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Silicon Valley Tour – Adventures for Geeks of All Ages

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Have you ever stopped to think about the development behind the Smartphone that always seems to be in your hand?   Have you not had to because you’re the parent of a technical whiz who could break down that little device for you and provide a summary of its parts?  Did your kids become little DIY doers before you figured out what DIY actually stands for?

Encourage your kids’ thirst for innovation and learning by taking them to a place where the term Geek is a proudly worn title.  Let’s tour Silicon Valley.

Located about an hour south of San Francisco, the Silicon Valley, which is actually Santa Clara Valley, got its nickname in the 1970’s as the area’s orchards, food production companies, and agriculture-related businesses started giving way to high-tech companies turning out semiconductors and computers. With this turn came a wave of pioneers and innovators who have no doubt changed everyday life in immeasurable ways.

Today, you can inspire your future engineer and raise the level of your own tech knowledge by visiting sites in the area that made high tech tangible to the entire family.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Stanford University

A walk near the School of Engineering on the Stanford University campus is like touring a high tech hall of fame.  The Gates Computer Science Building (Microsoft), the Hewlett Teaching Center, Packard Electrical Engineering (HP), the Paul Allen Building (Microsoft again), Varian Physics (medical systems for cancer treatment), the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Yahoo!) and the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center (NVIDA) are all buildings named for captains of industry in the area.

It’s also worth noting that the search engine Google was initially developed while company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were Ph.D. students here. Other well-known Silicon Valley moguls who are also Stanford alums include Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and Marissa Mayer, the current CEO of Yahoo!

If that isn’t enough inspiration for your budding tech genius, then have them consider this less techie fact — Jane and Leland Stanford founded this university in memory of their only child.  Leland Jr. died of typhoid fever when he was just a teenager.

Your family will be hard pressed to stand in the midst of landmarks like Hoover Tower, Memorial Church or the amazing Rodin Sculpture Garden and not be taken by how much good this couple set in motion after such a devastating loss.  In this fast paced, distraction filled high tech world, it’s often easy to lose touch with the more emotional guide posts right in front of us.

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY JUST MINUTES FROM STANFORD UNIVERSITY

The HP Garage:  Behind a simple two-story house on Addison Avenue in downtown Palo Alto sits a tiny garage with a big place in history. Bill Hewlett and David Packard established Hewlett-Packard here back in 1939 and in the process gave birth to the enclave of innovation we now know as Silicon Valley.

While it’s not possible to tour the garage, visitors can photograph it from the sidewalk.  It’s only about a 5 minute stop at the most, but when you consider how far Hewlett-Packard has come looking at this little garage can provide kids with some great perspective on hard work and growing a business.

KEEPERS OF HISTORY AND CONTINUED LEARNING

The Computer History Museum

Imagine if you will — 2,000 years of geeky goodness tracing the evolution of modern computing, this is what you will find at the Computer History Museum. Starting with the abacus and ending with the rise of the smart phone, some stories in the exhibit are fascinating, like that of the Colossus, one of the earliest electronic digital computers. Developed by the British during World War II, it was used to crack messages enciphered by German Lorenz machines.

Other parts are nostalgic, like the two-dimensional Pong game from my youth, a game my daughter, a child of more colorful games with clearer and more realistic graphics, found hilarious.  Other items were just plain funny, like the Honeywell H316 kitchen computer, a cumbersome recipe storage system offered by Neiman Marcus back in 1969.  While housewives loved the idea, they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about attending a two-week long training course to learn how to program it.

My family really enjoyed the way the Computer History Museum put a human face on the high tech industry.  Many of the displays are interactive allowing visitors to hear stories of computer development in the voices those who were a part of it.   It is even possible to watch original commercials for some products.

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY JUST MINUTES FROM THE COMPUTER HISTORY MUSEUM

Google Android Lawn Sculptures:  Instead of hopping back on highway 101, which runs near the Computer History Museum, turn right and head away from the highway instead.   With a left turn onto Charleston Road, you will find yourself in Google territory.

It’s impossible to miss the familiar iconic green Android Robot in front of the office building off to your left.  He is one of several whimsical and colorful giant sculptures that include; a cupcake, a chunk of honeycomb, and an ice cream sandwich version of the Android robot.  Photos are highly encouraged, just be on the lookout for Google employees traveling through the area via company provided primary colored bicycles.

Ok, now that you have your funny pics around the Android robots, let’s head south now toward Santa Clara because we still have a couple of museums to hit up!

Intel Museum

It might be hard for some non-technical types to believe but the silicon chip has an interesting story to tell.  Walk through the evolution of the silicon chip and learn how they affect our lives — they do power computers, cell phones and other digital items — through interactive museum exhibits and demos that illustrate  how silicon chips are produced, assembled, and tested.

Visitors can even watch Intel employees inside ultra clean “Fab” rooms (as silicon chips factories are called) as they work fully outfitted in “bunny suits.”  These are special coveralls and head gear that workers wear to prevent impurities from invading the clean room and destroying the chips they’re working on.

The area your kids will probably love the most though is the hands-on computer-based learning lab. My daughter enjoyed spelling her name in the two-digit binary computer language.  Another interesting exhibit allows visitors to place templates over a touch screen to duplicate the steps for etching complex circuitry onto silicon wafers. The Intel Museum is an interesting little stop for you tech lovers and it comes at the best price — free of charge!

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY INSIDE THE INTEL MUSEUM

Your kids are not only offered the opportunity to try out those bunny suits workers wear in the clean rooms, they can attempt to navigate their surroundings inside them by walking around on perforated flooring just like type that circulates purified air in the fab!

The Tech Museum of Innovation

Design a rollercoaster then ride it; check out the development of microchips and computers; explore ocean life; take a virtual space ride; sit in an earthquake simulator; learn about DNA and its role in biotech and so much more. Three floors of exhibits at the Tech Museum offer your children opportunities to harness energy, build robots, and even experience the Tech Studio, a place where visitors gets hands-on learning experience with digital fabrication, exhibit production, prototyping and more.

In other exhibits, kids can also take on important roles like that of genetic counselor, policymaker or scientist. They can design and control an avatar, and take part in numerous opportunities to blend science, technology, engineering, math — and at times, even art — into the mix.  In fact, the hands on and role playing activities are so numerous, a family could easily spend two-days here without having boredom set in.

It’s a good thing that Hilton San Jose is so close by…

Tech Museum Tip:  On your museum ticket there is something called  a “Tech Tag.”  It is a barcode you can scan at any activity or station displaying the Tech Tag icon.  When you return from your visit log on to http://my.thetech.org, create an account and start recalling how much your family enjoyed the experiences by looking through the images and activities your tag scans captured.

TIRED AFTER ALL THE INFORMATION OVERLOAD?

Largely a business traveler’s hotel, Hilton San Jose offers spacious and stylish rooms and a central location to downtown San Jose museums (including the Children’s Discovery Museum across the street), theaters, restaurants, and shops.  It is also three miles from San Jose Airport, making it a convenient place for the family to rest their heads if you’re planning to fly home in the near future.

If you’re looking for a half-way stop, Hilton Santa Clara is north of San Jose and closer to Stanford, Google, Intel and the Computer History Museum.

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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…

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