100" Multitouch Table, EM Spectrum Exhibit

Update: October 28, 2009. See a new post with video and images of the 100″ table in action.

We’ve begun work on our most ambitious multitouch exhibit to date. We are building a 100″ table for Adventure Science Center’s Sudekum Planetarium in Nashville, Tennessee. The design is based on our MT2 multitouch table. For this custom installation, we are doubling the current form factor to create our largest multitouch surface to date. Of course, doubling the size involves a number of significant changes.

The 100″ multitouch table will use two high-resolution projectors, yielding a combined resolution of 2500 x 720. The two projected images will be blended together using a specialized video card producing a seamless 7:2 ratio, ultra-wide screen image.

The table design has been modified to include a contiguous glass surface with rounded edges and wrap around powder-coated black panels. Underneath, bright blue LED lights provide “ground effects.” We’ve been working with Adventure Science Center and our design partners at Ralph Applebaum and Associates to finalize the look of the 100″ table.


The exhibit will be multitouch and multiuser. The table will present a representation of the electromagnetic spectrum from Radio to Gamma-Rays. The visible spectrum appears in the center of the table.

Visitors (up to 8 or more simultaneously) will be able interact with images of terrestrial and celestial  objects that appear on the table surface. Visitors can rotate, scale and move the images across the table. As images pass from one wavelength to another, a new image is revealed showing the object as it appears in the new wavelength.  Contextual metadata will allow visitors to learn more about the image(s) they are interacting with.

The exhibit can be approached from either side.  Wavelength “drawers” can be popped-out revealing more information about the wavelength the visitor is exploring.

We’re using Natural User Interface’s Snowflake software for optical support and for “blob tracking.” The exhibit uses two computers.  One will do blob tracking, recognizing visitors finger tips on the table surface. The other computer will run the EM spectrum application, which we are developing in Adobe Flash. We’ll post more about this exhibit as we continue to make progress.


Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE)

Recently we helped redesign the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) website. CAISE is a NSF-funded center “devoted to advancing and improving informal science education (ISE) in its many and varied forms.” As part of this effort, we worked closely with CAISE to conduct video interviews with principal investigators (PIs) of four NSF-sponsored projects in Washington D.C.

The full video interviews appear on the CAISE site, and introductory clips are on YouTube. Below is the introductory clip interview with Frances Nankin a producer of Cyberchase, the popular educational television show on PBS.

Next year, we’ll likely be interviewing other PIs as we continue to work with CAISE. To see the full interviews, or to learn more about the center, visit the CAISE website.


KQED QUEST's Next Step

A new and improved version of  KQED’s QUEST Website, which we helped to develop, is now live. QUEST is an ambitious project utilizing all of KQED’s platforms to not only broadcast science and nature programming, but to also build a community supporting further exploration in the area. Ideum worked with KQED to design a website promoting community participation via an interactive mashup-driven website.

The most recent version of QUEST includes a number of improvements intended to simplify the navigation of the site’s ever-expanding content. With nearly 100 television broadcasts and around 65 online radio broadcasts, the initial sort features (time based) became difficult to use. The radio/television tab can now be filtered by topic and type and the main map features the latest five items instead of search features.


You’ll also notice that blog posts are now displayed as items on the main site’s map – a feature we were able to implement using data from the geopress plugin for WordPress. This feature means that all of KQED’s great content can now be available within the Google Map Mashup. Since the purpose of KQED QUEST is to explore “the stories behind Bay Area science, nature and environmental issues,” this addition makes perfect sense. Take a look at the KQED site or check out  KQED Quest in our portfolio to learn more.


Introducing Open Exhibits: Tell Us About Exhibits in Your Museum

Open Exhibits QuestionnaireWe are in the process of writing our first National Science Foundation grant proposal to fund Open Exhibits, a project that will allow us to develop, test, and disseminate three open source software templates that will allow museum professionals’ to assemble electronic exhibits for the museum floor. The Open Exhibits templates, as well as the source code, training opportunities, and prototype exhibits, will be made freely available to museums. The exhibits will be built using ActionScript 3 and Flex.

We are seeking feedback from museum professionals so we can tailor our project to meet the needs of the field. We have put together a survey to help us assess those needs: to gain insight into the state of electronic exhibits at a variety of museums, to gauge interest in the Open Exhibits software templates, and to better understand museums’ technical expertise and constraints.If you are a museum professional, please take a few minutes to complete the survey — and please help us spread the word about it. It will take about 20 minutes and we will share the results with everyone who participates. We will also keep you updated about the status of Open Exhibits.

