Cabinets of Wonder

Diorama Assignment - A Kid's Halloween

Our assignment was to build a diorama around any subject of our choice. Since it was nearly Halloween, I chose to build my diorama around my second favorite holiday. I have many fond memories of trick-or-treating as a kid, I wanted to bring build the experience of being in the dark and seeing all the fun lights that I had had from then.  

The Making Of

I took a shoe box and cut out the back to push up against my computer screen. I had found a beautiful image of a house decorated for Halloween like many people do in the US for the holiday (source). I then tried to build a story with a brother and sister standing on the sidewalk trying to decide whether to go to the house or not to trick-or-treat. I did this with a few toys and crafts I found at a Michael's. To add to the 3D, I added more decorations to the extended 'lawn' from the shoebox. 

Initially I had wanted to include a car, but I found ones that didn't look real enough since the real looking car models were very large and blocked the details of the scene. If I were to rebuild this, I would like to see if I could add mini strobe lights from an Arduino and include features like scents and a breeze to make the feeling of Halloween more realistic.


This was the caption I included for the diorama: 

The origins of trick or treating can be traced back on the Celtic tradition of Samhain, where villagers disguised themselves to drive away supernatural visitors. This evolved into a custom called mumming in the Middle Ages - people would dress as demons and ghosts and perform tricks in exchange for food and drink. A similar tradition exists in Britain for Guy Fawkes Day, which carried over to the American colonies, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that Halloween was truly popularized. Halloween is now the second largest commercial holiday.

Looking back at it now, I would probably rewrite this to be a bit more playful and capture the spirit of Halloween in America, which is what this scene was designed around. 

Final Thoughts

I really liked making this project, and one of my favorite features is how the lights of the computer screen lit up the scene when ambient lights were off; what I wanted to create was the sense of what it was like to walk between houses after dark and enjoying the neighborhood decorations with other kids roaming around. I would definitely rewrite the caption and add more detail to the diorama, but I loved being able to build this homage to a piece of my childhood

Trip Report - The Guggenheim and the Met

I went to the Guggenheim and the Met for my two art galleries. The Guggenheim unfortunately was cut short; a new exhibit was being installed to open on Oct 10 so only a few galleries were open, but I still got some interesting observations.

The Guggenheim

What really caught my attention about the Guggenheim was howloud the museum was. Most art museums and galleries I’ve seen have been relatively quietly, so this was a surprise – I attribute it to having all visitors confined to a few galleries but still! People were marching along the walls of the gallery in a messy queue, which dictated navigation for the most part. There were three types of behaviors: people who were there to soak in the art (these were relatively few given the crowds), people who stood in front of the painting listening to their audio tour guides, and people who were discussing the art with. The audio tour guide listeners threw the slow marching line off because they would stand right in front of the art and not move at all; other visitors were forced to go around them or wedge their way through in order to see the art. There wasn’t much of a chance to really take it all in.

The galleries were all essentially the same in terms of their design: white walls, marble floors, and minimal captions. The idea was to let the art speak for itself I suppose but most of the art was unfamiliar to me. What I could recognize I enjoyed, but I think if you wanted to learn more about the art that you had to rely on the audio guide to do so. Not sure if that’s the best solution but having seen seemingly never ending captions this was okay for me.

It’s hard to come to a conclusion of what experiencing the Guggenheim is really like because I think these were unusual circumstances, so I may have to go back at another time. However, I will say that based on how long the audio tour followers were standing in front of a painting that there’s probably an opportunity for redesign there to prevent the blockages they were causing.

The Met

I didn’t remember I’d been to the Met when I was in high school, but even after I entered I was still gaping at the sheer size of the entry much like I did at AMNH. But if I had to sum up my experience there, I would say it was like all the problems I’d had at AMNH had been put on steroids. The Met is so massive and impossible to navigate that I had to stare at the map several times to even understand what was going on. Whoever designed the map needs to get a design review because making heads or tails of it was a struggle. The Met is a museum where I desperately wished for a mobile map that could help me track where I was going (there is an iOS third party library that does something like this) so that I could plan my time spent there better.

I went to a few of the galleries there, but the art gallery I went to was the European art one. I spent a lot of time there… but some of that was unintentional due to the inability to navigate. If I thought finding my way through the big exhibits was hard, the art gallery was a labyrinth. Unlike the Guggenheim, this galleries walls were painted varying shades of dark grey – it was as if the designer had attempted to get the same shade across all the rooms but ended up getting a few cans that were just slightly off. This did highlight the frames very nicely and bring the colors out, whereas the white walls of the Guggenheim almost dulled the paintings. The gallery for the most part was very quiet and had benches in most every room for visitors to sit and relax in. I myself felt a bit more relaxed with the quieter setting, but as more people filed into the gallery the noise level increased significantly which took away a little from my experience.

