Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer road trip, part one: Halls of fame

Readers of Tech-media-tainment know that I like halls of fame – those shrines to the greats of every profession and talent.
At the start of my family’s recent seven-day road trip vacation, we visited two halls of fame: the Robot Hall of Fame in Pittsburgh and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

The Robot Hall of Fame

I love robots – robots for science, exploration, industrial use and fictional robots from movies and TV shows. I’ve followed the Robot Hall of Fame for many years. I attended the 2008 induction ceremony and voted online for the 2012 class of inductees, the first time voting was open to the general public.
The Robot Hall of Fame has a physical presence in the Roboworld exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. While the Carnegie Science Center is a great attraction for families, the Robot Hall of Fame section needs a major upgrade.
For starters, not all of the enshrined robots are represented in the exhibit. Because it’s a children’s museum, all are fictional robots from movies and TV shows.
The display features reproductions of R2-D2 and C-3PO from “Star Wars,” HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Dewey from “Silent Running,” Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet,” Maria from “Metropolis” and Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” That’s just seven of the 30 robots that have been inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame to date. The pop culture robot display also includes Robot B-9 from “Lost in Space,” which has yet to be inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame.
The exhibit is simply a taste of the Robot Hall of Fame, not a complete experience. The individual robots on display are mostly static with blinking or flashing lights to make them seem more active. Each includes a descriptive plaque. HAL 9000 has a small video display with the villainous computer’s dialog from the movie.
But a true Robot Hall of Fame deserves a more fitting presentation. Funding has been a problem, so a larger, standalone shrine is unlikely. A small theater playing a looping video showcasing all the robots in the hall of fame would be nice.
Ideally each robot would get a display with animatronics, interactivity and multimedia.
The rest of the Roboworld exhibit is a lot more compelling. There’s a basketball-throwing robot, a robot that plays air hockey with you and a humanoid robot that acts out scenes from movies.
Maybe one day the Robot Hall of Fame will get its own museum that will feature all the real and fictional robots inducted. It would include such real robots as the Unimate industrial robot, the da Vinci Surgical System, Mars exploration robots Spirit and Opportunity, and the iRobot military robot PackBot.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been a bucket-list destination of mine for some time. I’m glad to say that it’s worth the trip to Cleveland.
The hall of fame is packed with memorabilia, costumes, instruments and other possessions of some of pop music’s greats.
The downstairs level is the largest and best section of the museum. It features a dizzying array of unique items from hall of fame inductees and current stars who aren’t yet eligible for inclusion.
On our visit, the museum had just opened a fashion exhibit devoted to Beyonce, which was terrific.
I enjoyed seeing the tour clothing, musical instruments, handwritten song lyrics, set lists and other items from the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, U2, Billy Joel, Madonna, ZZ Top, Michael Jackson and many more.
Much of it was a trip down memory lane for me, having grown up listening to and watching these artists. I got a kick out of the Dick Clark tribute film and seeing all the then-young artists appear on “American Bandstand.”
I liked some of the unique items on display, such as Janis Joplin’s psychedelic-painted 1965 Porsche.
My kids appreciated seeing items on display from younger artists, including Katy Perry, Kesha, Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Perry’s peppermint candy-themed dress was a big hit with my 8-year-old daughter.
The other levels of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are a bit of a disappointment in terms of content and layout, largely because of the odd shape of the I.M. Pei-designed building.
One thing that is sorely missing from the museum is a prominent exhibit that spells out who all the inductees to the rock hall actually are.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exterior;
R2-D2 at Robot Hall of Fame;
Dewey at Robot Hall of Fame;
Beyonce costume exhibit at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame;
Beatles collection at rock hall;
Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche at rock hall;
Katy Perry’s peppermint tour costume at rock hall.

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