Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Monday, December 31, 2007

Maryland Has the Bomb: Photos from the Army Ordnance Museum

I drove back from NJ on Friday. I've done the post-Christmas/pre-New Year drive from NJ-to-DC a bunch of times, and I always say I try to stop by the US Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, or the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade.

I think I've only managed it once, in the pre-digital camera era. But I did hit both museums in the same day. Not this time, though -- I got to Aberdeen a little later than I'd hoped because of traffic. And, you can't take the closest entrance -- you have to go around a bit to a visitor's entrance, show ID, sign in and get a visitor pass.

Because it was late afternoon, the light started fading pretty quickly. So I was pretty rushed and only had a chance to do a quick run through.

Here's the full set: US Army Ordnance Museum, 12/27/07. Some highlights:

M1 Abrams main battle tank

Watch out: Maryland has nukes:

"Handle With Care."

That's the tactical nuclear recoilless rifle, the M-388 Davy Crockett, often purported to have a kill radius bigger than its delivery range.

Closeup of the warhead:

"Hi there!"

Smoking kills:

Booby-trapped cigarette, lighter and cigarette pack.

Collection of Lee-Enfield rifles:


A non-ordnance-related sign:

"The Other Door is the Men's Room. This is just a closet."

Now, one good thing about it being so late in the day, the setting sun added an orange tinge -- on the desert tan-painted stuff (mostly German), it gave things a neat, reddish-pink highlight:

Panther? I don't know my panzers.

Either a Tiger or a Mark IV.

Someone had put a wreath at the base of this tank:

Wreath laid at the base of a tank.

This tank has seen better days:

The colors were still kind of neat.

A five-tube rocket artillery piece:


The T-12, a 43,000+ pound bomb:

MOAB on this.

Since Aberdeen is about 30 miles north of Baltimore, it's just far enough away to be a haul, but it's worth the visit. Check out the full set for more.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The NRA Responds to Allegations That They Bugged Me

So just before Memorial Day weekend, I found an e-mail from Philip Schreier, Senior Curator at the National Firearms Museum. He was responding to my cranky blog entry about some of the shortcomings of the display space, " The NRA's National Firearms Museum Bugs Me."

I wasn't particularly surprised that someone from the NRA found my entry, any moreso than, say, someone from Wrigley's hitting my entry warning about Eclipse mints or employees of the "World Reserve Monetary Exchange" seeing my entry on the folly of buying uncut currency sheets from them. It kind of comes with the territory, and what's simply vanity searching for any given person is part of reputation management and due diligence for an organization.

I was a little surprised by the length and thoroughness of the response, which addresses my complaints by explaining the problems of trying to fit a lot of guns into a relatively small space (and really, who among us hasn't faced that problem at one time or another?). So I will include Mr. Schreier's entire response below, without commentary:
Date: Thu, 24 May 2007 17:12:16 -0400
From: "Schreier, Philip"
To: joe@joelogon.com
Subject: National Firearms Museum

Dear Joe:

Thanks for visiting the NFM here in Fairfax. I read your blog about your
visit and thought I would try and provide you with some background on our
design process.

First off, you have some very valid points.

The building we are housed in was meant to be an office building. Our
museum was placed in an area formerly the home to our IT people. In an
ideal situation we would have had 15' ceilings and another 20,000 square
feet of display space. In other words we had to make do with what we had.
The result is somewhat cramped and the lighting isn't ideal.

We did hire a lighting designer from the Pratt Institute of NYC to do the
lighting. He did a remarkable job. Here is the deal. The guns and the
objects are quite visible and clear. Yes there are a few areas where
light does reflect from other areas and causes some viewing problems,
however, for the most part it is clear. Now that is not to say it is a
photographer's dream either. There is a HUGE difference from you looking
at an exhibit and you trying to take a picture of one. Glass is glass and
it is miserable to shoot around under ANY circumstances.

You mentioned the USMC Museum in Quantico. GREAT PLACE. Lots of room,
high ceilings, dark walls = -0- reflective surfaces. They had that luxury
that we only wish we had.

The "display bunker" at the beginning of the museum is a facade of a
medieval castle, with what were called "archers loops" or protected areas
where the archers could fire at the enemy. We did "hide" the guns here
for a reason. 90% of the visitors aged 16 - 40 want to see modern black
rifles and plastic guns. The old stuff, comes off as antique and stuffy.
We put it behind tight windows because people like to look into windows
and it is a huge draw to the artifacts. It is a great study in human
nature. People literally crowd around to "peek" inside. The whole gun is
visible and unobstructed in each instance, however, again it is not
conducive to an ideal photograph. From that point of view I can
understand your frustration, but please remember, our first objective is
to inform the public, providing "sets" for photographers is secondary.

