Category Archives: museums

museums technical wearable

Virtual Reality - Is this real life or just fantasy?

virtual reality helmet from the 1990s Back in the 1990's Virtual Reality (VR) was going to be the next big thing, for a moment it did look that way, then it all went wrong.  The headsets were big and clumsy and generally not very good. VR went away for a long time until the Oculus Rift took Kickstarter by surprise.   The company  went on to be bought by Facebook for over $2 Billion dollars and itself kickstarted a new VR industry.

With this new interest in VR I thought a round up of some of the headsets and applications  would be a good idea.  The Oculus Rift is now in its 4th developer version.  A full consumer version is intended to be launched next year.

Other manufacturers haven't been resting on their laurels.

Samsung have taken a slightly different approach.  The Gear V.R does not use its own display but is a holder for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The Samsung phone acts as both the display and the processing power of the device.

All the current devices can be split into either a Rift type or Gear V.R type device.  Each method has its own advantages or disadvantages.  The Oculus Rift requires a wired connection to a P.C or games console.  This limits its mobility and flexibility but does enable  more  detailed and responsive graphics that a powerful Graphics Processor can give.  The Gear V.R  can be easier to set up and with not being tied to a P.C is more mobile both in the location it can be used and for the person using the device. Disadvantages of this approach are battery life, the power of the Graphics Processor (GPU) in the phone and that using the phone like this for long periods can cause the GPU to overheat so to protect itself it will scale back its output quality, either the frames per second or the detail that is shown.

Google took the Gear V.R approach to the extreme when it launched Cardboard at I/O its developer conference earlier on this year.  A cardboard kit that folds up into V.R headset and can accept a wide range of phones.  I recently bought one of these and was genuinely impressed at how good it is. There is a difference between what Cardboard can do and what the Rift can do but there is a place for both.  Rift can be such an immersive experience if you aren't used to it, it can be better to use sat down, I have seen people stumble around as they become consumed in the virtual world. Having taken Cardboard to work and letting a few people try it, it can be much more social experience passing the headset around and comparing and sharing experiences.  Less totally immersive, different but not less.

Similar to Cardboard is the DIY VR headset  also adds trucker cap mounting and inclusion of the Leap motion sensor as the Oculus Rift has done.  Headsets like cardboard and DIY VR will get more people trying out V.R, developing for it and thinking up ideas and applications, that can only be a good thing.

Other devices that fall somewhere between cardboard and Gear V.R are the Archos V.R Headset  and the Zeiss V.R One 

Don't worry I haven't missed the obligatory 3D printing and Arduino  mention here it is with the Adafruit V.R Headset 

The most well known of the other Oculus Rift type devices is the Sony Morpheus not yet released  and like the Rift will probably launch in 2015 but at the moment hasn't had the same amount of public testing.   Morpheus is intended for use with Sony consoles, though just like when the Microsoft Kinect was launched it was soon hacked to work on other devices as well , that could well happen with Morpheus.

Microsoft themselves probably  have a V.R headset in development but less is known about this and its currently more rumour than confirmed product.

There are lots of applications for Virtual reality devices.  Really it needs a separate post for them but a couple of notable ones are the Volvo app for Cardboard,   The Paul Mcartney app for Cardboard  and the Thomas cook 360 experience for the Gear V.R .  These aren't small niche ideas but large brands using V.R to demonstrate their product in new and interesting ways.

I've not heard much of V.R being used in museums or galleries yet except as an experience to try the technology. The only exhibition that I'm aware of using V.R is the De/coding the Apocalypse at Somerset house. Overall the exhibition is very good, it uses digital technology in a very restrained and grown up way, but the use of the Oculus rift didn't really work for me. I think mainly because it was tethered for i'm guessing security reasons and the cord was too short again guessing but for health and safety.  I wanted more freedom of movement.  Glad they tried though.  Looking forward to seeing more applications for V.R, given the amount of headsets available and software being developed will surely be some interesting concepts developed

Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality

making museums Projects technical

3D print from a tweetbot

There are a lot of museums looking at how objects in their collections can be scanned and 3D Printed.  There are  reasons for this, most of them very serious,academic and scholarly.

The small project I have been working on is a lot less serious but still has a worthwhile reason behind it.  Just as my Farting statues App was a exploration of taking the objects in a collection, mixing them with information from Wikipedia adding in  Android code and coming up with something silly and frivolous.  This is a exploration of  turning  the output of a museum API into a 3D printed object.  I was interested in how the object would transform and change as it went through the processes of turning from a Physical object, into digital data and back into a physical object albeit in a modified form.

The project was inspired by this guardian article on twitter  bots, the interest in that comes from my current work project making the satellite X3Prospero tweet.

One of the bots in the article was @MuseumBot  this is a bot written by Darius Kazemi (@tinysubversions)  it takes the open access images that are made available by  the Met Museum, tweets an image along with a link to the page on the met museum website.

