A techie’s guide to London

A techie’s guide to London
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First Published: Fri, Feb 06 2009. 12 02 AM IST

Updated: Fri, Feb 06 2009. 12 02 AM IST
A. HISTORY OF SCIENCE MUSEUM
One of the oldest surviving museums in the world, the History of Science Museum at Oxford (an hour-and-a-half drive from London) is—as its name suggests— dedicated to instruments of science. It has around 10,000 exhibits, from ancient sundials to early microscopes—take a peek at as many as you can to get an idea of the evolution of science and medicine into today’s concrete theorems and concepts.
There is one relic that stands out in the vast spread: the blackboard Einstein used to explain his concepts on when he visited Oxford for a lecture in 1931.
In 2005, on the centenary of the Special Theory of Relativity, guests were invited to write on blackboards the same size as the one used by Einstein. These are now on display, in remembrance of a teaching aid that is fast disappearing from most classrooms today.
Location: Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AZ, UK.
Timings: 12-5pm, Tuesday to Friday; 10am-5pm, Saturday; 2-5pm, Sunday.
Entry fee: Free
Website: http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk
B. CAMDEN MARKET
Every weekend, the crowd outside the Camden Market area starts to swell right from the morning. No, it’s not customers clamouring for the latest gadgets or software. Instead, it’s stall owners, desperately seeking a patch to display their wares.
Camden Market is the bastion of the DIY culture; everything, from paintings, T-shirts and earrings to sculptures, is up for sale.
However, don’t expect fixed prices or the cleanliness of a mall. This is a bazaar, and you need to bargain. A must-see here is the sculptures made from scrap metal and jewellery carved out of old computer components.
Closest Tube station: Camden Town station.
Timings: While certain parts of the market are open through the week, the weekend is the best time to visit the place. Reaching the market early in the morning helps.
C. SCIENCE MUSEUM
Every city has one of these. Yet, London’s Science Museum stands out for the sheer number and breadth of displays.
From ancient steam engines to modern V-rods, the museum has a rotating collection; every few months, there is something new to see here. Contemporary subjects—such as climate change and the evolution of Japanese car design—are explained through interactive displays, which let you watch movies, play around with games on screens, and even leave comments.
What stands out is the ‘Listening Post’, an installation piece made of seven tiny segment displays, hung on wires to form a giant concave surface. The screens display randomly chosen bits of online chat from all over the world, forming a collage of words that keeps changing. Don’t miss this visual critique of the hypermedia of our times.
Location: Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.
Timings: 10am-6pm, daily.
Entry fee: Free, though you need tickets for the IMAX theatre and certain exhibitions.
Website: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk
D. TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD
Right in the heart of the city is Tottenham Court Road, lined with shops selling everything from personal navigation devices to the latest LCD TVs.
While the neon signs of the big brands are omnipresent, it is the smaller shops that offer you a peek into Britain’s gaming subculture. These shops have an amazing collection of hardware, from liquid-cooled cabinets to the latest graphic cards, enough to make any serious gamer drool and burn a hole in his pocket. Unlike most shops selling electronics in other parts of the city, you can get new gear by exchanging old components and paying the difference in price.
For the less hardware-crazy, Tottenham Court Road is the place where you can get anything fixed, unlocked or patched up.
Closest Tube stations: Tottenham Court Road station or Goodge Street station.
Timings: 11am-5pm, daily.
E&F. ORBITAL COMICS, FORBIDDEN PLANET
For those interested in graphic novels, central London has a couple of stores we recommend highly. Everything from commemorative T-shirts, magazines, collectible figures and posters to assorted memorabilia, and of course, the novels can be found at Forbidden Planet. This store also has a vast collection of author-signed science fiction and fantasy books.
You could also visit Orbital Comics, but it is more focused on the novels, and less on the paraphernalia. Both stores are frequented by famous graphic artists and authors such as Alan Moore and Neal Stephenson. Check out their websites before you decide to head there.
ORBITAL COMICS:
Location: 148, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0LB.
Timings: 10.30am-7pm, Monday to Saturday; 11.30am-5pm, Sunday.
Website: http://www.orbitalcomics.com/
FORBIDDEN PLANET:
Location: 179, Shaftesbury Ave., London, WC2H 8JR.
Timings: 10am-7pm, Monday to Wednesday; 10am-7.30pm, Thursday; 10am-8pm, Saturday; and 12pm-6pm, Sunday .
Website: http://www.forbiddenplanet.com/fp
G. Design Museum
Every product, from shopping bags to can openers, should be designed to suit our particular needs. This museum is an ode to shapes, surfaces and the comfort that we take for granted.
Situated on the south bank of the Thames, this small museum houses a variety of products from all over the world. Disparate items such as antique furniture, silver cutlery, tapestries, model cars and electronic devices, form the main collection of this museum, while limited time displays are set up outside the building. For the tech-inclined, the displays outside the building are usually kinetic or interactive.
A must-see display here is the evolution of portable devices, right from tiny radio sets and cameras to mobile phones and portable music players.
Location: Design Museum, 28, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD.
Timings: 10am-5.45pm, daily.
Entry fee: Adults, £8.50; students, £5; children, free.
Website: http://www.designmuseum.org/info
CONNECT
LISTEN
Fusion Electronics has created an AM-FM car stereo, the CA-IP500, that is also an internal dock for your iPod. Once you’ve secured your iPod in the dock, the CA-IP500 lets you select songs, change the volume and generally control your device via an easy-to-read, fully integrated iPod interface, because of an organic light-emitting diode display. Your iPod is being charged at the same time. The CA-IP500 does need an adapter sleeve to dock your iPod. It’s compatible with the iPod Touch, Classic and Nano, and costs $250. The head unit also comes with a detachable faceplate to fool would-be thieves. ©2009/The New York Times
BACKUP
Backing up computer files is important. All it takes is one waterlogged laptop to make users wish they had been smart enough to make a copy of data. SanDisk, the maker of flash storage cards, has a solution.
Instead of cables, its Ultra Backup USB flash drive relies on a dedicated and clearly marked backup button. Press it and the job is done. The USB drive does the rest by searching your computer for the necessary updates. It also offers two layers of protection for your files by using password-protected access control and Advanced Encryption Standard technology. It is available in models from 8GB ($40) to 64GB ($200) and will be released in April. ©2009/The New York Times
SEE
In addition to its eye-catching design and modest 1.5-inch thickness, Samsung’s new BD-P4600 Blu-ray Player, which mounts on the wall for all to see, also streams more than 12,000 movies and television episodes from online providers Netflix and Pandora. And to help create a better home theatre experience, the player can also internally decode high-resolution digital multichannel audio soundtracks, including Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. If your walls are already covered with non-gadget art, the BD-P4600 also comes with an integrated stand so you can place your player on a table. ©2009/The New York Times
COMPUTE
IBM Corp. plans to release an online version of its Lotus programs soon. LotusLive will allow users to create networks with business partners and customers. The software is delivered through the Internet, which is represented as a cloud on network diagrams, hence the term. That frees customers from having to store programs on their own computers. By shifting Lotus to the Internet, customers can save on storage and spend less time maintaining the software. Everyone’s focused right now on doing more with less, a company release said.©2009/The New York Times
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First Published: Fri, Feb 06 2009. 12 02 AM IST