Interactive Computer Museum

TechTalk

The arrival of fall means that warm days of outdoor summer excursions are starting to pass into memory. Bone-chilling winds and rainy days make it hard to enjoy many of Boston's outdoor wonders during the school year.

Don't hate your friends at Rice and Emory who get to enjoy rollerblading and sunbathing all the time, though. If you're a gadget junkie like me, Boston has indoor attractions to keep you busy even in the coldest weather.

If you're looking for a fun excursion on what will probably be a seasonally chilly Columbus Day weekend, your first stop should be The Computer Museum in downtown Boston. Boston's Computer Museum is the only institution of its kind in the world, literally. Their collection and knowledge of historic computer equipment is so rare, they actually have the first joint collecting agreement with the Smithsonian.

The centerpiece of the museum is the Walk Through Computer 2000, a two-story working Pentium computer with a giant keyboard, trackball and monitor. It's an eerie experience to actually maneuver through a computer like the one you have in your dorm room, down to the pickup-truck sized 3Com card inside it.

Serious computer lovers will find exhibits like this a little too basic for their tastes; many of the museum's visitors are members of the Tickle-Me-Elmo club, so many of the displays are designed primarily for kids.

But the museum does have a fascinating wing devoted to the history of computing. Multimedia stations show taped interviews with industry leaders conducted over the last 20 years and classic industry commercials.

And yes, IBM's Charlie Chaplin ads and Apple's "1984" ad are both available at the touch of a button.

There's also a wealth of hands-on exhibits showcasing researching in artificial intelligence, robotics, networkings and the like. Try mixing a Lou Rawls song or asking a futuristic phone booth for directions back to Leverett House.

The museum, originally founded in Marlboro by Massachusetts' Digital Corp. in the late 1970s, moved to Boston in the 80s and now occupies a beautiful riverfront building near South Station, right next to the Children's Museum. Students get in for a reasonable $5; the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, but will open for Columbus Day as well this year. Check them out on the Web at http://www.tcm.org.

Another great stop for technophiles is Boston's renowned Museum of Science. It can be a pricey day-trip; admission is almost $9 for a one-day visit, and expect to shell out even more if you want to see a show at the Omni Theater or the planetarium.

But the museum of Science is worth the price. With the exception of San Francisco's Exploratorium, there probably is no other science museum in the U.S. as well-known as Boston's own. While it's too late to catch the DaVinci exhibit, the permanent collection is always worth a look, as is a new exhibit on special effects.

And if you've never been to see a planetarium laser-light rock show, be sure to check out MOS's "Laser Fantasy" concerts in the evenings.

You'll have to wade through crowds of angst-ridden high schoolers, but seeing "The Wall" synchronized to a light show is quite an experience.

The Museum (http://www.mos.or) is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. on Fridays. The museum is located on the Green Line, Science Park T stop, close to the Cambridgeside Galleria.

Sure, hitting Boston's tech museums may not be quite as much fun as beachcombing on Cape Ann. If you haven't visited the Computer Museum or the Museum of Science, though, you owe yourself a trip.

-Kevin S. Davis '98 is an independent computer consultant and student director of HASCS's Advanced Support Team. You can reach him at ksdavis@fas.harvard.edu