About Harrison Baker

Harrison Baker works as an aquarist at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center. His academic background is in animal husbandry, journalism and editing. He is currently pursuing an MS in Free-Choice Learning Science Education. His board game, Deme, is currently under development as a component of his MS project on games and adult learning.


Two of our wave tanks arrived this morning.  The largest wave tank needs a little more time in the oven, so it should be arriving in a week or two.  I’ve spent more time crawling around in acrylic tanks than I have moving them, so I was a little surprised at the weight of the things.  They definitely feel solid.  With summer approaching, I’m sure they’ll get a thorough durability test in their first few months of service.


Take a look at this here Kickstarter campaign. “MaKey MaKey” is a device that promises to allow you to turn anything even slightly conductive into a key or mouse button. The principle is fairly simple:

“Alligator Clip two objects to the MaKey MaKey board. For example, you and an apple. When you touch the apple, you make a connection, and MaKey MaKey sends the computer a keyboard message. The computer just thinks MaKey MaKey is a regular keyboard (or mouse). Therefore it works with all programs and webpages, because all programs and webpages take keyboard and mouse input.”

One inherent drawback is that if you intend to simply create and push a button (as in the above example), you must hold onto a wire or otherwise attach it to your body to complete the circuit. It’s a small thing, but it could put a damper on spontaneous interactions in a museum or science center setting (“Try this miraculous chess set piano!  Wait, let me tape this wire to your arm first…”). Of course, you can circumvent this problem fairly easily with a little ingenuity, and the designers show some examples of this.

Perhaps what I like most about this concept, aside from its obvious versatility, is its simplicity.  I’m pretty sure I could fix this thing if it broke, using only basic roadie troubleshooting skills. That’s more than can be said of some of the sleeker novel user interfaces out there. Exhibit malfunctions being one of life’s few absolute certainties, this is a pretty huge selling point.


Michael is now Dr. Liu.  Congratulations, Michael!

He delivered a great talk yesterday, which you can watch here.  Koi hobbyists are an unusual bunch.  When asked what is missing from the backyard, only a very special type of person would say “a hole filled with Cyprinid carp.”  Even fewer would feel the same way about the living room.  Michael managed to discern what inspires these people, and to lay it out in an easily-digestible way.

Mark located an ultra-cheap compact USB video camera and microphone online. By ultra-cheap, I mean $10. Laura clipped it to her shirt and gave it a quick trial run in the Visitor Center.

It had remarkably good resolution, but muffled audio quality beyond about two feet. Also, we found that a lapel-mounted camera moves a lot, making it hard to discern what the wearer is attending to.  This new gadget may have some use if affixed to an exhibit, but it doesn’t compete with the Looxcie as a visitor-mounted camera.

My favorite aspect of the product, however, is the instruction manual.  This document stands as a heroic failed attempt to translate coherent thoughts into the awkward and confusing linguistic soup we call “English.”

Here are some highlights:
-When you charge it, blue light and red light will bright simultaneously, of which states are stillness.
-Notice: when battery power is not enough, D001 will enter into protection mode, so it cannot be turn on.  Now, please charge for it.
-If you need to continue to video, please press Record/Stop button slightly once more.

Our other projects are moving along quickly.  The wave tanks should arrive next week.  The data collection cameras should in within two weeks.  If you haven’t seen Katie’s test run of the SMI eye-tracking system, you can watch a quick video of it here.

Laura brought this to our attention this morning.  It’s a UC Davis project to create an augmented-reality sandbox that models topography and water flow with a Kinect system and projector.  Be sure to check out the videos.

“The goal of this project was to develop a real-time integrated augmented reality system to physically create topography models which are then scanned into a computer in real time, and used as background for a variety of graphics effects and simulations. The final product is supposed to be self-contained to the point where it can be used as a hands-on exhibit in science museums with little supervision.”

In other words, this is the sandbox you wish you had as a kid.  The visitor uses a hand gesture to dump water into the sandbox.  That would be the omnipotent open-palm gesture used almost universally by children to signify shooting lightning/fireballs/missiles/flaming lightning missiles from their hands.  Personally, it’s one of the first ones I try when confronted with a gesture-recognition system.

An AR sandbox lends itself to stream-table activities, but what else could it do?  With a few modifications and a palette swap, it could model volcanoes.  Sand castles could become actual castles.  Green plastic army men could re-enact historical battles, guided by projected arrows.  What else can you think of?

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is hosting an exhibition titled “The Art of Video Games.”  It includes five playable games (Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst and Flower).  Raph Koster speculated on his blog that the entry-level content might appeal most to those “who were mostly reminiscing about the Commodore 64 (based on what I overheard).”

Approximately 25 percent of the adults I know do not play video games regularly (or claim not to do so).  Of these, almost all of them feel that not playing games is a normal behavior—something you grow out of.  According to anecdotal evidence—oh, and market research by those who sell games for a living—this assertion is as wrong as they come.  Females over age 18 play—yes, play, not buy—video games more than males under 17, for example.

Where do we get our attitudes about play?  I’ve never met someone who claimed, with a smug shake of the head, to be “too old” for movies or novels (media with a similar cultural history).  How does someone maintain this attitude about video games despite usually being the only adult in the room who doesn’t play them?  Oddly, I see frequent Bejeweled and Farmville updates on Facebook from my friends who “don’t play” games.

Is the Smithsonian’s exhibition a good way to breach this barrier?  How do you reach out to those who don’t (openly) incorporate play into their identities?  I’ll need to look into this question more in the coming months.