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Taxono Me

16 April 201505:04AMusa-2015travel

The correct way to start the day in New York is, of course, with bagels.

Bagels and coffee.

Bagels and coffee on your way to the Statue of Liberty.

bagels and coffee while walkin

The Statue of Liberty is odd, because when you see it from Manhattan, it looks way too small to be real. And then, when you see it up close, it looks way to big to be real instead.

statue of liberty

statue of liberty

We spent the afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History, and its associated Hayden Planetarium. This place is so cool. Natural history museums generally are. And on a couple of counts, this one actually comes out ahead of London, which is just nuts.

I really like the way their dinosaurs were arranged. The whole thing was ordered by branches of the taxonomic tree. I actually think this is extended to the whole museum, but it was particularly well done for the dinosaurs. So for example, it illustrated what should obvious from the name: Tyrannosaurus rex is a standard 'Genus species' binomial name. So T. rex isn't just made up to be easier to say, it's the actual correct contraction of that name. And furthermore, that means that there are other species of Tyrannosaurs.

(With the magic of selfies, I have captured this moment of realisation for you.)

taxono-us

It seems really obvious when you recognise it that way, but it took a room filled with its relatives' skeletons to actually make that obvious to me. And it makes me suddenly very curious about what the other Tyrannosaurs were actually like.

Tyrannosaurs.

I really like the old-school glass-based augmented reality thing they do as well. It beats ordinary old information panels by a mile, and they use them to ask some really good questions.

birds with spikes

The other thing the Museum does incredibly well is these dioramas, mostly of (presumably taxidermied) North American wildlife, but also a pretty extensive bunch of sea creatures too. They all have perfectly recreated environments which blend in perfectly with beautiful painted backdrops. It's very old-school museum, but it's well maintained and well presented and it still really works, especially for a foreigner like me who has no idea where to even begin with these animals. Weirdly, these didn't seem to be arranged taxonomically, but sort of by habitat, sometimes even mixing species in the same exhibit. Which looked cool, but wasn't as illustrative as the taxonomical approach, I think.

Bonus points for having wavey lighting and sounds coming from the roof of the ocean room as well. Really classy.

oceanographer's dream

...

Yeah, alright, let's stop beating around the bush and talk about the Planetarium, shall we?

The show was cool, don't get me wrong. Dark universe may just be the coolest planetarium show I've ever seen, and I'm going to shamelessly steal some things from it for myself. And the surroundings were awesome; the scale of the universe and cosmic pathway stuff surrounding it were properly mind-blowing, and really really clever.

That said, I think I like ours better. Not just because I get to drive it, but because we do a totally kickass live show for every single session. In terms of what your average visitor gets, we do way more with it. And in terms of size (and other such things that don't matter), it felt like it was pretty comparable, though it's hard to tell given that they're very differently oriented - they Hayden dome goes all the way over your head, whereas ours is sort of tilted forwards.

It was really cool, and totally worth going - but this is one of those situations where it made me appreciate what we have at home just as much as I appreciated what I saw there.

We finished off the day with another climb up another tall thing, this time the Rockefeller center at night - which was just a whole new level of whoa - and dinner at a diner. Which is, apparently, still a real thing.

You can see into apartments. Creppy.

You keep doing that, America. Being a real place. How on earth are you a real place?

We may never know.

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