Sunday 31 August 2014

Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Museum of Transport) in Lucerne

On a recommendation from a colleague we took the kids on a day trip from Zurich to Lucerne's Swiss Museum of Transport.  It's amazing.  So much to see and the kids were fully entertained for hours, I think we ended up spending about 5 hours there.  The outside space with mini construction equipment was their favourite.

There's gravel to move around, diggers, dump trucks you can ride as bikes.

Even a giant rock conveyor belt and rock-size sorting machine
Trains.  Tons and tons of trains.  (also planes, cars, helicopters, sail boats etc.)

Tunnel borer as used in the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which, when finished will be the longest rail tunnel in the world at 57km!

Interesting for adults too. This was part of a gameshow where a crane retrieves an actual car from a whole shelf of different ones, deposits it on a platform for a trivia competition.
The gameshow in action. It's actually very democratic: at the start of the show everyone votes for the language they want to see it in, German won :(

Getting there is easy: a train from Zurich to the Lucerne main station, then a short bus ride (both stroller friendly).

Saturday 23 August 2014

Tara Donovan exhibit in Menlo Park

The bizarrely-situated temporary Pace Gallery in Menlo Park was superbly described by Christian Frock in sfgate:
Discovering a blue-chip gallery in a former car dealership on El Camino Real is like seeing a unicorn in a strip mall; suddenly everyday life is bizarrely punctuated with otherworldly glamour.
In this case the otherworldy glamour was a Tara Donovan exhibition.  Donovan is an artist who is known for her large installations built from every day materials like toothpicks, pins, and paper plates.  While that may sound like a primary-school art project, it most certainly is not.  The works are impressive and intriguing.

Thousands of pieces of shiny wrapping paper grouped into balls

A cube of toothpicks, there's a base in the middle but probably more than half the volume is just toothpicks

Plastic straws!

Metal rings, similar to what tea-light candles sit inside

Pencil topography, close-up

Pencil topography, close-up


Pins by their thousands.  They are set at slightly different heights in the densest sections to catch and reflect the light.

Saturday 16 August 2014

The marginally interesting only-go-if-you-are-really-bored sights of Mountain View: NASA Ames Exploration Center

We were listing the (very limited) set of things to do in the Mountain View area for someone who was visiting and the NASA Ames Exploration Center came up, but none of us had actually been there.  Since it was so close, I decided it was time to take a look.

It's a small exhibit space with a few interesting displays and a replica of part of a space station you can walk inside. A fair bit of the space is occupied by a theatre with some documentaries playing, which actually seemed pretty interesting.  I took young kids there, and it entertained them for all of 30 minutes (mostly running up and down a ramp).  It looks like you can (maybe?) drive around the Ames campus after you go through a intimidating security checkpoint, and that's probably more interesting than the Exploration Center itself.

Friday 8 August 2014

Digging it in Vegas

Another year, another trip to Vegas!  On the flight in I got some spectacular views of sunset over the mountains.

Following last year's template, I ate another giant steak at the Golden Steer, and washed it down with the part-dessert, part-performance-art Bananas Foster.  Almost a tradition now!

I had just enough time before I flew out to slip in a hastily organised trip to Dig This to drive a bulldozer, ticking an item off my bucket list!  When I booked it, I had 28 minutes to get dressed, pack up, check out, leave my bag, and get a cab to the big sand lot: I made it with 0 minutes to spare :)

Blew 0.0 on the breathalyzer and sat down to watch the safety video by the founder of Dig This, who is a Kiwi, accompanied by a "no he's not Australian..." subtitle.  I guess they got sick of people asking.

Safety briefing was pretty quick and common sense.  Not much time wasted before we were in the bulldozer.
Big machines ready to be abused by n00bs
Inside the air-conditioned cab.  I was in this for most of an hour in Vegas summer heat and it was perfectly comfortable temperature-wise.  Could have done with some suspension :) 
First we drove a slalom course to get used to driving, then set about digging a big trench and piling up a 7ft dirt hill.  You use the ripper on the back to loosen things up, then start digging and dumping.  This is probably about halfway through.
Teetering right on top of my big dirt pile.  Driving over it was pretty fun :)
Guy beside me cleaning up his dirt pile and filling the trench back in.  Your prowess is measured by the quality of your hill and how much of a mess you leave afterward.  The other guy was better than me :(
We pushed these giant tractor tires around a slalom course.  Fairly tricky. 
My trench after I filled it back in.  I'm told this is a fairly respectable job, some people leave mountains...You can see the instructors chair where they supervise two people via wireless headsets.
You usually have a choice between excavator and bulldozer, although in my case they only had a bulldozer slot free.  I'd like to go back and do the excavator.  Apparently excavator is slightly easier since you can drive to the work area then just operate the arm, but when you're using the bulldozer you are constantly driving as well as controlling the blade.  I think doing both in one day would be too much, I was mentally exhausted after the single session.

I have a new appreciation for the skills of the people who do this for a living, it would take a considerable amount of practice to actually be useful on a construction site.  You need to constantly adjust the blade so that you are digging, but not getting stuck behind too much dirt.

Great fun, give it a go if you're in Vegas.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Creepy art, semi-naked dudes and yarn bombs: A South First Friday in San Jose

We went to check out a South First Friday in San Jose, it's an artwalk and street market, it was pretty fun.

We saw a bunch of interesting and downright creepy artwork, which I mostly liked and Em hated, but one performance art piece called The Operature was a stand out, and not in a good way.  The official teaser was:
Come experience The Operature, a live performance and augmented reality poem engaging themes of forensics, anatomical science, and spectacle. Participants can further explore the material and discover virtual layers of text and imagery through use of a special smartphone application. The Chicago Tribune describes the performance as “an ingenious curio cabinet of carefully selected language, props and movement”.
Or, if you like, come watch dudes in jock straps lock themselves into wooden stocks while you look at them through an ipad with a poem laid over the top.  Kudos to the actors for convincing people to pay them to do this though.

The Operature
Neighbourhood yarn bombing
There was some good live music.  These guys weren't in that category, but the hair was worth a photo.
Custom poems!  And more than one stall...
My favourite from the "A Human Race" exhibit by Zero Cents.  This is more subtly creepy than most of the exhibit, which would make a great set for Hannibal Lecter's kill room.