Tuesday, August 29, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois

Museum Day 2: Revenge of the Museums – The day began after a rather refreshing sleep at the hotel (8 hours, a record for me this holiday - seem to be having trouble sleeping, could be the damn cold air conditioning that I don't seem to be able to control).

I caught a bus just a few blocks from the hotel that I had read went directly to the museum I visited today: The Museum of Science and Industry (well known for it's U-Boat parked outside). Advertised as “just minutes from downtown” this description proved to be a bit optimistic - 15 minutes later we arrived at the museum having travelled along the Lakeshore road well past yesterday's museum, the Field Museum. This was the third museum in my ticket packet for sites so I was able to just walk directly past the lines to gain admission.

The big exhibit there was the Titanic travelling exhibition but I decided not to go into it. They had a big piece of one of the engines on display in the main ticket hall (in a tank of water being treated for rust) which was quite impressive but the whole incident is such a tragedy, it has been so commercially exploited that it does bother me somewhat (and at $10 to get in, a bit expensive, especially on top of the entrance to the museum). A little later in the museum I overheard a few people suggesting that it was not really worth it anyway (not anything more than what has been shown on television anyway - nor more impressive or informative).

The first exhibit was just off of the escalators where I wandered through an exhibit of various models of ships, many multi-rigged ships which was quite impressive. I wandered through an interesting exhibit on Energy which discussed various solar and nuclear issues which I found most interesting (including how solar panels work, the storage of nuclear waste, and info about how an energy cell works). I wandered from here to the U-Boat exhibit which was a walk through the U505 which is parked just outside the door of the museum. It was a good tour which really proved how small and cramped the conditions were - as well as discussing the various sanitary conditions they had to survive (no shower for 100 days, hot-bunking with 2 other people, 4-6 hours sleep after each shift). It was quite interesting to hear that this particular boat was captured in the second world war and was the source of an Enigma encoding device (an encryption device used by the German's in the war). The boat was sailed through the St. Lawrence and into Lake Michigan and raised out of the water and dragged quite a number of feet across the road to the museum.

I found my way over to a small, but good, exhibit on an aircraft carrier with a brief “flight simulator” ride in a F-14 fighter taking off and landing on the carrier. Those silly things always make me sick, they are never good enough, it seems, not to fool my head so I feel dizzy. In the real thing I tend to not have any problems, only in these motion machines. Anyway, I shook off the headache and wandered to see the light show that takes place for the 727 that they have in the museum - basically showing the use of the various control surfaces of the aircraft during take off and landing. I also toured the plane inside and talked briefly to a pilot who was on duty there (quite interesting also).

Continuing on in the very disorganised area, I proceeded to a heart exhibit basically expounding the use of exercise and good diet (nothing I did not already know) and then through to a very informative exhibit on Aid's which I spent some time learning about the disease and HIV which leads to it. I really delved into some of the more technical details and learned a lot.

Heading around and down the stairs from the upper floor I enjoyed the exhibit called “Yesterday's Main Street” which was a mock-up of a Chicago street in the 19th century. It was quite well done with all sorts of shops set up, cobble streets, etc.

After wandering through the small exhibit on classic cars and their effect on rural life, I stood in line for another of the big exhibits: The Coal Mine. Standing there for about 45 minutes, we finally were led into an elevator and taken down “600 feet” into a “mine” (yeah, right) and learned a bit about the technology used to mine coal. I was surprised to learn that most of the coal produced in the US comes from Illinois and I also was quite taken aback at the really neat way they mine the coal (when mining as opposed to the more popular surface mining) – using a machine that chews away at the deposit's surface and shuffles the roof along with the deposit as it is excavated. Quite ingenious - no need for permanent propping up of the roof.

There was some confusion about what time the museum was to close, I had been told 4:30 so around about 4, after I visited the Coal Mine I headed out to catch a look at another exhibit I had heard about that was at the ticket area - inside the Silver Streak Pioneer Zephyr train (the first diesel/electric train). It was quite good to listen to the information about the train though the tour was a bit corny with 1) a talking mule (the mascot of the train), 2) a series of mannequins sitting in seats that you sit beside who have speakers in them that describe the trip and 3) two animatronic characters describing the trip on the train. Who ever heard of presenting things in a literate manner? In some ways it was quite disappointing (I found the non-tour part of the train where you could look around and read some technical bits far more interesting).

After this, realizing the museum had another half hour to go, I headed to the Imaging area which was quite good with all sorts of computers that took a picture of your face and allowed you to manipulate it (at the same time, storing it into a database in their central computer - displaying all pictures on a big screen in the exhibit). Quite good to also read about what they are using some of the new imaging technologies for (police, medicine, etc).

This pretty much did it for the day so I caught the bus back to the hotel (nice with the bus being air-conditioned - the weather today has been very overcast and humid - a sort of “orangy” look to the sky). It was good that I was able to register for the convention tonight as it will mean I do not have to worry about it tomorrow or Thursday (when the convention is meant to begin). I ordered a deep dish (“stuffed” as they call it here) pizza delivered from one of the best places in Chicago (“Gino's East” if you must know). So I ate pizza and sat in front of the TV watching the Cubs (who seem to be in position to win, for a change tonight, though I am still watching it).

⇒ Continue to Wednesday, August 30, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois