Go on, ASK Brooklyn Museum!

The Brooklyn Museum is an excellent place to cool off on a scorching Saturday afternoon, unless you can be at the beach. But the beach doesn’t have the ASK Brooklyn Museum app and I wanted to try that out, especially after having an interesting conversation about the app with Seb Chan and Micah Walter.


Once I downloaded and opened the app in the lobby, (a quick and trouble free operation) I wandered into the Double Take: African Innovations gallery, preferring to stay away from the madding crowds upstairs in The Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibition.
ASK Brooklyn Museum home screen



Knowing very little about African Art, I wasn’t at all sure what would interest me enough to ask any questions but literally every object, whether contemporary or historical was magnetically attractive in one way or another.

Eventually I came across this copper plaque from 16th or 17th century Nigeria, depicting a Portuguese trader with his European style dress, flowing beard and mustache.


Portuguese Trader by Nigerian artist 16th or 17th CDetail of a Portuguese Trader by a Nigerian artist, 16th or 17th C

The African artist had seen his nose as sharp, and curved. I became curious to compare how the Nigerian artist saw the Portuguese with how Japanese artists depicted them after they arrived in southern Japan in the 16th century. (Remember Shogun?) I snapped a picture of the plaque in the app and sent it to the ASK team, as requested, then texted my question.

The answer came back almost immediately, from Stephanie, who texted:

My question in the ASK app



Then before I knew it, another text arrived from her:

Additional response from the ASK team









I used the link to see what the sculpture looked like and wandered around again until I found the Horn Blower, meanwhile stopping to admire several other dramatic and mysterious masks and figures. Here’s the Horn Blower with a kilt decorated with the faces of Portuguese men. You can see the faces, though not very well.

The Horn Blower, Nigerian 16th or 17th C

Close up of kilt with Portuguese faces



Then, because there’s an area where visitors can touch samples of different types of cloth from Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and a few other countries I texted Stephanie to see if she knew what kind of cloth the Horn Blower’s kilt would have been made of. She didn’t, and unfortunately the app doesn’t save our conversation for very long so I’m not able to go back and show you how gracious her answer was.


I’m 100% sure that if I hadn’t had the opportunity to ask these questions through the app I wouldn’t have thought of them at all. For me the opportunity became kind of a responsibility. The app inspired me to look more thoughtfully at the works, and to come up with some not so obvious questions that I wanted answers to.

I know I’m not your typical museum visitor, but the visitor experiences that Shelly Bernstein, the Brooklyn Museum’s Vice Director of Digital Engagement & Technology, and Sara Devine, Manager of Audience Engagement & Interpretive Materials reported in their recent interview with Nina Simon at Museum 2.0, were very similar to mine.

“We were heartened when early testers told us they felt like they were looking more closely at works of art in order to figure out what questions to ask. They put down the device often, and they would circle back to a work to look again after getting an answer—all things we verified in watching their behavior, too. “

In that interview Nina notes that many museums position staff or volunteers in the galleries with Ask Me buttons, but usually visitors don’t ask. I’ve certainly seen these friendly people but would never stop to ask them about the art.

Why not? Why does the app work, while real people don’t? My first thought is because I don’t want to get trapped in a conversation with a real person, but it’s easier to dismiss or terminate a text chat.

Was using the ASK app an enjoyable experience? Did it make looking at the art more enjoyable – did I get more out of the experience? The answer is yes and yes. I think it’s going to set a new standard of expectation for visitors. I’m looking forward to going back and using the app again, with a friend so we can share our questions and answers.

You can find out a lot more about the development of the ASK app on the Brooklyn Museum’s blog.

I’d love to know what your experiences with the ASK app have been, so let’s compare notes!

After I wrote this we posted it to Linked In and several people did add their comments here.



The Pen and I

I’ve been eager to try out the new Pen at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Here are my impressions!

It’s quite hefty but very comfortable to hold and use. Even kids have no problem with it.

Two girls using the Pen on a touch table

Once I got into the galleries having the Pen gave me a sense of freedom, and power. Freedom, because I could “grab” anything for later viewing and therefore didn’t need to spend a lot of time looking at the objects – which was helpful since I didn’t have much time; Power, because I could “have” anything in the displays that piqued my interest. I felt a little like a kid in a candy store.

Happily I went along matching the cross hairs on my pen tip to the cross hairs on the labels of each object I wanted to take home with me: See it, Match cross hairs, See the little strip of 3 lights turn green and it’s saved.

Objects I collected

My collection includes this model of a giant tunnel boring machine, ( the real one was used for cutting through solid rock to create the Second Avenue Subway tunnel), and a delicate chart made of sticks loosely tied together, used by Marshall Island sailors to understand ocean swells and currents far, far off shore.

The fork I designed at Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

Having been inspired by Eva Zeisel’s elegant silverware on the first floor, I decided to try my hand at designing a fork. I hoped that choosing gold as the material to make it in would somehow elevate my very primitive result. You can judge for yourself – I saved it with the Pen and prepared to leave.

Returning the Pen to the station to transfer my collection to my specific URL worked easily. The URL had been pre-printed on my entry ticket so when I got home I typed it into my browser and voilá, there were the 26 things I had collected and the one I had designed.

My visit as captured by the Pen, viewed through the Collections Portal

This is where in some ways, the real fun begins. Part of the pleasure of the experience comes from the way the Cooper Hewitt collections portal itself is designed. It has such a friendly feel to it, and it couldn’t be simpler to navigate the links related to your object, without losing your place.

The descriptions are almost wikipedia-like, linking to so many different places on the collections portal. Each object description offers access to other relevant items in the collection, based on artist, material, donor, date of donation, country of origin, colors and more. In addition, the site  remembers you after you’ve logged in and set up your account so you can bookmark the page for easy access later.

I can’t get the amazing stick navigation chart out of my mind. I want to go back and see it in person.

Thoughts on the MCN2014 Conference

MCN 2014 Conference LogoThe Museum Computer Network’s 42nd annual conference held in Dallas this year was one of the best I’ve ever attended. There was a whole lot of learning, sharing and schmoozing going on in our tight knit crowd of 450 attendees, not to mention the crazy karaoke! The theme was Think Big, Start Small, Create!

Lance Weiler, writer, director, experience designer and keynote speaker, lifted the conference way off the ground and into the idea-sphere. He captivated us all with descriptions of projects like Pandemic and Sherlock, using storytelling and digital technology to produce fascinating, massive, complex events where thousands of people interact in both physical and virtual game worlds.

He also inspired us with descriptions of projects like Lyka (a good fit for museums!) and MySkyIsFalling, which harness storytelling and digital technology for social change. Importantly, he emphasized the value of designing with the people you are designing for. This approach works with school children and teens aging out of the foster care system, and it can work as well with museum curators, conservators and schoolteachers.

Lance Weiler giving his keynote speech at MCN2014

Toward the end of his talk he asked “How do you know if your project has succeeded?” I’d say see how long people stick with the activity, and how often they come back. People want to feel a sense of belonging, and to be respected – to feel smart, valued for who they are and what they have to give.  Weiler’s methods create this relationship. They’re exciting, productive and worth learning from. I’m eager to apply his thinking to our work for clients going forward. I encourage you to discover Lance Weiler for yourself. Start by listening to his entire MCN talk here.

The next post will also be about why this is such a good conference to attend, in summaries of the sessions I attended. Stay tuned.


Our Planet, Our Island, Ourselves

Now that we’re several weeks into 2014, we’ve finally been able to stop for a moment and take stock of 2013! From an audio tour to a custom online education platform, MediaCombo collaborated with new and long-standing clients on a remarkable range of projects.

Last_shot_C3TEC-sIn February of 2013 our research and script writing team set to work on this orientation film for the Centro Criollo de Ciencia y Tecnología, (C3TEC) the first science center in the Caribbean, in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Liberty Science Center’sMuseum Planning Services (LSC) consulted on the master plan and developed and designed the exhibition for the Municipality of Caguas.

