What I Do These Days: A Brief Tour of my Photo Album

I know it’s been awhile since I actually spoke about my work, what I am doing day to day. I’m sorry for that but there’s a good reason – my responsibilities have changed, dramatically, excitingly, but I am not yet ready to describe it.

However, glancing at the photos on my phone today, I realized I could still share a number of photos, with captions, to give you a taste of some of what I’ve been working on (if still absent the exact reasons why – and for that I continue to ask for  your patience).

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This is a 3D print of a bat skull. Working with AMNH Mammologist Nancy Simmons, and colleagues at the Burke Museum, we are exploring ways to bring CT scans (in this case, of bats) into both our classrooms (as with the Visualizing Science course) and to our visitors (through Hall-based carts). These prints are MUCH bigger than the original animal but that of course allows us to observe small aspects in greater detail – and put out finger in its mouth to feel those teeth!

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Youth in our new Visualizing Science course go behind the scenes with Nick Tailby in the Division of Physical Sciences, to explore their labs. This five-month long after school course is introducing youth to how scientists across the Museum disciplines utilize digital tools of science visualization in their research, from Anthropology and Geology to Paleontology and Mammology.

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The folks from Looking Glass Factory paid us a visit to show us their Holoplayer One and other upcoming AR tools. Here is a frog (or is it a toad?) and as you rotate your head right and left you can watch it change over its lifespan. (And yes, I just happened to have a handy seltzer siphon to make it look like it spent its years waiting to be spritzed.)

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I spoke earlier about our exploration of how to utilize CT scans – a form of digital specimens developed and researched by AMNH scientists – into both our youth programs and into our Halls. One approach is to put these scans (of bat skulls) onto touch tables. This a photo in our temporary development space; I look forward to getting this table in front of both visitors and our youth learners next month to see what they take from the experience.

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These are youth in our Visualizing Science course learning about some of the earlier tools scientists used to visualize science, looking at archived books from the 17th century, like Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (the first book to illustrate insects and plants as seen through a microscope). This special room in our research library requires two people, each with their own key, in order to gain access.

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Taking inspiration from the influential Google-staff authored book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, we spent two afternoons recently sprinting over 5 hours through a design process that generated ideas taking to the next level our early prototype for visitor interactions with astro data on our Astrobulletin screen. This photos shows more than two dozen ideas we generated, with different colored and sized stickers used to focus our attention on the strongest ideas.

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Yes, bat skulls again – the same CT scan series shown above. This is another exploration of ways to use CT scans for learning – using a mobile app viewing what I call tangible augmented reality (using that Holocube on the left side) to trigger the experience of holding and investigating the skull to support a scientific investigation. And yes, this is in the Hall of New York State Mammals, on carts, in-front of a display of bats (to offer the experience in context).

 

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Caught in Time: a photo booth project (Space, Dinos, African Elephants, Together)

Check out the entire Caught in Time Project here or start at the beginning. Or visit the full set on Pinterest here.

Eric from NSCLET (National Center for Science Literacy, Education and Technology) was game to join me for a series of photos. His initial inclination was to do a diorama hall but then settled on one particular display: the African elephants in the center of the Hall of African Mammals.

Photo 1: Dinos

Photo 2: Space

Photo 3: Partner’s choice (African Elephants, with us trying to avoid their stampede)

Photo 4: Together (and exhausted from such an adventurous trip to the Museum…)

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360 Videos in Museums: Shot 5 – Camera as Clock at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

In our fifth in this series of interviews with museum staff around the country about their use of 360 videos, this time we hear from Caroline Record, Creative Technologist at the Innovation Studio at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, where she specializes in designing and developing software for custom exhibit-facing projects. Today I spoke with her about their use of 360 videos in  something they call the Light Clock project.

Light clock in the HallWhen did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

I started exploring 360 video as the web component of the larger Light Clock project. First I will back up and explain the project as a whole.

The Hillman Photography Initiative invited the Innovation Studio to imagine a project that embodied the broad theme of a “camera as a clock for seeing”. We made a town center “clock” in the front plaza of the Carnegie Museum of Art that, rather than telling time, had a single continuously swooping solitary hand. The hand made a rotation every 5 minutes at which point the clock would take a 360 picture of the plaza.

The Light Clock. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo by Bryan Conley.

The Light Clock. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo by Bryan Conley.

An interactive visualization directly inside the museum lobby placed the museum visitor in a semi circle of screens where they could navigate around the 360 view by physically rotating their bodies left and right. The visualization didn’t display a single static 360 image, instead it displayed a constantly shifting remix of all the imagery the clock had collected up to that point. Every time the clock took a picture it would momentarily flash onto the screen, so that if you took a picture outside with the clock you could have an opportunity to see it.

The project was ambitious and had several interesting technical components. I was the creative and technical lead on the project and we created all the software and design plans in house. One of the biggest challenges was finding a robust 360 outdoor affordable camera that I could interface with through our software. I ended up working directly with a security camera manufacturer and designing a custom rig to stitch the two 180 cameras into a single 360 dome.

I wrote the software in C++ and it required a powerful computer to run well, so making a full web version would have been a significant project. Instead I modified the code I already wrote to export 360 video that could be shared and embedded via Youtube and Facebook.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

It was a remix of time lapse imagery taken from outside the Carnegie Museum of Art.

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

Warning: I’m going to get technical about this!

