Photo Post

Kathy and I had the opportunity to tour the greenhouses where the Smithsonian cultivates the flowers and plants used for exhibits and general decoration in all their museums. It was a wonderful way to spend a cold, windy afternoon. Below are a few of my shots. More of mine are in this gallery and Kathy’s much better work is on her site.

Apricots

I was working with a macro lens for the first time and very happy with the way these apricots turned out.

Orchid 2

I don’t know what this plant is called (it was in the orchid house) but I just loved the otherworldliness of it. For some reason it reminds me of a character in the film Beetlejuice.

Eye

I see an eye formed by the water puddled in the center of this plant.

Rubber Gloves

Always looking for the odd image, although I have to give credit to Kathy for spotting this one.

Picture Post #18

A random assortment of my photographs from the past month or so. If you are interested, check out more in my Flickr feed.

Moldy Bench 2

A mouldy bench at the US National Arboretum. There were many of these around the grounds so I guess they are supposed to be part of the experience.

Working

Working on the streets of old town Fredericksburg. It was a nice day for it.

Gifts

These 3D printed balls also had a smaller solid ball printed inside them. They were gifts from the people at the Smithsonian exhibits shop for those of us taking the tour.

Calamondin

A calamondin tree in the herb garden at the US National Arboretum. The fruit is related to the kumquat, has a sour taste, and is far more popular in the Far East than in this country.

Picture Post #12

A few shots from the past couple of weeks. Always more in my Flickr stream.

Craft Festival

The annual Smithsonian Craft Festival, set in the grand hall at the National Building Museum. Next time you are in DC, at least walk through this magnificant space.

Husbands

Husbands in waiting at the Craft Festival. Been there, done that.

Mirror

The floor of the Big Flea Market as reflected in one of the mirrors for sale at the event.

Colorful Swirl

Love the swirl pattern in this antique bowl for sale at the Big Flea.

Taking My Money Elsewhere

Over the past couple of years, I’ve complained at the Smithsonian more than a few times for doing a rather poor job. Or at least what I see as their job, which is to educate and inform their visitors in the most engaging and interactive way possible.

Although I’m a “friend” of the museum, my annual contribution is not nearly big enough for their administration to care much when I point out their problems and threaten to drop my membership. So, they probably didn’t notice this month when I renewed at a much lower level.

I’m pretty sure that action will trigger a reaction from the computer that regularly spits out the materials asking for more money. It will note what I’ve done with digital sadness and ask me, more than a few times, if I want to reconsider for the sake of this great institution.

What it will not do is cause anyone at the Smithsonian to take a more reflective look at their mission, instead of spending on more public relations. It would be nice to have the kind of money to make that happen.

Give ’em a C+ for Effort

I’ve complained about the Smithsonian Institution more than a few times in this space, specifically about how they do a rather crappy job of educating their visitors, something that should be a primary focus for any museum.

So I was very interested to see a new exhibition called Math Alive that opened last month and about which, I received seven or eight excitedly worded messages, both by regular and electronic mail, from the museum’s marketing department*.

The Band

I’d like to say this is a good start for making the Smithsonian a more interactive learning place but unfortunately, the exhibit is far more misses than hits.  For one thing, it’s not really the start of anything since Math Alive is only a temporary installation, closing less than three months after opening.

Even worse, the exhibit probably won’t be visited by many in their target demographic, families with upper elementary or middle school kids. It’s located in a small space three stories below the mall in a building that is mostly used for offices and meetings. Not in Air and Space, Natural History, or American History, the museums in DC visited by millions each year.

The only redeeming factor of it’s location is that the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater, which presents a variety of children’s programming, is right down the hall. So maybe a few families will take a look at Math Alive before or after the performances they’ve paid to attend.

I’m sure the Smithsonian education staff has been soliciting schools to bring groups of students to visit Math Alive but they’re not likely to get many takers considering we are well into testing season around here and nothing, not even field trips for interactive learning, gets in the way of that.

As to the exhibit itself, the “40 interactives” that “brings to life the real math behind some of the activities children like”, again offers more misses than hits. While a few of the installations are very effective and engaging, most seem to be more about flash and noise than learning mathematical concepts.

Many of the “interactives” are really no better than the web-based activities kids could use in their browser at home. And at least two of the displays, including a centerpiece interactive, were not even working when I visited on the second day the exhibit was open.

Anyway, at this point I guess I’m supposed to give the Smithsonian curators an A for effort and move on. However, considering all the pieces of Math Alive that don’t work (and aside from the technical problems), I’m not sure the designers deserve more than a C+ for both effort and execution.


*Full disclosure: I am a member of the Smithsonian and a donor, although at a relatively low level. Certainly not high enough to influence policies and exhibitions.

The picture is The Band, from my Flickr stream, and shows part of a Math Alive exhibit (another view is here) that’s supposed to connect math and music. It’s one that generates more noise than understanding.