The Exploratorium devotes a fairly large amount of resources to exhibit
maintenance, so they have more operational exhibits than most museums of
As to making stronger I/O devices, the first thing you need to do is observe
a bunch of grade school/middle school kids when they come to a computer in a
museum exhibit: they don't look at what they are supposed to do, they just
start _pounding_ on the keyboard/input.
What we did at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (where I
designed and programmed 10+ computer "interactives" for exhibits in the
early 90's) was to use arcade-game trackballs and switches made by Happ
Controls. At the time we started, these trackballs were not PC compatible.
They did use standard slotted wheel sensors, though, so I just desoldered
the sensors from the circuit board of an inexpensive Microsoft compatible
mouse and ran wires to the sensors on the trackball instead. The mouse
switches were also removed and wired to separate game-unit buttons. I made
the first interface about 10 years ago, and I am still using it (at this
very moment, in fact, hooked to an IBM laptop.) It's in a big foam-core box
(10x9x4 inches), so it is not the sharpest looking thing, but it has never
given me any trouble in 10 years of use. (Try that with a mouse!)
Some museums use touch screens, but at that time, we could not find any that
were reliable enough and precise enough. I later did a game fro the
Brookfield Zoo that used a touch screen, but needed to use large on-screen
"buttons" with good separation to get reliable picking.
Using a trackball for input means that any character/numeric input must be
done through on-screen selection, which is a bit klunky, but better than
having a non-working exhibit.
The one program that used (and still uses) keyboard input is the "Voyaging
Game" located in the back of the Pacific exhibit (a dark and quiet area). It
has benches in front of the screens for the users to sit at. Here, in a more
tranquil setting, the visitors do not pound on the keyboards, so they have
survived fairly well. (They even survived having holes drilled through them,
when some exhibit installers mounted a label on the case surface above the
keyboard, and drilled too far!) The biggest problem is someone will
occassionally pop off a keycap, even though they are recessed in the case.
From: Mike Cheponis [mailto:mac@Wireless.Com]
Sent: Thursday, May 31, 2001 12:05 PM
Subject: Re: Museum Computers (was Re: Washington D.C. Trip
Perhaps these so-called "museums" need to visit SF's Exploratorium? There,
everything is meant to be "hands-on". This doesn't mean that things
break from time to time, but the percentage of operational exhibits there
is greater than any other public museum I've seen.
Mind you, I'm not saying people should put an Eniac cabinet out where
people can slobber over it, but I think it would be cool to be able to
remote-control these older machines (I dunno, like a 360/50 or something)
via modern interfaces - safely away from the original equipment, but
yet behind glass - so you can see the original machine running.
So yeah, Chuck, I agree!
On Thu, 31 May 2001, Chuck McManis wrote:
Date: Thu, 31 May 2001 09:04:39 -0700
From: Chuck McManis <cmcmanis(a)mcmanis.com>
Subject: Museum Computers (was Re: Washington D.C. Trip
>The problem with working machines with millions of people tocuhing them
>is that the machines tend to break. Even the modern display terminals
>in constant need of repair due to fingers smashing and otherwise folks
>don't respect the equipment out of common
courtesy. Computers don't hold
well to abuse.
Its a shame but the way that it is.
This is one of the problems I think would be fun to attack if I had a
suitable patron. Building I/O devices that could stand up to the kind of
abuse that museums get.