Tag Archives: California State Railroad Museum

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing


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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.


The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to goo.gl/WEplXS to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters (goo.gl/4RKgVR) in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

Spam Spam Spam Spam!


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photograph of a can of SPAM

Spam! Photo by Dave Crosby and retrieved from Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

This is a tale about spam.

Not the overly salty, state meat of Hawai’i spam, but comment spam. Not the creation of Hormel, used to feed our hungry, greatest generation troops, marketed as “tasty pork shoulder and ham” on the old Burns & Allen Radio Show, but the spam that we all see, the spam that is unfortunately part of everyone’s digital life. So what else is there to say?

Well, first, a few metrics about why Spam is important to know something about. In a quick search, I’ve found these stats, which, sadly, are not all that surprising:

  1. 14.5 billion spam messages are generated each day.
  2. Researchers estimate that spam makes up somewhere between 45 and 73% of all emails.
  3. The United States is the largest generator (and receiver) of spam messages.
  4. Spam costs businesses over $20 billion dollars annually.
  5. 90% of all spam is in English, but relax. In 2012, it was 96%.

One of the frustrating things about writing a blog is that it’s quite difficult to measure the effects of what I write. We count on comments for feedback. It’s one thing to look at the statistics of hits, but the feedback lets us know what you’re thinking about what we’re thinking.

Unfortunately, most of the comments we receive here at Media Platypus are spam. Obvious, crude, idiotic spam, but at least they’re different than the ones that hit my inbox. These are bot-generated attempts to submit comments that they hope will be posted, assuming that our readers are dumb enough to click on their links. Fortunately, WordPress, our host, is pretty good about identifying spam, and we moderate all of the comments. Here are a couple of interesting examples, with the links redacted:

  • michael kors handbags…Simple scratches and dents to the bodywork are easy to repair using a soft mallet for panel beating and abrasive paper, spray paint and filler for paintwork repairs….
  • Alexander Wang online…I enjoy you because of your own labor on this web site. My aunt really loves participating in research and it’s obvious why. Most of us hear all relating to the dynamic tactic you offer very helpful guides by means of the web site and even recommend p…
  • Louis Vuitton Outlet…How perhaps you have create a blog appear this sick!? Email me should you get the ability and share your perception. Id be appreciative!…

You get the idea. When I have time to read them, they kind of crack me up, because I just can’t understand how they think they could fool anyone. And it’s a good thing that I’m patient with them because there seems to have been a delay in my latest financial plan, which involves receiving a rather large payment from a very highly placed officer in a Nigerian bank, but I digress.

After a couple of weeks of seeing this nonsense, you think you’ve seen what spam looks like and you think you have it nailed, but a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to learn about a whole new and somewhat more sophisticated attempt to spam us at my workplace. This one is pretty cool, and whoever is running it has actually gone to a bit of work. For this part of the story, I’ve included several links that are safe and won’t harm your computer, but I recommend that you don’t click on links within the sites I refer to. Spam and malware is an insidious and thoroughly evil thing, and there’s no sense in taunting or playing with evil things, okay?

Many people know that I work at the California State Railroad Museum, which is the largest institution of its type in North America, and one of the largest in the world. We are pretty well known and pretty popular, and we regularly hear and get questions from across the country and around the world. One day, we received this email to our info account:

This is an enquiry e-mail via http://www.csrmf.org/ from:
Jessica King <jessicak@laramiepubliclibrary.net>

Hi California State Railroad Museum!

My name is Jessica and I am writing to you on behalf of the Laramie Public Library. I’d like to thank you for offering some great info on your page – http://www.csrmf.org/visitor-information/links – I have been referring to it as I gather new materials on trains and railroads, and many of the resources on your page have been a huge help!

I’d also like to let you know about this great guide on model trains that one of our local railroad enthusiasts, Derek, came across while helping me:
Model Trains and More Freight Hobbies!
http://redacted link

It’d be great if you could include this page on your website! Derek (a high school sophomore) and I have found it to be very informative and we think the people who visit your site will find it to be quite interesting, too!