Something that I noticed in one of the rooms was that a few paintings had iPads next to them with video playlists pulled up. I wonder if that was an attempt to encourage visitor engagement as I don’t think there’s an audio tour, but I also question having something like that in an art gallery where it’s not meant to be too noisy. In any case, one of the iPads I saw had somehow been messed with; someone had managed to navigate away from the museum’s app and into the Clock app, but you couldn’t navigate away because the iPad was locked into the stand. Whoops!

The Met didn’t seem to have a ton of kids running around, but I was surprised by the amount of toddlers and babies there. I suppose it makes sense because the Met felt like ‘an adult museum’ – where NYSCI and AMNH invite kids to tinker or dream about other places, the Met is at its worst a curated warehouse of items with big long captions at a height that isn’t kid friendly at all (at it’s best it’s a very long walking tour full of interesting objects). Toddler and kids on the other hand get driven around in strollers or carried by adults who take in the art. But I think that ultimately the Met is very unsuccessful in that it has way too many things to show at times. For example, the Egypt exhibit was tedious to me. I love history, but navigating through endless shelves of what seemed like the same artifact over and over again was not pleasant. The art gallery in particular was another offender, but I think what exacerbated my frustration with it was the lack of context. I was looking at all these beautiful pieces, but there was nothing to tell me about the era. I could make guesses from the subjects of the art itself, but that’s not a good way to gauge what life was like when these pieces were created.

The Met does do a nice job of trying to build the exhibit environment to be immersive. The Roman Art and some of the surrounding areas do a good job of trying to create an immersive environment with some of their interior design choices; the Roman one in particular stood out to me as a sharp contrast to the art exhibit and some of the bigger exhibits in that it made me feel like I was surrounded by beautiful art in an area that I wanted to be in – it was themed appropriately (it reminded me of a courtyard) but didn’t take away from the objects on display. My favorite part of the Met for me was the Arms and Armors exhibit – there are some incredible weapons on display and the work is just beautiful. I could stare at it for a long time, though it would eventually tire me out with how dim the lighting was in the side wings of the exhibit; the main hall was lucky to have a glass ceiling that let in a lot of natural light.

I would be terrified to go back to the Met because despite the nice points of it, the navigation issue is what I end up remembering the most vividly. The frustration and crowd dodging left a big impression. The lack of signage and the confusing map are big sore spots for me – when those get fixed, let me know and I’ll think about going back.

Assignment - Historical Google in 2114

Assignment: It’s 2114. Write a detailed review/description of a historic house/ place museum about the way we live now. Think of the Tenement Museum and other historical houses you have seen. Be clear on the experience—the wayfinding, the media, the content, what are the stories, how does the audience experience it.

An excerpt from the theoretical website

Plan Your Visit

Guided Tours

All visitors check in at the Visitors Center, where you can purchase tickets for specialized guided tours. Guided tours delve more deeply into subjects such as the technology boom in the Bay Area, the increased housing prices and the cultural clash, and more as they take you through the building and follow the story of an employee who witnessed the beginning and end of Google. You can sit in the office of the founders, play with early models of Android smartphones from the era, and much more!

Self Guided Tours

Walk around the building with former employees of the startup as they tell the tale of its rise and fall. Visitors can walk at their own pace as they follow the series of projected employees and relive a day in their lives, including sampling some of the free food Google offered to their employees and participating in meetings.


My Trip to Historic Google 

I chose to go to Historic Google for my Cabinets of Wonder assignment this weekend and wow was the place big! Luckily I had done my research and downloaded the map of Google to my augmented device so that I could see the map overlay on the campus. Navigating the Google website was pretty easy, though I guess they designed it in the style of Google’s design from the 2010’s because it looked a little archaic. It also wasn’t SmartTable enabled, I had to browse it in a tablet (a misguided attempt to be nostalgic maybe?).

