Category Archives: museums

developer museums

You can't win the prize if you don't enter the raffle

I love winning a prize so when I saw an opportunity to win a Scholarship to attend SXSW2014 Interactive   it was definitely worth a go. were offering the opportunity for a museum professional to attend SXSW Interactive, if you haven’t heard of SXSW (South by South West) its a big conference held in Austin Texas, originally just music but has grown to embrace Film and Interactive media.

SXSW Interactive is where cutting edge technology and start ups demonstrate their new ideas and products,hoping to get noticed to secure funding or create buzz to bring their product to the wider public.

So when I found out about the chance to win a pass to go I jumped at it.  There were 4 passes been given away in two draws.  I had missed the first draw but could still enter the second.

There was a little bit more to it than just entering into the draw. I had to answer three questions.  The first was to describe my role in the museum.  For this I talked about how I work with other departments,creative agencies and developers to deliver New Media into our galleries and exhibitions.

Second was to explain why I would like to attend SXSW Interactive. On this i talked about how I am really engrossed in the museum world but trying really hard to learn all about how digital media and technology can be used in museums but also it is important to look around outside of museums at new ideas and ways of thinking.

Finally I had to think up an idea for a mobile app,this had to be completely new and not implemented anywhere else.   Rather than briefly describe itm, here is what I wrote in full:

I see a lot of people taking photos of our objects especially in the galleries that have the large objects, the aeroplanes,cars,space rockets. There are already plenty of social apps to share and tag these photos so that people can see them. What the social  photo sharing apps don’t do is connect the shared photos with the museum content.  

What I am proposing is an app that  has two modes of operation.

In the first mode  to be used in the museum, the app will be an augmented reality mode, it will recognise objects and display both photos that have been shared by other people and information about the object. The information will primarily be the museum written information but can also pull in from other sources such as Wikipedia, tagged tweets from visitors  or others as applicable.

Other features would also be possible,  take your own photo to share back for other people, tweet a comment or do a facebook ‘like’.

The second mode is designed for use outside of the  museum, working slightly different to the in museum mode,  and is intended to engage visitors with the collection before they visit.  It would start by presenting the potential visitor with an ‘official’ high quality photograph of an exhibit that a user can select they can then see the photographs that the gallery visitors have taken, see what people are tweeting about the object and again read the information written by the  museum and other sources.

Interesting things could be done to connect the pre-visit with the visit modes such as allow users to create trails for other to follow, or by measuring the number of tweets or photographs about an object create heat maps to allow potential visitors to see what other people are interested in.


From after answering those questions my application would be vetted and if suitable I would be entered into the draw. From the first round approx 40 people entered and about 10 of the applications were rejected.

At this point if you are probably expecting me to say I was entered into the draw,won the pass and will be attending SXSW Interactive. Sadly no. I passed two rounds of vetting and was into the draw but my name didn’t get pulled out of the hat. It was worth doing just to be challenged to think up an idea for a mobile app. Getting through the vetting gave me confidence that if something like that came up again it would be worth giving it ago and you never know next time I might get lucky.


Facts not Opinions

Facts not opinions is above the office door of 99 Southwark Street the location of the Kircaldy testing Museum.  I remember walking past the building when I first moved to London and seeing the information in the window of what from the outside looked like an almost abandoned building.  But after looking it up on line and seeing that it is still an open museum i decided that i would visit sometime, so a couple of weeks ago i made it down.


captured from google street view.

It was quite odd to see a sign pointing to go in the back entrance to the museum. But the main entrance isn’t in use.  Getting into the museum means squeezing through a gap in the fence of some road works .

I sort of knew what to expect,as the museum is only open the first Sunday of every month so wasn’t expecting a large,slick operation.

The Kircaldy Testing Museum isn’t really a museum in the way  a lot of museums are buildings to house a collection of objects but it is a industrial premises that was closed for nearly 20 years and then re-opened as a museum with not a lot of  changes made to it.

So after going into the back entrance and meeting the two friendly volunteers I was taken downstairs to watch a DVD about the history of David Kircaldy and the testing Works.

After the DVD it was a guided tour of the works. The first things were the impact machines.  I remember something very similar to these in the metrology lab at college.


French Charpy machine was made in 1916 and spent all of its working life at Imperial College. It came to the museum in full working order. It is believed to the oldest such machine is existence.


Izod Testing machine

After the impact testing machines it was the concrete testing machine. This takes a solid figure of eight shaped piece of concrete and pulls it apart. What surprised me here was that samples of concrete were shipped from all over the world to be tested here.

From the basement it is also possible to see some of the hydraulic components of the main testing machine. A big surprise was finding out that there once existed London hydraulic power company that pumped high pressure water through parts of London.


Then back upstairs to have a look at the main Testing machine.  On the day that I visited an artist was there preparing work for a show later on in the year.He was interested in having the testing machine pull apart objects and see how they deformed.  The artist was waiting for a friend of his to turn up with his camera to video the test on his object which was a metal sphere.

The delay waiting for the camera gave us chance to be shown David Kircaldy’s office,looking in an original state. There is a portrait on the wall of David, showing him with plans for his testing machine which are held in the Science Museum Library (Was pleased to hear of the connection).



As well as the main large machine there are several small ones. One of these was prepared with the plastic bands that are used for wrapping parcels and i turned a handle to put tension on it till it broke. I could feel the handle tighten and then the strap broke with a bang.

And finally what we came for to see the big machine test some metal.



