This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A different sort of museum

Tortoise and Family, originally uploaded by meeware1.

So a couple of weeks ago I blogged about the beautifully presented, interactive, swish but ultimately disappointing National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. On reflection I still hold the same opinion of the place- it used all the latest interpretive techniques, it gave different views and it showed many slices of the UK's association with the sea. However, it didn't hit all the high targets it set for itself, in that there was no overall compelling picture, or narrative- no arc of tech development, or all encompassing view of the country and it's relationship with the sea.

Last week however, on a quick jaunt out west with family to Swanage and the New Forest, we looked into the Tank Museum at Bovingdon , and it was at the complete opposite end of the scale. Shortly things will change, as by June they expect to be in new accommodation, but for now, it's practically just loads of tanks. I mean, loads of them. In fact, it's probably fair to say they have all of them.

There's a little info board by each, and some attempt to group them according to which faced which in battles around the world, but to me it made clear that no amount of interpretive gloss can make up for just having loads of what you're trying to show off.

Sure, they could have had animated maps of battles, or memorabilia of crews, or a few more models, but they were about tanks. And had lots. And that worked.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Edwardian Info-Graphics

CLASSIC_INFO_GRAPHIC, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Now, some say today's graphic language is the apotheosis of visual communication- that we say more to each other today in complex graphical and textual forms than we ever have. That may be so, but if you dig around from time to time you'll find examples as delightful as this one, from the Hartlepool museum.

It's a poster produced during World War One detailing the bombardment of Hartlepool by the German Navy. I think they've really missed a trick not selling copies of this in the gift shop- perhaps the copyright is tricky?- but this is a stand out example of a lot of complex info being intriguingly presented. No, it's not simple, but tell me it doesn't just make you want to poor over it's details and understand the story it has to tell!

My only regret- the quality of my photo isn't good enough to read the text. Bum.

Eight things you will never know about me.

Upon reflection I think I may have overplayed the grumpy old man card, so here's a revised 8 things. Bear in mind though that I am the very last person to do this, so I'm buggered if I can find eight others who've not yet done it.

1/. 'I am a churlish sod from time to time'- yeah well this stands. I'm prone to grumpines of the highest order, and I can be downright stroppy when hungry. I blame it on hypoglycemia, which is I think a made up complicated name for getting stroppy when hungry. Avoid me if I've skipped breakfast, and if in doubt, offer me a biscuit.

2/. 'I don't actually know eight people to pass this on to.' It's true, I am positively the last person to hear gossip, and internet gossip even more so. There are lower order primates more connected than me.

3/. Used to be in the Royal Navy as a trainee officer for a vanishingly brief and fairly miserable period. All I can say is that it wasn't as much fun as Sea Cadets, and that's where I'd got the idea from. The only upside is that they paid for me to bum around India and Thailand for three months when I was 18.

4/. I put all my worldy possesions into storage, moved out of my flat, and walked to Cornwall to see the eclipse in 1999. I'd finished uni, was fairly optimistic that something would sort itself out, and fancied a walk to clear my head. It was great, it was the fittest I've ever been in my life, and it really didn't matter that it was cloudy for the eclipse.

5/. The most sporty thing I did at school was being best at holding my breath and 'doing a mushroom' in the pool. That's not a scatological reference. I don't really do sport.

6/. Since turning 30 I have decided that it's pointless trying to pretend that I am in any sense cool, and that I am in fact a hopeless geek, perhaps even a nerd. I like cars and planes and tanks and documentaries about battleships, and toy soldiers and lego and spaceships and geology and computergames, and damnit I can't help it! I like poetry too, and the opera, and music 'n stuff. But I'm still a geek.

7/. I once appeared in the Brighton Argus pretending to be a scottish poet- I was helping run a poetry reading, and we'd got the paper to come down to meet the poets and do a shoot on the beach, but one of them went to the pub to see a mate, so I pretended to be him and stood in the background staring off into the Channel being all moody and poetic.

8/. I play pool left handed. Nothing else, just pool. Acording to the very lovely Chris McManus it's not at all unusual to do one or two things 'other handedly' to what you usually do. His book "Right Hand, Left Hand" does a brilliant job of explaining the may varied aspects of assymetry, and he was really kind to chat to me for an afternoon when I was an undergraduate at a totally different university looking at this area of neuropsychology.

Right. That's it. I'll have a think about who to send this too, but everyones so much more popular and connected than me that I doubt there's anyone on the planet who's not yet done this!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Leave of Absence of Mind

Right, I've got to go on leave now. The hols have just been piling up untaken, and it's use 'em or loose 'em by the end of March. So today I set of via Sutton, Manchester, Lythan, Ambleside, Whitehave and Durham to Edinburgh, to pick up the work batton again for some lovely project stuff with the University of Edinburgh and other super people.

I shall have another mini break at the end of the month around Easter- probably not to Spain and the Sierra Nevada as I had hoped- no idea where at all in fact! Suggestions on a postcard please.

Oh, and yesterday I popped up to the National Maritime Museum for a nose around. All very lovely and interesting, and both Geof, my septuganarian Father-in-Law and I reverted properly to type and started playing with all the hands on experiments. However, with the exception of the brilliant 'Bridge Simulator' there was not so much as a cabin off a ship there! THis really surprised me, and to behonest, although there were some great bits to the museum (Art and the Sea being one highlight) overall it didn't really hang together to tell a story, or even a linked sequesnce of stories. For instance- there was a section on Artic exploration (all very heavily staged with fake ice caves etc.) and a section on antarctic exploration, but no sense that the two were in any way related, or the point of any of the exploration. In fact the artic exploration had been a really political and economic effort and hugely important, but you just came away thinking it was jolly cold. And it so needed ships. A maritime museum without ships is rather like a bread sandwich- it can be as substancial as you like, but you can't help feeling it's missing something vital.