It turns out I didn’t need the map because the paths were pretty clearly marked as to how to get to the visitor’s center once I connected to Google’s visitor system. The campus looks pretty untouched from what it looked like back then, but they have managed to install sensors to project on top of the sidewalk and path; when I arrived on the teleportation platform, it immediately brought up the light overlay on the sidewalk. It took me maybe five minutes to walk to the visitor’s center; without the navigation projection I probably would have taken fifteen or twenty minutes to get there since the visitor’s center is tucked away in what I now know is the old reception area for the main Google campus.

Visitors have several options explore Google – you can go on your own or take a guided tour. I opted to do the ‘Day in the Life of a Googler’ guided tour since that one had been recommended to me, and it was a good choice! The tour guide met us at the Visitor’s Center and offered us a free sample of some of the snacks and drinks they had back then. The tour guide then started to talk about the history of Google and the impact it had on Bay Area culture, such as starting the industry standard of offering employees free meals and other things to keep them happy (companies didn’t offer their employees free food in the past? Really? Glad that doesn’t happen anymore). The tour guide walked us through the life of Marissa Meyer, who was one of the first employees at Google – there were projection points where they actually had Marissa talk about her life as a Googler and why she left. The tour guide also told stories about Marissa herself, so it was nice to get hear about her from an unbiased (well, as unbiased as history can be) perspective as well as hear what she herself had to say.

As we walked around, it was fascinating to see how well preserved Google. The museum restored a lot of the old software to working order, and the tour guide let us explore it for a little bit. My favorite was the old booth where you can step in and fly around the earth based on Google’s mapping technology back then – graphics have come a long way since then, but the enclosed space with the simulated muffled sounds of people walking around and talking behind you along with the smell of coffee made it really feel like I lived in that moment back then. I had turned my tech off, so it felt like I had a moment to just take in the memory and get an idea of what it was like to be someone from back then.

Navigation was pretty easy; we relied on the guide to take us around but I think that even without him I could find my way around. He took us through some of the galleries that were reserved for the guided tours, but when I was in the self guided galleries  it was easy to reintegrate with Google’s visitor system after I was done with the tour. It was easy to get from exhibit to exhibit in an order that made sense even without the visitor system since the exhibits seem to have been created around the same time. Additionally there were signs to help direct as well, and I think this dates back to before the augmented systems were invented so people could get directions without having to ask someone. The museum even pulled up suggestions for where I might want to go after the tour based on which tour I’d been on and let me know via my phone where the nearest bathroom was based on my bio-readings. Somehow, even with all the modern modifications, I really did feel like I could live in the moment of old Google (though the fact that Google was a tech company probably made me feel more comfortable).

There was a big mix of people at Google – everyone from kids to older adults were there, though I think the kids were there primarily for the robotics camp being hosted this weekend. Some people were from the area and had stories about their grandparents and great grandparents working at Google, which I overheard as I was walking around after the tour. Some of them even pointed out people they knew in the rooms where you could walk with projections of the employees going about their day.

I expected a lot of interactivity at Google, and I got it both in digital and analog. There was a smartphone exhibit where you could play with the phones and get a sample printed out as a souvenir (which I did). I also got to try some of the experiments from the Google X division. My only complaint was the museum sometimes overloaded my tech with too much information about the devices I was playing with, but luckily I figured out how to minimize the extra information coming in when I wanted to and rely just on some of the captions. It started learning what I was interested in as I was walking along, so I stopped being overwhelmed with extra information.

If I had to describe my Google experience, I’d have to say ‘nostalgic’ and ‘personalized’. The museum did a good job of preserving the environment as best as they could while also offering us modern amenities such as integration with our augmented devices to learn more about things we were interested in. The tour guide definitely had an impact on my experience here because he was full of stories and information that helped bridge the gaps in the information the projections and exhibits provided. I wasn’t able to see all of the museum today, but I would definitely come back to check out the rest of it because there’s so much to learn here. I got what I felt was a pretty informed look at life at Google, but I know that there’s a lot more to learn and I know it’ll be as enjoyable as the last.

Trip Report - Fraunces Tavern

My first experience with Fraunces Tavern was with the website, which looks like a fairly standard WordPress site (it is in fact a WordPress site according to the garbled mess that is their source code). You had to click on the Visit tab to find the hours of operation but the front page tells you that they’re open seven days a week! I briefly browsed around to understand a little of what the tavern was, but didn’t retain too much about it.

