Museums and the Web 2012- All things techie!


rainy, cold and windy san diego

Cold and rainy is not how you would normally describe San Diego, but I can because it was just that for most of my five-day visit for the Museums and the Web 2012 conference. However, this did not dampen my excitement or those of the over 530-strong contingent gathered to share stories, secrets, and advice about all things museum tech. From websites to augmented realities, to analytics to CMS and crowd sourcing—there was something to titillate every taste.


ok there were a few beautiful days too

I was there wearing many hats—as the head girl of Girl Museum, as web administrator for INNZ and as a freelance exhibition developer. But mostly I just wanted to understand better how best, and when to use, technology; in gallery interp, interactive games, social media or even when not to use it at all.


a session panel and all the laptops, iPads and iPhones going for it the whole time

The range of topics offered an angle for most tech comprehension levels and I especially enjoyed how international the crowd was—there seemed to be someone from everywhere. It was striking how accepted it is nowadays that people will be on laptops, iPads, iPhones and other technologies during sessions and lectures. I still have a hard time with this, it just seems rude, even if you are tweeting or blogging or engaging in some other esoteric way.


behind the scenes in the restoration shop at the Air and Space Museum

The behind the scenes tours to several of the museums in Balboa Park were really cool, especially the Air and Space Museum restoration area—secret stuff going on down there.



Particularly excellent was the closing panel about failure. Five brave souls got up in front of the crowd and confessed major project failures running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was poignant to hear their stories and how they came through and what they learned at the time. On reflection now, it is even more powerful going forward,wondering how I will deal with such things, hopefully with as much grace and humor.


California style 'guilt free' drinking (note Eco-Mojito)

Of note was the copious amount of coffee and tea on offer, as well as snacks and heaps of nice food. Being fed and watered properly at a conference is very important to how you take everything in and the overall pleasure of the experience.  I can safely say there was enough of everything when you needed it.


photo opp- dress up like Neil Armstrong and walk on the moon

This was a valuable conference for those seeking like-minds, searching for general solutions or directions, but not really to solve specific problems. There could definitely have been more doctors’ surgeries and outpatient care offered for specific projects, and more for those of us who have a serious interest in using technology to interpret and display, but don’t have big budgets or audiences.

My takeaways were mainly about resources; to always know that every project will take more time, money and people than you anticipate; and to budget for maintenance, both in time and people, or the amazing things that we do will be broken, forgotten or scrapped.


Legend – guest post by Amy Hughes

We are all in for a treat this month. I would like to introduce guest blogger Amy Hughes, INNZ member and Group Manager of Visitor Engagement at Wellington Zoo.

I think it is only appropriate this blog is called ‘Legend’, because that is what Amy is around the Zoo (Haha! Ok, I am just greasing up to the boss now, I’ll stop). She has been working to engage visitors at Wellington Zoo for the last 3 1/2 years and here are just some of her thoughts. Enjoy.



I’ve been internalising a complicated situation in my head. My seven year old nephew told me last weekend that I ‘couldn’t eat his ghost chips,’ and this got me wondering how an ad intended to encourage people to stop driving drunk, aimed at teenage males, had entered our national consciousness. Sure it’s funny and has eminently quotable lines but what is it that sets it apart from other ads?

 We have been bombarded for years with images of graphic car crashes, the after effects of driving drunk and people dying, yet none of these ads have resonated in the same way Legend has and they certainly don’t have 2 million youtube hits. The NZTA have found an engaging way to deliver a message that we have all heard thousands of times before and managed to make people pay attention and start talking about it. Legend has generated media stories and discussions – and not just about the ad, but about the issue and whether an ad can make people change their behaviour. And, when you think that it is only 60 seconds long, it is even more impressive.

 At the Zoo we deal with big issues. Deforestation, animals’ habitat loss, declining animal populations –enough to make anyone depressed. The other day we were having a meeting and we started chatting about large companies, who owns who, how pretty much everything you buy is ultimately funding tobacco or nuclear companies, or contains palm oil and one of my colleagues put her head in hands and said ‘Stop, its too depressing, I can’t handle it.’ If someone who works here finds one conversation overwhelming, it doesn’t bode well for communicating with our visitors!

