Today our HMSC VC Intern Brian Verwey gives us an update on his work for the summer:
“This summer the Visitor Center is working on opening three new exhibits explaining three separate aspects of wave energy on the Oregon Coast. Part of our internship for the summer is tackling these new displays and making them “public friendly.” Diana is working on erosion due to wave action along the beach. Nick is creating tsunami proof structures. I am designing wave energy converter (WEC) models. Tuesday is our project day at the Visitor Center so instead of working on the floor we spend most of the day in the new wave energy section of the VC (closed to the public for now).
The idea behind the WEC exhibit is to demonstrate how energy is created from waves. To do this we are simplifying a working WEC design called a point absorber. A point absorber works by moving a magnet through as coil of wire that then creates an electromagnetic current. It’s a pretty basic concept that has proven very difficult to show in our wave tank in the VC. The most challenging part of the exhibit so far is getting our version of the point absorber to create electricity that can be displayed on a computer monitor and in turn will be easily recognized and understood by the public. As of yet it isn’t easy to understand. So for now I’ve focused my efforts on creating other models of WECs that don’t actually create energy but give the public an idea of how they work [such as the one below].
Last Tuesday I worked on creating an attenuating wave energy device similar to the Scottish “Pelamis.” It’s about 36” long and fits perfectly in one of our wave tanks. It works pretty well and for the next few project days I will be working out some kinks in the design. The main kink is creating an anchor system to attach it to the tanks so it doesn’t float away when waves are produced, and the other big kink is somehow orienting the model so when waves hit it, it doesn’t flip onto its side.”
So last week I posted about the evaluation project underway at Portland Art Museum (PAM) and wanted to give a few more details about how we are using the looxcie cameras.
Looxcies are basically bluetooth headsets, just like the ones regularly seen used with cell phones, but with a built in camera. I am currently using them as part of my research emcompassing docent-visitor interactions, and decided to use them as a data collection tool because of their ability to generate a good quality “visitor-eye-view” of the museum experience. I personally feel their potential as a research/evaluation tool in informal settings are endless, and had some wonderful conversations with other education professionals at the National Marine Educators Association conference in Anchorage, AK recently about where some other possibilities could lie – including as part of professional development practice for educators and exhibit development.
At PAM, the looxices will be used to capture that view when visitors interact with exhibition pieces, specifically those related to their Museum Stories and Conversation About Art video-based programs. Here, fitting visitors with looxcies will enable us to capture the interactions and conversations visitors have about the art on display as they visit the museum. The video data gained here can then be analyzed for repeating themes around what and how visitors talk about art in the museum setting.
During our meeting with Jess Park and Ally Schultz at PAM, we created some test footage to help with training other museum staff for the evaluation procedures. In the clip below, Jess and Ally are looking at and discussing some sculpture pieces, and were both wearing looxcies to give them a sense of how they feel to the user. This particular clip is from Ally’s perspective, and you’ll notice even Shawn and I have a go a butting in and talking about art with them!
What’s exciting about working with the looxcies, and with video observations in general, is how much detail you can capture about the visitor experience, down to what they are specifically looking at, how long they look at it, and even if they nod their head in agreement with the person they are conversing with. Multimodal discourse eat your heart out!
It’s time to buy more cameras, so Mark and I went to our observation booth and wrestled with what to buy. We had four variables: dome (zoomable) vs. brick (non-zoomable) and low-res (640×480) vs. high-res (but wide screen). He had four issues: 1) some places have no power access, so those angles required high-resolution brick cameras (what a strange feature of high-res camera to not require plug-in power!), 2) we had some “interaction” (i.e. close-up exhibit observations) that looked fine at low-res but others that looked bad, 3) lighting varies from area to area and sometimes within the camera view (this dynamic lighting is handled better with high-res), and 4) current position and/or view of the cameras wasn’t always as great as we’d first thought. This, we thought, was a pretty sticky and annoying problem that we needed to solve to make our next purchase.
Mark was planning to buy 12 cameras, and wanted to know what mix of brick/dome and high/low-res we needed, keeping in mind the high-res cameras are about $200 more each. We kept looking at many of the 25 current views and each seemed to have a different issue or, really, combination of the four. So we went back and forth on a bunch of the current cameras, trying to decide which ones were fine, which ones needed high-res, and which we could get away with low-res. After about 10 minutes and no real concrete progress, I wanted a list of the cameras we weren’t satisfied with and then what we wanted to replace each, including ones that were high-res when they didn’t need to be (meaning that we could repurpose a high-res elsewhere). Suddenly, it dawned on me that this was a) not going to be our final purchase, b) still likely just a guess until things were re-installed and additionally installed and lived with. So I asked why we didn’t just get 12 high-res, and if we didn’t like them in the spots we replaced and were still unsatisfied with whatever we repurposed after the high-res, we could move them again, even to the remaining exhibit areas that we haven’t begun to cover yet. Then we can purchase the cheaper low-res cameras later and save the money at the end of the grant, but have plenty of high-res for where we need it. I just realized we were sitting around arguing over a couple thousand dollars that we would probably end up spending anyway to purchase high-res cameras later, so we didn’t have to worry about it right at this minute. It ended up being a pretty easy decision.
As Mark noted, all three wave tanks are now in. Months of planning and design come to fruition … almost. Unfortunately, the two-dimensional layout failed to account for the placement of the table legs under the tanks. The proposed situations of the tanks put their legs right on top of the trenches in the floor, which won’t work due to a need to access the trenches for drainage and other water issues.
Whoops! So, things were quickly rearranged on the spot, which is pretty much always the way of things in the museum exhibit world.
The one tank that we let visitors play with revealed a host of issues of its own, including kids climbing onto the tank table and kids vigorously slamming the wave-making handle back and forth. No major injuries, but plenty of “alternative affordances” – creative, unanticipated use of the exhibit. So we’ve pulled it from visitor use for now for a bit of redesign.
In other planning news, we are replacing a well-planned video exhibit that had three vertical screens with the video stretched across them with one. Again, planning called for a cool three-screen timed animation that never came to fruition, so we are retrofitting, as it were.
Call it “make it work” Monday?
The funny thing about having the money to revise an exhibit that’s already installed is that, well, there’s already a version out there that people are using, so it sometimes falls to lower priority. Even if you know there are a lot of things that could be better about it. Even if, as I said, the money is in hand to update it. That’s another thing about outreach being still sort of the afterthought of scientific grants; even when the scientists have to report on their grant progress, if the outreach effort isn’t in that report, well, the grant agencies aren’t always so concerned about that.
So we’re trying to revise our salmon fisheries exhibit, and we have a concept, but we have to constantly remind ourselves to make progress on it. It’s an item on my list that is “Important, but not Urgent,” (one of those Seven Habits of Highly Effective People things), and it keeps being shoved out for the Urgent but Not Important and even Not Urgent, Not Important (but way more interesting!) things. I think it’s like revising a paper; sometimes, the work it takes to come up with the ideas in the first place is far more interesting than more nitpicky revisions. And, again, a lot less urgent. So, we’re setting interim milestones to make progress: 1) we have our visualization collaborator working on new images, 2) we have text to re-organize and re-write, and 3) we have a basic logic about the new version that we’ve sent to the developers so they can write the automated data collection tool that records what a user does and when and for how long. So, we feel confident in progress since we’ve farmed out 1 and 3, but that still leaves #2 for us to chip away at. And sometimes, that’s what it takes. A little bit of time here, a little bit there, and eventually, there’s a lot less to get done and the task seems less overwhelming. Maybe the blog will help keep us accountable for getting this exhibit done by … the end of the summer?