Amgueddfa Blog: Digital Media Blog

 

I am an artist, studying for an MA degree in contemporary design craft, specifically the sculptural potential of prosthetic limbs. My visit to the Mollusca collection occurred after I came across a blog about the interior structure of shells on the museum website, and I made the connection between the interior structure of shells and how 3-D printers work and correct form. On the blog there was a contact number for the Curator of Mollusca, so I contacted Harriet Wood, not knowing what to expect in response.

Photograph of cross-section of 3D printed cube, showing internal supporting structure
Internal structure of 3D printed object © Matthew Day 2017

Looking inside shells - shell sections

When I explained my work on prosthetics to Harriet, and the connections with the interior structure of shells and 3-D printing she seemed very excited and invited me to come down, and also offered to introduce me to the person who runs a photography lab who uses 3-D printing and scanning for the museum.

Going Behind the Scenes

I could not have imagined it could have gone as well as it did. I met Harriet at the information desk of the museum and we then headed behind-the-scenes, where the collection is kept. Walking around the museum to get out back was really nice and modern. It reminded me of an academic journal I read not long before my visit, from the International Journal of the Inclusive Museum: ‘How Digital Artist Engagement Can Function as an Open Innovation Model to Facilitate Audience Encounters with Museum Collections’ in the  by Sarah Younan and Haitham Eid. 

photo showing a large cabinet full of specimen drawers
Some of the archives at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

Behind the scenes at the museum was quite a special environment - generally the general public are not allowed access unless arranged. It was a great privilege to be walking through rooms and rooms full of shells that people over the years have discovered and appreciated for their beauty. What was really fascinating was how the shells had been cut so perfectly. The cut shells looked almost as if this was their natural state – the way they were cut blended in so well with the form of the shell. This is what I wanted to see.

Black and white photograph showing a selection of shell sections
Shell sections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

I was speechless when I saw these collections of shells – especially seeing that part we’re not supposed to see. It was really exciting to see interior structure revealed by the cut, as it added a whole new value to the shells. They really reminded me of work by the the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose work I really admire.

black and white photograph showing a single conical shell, cut to show its internal spiral structure
© Matthew Day 2017

We see shells all the time on beaches and they just fascinate me, especially the broken ones which reveal part of the interior. It’s a very imperfect break, very different to the quality of the shell which has been sliced purposely to reveal what is inside. A natural object sculpted by man: I feel that this is what I am drawn to.

3D Scanning: Art and Science

Before examining the shells myself, Harriet offered to take me down to see Jim Turner, where we ended up spending most of my visit because what he did was just very interesting. Jim works in a lab which uses a photography process called “z-Stacking” (or extended depth of field – EDF) which is used extensively in macro photography and photo microscopy.

Jim is also creating an archive of 3D scanned objects for the museum website, where people can interact with scanned objects using VR headsets - bringing a whole new experience to the museum.

I understood what he was doing immediately from my own work. He explained the process and I understood the technicalities. It was a real pleasure to speak to someone who is using 3-D scanning in a different way to me. Jim is using 3D scanning in a way that was described within academic texts I had read - and even though he wasn’t doing anything creative with shells, he was still putting the objects into a context where people could interact with them using digital technology such as VR headsets, and on the web via sketchfab.

'Like being on a beach...'

When we got back to the Mollusca Collection I was able to take my own time and was under no pressure - so I got to have a good look and explored the shells. It was like being on a beach spending hours of exploring all wonderful natural objects.

black and white photograph showing a single conical shell, cut to show its internal spiral structure
© Matthew Day 2017

This visit had an amazing impact on my MA project - and I cannot thank Harriet and Jim enough for their time. This visit also gave me the confidence to approach other museums, such as Worcester Medical Museum, where I worked with a prosthetic socket from their collection. I 3D scanned the socket and, with the inspiration from Harriet’s collection of Mollusca, I created a selection of Sculptural Prosthetic sockets, drawing inspiration from the internal structures of shells, and illustrating sections of the shells that I was most drawn to. 