There is well documented research that shows if someone is happy, or in a positive frame of mind, they feel empowered and more open to receiving messages. If you were a visitor going to your place for the first time, how many no, don’t, never messages would you encounter? I don’t know about you, but having never completely quashed my teenage rebellious streak, as soon as someone tells me not to touch or climb something, its all I want to do. 

 I love the idea of the humour and positive messaging in Legend, and how we can apply that at the Zoo. And, if we can create conversations and discussions around actions, issues and behaviour change – even better.

How many cities you know roll like this – Canterbury Quakes exhibit


The hip hop rapper sound of Scribe seems an incongruous choice of soundtrack for a museum exhibition. Let’s face it, museums do have a bit of a rep for stuffy, dusty places lamenting the past, rather than being up with the current state of play.

But then, this latest exhibition–Canterbury Quakes–put together by Canterbury Museum is no ordinary one, for many reasons.

How many museums you know could throw together a 300m2 exhibition in less than three months? Not many.

How many museums you know have put together a true living history – celebrating an event that is still being lived through, 16 months later? Not many.

How many museum exhibits are looking forward, presenting dreams and visions for the future? Not many. If any.

This one does. Opened on the first anniversary of the quakes that killed 185 people in Christchurch, it’s an exhibit that combines science with the community spirit that shone in the days following.

Sarah Murray and Lyttelton Timeball; photo Canterbury Museum.

Social history curator Sarah Murray in front of the Lyttelton Timeball.

But despite its opening date social history curator Sarah Murray explains that the exhibit is not meant as a memorial.

“Canterbury Quakes offers us a chance to reflect. We are only one year on and we are still experiencing earthquakes; there will be years and years of stories to tell of this event.

To get it ready by the anniversary was challenging but also heartening as people were so willing to help and so open in telling their stories. We couldn’t have achieved what we did without the help of more than ninety individuals and partner organisations. We worked with so many incredible people, including representatives from the University of Canterbury, the Christchurch City Council, Ngāi Tahu and our principal sponsors Hewlett Packard, to name just a few.

When visitors arrive, they are first guided through a section on the science of the Canterbury earthquakes. On display is a CUSP machine, produced by Canterbury Seismic Ltd. These machines were sent out to locations in the South Island from the 1990s onwards to measure the earthquakes predicted to occur on the Alpine Fault.

Because of those machines, Canterbury’s earthquakes are the most highly recorded earthquakes in the world.

CUSP machine; photo Canterbury Museum.

CUSP machine

Geology curator Dr Norton Hiller and museum staff teamed with GNS Science and Canterbury University to create three-dimensional models of fault lines. Dr Mark Quigley, who was often seen on the news, has helped create a series of videos to explain the science behind the earthquakes.

In our section on the Canterbury community we have an area called ‘Helping Hands’, which highlights the way people came together to help out- like the Student Volunteer Army and many others. There is also a collection of items that are so familiar to Christchurch; giving people a chance to get up close to things like:

  • The spire cross and bell from Christ Church Cathedral
  • Chalices stolen (then returned) from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
  • The Speaker’s chair and painted roof tiles from the Provincial Chambers
  • Mayor Parker’s parka
  • Booties worn by one of the search dogs
  • The memorial guitar from the Heart Strings project

We also have;

  • Stunts clips showing skateboarders interacting with the new Christchurch landscape
  • 30 minutes of  audio from the emergency communications centre from 22 February
  • Police and USAR photos taken within the red zone cordon and a moving interview with one of the forensic photographers that worked on the CTV site.

One of the highlights for me is an hour-long film featuring interviews with 15 different people. These people willingly shared their story of the 22 February 2011 with us and the film shows a diversity of experiences; it’s transfixing as the stories are so familiar.

For the final section we went to Canterbury’s city and district councils for a brief outline of what they see for the future of Christchurch. This section also contains information from CanCERN; what residents see as the future of their communities; and IConIC; featuring some of the lobby groups that have formed around earthquake- related issues. It’s a little bit of crystal ball gazing, which museums don’t usually do, but we wanted the exhibit to look ahead to the future of our region.

Photo Canterbury Museum.