After following this bot, there was an image that was tweeted that took my interest



There was just something I found  interesting about the object,also the quite detailed but well defined outline made me think straight away that would be interesting to 3D Print, and thats how this started.

Not really knowing what to do  but knowing it is possible to build 3D models from photographs that was my first avenue of investigation.  Yes it is possible but it requires multiple photographs  taken at different angles.  I only had the one photograph taken at one angle.

From then my next was to see what I could do with the outline of the object. I realised that it wouldn't be possible to get all the detail of the face of the figurine  in the print, at least not in the first iteration of it.

I Started off following this article  but using Adobe illustrator to turn the image into a SVG file.  The output from the automatic outline feature of Illustrator was quite poor.  It was probably because of the shading and highlighting on the object.  So it was time to bite the bullet and do it myself.  This took around six hours, working at a high magnification and going very slowly.  This process did highlight  a problem with the image. It is not perfectly straight on at the top face, the outline shows some of the side edges.  Not sure what the technical term for that is, it probably has one.

I made the decision to ignore that problem and rather than try to guess what the actual outline should be just go around the outline as it is on the photograph.

The first time doing the import into 123D Design didn't go well.  It showed up a mistake made in the outlining process. Rather than creating a single outline I had inadvertently created hundreds of very small lines. A newbie Illustrator mistake.  So had to spend around another six hours joining up all the tiny lines.

The import into 123D Design was much better this time. All I had to do then was to scale the model to approximately the same size as the actual object and export the STL file for printing.

The Printing was done at Machines Room  on their Ultimaker 2 printer.  All I had to do was import the STL file into the Ultimaker Cura software and export a GCode file for the printer.

Printing was simply a Copying the gCode file on to a SD card, putting the card into the printer,selecting the file and pressing print.   The printer takes a few minutes to warm up and there is a little of the PLA oozes out as it reaches temperature, that just needs to be supported away from the print base to stop it from getting onto the print as it starts.


Once it has done started printing and been running a few minutes its ok to leave it running until it completes, so I went for a coffee and waited.

It was all straight forward, it took around one hour to print and then around ten minutes to leave to cool on the bed of the printer to prevent it from warping as it cooled.




Whats next?

I would really like to add in the face and its features.  The current design is a single thickness , I would like to make the thickness of the different parts of the object must closer to the actual object.

One interesting thing that I had not considered was the material transformation.  It was printed in yellow because that was what the printer was loaded with at the time and was close to the gold in look.  Two people I showed it to suggested gilding it or coating with gold leaf.  After thinking about this for a while I have decided not to.  The shape of the object has changed through the process, the material has changed, I don't see any need to pretend that it is the same material as the original, I think that is an interesting part of the story.

The file for printing is now on Thingiverse , so if you want to print out this object or play around and transform the model in any way, feel free.  If you do let me know what you happens,  am interested.













Back to where it all began (part 2)

Leaving Bletchley Park station, its only a few metres to the Bletchley Park site. Not knowing what to expect but imagining to see either the Victorian Mansion or the famous huts where the code breakers worked. What I didn't expect to see was a half completed modern housing estate. Oh well that progress I guess.

Its not until you get inside, past the modern car park and beyond the ticket desk that the site starts to come alive and reveal the stories of the top secret work that went on there and ultimately contributed massively to bringing WW2 to an end when it did.

The first part of the exhibition is an overview of all the work that went on at Bletchley park,the operation of the famous German enigma machines and the efforts to crack them, using films,text and computer interactives. The videos project onto the walls without any special screen were effective adding a layer of Trompe-l'œil to the room,but was disappointed by those projected on to what looked to be domestic projector screens. The projectors weren't lined up to the screens properly making them look ad-hoc and temporary. Ok A.V geekery over, promise not to do that again.

At the exit to the first building its possible to pick up a Audio guide unit, I collected one but never actually used it, just not that bothered about them.

As with the computer Museum I'm not going to give an exhibit by exhibit account of my visit, but do want to mention the hut that contains the recreation of the Bombe machine, It is worth waiting for the demonstration of how it works and after that the story of Alan Turing. Reading Gordon Brown's posthumous apology to Turing brought a tear to my eye. It makes me sad that so many people had to die fighting to keep our freedom and yet just a few years after that war Turing and many other men were persecuted by the police for their sexuality. The world has moved on so much since that time, it might not be perfect but it scares me to think what it would be like now if the allies hadn't been successful in overpowering the Nazis. Bletchley park and the Colossus at the computer museum show it took brains as well as brawn.

The other parts of the site were equally interesting. walking around the huts that Turing and the other code breakers worked in was interesting. They seemed so spartan when compared to modern offices, none of the nick-nacks or other distractions that so often adorn peoples work stations today. The projected films and audio capture some of the details of the work nicely and don't look out of place.

