In the afternoon, I spent about 5 hours in Techmania, our local science center/museum built in some no longer operational construction halls of Škoda Works, a major factory in our city.
Your humble correspondent was partly invited as a (now aged) kid who could have benefited from similar events and who could have an idea what kind of aid may be helpful to the kids. There were high school teachers, primarily from a gymnasium in Cheb (a town in the very Western corner of the Czech Republic) and a sport gymnasium in Pilsen (which has educated many excellent and famous Pilsner soccer, ice-hockey, tennis players, and more).
We were also shown a small model of the fulldome planetarium that will be opened in several months and that will probably be the most modern digital planetarium in Europe, or at least a part of Europe. (Some related YouTube videos.)
Everything is digital over there, one can project almost anything (not just the night sky), and visitors may also wear the 3D glasses. The facility will replace an old mechanical planetarium that old people like me knew at the "Hamburg" buildings – which nowadays host a court – when we were kids. Of course, nothing from the mechanical planetarium may be directly imported. Nevertheless, I guess that the new facility has a much greater potential because it can show everything. It's less obvious whether this potential will be correspondingly exploited. Less may sometimes be more. I am somewhat worried that the kids will be so overwhelmed by visually impressive animations that they won't learn much and they won't have enough time to focus on anything and/or fall in love with the subject.
I just sent a mass e-mail to some folks who have worked in the visualization of relativity with the proposal to update their videos for the high-resolution, 3D fulldomes like the Pilsner one – there may be just dozens of places in the world that use the same technology. It could be fun to see the relativistic rollercoaster or the infalling observer in the black hole from this totally realistic perspective.
(Andrew Hamilton of Colorado immediately replied that in 2006, NASA and NSF funded a fun dome show called Black Hole: the Other Side of Infinity.)
Concerning the discussion about the identification and support for the talented high school students, lots of ideas were presented, echoed, questioned, improved, abandoned.
I would spend hours if I were just enumerating all the aspects in this discussion and my opinions about them – lack of excitement, the role of applied vs theoretical training, agreement or disagreement between the school curriculum and the activities promoted by physics/math olympiads and science centers, experimental vs theoretical, inclusiveness of the search for the talented students, other nations' having more money, other nations' being more hard-working, how to motivate teachers to do something beyond their elementary duties, how to motivate and reward schools, whether physics olympiads and/or other contests are still "in" or obsolete, and so on, how to make sure that such debates will infuence more than about 5 high school teachers that happened to gather (together with a similar number of the Techmania employees) today ;-), and so on.
Please feel free to offer your ingenious opinions.
When I was returning home, I spent almost one hour with a de facto homeless guy, a construction worker from Carlsbad who is building our new theater (to be opened in 2015), if I believe him, who was left in Pilsen by his drunk colleagues today (or they were high, I forgot). I only gave him a dollar because paying him the full bus ticket to Carlsbad seemed too much for a person I didn't really know. He told me he was released during the 2013 Klaus amnesty. He had been arrested because he had attacked a cop who was spitting on the guy's friend. ;-) If that's true, it's another piece of anecdotal evidence that it's right to support an occasional amnesty. But yes, it's also a reason not to trust such people too much. I gave him a tour of Pilsen of a sort and dragged him through various places such as an information center at the city hall and some booths of charities. Of course, no one would help him, not even 10% of what I did for him, so I am not surprised that he identified me as a sort of the ultimate saint.