After long months of planning, and designing, the wave tanks have arrived! The deep water and shore tanks are both equipped with manual wave makers – allowing visitors the opportunity to get a feel for how stroke and frequency immediately affect the shape of a wave.

Waves in the large, dual flume tank will be controlled by a computer kiosks that drive two very powerful motors, able to create any precise wave form, multiple sine forms, and a very impressive tsunami wave. Graduate students and faculty have been scrambling all week to prepare activities for each tank. Some of the activities will include:

  • Shore tank – revetment and erosion strategies. Lincoln logs, gravel, plants, and Lego sea walls.
  • Deep water tank – understanding wave physics. ping pong balls, neutral buoyant rubber ducks, food dyes, and wave energy buoys
  • Flume tank – tsunami resistant structures. Lego and Lincoln log building challenges .

We are setting up everything just in time for the summer rush. We will have 3 interns manning the tank areas and working all the activities with the public – working out what is successful and what needs modification. This whole tank area is one of the largest prototypes the Visitor Center has every deployed. There are lots of questions to answer, and design modifications in the fall.

Peeling the protective paper off the plexi revealed transparent layers of sparkling, clear wonder – We owe a special thanks to James Steele of Envision Acrylics for some beautiful craftsmanship.

While we’ve been working on the tanks our visitors have been very curios, and are full of questions. We opened the deep water tank for use yesterday and watched with a mix of delight and horror the variety of wave making strategies 10 year old boys chose to employ.


The Japanese dock on Agate Beach has been the leading topic of conversation in town since it washed ashore some days ago. Lots of people have gone down to the beach to visit it, and for different reasons. At least one left flowers. Many took note of the exotic creatures that rode the battered hulk across the Pacific. Some tore off pieces as souvenirs (and some of these were caught and turned back by state police).

The potentially invasive species have now been removed from the dock, and a trans-Pacific conversation is underway to determine exactly what to do with it. Should it be taken apart as scrap? Should it be converted into a memorial for those lost to the tsunami that displaced it? Should it be left where the sea saw fit to release it?

That dock carried more than sea stars and barnacles from its home. What meanings did it bring with it, and to whom do they belong?


In my living room sit several boxes of LEGOs awaiting desecration. Over the weekend, I must find a way to contain the cheerful, rainbow-colored dust that this gruesome operation yields.

I have decided to give my game the working title “Deme.” I feel the word more or less sums up what the game is about, and I felt the need to call my project something other than “the game.” It feels more real, and real is what it will have to be before terribly long.

A sticking point in the concept is how we should handle mating and aggression. My instinct is to portray these things as they are, to the best of my ability. I have a couple of reasons. First, wild animals are not subject to our cultural notions of propriety. Second, these things are kind of what the game is about. It would feel weird blotting them out.

However, Deme is going to be available to a general audience. For an age bracket that might not know the ins and outs of reproduction (so to speak), these elements will need careful presentation. Unplanned family discussions about where babies come from are not among my learning goals.

A child might play the game, with the guidance of a parent or teacher, to learn why elk are important. An adult might play to see if she can breed a super-squirrel or beat her personal record for screech owl polyamory. Both learners have different goals and perhaps very different approaches to games in general.

The experience of playing a given game differs from person to person, and from instance to instance. Players can define their own roles and experiences within the rules of the game. This may make our work easier in some ways and harder in others.

Some of these issues can’t be addressed realistically until we get into technical details, but it’s worth starting the conversation now.

Kent got a new toy recently. It’s a kit by Industrial Fiber Optics, Inc. called “Adventures in Fiber Optics.” If you’re like me, fiber optics don’t exactly signify “adventure.” They may be vital components of adventurey things like airplanes and MI6 gadgets, but they don’t get your heart racing on their own:



But wait! When Kent gets done with this kit, it will become an interactive element of the Life History Transmitter exhibit. If history has taught us anything, it’s that Kent can basically deconstruct and rebuild fun itself. I won’t be moping long.

Meanwhile, Mark and I are playing with LEGOs. By “playing with,” I mean “damaging with power tools.” They’re going into the wave tank, so they should be somewhat destructible. This requires us to undermine their defining characteristic of not falling apart. A Dremel tool works well for this. The tough part is that damaging LEGOs sort of hurts. LEGOs became an internal currency of my very imagination during childhood. Defacing them feels like some sort of crime under the jurisdiction of my brain’s Secret Service.

As with Kent’s fiber optics kit, the work should be well worth it in the end. You’ll be able to play with our toys soon.


Quick post today. Linda Norris ran this piece a couple of weeks ago about novel labels at the Minnesota History Center and Mill City Museum.

“Over and over again,  text was displayed in surprising ways,  that encouraged me to read more,  to explore, and to appreciate the sense of humor and playfulness that the exhibit teams brought to projects.”

The interactive sausage grinder label is great. Have a look.