Contact Victor Williamson with your questions about simulator based experiential education programs for your school.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

News, Alex Responds to Your Comments on the Designs. Answers to Your Questions

Hello Troops,
The Odyssey is ready for demolition.  Kyle Herring, Matt Ricks and I worked on cleaning it out on Monday.  The old gal's equipment has been stored away to be used in the other ships.  Her engineering panels (dials and switches) were saved.
I'll post more on the Odyssey in a future post.  Please remember, the Odyssey was given up so we could reopen the Phoenix and the Space Center's office.  Repairing the Odyssey would have been far too expensive.  The Odyssey and Voyager will be remembered fondly by all those who flew, worked and volunteered in them.
Mr. W.

Alex Debirk Responds to your Comments on the New Building Designs
Below (in blue), Alex DeBirk responds to the questions and comments made concerning the building plans he submitted for discussion.  His plans were posted on The Troubadour several days ago for your reference.  
Mr. W.

Dear Troubadour Readers,
Thanks for the comments and I'm pleased with the generally positive response to my drawings. I thought I should explain the reasoning behind why I drew what I did to assuage some of the concerns. I also want to respond to the most common comments.

The "dream design" was based on a concept that Vic, myself, BJ, Skyler, and others with the volunteer building committee developed over the Thanksgiving holiday, so I can't really take credit for it. When I was drawing it up, I could tell that our concept was a good one, though, because it practically drew itself.

The main idea behind the dream design was to first build or acquire a large warehouse space (think what you could do with an empty Costco!) and stick frame the Center with whatever we wanted inside: multiple floors; myriads of access points; huge screens outside hallway windows showing stars, nebulae, passing ships etc.; huge flexible away mission space.   Among other things, I wanted to have portable hallway sections (straight, T's, intersections, etc.), stored somewhere in the warehouse's corner, that could be attached in myriad combinations for away missions, to the same effect that the Galileo's PVC pipe tunnels once had. Of course, this was just way beyond the District's current cost projections.

So I drew the other design, and many of you seem to feel like it is lacking some things. That's because it is. With $2.5 million and a certain price per square foot, I simply had to stick to the bare minimum, which is: the Center's classrooms, simulators, and planetarium have to be able to accommodate 4 large 35-ish student classes a day and provide functionality for camps. With the price limits, there just isn't any room for extra stuff like dedicated away mission space and second floors. I could barely fit in the essentials! The price per square foot that I used is of course is based on my intuition and small experience; a more refined estimate could yield opportunities to add more stuff to the Center.

But as it is, the cost is what drove my design to the bare bones that it is. When I couldn't fit something in, I usually combined it with something else. Thus you have the Assembly area, which is intended to serve as the Galileo shuttlebay, the starlab, and the cafeteria. It wouldn't be the first time these things have shared a space. The classrooms will be the briefing rooms, staff rooms, and away mission rooms like they are right now. And some ships can train while the others brief.

The only thing I indulged in was the curved hallways with portholes looking into the great beyond. A curved hallway gives a much better sense of immensity than square hallways, and the fact that it loops around all of the ships has advantages. And I just have always dreamed a remote, undramatic hallway in the Center where when you least expected it, you passed by you could suddenly see out into the stars. My intent was to have a large black drape with LED's sewn into it hung back from the windows in such a way that you couldn't see the edge of it from the hallway. Then the windows themselves would have tinted glass, so that while the lights from the LED's are still visible, no light would shine from the window onto the cloth and break the effect.

I also added the Guild Hall so that programming classes or acting workshops and the like can happen there.

Ok, now to comments. The most common comments that I saw were:

1. Every ship needs to be different.

First off, I think so too. So I made four different ship sizes: 2 Voyager-class, 2 Odyssey-class, 2 Phoenix-class and the Galileo in the assembly area. It may not look like it at first, but the small ships actually have two different sizes. It's not clear that they're different because I purposefully didn't flesh them out like I did the large ships. Unlike the large ships, I felt I could estimate the total size needed for a small ship without specifically planned doors and rooms. That means that the small ships are still undefined--they can be all different or all the same. The undefined space includes room for the control rooms in there somewhere too. I never intended there to be just two control rooms for six simulators. 

