We are transformative beings and we reveal parts of our nature when we are involved in the labour process and the tools that we use. However, we are not truly transformative beings as we still make the same mistakes over and over again. Marx says we are not technology, we design and make something useful, an instrument. We went on to talk about the economy and how it is a social thing, the economy is for the purpose of society. We talked about how economy should be more in the service of society, if everyone had a stake in the economy then we would be more responsible and not waste resources if there was a direct knock-on effect to us. An example is global warming, we are all invested in our planet and future generations.

We then went back to Martin Heidegger and he had some fantastic points about technology. He said that we are most aware of technology when it breaks! This is so true. At its best, technology disappears and is seamless, this is an essential feature of Heidegger.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 5.41.14 pm.png

Kerry’s first example of this was the pencil. The point here is that when you are writing with a pencil you are not really aware of the pencil, it is invisible. The pencil is doing its job and it becomes an extension of your arm. Another example given was a car. When you’re driving you are (sometimes, mostly) not even aware of the car. Reading glasses was another example, when we wear glasses and when we read, watch TV or do work we are not aware of them, they essentially become a part of us.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 5.44.35 pm.png

Present-at-hand means you are aware of the technology, it is disconnected from us. If technology is present-at-hand we get annoyed with it and cast it away or try to fix it. Until it becomes a ‘means-to’ it is of no use to us.

Ready-at-hand means the technology is invisible, it becomes an extension of us, it is seamless and working perfectly. This also applies to the human body, when it is working perfectly we are not aware that we are doing certain things. When we walk we are not consciously thinking about our legs, but if you have a bad foot then you would be thinking about it.

The next Heidegger point was that technology is a method of revealing or concealing.

“The potter’s wheel, the paint brush, the hydro electric plant, the computer, all reveal or disclose something about human beings. Of course humans must have the potentiality to use the technology, however, it is in using technology that these aspects of the human are produced.”

Technology can reveal certain skills that we possess, however, it can also conceal skills we used to have and need. An example is with autonomous cars, we no longer need to learn how to drive a car as the computer inside the car will drive it for us, so our driving skills become concealed. 3D printing can also be seen to conceal skills of arts and crafts, however, other skills may be revealed, such as computer design skills. Email conceals hand writing skills but reveals other technological skills.

We finished the class by reading an article about nano-intentionality. We read that living organisms are intrinsically goal-directed, it is inherent in the behaviour of living eukaryotic cells. So we started to compare biology with computers. We decided that biological beings have conscious, purpose and are self-aware. It is also in our advantage to be aware of ourselves, flight or fight. Computers are programmed, not conscious or self-aware. Machines have no reason to be self-aware.

So this week we finished the history side of the course and now we will start to explore more contemporary philosophy. More to follow next week!

Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy Design Project

Earth’s twin: No oxygen, no water, scorching temperatures and a runaway greenhouse effect. What else do we know about our closest neighbour, Venus?

Arizona State University’s AST111

Introduction to Solar System Astronomy

Design Project evidence

Learning objective

Describe the origins, structure, contents, and evolution of our solar system.

Project goal

“Venus favours the bold” – Ovid

Describe the planet Venus, how it became so hot and examine the scientific impact resulting from the many missions to Venus, otherwise known as Freya’s planet.


Image courtesy of

Venus fact file

  • Second planet from the Sun, 67 million miles apart (0.72 AU)
  • Second brightest object in the night sky, behind the Moon. Venus’ clouds are highly reflective, making it shine bright in the night sky
  • Named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty
  • Has no moons or rings
  • Spins very slowly in a clockwise direction (retrograde rotation), backwards to the other planets in the solar system. Backwards spin is probably due to a cosmic collision early in its history
  • Venus is very nearly a perfect sphere, thanks slow rotation!
  • 80% size of Earth, similar mass and both rocky worlds
  • Hottest world in our system, 480 degrees celsius on the surface, hot enough to melt lead
  • Runaway greenhouse effect. It is thought Venus used to have oceans but due to extra heat from the Sun these oceans evaporated and the water vapour trapped more heat in the atmosphere warming the planet further, trapping more heat until the oceans were no more
  • Has a cratered and volcanic surface
  • 1 year on Venus is equal to 225 Earth days, and 1 day on Venus lasts 243 Earth days – making a day last longer than a year on Venus
  • Atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide (~96%), Nitrogen (~4%)
  • More than 40 spacecraft have explored Venus

Venus in culture

The Venus de Milo is ancient Greek statue created between 130 and 100 BC. It depicts Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, known as Venus to the Romans. It is on permanent display at the Louvre in Paris.


Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. This book published in 1992 has sold over 50 million copies around the world. It states that common relationship problems between men and women are a result of fundamental psychological differences between the sexes because they are from ‘different planets’.


Beyond Apollo – Barry M. Malzberg. A novel about a 2 man mission to Venus which is aborted and when the mission returns to Earth the captain is missing and the other man cannot explain what happened to him. The novel tries to get to the bottom of this mystery and overall it represents humanity’s incompetence at the enormity of space exploration. The book is listed as in development on IMDb so look out for a motion picture soon. (

beyond apollo

For a twin planet, Venus is very different to Earth

4 billion years ago Venus was thought to be a lot like Earth, with evidence pointing towards Venus supporting bodies of water (H2O), perhaps even oceans. However, 4 billion years ago the Sun was less powerful that it is today and was only 70% as bright. Over time as the Sun became much hotter any bodies of water on Venus evaporated and water vapour was driven into the atmosphere, causing major greenhouse changes. Water vapour can trap heat, acting as a blanket around a body. At the top of the Venus atmosphere water molecules were split into hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O), under the full intensity of sunlight and ultraviolet rays. Much of the hydrogen (H) escaped into space whilst the oxygen (O) combined with carbon to form carbon dioxide (CO2), a great absorber of heat. Oxygen also bound with sulphur (S) and created sulphur dioxide (SO2) which created droplets of sulphuric acid (H2SO4). Could this runaway greenhouse effect ever happen here on Earth?

Venus atmosphere

The Venus atmosphere is extremely dense and hot. It is mainly composed of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulphuric acid, which gives Venus its yellow colour. It does rain sulphuric acid, but drops never reach the surface due to the extreme heat. The thick atmosphere traps heat and the tremendous amount of carbon dioxide adds to the runaway greenhouse effect on the planet. The weight of the thick, dense atmosphere creates enormous pressure on the surface of 90 times heavier than standing on the surface of Earth. The equivalent pressure on Earth is about 1 km beneath the surface of an ocean. The atmosphere is slowly being stripped away by the solar wind, a million tonne per second stream of material coming from the Sun. About 300 kg of the atmosphere is being lost every day from Venus.

Internal structure

Venus has an iron core approx. 3000 km in radius. This is similar to all terrestrial planets because of the effects of gravity, causing heavier material to sink to the middle of the planet whilst lighter material floated to the top. Venus does not have a magnetic field as it rotates too slowly.


Image courtesy

Missions to Freya

Over 40 missions have explored Venus. The first craft to land on the surface was Venera 7 and was actually the first craft to land on another planet, after 15 failed missions. This Soviet mission in 1970 successfully landed on the surface and was able to send back 23 minutes worth of data, including a surface temperature reading of 475 degrees celsius and a pressure reading of 90. Not a very pleasant place to be!


Image courtesy

There is presently an active Venus mission called Akatsuki. The goal of the mission is to study weather patterns, confirm the presence of lightning in thick clouds and search for signs of active volcanism. This mission suffered a huge blow early on in its mission when thrusters failed to fire and the craft ended up on a journey around the Sun rather than Venus. Over the next five years JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) tested the various thrusters and came up with a strategy to fix the craft and send it back to Venus. To do this they dumped fuel from the broken thrusters and used the secondary control thrusters to orient the probe towards Venus. This happened in December of 2015 and the probe entered the orbit of Venus as originally planned.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 12.07.30 PM.png

Image courtesy

Magellan – mapping the surface of Venus. Launched in 1989 by NASA, the Magellan deep space orbiter was designed to map the surface of Venus down to a resolution of 120 to 300 metres. On 15 September 1990 the craft began to send high resolution radar images of the surface  clearly showing signs of vulcanism, tectonic movement, surface winds, lava channels and pancake shaped domes. During its first cycle it mapped 83.7% of the surface returning 1200 GB of data, an incredible amount at that time. After the second cycle it had mapped 96% of the surface and the third mapped 98%. Contact with the probe was lost on 12 October 1994 after it had plunged into the atmosphere to collect further aerodynamic data.

Magellan findings:

  • 85% of the surface is covered with volcanic flows
  • Complete lack of water
  • Extremely slow erosion process
  • Surface features persist for hundreds of millions of years

ESA goes express to Venus in 2005! The ESA sent the Venus Express to Venus in 2005 with the primary goal of studying the atmosphere. This was the ESA’s first mission to Venus and it was named Express due to the quick time the mission took to prepare and execute.


Image courtesy

The magnetometer (MAG) on board ESA’s Venus Express detected wave signals that show evidence of lightning in the atmosphere.

Major achievements of Venus Express include:

  • Discovery of a shape-shifting southern solar vortex. It can take almost any shape indicating complex weather patterns due to centre of vortex being offset to geographical pole
  • Evidence of recent volcanism, perhaps in the last few thousand to ten thousand years


Double volcano on Venus. Image courtesy

A ten-fold increase in sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere has led scientists to question whether volcanos are still active today.

  • Venus’ rotation is slowing down, found by comparing data collected by the Magellan mission. Features monitored by Express could only be lined up with Magellan if the length of a day on Venus is on average 6.5 minutes longer than when Magellan tracked the same features
  • Discovery of a cold area 125 km above the surface where snow or ice could exist. The temperature of -175 degrees celsius means the carbon dioxide can freeze
  • Detection of a thin ozone layer approx. 90 to 120 km above the surface, far higher than on Earth where ozone exists at 15 to 50 km above the surface
  • Water loss due to splitting of water molecules in upper atmosphere by ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. The process creates two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom which are carried into space by the solar wind. Venus does not generate a magnetic field which can protect its atmosphere from the solar wind
  • Discovered mean wind speed of 400 km/h, an increase of 100 km/h over the 8 year mission

venus pancake domes.gif

Pancake domes on Venus. Image courtesy

Images from the surface – Venera 13. On 1 March 1982 Venera 13, a Soviet mission, set down on the surface of Venus and began relaying data back to Earth. It was able to transmit data for 127 minutes, far longer than the expected 32 minutes before the craft was crushed and melted by the extreme pressure and heat on the surface of Venus. It successfully relayed the first colour pictures of the surface of Venus, something previous missions had failed to do. It sent 8 panoramas showing fields of orange-brown rocks and loose soil. Soil analysis showed soil similar to terrestrial leucitic basalt with high potassium content.


Image above shows Venus surface.

Future Venus missions?

1. The clockwork Venus rover. The solution to Venus landers not lasting longer than 2 hours could be a clockwork lander with no electronics. To send messages back home it would record data on a phonograph and then loft it on a balloon to rendezvous with a spacecraft overhead. (

The phonograph is a machine invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. It is a machine for recording sound on tinfoil coated cylinders. It has 2 needles, one for recording and one for playback. It is incredible to think that over one-hundred year old technology could be used to explore the solar system today.

2. Can sound help us detect ‘earthquakes’ on Venus? (

Researchers are planning to deploy an array of balloons in the atmosphere of Venus that could detect seismic activity on the surface using sound. A team of experts at the Keck Institute for Space Studies began thinking of ways to use infrasonic observations to get a better look at the geological dynamics of Venus. If we can get a better idea of the seismic activity on the planet this can tell us more about the history of the planet and its interior.

Escape velocity of Venus

During the course the mathematical labs have not been my strongest area, but I have learnt so much from attempting the challenges, something I really enjoyed doing. I would like to finish with a math problem I can do – the escape velocity of Venus. So here goes…

What is the escape velocity from the Venus exosphere, which begins about 220 km above the surface?

mass = 4.867 x 10^24 kg

radius = 6.05 x 10^6 m

height = 2.2 x 10^5 m


Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 2.16.56 PM.png

= 2 x 6.67 x 10^11 x 4.867 x 10^24 / (6.05 x 10^6 + 2.2 x 10^5) = 1.03 x 10^8

v = sqrt (1.03 x 10^8) = 10148 m/s = 10.1 km/s ~ 10 km/s

Please check the math and let me know if I have made a mistake along the way.