The exhibition focuses on the theme of environmental sustainability, the interconnectedness of living systems and the relationships between a healthy body, a healthy Island and a healthy planet.

Our mission was to focus young visitors’ attention on this theme in a four-minute introductory video that plays in a viewing area each visitor passes through to enter the exhibition.

Filming the Pitcher

We went to Caguas to film Little League baseball players and local flora and fauna in May, so that we could situate our story right where most of the visitors to the science center live. We shot live action with a helicam and a Red camera, and commissioned original animations to visualize activity at the molecular level.

The video is narrated by Yamaris Latorre, a Puerto Rican celebrity, and will be available with English and Spanish subtitles. It will be installed at C3TEC in time for a soft opening in late spring 2014, but you can see the English language version here!

Still from OurPlanet_OurIsland_Ourselves

Thoughts on Gallery One and Art Lens at the Cleveland Museum of Art


This gallery contains 11 photos.

On September 18th, Museums and the Web organized a wonderful field trip, a Deep Dive, in/to the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), to explore and experience Gallery One and the Art LenseGallery One opened on January 21, 2013. It encompasses … Continue reading

On Location in Puerto Rico for C3TEC, a Post Script

When we got back to New York, Maricarmen sent me a link to C3TEC’s Facebook page, where she posted several pictures and videos that she took while on the shoot with us on Saturday. You can really get a feel for the rain forest and the whole production. She also shot a great little video of the helicam moving up and down a river in El Yunque. Check it out if you have a moment!

On Location in Puerto Rico for C3TEC_Day 4

Sunday, May 12, 2013: call time 6:00AM

Another early call, another sunny morning. Off to the Mogotes, a distinctive and dramatic feature of Puerto Rico’s northern Karst landscape. This is for the section in the video about the importance of a clean water supply. It’s an easy job for the helicam: go straight up, do a 360 panorama from above, and come straight down.

The battery lasts for seven minutes but somehow no one is paying attention to the time, until suddenly we see the little helicam come spiraling out of the sky and crash into the trees.

Luckily the camera’s okay, and so’s the little download chip, the most expensive part of the entire rig. Eric doesn’t seem worried about the heap of blades, struts and wires on the grass; he’s got three more helicams in the van if we need them, but we got our shots. It’s a wrap, and it’s not even 8AM.

We have plenty of time to get to San Juan for margaritas and lunch and a walk on the beach before heading to the airport to go home, wake up tomorrow and get to the edit room.

On Location in Puerto Rico for C3TEC_Day 3, Afternoon

Saturday, May 11, 2013: 11:45AM

It’s sunny and hot and very sticky in Caguas, as we arrive at the baseball field. Michael is directing Eric and the helicam, whose mission is to zip around over the field for aerial shots of the little league game and the surrounding neighborhood. Did you know that your breath can travel several blocks in about five minutes?

I’m working with the RED camera crew who have to get slow-motion footage of a pitcher pitching and a batter swinging. Their body positions have to match up with our graphics of how oxygen travels through the lungs into the bloodstream and then into the muscles that power the arms that pitch the ball and swing the bat.

If you’ve never been to a Puerto Rican little league baseball game, it’s a raucous event. Mothers bring panderos and other percussion instruments for their plenas, their songs of encouragement to their sons. I’ll have a little audio clip up here soon. You have to hear this!

The last shot of the day is at 4:00PM, at C3TEC itself, and it goes off without a hitch. Props to Enid, Nereidin and Maricarmen at C3TEC for all their help! Then it takes more than two hours for the RED camera digital files to be downloaded to a drive and back ups made, 460 gigabytes in all. It’s just about dark by the time we hit the bar La Verguenza, in the center of Caguas, for a few beers.


On Location in Puerto Rico for C3TEC_Day 3, Morning

Saturday May 11, 2013: call time 5:45AM

We depart from the hotel just before dawn in two production vehicles, with Maricarmen from C3TEC following in her car. After yesterday’s heavy rains and dark gray skies, it’s a huge pleasure to see the sun rising on our left. Our crew includes Carlos, Director of Photography, his assistant Alphonso, digital media wrangler Alfredo, sound man Juan, helicam operator Eric, his assistant Brad, the grip Cangri, our production coordinator, another Eric, and production assistant Gilberto.