I didn't get a chance to look at everything but did make time to learn about the work the work the Wrens did operating the computers. Hut 11 I think it was, a wonderful projected video conversation. Before it was time for my train back to London there was just time for a quick look around the mansion house and a sit down for a coffee and cookie.

So thats the story of one site,two museums. Computing and technology moves at an alarming rate, but it was good to step back and learn about it from the beginning.  For many years the story of Bletchley and Colossus was kept a secret.  That it is now public knowledge and the sacrifice and dedication of the people who worked there and the contribution that Bletchley made to the war effort and to the development of modern technology  can be rightfully recognised.



Back to where it all began (part 1)

A few years ago I was in the Milton Keynes area on a training course learning how to service printers. There was a chance the course would finish early. I planned to visit Bletchley Park, sadly the course didn't finish early and I had to take more printers apart. I Would rather have rubbed pickled onion in my eyes than be in that room taking printers apart.

Last week I finally made up for that and visited both The National Museum of Computing and Bletchley park.

Computing Museum first. Its not big but it is absolutely packed with amazing computers and machines that in their time were groundbreaking. Learning about Tunny and Robinson and the work that went on in Bletchley park before Colossus was interesting. I hadn't realised that Colossus was the culmination of other work. Everyone knows of Alan Turing and maybe Tommy Flowers but there were so so many other people researching,developing and building the equipment used to crack the German codes.

Seeing the rebuilt Colossus was the highlight of the museum, learning about the work that went into both the development of the original and the rebuild. The Colossus rebuild started in 1993 and completed in 2004. It is on the site where number nine Colossus stood. I recommend reading all the panels that tell the story of Colossus.



If you thought modern processor fans were big
If you thought modern processor fans were big
Don't fall into the computer
Don't fall into the computer

As you walk through the museum the computers get smaller and more powerful, i couldn't help thinking as I took photos on my phone, it has more processing power in such a tiny package than many of the cabinet sized monsters of old but without them my phone probably wouldn't exist as it does now.

Some familiar computers here
Some familiar computers here
I said hello from one museum to another
I said hello from one museum to another
This looks Familiar
This looks Familiar

The displays highlighting the contribution women have made to computing made me really happy. Ada Lovelace is often highlighted as the first computer programmer but then many others are overlooked.

Some of the women who have played a part in the advancement of computers and computer science
Some of the women who have played a part in the advancement of computers and computer science
"She wrote with a Parker 51 fountain pen with permanent black ink and if there was a mistake it had to be corrected with a razor blade."
"She wrote with a Parker 51 fountain pen with permanent black ink and if there was a mistake it had to be corrected with a razor blade."

One particularly event I witnessed was in the room dedicated to the analogue computing and the difference between analogue and digital numbers,electronics and computing. There was a family looking at the exhibits and saying to their daughter "I don't understand this, I can't explain it to you."
This made me sad, I didn't want to butt in or interfere,really wanted to say something but felt it wasn't my place to be explaining things to them, wasn't sure how they would feel about it. The labels and explanations of the interactives all seemed to be very clear and well written. I think the parents were just nervous of the new words and concepts and if they had looked at the exhibits more carefully and slowly they would have understood things fine.

Not going to go into detail about all the other exhibits in the museum,except to say it is a story of computing in the u.k from the second world war to almost the present day. It is not fancy but it is interesting.

Right round the corner to Bletchley park....


Stories of water are stories of people

Before I started work at the Science Museum I didn't realise how much thought went into making museum exhibitions. I'd always thought that a curators job was to decide which objects to buy and then buying them.  When it came to the exhibitions I imagined curators  looking at a large selection in the stores and picking the ones that looked nice, writing a label quickly and then going back to buying objects.

It turns out that being a curator and selecting objects for an exhibition is more complicated than that. The field of museology looks at how objects are curated,displayed and the history and purpose of museums.

Recently I learnt that one of the themes in museology is that objects shouldn't be collected and displayed for their own sake but to tell the stories of  the people who worked with, owned or are associated with the object.

The Museum of Water at Somerset house is an exhibition that perfectly captures that idea of the importance of the stories of an object.

Water and our relationships with water can be  can be really complicated. Have you ever been caught in a rainstorm, then when you reached home taken off your soaked clothes and jumped in the shower. Think about that, because you have become wet with one source of water you have immediately wet yourself with water from another source. In the developed western countries we can simply turn a tap on and the water flows. Our toilets are plumbed in to mains sewers that take away the waste without us having to think about the cleaning and processing.  There are many places in the world where that simply isn't possible, dirty water spreads disease and kills people.

Industry throughout the world  uses massive amounts of water, often polluting it and taking away valuable clean water from communities. Our planet may be  71% covered with water but less than 1% is easily accessible fresh water. A tiny amount for a growing population.

