Boston sight-seeing guide for IT pros

Geek’s guide to Boston and surrounding area

boston

People in Boston don’t refer to the city as Beantown (You’re a lot more likely to find black beans than baked beans around here these days). And fewer and fewer of us boast a “Hah-vad Yahd” accent.  For techies visiting Boston for work or pleasure, here’s a quick sightseeing guide from a guy who was born in Boston, went to school there and has lived in the area for 50 years.

RELATED: Innovation trail of Boston/Cambridge

MUSEUM OF SCIENCE
MUSEUM OF SCIENCE

Boston boasts lots of excellent museums, and that’s a good thing since depending on the time of year you’re visiting, you might very well want to find an indoor activity to hide from the weather. You’ll find the Museum of Science on every list like this and for good reason. While some of the exhibits are a tad musty, the museum has modernized nicely overall, rotates fresh exhibits regularly, and its lightning exhibit featuring “the world's largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator” never disappoints. Planetarium and IMAX theatre tickets cost extra. You can make a day of it here.

MIT MUSEUM
MIT MUSEUM

The MIT Museum in Cambridge has always left me thinking it could be much more given the contributions of MIT grads to science and technology, but it’s worth a look if over that way. Standing exhibits focus on early robotics, artificial intelligence and holograms, and kids will enjoy learning about the Scratch programming language and looking at or playing with kinetic sculptures. It will only take you a couple of hours at most to get through this museum.

MIT
MIT

Beyond the formal MIT Museum, roaming the hallways and buildings of MIT is a techie treat in itself. And it’s free. The architecturally unique Stata Center is home to the school’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.  Stroll Corridor Lab/Strobe Alley to explore interactive exhibits along the hallway (“Measure your own capacitance!”). Check out the Great Dome in the center of campus as well to picture where some of the students’ greatest hacks have been displayed. 

SMOOTS
SMOOTS

Take a stroll across the Harvard Bridge that traverses the Charles River to find “Smoot” markings that are the result of a 1958 MIT fraternity prank in which one Oliver Smoot – all five feet, 7 inches of him at the time — was used to measure the bridge. The total 364.4 Smoots.

MAPPARIUM
MAPPARIUM

Walk inside a three-story stained glass globe across a 30-foot glass bridge. Better than It’s a Small World at Disneyworld. This globe is located at the Mary Baker Eddy Library near Northeastern University. This activity will take less than an hour. If you’re really into maps, check out the map room at the Boston Public Library and if you’re really into globes, the 25-ton outdoor globe at Babson College, 20 miles west of Boston. 

HARVARD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
HARVARD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

This is a bit of a throwback museum, with oodles of stuffed (they are real) animals and dinosaur bones to ogle. Unique collection: Glass flowers produced in the 19th century (they look real). Also a great gems collection.

SHOPPING SPREE
Shopping spree

If you need your fix of comics in town, visit New England Comics in Cambridge or Allston. The popular Newbury Comics on Newbury Street and at Faneuil Hall has comics, but is better known for pop culture gifts and music. For board gamers, pay a visit to The Games People Play in Harvard Square.

MOVIES
MOVIES

If you’re a movie buff and want to scope out a few spots where geeky movies have been filmed in the Boston area, here are two suggestions: You can sit on a famous Boston Public Garden bench from a scene in Good Will Hunting and visit a bar from a scene in The Social Network.

RINGS A BELL
RINGS A BELL

A marker outside the JFK Federal Building in Boston where Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson transmitted their first harmonic “twang” in 1875 (Wikipedia).

ETHER DOME
ETHER DOME

William T.G. Morton made history on Oct. 16, 1846 in Massachusetts General Hospital’s surgical amphitheater, now known as the Ether Dome, when he demonstrated the first public surgery using anesthetic (ether). Today the space is used as a teaching amphitheater, and includes a collection of surgical tools as well as an Egyptian mummy. This is a freebie.

TAKING CARE OF THE PLUMBING
TAKING CARE OF THE PLUMBING

How often have we heard network pipes referred to as plumbing? If you want see what real plumbing looks like, visit the The Plumbing Museum just outside of Boston in Watertown. The museum is located in a 150-year-old former ice house.

DIGITAL DEN
DIGITAL DEN

This is a bit of a moving target, a newish effort “to collect, preserve and exhibit a wide range of computing systems in their original ‘living’ state for the public to experience and enjoy first hand.” Those behind the project for a New Computer Museum set up shop temporarily in Cambridge near MIT and are looking for a permanent home. Boston had a Computer Museum from 1979 to 1999. 

CHARLES RIVER MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY
CHARLES RIVER MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY

Before there was Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smart watch and other such timepieces, there were real watches (the Waltham Watch Company pumped out  40 million of them in its day), the kinds highlighted at the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Mass. Housed in an old textile mill, this to me is a museum best visited when there’s a party going on there.