Thanks for your time, and please shoot me an e-mail if you decide to add this to your site. Derek would be thrilled to see that he’s helping to share information on a topic he is so passionate about!

Jessica King

We get a lot of things in this general vein, but something just didn’t ring quite true. With a lot of the unsolicited emails we get, I often will just google the address or at least open it in a browser. If nothing else, it helps me understand who I might be corresponding with, so I can better answer their questions. On this one though, there were some red flags:

  • the .net domain for a public library seemed weird. I expected a .gov or perhaps .wy.us .
  • “Jessica” seems to be speaking on behalf of “Derek,” who is allegedly a High School sophomore. She seems to have no title (librarian, researcher, volunteer, etc.,) and she’s endorsing something from a High Schooler. I’m kinda thinking that even if Derek isn’t allowed to use email, she might have had him write his own query even if she sent it from her own account.
  • If “Derek” is doing research, and contacts the largest railroad research library in the country, why isn’t he asking us a question?

So off I went to look at the “library” site,  laramiepubliclibrary.net, which seemed not overtly spammy or phony, but there were a couple of things that stuck out:

  1. there’s no indication where the physical facility is, what their hours are, etc. Hmmmm.
  2. The website appears very clean and template based, but seems a bit odd that it doesn’t seem to reflect anything that would seem Wyoming related to me. After all, libraries should and usually are reflections of the community.

So then I Googled “Laramie Public Library” (https://www.google.com/search?q=laramie+public+library&aq=f&oq=laramie+public+library&aqs=chrome.0.57j60l3j0l2.12595j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#safe=off&hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=what+is+laramie+public+library&oq=what+is+laramie+public+library&gs_l=serp.3..33i29i30l4.20409.32228.1.33652.…0.0…1c.1.12.psy-ab.P-K7Mcn_ZWc&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45960087,d.cGE&fp=59522ab026b941d4&biw=1092&bih=837 )

I note that laramiepubliclibrary.net does indeed come up in the search results, but the real Library in Laramie, Wyoming is the Albany County Public Library. There is also a Laramie County Library System (www.lclsonline.org/) with libraries in Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs and Burns Wyoming. None of these seem to be connected with laramiepubliclibrary.net , and outside of a website with, admittedly, several layers of pages that look good, but ultimately are just generic nonsense, there’s nothing there.

Then I went to the page that “Jessica” and “Derek” endorsed, which is a rather shallow essay about something related to model railroads, then I went to the site’s home page. It’s for a company that deals with shipping logistics.

The site itself is an ersatz blog. I don’t know the details of this stuff, but there are web consultants who encourage companies to set up blog sites rather than a traditional web presence, with the theory being that their customers may return for repeat visits if there is new content, and that a blog may appear more personal than a regular website, plus it’s cheaper than a real website. I’ve seen several of these. Some of the blog entries tend to go into weird subjects not even remotely related to the company’s business, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are people who write essays on all sorts of subjects that are sold or provided to these sites as part of a site management strategy.

So to test this, I searched Google using phrases from the essay about model trains. Many times you can match entire paragraphs of generic content with other online sources– it’s one of the quick and dirty ways to find plagarism. I didn’t match the essay, but I found a site that seems to have dozens or hundreds of nonsense phrases and sentences. If you’re interested, you can go to: http://static. . It’s a just a text file. My fave is

  • In April 2001, a boy wandered away from his family and was discovered dead, with indications of a dingo attack.

This gets back to some of the comments we receive here at Media Platypus. They likely don’t originate from whoever put this particular site together, but it’s the same sort of stuff, and it’s a huge global business. If you glance through the file, the variety and sheer insanity of the variety of phrases is incredible. I also climbed up the file tree in this site, and there are other pages, even a list of names (which I assume are generated names for spam emails and such) as well as some of those pages I occasionally see when doing a broad search for a subject, that are weird lists of shopping sources for something. Here’s an example: http://static.