Not enough water causes crops to fail and has lead to  economic hardship and starvation. Too much water washes away homes and lives. Water is needed but it must be the right amounts in the right place at the right times.   Our need for water was recognised recently as it was a contender in the 2014 Longitude Prize. After considering all the options it was the one that I chose and voted for. It didn't win but that doesn't mean that the need to carefully consider the water we use has gone away.

A lot of the stories around water on a global scale are well known and documented. Famine,floods, pollution, melting ice caps all regularly make the news. Water can also be very significant to people on a much more intimate level and its these often overlooked  stories that the Museum of water  displays.

Entering Somerset house on the South side close to the Thames on the Embankment. Walking around the narrow passages with a few nicely placed cue's as to what the museum might contain.

Umbrellas in a cupboard
Umbrellas in a cupboard - well why not

Sign saying a little of the Thames  leaked back in



The museum is dark and atmospheric. Buckets and and tin baths part filled with water,nicely done dripping sounds add to the effect without sounding false.


Tin Bath

The collection of the museum of Water are several hundred bottles of water that have been donated to the museum by members of the public.  It is through these bottles of water that the personal stories are told. There are stories of happiness,sadness, sickness,health, the sacred and the fun. Each bottle or container has a label written by the person that contributed the water. No voice of the curator or art speak here just honesty.

It was coming across a label that read "Rainwater from the day we said goodbye to my brother" was when it hit me  about how powerful the stories could be. A bottle of water from a person having chemotherapy who had to drink water after treatment and a urine sample of urine from a kidney patient needed for testing were other particularly strong stories that show that water is so much more than H2O. The science of  H2O was represented as a plasticene model used for teaching children and an Ice core sample in a freezer sat next to a child's frozen snowball connecting the serious to the playful.

The bottles on the bottom contain water from every bridge and culvert along the River Kelvin in Glasgow
The bottles contain the water, the cards tell the stories


As well as the many samples of water. Amy Sharrock asked what water haven't you brought.  Letting visitors tell stories of water that they couldn't collect. Whether because they didn't know to collect  or because the water is far away and not obtainable.


I would love to recommend a visit to The museum of water but sadly it  was a temporary exhibition closing  on June 29th. All the bottles are being stored and there may be further exhibitions in the future. So if you do here of one do go.

Even after leaving the fountains in Somerset House courtyard are a reminder of the museum in the gallery below

















More information about the Museum of water can be found at Museum of Water 

developer museums Projects technical thoughts

An App called Farting Statues, I made it, here's why

Farting Statues, yes really an app called Farting Statues.  If you don't believe me go and have a look on the  Google Play Store  If you have a Android device install it and have a play with it.   Ok it's a real app that I made, explaining why I made it might take a bit longer but here goes.


Farting Statues main screen
Farting Statues main screen

At the end of last year i took a Coursera course called  Creative, Serious and Playful Science of Android Apps an introduction to computer science and writing Android apps. I'm not a really a beginner but it was a nice course to do. I picked up  some useful tips and tricks when using the Eclipse IDE and it was good to have a lot of the things that I have taught myself verified as the right way to go.

One of the early assignments was to produce a simple app that displayed a photograph of an early computer along with explanatory text. The assignment didn't require any coding as such, just to produce a portrait and landscape layout and have it swap between the two when the phone was rotated.

The assignment did get me thinking, it had a very stong museum feel to it , very similar to the sorts of apps that museums produce, but theirs are so much more polished and professional, but here is me writing a very small and simple museum type  app. Would it be possible to use app writing as a way for visitors to engage with content.  Instantly I fell in the love of the idea of guerrilla museum apps. Visitors writing apps using the content available on museum websites . Distributing them on app stores for other people to use when visiting museums.

There is a big push at the moment for people to learn to code, to use computers to not just to consume content but to create it as well.  I decided to write a museum app to explore this idea and look at the the potential pitfalls of doing this both from a app writer ,visitor point of view and what benefits and problems it would cause a museum.

First thing pick a museum and collection. The Science Museum might seem an obvious choice as I have easy access to the collection and information. I also really like my job and The Science museum had just launched an official iPad app. Creating a guerrilla version of that app seemed a really bad idea if I wanted to keep my job.  I wanted to be a little subversive but I'm not stupid.

Around Christmas Time  Team Cooper launched a game little browser game  called Farter Christmas. It was silly, childish and great fun.  That gave me the idea, combine the childishness of a fart app with the high culture of the statues in the Victoria and Albert museum.

The concept was simple and didn't change. Pick around five or six statues, find out a few  facts for each one and reveal a random fact combined with a fart noise.

The first version of the app was really easy to write and operationally didn't change through the development. It had just one small problem. The app crashed a lot.  It took quite a lot of digging around the developer docs and Stack Exchange pages to find out how to cure the problem. hitting a problem like this instantly takes the app creation process from something that an absolute beginner could do to something that requires either great determination and time spent learning other app development skills and knowledge, or assistance from somebody more experienced.

Once I had solved that problem there wasn't really any other technical problems.

