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Sun 15 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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Geeky get-aways

Round the clock connection to the web and an ever-proliferating array of ‘devices' has created a new class of cyber-dependent users that simply just can't ‘turn off', let alone chill out. So where does the discerning uber-geek go on holiday for a little rest, recuperation and system back-up? Windows Middle East looks at the best ways to get away while staying close to the nearest hard disk...

Round the clock connection to the web and an ever-proliferating array of 'devices' has created a new class of cyber-dependent users that simply just can't 'turn off', let alone chill out. So where does the discerning uber-geek go on holiday for a little rest, recuperation and system back-up?

Windows Middle Eastlooks at the best ways to get away while staying close to the nearest hard disk...

A team of researchers at California's Stanford University has found that for one in eight Americans, excessive Internet use is a growing problem. It has the potential to affect relationships and can even cause deleterious effects on personal health and fitness too.

Outages in the Middle East earlier this year had an economic impact of course, but they may also have taught us to step back and consider how we feel about being separated from the various forms of technology that we so depend upon today.

Whether we've personally developed our individual technology dependency to the point of addition is another matter. But the fact remains, we are all used to the ‘benefits' it arguably brings us, so what is the borderline cyber-dependent uber-geek to do when he or she needs to take a break but still feel warmly wrapped in a cosy blanket of technology?

Only in the most extreme cases would we imagine that a reasonable suggestion might be a weekend city-break in the Irish capital Dublin, Ireland to visit the nearby Intel chip fabrication plant in Leixlip.

Don't laugh too soon though, an increasing number of visitors to Washington DC write up their top ‘must-see' list as the White House, the Smithsonian Institute and - wait for it - the National Cryptologic Museum which houses all manner of exhibits detailing the history of codes and encryption..

Located close to the American capital, the museum is perhaps best known for it German Enigma machines, which featured in the movie of the same name. It's free to enter and makes for an absorbing afternoon break before you tackle your next cheeseburger.

UAE tech museum talks

Talks were held in Abu Dhabi earlier this year by visiting prime minister for the German state of Bavaria Dr Guenther Beckstein during which he discussed setting up a museum for science and industrial technology in the UAE capital.

If you've never been to a science museum before, then the next time you travel and find that the city you are in has one - make sure you go. London has one, but it's pricey so try looking further afield if you can.

Australia sets the benchmark for these ‘science centres' and has one is every major city. Although focused initially on children and learning, there's always plenty for adults to ‘pretend' they already know about so that they can get to play with the hands-on exhibits too.

After all, what self-respecting geek doesn't want to get an update on molecular structure and atomic behaviour, while at the same time riding the ‘earthquake simulator' (yes, they really do have these!) and get a little shaken up?

For those that have never been, a trip to California's Silicon Valley might sound like a dream techy destination experience. For those of us in the Middle East who do make the trip, it is perhaps thought provoking to look at this area and think about what its growth patterns might be able to teach us for the still-nascent Arabian technology hubs such as Dubai Internet City.

Silicon Valley Reality

Just remember, Silicon Valley is not quite the techno-Nirvana that you may have read about, the streets are not paved with gold and there certainly isn't free Wi-Fi on every street corner.

San Francisco can be blisteringly cold right through until June, the clam ‘chowder' soup they are so famous for is bland and uninteresting and it's extremely expensive to buy a bottle of water, let alone a hotel room.Having said that, there's plenty to see so get yourself a book of Dilbert cartoons, hire a car and just drive around between the shiny glass towers and drink it all in.

If that fails to impress you then you could always drop into the Arab-American Cultural Centre Of The Silicon Valley (look them up at http://aaccsv.org/) and join one of their social events to find out what the place is like from the inside.

If burgeoning technology centres are your thing then you'd be a fool not to think about seeing the beautiful city of Bangalore. Soon to revert back to its pre-colonial name of Bengaluru, the city's techparks rival those of its Western counterparts and in many cases boast better broadband connections.

What other city in the world can you drink in state of the art technology all morning before heading off for an afternoon speeding around the ancient palaces and markets by tuk-tuk?

Robot capital

No ‘Top Tech Destination List' would be complete without Tokyo, Japan. Your first stop in Tokyo - known as the robot capital of world - should be the Institute of Emerging Technology and Innovation.

This massive institute showcases working displays of robotics, interactive displays on genetics and space travel, in-depth explanations of nanotechnology and much more.

Your next hot tech stop should be Sony's ExploraScience located in Minato-Ku, Tokyo. The museum is full of exciting, interactive tech displays. One cool example is the Interactive Voice Console.

This samples your voice and then plays it back in a tone of your choice. It plays with the wave forms of your voice, changing the pitch, amplitude and duration. So, using one sampled sentence, you can hear yourself angry, tired, excited and tired. Very cool indeed.

No tech inspired visit to Tokyo would be complete without visiting the ultra-modern district of Odaiba. This area boasts a series of entertainment complexes, high-tech showcases by various companies, and ultra-modern shopping malls.

It's also the home of the impressive Fuji headquarters with its observation globe. The entire building is made entirely from Mechano sets.

This district is also host to the impressive Toyota showcase, with its concept cars and robotic people-carrier, which consisted of a one-person cradle on huge hydraulic robot legs. In district's Joypolis Entertainment Complex there are three floors of virtual reality rides and the latest arcade games.

Last but not least, make sure you visit the Tokyo's Electronic Town district, which is packed with seven-floor superstores containing every tech gadget on the planet.