What does it all mean?

In our case, it means that this spammer seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble to try and get us to link to some inane essay for no discernable reason. I simply don’t understand what benefit the logistics company might get from this. It seems like a lot of work for nothing.

Secondly, this seems to speak of a bit of human interaction in making spam more sophisticated. Someone had to create this site. It uses a professional template, and unlike a lot of foreign sites, there seems to be good grammar and spelling, so it’s not as obvious as many things we know absolutely to be spam.

Was all of this created specifically to spam the California State Railroad Museum? Nah. I suspect that “Jessica” sends lots of emails on behalf of “Derek” to enthusiastically promote “his” discovery of information about trains, carpeting, heirloom tomatoes, ball bearings, analgesics, roofing materials and perhaps kiwi smoothies.

Frankly, I’m kind of impressed with this level of sophistication, and as a communicator, any method of communicating interests me, but it’s also something to keep in mind to keep our social media and online presence relevant and safe for our audience to visit. It’s just another thing to know.

p.s. I’ve just got to admit that I’m sort of looking forward to seeing what kind of spam comments will be generated  and sent as comments to this post. There seems to be a kind of “circle of life” quality to the possiblity. In the meantime, here are a couple of goodies:

Worst spam comment found on a Google search: http://thinkclickandgrowrich.com/550/wordpress-comment-spam-from-joel-comm/

Museum of comment spam: http://thecommentspamblog.wordpress.com/

And of course, the absolute best expression of spam, EVER:


Google Floorplan: That’s A Name, Not A Search Term


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photograph of the google indoor camera equipment

One of the interpretive sites I work at is pretty large compared to many interpretive sites—the primary campus for the California State Railroad Museum is over 200,000 square feet. Of course, this is nothing compared to, say, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Russia, the Louvre in Paris, or any of the units of the Smithsonian, but it’s large enough.

We are also well-known, so there are entities who want to partner with us for increasing their visibility. Politicians, historians, railroad companies, even bands often come to us wanting to use the venue to make a visual and emotional connection. Google is not one of those entities who need us.

After all, Google pretty much rules the search engine business. Google owns YouTube, the most widely used video platform. Google maps pretty much rule the roost. Heck, “google” is both a trade name and a verb, and it achieved that status much more quickly than, say ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Xerox’ did. In fact, just as I’m writing this today, Google has released a new Google maps app for the iphone to replace Apple’s really poor substitute, and Google rose 1.3% while Apple dropped another percent.

So imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two emails from actual, verified Googlians. They are suddenly very interested in coming to the California State Railroad Museum. And get this– they wanna map the inside of the facility!

This is actually pretty cool, and there are two things going on. First of all, Google wants to map the interior of our public spaces, and we’ve already given them our floorplan maps so they can show the interior of the building. For us, this will work because, like I said, the main campus is HUGE. As we continue to use and possess more and more smart devices– phones, tablets, perhaps ankle bracelets for some of my “friends” (ahem,) then you might be actually able to find, say a child who’s wandered off inside a museum or art gallery or shopping mall. You could arrange to meet your friends at the Mona Lisa, or even specify which table they can find you at in a restaurant. Google indoor views have already been added to some of the large casinos on the Vegas strip. Compare the view of New York New York between the satellite view and indoor map view. Imagine that you’ve never been there before. Which makes more sense?

Satellite view

Map view

Full disclosure– I’ve increased the saturation of the Google map portion in Photoshop to make it easier to read. The contrast is actually pretty low in the actual map view. Setting that aside though, which one do you think would be more useful for a newbie to navigate with?

I thought so.

Of course, compared with a casino, whose floorplans are widely thought to be consciously designed to prevent you from ever seeing daylight again, our facility is much, much simpler.

Basically, to provide a floorplan, all you have to do is to upload it, and match three anchor points over a map view of the facility. We’ve done this. The next step, of course, is the paperwork. We have to certify to Google that we are the owners, we are responsible for the content, and that the content is accurate. We also need to work with Google to ensure than non-public areas are not shown. Google will then send out some Googlians to collect some data points with GPS units so that they are sure of the accuracy, and they will redraw what we provided in a manner that’s consistent with their standards.All of this makes sense. I hope that we get this done soon, but I work for a governmental agency, and deliberation and delay are part of the decision process. I’m pretty sure that we’ll get there though.

Photograph of a car with Google Street view cameras on the roof

Google Streetview car receiving a ticket.

photograph of the google indoor view camera

The Google ice cream cart/indoor camera.

The second thing that’s going on is that another portion of Google maps has contacted us about doing street view inside the museum. Have you ever seen the Google vehicles shooting streetview images? The indoor streetview does essentially the same thing, but with an ice cream cart.

We have a few more hurdles for this one. Logistically, we’ll have to arrange probably several evenings after we close so that visitors aren’t in the images. This will make the dataset cleaner, plus eliminate any privacy issues that might pop up. The second issue that I foresee is to have our curators check on any copyright issues for visual media that we have. We display historic signs, paintings, photographs, trade labels, company trademarks, and original visual media that we need to check on, just in case we don’t have the rights to show them in this new way. If there are any issues, Google will simply blur the object to make it unrecognizable, just like they do for me when I keep jumping in front of their cameras as they cruise town.

I’m not exactly sure when we’ll get to this step- I’m still working on coordinating our staff and the Google reps, and then they’ll have to make one or more trips here with their equipment, but I’m thinking that this will be pretty cool. I’m not a shill for Google, and I’ve had my own difficulties with them, but this is pretty cool.

Or it’s another horrible example of losing privacy, of reducing the joy-inducing unknowns that I and many others have when we come to new places, or it’s part of the homogenization of the world. I suppose that it’s whatever you want it to be, like most new media that we talk about here. Part of me has that lingering dread of cheapening and dumbing down of our society, but hey, these are all just tools. They can be used for good or bad purposes. I prefer to see the exciting possiblities, and yet another new way of connecting with our audiences.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, then read about it on Mashable at mashable.com/2012/11/23/google-maps-floor-plans/ , try maps.google.com/help/maps/floorplans/ for some general help and an overview, or take a look at some of the places where there are floorplans available, at support.google.com/gmm/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1685827 . Since Google is the owner of the Android operating system, the technology so far seems to be skewed toward Android users, but there’s a desktop app, and I’m pretty sure that an iphone app will appear eventually.

And in the meantime, happy holidays everyone!




The Power of the Community


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A photograph of a space shuttle on the back of a 747 airplane flying over Sacramento

This evening I’m sitting in tranquil California, worried about my friends back east (not to mention tens of millions that I don’t know) who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy, and thinking about the power of social media and the concept of community.

I’m old enough to remember when our society wasn’t quite as fractious as it seems today, and social media has to share some of the blame for that. Social media can isolate us, can lock us into narrowcasting that only reinforces our pre-existing biases, and use up a perfectly good afternoon when we should be working in the orchard…

Or so I’ve heard.

But social media also has a remarkable ability to bring us together when there are clear events or occasions that seem to demand our attention. For instance, about five weeks ago, the shuttle Endeavour flew over Sacramento and in particular did a literal flyover of the California State Railroad Museum, where I work.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, stopped to witness this. It wasn’t just our facility of course, and the shuttle flew over the State Capitol, San Francisco, a NASA facility in Mountain View, and then arrived in LA where there was an entirely different event involving a two day move to its new home at the California Science Center, but I don’t think that I’ve been part of a truly universal moment like this since, well, I don’t remember.