The block that the tavern is on is pretty unique – the block is a landmark, so it’s strange to see this piece of colonial era architecture in the midst of Manhattan’s glass and steel. When I arrived, I was little confused by the signs with food menus and the chalkboard street sign with the specials. Kind of anachronistic for the era until I stepped in and realized that the museum is on the the upper floors and the bottom floor is a restaurant. Surprise! That was a detail the website definitely didn’t inform me of; if it did, it was easy to overlook. I went back afterwards to look and the website mentions it casually in the bottom paragraph of the About page. In any case, I made my way up the stairs and to the museum, which covers two floors.

I first explored this museum by myself, but I ran into a tour group in one of the galleries (it was very awkward to be swarmed by what were apparently Danish tourists whilst the tour guide stands behind you and unsuccessfully tries to describe what they were looking at. The phrase “I think” was used liberally, thus proving that tour guides really do make or break a museum experience). There wasn’t any technology in the galleries except for a TV that played a movie. It wasn’t working when I tried to view it, so I can’t say what it was like. There also weren’t very many people in this museum, especially after the tour group left. The visitors that I did see were older people (I’d guess mid to late fifties?). Navigation was relatively simple as you could only walk between two floors and the galleries were mostly unstructured. However, this museum felt cramped and old; where the Tenement had been engaging, this one was just… dull. It wasn’t until one of the docents took me around that I actually felt any connection to what I was looking at. He talked about the history of New York, read from the memoirs of one of Washington’s men, and pointed out special things in the exhibitions as we walked around. It gave the visit a personalized touch, and I found that I learned much more from him talking about the exhibits than from the captions. For example, one of the galleries doesn’t depict the actual scene from Washington’s dinner in New York when the British evacuated the city but all the furniture are from that time period.

I had trouble keeping interest in the objects on display, which were described very lengthy and relatively dry captions. The bright point of my visit was speaking with the docent, but it was not enough to keep me interested in the museum, and seeing the original architecture was also interesting. However, the material doesn’t seem to change at all, so this is the type of museum that I would have very little inclination to see again.

Trip Report - Tenement Museum

I combined the assignment to go outside from the previous week and did two tours – the first was Hard Times and the second was the Foods of the Lower East Side. I had looked at the website first to get an idea of what the tours were like. Unfortunately I was time constrained so that drove the decision making, but the website was actually very handy – you can buy tours by looking at the calendar and seeing the times there. It feels very modern and clean, which amazed me because by comparison AMNH’s site is much more chaotic and that’s a much bigger institution. It did take me two clicks to find the hours of the museum though, but the website set the bar a little higher for my expectations.

I got there a bit early and was able to spend time inside the gift shop – I was able to observe people purchase tickets and pick up reservations for their tours. There are two large screens behind the shop counter that display the tours for the day, and when a tour was about to start the person at the counter would make the announcement and identify the educator that was in charge. The tour groups are pretty small themselves; my group was about ten or so people. It made more sense why they keep the tours small as it went on – the educator was basically all the captions you ever get in a museum and then some. She narrated the entire tour from start to finish, and there were only maybe one or two things that she passed around for us to physically touch and handle. The rest of the time we had a ‘no touch’ policy and had to rely on the educator for learning about what we were looking it. It was definitely an immersive experience doing it this way; while I felt a little disarmed by not having captions to read and take in on my own time, I think that having the tours created an experience that allowed me to really feel like I was living a moment in history rather than experiencing it through multiple glass walls in a sterile environment.

Funnily enough, I had the same educator for the Foods of LES tour. This tour followed a similar format to the first one in that we walked from place to place before stopping and letting the educator talk about the scene we were looking at, though this one came with samples of delicious food. Both this tour and the Hard Times tour had similar audiences – there were some people who were from New York and some who were here from other countries, but all had come here on a recommendation from someone they knew.

It turned out that the educator had designed the Foods of LES tour, so I had a great conversation with her about how the tours are developed – she had done the background research and started to develop this tour when she was interning at the Tenement Museum. She talked about building the relationships with the businesses in the area to tie into the research she had done and how each tour is a unique experience because the educators are the one that have the most impact on what the tour is like. New educators learn from going on tours themselves and learning from other educators, so her style of running the tours was influenced by them.

I really enjoyed the experience I had at the Tenement Museum – it is the most unique museum experience I’ve had so far because I didn’t have to concentrate on things like navigation, caption reading, and subject engagement. These were handled by someone else, so I was able to focus more on what was around me. I had never spent time in the Lower East Side before then so it was a great way to understand how far the neighborhood and New York City itself has come from the time that immigrants were settling into their first homes in America. I had some concerns about how much I would actually learn without having something to read in front of me, but I found that having an educator there made the history more personal and had a longer lasting impact.