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Episode 21


Back in march I promised that new episodes of "The Works" were coming soon.

"Soon" is a relative term and although I thought I was going to have this one ready to go the spring it turns out it has taken me until the middle of September. Better late than never, I suppose.

At any rate, on this episode of the podcast we talk about domes - specifically planetarium domes and the magic that occurs under them.

As always, please talk a moment to listen to the story and if you like what you hear, feel listen to the other episodes or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

New Episodes of "The Works" Are Coming Soon

Today the creators of This American Life and Serial release their newest "spin-off" podcast, S-Town. I know very little about it other than it promises to be in the true-crime genre like the first season of Serial and it will probably be very good.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Hey, Isn't there a really good podcast out there about architecture and design?" There is: it's called 99% Invisible. If you haven't listened to it, you should.

What you're probably NOT thinking to yourself, "Hey, isn't there a second-rate podcast produced by that Brantley guy about architecture, those who create it and those who inhabit it?" Well, in the unlikely event you were wondering about that, you're right. 

Twenty episodes of the The Works have been produced over the past two years/seasons. "Runaway success" is not a term one would use to describe the effort but I've enjoyed drilling into some of the unexpected stories about the built environment that have been featured. Some episodes are better than others, but I'm proud of what's been created even if it's proven to be a lot more work than I imagined.

For the third season I decided to abandon the monthly format in favor of a more relaxed, whenever-I-feel-like-it approach. All that is to say that new episodes are in development but there won't be as many of them.

The next episode will be about planetaria; the curious interior spaces where people go to view what they should be able to see outside. Of special interest are the mechanical devises that project the stars onto the interior of the dome above (see image above). Recently these great steam-punk artifacts have begun to be replaced by modern digital projection systems. As is often the case, this new technology brings with it some exciting possibilities even if something is lost in the process.

In the meantime, you can subscribe to and listen to old episodes of The Works here. Enjoy.



The Analog Past vs. The Digital Future

We were up in Fort Worth this Thanksgiving to spend time with my family. In order to work off some of the massive amount of calories we had ingested the day before, on Friday we decided to take the girls to the Fort Worth Science and History Museum. The girls enjoyed the trip but I came away a little disoriented.

The museum played an important role in my childhood. It was THE museum we would go to as it was only about a half-hour from our house. My brother and I attended "Museum School" there during the summer and we both have fond memories of exploring its vast and sometimes creepy collection of artifacts. The diorama of a neolithic trepanning was especially memorable / frightening: it featured 3/4 scale cave men holding down and cutting into the head skull of one of their comrades.

Good, clean family fun.

The museum underwent a major renovation in 2007. The resulting building is almost entirely new and is completely unrecognizable from the one I knew as a kid. The physical reality of the museum has no connection to its former self. The exhibits have changed significantly as well. It's now much more of a interactive "children's" museum than the "natural history" museum that I knew it to be. The museum I knew exists only in the nostalgic "Hidden Treasures: Celebrating 75 Years" exhibit on the second floor.  More interactive museums are clearly where the money is these days - there and in the oil and gas industry. The largest and most impressive exhibit was dedicated to telling the magical story of hydraulic fracking to the next generation of young Texans. 

While we were at the museum we also watched a show at the Noble Planetarium. Like many other planetariums, it has switched from an analog to a digital method of presentation (Fort Worth has a dual system that has both digital and analog capabilities, but the attendant I spoke to says they only use the newer technology). In other words, rather than seeing a field of stars projected mechanically through a "star ball" with holes cut for individual stars, several computerized LCD projectors are deployed to cast an animated image of the universe onto the planetarium dome. 

There are certainly advantages to this approach. LCD technologies have the advantage of allowing video to be projected rather than just stars. The show we watched featured Big Bird and Elmo explaining how to find the North Star. That would have been impossible in the planetarium that existed when I was a kid.

Then again, the resolution and dynamic range of LCD projects is less than their analog predecessors. Or at least I think they are. The show we watched on Friday was muddy and blurry. The shows I remember going to as a kid were bright and crisp. Or at least I remember them being that way. My memory could be flawed.

It is hard to compare what is now with what was many years ago. We tend to remember things being bigger when we were smaller. We also remember things being more impressive when our world of experiences were more limited. It can be disorienting trying to rectify these past memories with current realities. The past will always be clearer because we know how it all turned out. The future will always be muddier and blurrier because we do not.