Which is larger, giant squid or the Moon?

Ha ha tricksy title! I mean giant squid as in multiple giant squid, Architeuthis dux not a single giant squid, which would be a very silly question indeed. I’ll explain how I got to this question first as it probably isn’t one that many people have contemplated.

Cartoon by Mark Carnall of a moon made of cephalopods

Calamari Moon by Mark Carnall (Own work) CC BY 2.0 but let me know if you do!

I’ve been reading the excellent book- The Search for the Giant Squid by Richard Ellis which gives a comprehensive account of the biology and mythology surrounding giant squid, Architeuthis dux and related species up to 1998. The book covers the earliest accounts of encounters of giant squid; an examination of tall tales about large cephalopod encounters; giant squid in literature and film; and a really nice history of giant squid models in museums. Despite being one of the largest living invertebrates, very little is still known about giant squid including how their arch-enemies, the not-so-small-themselves cetaceans, sperm whales, catch them.

In the dark depths of the ocean how do essentially blind, breath-holding, large sperm whales catch highly manoeuvrable, fast, super-sensed giant squid? How do they catch them with their weird toothed mandible especially considering that giant squid retrieved from sperm whale stomachs don’t have any bite marks? And what does any of this have to do with the Moon? Continue reading

Art of glass — More Than A Dodo

https://videopress.com/embed/p1V9gvnP?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0

Spotlight Specimens by Mark Carnall From the comfort of our own homes, or even on a mobile device, we are accustomed to watching video footage from the most remote environments on Earth, and beyond. It is easy to take for granted this kind of visual access but we don’t have to go too far back in time to reach […]

via Art of glass — More Than A Dodo

Digital, huh, what is it good for?

I maintain what I hope is a healthy scepticism towards the use of ‘digital’ when it comes to museums and heritage which mostly involves being a snarky bastard on the Internet and probing platitudes about digitisation in museums. This has led some to believe that I’m some sort of Luddite or just anti technology because it takes us away from the 300 year old unique selling point of museums which is people come to look at and experience things and only use the Internet for shopping and boobies.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth (ish)! I’ve been a keen gamer my whole life and a denizen of the Internet for a little less than that, cutting my digital teeth trolling the witchcraft forums, surviving the great LiveJournal wars of the early 2000s and arguing the finer points of the Colony Wars lore. I’ve written book chapters and lectured on the virtual museum, colour laser scanning, museum websites and the use of technology in museum spaces.

I’m not against ‘the digital’ in general, I’m more for a holistic view and use of digital technologies in resource poor museums and as a user as well as a creator, against implementing  costly projects because of the ‘machine that goes bing factor‘ or without evidence of need, use or longevity that continues to plague many museum digital projects. Continue reading

How and why to cite museum specimens in research

About once a year, I take the time to comb through the Internet for references in books and journal articles to museum specimens in the collections I manage. Despite the fact that I give all the researchers who visit the collections instructions for keeping the museum informed if/when their research gets published, sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s an innocent mistake: it can be a decade between data collection from specimens and publication and in the tweaking of manuscripts remembering to let the museum know about publications citing their specimens can drop off the priority list. Sometimes however, it seems like researchers failed to listen to what those annoying museum people said and just ‘forget’ or just make it up entirely.

Recently the researchers and collections managers at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have undertaken a big drive to try to find orphaned citations of our collections going back to 2010 for our reporting cycles and with dogged determination to leave no stone unturned, we’ve managed to find an order of magnitude more citations that weren’t previously linked to the collections.

It’s really fundamental to the scientific process, the future or museums and the legacy of biological sciences that hypotheses and research can be repeated and that we can trace the theory back to the evidence that leads to new conclusions being made. It’s really important to properly cite specimens and here’s why and how. Continue reading

Cephalopod Watch:Weeds of the sea and the <Gene diet

Two bits of cephalopod stuff in the media last week, both of which raised the hackles but for different reasons relating to how the media (in this case mostly online) handles science reporting. I always find this kind of stuff interesting, doubly so since a really interesting talk at NatSCA 2015 Annual Conference where we heard from colleagues at the BBC and science programmers about how documentaries aren’t for those in the know. Both in terms or viewers and critical acclaim, the scientists may hate shoddy science but they aren’t the target audience. This shouldn’t give the media free rein to just report what they like but trying to squeeze complicated, limited and caveated findings into nice black and white narratives leads to more confusion. Things can only be bigger, smaller, disappearing, brand new, oldest, fastest, slowest etc. Biology, (un)fortunately, is rarely that simple.

The first of the bits of news last week was this paper, Global proliferation of cephalopods in Current Biology about estimating cephalopod populations Continue reading

Gamifying Museums- The Logical Extreme

Last week my Twitter feed was all #MWXX which I presume had something to do with Museums and the Web, probably the 20th conference, it may also still be happening such is the opaque nature of the events conference hashtags refer to.

In any case whatever #MWXX was, it seemed to be filled with some of the best and brightest of those working with museums ‘and the web’ but more broadly digital. Ever since my Museum Studies training, I’ve had an interest in museums and the digital as a digital native urghhh, I mean ‘millennial’ but more importantly the incredibly slow pace in which museums are really getting to grips with the interesting stuff that is happening on the Internet and in video games, digital art etc. Last year, there were some very silly suggestions that museums are now ‘post-digital’ and we should stop banging on about the digital as some magical future thing.

Digital is everywhere. It’s just another tool in the toolkit. I’d very strongly argue that with rare, normally uncelebrated good examples, most museums are very much analog and that Digital still equates to a not very good website, crappy gallery interactives, an unreliable app developed circa 2009 and not very good online databases. Which might actually be fine because I suspect that us urghhh ‘millenials’ are actually quite bored of digital. Give us bespoke, handmade, tangible, esoteric and analog. I’m a slave to digital platforms at work and play and I want to spend my downtime away from them. There’s a seed of a thought there that I’ll expand on in another post, maybe. But, as a keen gamer I’m quite sad to see that gamification of museum spaces just hasn’t happened in a very real way. Sure, if you read Reality is Broken in 2012 you’d have believed that by 2016 even our toasters would be recording our high scores and spamming our friends with toasted bread updates but turns out that gamification flourished in the Silicon Valley Petri dishes but didn’t squirm much further.

When you do see museums engaging in games and gamification, it’s often in a very earnest, shallow and eduware kind of way. More Fun School 3 than Never Alone and 100% less interesting, engaging and inspiring than Minesweeper. Museums should skip steadily progressing 20 years behind digital culture and jump right up to date borrowing the scummiest and unethical but addictive and sometimes lucrative practices from current social media platforms and the ballooning free-to-play models that even giants of gaming seem to be pursuing. Introducing the MyMuseum app (working title). Continue reading

Subject Specialist Knowledge: The Answers Part 1

It’s been a hot minute (read two months) since I got back from the Museums Association conference and wrote this blog post about what subject specialist knowledge means when it comes to museum professionals. I felt that the term ‘subject specialist knowledge’ is used so often that the meaning of the phrase has become a bit abstract. Ambitiously, I said I’d upload the ‘answers’ in a couple of weeks but it’s taken me so long to write these up precisely because, those snap decisions that your friendly neighbourhood curator inherently knows when thinking about museum specimens, is such a huge amount of information to type up.

So here are the six objects and the answers to the first half of the 32 questions I posted, that every good curator will know. I’d like to iterate that these are ‘easy’ ones for a natural historian and I’m sure colleagues in other fields can think of similar examples. This is the knowledge you lose when you don’t have the specialist on staff or access to a specialist or specialist network to advice. Continue reading