What’s on your bucket list? For most people, the things they want to do before heading to the great gig in the sky might include skydiving, vacationing in Italy, or learning to paint. For us geeks, though, our bucket lists look a little different.
Ours could include such geeky adventures as visiting the LEGO headquarters, or seeing some seemingly mundane garages in Silicon Valley that are really the birthplaces of the modern age.
Here are 12 ideas to add to your geek bucket list. And feel free to throw your own suggestions in the comments – we may just add them to this list.
1. Visit the home of the WWII codebreakers
During World War II, Bletchley Park housed codebreakers who cracked the German Enigma and Lorenz codes. In fact, the codebreakers may have helped end the war two years early, saving countless lives in the process. Today, Bletchley Park serves as a museum and historical site dedicated to some of the world’s earliest computer nerds.
Located in Milton Keynes – about 45 miles (72 km) outside of London – Bletchley Park is open to the public year-round, except for December 24-26 and New Year’s Day. If you ever visit the UK, you’ll want to add it to your itinerary.
2. Go on an exclusive LEGO tour
For LEGO fans, a trip to LEGOLAND might seem like a dream vacation, but it’s just so mainstream. After all, anyone who can afford the airfare and accommodations can make the trek to one of the LEGO theme parks. A trip to the mothership? That’s another matter entirely.
Each year, LEGO invites a select few to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the plastic building blocks are made through its Inside Tour program. As part of the tour, you’ll get to visit LEGO’s headquarters in Billund, Denmark, tour a LEGO factory, meet LEGO product designers and more. Only a few lucky souls get to attend the tour every year: a mere 140 will take part in the program in 2016.
Unfortunately, the signup period for the 2016 LEGO Inside Tour has passed, so you’ll have to wait until at least 2017 for a shot to take the tour. We also recommend checking the Inside Tour page on LEGO’s website semi-regularly as the signup window for the next round of tours lasts only a few days.
3. Witness a rocket launch live
Although NASA has retired the Space Shuttle program, the agency (along with several private companies) is still sending rockets and astronauts into space. This is the perfect to-do-before-you-die if you’re a space nut – you’ll get the chance to wave at astronauts headed to the International Space Station, see a satellite as it’s launched into orbit, or be there as a milestone space probe begins its journey to the depths of the solar system.
NASA lists a number of public viewing locations for launches, from Cape Canaveral in Florida to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. You can also view launches at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Meanwhile, the Space Coast Launches site provides info on upcoming launches at Cape Canaveral, viewing locations and nearby hotels. While you’ll be kept at a safe distance, witnessing the sheer power of a rocket as it blasts off into space is a sight to behold.
4. Get up close and personal with a Space Shuttle
So, yes, Space Shuttles no longer fly into the stratosphere, but you can still get up close and personal with the retired fleet. There are three launch vehicles – plus the prototype orbiter, Enterprise – on public display at various science museums and centers around the country.
Enterprise currently resides at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City, while Endeavour is on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. You’ll find Discovery at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum outside Washington, DC. Lastly, you can take a gander at the Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
5. Wander through the Computer History Museum
The next time you swing through Silicon Valley, set aside some time to tour the Computer History Museum. Located in Mountain View – about 40 miles (64 km) south of San Francisco and better known as the home of Google – the museum takes you on a journey through the entire history of computing, dating back 2,000 years (who knew?!). You’ll also find computers dating back to the 1940s and 50s, such as the cabinet-sized IBM 1401 Data Processing System and the massive, 2,000-pound PDP-1 from Digital Equipment Corporation.
The Computer History Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays, with the exception of a handful of holidays, from 10am to 5pm. Adult admission starts at $15. If you’re a computer buff, the museum is well worth a visit.
6. Build your own personal nerd cave
What good is having a collection of awesome tech if you don’t show it off? If you’ve got an extra bedroom or space in your basement, dust off your equipment and build the ultimate nerd cave.
Blake Patterson, a developer and founder of the mobile gaming website TouchArcade, did just that with his basement, which he calls the Byte Cellar. This finished space houses Blake’s collection of old computers and features other nerdy touches, such as posters and Space Invaders decals on the walls. Building out a room and fleshing out a computer collection can take considerable amounts of time and money – Blake’s been working on his for a number of years – but you might want to add this one to your home-improvement to-do list so you can bask in the glow of your enviable collection.
7. Splurge on a classic arcade machine
Of course, no geek den would be complete without a classic arcade or pinball machine. Countless arcade and pinball machines are available for purchase on eBay, and they run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the unit.
If I had to choose, I’d go for an original Pac-Man or Mortal Kombat cabinet. These can be hard to come by and some may need work to fix up, but if you can find – and afford – one, jump at the chance to get it!
8. Visit the hobbit holes of New Zealand
New Zealand is a beautiful place (so they say – I’ve never been there), so it makes for a great vacation spot on that criteria alone. Add in the fact that you can actually visit the set of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, and you’re talking about an absolute dream vacation for Tolkien fans. Take a guided tour of the set, which is located outside the town of Matamata, and top off your visit with a stay at a hobbit-themed hotel.
9. See the garages where it all began
Silicon Valley is a mostly suburban area, so it’s no surprise that some of tech’s biggest names started out in garages. While the garages that HP and Apple called home in their earliest days are not open to the public, you can view them from the street. The HP garage is located at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, Calif., while the home Steve Jobs grew up in – and its attached garage – is found at 2066 Crist Drive in nearby Los Gatos.
While these garages look fairly mundane, you can tell your friends and family you laid eyes on the humble beginnings of the tech revolution.
10. Revel in a Maker Faire
Maker Faire is a veritable DIY mecca. Described as “part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new,” it attracts thousands of programmers, engineers, artists, and makers who come together to share their creations. Big Maker Faire events take place every spring and fall in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York, respectively, and they’re must-attend happenings if you can make it. You’ll get to see some amazing stuff and meet the people behind the scenes, and maybe you’ll learn or thing or two in the process.
If you can’t make the trek to the main Maker Faire events, you’ll be glad to know there are Mini Maker Faires around the world, from Taipei to Paris to Kansas City. Visit the Maker Faire website to find the nearest Maker Faire or Mini Maker Faire.
11. Cheer on at a robotics match
Before you leave this mortal coil, why not encourage the next generation of programmers and engineers? FIRST, an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” consists of elementary and high school students duking it out in various robotics competitions. Teams of students come together to design, construct and program their very own robot, then put it to the test in battles against other machines. The tournament is open to the public, and it’s fun to see what machinations teams come up with. If you love robotics, you’ll want to attend at least one competition, but you might end up being a repeat attendee. To find an event near you, visit the FIRST website.
Although FIRST may be the, er, first name in robotics competitions, it isn’t the only one. The RoboGames are the self-proclaimed “Olympics of Robots” and attracts roboticists from all over the world. Builders can enter their robots in a wide array of events, ranging from robot-on-robot combat to races to bartending! The 2016 competition takes place April 8-10 in the San Francisco suburb of Pleasanton, California.
12. Meet your favorite geek!
Neil deGrasse Tyson. Bill Nye. Carrie Fisher. Whomever they are, you have to meet them.
OK, that sounded a little creepy, but you know what I mean.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide to getting a chance to meet your idol, but look for local appearances at book signings and conventions. If your budget allows, consider travelling to an event or conference your favorite geek will be attending. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll be able to shake their hand and take a photo with them. It will be a memory to last a lifetime, that’s for sure.
- Treat the geek in you with these holiday gifts