Finding Content 

The next part was to find the  statues and facts about each one. The finished app only has two statues from the V & A.  They are the Dacre beasts - Dolphin and the Bather by Albert Toft. The biggest problem with selecting statues was finding the Content.  I  really loved the Dacre beasts so was glad to find information  about them, but very little on the V & A website.  There was only really Rodin's The Thinker that had a lot of easily available information because it is such a famous piece.


The Dacre Beasts, The Dolphin
The Dacre Beasts, The Dolphin

So not only did I have to widen it out to to statues not only in the V & A I had to widen it out to statues outside of museums all together. That is why the Moai Statues of Easter island are included.

Morals and Ethics

Its a silly app with farting statues, it might not seem that Morals and Ethics would be a concern.  While walking around the V & A I realised that a lot of statues are of a religious nature. They have representations of Buddha, other Indian Gods and the Madonna and Child.  Using any of those in the app could potentially be offensive to people of any of those religions. I wanted to create a fun app not one that could cause serious offence, again i wanted to be a little subversive but i'm not stupid.

Copyright and Licensing

The two V & A statues that I used the Dacre Beasts Dolphin and the Bather are both photographs that i took myself, why? I couldn't find any appropriately licensed images to use.  All of the other photographs are from Wikimedia and either Creative Commons Licensed or released into the public domain. That was the reason for the prominent credits button on the front screen, I wanted to make sure that the licensing of the images  was clear and up front.

It was only near the end of the development process I realised the image I was intending to use for the Bather wasn't licensed for use, so had to take my own photograph.

One of the statues that I did consider using has a image available from Tate images. The cost of using it was prohibitive so wasn't chosen, looking at  the categories of products and media available they were all aimed at physical products, mousemats,mugs posters etc. nothing suitable for use in a digital product. It makes me wonder how museums will handle people wanting to use images in apps

Advertising and Distribution

The app has adverts in it. The are displayed on the individual statues but not on the front screen. This was something I hadn't done before so wanted to do it from a technical point of view to see how easy it is and to consider what happens when an app developer uses a museum content to make money.  I'm not sure how much the app will make. I'm not expecting to get rich from it.  Just as the museums has no control over people developing apps with its images I have realised I have no control over the content of the adverts. On the Play store the App is marked as suitable for all ages but looking at a few ads that have come through on my phone already, one is to download a 'virtual girlfriend' not the faintest idea what that is and don't plan on finding out, but not convinced it is suitable for 'all ages' or wouldn't end up creating a massive security hole on my phone.

Are museums set up to make money from apps that other people develop. I have not made any connection in my app between myself and the V & A or other museums.  If people were to write apps using museum content and distribute it would it be clear that it isn't an official app produced by the institution. What if there are mistakes or offensive content? what would happen then. How much trouble would it cause for the museum or gallery?


So do I still think that that writing guerrilla apps is a way for people to remix and engage with museum content while learning to code?  The barebones of this app were written in a single weekend but it took a lot longer to research the content for it. I am lucky to work next door to the V & A so popping across the road to take photographs wasn't a problem but if you aren't near a large national museum or the museum that you want to take photographs of doesn't allow them could cause problems.

It won't be straightforward and I can see  apps like these developing in two ways.  People who can already code will develop apps along similar themes to Farting statues. Hopefully not loads of clones of the this the world doesn't really need any more farting statues apps. But being creative and having fun. I have been careful to make sure the images were properly licensed. The majority of the content comes from wikipedia rather than museum websites, so is the information correct?   its as good as i can make it but i'm not a expert on any of the statues or the artists. I would rather have the information come from the  definitive source of the museum website but wasn't able to.

The other possibility is for museums to run coding workshops with visitors, start with part written apps or web pages and embed museum content into them.  Web pages can easily be converted into mobile apps.  This would give people an app they can take away with them and would hopefully be a springboard into finding out more about coding and app development.

Either way it needs museums to push out more content and information, the internet isn't limited to the space on a label.  Its a lot easier to find information on wikipedia than it is on a museum website.

In the same way that museums worried that putting content online  would reduce physical visitors to their institutions I have no doubt there will be similar worries to putting content online in a way for people to re-mix and develop. While developing this app I found myself  becoming more interested in the information than just reading it, having to find useful facts and  break down  the content down in to small chunks made me draft and read and re-draft the text several times.  This is something Museum exhibit developers have to do so why not break down the barriers and  give visitors this chance to get down to the nitty gritty with the content. After  all as its digital it can easily be changed, thats the beauty of it.

If museums want to stay relevant as hopefully their  visitors become not just consumers of digital content but creators as well a shift will be needed to make more content available online and encourage its use rather than creating barriers.  Guerilla apps and Farting Statues may not have all the answers but I think it could be a start







Going Underground - A visit to Aldwych tube station

Back in February I bought an underground ticket. Thats not really unusual lots of people in London do that. But this ticket was a little special, I couldn't use it for nearly six months and it could only be used at a single now closed station. Aldwych station off of the Strand is that station, closed to the public in 1994 but still a working station in other ways.