'A sculpture in its own right': my collection of sculptural prosthetics

Side by side photographs showing a sculptural prosthetic sock and a shell section. The prosthetic is shaped to emulate the internal structure of the shell.
Prototype conceptual prosthetic sock sculpture inspired by National Museum Cardiff's Mollusca collection © Matthew Day 2017

photo showing a black sculptural prosthetic socket with a yellow decoration
Prototype prosthetic sock sculpture inspired by National Museum Cardiff's Mollusca collection © Matthew Day 2017
photo showing a grey sculptural prosthetic socket with a yellow decoration
3D printed, fabric dyed prosthetic sculptural socket, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

photograph showing prosthetic socket with a large yellow decoration shaped like a round shell
3D printed, fabric dyed prosthetic sculptural socket, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

 

What’s next?

My MA is now reaching a climax, and I am starting the final major project module after the summer, which I am very excited about.

For the final part of my studies, I want to take all that I have explored and incorporated into my research to date, and use it to create a concept prosthetic limb which would be wearable, but also a sculpture in its own right – work which is now on track.

3D illustration of a design for a prosthetic leg, with decorations inspired by the internal structure of shells
Concept design of prosthetic sculptural leg, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

I aim to create a really spectacular prosthetic limb using 3D printing, further incorporating the shell-inspired aesthetics you see in this blog.

More of my work can be found on my website: Matthew Day Sculpture

 

Towards the end of last year, staff members from the Amgueddfa Cymru took part in a research ‘Roadshow event’ held at Swansea University.   The event gave a chance to meet academics with shared research interests and discuss potential collaborations between our two institutions, and already the event seems to have nurtured some promising links.

At the event Teresa Darbyshire, our Senior Marine Invertebrate Curator, made contact with Dr. Rich Johnston who is co-director of Swansea University's brand new Advanced Imaging of Materials Centre (AIM), a £9M EPSRC/Welsh Government funded integrated scientific imaging facility for Wales. Following this contact, the opportunity arose for myself, Teresa and Dr. Jana Horak (Head of Mineralogy & Petrology) to visit the centre and see the facilities first hand.

To say we were a little overwhelmed by the centre would be quite an understatement. The centre offers state-of-the-art advanced imaging facilities including including transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Ion beam nanofabrication, X-ray Diffraction (XRD), X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS), Energy-Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS), and micro and nano X-ray computed tomography (microCT). Not to mention a full suite of optical imaging and teaching microscopes.

AIM is primarily focused towards engineering and material science, and you may be wondering why they would be keen to collaborate with the Natural Sciences department here at the Museum. Well, part of their research is looking at the structures of biomaterials to learn how naturally occurring materials are formed, and with over 3 million specimens in our Natural Science collections we offer a huge reference library of material, along with the specialist knowledge of our curatorial staff, right on their doorstep. In return, we can benefit from access to their facilities to help us investigate our collections further for our own research and outreach needs, perhaps helping us to discover new species or identify historic conservation work that may have been undertaken on our specimens.

In fact, we are already utilising their MicroCT scanner to digitise a Whelk shell in order to produce a 3D printed replica in transparent material so that we may see how hermit crabs and a species of marine worm co-habit in these shells.  As you can see below, we’ve already digitally scanned the external of the shell here at the museum, but AIM’s MicroCT Scanner will enable us capture all the internal structures as well. We'll post the results when we get the scan back.

 

 

Whilst there, we also had the chance to visit the Virtual Reality (VR) lab to see how digital models produced by microCT or our own 3D scanning facilities could be developed for outreach and learning in a virtual environment. We had the chance to "visit" a virtual museum and see digitised objects in this environment. Although a little disconcerting to start with, once we got familiar with the VR world it really did offer a unique way to visualise objects that otherwise may not be possible. In the future, this technology really could open up new ways for the public engage with our collections.