Since I’m the social media guy for the Railroad Museum, and since I’ve been kind of a space geek since I was genuinely a child, I sort of co-opted our Facebook page for the day and put up an album of Space Shuttle photos.

screenshot of a facebook photo album showing space shuttle endeavour photos.

The CSRM Facebook album showing the Endeavour flyover.

Big deal! But it is kind of a big deal. I have guidelines and missions and responsibilities to focus on railroads and stuff like that, but the occasion and the opportunity was just so profound that it transcended everything else. It was a sense that everyone who witnessed the fly-over, regardless of personal interests, political affiliation or anything else, felt the same sense of national pride, perhaps of some melancholy about the end of the shuttle program, of awe at what humans can create and take the risks of climbing in and going into orbit. It was an extraordinary moment. I was able to vicariously share this by merely posting some photos, but in the process I connected myself and our institution in a different and more compelling way than we normally do. We were essentially all one in this process.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been feeling the same sense of community on a national level concerning our worries, observations and fascination with Hurricane Sandy. As I’ve checked my Facebook and Twitter accounts, I’m seeing far more informative and visually compelling coverage of the hurricane’s effects than I see in my newspaper or through traditional media:

screenshot of a facebook post

Adam Deras on Facebook.

Amtrak post on Facebook

Amtrak update on service interruptions.

Kelly Farrell update on Facebook

Kelly Farrel Facebook update

Twitter screenshot

Twitter screenshot with hurricane information for Philadelphia residents

I could post on and on of course, but you get the idea. To me, at least, the sense of community is remarkable. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, there are of course Tumblr feeds, Pinterest boards, blogs and all kinds of stuff where people are reaching out, both officially and unofficially, to help each other, lend moral support, show love and concern, or just verbalize what they feel. Far from isolating us, social media is helping us come together to share the event.

I’m heartened by this. Frankly, I’m a bit weary of how segmented and inward looking that many people seem to be these days. Perhaps this is just the stress of the upcoming election or other polarizing conditions. Regardless, I’m really impressed.

In 2010, there was a huge earthquake in Japan, with a resulting Tsunami effect that had minor effects here in California, but was much more serious in Hawai’i. It wasn’t that long ago, but a colleague who had friends over there had a heckuva time getting through to her friends and kept finding the same news stories over and over again, which was very frustrating for her. I suspect that today she would be much happier to be facebooking, twittering and IM’ing her friends in a society that’s much better attuned to living in this way.

My concerns about over-reliance on technology and using social media as an excuse to avoid human contact still remain, but for big events like we have going on right now, these tools help unify, inform and comfort us. I’ve got no real slam-bang point for this post, but it just sort of makes me feel a bit better during a time of great stress for myself and many of my friends and colleagues.

And now for the something completely different department:

If you’re frustrated with Facebook and feel that you’re not seeing your friend’s posts as often as you used to, YOU’RE RIGHT! Those weirdos in Menlo Park or Farmville or wherever they exist keep changing how the danged platform works and populates your newsfeed. You don’t get all the posts from all of your friends. It’s a long story, but it’s got something to do with Mark Zuckerberg wanting to make even more money to spend on hoodies and Skittles.

George Takei, one of our patron saints here at Media Platypus world HQ, even complained publicly about this on his Facebook page, and got a response from someone at Facebook because he is the AWESOME George Takei. You can read about it on the All Facebook blog if you’re so inclined, but basically the workaround is to look for the gear icon on your page in the upper right corner, and add the person that you want to hear more from to your “interests” list. Cool! Now it’s even simpler to stalk someone online.

…And I’ll bet that you thought I’d work Halloween into this somehow, huh! Nope. Nada. Sorry about that, but I just forgot to shoot the really cool pumpkin shot that I had in mind for this.

By the way, since I can’t seem to do it for the header photo in the same way I can for the body photos, I want to credit my colleague Robert Mistchenko at the California State Railroad Museum for his classic photograph of the Endeavour that sits at the top of this post.