Mala-what? Walk Through our Malacology Hall

One of the most spectacular – if under-appreciated – exhibit halls here at HMNS is the Hall of Malacology. Maybe it’s the fact that “malacology” is such an unfamiliar term. (It means “the study of mollusks.”) Maybe it’s the fact that it’s just steps away from the stunning Hall of Gems and Minerals. Whatever the reason, it seems this hall just doesn’t get the foot traffic (I think) that it deserves.

The Hall of Malacology is so-named because it features the amazing animals that live inside shells – not just the beautiful homes they leave behind. The collection on display includes stunners like the world’s largest shell (it’s HUGE) and Busycon perversum, or Lightning Whelk – the Texas State Shell – as well as tons of fascinating information on these soft-bodied wonders.

In the video below, associate curator David Temple walks us through the HMNS Hall of Malacology and shares some of the most interesting items on display. Enjoy!

Can’t see the video? Click here.

When Fiction Becomes Reality [Steve Berry]

Some of the most compelling works of fiction rely heavily on reality (Jurassic Park, anyone?) New York Times best-selling authors James Rollins and Steve Berry are masters of weaving fact into fiction – and both will be at HMNS on Tuesday, Jan. 19 for An Evening of Thrills: How Science and History Make Great Thrillers.  They’ll each be signing their latest releases after the lecture; tickets are going fast – get yours here.  Last week, Rollins gave us a sneak peak in his own guest blog; this week Berry talks about the upcoming lecture.

Fiction into reality?   That’s a little backwards for me.   What I do is turn reality into fiction.  I like to find something from the past—the Amber Room, the lost Romanov children, Charlemagne, the tomb of Alexander the Great—items or artifacts you may not know much about (but, hopefully, would enjoy exploring), then weave a modern day tale around them.  The kind of stories I’ve always like to read have a mix of secrets, conspiracies, history, action, adventure and international settings.  So it was only natural that I would write that same kind of story.

Every novel for me starts as a treasure hunt.  I’m searching for bits of reality that somehow can be woven together into a coherent plot.

And it’s not easy.

AASSWW

In fact, the challenge is to find the most unrelated stuff as possible, then relate them  through a twist of the facts.  While doing this, I have to always keep in mind that I’m not writing a textbook, it’s a novel, whose primary job is to entertain.  But that doesn’t mean the reader can’t learn some stuff along the way.  I enjoy that aspect, and I’ve come to learn that my readers do too.  I’m careful, though, with my twisting, and I make sure the reader knows where I played with the facts by including a writer’s note at the end of each of my books.

In Houston, on January 19th, Jim Rollins and I will be discussing all of this.   Jim’s books are a little history and lot of science, mine are the other way around.  But we both definitely like to tinker with reality.  For me, every book involves around 200 -300 sources obtained from many trips to bookstores; lots of internet browsing; and at least one visit to a locale important to the book.   I have, for days, sat in a German Cathedral (The Charlemagne Pursuit); roamed an abbey in Portugal (The Alexandria Link);  scoured Paris (The Paris Vendetta); climbed citadels in southern France (The Templar Legacy); boated all over Venice (The Venetian Betrayal); and wandered through the Kremlin (The Romanov Prophecy).

But that’s all part of the job.

So drop by January 19th to the museum at 6:30 and spend an evening with me and Jim Rollins.  Have your questions ready.  See you then.

An Evening of Thrills: How Science and History Make Great Thrillers will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 pm. Both authors will sign copies of their latest works after the lecture; copies will be available for purchase from Murder by the Book. Tickets are available here.

Thank you, onliners!

HMNS.ORG today.

So, the next time we do a survey of our online visitors, it should include the question “What do you call a group of people who interact online?” The closest I could find was onliners, though this really refers to something much more specific. I also liked “online hero” – because it seemed like an apt description for the awesome people who took the time to help us out by answering some questions about their online activities.

Clearly there is a gap in dictionary.com - this needs to be rectified. Ideas, anyone?

In the meantime, I’m happy to announce that the randomly selected winner of the iPod Touch is Brandi Roberson. Congratulations, Brandi!

Since so many of you (almost 2,000!) took the time to answer our questions about what you like to do online, I thought I would share some of the trends with you here.

The most interesting answers came in response to the open-ended final question, “What – if any – new features would you like to see added to www.hmns.org?” They included gems like “More Robots!” (um…ok?)and “Gravity!” (more details, please) as well as tons of great ideas – like an online gift shop, webcams, virtual tours, member-specific content, the ability to review exhibitions, RSS feeds, social networking, increased interaction in general and much more.

Other interesting tidbits: you’re young (over half between 25 – 44) and you really like the Internet (99% use it either “constantly” or daily” – though I suppose it might be more surprising if you didn’t). You like Facebook waaaay more than MySpace (by a margin of 35%) and 1.6% are still stuck with dial up. You’re creative – 35% are creating content on Flickr, YouTube or Twitter.

15% of you stop by our web site for more information about an exhibit after you visit the Museum in person – a scenario we generally have not considered with regards to the information available online. I can assure you we are considering that now – along with all of the other needs and preferences you shared – as we work on improving our online programs. Thank you!

If you missed the survey, or if you have any further ideas you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. We would love to hear from you!

I Search, You Search, Erin and I Researched.

Black Diamond, part of HMNS rich
history – check back here and on
hmns.org for features and events
celebrating our centennial
throughout 2009.

Last Friday, Erin and I went to the Texas Room in the Julia Idasen building at the downtown Houston Public Library to research the history of our beloved HMNS.  We had so much fun, I thought we were going to get kicked out.  Besides the building being an amazing treasure itself, the articles we found about the Museum were awesome. 

Many of them were inspiring, some of them were serious, but a good handful were just plain fun. Did you know for example that the original title of the Challenger Center was something to the effect of “Space Lab – 2061” ? There were also several articles on objects that we remembered as kids, but that haven’t been on display in a while – like Black Diamond and the shrunken heads.

So, why am I telling you this?  2009 marks our 100th anniversary as a museum and because of that we will be having a number of special events – 100 in fact. We will also have a special section on our website devoted to our 100 years of history.  Watch for what made us giggle in the weeks to come.