The Lovely people at London Transport museum periodically organise trips into the station and down to the platforms to see a small part of hidden London. After queuing and showing our tickets we were taken into the  ticket office and introduced to our guides for the evening, London Transport museum volunteers Dave and Keith.  Dave and Keith took turns to explain various parts of the station and the story behind it  throughout the visit, both were really friendly and knowledgeable about the station and its history and were able to answer lots of questions from the visitors.

Entrance to Booking hall
Entrance to Booking hall


Dave and Keith or was it Keith and Dave
Dave and Keith or was it Keith and Dave

Aldwych Station was intended to be a busy end of line station but developments with other parts of the tube network overtook it and it ended up as a little used spur to the network. Even during construction it was realised that it would not be as busy as was intended. Only one pair of the lifts were completed, unlike other stations where you enter in one side of the lifts and exit the other these only had on entrance and exit at platform level, the extra tunnelling required to  make them fully walk through was not completed.  The platforms were not fully finished as the volume of people didn't justify it. Slowly the station opening was reduced, first Sundays,then Saturdays, then Weekday off peak services. From 1962 till its final closure it was served by only one train every nine minutes at week day peak times only. Despite it now been closed to the public for twenty years it is still a working station in regular use by Transport for London,  for emergency training, practising removing passengers from underneath trains by the emergency  services and more mundane things such as testing adhesives for the tiles and posters used on the underground network. One of the platforms is also used by film and television for when period underground stations are needed.


Station Closed. But not if you managed to get a ticket
Station Closed. Open for one night only




The unfinished platform roof
The unfinished platform roof

Not real Posters but  for period  effect. How can you tell? The Poster for the 'Empire London' Bills Hylda Baker as 'Britain's foremost T.V comedienne' T.V was closed down during the war but the poster to the bottom right was urging parents to evacuate their children to the countryside for the war.

Period Tube posters
Period Tube posters used for Film or T.V

A Real poster from the early 1970's for D.H Evans of Oxford Street.  Why there aren't shops now that sell Separates, Sausage Rolls and petticoats I'll never know. IMG_20140620_200716     A 'Chad' These originate from the 2nd world war but seemed to die out in the 1980's

Wot no tube trains
Wot no tube trains

An area of the platform used for testing How tiles look on the platforms and the adhesives used. Might seem really dull but if there was a problem with tiles falling off on a busy platform it could cause a real headache for TFL staff and commuters.

Top secret London Underground tile testing
Top secret London Underground tile testing


Nothern line train used for emergency training and practise




An early use  QR Code on the train?  No the sticker says 'Please keep clear of the doors' but has become rather worn and tattered

QR Code?
QR Code?

Fortunately we were authorised for one night only. IMG_20140620_195544   The darker wood in this photo is where a ticket booth was installed into the lift so the lift attendant could both sell tickets and operate the lifts

remnants of in lift ticket booth
remnants of in lift ticket booth

The emergency lighting in the lifts was a candle holder

Candle Holder for Emergencies
Candle Holder for Emergencies

And thats it, back to 2014



Way out
Way out

I haven't gone too deeply into all the facts and figures about Aldwych station and its history in this blog post, but wanted to give you a flavour of the visit and the experience.

Aldwych station is a fascinating mix of  fact and fiction. Re-created station fittings,wartime posters that weren't ever really there. Platforms that were never properly finished all confuse and delight. It isn't a museum experience all accurately researched and historically correct, neither is it a theme park where oak beams are made of plastic designed to deceive. In some ways it is exactly as it would have been on the day it open and closed but in others it is  a working and changing underground station.

To spend an hour at Aldwych was a real joy and privilege.  I would like to thanks everybody at London Transport Museum    and Transport for London for making the visit possible. If you do want more information there is a book available about the Station available at London Transport Museum, I'm going to buy the book and if you get chance to visit Aldwych I fully recommend it.
The Jam - Going underground to finish. Well why not.





museums thoughts

Museomix,medical galleries and Android Apps

Back in November I was lucky enough to attend the first  MuseomixUK.  A large group of people descended on  Iron Bridge museums in the heart of Shropshire and spent a weekend thinking about how to re-mix the exhibits. We thought about how to bring new life to existing interactives and  how to add interactivity to previously static exhibits.  Well I say "we thought" what I actually mean is "we did"  this wasn't a passive experience, it was talking, it was drawing, it was website making, it was film making  and it was hacking,  prototyping and making real exhibits that were demoed in the museum at the end of the Weekend. Go and have a look at the website and some longer blog posts about the full weekend.

One thing that all the people had in common at Museomix is that they are all have a strong connection with museums, either working,wanting to work or have worked or volunteered in museums or studying museums.

