THE EVOLUTION OF THE GADGET
Visit the ancestors of your gear
Many of us are thrilled to ditch last year’s tech for the latest must-have gizmo. But Gordon Bell, an early employee of the computer maker Digital Equipment Corporation, hated to see obsolete computers sent to the scrap heap. Bell’s personal collection—which includes a World War II–era Enigma encryption machine and a century-old hand-crank calculator—now forms the core of the most comprehensive trove of computer artifacts in the world, with more than 100,000 items and counting. Today you can visit this archive of our technological past at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, which reopened this past January following a two-year, $19 million makeover that resulted in the 19-gallery exhibition “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.”
The exhibit tracks milestones in the progress of computational technology from the abacus to your smart phone. Check out a preserved chunk of Walker’s Wagon Wheel Bar, the legendary Silicon Valley hangout where engineers and investors once mingled as they launched the semiconductor industry; peek into unlabeled drawers for surprises related to the theme of each gallery; and try your hand at historic video games, including the 1972 classic Pong. Other gems include an Apple 1 computer (complete with wooden casing), an original Google server, and the first disk drive, IBM’s 1956 Ramac: Bigger than a refrigerator, it boasts just enough memory to store a single MP3.
LIFESTYLES OF THE BRILLIANT AND CURIOUS
The “Einstein at Home” exhibition at the Princeton Historical Society showcases a selection of the iconic physicist’s rarely seen furnishings, photos, and personal memorabilia including his pipe. On display through January 2012.
George Washington Carver
The George Washington Carver Museum in Tuskegee, Alabama, houses the agricultural scientist’s plant specimens and lab apparatus, as well as paintings, crochet, and other handicrafts he created in his spare time. Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri, commemorates the site where he was born.
At the Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey, you can tour the lab complex where the inventor developed the phonograph and movie camera, and then take in the 29-room mansion where he lived for more than 40 years.
In Martinez, California, visit the Muir family home and see the “scribble den” where the father of national parks formulated his influential arguments for wilderness preservation. During summer, enjoy fresh fruit from the estate’s orchards.
The best places to channel your inner rocket scientist
Virgin Galactic’s suborbital tourism flights may not make it to the launchpad in time for this year’s summer vacation, but there are plenty of places to commune with the cosmos from the comfort of Earth (and for less than $200,000). At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, check out a real Apollo-era Saturn V test rocket—a behemoth longer than the Statue of Liberty is tall—plus crew capsules, space suits, parachutes, and a moon rock. Would-be astronauts with strong stomachs can try the Space Shot, which simulates a rocket launch complete with 4g acceleration.
To see rocket science in action, take a free tour of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Watch engineers assemble spacecraft in a clean room or peer down on mission control, where staff guide active missions, including the Mars rovers and the twin Voyager craft. The campus also features a museum, models, and monthly lectures.
In Florida, you can witness space history in the making at the last shuttle launch. Atlantis is slated to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on July 8. Enter a lottery to purchase tickets for the launch site (kennedyspacecenter.com) or see nasa.gov for a list of free off-site vantage points. Just make sure you arrive hours before countdown to grab a good spot.