By the time we’re climbing Mt. Cubuy sunlight is raking across the tranquil landscape of cows in fields – like a tropical version of a 17th century Dutch painting.

It’s only 6:30 when we arrive at El Yunque. I’ll direct Eric and his team after they assemble the helicam for its trip up and down the river over gentle rapids. They’ll shoot through the tops of the trees.

The helicam is really an attraction all by itself. All of us are snapping pictures as it does a few practice lift offs to check for the correct camera exposure.

Michael works with Carlos as he and his team set up for close ups of the waterfall, and hope to find some rainforest creatures for closeups. Juan, our soundman, stays away from us to immerse himself in the sounds of the El Yunque, and the rushing water. We have the forest to ourselves.





We finish here on schedule and head down the mountain a short way to the eco-lodge where we have a list of shots to get, including a closeup of a jagrumo leaf for the photosynthesis section of the video.
Michael is planning to pull off something tricky: to merge a move in Google Earth with a helicam shot of a jagrumo tree with a dissolve to our leaf and then through to a graphic about how photosynthesis works. You’ll have to see the video for yourself to see what I mean.


We also need to convincingly illustrate clean air: breezes blowing through bamboo stands, RED camera time lapse footage of clouds appearing in the blue, blue sky, moving slowly across the frame.

While waiting for the sun’s angle on the tree canopy to be just right, I hear a roaring waterfall crashing over bolders in a river below us near enough to send the helicam scampering over it. Serendipity!

Once the shots are nailed, we make a company move down the mountain and back to Caguas to film the other stars of the video, humans, in the form of little league baseball players.




On Location in Puerto Rico for C3TEC_Day 2

Friday May 10, 2013

It’s 9:30AM and we’re at 1,800 feet, though on the ground now, having driven half way up Mt. Cubuy in El Yunque National Forest. We’ve stopped at an eco-lodge to scout the deep green views above and below us.

Tomorrow at dawn we’ll be back to film the forest with both the RED camera and the helicam, the cool little robotic helicopter camera.

Teddy Roosevelt established Luquillo Forest, now known as El Yunque, as the first national forest in the U.S. in 1906. Walking along by the river to the waterfall, then down a road through the trees, all I can think of “this is not the walk through Central Park I do everyday on my way to work!”




As we come down to sea level the road leads to the highway and we’re off to the north and west, to the northern Karst region of Puerto Rico, where the Mogotes are. The Mogotes are these amazing camel hump hills, made of limestone, and they hold a large part of the water supply for the island. They’re featured in our script because of this.

It’s an hour and a half ride and lunchtime when we get to the most famous cave, Ventana. We sit at an outdoor café, inhaling exhaust from the cars refueling at the gas station right next to us but no matter. The Mofongo – fried, mashed, refried plantains – are all good and garlicky, and it’s hot and sunny.









It only starts to rain as we head off up the trail to the cave. What’s a little tropical rain shower? Climbing down into the cave is just challenging enough for city slickers like us to make it fun. The flashlights we were handed before we left are essential for piercing the total blackness. We may be in the dark, but we’re not off the grid. Both a text message and a phone call manage to find me. I ignore them! Bats are chirping, water dripping. What’s a little mud, bat guano and moss matter when you finally get to the back of the cave, which opens on to lush, green tropical landscape far, far below.

As we slip-slide our way back through the darkness to the mouth of the cave to retrace our steps, it starts to pour. By the time we get back to the van, I look like I’ve been in a wet t-shirt contest.

We spend the rest of the afternoon, three more hours, looking for the right places to launch the helicam so we can get the shot we need to match both the Google Earth footage, and the graphic about karst water systems. All the rivers we drive by are flooding their banks as it continues to rain so hard we can barely see the road.

We found two possible locations for this shoot planned for Sunday morning. Gilberto has driven about 100 miles today, but Mission Accomplished.