Linux for Science Museums
Over the past several years, my son and I have spent a significant amount of volunteer time creating exhibit software for the Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York. This article discusses how this project is similar to other software development projects, how it is different and how using Linux has been beneficial. It's not only about Linux or software; it's also about the processes involved, and what you may encounter if you have the opportunity to work in this type of environment.
Science museum exhibit software must be designed with a different audience from the typical computer program, as the software generally is used in a different manner. My earlier Microsoft Windows-based exhibits—Measurement Factory and Fabulous Features—were designed for children up to approximately sixth grade, while the Linux-based exhibits—Sound Studio and Traffic Jam—were designed for fifth to eighth graders. The software must be simple enough that the target audience understands a significant amount of what they see on the screen and how it relates to the exhibit. A computer in an exhibit is not necessarily the exhibit; it may act as a guide or simply be another “manipulative” along with real-world objects.
A second “audience” also must be considered, the museum staff. Floor personnel (many of whom are volunteers) shouldn't have to be trained in the vagaries of each computer. Exhibit software and hardware also should come up and run automatically when the systems are powered on first thing in the morning, as museums tend to turn off at least some circuit breakers when they close in the evening. Trust me, you want the museum staff to like your exhibit—if it makes their life difficult, the exhibit may sit there with a sign saying “broken”.
Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind when you're developing your dream exhibit is this: when you build a non-hidden computer into a museum exhibit aimed at younger visitors, you're competing with every video game they've played and every television show or movie they've watched. Your exhibit, therefore, must be extremely cool.
Measurement Factory is cool because visitors can weigh themselves, measure their height, test their grip strength, compare themselves to others of their age and get a certificate when they're done.
Traffic Jam (Figures 1-3) is cool because visitors can play with traffic lights and prevent traffic jams—or not, if they prefer.
Sound Studio (Figures 4-6) lets visitors record themselves and their friends on a multitrack recorder and play with simple special effects, such as echoes.
Cool has a definite limit, however. For instance, it's not a good idea to make the “you made a mistake” annunciator—sound, animation, whatever—too cool; otherwise visitors will consider that the goal. Don't defeat the purpose of the exhibit.
|PostgreSQL, the NoSQL Database||Jan 29, 2015|
|HPC Cluster Grant Accepting Applications!||Jan 28, 2015|
|Sharing Admin Privileges for Many Hosts Securely||Jan 28, 2015|
|Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.1 beta available on IBM Power Platform||Jan 23, 2015|
|Designing with Linux||Jan 22, 2015|
|Wondershaper—QOS in a Pinch||Jan 21, 2015|
- PostgreSQL, the NoSQL Database
- Sharing Admin Privileges for Many Hosts Securely
- HPC Cluster Grant Accepting Applications!
- Designing with Linux
- Wondershaper—QOS in a Pinch
- Internet of Things Blows Away CES, and it May Be Hunting for YOU Next
- January 2015 Issue of Linux Journal: Security
- Ideal Backups with zbackup
- Slow System? iotop Is Your Friend
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.1 beta available on IBM Power Platform
Editorial Advisory Panel
Thank you to our 2014 Editorial Advisors!
- Jeff Parent
- Brad Baillio
- Nick Baronian
- Steve Case
- Chadalavada Kalyana
- Caleb Cullen
- Keir Davis
- Michael Eager
- Nick Faltys
- Dennis Frey
- Philip Jacob
- Jay Kruizenga
- Steve Marquez
- Dave McAllister
- Craig Oda
- Mike Roberts
- Chris Stark
- Patrick Swartz
- David Lynch
- Alicia Gibb
- Thomas Quinlan
- Carson McDonald
- Kristen Shoemaker
- Charnell Luchich
- James Walker
- Victor Gregorio
- Hari Boukis
- Brian Conner
- David Lane