There's a new normal in Christchurch - and its innovation!

There are some parts of the exhibit that will speak more to some than to others. But it’s about sharing a whole range of experiences. We have been careful to provide warnings as some content might be quite upsetting to people.

Personally, it was quite a challenging experience at times. Living through this event, then focusing in on the detail for the exhibition; at times I had to stop and distance myself for a while from what we were doing. That said, it was also an incredibly rewarding experience. There are so many stories out there that deserve to be told and I feel privileged to be a part of telling just a few of them at this time.”

How many cities you know got the skills to go and rock a show like this? Christchurch city.


“What was your favorite part?” – guest post by William Bevil

That’s the first thing you’ll be asked when you return from backpacking across Southeast Asia. It’s a fair question, but it’s also pretty hard to answer.

Khoo Kongsi Clan House (amazing!) photo William Bevil.

The truly amazing Khoo Kongsi clan house, built around 1900, was said to rival the Chinese Imperial palace in terms of its grandeur.

Was it standing in the shadows of the temples of Angkor? Was it spending a week volunteering at an elephant conservation center in Thailand? Cave exploring in Halong Bay? The adrenaline rush you got walking through a sea of speeding motorbikes in Hanoi? The food? The music? The people?

So, when INNZ asked if I would like to write an article about the trip, I was stumped at first.

My partner Stacey and I spent 4.5 months traveling in the region. Although we had done
heaps of research before the trip, I still wasn’t really prepared for the vibrancy of the
culture. It seemed like every other day we were exposed to things that were truly awe-

George Town sign. Photo William Bevil.

Look closely and you’ll see interpretive signs mixed into the eclectic street scenes, cleverly sharing stories about George Town’s colorful past.

I suffer from the occupational hazard of always working (or at least thinking about
interpretation) even when I’m supposed to be on holiday. So, it’s no surprise that as we moved across the landscapes of Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, I was constantly noticing the different ways—sometimes good, sometimes not so good—that cultural heritage interpretation was handled and presented.

One place that seems to be getting it right is George Town, on the island of Penang in
northwest Malaysia. Penang is a confluence point where cultures and religions from across Asia and the Pacific have for centuries met to exchange goods and ideas. It’s a place where at any given intersection you might find a Catholic Church, a Muslim Mosque, a Chinese Clan House and a Buddhist Temple – with an English Fort around the corner, thrown in for good measure! As a result of all this “cultural fusion” and layers of history, George Town is an incredibly fun place to visit and explore.

George Town Penang Guides; photo William Bevil

: Old‐fashioned perhaps but still effective, the paper walking tour brochure is alive and well in George Town and does a great job of leading visitors to hidden wonders

Getting around George Town is very easy, and the old town quarter is easily traversed
on foot, made easier by a series of brochure guides produced by Penang Heritage Trust
and the State Tourism & Culture Office. Each brochure is themed; food, architecture,
religious sites, and traditional crafts. Inside were maps and suggested routes, along
with history and details about each of the stops. They were great reminders that a well-
designed paper guide can still be highly effective.

Asam Laksa. Photo William Bevil.

Beautifully‐arranged bowls of Asam Laksa, one of many exquisitely‐flavored dishes we enjoyed on the streets of George Town.

Because we like to eat, our personal favorite was the brochure exploring the famous cuisines of Penang which led us all over town in search of food carts and streetside vendors.

The process of finding the vendors and wandering the streets was definitely part of the adventure, and we were rewarded with personal interactions and lasting memories along with the great food. We were experiencing the real thing, prepared by and for the locals as much as for the tourists. At one stall, we met Mr Mohammed Ali, who serves Burbur Kacang, a broth of sweet mung bean and coconut cream, at his stand which he inherited from his father in the 1950s. We sat in the shade of his canopy, watching people come and go and observing the natural rhythm of the place.

Wandering through the old streets and alleys of George Town, it’s easy way to get lost,
but I’d be willing to bet you won’t mind. Around the next corner will be something
unexpected and, likely, unforgettable. A simple tool such as printed brochures can lead
intrepid visitors to those authentic experiences they crave.

Don’t wait too long to see it—and taste it!—for yourself.