We created a custom outdoor 360 camera by mounting two 180 security cameras back to back. The cameras are triggered to save a recording to a SD card via a hard wired contact switch that is triggered every time the clock hand makes a rotation. We use the camera’s api to automatically take a screenshot from the recording. Then we use the imageMagick command line tool to mask and edit the photos. Finally we used the hugin command line tool to stitch these two images together into a single equirectangular image. Onsite my software would read in different days based off of the weather data and change the point of view based off the visitor’s movement.

To make the 360 video I wrote another version of the software that remixed all the imagery together and exported each frame as a still. Since the imagery was 4k I couldn’t edit it using my version of Adobe Premiere, so instead I used the FFmpeg command line tool to turn all of these stills into a video that we could upload to Facebook and Youtube as a 360 video.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

The project as a whole was designed for people passing through the museum plaza and museum visitors in general. It was meant to appeal to the photography-curious as well as more expert photographers alike.

 

Wall label for the Light Clock. Photo by Jeffrey Inscho.

Wall label for the Light Clock. Photo by Jeffrey Inscho.

The web version was designed to be shared via the museum’s Youtube and Facebook page. So far the Facebook version has been viewer several thousand times and the Youtube one several hundred.

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Caught in Time: a photo booth project (Space, Dinos, Hall of Asian People, Together)

Check out the entire Caught in Time Project here or start at the beginning. Or visit the full set on Pinterest here.

Okay, the second one this year was MUCH easier to get than the first. Matt, from the Digital Team, had his son, Ori, with him for the day. Always easy for me to ask a parent with their child if they want to have a bit of fun. Earlier in the day Ori had been to the Hall of Asian People and wanted us to respond to a memorable exhibit there.

Photo 1: Dinos

Photo 2: Space

Photo 3: Partner’s choice (Matt’s son Ori chose the Hall of Asian People, specifically a diorama displaying something being carried)

Photo 4: Together

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Caught in Time: a photo booth project (Space, Dinos, Hall of Human Origins, Together)

Check out the entire Caught in Time Project here or start at the beginning. Or visit the full set on Pinterest here.

Holy cow! It’s been so much harder to pull these off than I thought. Once a week, I thought, no problem. Oh, what an understatement. Walking up to colleagues and asking them to take a photo is not easy! It can be awkward, and there’s NO easy transition (it’s not like we’re always talking about photo booths or anything). And it’s not like I work next to one – I only pass it twice a day, when I enter work and when I leave for the subway home.

So yeah, it’s not as easy as I thought but I still plan to keep this up over 2018, shooting for 1 a week. Let’s see what happens next.

Photo 1: Outer Space

Photo 2: Dinos

Photo 3: Partner’s choice (Nick chose Hall of Human Origins – so I showed my fingers…)

Photo 4: Together

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360 Videos in Museums: Shot 4 – Student Tour-making at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

In our fourth in this series of interviews with museum staff around the country about their use of 360 videos, this time we hear from Katy Noelle Scott, Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who is not just offering visitors 360 videos but supporting youth to use the aquarium to make their very own.

Katy, when did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

We started exploring 360 images and video shortly after Google Cardboard was first released about three years ago.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

As an educator, my goal is to have students create things to communicate their learning. So we work with teachers and students to leverage free and low-cost tools to create their own 360 images and tours. We have students use their own phones (or one of our department’s iPod Touches) to capture 360 images of an exhibit or outdoor space they connect with. We then support them in connecting multiple student images to create their own 360 tour of a place, such as the Aquarium.

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

For students and teachers, they can simply use their smartphone or iPod Touch. They can use the free app Cardboard Camera to create an almost-360 image with their own narration. They can also use the free Google Street View app to create full 360-degree images. After their images are created, they can export them into Roundme to connect the images into a tour of the space.

In addition to these options, we have also had students in our on-site teen programs use our Ricoh Theta S and GoPro Fusion cameras to capture higher quality images and videos.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

Some teachers are creating 360 tours for their students, to better prepare them for field trips. This is especially helpful for students with special needs. Students create the tours to share with their peers, other classes, other teachers, and their families.

What are you hoping 360 video will help you or the museum to achieve?

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean. All of our education programs are designed to help students connect with the natural world. We know that one way to do that is by helping students develop a strong connection to outdoor spaces in their own communities. We hope that, through curriculum like “A 360 Sense of Place,” we can support teachers in helping students develop such connections. We also hope that students who create such tours while on a field trip to the Aquarium will be able to maintain a connection to our exhibits, even when they’re back in their classrooms.

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Prototyping and Evaluation Volunteer Opportunities at the AMNH

We’re trying something new, and just announced openings at the American Museum of Natural History for prototyping and evaluation volunteers!

The Museum is expanding how we prototype and evaluate innovative visitor engagement activities (some digital, some analog). The Education Department is looking for skilled, perceptive, and sociable evaluation volunteers to observe and interview visitors engaged in these new programs and projects. Last fiscal year, for example, we spent 57 hours over 34 sessions observing over 1,000 people (and interviewing over 500 of them – more on those efforts here). We are now looking for a team of volunteers who can be called upon once a month to participate in collecting data with us to inform our findings and recommendations.

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If you’re interested in or would like to learn more about volunteering to help collect evaluation data for these programs and projects, please e-mail me at digitallearning@amnh.org. Please include whether you prefer a weekend or weekday sessions (or both) and what, if any, prototyping or evaluation skills you might bring with you (students studying these practices in school are welcome to apply).

Details:

Family Game Night, Public Programs, 3/31/2017You can learn more about all volunteer opportunities at the Museum here.

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