Update: The survey was closed on May 10, 2008.


Remembering Artist and Educator Bob Miller

Just yesterday I heard the news that Bob Miller died on Sunday. He was an artist, exhibit developer and educator, and an important part of the Exploratorium experience. Bob developed the inspirational “Sun Painting” exhibit where sunlight goes through a series of mirrors and prisms to create a dynamic “painting.”

lightwalk.jpgYears ago, I was lucky enough to participate in one of Bob’s famous “Light Walks.” You can see the online version for a description of the light walk, but it is only that – a description. For those who’ve participated, the light walk is a powerful experience and a Website hardly does it justice. While I don’t know how many people have been lucky enough to participate in this walk with Bob over the years, I was happy to see a post on the Exploratorium Explainers Blog talking about going on the light walk just last September.

Another blog post at Asymptotia, Remembering Bob Miller includes a great article about Bob Miller written by K.C. Cole. Bob Miller will be missed.


ExhibitFiles – New Features Available

We’ve just completed a series of changes to the ExhibitFiles website including: improved “member contacts,” better commenting, and enhanced member profiles. It’s now possible to include blog feeds and flickr thumbnails in your profile. You can see mine here, or click below.


Along with improvements to profiles and commenting, a new search feature was developed. While the ExhibitFiles is only a couple of months old, there are already over 40 case studies and reviews and more than 200 members. Finding the right exhibit or a colleague’s profile was becoming increasingly difficult. The new search feature allows you to conduct a full-text search or you can click on a topic, institution, or individual in a case study or review to bring back results. For example, clicking an exhibit focus such as “Science” brings back the 15 records that share that focus.


We’re still fine tuning the search feature, but we hope this and other new features will help the ExhibitFiles continue to grow and make it even easier to use.


Real Science 2.0: Interacting with Scientific Imagery and Live Data

seawifs.jpgToday I’m conducting two half-day workshops at the Museums and the Web Conference in San Francisco. This blog post contains the workshop description and the course materials for Real Science 2.0, there’s another post for Museum Mashups.

In case you’re wondering, the colorful image of the Pacific Ocean on the left comes from NASA’s SeaWIFS and MODIS/Aqua missions. The bright colors show chlorophyll concentrations in the water.

Workshop Description
Originally developed as tool to help scientists share information, the World Wide Web continues to be an important mode of communication for scientific inquiry. Rich scientific data-sets in a variety of fields are publicly available, and can provide a unique catalyst for learning. As the Internet continues to evolve, there are new opportunities for science centers to develop rich web resources which can connect visitors to scientific imagery and data.

Science Centers can act as mediators, organizing information across scientific disciplines and providing tools for understanding complex scientific research. Users can gain a unique insight into the scientific process and Science Centers can do what they do best – make science understandable and interesting to the public. With a new generation of interactive and social technologies available, Science Centers are presented with new challenges and possibilities.

Developing online resources that mine datasets from “real” scientific endeavors can help explain the scientific process with a unique relevancy. Furthermore these types of resources can provide a link, both actual and metaphoric, to the scientific community.

This half-day workshop will explore in technical, educational, and design aspects of incorporating datasets, with a focus on real-time images and datasets. We’ll explore some of the technical aspects of developing rich online experiences in Macromedia Flash, as well as other approaches that incorporate Web 2.0 technologies such as mashups, blogs, rss feeds, and community sites. We’ll present examples and discuss various technical approaches to incorporating these types of data and ways in which visitors can interact with and manipulate scientific imagery.

Beyond the technical aspects, we’ll look at the content questions and design considerations involved in utilizing these types of data in public websites and exhibits. After all, scientific datasets are produced for scientists, not for the general public. Through a rapid design exercise, we’ll explore some of the questions concerning how data are presented, mediated, and made available for public audiences.

Bookmarks (for this workshop and Museum Mashups):

The Presentation (the activity is not included):
(1.8 megs)


The complete list of NASA Podcasts

Back in 2005, we developed a video podcast for NASA’s Sun-Earth Education Forum (see Traditions of the Sun). Soon after we were invited to became part of listserv which included everyone who podcasts at NASA. A master list of all NASA podcasts has been compiled and floating around the group for sometime now but it has ever been published. I asked Bryan Walls who administers the group if we could publish it, knowing it would be of interest to some of you.

Here’s what should be a complete list of all NASA sponsored public podcasts.