In December  I was notified that a Android App course on Coursera  that I had signed up to ages ago was going to start soon. The course has been going for four weeks now. Its covering very simple topics mainly focussing on the practicalities of developing an App for android rather than teaching the Java programming language.

Part of the first assignment was to research two computer scientists and display a photograph and some information on each one, swapping between the two when the phone or tablet is rotated.  It felt so much like something a Science museum would do.

The Coursera courses have a  the class Forum ,to discuss the course, the assignments, general chat  and other issues. At the start of  the course a few people introduced themselves as working in and being interested in museums and museum education using apps.  To carry on the discussion outside,after the course finishes  and to open it up to the wider community one of the participants has created a Google+ community  If you  are interested join up.

I did find it quite amusing that less that 24 hours after the group being created both Dave Patten, Head of New Media (My Boss)  at the Science Museum and Mar Dixon had joined. Mar is a audience development and social media specialist working with museums and galleries.  Anything that is cool,new and interesting happening in U.K musuems Mar will know about it and most probably be involved somewhere . Mar  is a lovely lady currently sporting  a hard to get hold of pair of Google Glass. Most importantly Mar is responsible for bringing Museomix to the U.K. You see its all connected.

Yesterday I was looking around the Wellcome Medical galleries at the Science Museum , the 4th floor 'Glimpses of Medical history'  is the last place in the museum that still has dioramas showing  recreated scenes of people taking part in activities, from smaller scale re-creation of a makeshift World War one operating theatre to life size Pharmacy, an early dentists room, a 1980's operating the detail in these is fantastic.  Modern technology can bring 3D screens the real 3D is hard to beat but these are static scenes.

One of the exhibits a lady having a chest x-ray really reminded me of my Museomix experience. At Museomix we created a prototype of an App to show inside a diving suit, actually using a photo of a x-ray of  Nasa Spacesuit to get the effect.  To add a interactive or new media element to  Medical gallery exhibit Physically into the exhibition would be really awkward to do and isn't planned anytime soon.

The x-ray exhibit  and the others are a  rich source of inspiration, I was walking around the gallery thinking, 'I could add sound effects there' or 'wouldn't it be cool to do some augmented reality there'.

Together Museomix, the Android course and our medical Gallery has given me the idea.  There are a lot of museums making Apps, some are guides for walking around the galleries, some are for outside the museum and others are hybrids.  But these are all museum projects, made inside the museum and given the museum stamp of approval.

There is nothing to stop anyone, museum professional or not from making museum apps.  Don't have to be big or Fancy or super polished. I would love to walk around a museum trying out people's app seeing photos they have taken themselves and reading Wikipedia excerpts or peoples own thoughts written  in their own style.

So if you are a coder or designer or learning  either and  looking for inspiration, if you love museums or just enjoy visiting your local museum  and want to share it.  I say make an App, hack it, prototype it , share it but do  make it.


Research,Art,Hinges and bus driving

My dad’s job was a bus driver, from that its quite easy to work out that he drove buses.  A lot of jobs are like that. Its easy to tell what the job involves from its title. So a builder builds things, a designer designs things and a accountant accounts for things, but what does a scientist do all day?

I work in an environment surrounded by objects all connected to science, engineering, medicine and technology.  Not a day goes by where I am not amazed by the objects themselves or the discoveries and achievements that they represent. However  Its not always easy to understand the work that goes into making  scientific discoveries.

So when I found out about the Opening of the Research as Art at The Royal Institution I was keen to go along and see if it would provide an insight into the working life of scientists.

Another reason I wanted to visit the exhibition was after a recent visit to a evening event at the Natural History Museum I was a little bit jealous of them.  They just seemed to be able to show amazing pictures of fossils and exotic and rare species that simply look amazing.  image

By comparison we have grey hinges,


No one looks at one of those and thinks  Wow, a grey hinge thats amazing.  These hinges feature in the 3D Printing the future exhibition at the Science museum,  They illustrate how 3D printing is being used in Aerospace engineering to produce lighter and stronger components.   We have to put in a lot of work with animation and lighting in the gallery  to highlight the story of the development of these hinges  to our visitors.

So any visual ideas I could take away for future projects I knew could be useful.   

The Exhibition is organised and curated by Dr Richard Johnson of Swansea University from where all the works on display originate.   

It was really interesting to speak to Rich and find out that the artworks were selected not to show the most beautiful image but to illustrate the work of the scientists that created the images.  

I really liked the wide variety of work on show,  a  selection of the images are on the flickr page  . Sadly it doesn’t have my favourite one which is a X-Ray image of a tooth from a crew member of the Mary Rose.

The X-Ray was taken to see if it would be possible to extract DNA from the void in the tooth that is known to preserve DNA well. Sadly the X-Ray shows a tiny crack in the tooth meaning the chance of extracting good DNA are reduced.

I think I like it because of the connections between the Imaging, the genetics DNA stuff and the history.

