Science museum

Yesterday I was busy working through the udacity and coursera materials, but today we all headed up to London to the Science Museum.  I was disappointed in the Alan Turing section, as it didn’t really give much information about his work at Bletchley Park or his contribution to computing, but I was amused to notice that the exhibits demonstrating computer programming in that section were powered by arduinos!

The history of computing section of the museum concentrated heavily on Babbage’s analytical engines and some of the earlier huge computers, while missing out all the more recent developments from the 80s onwards, which was a shame, but the web lab that drew us up to the museum in the first place was fascinating.  My favourite was probably the universal orchestra, which consisted of different percussion instruments.  Half were controlled by the people in the museum, and the other half were controlled by people connecting from all round the world.  Each person had 6 notes to place on a grid, a different colour for each instrument, and the collective made for a haunting set of shifting rhythms.  Each visitor to the museum was issued with a lab tag carrying a unique identity, that they would use in the machines at the museum. This would then store the work they did.  You can also scan your lab tag at home to access what you’ve done at the museum or explore further.

sketchbot scanning a photo and etching it in sand

sketchbot with processed photo

Another experiment was the sketchbots – some were controlled by people inside the museum, and some by people around the world.  The camera would take a photo, you would see that photo processed and reduced to a series of lines, then a robot arm would sketch the portrait in a bed of sand. This was fascinating to watch from start to finish.

There was the promise of teleporters – massive periscope-type gadgets that you could rotate to see a place the other side of the world via webcam – and a chance to track connections to different servers around the world to locate photos.  Displays on the walls explained about all the technology.  Altogether a very enjoyable way of exploring how people from round the world can interact together via the internet.

So the science museum gave us an interesting day out.


How quickly things change!

“The system now reaches over 50,000 participants at over two thousand sites in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan and Korea.
“Science fiction writers like Orson Scott Card, William Gibson, and Norman Spinrad, among many others, have speculated about the possibilities of a time when government, commerce and culture are all conducted on “the net” and when most citizens will have access to the system. That day is not yet here.”
Henry Jenkins, 1989, writing about USENET, the community on the internet before the Web itself was created.

Is the day here now?  For many people, I believe it is.