Seoul train

Seoul, South Korea has earned top spot among the world's digital cities. Leading gadget-makers Samsung and LG have headquarters in Seoul and release a steady stream of tech toys, which locals quickly adopt.

In 2006, the country introduced the first superfast wireless broadband service, WiBro, making it possible to remain online on the go at 10-megabits per second, faster than most traditional broadband connections. So if you want to work quickly on the road, this is the city to be in.If you decide to stay at the Samsung-owned Shilla Hotel (www.shilla.net) , you'll find a mobile phone and a computerised drawing tablet (linked to the plasma display) sitting on your bed.

Also, the hotel's television volumes are linked to the in-room phones and automatically decrease when the phones are engaged; bathroom lights brighten gradually (handy for late-night visits) and toilets have an array of comfort features.

Seoul is also a place where watching live TV on a cell phone is a daily habit, online gaming is a professional sport and social life revolves around the estimated 28,000 internet parlours. So, whether you're a tech-head or gamer, Seoul should definitely be at the top of your hit list.

Arab sciences: The golden age

Back in the Middle East, you may think your next break in Cairo is the ideal time to visit the Pyramids, shop in the famous souq of Khan el-Khalili and maybe take in a bowl of kusheri or two.

It is all of those things of course, but you should also consider jumping on the train to Alexandria (generally an experience in itself) and heading over to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which, in addition to being a library, is a cultural complex.

Its displays show the history of sciences and their evolution featuring portraits of leading scientists and thinkers from the pharaonic period up to the golden age of Arab sciences.

Although not blessed with the same reputation for international transport links and tourism as some of its neighbours, Qatar has a plenty to offer the techno-tourist.

As recently as 2006, American ex-president Bill Clinton addressed the Qatar Science & Technology Park telling the audience that the nation has the building blocks of a diversified economy.

Probably the best advice today if you do plan to extend a business trip to Doha with a couple of days off is to invest in a GPS device, book yourself an Arabian Adventures style desert driving experience and spend the afternoon working out how far up and down the wadis you have traveled.

Qatar is after all increasingly prosperous, but unspoiled, so enjoy the country for what it is.

Techno tourists passing through Kuwait can certainly aim for the on the country's Science and Natural History Museum. Its displays include artifacts relating to the petroleum industry, natural history, aviation and zoology.

There's also the Kuwait Science Club
, which has a wide range of facilities and the latest scientific hardware including the Aujairy Observatory. The club aims to create a casual environment for people of all ages to develop their scientific knowledge and hobbies.

Kuwait's Scientific Centre houses a huge aquarium built by the Kuwait Foundation in the Middle East for Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) where visitors can focus on natural sea habitats, the coastal edges and desert of Arabian Peninsula.

Another Gulf state not immediately associated with technology is Oman. It's probably because of the beauty and serenity of the mountain harbour city of Muscat that most tourists don't arrive in the capital and look for somewhere to plug in their laptop.

Having said that, you can almost take a virtual tour of Oman's museums thanks to the www.omanaccess.com website which bills itself as the indispensable portal for innovative ideas to explore science. The virtual tourist cometh

All this talk of technology and tourism surely leads us to conclude this piece by posing the question - with all the Internet based virtual tourist resources out there telling us about the world, should we really bother going away in the first place?

Websites such as www.virtualtourist.com/ have a wealth of information on every destination in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Sites like this are now so sophisticated that they are able to host photos, restaurant reviews, travel advice from fellow globetrotters and even offer the chance to build your own virtual tourism map of the world.

Although popular, it seems unlikely that these sites will ever truly replace the option to travel firsthand and experience the sights, sounds and smells of new destinations for ourselves.

Quite apart from the fact that the majority of the information on these ‘web portals' may be the opinions of others, there is also the inevitable sway and influence of advertisers on the sites whose Dollar, Dirham or Dinar may well be influencing editorial policy behind the scenes.

But more important than any of the above is the fact that although international travel may force an unwelcome disconnection upon the average techno-file, our innate desire to travel and explore always prevails and leads us to follow our noses.

So please, turn off your BlackBerry, get out a newspaper, map or atlas, set your mobile phone to silent and read up on your next destination with an eye to experiencing it from street level. Especially if you have read this feature online!

Top 10 tech travel tips1. Pack light:you're flying to a techno-literate destination, they will have extra toothpaste and soap already so maybe leave your extras at home.

2. Adaptability:you can never have to many international plug adapters.

3. Spare battery:for your laptop or BlackBerry - ok, go on, you'll need it.

4. Mini USB hub:three USB ports on your laptop and five devices to synch? Get yourself a mini hub!

5. 56cm x 45cm x 25cm:remember those numbers when packing your iPOD, DVD player and in-flight trouser press - that's the maximum size for a carry on flight bag on most airlines.

6. Scan yourself:keep a copy of all your important documents mailed to yourself in a web hosted mail account such as gmail or hotmail that you can access anywhere.

7. USB sticks and mini mouse:obvious yes, but please don't forget them.

8. Moo cards: introduce yourself to new acquaintances along the way with the ultimate in uber-geek chic calling cards (by them from www.moo.com).

9. Hello & thank you:ok not a techy tip, but if you're going to a country that speaks a different language to your own - please learn these two words.

10. Chilli sauce:let's face it, we love it in the Middle East - but not everywhere on Earth really understands why, so take a small bottle please.

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