 

To celebrate Pride Cymru coming to Cardiff this weekend, our homepage has had a little touch of colour applied to it. If you use Safari on the Mac, you may notice another special feature - your browser's toolbar itself is emblazoned with rainbow colours.

Museum Homepage

If you use Safari regularly, you'll be familiar with the visual effect that sees page colours slip behind the browser toolbar as you scroll. It's a neat effect but I hadn't heard of a site actively utilising it before and I wondered if, with a bit of HTML, CSS & JavaScript, we could fix a set of colours there. The vibrant rainbow colours of Pride seemed like the perfect fit. In this blog entry, I'll describe in tedious/fascinating* (*delete as appropriate) technical detail how we achieved it.

The Technique

At first I tried setting the margin of my element to a negative value to push it into the toolbar area. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't work - it's simply not displayed. The actual solution was almost as simple itself and we were pretty pleased with the result.

To start off, all we need are two divs.

<body>
    <div id="toolbar-colours">…</div>
    <div id="content-frame">…</div>
</body>

The first div will contain the colours we want to show in our toolbar. We give this a fixed height, 150px in this example.

The second div will contain our content. We give this a fixed width and height of 100vw and 100vh. This means it will neatly and seamless fill the browser viewport area.

#rainbow_toolbar
{
	background-color: #b20034;
	height: 2px;
	display: flex; /* We actually use Sass includes for cross-browser flex-box support */
	width: 100%;
	padding: 0;
	margin: 0;
}

#rainbow_toolbar.safari_trick
{
	height: 150px;
}

#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block
{
	flex: 1;
	height: 4px;
	padding: 0;
	margin: 0;
}

#rainbow_toolbar.safari_trick .colour_block
{
	height: 130px;
}

#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block.violet { background-color: #9400d3; }
#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block.indigo { background-color: #4b0082; }
#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block.blue { background-color: #0000ff; }
#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block.green { background-color: #00ff00; }
#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block.yellow { background-color: #ffff00; }
#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block.orange { background-color: #ff7f00; }
#rainbow_toolbar .colour_block.red { background-color: #ff0000; }

Using a little JavaScript, we can make sure that we're always scrolled past the first div, making it colour the browser toolbar.

$(window).scroll(function() {

    if ($(window).scrollTop() < 150) {
        $(window).scrollTop(150);
    }
});
$(window).scrollTop(50);

The only thing remaining is to sort out our scrollbars which are giving the game away. We hide the main browser scrollbar and give our content-frame a standard-looking scrollbar instead.

::-webkit-scrollbar
{ 
    visibility: hidden; 
    display: none;
}
				
#content-frame
{
	background-color: #e4e4e4;
	height: 100vh;
	width: 100vw;
	padding: 0;
	border: 0;
	overflow-y: scroll;
}
					
#content-frame::-webkit-scrollbar
{ 
	display: initial;
	visibility: visible;
	background: #f4f4f4;
	color: #ffffff;
}
		
#content-frame::-webkit-scrollbar-track
{
	background-color: #f4f4f4;
	border-radius: 8px;
}
		
#content-frame::-webkit-scrollbar-thumb
{
	width: 4px;
	border-radius: 8px;
	background-color: #b4b4b4;
	border: 3px #f4f4f4 solid;
}

There are few more JavaScript tricks we can use to tidy up our implementation. This includes managing the up arrow and page-up keys which create a visual glitch:

// disable page up and arrow up when at top of content
window.addEventListener('keydown', function(e) {
	
	if( $('#content-frame').scrollTop() <= 0 && [33, 38].indexOf(e.keyCode) > -1 ) {
		e.preventDefault();
	}
}, false);

The Caveats

It's a neat little trick but also somewhat of a hack. Putting your content in a scrolling div carries a small but noticeable performance penalty when scrolling and when using a touchpad to scroll you may get an occasional visual glitch. Finally, it is only available to Mac-based Safari users. No other combination of OS and browser has the translucent toolbar effect for us to take advantage of. For this reason, it's not something I'd want to use for a lengthy period of time. But for one weekend only, here it is.

Visual Audio Display Units (VADUs) still exist in the National Museum Cardiff galleries. We know, because with almost every finger touch on the touchscreen, it sends a little signal to the web server that includes a piece of information describing the last interaction (i.e. ‘please play the video’, ‘please display the menu list’). We record all those messages, firstly to make sure the kiosk is actually working day-to-day and secondly to find out which aspects are popular or not popular, knowledge that is useful to guide future kiosk development. 

Gallery Statistics (diagram)
Figure 1, a cartoon of kiosk development process - an attempt to show the separation from the web server, while maintaining rudimental communication from the gallery space (satellite to mothership).

Each message is sent as an AJAX call (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) from the kiosk, which is usually a standalone bundle of files running through a web browser (HTML, CSS & Javascript files). The main bulk of the kiosk development is carried out through our in-house web CMS (called Amgueddfa CMS) on a computer that mirrors the public web server, it’s only before the launch that all the necessary files are copied over to the computer in the exhibition space (wrapped up as an ‘App’), where it remains like a satellite away from its mothership (the web server). Beep beep, beep beep.

Patterns of Frequency

A single recorded kiosk command is not particularly exciting by itself but when there are greater numbers, patterns emerge. For instance, if we record each time a video is started on the kiosk we get a round number to how many people were interested in the subject matter of the video (information gathered before they had seen the video). If we also record when people stop playing the video we can start to distinguish patterns in their viewing behaviour. Judging by the average video length played the majority of the visitors saw less than 39% of the total video length, with the longest average being three minutes 17 seconds. Of course, there were also lots of visitors who watch the videos until the end; as you can tell by the 'happy-tail' patterns formed by visitors reaching the film credits at the end of the film (figure 2).  

Figure 3 shows all video stop points for five videos presented as scatter plots against the video length in minutes.
Figure 2 shows all video stop points for five videos presented as scatter plots against the video length in minutes. Judging by the average video length played, which is shown in green - the majority of the visitors saw less than 39% of the total video length, with the longest average being three minutes 17 seconds. Of course, the there were also lots of visitors who watch the videos until the end (as you can see by the 'happy-tail' patterns formed as they reach the film credits at the end of the video), but on the whole I wouldn't recommending placing feature length films on kiosks.

Figure 3 shows the raw data stored on a database table on the web server.
Figure 2 shows the raw data stored within a database table on the web server.

Overview of the Numbers

I signed-off my last blog with a promise of data relating to the Wi-Fi audio tour during the Chalkie Davies exhibition last year, which I’m including below. To placing the Wi-Fi statistics within the gallery space, I’ve also gathered data from the four large screen kiosks in the exhibition against the monthly visitor figures.

It is immediately clear that the four large kiosks were very popular - they contained a great deal of curated content which included a composite NME magazine, Chalkie Davies film, Youth Forum audio interviews, a comments section and What’s On calendar. I can imagine the relative attraction and easy access of the kiosks goes a long way to explain the comparatively lower figures of the Wi-Fi audio tour, but let us not be downbeat - the feedback received from the visitor survey about the Wi-Fi was positive. 

  • 93% of survey monkey results either felt they ‘learnt a lot about the exhibition’ or ‘it improved their experience as a visitor’ - it must be noted that the number of people who filled in the survey and used the Wi-Fi audio tour was extremely low compared to the overall gallery visitor figures (12 / 42,000), but the survey morsel is still very positive.    

However, I would be cautious in suggesting an Wi-Fi audio tour for short-run exhibitions, mainly due to the diminished numbers compared to the insitu kiosks - the Wi-Fi audio tour could gain popularity following a less exhibition-specific avenue (e.g. providing audio descriptions for the top ten popular objects), which would allow the audio catalog to be built gradually and remain available all year around throughout the museum.

