Sunday 04 Dec 2016

Pandemonium in Boston
AJ Robinson

I don't really remember my first trip to the Boston Children's Museum, and I sure don't remember where it is, but I do remember having a ton of fun at each visit! My dad must have taken me there for the first time when I was five or six. One thing I do remember is not being all that excited about going there. After all, it was a museum. At that age, that sort of place ranked just above "art gallery" on my idea of fun spots. Me, I wanted to go miniature golfing.

But, my dad said that this was a different sort of place, and that I'd love it. So, I decided to give it a shot; and was I glad I did! This was not at all like the Museum of Natural History. Now, while I did enjoy that place (I was really into dinosaurs), it was rather - stale, in terms of fun. Not so the Children's Museum. No, not one bit. Where other museums had signs up that said things like: "Do Not Touch," "Fragile," "Quiet, Please!" and so forth -- that was not the case here.

Inside the Children's Museum was, for lack of a better description, organized pandemonium. There were kids playing checkers on a giant board; there were over-sized tinker toys that you could operate at the touch of a button, and so forth and so on. The one display I really remember were two long tall Plexiglas tubes that went from the floor to almost the ceiling (and that was quite high). You stood in front of them, pushed a button, and these little claw hands grabbed a handful of feathers and slowly made their way all the way up to the top. Once there, they released the feathers. In one tube, they slowly fluttered to the bottom; in the other, they plunged like a rock. Now me, a little kid, I didn't see what was so important about it. It fell to my Dad to explain what it was trying to teach: the concept of air resistance. One tube had air in it, the other was a vacuum. Then I got it. Of course, I still didn't see it as all that fun. I mean, come on, watching feathers fall? Boring! That ranked about one notch above watching paint dry, as far as I was concerned.

Still, the museum was great because everything was touchable, everything was play-able; everything was designed with kids in mind. We spent the whole day there, and I couldn't wait to go back.

As it happened, we went back about six months later, and I was so disappointed that the exhibits had all changed. I guess it had to do with being a New Englander; we tend to resist change and like tradition; we like things to stay the way they are.

Well, as I found out, they had something new that was quite acceptable. They had a computer that you could play checkers with. Now, I realize that today people play all manner of games on (and with / against) computers, and checkers is but one of them; but, you must keep in mind, this was the early 70's. Back then, the term "Personal Computer" had yet to be coined; apple was a fruit, not a brand name, and, a computer screen - forget it. You typed in your questions / instructions, and the computer typed its answer on a roll of paper fed through a printer. Forget a monochrome green or amber screen, this was the "dinosaur era" of computers. The actual computer was so big it took up one side of the room!

So, it was quite the popular attraction, and I therefore had to wait in line to play against it, but I finally got to sit down and play the computer. Actually, I really stunk at checkers, but by the third game I had managed a win. I don't know if the computer was programmed to do that, but it certainly proved to be a fun day.

Over the years, the museum changed its displays many times, and upgraded the computers with them. The old reel-to-reel, checker playing system is long since gone. Today, I play chess on my laptop. Yet, I can't help but remember fondly that old computer at the Children's Museum. From checkers from to role-playing AI games in one generation - what a leap, eh?

 

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Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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