You are welcome to link to our SE Asia travel blog too, if you want, but don’t feel

William is one of our fab ex-INNZ executive members, who left us to return to his homeland. When he’s not travelling to exotic places he works at Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center in Colorado.

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. It’s a great example of visual communication!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Design-your-own dessert – an interpreter’s chocolate truffles

To me, Christmas and chocolate are like cheese and crackers, Laurel and Hardy or Bert and Ernie–I can’t imagine one without the other.  I blame my mother–every Christmas stocking from Santa included a mini box of Roses chocs–you know the ones with puppies or kittens on the top. Every Christmas day would start with scoffing half the box before breakfast.

Truffles a la Sarah.

Design-your-own truffle

These days I am slightly more civilised but chocolate still features! A chocolately truffly treat makes a great gift and my gift to all you creative types is this simple recipe that can be changed to suit your own personal bent!

White, milk or dark chocolate can be mixed with a range of liqueurs and fruits to create your own unique take on this classic. I’m not so fond of rum and raisin, but how about port and prune? Or my own pink perfection: strawberry schnapps, craisins and marshmallow wrapped up in a white chocolate shell! Get mixing and share the results on our Facebook page! Yum!

Truffle recipe

2 pkts chocolate melts
¼ c cream plus 1 T extra
½ c icing sugar
2 T liqueur
2 t finely grated orange rind or dried fruit

1. Melt half the chocolate.

2. Stir in cream, then icing sugar, liqueur and rind or fruit, mix thoroughly.

3. Chill mix until almost set.

4. Shape into small balls then freeze until firm.

5. Melt the rest of chocolate.

6. Dip the truffles into melted chocolate and place on tray lined with waxed paper.

7. Chill until chocolate sets.

8. Dust with icing sugar if desired (or perhaps jelly crystals!)

The hat in the cat -a cautionary tail of missed-the-meanings…

Hat in the Cat.

Hat in the Cat (animated by S Webb)

I was watching Master Chef Australia – stay with me, I’m over cooking shows as much as the next person – but the challenge of the day caught my attention. Four contestants had each written a recipe and they had to watch while a home cook interpreted it to make the dish.

It was the test in communication that caught my interest. And all for contestants failed the test in small, but potentially disastrous ways.

A soup recipe listed 3 litres of water instead of 2. Another instructed the cook to divide the mix into thirds and place on 2 trays, so a layered desert lacked the desired presence. A rewrite of another recipe had removed an ingredient from the list, but not the instructions, leaving the home cook understandably confused.

Each contestant had checked and rechecked their recipes several times. Yet it wasn’t until fresh eyes read the words were the errors revealed.

These sorts of mistakes creep into writing so easily –possibly causing confusion, a drop in professionalism, and even potential embarrassment. Something as simple as dropping one letter from a word quickly turns an article about public areas to pubic areas – and who really wants to talk about those!

While spellcheck is getting better at picking these up – it picked up my tail in the heading above – there’s no guarantee. And as the author, you know what you meant to say, so when you read it, you see what you expect to see.

Case in point – I once attended a presentation where all credibility went out the window when a slide appeared with the line “don’t touch this with a ten-foot pool”. When the presenter read out his slide – as so often happens with PowerPoint –he didn’t even notice the error. He read pole as that was what he meant – but it was not what was on the screen.

Of course sometimes using ‘wrong’ words is done on porpoise to create what is known as a pun. These kinds of puns created by substituting one word for a similar-sounding word even have their own name – Homophonic. Great word, perfectly descriptive. “A good pun is its own reword”.

You can find more of these online at

We are usually quite forgiving when this occurs accidentally in conservation, but writing we expect to be more considered. And as interpreters, it’s even more challenging as we are usually working within tight word counts so our choice of words must be even more carefully considered.

So I’d like to present to you my golden rule of writing. Here it is:

Always, always, ALWAYS get someone else to read and edit your work.

I’d like to leave you with a small challenge. Scattered within this blog are several deliberate mistakes, the wrong words used – you probably noticed them. Annoying right? Iconically, it’s far easier for me to be accidentally funny so I’m not going to tell you how many there are, I’ll leave it up to you to tell me. But if there are more than ten I’ll eat my cat hat.