Nerd Tourism

Leila Abu-Saba sends us to Alison Chaiken’s Technical Tourist’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area:>Technical Tourist: Sick of netnews? Caught up on all your blogs? You could always exercise, floss, call your mom or perform a breast self-exam. Nah. Perhaps you need:>###The Technical Tourist’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area###>1. Tour the Geysers, Calpine’s geothermal generation plant in Middletown, Lake County. See giant turbines and clouds of sulfuric acid steam! The link is, ahem, optimized for a non-Mozilla browser, so you can also call toll-free (866)-GEYSERS for more information.>1. Visit the GM-Toyota NUMMI auto manufacturing plant in southern Fremont. There are fascinating robot welders and giant metal stampers. The tour is quite suitable for children in my unexpert opinion.>1. Particle accelerators are big fun. Consider an outing to the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley or the Stanford Linear Accelerator. The LBNL tour may also visit other facilities such as the National Center for Electron Microscopy, the Environmental Energy Technologies Division and the Center for Beam Physics.>1. For more gigantic steel structures, check out the Port of Oakland tour. Enjoy giant cranes and a boat ride too. (Thanks to Meg.) To get an even closer look at the cranes (and a fine view of San Francisco as well), walk around and have a picnic at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park.>1. The Menlo Park branch of the USGS is a reliable source of entertainment. Every couple of years there’s an Open House. In the meantime browse the quads, fault maps and satellite photos at the Earth Science Information Center, which is located in Building 3 at 345 Middlefield Road and is open Monday through Friday from 8 to 4.>1. Meditate on earthquakes while hiking the San Andreas Fault Trail in Palo Alto or seeing the Loma Prieta Epicenter in Forest of Nisene Marks. (I’ll confess that the Nisene Marks hike is a bit dull: miles and miles of trail through dark second-growth redwood forest.) Many more earthquake-related outings are described in Geologic Trips: San Francisco and the Bay Area, which I highly recommend. Another book of interest is Geology Trails of Northern California, which I haven’t yet had the chance to purchase. If you’re really interested in local seismology field trips, send for the Field Trip Guidebooks from the Conferences on Earthquake Hazards in the Eastern San Francisco Bay Area that were sponsored by Cal State East Bay.>1. Take the ferry to Sausalito and view the San Francisco Bay Model. (Thanks to KML.)>1. While you’re in Marin, visit the Nike Missile Base in the Headlands. (Thanks to KML.)>1. The Hiller Aviation Museum specializes in early helicopters which range from the admirable to the laughable. The annual Vertical Challenge should not be missed. (Thanks to KML.)>1. Speaking of aviation, the Moffett Field Museum is now open Weds-Sat from 10-2. Learn all about Moffett’s history with lighter-than-air craft.>1. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View is full of treasures. Besides the Visible Storage there’s an excellent speaker series. (Until the interpretive material at the exhibits is expanded, this one really is for nerds only.)>1. The San Jose Astronomical Association will invite you to a star party. Alternatively drive up Mount Hamilton and take in the Lick Observatory. In the summer Lick has astronomical lectures and public viewing plus concerts. And the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland has free public telescope viewing every Friday and Saturday night. (Thanks to Leila.)>1. Arthur Frommer rates the San Francisco Cable Car Museum as “one of the top ten free attractions in the world.” (Thanks to Leila.)>1. Take the Hazel-Atlas silica mine tour at the Black Diamond Mines in Antioch. There’s also a lot of old mining equipment at Almaden Quicksilver County Park in San Jose. (Thanks to KML.)>1. We still haven’t gotten around to visiting the Intel Museum in Santa Clara or the Exploration Center at NASA Ames in Mountain View. South San Jose hosts the Magnetic Disk Heritage Center but there’s no indication when it’s open.>1. A bit further afield, the California State Railroad Museum looks appealing. Of course you could take the remarkably scenic and comfortable Amtrak Capitol Corridor line to get there. Closer to home you can ride the Niles Canyon Railway in Fremont or the Roaring Camp Railroad in Felton. If you still have railfanning on the brain, consider the Western Railway Museum on Highway 12 between Suisun and Rio Vista. (Thanks to Mark.)>1. No matter how you feel about our California water politics, the acqueducts and dams are certainly an engineering marvel. The Sunol water temple is open 9 AM to 3 PM Monday through Friday. The similar Pulgas Water Temple, adjacent to the Crystal Springs Reservoir, has more reasonable hours but no longer has any water. (Thanks to Mark and, come to think of it, KML.)>1. The American Society for Mechanical Engineering has a Northern California Landmarks in Mechanical Engineering web site. Some of the sites can be visited in person while others just have cool photos. (Thanks to LSK.)>1. Visit the California Academy of Science in their temporary home at 875 Howard Street in San Francisco and be amazed by the ant colonies. The museum is open every day from 10 to 5. (Thanks to LSK.)>1. In the recent past I’ve seen advertisements for tours of the Altamont windfarm and the Cargill salt processing facility in Newark, but I can no longer find information about these excursions. Anyone?>1. If you care about engineering history, check out the local chapter of the Society for Industry Archeology.>1. If all else fails, go to Central Computer and hang out. CC employs staff who have actually used computers before.>1. Know of any Bay Area technical highlights that I’ve omitted? Have a similar web page highlighting nerdly landmarks in another urban area? Please send email.>alchaiken@gmail.com

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