Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A World of Geeks

It might be too late to plan a geek-themed vacation this summer, but it's never to early to start thinking ahead.

Not an atlas in the traditional sense, The Geek Atlas does manage to span the globe with the locations of museums, cemeteries, and assorted locales of interest to the geek-minded traveler. Sort of like a travel guide to tourist sites of interest for the scientific, technological and mathematically inclined. Also works for the generally curious who enjoy leaving the beaten path while abroad.

Now, gathered in one place, you can read up on the Mendel Museum of Genetics in the Czech Republic, learn about the world’s longest suspension bridge in Kobe, Japan, or make plans to visit The Taipei 101 in Taiwan, the tallest building in the world with a 600 tonne pendulum near the top to prevent the building from swaying and vibrating. Each of the entries not only explains the importance of each place but also follows up with a brief explanation of the science or math involved.

For example, the listing for the Tempio Voltiano not only honors the accomplishments of Allesandro Volta along the shores of Lake Como, Italy, but also explains Volta's invention of the first battery and includes the science behind the making of a modern version of what is known as the Voltaic Pile.

I knew none of this before reading the book. Reading this book made me smarter.

Listed alphabetically by country, each entry in The Geek Atlas lists its geo-positioning coordinates, a couple of icons indicating whether it is free of charge, availability of refreshments, suitability for children, and if it's whether-dependant, followed by a description of what the site has to offer. Magnetic North, for example, is listed as being free – suitability for children and weather is the sort of thing best left at the discretion of the geek parents involved. It also contains a nice explanation of the Earth's magnetic field and how magnetic north keeps shifting.

While intended as a guide for travelers, the book has a broader appeal as a geeky almanac, the type that teen boys are often drawn to. It has lots of facts, can be read out of sequence, is full of places both practical and absurd, and is informative without being pedantic. Armchair geek travelers will enjoy the virtual world tour, and for some the book could provide the sort of inspiration to get out of the house and explore the world. Or at least plant the seed.

The book is available in stores, but also directly from the publisher in a variety of down-loadable formats. Normally I wouldn't note such things but I think that for a title like this it could come in handy both as travel reading or as a reference on a mobile device while on the road.

The Geek Atlas
by John Graham-Cumming
O'Reilly 2009

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