Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Hands-On at the Science Museum

If I ask my son where he wants to go for a day out, he always answers the same – the Science Museum. He never tires of it, there are so many things to look at and play with. And for as long as he wants to go, I’ll always take him. I’m proud of my mini-geek and encourage him to learn as much as I’m able.

But it got me thinking today – why is it such a win?

When I was a kid, the Science Museum was kind of static. There were cool things to look at, sure – but those dear old Massey model tractors in the agricultural display have now been ploughing that little dirty circle for forty years. Even the model trains on the balcony of the ground floor – yes, you can press a button and watch the steam-pistons, but they’ve long since dropped off the timetable.

As attention spans become shorter, so the Museum’s displays have adapted, they’ve become brighter and more interactive.

Isaac loves the space-age stuff – it’s shiny and out-of-this-world and larger-than-life. He particularly likes the movie of the thousands of satellites that orbit the Earth, and the new spherical-holo of the global climate. These things have vivid, compelling colour and movement; it makes them real. It’s much easier to explain global warming to a child when the globe is right there in front of him.

Downstairs in the basement lurks hell-on-earth – the ‘garden’ where the very little ones go to learn about basic sensory input. I fear the noise (particularly at half-term) but I’m very happy that the Cubs are hands-on from the ground up – literally.

As we explore the ‘Secret Life of the Home’, it occurs to me that learning, just like media, has become all about ‘interactive’; it’s about making things real and accessible. And that starts with shrieking noise of the smallest kids - and it goes all the way up.

Around us, as communication becomes faster, easier and worldwide, so learning becomes about sharing and experiencing – not about 'being taught'. Chalk-dust has become just that. Now, Isaac gazes fascinated at the workings of cockpits and CDs and VCRs; we play classic ‘Pong’ from 1978. These things are history to him, but they’re a part of my life experience and we can share them and learn together.

It brings us closer. And it’s fun.

As the years of new layers have been added to the displays, yes, it has become a little chaotic. The old tractors are next to the modern plastics; classic 1970s Dan Dare looks out over a floor of games about modern energy and resource (though I daresay he’d approve).

Communication, both media and education, is changing – and it’s very good to see that our kids can be really involved in this from the youngest age.

Today, I’ve been asking Isaac to take pictures – hopefully, encouraging him to look at what’s around him and to enjoy the learning experience. Some of his pictures are on this post. You’ll find the rest on his very own Flickr page, here. 

Needless to say, he has help me download them and choose them and label them. I think it's all part of the same experience.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Third Doctor and the Weeping Angels

Once upon a time, there was hiding behind the sofa.

Before I grew big enough to watch Tom's showdowns with Davros - or to get girly over Peter's cricketing whites (sshh!) - the Third Doctor was the Main Man of the early Seventies. Elegant, well-presented, with authority, presence and a flair for technology - you got to love a man in frills who takes out the bad guys with Venusian Aikido.

Today, my six-year-old son isn't having this sofa crap, he's completely enwrapped in Doctor Who. He's a Tennant-fan (fairly obviously!) but likes to play games of imagination featuring his favourite Bad Guys. Daleks and Cyberman dominate - but he and I both are tranfixed by a more up-to-date Nasty...

The latest releases for Titan Merchandise, both these characters are now available as 8" maxi-busts, with the kind of high-quality sculpting that makes me wish I didn't have two left hands.

Though they do make me think... what would happen if they ever actually met...

Monday, 7 February 2011

The SFX Weekender

The second SFX Weekender – the second visit to Camber Sands – and this time you know what to expect…

Yes, the Mouth of Hell.

You know you’re in the middle of nowhere, scoured to the bone by wind and sand. You know your teeth will be chattering as you run to and from your tiny chalet, lost in the nightmare maze of concrete walkways. You know to pack your towel, your sleeping bag, everything you’ll need for a weekend’s indoor camping. Just like you know the carpet in the Main Void will stink from years of liquid abuse, and the velour on the benches in the pub will be worn to a shine by generations of drinkers’ bums…

But hey, you go – because you also know that you’ll have a fantastic weekend.

Favourite moments include the steampunk costumes of the actuator girls, the new take on an old act done by the eerily bendy Chris Cross, Dan Abnett allowing himself to be strangled, and Titan the Robot (of course). Craig Charles spun a spectacular set, Terry Pratchett was greeted by a cheer that raised the roof (‘never give up, never surrender’) and I met my son's favourite canine celebrity.

Props go to the publicists, authors and artists who supported the utterly loopy signing schedule at the FP table – and the space we had to host it in. I’ve never had to contortion six names into a three-foot gap before (and, please, I’ll never have to do it again). Likewise props to the unnamed security guard who let us escape on the Friday night after nearly eleven hours on our feet – and to those who blessed us by bringing much-needed humour and beer.

Oh, and to those who asked? Yes, my head did fit into the saucepan.

Black Library publicist Andy described the weekend as ‘The Land That Time Forgot’, amused by the irony of the situation. Here we are, he said, science fiction readers and watchers and fans, looking to the future, and we’re stuck in something out of a 1950’s timewarp. Horror author Wayne Simmons observed that same irony as he talked about the progressive nature of the event – blending books and toys and comics and signings and music and panels and cabaret into something new that kicks down the doors of ‘fandom’.

Last year, the whole ‘chalet’ experience added to the event – giving a strong sense of ‘surviving disaster’ team spirit. This year, that legend became a Branding-point, with teasing tweets and wind-up conversations bringing anticipation and laughs of horror. Knowing what to expect, we all got into the spirit of things, swapping tales of terror from our scrotty, student-level digs.

Yes, I had to wash my hair in a saucepan – but it’s exactly that experience that turns the whole weekend into one long festival – a celebration of geekery in all its forms.

Well done, SFX!