Future Beeps

To conclude, we have been collecting kiosk statistics since 2011. The storage method may change, we could additionally store the data on Google servers via Google Analytics, but however the beeps are stored the way visitor interact with museum kiosks will continue to guide the future kiosk development. 

 

Table showing all the touchscreen events for the Chalkie Davies exhibition with visitor figures for the gallery:

Large touch screen x 4

 
 

Language

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

Video (film plays)

 

1717

1085

1735

2833

352

7722

Chalkie Interview

EN

1280

1044

1362

1953

338

5977

Chalkie Interview

CY

124

123

164

237

38

686

NME magazine

EN

1209

961

1205

1841

355

5571

NME magazine

CY

60

56

72

148

17

353

NME Next Page

 

1974

2119

2099

2324

530

9046

NME Previous Page

 

1303

1025

1098

1666

463

5555

NME Zoom Photograph

 

985

681

909

1317

430

4322

Music Memories

EN

1409

1076

1464

2311

378

6638

Music Memories

CY

71

60

95

138

17

381

Music Audio (track plays)

 

1766

1583

1806

2410

486

8051

Comments

EN

881

702

840

1383

230

4036

Comments

CY

71

54

78

105

11

319

Comments submitted

 

124

131

168

260

30

713

What's On

EN

783

684

847

1335

241

3890

What's On

CY

55

50

63

126

12

306

Totals

 

12509

10409

12907

18721

3465

63,566

 

Wi-Fi Audio Tour

Using their own mobile devices

 
 

Language

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

Audio (plays)

EN

316

212

262

394

124

1308

Audio (plays)

CY

10

3

4

4

1

22

Totals

 

326

215

266

398

125

1,330

 

Number Gallery Visitors

 

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

 

Totals

 

9108

7107

10688

14130

1961

42,994

 

This is a void appreciation post.

It's not often that we have a lot of time to reflect on what we do, because there's always so much to do. So, before I jump into venue hire revamps; finishing off a piece of prep for this Women's Archive Wales conference and helping with new 'suggest an event' pages, let's look into the murky abyss and just take a minute to breathe.

The Sea's Edge

Nice, no? [The Sea's Edge, Arthur Giardelli]

Since 'keeping busy' is the other Welsh national sport, it's not for everyone - but I'm a firm believer in taking stock, staying still for a minute, and listening. There'll always be a call: an email that's fallen down the back of the sofa, a book you've been meaning to pick up, or a colleague you'd like to make more time for will pop upstairs and say hi.

Evaluation and Taking Stock

We're in transition as a department - welcoming two new team members this week - and have been working, quite separately and like the clappers recently, on various projects, on web, galleries, social, governance, research and planning.

Graham, who heads the Content Team (and who I will now be calling Captain Content if he lets me), has been taking part in a cross-sector project looking at evaluation and taking stock, called Let's Get Real. Last week, he braved their Crit Room in Brighton, where he presented our work for open criticism and questioning. Curiously scary.

The results of the crit have been a real encouragement - I had been worrying about the size of our twitter network, since the time cost of keeping everyone trained up is ever growing for me. But, we were encouraged to see it as a sign that we're a healthy, tweeting organisation.

I am really trying to believe them.

Feedback from the Crit Room

Self-deprecation aside, I'm quietly happy with how we're working as a network, and really chuffed to see people really run with the new skills they've acquired on social media. In fact, while totting up some numbers for an unrelated report last week I saw we'd passed a great milestone - as a network, we now have over 125,000 followers on twitter alone. I know it's not just a numbers game, but there's something reassuring about those great, neat, empty 000s in a row.

The Crit Room also had great words of encouragement for Chris, who's built all the foundation for the website redesign (and much more besides), and the rest of the team - namely that our digital offer was 'highly rewarding, rich and satisfying'. I can't stop thinking of coffee when I read those words. Speaking of which: time to stop blogging about stopping now, and start stopping for a cuppa.