My personal preference is that we have two identical large ships (18 students), two identical Odyssey ships (8-9 students), and two identical Phoenix ships (also 8-9 students but with a different layout than the Odyssey).

There are some distinct advantages to having exact copies of ships:
First, replication can be cheaper. Second, the Phoenix and Odyssey were so popular they could have run all day, every day, after school. So why not build a copy to accommodate the demand? Third, having copies gives Flight Directors and staff more chances to work without having to train on a new ship and new missions. When I was a Voyager FD, there were so many other Voyager FD's that it was difficult to get a time slot, and the other ships were either too time-consuming to learn and/or had the same problem. I would have welcomed a second copy of the Voyager, so I could get into the chair more often.

2. The large ships should have second floors.

I completely agree--Deck 2 is one of my favorite parts of the Voyager. However, it simply seemed cost-prohibitive because of the costs of building higher or excavating lower, not to mention also having to install elevators to be ADA compliant. And what if an elevator failed during a mission? I didn't even want to think about it. All I could think was "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

My personal preference would be to have a vast basement that was built very bare and cheaply. It would provide all the Deck 2's and away mission space that you could dream of. But that all means extra square footage, which I couldn't justify.

3. Missing rooms like the starlab, control rooms, engineering rooms, and away mission space.

As I said in Response 1, each ship has its own control room--the small ships' control rooms are still undefined, but can fit inside the space. The starlab can be in the Assembly room, and each large ship has its own engineering room and sickbay because if there were a combined rooms between ships, you would have crew mingling who are doing different missions, who were in different stages of danger, desperation, etc. The effect would be the same as leaving a dark, crippled ship for an away mission only to step into a sun-brightened school hallway full of 1st grader artwork.

I would like engineering rooms to have equipment for experiments and scientific calculations that are integral to the mission. Like a damaged probe with critical information. The main power circuit is fried, so why not teach the kid how to build an actual circuit from scratch, using resistors, voltage calcs, etc (just do the sautering yourself maybe)? Or maybe teach them to use Bernoulli's principle/continuity principle to calculate how long until fuel runs out because of a leak or how wide they need to build the new antimatter/deuterium/whatever tube to provide enough fuel to the transwarp drive? Need a stronger tractor beam? Have the engineer design new trusses to withstand higher loads. Is this planet's air breathable? Let's get a sample and do a real chemistry test on it to see if it has oxygen or methane. These are surprisingly easy things to do and teach! And by integrating actual principles in physics, engineering, biology, chemistry into missions and making it critical to the mission's success, whoever does the experiment will have an emotional response connected to the science, and will remember that principle forever. I think that putting more actual hands on science into the missions is one way that the Space Center can really pioneer new scientists and mathematicians. Of course, for the drama to set in you would have to have each large ship have its own engineering room so that one ship's engineers didn't meet the other ship's and say "What are you doing there? We need everyone's help on this life or death project!" and the others go "Life or death? We're just analyzing soil samples to see what planet the Pakled's ship came from." "Pakled!? Half the ship has been assimilated by the Borg!" and so on.

4. Noise

I don't see many noise problems. Each ship is purposefully surrounded by hallways, and empty space is a surprisingly effective sound barrier, and naturally, each perimeter wall in each simulator will be specially designed for sound proofing. The real problem would be having the Galileo and the starlab run simultaneously. I just didn't have anywhere else to put it that I could afford. I'm aware of the problem and perhaps someone can find somewhere clever to put it, or when all is said and done, there will be enough money to build a special space like the kiva for it so that we could also have an interesting away mission space.

I think that about does it. Sorry for the long post, but I hope it explained some things behind the design. And of course, nothing is set in stone.