Watch BBC The Sky at Night Venus documentary for more information.


Huge thanks go to Dr Frank Timmes for being an outstanding teacher during this course, your videos and notes were amazing, thank you sooo much! You have inspired me to learn more about the universe. Big thanks also go to the rest of the team at Arizona State University for putting together an amazing course and for all their support. This has been the best course I have enrolled in on edX and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in astronomy.

Thanks for reading, bye bye!

venus hipster.jpg

Year 5, MARS & STEM in Term 1

What an awesome term of STEM we had in year 5! The main objectives were to learn about the planet Mars, space missions to Mars, the role of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the people that work there, discover if humans could live on Mars and what life would be like there.

So, lots of talk about lots of my favourite things: space, Mars, NASA/JPL, Adam Steltzner, The Martian, amazing technology, science and engineering, really inspiring stuff.


As well as the main learning objectives I had planned at the start of the course, some extra opportunities arose to fit into the busy schedule to enhance the course further. March 14 was Pi Day and I planned a special lesson with help from a great resource I found from the NASA website called Planet Pi. I adapted the lesson slightly for year 5 and they coped with some new and tough maths admirably. This lesson highlighted how NASA scientists use Maths in their jobs to learn about planets and other celestial bodies. I explained the maths and formulae clearly and used some great visuals to help the girls understand the maths and why it was needed. I loved the example of using Pi to explore a planet, this was such a great lesson!


Another great lesson we had this term, and which was a complete and unexpected surprise was the Skype with Andrea Boyd, an engineer with the European Space Agency. Andrea lives in Germany and was good enough to stay up late at night to speak to all of year 5 at 9am Sydney time. Andrea spoke about her education and career in the space industry, which was very interesting and inspiring for our young girls. Our students prepared some great questions to ask Andrea about space, the International Space Station, astronauts and more. Our girls did a great job, were beautifully behaved, very polite and engaged with this brilliant, young, Australian woman. We learnt so much about space and how astronauts live and work on the ISS. This was a really exciting lesson which everyone enjoyed! Big thanks go to Jackie Slaviero, founder of One Giant Leap Australia, for putting me in contact with Andrea and then for sending me an amazing pack of goodies from NASA.


The students seemed to love our STEM lessons this term. Space is such an interesting, exciting and inspiring topic for young and old, and I was so pleased with how they engaged. I love the questions they ask, they are so curious and what to learn everything. As well as learning about Mars we learnt about black holes, the Earth and Moon, the ISS, the speed of light, galaxies and more. We could quite easily study space for the whole year, and I gladly would.

Next term… students continue their STEM journey to Mars when they work in engineering groups to design and build their own Mars rover, based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka Curiosity. Curiosity has been a common theme throughout the term and I talked a lot about it when I talked about JPL engineer and EDL team leader for Curiosity, Adam Steltzner, a really inspiring speaker.


His TED talk ‘How Curiosity changed my life, and I changed Hers’ is one of my favourites.

We also looked at rover facts and a great video called ‘7 minutes of terror’ which details how the rover made it from the top of the Mars atmosphere travelling at 30,000 mph to the surface travelling at a few mph in just 7 minutes. Another must-see video!

Like I said, I could teach this topic all year and not get bored! I used this video for an which included some questions about the EDL of Curiosity. A great resource for incorporating video into classes.

Students produced some wonderful work including ‘Selling Mars: selling land on Mars’ advertisements and a ‘NASA profile’ of an inspiring NASA scientist they found from the website We Are The Martians.

So next term… engineering groups, specific roles for each girl in the group, designing and making a Mars rover, making wheels and incorporating LittleBits electronics to make the rover move, engineering guide with project milestones, evaluations, presentations, creativity, teamwork and fun!