I was going to write  a full review of the Exhibition but there is one already on the London City Nights blog   and I would only be repeating it. I would go and have a read of that if I was you.

The exhibition is on at the Royal Institution until 15th November

museums thoughts

Please wear gloves - a review of Adhocracy exhibition.

A Saturday morning in Hackney, A Warehouse unit with a broken roller door. That could be the start of a really bad crime thriller but fortunately for me it was a visit to a really interesting exhibition.


After visiting the Design museum’s The future is here exhibition in the summer and working for the past few months on the 3D:Printing the future   I was  both  curious to have a look at another exhibition that explored new ways of manufacturing but  also feeling fatigued from all the stories that have been in the press and all over the internet about 3D printing covering everything from hands  to toothbrushes by way of 3D printed fabrics I was curious if the exhibition would feel a bit ‘me too’ or if there would be a genuine fresh insight into the  modern manufacturing revolution..

When I heard of the Adhocracy exhibition at Lime Wharf I was interested to find out how it would compare with both the Design museum and Science museum exhibitions.

Down a quiet side street and past a garage servicing and cleaning taxis I found the main Lime Wharf building easy enough but was directed a little further along the street to a  building along the street with a Roller shutter jammed half open. I was shown around to a side door and into the exhibition.  This was a little unfortunate as it meant that I didn’t enter at the start of the exhibition and missed the introductory text until I had been around most of the exhibits.

For an exhibition looking at industry and manufacturing the rough edges of the building and the simple build of the frames and tables that housed the exhibits worked well together. Nothing faux or pretentious,  a similar thing in traditional  art gallery or museum could come across as fake but this building looked like it could easily have been making products using conventional methods for the last fifty years.

The first of the exhibits that really caught my eye was an example of what has become one of the most well known and controversial 3D printed designs of 2013 the Defense distributed 3D printed gun. The Science Museum have had one on display since July this year, the V & A have recently put on display  the first gun designed and developed by Cody Wilson.


Displaying  all the component parts of the gun, having it in different colours and not making any claims about the provenance of the object illustrates that anyone actually can print a 3D gun. 

I was glad that the rest of the exhibits felt less threatening and dangerous and there was some interesting and ingenious products and devices.

Straight on to what was probably my favourite item The Gloves project sensor equipped gloves for the musician Imogen heap. This clip of Imogen on BBC Science Club which was shown in the exhibit explains the gloves,what they do and how they work so well that i watched it three times. So many technologies are combined to produce something sophisticated and yet quite ‘hacky’

Moving on from the gloves I noticed Little People just like at the Science museum, there had been opportunities to be scanned using a Kinect and printed on a 3D printer.



 Along with the gun this really proved the point that it doesn’t matter if you are a National museum in South Kensington or a new gallery in  Hackney with these open technologies the same things can be achieved.

After a further look around at a lot more of the exhibits demonstrating the open source,the innovative and the new there were three item that drew my attention as they made a counter point to the majority of exhibits.

The first one was the DRM chair.  DRM or digital rights management has existed in the digital world  for a long time as a method of attempting to prevent unauthorised copying of software, music and books.


The DRM chair detects every time a person sits on it and will eventually self destruct.


 The chair an art project explores the idea that  DRM that has only existed in the digital realm up till now could be applied to physical objects.  How long will this new found freedom of manufacturing last before limitations are imposed by creators, patent holders and traditional manufacturers slowly seeing their old ways of working being taken away from them?

The second object wasn’t the actual object  but one particular sentence in  the information accompanying the  Heineken Secondary use beer bottle’s  


“The Secondary Use Experiment project ultimately proved incompatible with the company’s corporate culture”

What was it of Heinekens corporate culture that killed this project? I would love to know. Oddly I don’t remember these bottles getting a mention in the official Heineken museum that I visited at the start of the year. Maybe its something they are now a little embarrassed about.

And that brings me on to the last of the three exhibits and the title of this post.  Again not one of the actual exhibition objects but the white cotton gloves that were provided  and asked to be worn before handling the books that were on display.



Quite oddly these  excited me more than a little.  I’m not trained in object handling at work so don’t go too close to the actual objects. So to have chance to put the gloves on and carefully turn the pages of a book felt a privilege.  

 The gloves are a reminder that sometimes objects can’t simply be replaced by downloading the data and 3D printing replacements.  They are a reminder that it is important to take care of objects, not just in museums and galleries but in our ordinary lives as well.  It might be possible to 3D print an infinite amount of different objects but are we just going to end up drowning in a sea of highly individualised, highly customised gadgets and widgets that are nothing more than  junk?

Overall I would recommend a visit to Adhocracy,  there are some innovative products and ideas on display. Alongside others that will make you reflect and think on what the changes and possibilities in future manufacturing could lead to.

The Adhocracy exhibition is on until 6th November at Lime Wharf Annex Hackney. A visit is recommended