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We use the painless travel agency of Google Maps to explore the history of technology — from the University of Helsinki to Albuquerque — and some of the things that have happened to the places that helped create the modern world.
A place etched on the heart of every true blue British technologist, Bletchley Park symbolises what can be done through sheer power of thought when the pressure's on. Historians will argue forever how many lives were saved by the wholesale breaking of the German war codes and whether Colossus was the first digital programmable electronic computer, but what's beyond doubt is the tragedy of what happened afterwards. The core of what would, in other hands, become the world's most important new industry was deliberately destroyed and those involved sworn to silence — all to protect secrets that would be compromised anyway.
Real-life visiting potential: 10/10. The site museum is excellent.
The European centre for high energy physics is one of the world's finest temples to classical Big Science. That it's also the birthplace of the web is one of those accidents of time and place that will always haunt those who try and fund research. But being a pure research institute, there was no commercial reason for Tim Berners-Lee or CERN to keep the idea to themselves, and as with TCP/IP this gave the open standard an unassailable advantage. The rest is history.
Real-life visiting potential: 7/10. Not the easiest place to visit outside a group, and you should move quickly if you want to sort something out. Next November they turn on the experiment, so lots of stuff will be closed to the public that isn't now.
Xerox PARC — the Palo Alto Research Center — is another place that causes despair among those who fund pure research. The quantity and quality of its inventions during its heyday are unmatched: Ethernet, the laser printer, colour computer graphics, graphical user interfaces, Wysiwyg word processing, use of the mouse, object-oriented programming — and are behind most of what we do on our desktops these days. Yet, famously, Xerox found it impossible to make any money at it, or at least anywhere near as much as everyone else did.
Real life visiting potential: 3/10. Occasional talks open to the public, but most of the site is firmly off-limits.