The first attempt failed as the wedges gripping the test piece weren’t tight enough and the piece slipped out. But after reloading it and some subtle adjustment with a big hammer. This time everything went well .  After a couple of minutes of pulling,slowly increasing the load of the test piece it finally failed.

Unfortunately for the artist the failure was quite simple in that it cleanly pulled the welded arms off with no distortion in the sphere itself.  He decided to come back next month with a Mark 2 version after making some changes to the construction of the Sphere.

After another look around down stairs it was nearly time to head off. But not before buying the guide book for £5 and making the suggested donation of £5. To be honest I was more than happy to give the money.  The Museum was awarded a grant of £50,000 in the mid nineteen eighties of which £15,000 still remains, talk about frugal.

Sadly the future of the museum is on doubt, the lease is up on the museum and the Landlord is looking to replace them with a commercial tennant paying commercial rent.  One possible ray of hope for the Museum is that the Building and Testing machine  in it are both list so hopefully would prove to be very difficult to convert into a Trendy Wine Bar.

If you are interested in visiting have a look at the website  for information on opening times.


museums technical

Making a round thing

I have just uploaded my first two videos to youtube ever, talk about late to the party. They can be found here and here .

So I’m no Steven Spielberg and those spheres projected on to a flat wall aren’t cutting edge Projection mapping but I was really please to do them.

It was done for The Life Game . Which was held at the museum over the weekend. I was asked to come up with some way of displaying photos of small paper ‘pals’ that the participants had drawn on to, in a  interesting way.  First thought was to look into some kind of existing photo gallery software, either a flickr or Google Chrome plugin. But there wasn’t anything that seemed suitable.

While riding my bike home one day I remembered that I had been playing with some webGL stuff earlier on in the year so thought of trying that then wondered if it would be easier to do in processing. I find that i come up with ideas when i’m on bike, there and in the shower.

Turns out it is Really easy to do. I installed Shapes 3D and an example file that had a rotating sphere in it, cut out everything except the bare essential and then went through the remaining code to fully understand what was happening.

Adding in some obligatory photos of kittens to test the image on the sphere and it was good to go.  That whole process took around 15 minutes.  Everything after that was tweaking to get the sphere the correct size for the screen.

So this weekend I spent taking photos of the pals, pasting them onto a large image and then re-compiling the processing sketch with the update image every so often to see the population grow over the weekend.  The 2 videos were taken after the first day. Unfortunately I forgot to take any at the end of the second day as I wanted to pack up and get off home quickly.

There was some good feedback about the globe,especially after the 1st day when i changed the background to black which made it stand out better.

So things I learned.

Using processsing for 3D

simple manipulation of layers in photoshop.

Getting my head around photoshop was useful as I discovered it is       possible to create an MP4 movie by putting layers into an animation which came in handy to sort out something else, but that is a story for another blog post.

This was also the first time that I have ever shown something in public that was my work, probably 18 months ago i would have been nervous to  put something like that onto the internet that does afford a certain amount anonymity let alone sit next to a computer telling people that i made that, so winning there.

life stuff museums thoughts

Cuts,Cuts and more cuts

So today you may have seen stories like this one

Science Museum Group says cuts put museums at risk and  Both of which seem pretty fair and well balanced but there have also been articles like this one:  Outrage as iconic Northern museums face closure to save London Science Museum   With comments in it like “Insane that a London based organisation may be allowed to destroy 3 magnificent Northern Treasures.” and ““Something like 90 per cent of the funding for art galleries and museums goes into London already. It’s an extraordinary amount.”

Last Financial year visitors to the Science museum passed the 3 million mark for the first time ,Numbers are also up at Museum of Science and Industry, and the Railway Museum. Yet as the article on the BBC and guardian sites and the interview with the Director Ian Blatchford says the money from Government has been cut and is likely to be cut even more.  So the Science museum as a group  has been doing more with less.

Before I started work at the Science Museum I never realised how much thought and hard work goes into all the new exhibits and how much hard work there is that never gets seen by the public.

I work in an office with Content developers who are real Proper Scientists whose job is to turn difficult Scientific and technical concepts into  short passages of  text and images that won’t bore or overwhelm the visitors but hopefully will give them a much better understanding of this crazy world we live in, the technology that impacts our lives and what makes our own bodies work.

The New Media Department that I work in helps the content developers and  Curators bring to life ideas and concepts that can’t be expressed in words and picture alone by getting creative and as I said in a previous post Bringing the Rainbow but never forgetting the message.

Then all of the exhibits we install have to be kept operational and safe by our A.V and mechanical maintenance  teams and as the museum is open 10am - 6pm 364 days a year plus many days we open later and for that is no mean feat.

So this is the point that it gets political, Sorry.  The Science museum isn’t going to be closed down to save money as it is controlled by an act of parliment The 1983 National heritage act which sets out what the Board of Trustees must do so without changing that, which I can imagine would be massively complex and messy and would be a such a bad P.R move for the government I can’t imagine that even David Cameron would be stupid enough to do that.

However I get the feeling that the Government knows this and also knows that the other museums are located in the North of England, an area of which the Conservatives don’t have a good historical record of giving a stuff about.

So I really hope that people in Manchester,Bradford and York aren’t thinking that the Science Museum in London is some evil entity intent on destroying their museums because it is nothing like that.  People who work in Museums love museums, its not a competition thing, no other museum benefits if one closes.  I don’t know what will happen if the Government spending cuts go through, I don’t know if I will still have a job or what the effects will be in our office,the Science museum London or the group as a whole but I do know one thing and that is the reason for the possible cuts aren’t down to decisions made in South Kensington but decision made in Westminster.