Let’s hope ours will look better than this one!

costumeelizabethb-561x600 visit to Ravo

On Wednesday 30 March software engineer Brendan Reville paid a visit to Ravo to talk with students about his life, career, and the Hour of Code. I met Brendan a few weeks earlier at the Future Schools Expo at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney and I was impressed with his talk and the fresh, positive message he made that day. I have been a fan of the Hour of Code and for a few years so he didn’t have to sell me at all as I was already using the great resources he was responsible for. I was very impressed when he told us he was the mastermind behind the Star Wars Hour of Code last year, one of my favourite coding tutorials. The tutorials are brilliant, clear instructions are provided, helpful videos explain important concepts, fun scenarios to learn and a whole heap of extra resources to help teachers deliver the content to their classes. The Star Wars Hour of Code introduction video below is a must-see!

At the conference Brendan also mentioned the full curriculums provide for free on their website. I had looked at these before and dipped in and out of them to use some coding resources and some of the great unplugged resources, but he inspired me to take the courses more seriously and I am now teaching course 2 to my year 3 classes. I love the mixture of unplugged activities and online activities to teach computational thinking, coding and other technology constructs. The first few lessons have gone really well and students have been thoroughly engaged in all the different types of activities.

Brendan’s talk at Ravo was fantastic. He has had an interesting life and career so far and he inspired the students to take software design and coding as a serious career path. He talked about his schooling and university days in Sydney and at Macquarie University and how he started making computer games and first steps in coding. As a big Xbox fan he wanted to work for Microsoft so he moved to the USA to land his dream job. He talked about the great projects he was involved with at Microsoft, including developing user interface’s and the Xbox Music Mixer, as seen below.


Wanting a new challenge Brendan moved to to be involved with coding and education and helping to deliver the world’s largest educational event – the Hour of Code!

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.14.02 PM

Reflection on completing an hour of code.

Brendan also spoke about the wide variety of skills needed to be successful when working for a tech company. It isn’t just coding skills that get you noticed, it is also skills including teamwork, creativity, communication, designing and more. He described his experiences of working for tech companies vividly and the year 9 and 10 students in attendance were enthralled.

Brendan delivered a positive and inspiring message to our girls that they can succeed in the tech industry and land their dream job for a great start-up or tech giant. Through the resources young people are learning some great skills that will benefit them not just in their schooling but also in their future careers that are sure to be dominated by STEM.

Thank you Brendan and! (And thanks for the cool stickers :))

code_logo_rgb also has lots of other great videos to learn about computer science and technology such as the internet and cybersecurity.

Using Padlet

The task

I used Padlet for the first time in a lesson today, with 8 Blue R.E. A Padlet is an online wall that people can post opinions, links and images on. The Padlet is a great interactive and collaborative tool to collect opinions, thoughts, feedback and more.

The topic

The topic of the Padlet was Volunteering. I asked students to create a post on this topic, something about Volunteering, such as an opinion, benefit or an experience. I explained how the Padlet worked, but I should have gone over the ground rules (digital citizenship) in more detail, something to do next time. I passed the keyboard around for students to do their post, however, some students took a long time to post, so next time I could time them, say 2 minutes per post. When the time is up they must move the keyboard on.

Student reaction and engagement

The reaction of the students was fantastic! They immediately liked the idea of posting on a wall, voicing an opinion and using technology. A couple of boys were a little over excited and had to be calmed down. Comments posted were thoughtful and relevant to the topic, use of images was effective and showed a positive attitude towards the topic. I was extremely pleased with the engagement of the class, students were watching the board to see what people were posting, and commenting on them as well, which is what I wanted them to do. We ran out of time so I was able to share the link to the wall with the class so other can post for homework, a great feature of Padlet. Some students copied the link in their books, which was pleasing.


I will definitely use Padlet again, just with a few alterations:

  • Impose a time limit in class of 2 minutes
  • While people are waiting they can plan their post
  • Must keep to the topic, digital citizenship
  • If people want to post privately after class they can copy the URL

Finally, the engagement and reaction of the class was fantastic, it was great to see them so involved in an R.E. class.