Your Comments and Questions

CMSECisAwesome22 Wrote:
On the save the space center site it says you are trying to reopen the Phoenix Magellan and Galileo. How much time until they possibly reopen? And I am an observing volunteer and just need the Galileo and Magellan to complete. Do you think I could observe those ships when they reopen?
Thank you CMSEC for the question.  I don't know when the Magellan, Galileo and Phoenix will reopen.  It could be sometime after the start of the next year (January or February) or perhaps later.  Yes, volunteers won't have to observe in the Voyager (it is closed forever) and Odyssey (it is being demolished next week). 
Anonymous Wrote:
I have an idea for phaser battles!
The problem with laser tag is the bulky and temperamental equipment, and the problem with supervisors calling shots is that it damages the suspension of disbelief. Well, I have an idea.
If reflective patches could be put on the uniforms, and if the light from the phasers could be focused (maybe with foil) enough to reach a few yards like a flashlight, then it would make it obvious when a target has been hit. Campers and volunteers would be told to go down when the reflective patches flash.
Meanwhile, the supervisors could work like referees, double checking to make sure that people who have been shot go down.
Matt L Wrote:
Are we removing the idea for having multiple floors? I think we would lose a lot by not having a basement...
Thank you Matt for the question.  Alex answered your question in letter posted at the top of this post.

Anonymous Wrote: 
I like the design overall, but...
-My biggest concern is that each engineering section is too isolated from the bridge. It's like the old science station on the Voyager, that campers would leave because they wanted to see what was going on on the bridge. If the door was moved to lead right onto the bridge, with a good view of what was going on, the engineers would probably feel less cut off.
-A basement or upper level for flexible space would be nice.
-I love the idea someone made about covering up any windows with covers that resemble touchscreens.
-I also like the idea someone had about making the safety lights double as set lights, to make the hallways look more futuristic
lperry Wrote:
Even though the closing of the Space Center was devastating to me, since to my mind it is the most successful educational experience I've ever taken part in, I want to thank Victor for modeling what it's like to handle change, to work with people with whom one may disagree, to innovate--even when what one is changing is something that was working well. In this, too, Victor, has shown himself to be the finest teacher I know.
Thank you lperry for the kind comments.  You've brightened and old teacher's day!
Nolan Wrote:
Mr. Williamson,
I really like the new design.  But I think that we need the following:
  1. An open space for away teams.  We can't just have all our away teams in the hall.  We need an open space for the shootouts.
  2. More control rooms. Like people say that it would be crowded and loud.
  3. I'd say that we should change the design in the large simulators.  I really don't like having them being symmetrical.
  4. We may need a 2nd floor to put some of the simulators on.  It would be very limited space with 7 ships on the same floor.
  5. Laser Tag vests would help a lot.  It would help solve confusion with people knowing if they're down or not because the vest would make a sound if shot.  And if they're shot, the phaser won't work until a certain amount of time.  But the problem would be cost.  How many of these would we need for intruders, crew members, etc...? These will be expensive but worth it.  
  6. Sleeping areas for staff and campers if we continue overnight programs.  If we had bunks on the large simulators and maybe some in the small simulators, we might not have people sleep on the floor or use the cots. 
Thank you for your time.
Nolan B.

Rachel F.  Wrote:
I really like connors hall idea. When i was a camper i remember wanting to have a cooler effect for the away missions and having the same thought as a volunteer.
I know that when we would run the away missions there would always be a lack of hiding places if we had a shoot out so i am wondering if we will have anything to help with that.
Thank you Rachel for the question.  Alex discusses landing parties in his post at the beginning of this post.

Anonymous Wrote: 
It would be kind of neat if one of the new simulators took either a Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 direction. I liked the ships of those series because they seemed to be designed with utility in mind first, with aesthetics coming after rather than the other way around.
Then again, the Magellan seems to be headed in that direction anyway, with it being based off of the Daedalus of Stargate, and carrying a squad of Colonial Vipers...
Anonymous Wrote:  
I think we can never truelly get rid of staff helping call shots, because kids could easily just cover the sensor up, but they get shot some were else. We'de cover them in full body sensors! :)  
Anonymous Wrote concerning Farpoint Academy:
Ah, but I would want to go so bad, but I love band, and you know magnet schools for science dont have bands. Why do you have to make me so conflicted! :) It does sound pretty cool though, but it should change crews, not just have the same one all the time. Strange crew members are half the fun.
Keaton Wrote concerning Farpoint Academy:
Yeah. I would love to go to a school like this! I like the comparison to Hogwarts in space. 
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