30 June 2009

Great Failures in Engineering, Donuts, and Downtown

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is one of those rare temples of nerdiness, a haven for those that think jokes involving integrals are hilarious and that rumors of Rick Astley's death* are more depressing than William Shatner getting fat**, but only slightly less depressing than Optimus Prime dying***. I was invited to tag along this past Sunday because my dear friend Nathan had to help drive a group of high schoolers to Portland for a day of awesome and he needed someone there to help keep him sane.

*Not a Rickroll, I swear.
**Captain Kirk is supposed to be attractive... Fat William Shatner is not attractive
**Reading the Wikipedia article on Optimus Prime was one of the most confusing/strange/nerdy things I've read in a long while.

We first casually solved some of the brainteaser puzzles, then we wandered into the permanent exhibit area on the second floor. These exhibits are the time-tested classics that every student in the Willamette Valley/Portland Metro area remembers from those elementary school field trips: paleontology, the human body, and geology. In the back of one of the rooms is a large tank of water, with sand in the bottom and a pump that creates waves. Thanks to the wave motion, there are distinct ripples that have formed in the sand. The name of these sand ripples was discussed; I remarked that they had a technical name of some sort, while Nathan maintained that they were probably just called "ripples in the sand". Posted at the end of the tank was a placard explaining the scientific principles in action, with a clearly labeled diagram.
(Mom and Dad, I know you're just itching to make a comparison to the frost vs. frozen dew debate ca. 2000, but if you could refrain, that'd be awesome. Thanks.)
Nathan: 1, Kelsey: 0

Naturally, as an institution that relies on admissions fees to maintain operation, OMSI has to cater to non-nerds as well, which translates to exhibits like their latest: CSI: The Experience. We braved this exhibit next, and breezed right through it. The exhibit clearly had a good intent, and is probably fairly entertaining for middle school students and people who watch the CSI television franchise. As I do not fit into either of these categories, I found the exhibit interesting on a superficial level. My writing class this past spring had us design exhibits for a science museum, so at OMSI I noticed little things, like how well the exhibit flowed (not terribly well), or how expensive things were (the CSI exhibit must have cost a fortune). The concept was great; three different crime scenes to investigate, with computer stations to help you "solve" the crime by guiding you through the evidence analysis. It was entertaining, but I don't know that I learned anything real worthwhile, other than the fact that CSI people are always portrayed as badasses and (SPOILER ALERT) you shouldn't keep kitchen herbs in your pickup truck because they might link you to your ex-husband's murder.

While I appreciate the many nerdy exhibits at OMSI, my favorite room by far is the Turbine Hall. Filled with water bottle rockets, computers, robots, and engineering activities, Turbine Hall is a massive mecca of all things hands-on and awesome. Nathan and I are both engineering majors (he's a mechanical engineering major at Gonzaga), so it goes without saying that we gravitated toward the bridge-building activity pretty much immediately (well, we were waiting for the robotic Connect Four game to free up so we could play... but of all the things we could pick to do in the meantime...). The challenge was to build a bridge out of computer paper over miniature "rivers" that could support four wooden blocks. The results?
Nathan's bridge:
My bridge (a.k.a. an example of why I'm 1E, not 1C):
Nathan: 2, Kelsey: 0

Nathan went on to win an epic game of robotic Connect Four, a game I only played occasionally (sans robots) at daycare in my youth. It was swiftly negated by my victory in the race of rubber band-powered paddle boats.

Nathan: 3, Kelsey: 1

Moral of the Story: OMSI wins. The Boston Museum of Science fails in comparison.

We spent the afternoon walking all over downtown Portland, which included a stop at the storied establishment known as Voodoo Doughnut. Special thanks to some random flickr user whose photo I have shamelessly posted here to illustrate the fact that I ordered the triple chocolate penetration doughnut (chocolate doughnut, with chocolate glaze, topped with Cocoa Puffs cereal and a name that is perilous to search for on Google Images).

Basically, it was an epic trip to Portland. I got a lot of exercise in (so. much. walking.) and the nerd-fest that was OMSI reminded me that I don't have to be at MIT to appreciate the finer, nerdier things in life.

[Infinite Jest update: I'm on page 105, and I survived footnote 24!]

No comments: