My vote for “Month at the Museum”

29 September 2010
Categories: Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry is about to begin an exciting project: Month at the Museum. One person will live in the museum for a full month—eating, sleeping, exploring, blogging, and educating guests, all within the confines of the big, verdigris-domed roof. For thirty days, they will be the world’s virtual eyes and ears, experiencing on our behalf everything the MSI has to offer.

When the museum announced the competition to become their glorified lab monkey, I briefly considered applying. Briefly. After all, I love the MSI. It is my favourite museum in the entire world, and I hold many fond memories from a lifetime of visits. But then I thought about the more pragmatic aspects of the gig: the disconnect from family and friends, the disruption from the comfort of a normal routine, the sense of living under a microscope in a Petri dish. Oh, and my general distaste for crowds. Yeah, no thanks.

I passed up the chance—but kudos to those who applied and to the five finalists who were announced this week. Until October 4, the museum has opened a public vote that will help them choose the winner. Here’s how I’m voting, and why.

We only have their one-minute audition films, and brief excerpts from their essays, so it’s a little hard to judge the all-important aspect of their personalities. For that reason, I could not vote for either Johnathan or Krispijn. Krispijn’s video is high-concept and humourous, but he never says a single word during it—that rates zero personality points. Meanwhile, Johnathan sings an original song, another example of obscuring personality behind concept (and a guitar). The song is upbeat and witty, I guess, if you like science puns. But by the end of it I was starting to feel like Bluto Blutarsky hearing a rendition of “I Gave my Love a Cherry.”

I gave a point each to Felix and Kate, because they live in Chicago. I like the idea of a local representative, and not only from the perspective of hometown pride. For one thing, they won’t experience the culture shock of a new city, since they already understand it. They might be better able to focus on the museum itself. For another, they should be acclimated to Chicago’s late-autumn weather. I’m not saying a Floridian (not to pick on Johnathan) would complain more than most Chicagoans do about how frakking cold the November wind gets, but I’m certain I don’t want to hear about it. Not when the subject could be Nikola Tesla, or Tom Lehrer’s “Elements” song.

Alex remained in the running. She presents herself well in her video, and being a “secret aeronautics geek” is a plus in my book. (Except perhaps the “secret” part—wear that geek badge with pride!) And she’s been writing a blog for the past couple of years, which gives her some experience with what the day-to-day gig will entail. The trouble is, well…

Ultimately, it all came down to the quality of the vicarious experience that I, as a MATM viewer, would receive. I want to read interesting, insightful blog posts without being distracted by poor spelling or annoyed by grammatical errors. I want a blogger with sufficient experience with wordsmithery that he or she is able to express ideas with clarity and concision, not blather on with random thoughts in thesaurus words that don’t serve the message. (That’s what this blog is for.)

In which case, Felix’s 6,700-plus blog posts strike me as putting him somewhere above the five-foot mark of Dave Sim’s metaphorical six-foot stack of paper. In other words, his blog—even when it’s about the particulars of his life, which is most of it—is well-written, witty, personality-driven, and easy to read.

What sealed it for me was the following essay excerpt:

I am excited at the prospect of being able to wander the corridors, documenting the exhibits as well as the minutiae of the Museum. I’d like to talk with both the curators and the cleaning staff, the gift store clerks and the interns. To me, living at the Museum means getting to know the people as well as the structure. And of course, I look forward to exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of the building…

That is exactly what I would intend to do if it was my gig. Get to know the people, not just the artifacts, for they are what truly make a museum. (That said, I have an artifact quest for the winner: find a piece of the first atomic pile that Enrico Fermi and company built in the racquets court under the Stagg Field stands at the University of Chicago. Hint: it’s graphite, not uranium, and it’s quite small. It’s my favourite item among the museum’s holdings.) Also, the museum is much more than its exhibit space, and a look behind the scenes would go a long way toward bringing the experience to life. Of the five finalists, this entry was the one whose potential for interesting results really got me excited.

My vote: Felix Jung.

  1. Tom Westphal
    September 30th, 2010 at 11:01 | #1

    I can’t vote for Felix. He lists “Donnie Darko” as one of his favorite movies and that is a serious indicator of low cerebral function.

  2. VernS
    September 30th, 2010 at 13:21 | #2

    I’m not sure I agree. Full disclosure- I voted for Alex Dainis, so I freely admit to bias in the analysis.

    I looked at both blogs that were easy to find online (Felix and Alex). Beyond Felix having more volume, I think both are well written and easy to read, neither showing many errors.

    Analyzing each one’s “I’m a Finalist” post shows Felix’s post at a 5.05 Flesch-Kincaid grade level, while Alex’s is at 6.89. They’re only a few points apart on the Flesch reading ease scale, and very close on the Fog scale as well.

    So, the only real difference in the blogs is one of “post every day” versus “post when there’s something interesting to say”. I’d rather see the latter.


  3. October 1st, 2010 at 17:20 | #3

    Aha! Now THAT’S science! Actually, I don’t know thing 1 about Flesch-Kincaid etc. I’ll have to check it out. Meanwhile, I found Kate’s blog and it’s spunky and thespian, much like her video. My reaction to that was — in a completely non-scientific mindset — that I’d find a month’s worth of spunky and thespian to be annoying. So I’m sticking with Felix.

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