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yesh omrim

a blog that reclines to the left


The museum of institutional egotism

22 June 2009

During my brief stay at yeshiva in Israel, we toured some of the archeological sites near Tiberias, and our guide pointed out a number of details about the Roman civil engineering from two thousand years ago. A tour guide who appreciates technology, I thought. Cool!

A few months ago, I read about the tunnel of Eupalinos, an aqueduct dug through a mountain on the Greek island of Samos by two teams starting at opposite sides. The tunnel is an impressive work of engineering when you consider that during the sixth century BCE, when it was dug, its surveyors had no magnetic compasses, nothing resembling modern surveying instruments, and possibly not even much geometry—Euclid’s Elements was written two centuries later. And yet, the two excavation teams intercepted each other in the middle of the mountain, just as Eupalinos had planned. Wow, I thought. If I could ever do a Geek’s Tour of Europe, that tunnel would be one of my stops.

So, when I heard someone had published The Geek Atlas, the first thing I did was look at the map to see if the tunnel of Eupalinos was on the list. To my surprise, it was not; in fact, not a single marker lay in Greece. The only place mentioned in Italy is the Tempio Voltiano, a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta; nothing about classical Roman engineering here. The Neolithic excavations at Çatalhöyük are also off the list, but surely I am not the only nerd who trembles at the image of a nine-thousand-year-old city.

Perplexed, I shuffled the map to see what was in this atlas, and came across a marker near Boston. What local landmark did the author consider worth including among his 128 selections? The MIT Museum.

Oh, for the love of God and Jerome Weisner, I thought, you have got to be kidding.

My wife and I went to the MIT Museum in January, using our alumni status to get free admission, and we cannot in good conscience advise anyone to pay their own money to get in there. There are a few exhibits related to current research at the Institute, some kinetic sculptures that somebody presumably considers “art”, and a lot about our alma mater’s storied history. If you’re an MIT dean who wants to schlep naches from your department’s work being on exhibit to the public, or a rich and elderly alum looking to stoke your nostalgia for “Tech”, maybe you’ll like that kind of thing. Everyone else can give it a pass.

If you’re a geek visiting Boston and looking for something touristy, I can recommend the Museum of Science, especially if you have kids. There’s also the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Or, heck, you can just walk into MIT itself, wander the halls, and look for posters describing current research. And if you’re looking for something elsewhere in the world… I have no idea.

If anyone out there has come across a real geek atlas, please let me know. In the meantime, I’m saving my pennies for a trip to Samos and Çatalhöyük.