As for the information design aspect. I agree. I hate it as well. Any
ideas? Happy to hear them. In the first part of the museum we have lots
of space and few guns. Easier to place text. Later we have huge amounts
of guns and no space to display text. If we had a text card next to each
gun it would be a huge eyesore. Some happy medium has to be struck, we
just haven't found it yet.

Thanks for the tip on the numbers lock button, I will have to see if it
can be disabled or not.

Any other problems, concerns or otherwise, please feel free to ask. On
your next visit I would be happy to take you on a personal tour and show
you what went into the design elements.

Until then,

I remain Sincerely,

Philip Schreier
Senior Curator
National Firearms Museum
National Rifle Association
I don't really have anything further to add, although his e-mail did remind me that I never posted the pics from my trip to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico a few months ago. (And I never finished annotating my Hirshhorn pics from before that...)

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

The NRA's National Firearms Museum Bugs Me

So as I mentioned yesterday, after I got done filing my taxes, I stopped by the National Firearms Museum, which is at NRA HQ in Fairfax (right down the road from my CPA):

NRA HQ in Fairfax

I've been there before, though not in the digital camera era. You can see my full set of 50 photos here.

The exhibits started to bug me after a while. And not for any political or ideological baggage -- it's a museum full of guns at NRA headquarters, so it comes with the territory. It's for other reasons [Update: A few weeks later, Philip Schreier of the NRA museum e-mailed me -- I posted his response, which addresses the issues I raised]:

* Aesthetics: The presentation for a bunch of the displays just... lacks. You've got a lot of glass display cases, relatively close together, and the lighting leads to a lot of reflections, and you've got layers of pistols in front of rifles and the like. All of which makes it really hard to get a picture where you can clearly see what's inside the case:

Japanese guns of WWII
You can sort of see the WWII-era Japanese firearms here.

Since it's a relatively small space, I don't know what they can do, but a lighting consultant couldn't hurt. The reflection problem, for example, didn't seem quite as bad in the Marine Corps Museum (I still need to get my pics up from March).

Similarly, some of the older, rarer, and presumably more valuable items in the Old Guns in a New World gallery are in a kind of display bunker, which makes it really hard to get a good view:


Okay, so asset protection is important. I get that. Then what about the diorama-ish window treatments in the Revolutionary War House display and Civil War Federal arms factory, that pretty much only serve to obstruct the view?

DSCF1064 DSCF1066
Left: Revolutionary War muskets. Right: Civil War carbines (note the revolver action on the middle one)

* Information Design: In some of the cases, the numbered labels skip around, so you have to hunt around to see what item is which. That's a minor annoyance, though, compared to the info kiosks that have the information on the bulk of the firearms. In order to find out what's what, you have to:

1. Get the number off the display case (which is pretty easily overlooked, since it's on a frosted sticker on the bottom of each case) and the tag number off the item, then...

2. ...go to the kiosk, which typically serves a bunch of display cases and is invariably a few steps away and out of view from the one you want:

Modern assault and sniper rifles.

So you have to keep going back and forth from case to kiosk.

3. Not to mention having to key it in on a number pad that looks like it was pulled off a TRS-80, that throws a modal window if you try to enter a case number after the Num Lock key gets accidentally turned off (which shouldn't even be allowed):


...and that throws the same warning dialog every time the Num Lock key gets pressed (even if you're turning it back on).

Oh, and it runs on Windows -- I saw at least one kiosk that had crashed out to the desktop. (I didn't do it, but I didn't get a picture.)

Anyway, that's the whining portion of the program. A couple more of the more notable items:

"For obvious reasons the return of this rifle after Germany is defeated would be deeply appreciated."

The story behind this rifle is here.

A strange billy club mounted on a revolver (the gun can be fired with it on), and some snub-nosed revolvers.

A closeup of assault and sniper rifes:

French FAMAS, Czech VZ.52 (not SKS, like I thought) rifle, M-16 Colt Commando (I think), M-24 sniper rifle (I think), Dragunov sniper rifle, a Valmet assault rifle, and of course, an underfolder AK-47 with bayonet.

Gyrojet carbine and rifle, which fires a mini-rocket projectile and was also mentioned in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice.

Some sort of prototype:


And of course, a competition target rifle wrapped in duct tape:

Apparently the shooter needed to jerry-rig some counterweights with lead wire and duct tape and decided to keep it like that.

So that's it. See the rest of the photos here.

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