austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

See the world spinning 'round

I've got a fine cochlea, if I may say so without bragging. I tend not to get motion sickness, rarely lose balance, and it ordinarily takes a lot to disorient me. So I'm at a loss to explain the Singapore Discovery Centre's repeated successful attacks on my balance.

Some disorientation came from the theme of the place: from its name and the Interactive Robot they advertise as a new exhibit, I thought it was another science museum. It's actually a museum dedicated to the Singapore Armed Forces, the National Defence, and related activities. They have a lot of movies in several theaters, including one Imax screen (showing a Nova documentary on Sir Ernest Shackleton, properly amazing).

It tries to be an Interactive Museum, so there's abundant Simulations of ship bridges or such, with consoles that don't work; or touch-screen computer displays that register your touch about an inch away from where your finger actually was. That is, it's just like every other Interactive Museum. The Interactive Robot, supposed to look at people and answer basic questions, was ``recharging'' when I was there.

The entry is a suspended walkway two large triangular prisms, mirrored on all sides including floor and ceiling, with LED displays scrolling text too fast to see, monitors jumping between pictures, producing the effect of stumbling into a news program's opening credits. This leads to the Prepare For Peace stand, an array of TV sets with mirrors arranged so that the repeated reflections turn it into a big hovering ball of televisions much bigger than any person. When the monitors switch in step it's like the explosion of Praxis.

Another room compares Singapore's National Defence to the programs of other small countries; they have a monitor set on its side, so the grain goes the wrong way and makes the picture far too distracting, to show Singapore as compared to Sweden and Switzerland. That narration started, ``Sweden.'' And waited, apparently for me to quip, ``Any questions?'' before continuing. Beam splitters, multiple projectors, and rapid focuses combine to defeat any attempt of the eye to focus.

And then there's the Motion Simulator Ride, which takes its small audience and shakes it around while a plotless CGI cartoon on the screen sends you tumbling around at length. They really should just give in and buy the rights to the Trench Run from Star Wars already.

The overall theme of what educational material was provided -- the exhibits are really aimed at the under-ten crowd -- was that a small country must rely on superior training, strategic planning, and tactical ingenuity for survival. This was driven home in yet another play, in which Robot First Class Tintoy is placed in charge of the defenses of the small island of Tintopia, under attack from the numerically superior forces of Subtopia. On the verge of panic, he calls on his military computer's artificial intelligence reconstructions of Sun Tzu, Hannibal, Ghengis Khan (portrayed, I note, by the third-runner up in this year's Joe Flaherty Impersonation Contest), Machiavelli, and Basil Liddell-Hart, who walk it through the defense of Tintopia and conquest of Subtopia. They then reveal to the triumphant Tintoy that this was all a simulation, to teach him the value of strategic planning.

The moral, so far as I can figure: The Republic of Singapore is kept safe by whiny robots who are regularly subjected to cruel psychological experiments.

On the bus home I saw the Discovery Centre is to close at the end of October for a S$25 million renovation, which may fix the Interactive buttons.

Trivia: The first known play based on the life of Edward Teach -- Blackbeard the pirate -- was performed at the Royal Circus in London, Easter Monday of 1798. Source: Under the Black Flag: Exploits of the Most Notorious Pirates, Don C. Seitz.

Currently Reading: Featuring The Saint, Leslie Charteris.


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