1. Ask an Astronomer Videos from SIRTF/CalTech (XML | iTunes) Format: M4V (H.264, 320×240, AAC 44.1 Stereo, 650 kbps typical) Started: October ’05 Average length: 2 minutes Active: Yes

2. Brain Bites Ask NASA from Johnson Space Center (XML) Format: M4V (H.264, 320×180, AAC 44.1) Started: November ’05 Average Length: 1 minute Active: No

3. Chandra Podcasts from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (XML| iTunes) Format: M4V (H.264, 320×213, AAC 44.1, 680 kbps typical) Started: May ’06 Average Length: 5 minutes Active: Yes

4. Ciencia @ NASA from Marshall Space Flight Center (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (32kbps mono) Started: Sept ’05 Average Length: 6minutes Active: Yes

5. Hidden Universe of the Spitzer Space Telescope from SIRTF/CalTech (XML | iTunes) Format: MP4 (H.264, 320×234, AAC Stereo 44.1) Started: May ’06 Average Length: 3.5 minutes Active: Yes

6. Hubblecast from ESA/Hubble Institute (XML | iTunes) Format: N/A Started: Feb ’07 Average Length: 5.5 minutes Active: Yes

7. NASA Aeronautics Research Technical Seminars from Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s (ARMD) (RSS | iTunes) Format: MP4 (H.264, 320×234, AAC Stereo 44.1) Started: Nov ’06 Average Length: 1.3 hours Active: Yes

8. NASA Astrobiology Magazine from Goddard Space Flight Center (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (32 kHz, 64.1 kbps, Mono) Started: June ’05 Average Length: 7.5 minutes Active: No

9. NASA Digital Learning Network Podcast (XML | iTunes) Format: M4V (320×240 or 320×180, Stereo 44.1 kHz) Started: July ’06 Average Length: 6 minutes Active: Yes

10. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Podcast (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (128 kbps Stereo) Started: Dec ’05 Average Length: 8 minutes Active: No

11. NASA Edge Vodcast from Langely Research Center (RSS) Format: MP4 (320×180, 128kbps, AAC Stereo) Started: Mar ’07 Average Length: 30 minutes Active: Yes

12. NASA Student Opportunities from NASA Education (RSS | iTunes) Format: MP3 (128 kpbs mono) Started: Feb ’07 Average Length: 10 minutes Active: Yes

13. NASA’s Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum from Goddard Space Flight Center (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (96 kbps Stereo) or M4V (H.264 320×213, AAC 44.1) Started: Dec ’05 Average Length: 3 minutes Active: Yes

14. NASACast from Headquarters (RSS | iTunes) Format: MP3 (128 kbps Stereo) Started: Sept ’05 Average Length: 6 minutes Active: Yes

15. NASACast Video from Headquarters (RSS | iTunes) Format: mp4 (MPEG-4, 320×236, AAC 44.1 Stereo, 950 kbps typical) Started: Oct ’05 Average Length: 6 minutes Active: Yes

16. PlanetQuest – the Search for Another Earth from Jet Propulsion Laboratory (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (44.1 kHz, 160 kbps) Started: Sept ’05 Average Length: 2.5 minutes Active: Yes

17. Robotics Alliance Project F.I.R.S.T. Competition 2006 from Ames Research Center (XML | iTunes) Format: MP4 (MPEG-4, 320×240, AAC 24, 590 kbps typical) Started: Mar ’06 Average Length: 1 hour Active: No

18. Robotics Alliance Project F.I.R.S.T. Competition 2007 from Ames Research Center (XML | iTunes) Format: MP4 (MPEG-4, 320×240, AAC 24, 590 kbps typical) Started: Mar ’07 Average Length: 1 hour Active: Yes

19. The Rovercast from Stennis Space Center (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (44.1 kHz, 160 kbps) Started: July ’06 Average Length: 1.5 minutes Active: Yes

20. Science @ NASA Feature Stories Podcast from Marshall Space Flight Center (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (44.1 kHz, 56 kbps, Mono) Started: Dec ’04 Average Length: 1.5 minutes Active: Yes

21. Skywatch/Hubble Watch from STScI/NPR/WYPR 88.1 FM (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (22.05 kHz, 48 kbps, Stereo) Started: Sept ’05 Average Length: 4 minutes Active: Yes

22. Space Place Musings from Jet Propulsion Laboratory (RSS | iTunes) Format: MP3 (48 kHz, 128 kbps, Stereo) Started: July ’06 Average Length: 5 minutes Active: Yes

23. Spitzer Space Telescope Podcasts from SIRTF/IPAC/CalTech (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (22.05 kHz, 48 kbps, Stereo) Started: Aug ’05 Average Length: 6 minutes Active: Yes

24. Traditions of the Sun from Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum (XML | iTunes) Format: M4V (H.264, 320×213, AAC 44.1, 560 kbps typical) Started: Aug ’05 Average Length: 3 minutes Active: No

25. W. M. Keck Observatory from Keck/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (XML | iTunes) Format: MP3 (22.05 kHz, 56 kbps, Stereo) Started: Aug ’05 Average Length: 6 minutes Active: Yes


Mashup of the Day and other thoughts

KQED Quest is the Mashup of the Day on the Programmable Web site, the authoritative directory of mashups and Web 2.0 APIs (application programming interface). Two other Ideum design sites appear in the directory as well: The American Image: The Photographs of John Collier Jr. and Recycle Torrance. As the Programmable Web shows, we are not alone in experimenting with mashups, the number continues to rise and recently surpassed 1,500 mashups.

While we’re on the topic, a few thoughts to share about mashup design. What draws us to mashups is the ability rapidly and cost effectively develop complex user-experiences. A few years ago we developed a custom mapping program in Adobe Flash for the Traditions of the Sun: Chaco Culture website, developing this as a mashup would have saved hundreds of hours in programming time. (The mashup services were simply not available when we created the site.) In addition, using a well-known service such as Google Maps also means that users are more likely to be familiar with them. Visitors know how to pan and zoom, change from map to satellite view, and so on. Not having to develop an entire user-interface from scratch is a major plus. Again, reducing further development time.

With sites like Flickr, the attraction is the ability to store, manage and share content. For the American Image project, having a ready-made database with a built in content-management system, allowed us to focus on other aspects of the project. The fact that we could also connect with the Flickr community has turned out to be a factor in the success of the project. So far, more people have seen John Collier Jr.’s work on Flickr then on the American Image site itself.

While this all is very positive, there are some drawbacks. You have to include the service site’s branding, there is a bit of learning curve in mashup development at first, and there can be technical limitations and obstacles in using an API as opposed to developing something from scratch. One major issue we ran into repeatedly with the KQED Quest mashups was Javascript implementation across various browsers: IE 6 and 7 and Apple’s Safari were all problematic at different times.

I’ll be posting more about mashups in the coming weeks, as I begin prepare for two half-day workshops for the Museums and the Web conference. I’ll be teaching: Museum Mashups and Real Science 2.0 Interacting with scientific imagery and live data at the conference which is held April in San Francisco.


National Digital Forum: Day 2 – Opening the gates: new opportunities in online collections

phcollection.jpgIn the afternoon of Day 2, Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney presented on their innovative collections database. Seb started out by taking about visitor expectations have changed when comes to what they might be able to find on museum website and how they might browse collections.
Seb cited Amazon and Last FM as examples of sites that provide visitors with “recommended” items, assisting users to browse materials within a collection as influential sites in developing their own collections database. The Powerhouse’s early experiences in developing electronic exhibits on the museum floor which accessed their internal collections database also helped move their thinking along.

The Powerhouse Museum Collection 2.0 employs social technologies such as tagging and as well as search tracking. The search tracking feature is perhaps the most interesting one, providing “similar searches” for visitors based on the keywords that other visitors have used in accessing the collection. (This is a feature that we may want to incorporate for the ExhibitFiles project to help visitors find records in what will eventually be a very large collection.)

Since the Collections launch in June 14th 2006, the traffic to the Powerhouse museum website has nearly doubled and amazingly 95% of all available objects were visited at least once in the first month. Users have added 3,000 user tags of which about 100 tags had to be “moderated” mostly for spelling errors. In addition, the Powerhouse has seen tripling of public inquires including the correction of old records.

Seb finished up by showing Powerhouse’s Design Hub website, which has design-related objects at its core. Currators provide narratives discussing items in the collection. The search function brings back articles, collection items, and even items from other collections. They hope to add 30 new collections from other museums to design hub by 2008.

If you read this blog regularly, you might remember that Seb presented via video conference in the New Web course that I taught in Victoria, BC a couple of weeks ago. Jim Groom did a great job of summarizing the presentation and discussion on his bavatuesdays blog, The Powerhouse Museum: The Name Says it All.

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