Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why I wrote The Geek Atlas

The second most common question about The Geek Atlas (after people have asked me to recommend the one best place to visit) is "Why did you write this book?"

I was working temporarily in Munich and at a loose end one weekend I wandered into the tourist office and asked about things I could see. Munich is a large cultural and industrial city and there's loads of stuff to do and see, but the thing that stood out amongst the tours, churches, beer and gastronomic delights was the Deutsches Museum.

The Deutsches Museum is Germany's science and technology museum and it is, at least in my opinion, the best science museum in the world. It's certainly the largest when you include its two annexes in Munich.

After I'd spent hours and hours wandering the museum's halls and admiring its collection of seemingly everything (including the wonderful jet aircraft that's been sliced Damien Hirst style to reveal its interior) I returned to my hotel.

Sitting in the hotel I realized that I had never heard of this museum. How had I missed out on just the sort of place that excites me? I figured there must be a guide book written by somebody that covers exciting places for people interested in science, mathematics and technology and so I hopped on Amazon.com.

I couldn't find a thing.

I surfed around other book sites, and came up with nothing at all. I even visited the sites of specialized travel book companies. Still nothing.

So, I sat down with a fresh emacs buffer and started to type up a list of places that I had visited around the world that I thought would excite other people like me. After an hour of work I had a list of about 70 places.

It was a wonderful hour recalling an afternoon spent in the National Cryptographic Museum, childhood visits to the Science Museum in London, wandering the Arago medallions in Paris, clambering around inside the Computer History Museum when it was just a couple of sheds on Moffett Field, being assaulted by light, noise and technology in Akihabara, keeping a curator way past her lunch time at the Fermat Museum in France, and standing on the wind-swept cliff tops in Poldhu where Marconi transmitted across the Atlantic for the first time.

A little later I had a proposed title: 128 Geeky Places To See Before You Die (if you are a computer geek the number 128 will instantly stand out to you like a secret sign, if you are not you'll have to buy the book to find out why). And I had an idea: write a book where each place is split into two parts.

The first part of each place would be a historical and general description readable by anyone, the second part would be a detailed explanation of the actual science, technology or mathematics behind the place. The general reader could slip the second parts and still enjoy the book.

One year later the book is almost in shops. The reality is that I wrote a book for myself, I wrote the guidebook that I couldn't find. I hope you find it useful (all those places can be visited), informative (I've tried to explain the science in two pages without dumbing it down) and inspiring (even if you don't travel you can dream).

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If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

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