Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Codename V Museum Review: Part One
In which V and M have visited several of London's most popular museums, with mixed results.

So last week we went to London, our primary goal being to visit museums and see some awesome stuff. We had four or five museums on our list, and ended up seeing just three.

1. The Natural History Museum
This museum was the first we visited. First impression: the building itself is every bit as fascinating as the stuff inside. We expected this to take up a full day, but ended up finishing around lunchtime.

Highlight: dinosaurs, y'all. This place had loads of 'em. In the lobby they had some gigantor of a thing called a diplodocus (I think?). You can see it here. Then they had a whole gallery dedicated to dinosaurs. We spent at least an hour there, looking at various skeletons and models of teeth and skin and stuff like that. Towards the end of it, they had a life-sized animatronic T-Rex model, which sounds like it would be lame but really wasn't. I mean, yeah, it kind of was lame at first glance, but the more you stood there staring at it and it was staring back at you and waving its wee arms around, you started thinking damn, this thing could really do some serious damage.

Another highlight: a life-sized blue whale model. This makes one feel rather insignificant.

Other stuff: they had rather a lot of taxidermy. There were signs everywhere saying that they didn't support this method of displaying animals any more (aside from being kind of creepy, I suppose it's counter-productive in terms of conservation efforts and stuff), so the animal skins on display are mostly very old and faded and kind of shabby really. Which IMO makes them that much creepier. They had a panda skin which had faded so badly it was nearly white all over. That made me feel sad and a little bit ill. I mean, I can sort of see their point: they already have this stuff, so let's display it. And on some level it's interesting to see the sizes of things - for example they had a grizzly bear next to a polar bear, and I realized how flipping HUGE polar bears really are. But then again, it was mainly just creepy and felt kind of wrong.

Low point: they had this exhibit called "creepy crawlies" and the brochure suggested that they'd have loads of insects on display. I was expecting something along the lines of what I saw at the Smithsonian... cases of dead things pinned down. I am not really sure what exactly this creepy crawlies thing was all about. They had loads of photographs of insects. And a couple of bizarre displays like "what do flies eat?" and the answer was "pretty much everything" and they had a case full of cakes and jello and meat and cheese and generally just anything you could eat. And it was "this is what flies eat!". I'm serious. They did have a rather elaborate ant farm, though, and we had a good time watching the little ants crawl across a stick, get chunks of apple, and then crawl back again.

Overall rating: I'd give this a three out of four. We had a good time, but were sort of disappointed. We got the impression that we'd missed a lot of things, but after that bug exhibit we were too fed up to bother with going back.

2. The Science Museum
This was a disaster. It was incredibly poorly organized, almost like two different museums. Also it was boring. How can science be boring? I would not have thought it possible.

Entering the museum, you walk through a big hallway full of steam engines. This is interesting for about five minutes until you realize that each steam engine is pretty much identical to the next one. Following the steam engines, you walk through a corridor which seems to be dedicated to space travel. They have, like, four exhibits (one of which is a model of the Enterprise). So already there's no sense of flow. Steam Engines --> Space. Um, shouldn't there be stuff in between?

Just past the world's smallest tribute to space travel, you have a vast futuristic room which is 90% occupied by a snack bar. And then in one corner you have one of those virtual-reality flight simulator rides. Oookay.

So then we find a sign indicating the names of the exhibits on various floors. In the basement is something called Launch Pad. We go to the basement. Launch Pad is one of those fun hands-on exhibits where you can touch the big static ball and make your hair stand on end, or conduct various science experiments that are more like games. Unfortunately this area is full of loud children and smells strongly of antiseptic cleanser. We spend approximately 20 seconds at Launch Pad before getting back on the lift.

We go up to the first floor, called "Who Am I?". This was the most intersting thing in the entire museum. The room was mostly dark, with these oddly shaped pods scattered throughout. Each pod had some little computerized quiz or game about human genetics and identity and stuff like that. I have already forgotten what these actually were, which is a testament to just how interesting the most interesting thing in the museum was. I do remember they had a machine that would scan your iris, and then show you a bunch of irises and ask you to pick which one was yours. M spent about 15 minutes trying to scan his iris only to find the machine was broken. They also had a machine where you could scan your fingerprints. I scanned my index finger, and it said something inane like "this print is a whorl!" and then it showed me a model of a hand and said "can you tell which finger this print is from?" Well, yeah. I know which finger it's from because I SCANNED IT. So I select the index finger, and it tells me I'm wrong. The moral of this story is, this is the best exhibit in the museum and NOTHING IN IT WORKS.

The next floor is supposed to be called Digitopolis, but it's been closed down. I assume this is because nothing in Digitopolis worked, either.

The top floor was labeled THE FUTURE. M and I were all OMG COOL because I mean, how can the future suck?

THE FUTURE was the smallest room of all. There were three round tables which were basically drag-and-drop video games for the ten-and-under crowd. And then there was this kiosk inviting you to leave your opinion about what you think certain things would be like in the future. So M goes up and selects a topic - I forget what it was, but something like "what do you think entertainment will be like in 40 years?". And the screen on the kiosk is filled up with a crude cartoon drawing of a woman and she starts talking. Loudly. So M is standing there in this tiny room and this robot woman starts yelling WHAT DO YOU THINK TELEVISION WILL BE LIKE IN THE FUTURE?!?!? THINGS WILL SURELY BE DIFFERENT!!1! WOULD YOU LIKE TO TYPE A COMMENT?!?!? And M is all "oh crap, let's just leave."

On the way out, we got a bit lost. We discovered that there was this whole other section of the museum with actual stuff in it, but it all looked and smelled as if it had last been touched in 1950. You know that musty, stale smell that places get? The walls were painted in this institutional mint green color. They had some models of sailing ships, and some clocks, and random sea diving equipment. We stopped for a Fanta next to something along the lines of "this is what a glucose molecule would look like if it were made of popsicle sticks." We also found a gallery of old aircraft, but to be honest we've seen a better exhibit elsewhere.

Highlights: That Fanta was quite refreshing.

Low Point: THE FUTURE. Also, watching M trying to scan his iris was an exercise in futility.

I give this one half out of four. I wouldn't be interested in going back.

Taking a break here, as this is getting quite long! One museum left to review, and it was so awesome that it took two days to absorb. Look for that coming up later on.