Tech meccas: The 12 holy sites of IT

You can't call yourself a true IT pro until you've visited at least one of the "holy sites" where computing history was made

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The nucleus of the Web
Tech mecca No. 4: CERN -- Geneva, Switzerland

Science disciples touring the continent have plenty of reasons to visit CERN (originally called the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, now known as the European Council for Nuclear Research) on the French-Swiss border. It's where particles come to collide, revealing the mysteries of subatomic physics. If nothing else, you may want to catch the Large Hadron Collider when it comes back online this fall, just to see if it produces a black hole that swallows up the planet.

For IT geeks, though, CERN probably holds more significance as the birthplace of the World Wide Web. In 1990, physicist Tim Berners-Lee and systems engineer Robert Cailliau devised the concept of an information system based on hypertext links (which Berners-Lee originally called the "Mesh").

[ Prove your Web trivia know-how by acing InfoWorld's Web IQ test ]

On exhibit at CERN you'll find the original Web server, Tim Berners-Lee's NeXT machine. Can't afford a ticket to Geneva? Berners-Lee's March 1989 proposal for a new information management system and screen shots from the first browser can be found on the CERN Web site.

In his original proposal, Berners-Lee wrote:

The aim would be to allow a place to be found for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards. The result should be sufficiently attractive to use that ... the information contained would grow past a critical threshold, so that the usefulness [of] the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use.

We believe Tim achieved his aims.

The cure for the uncommon code
Tech mecca No. 5: Bletchley Park, England

Did computers defeat the Nazis? You'll find a strong argument for the case at Bletchley Park, home to the United Kingdom's supersecret code-breaking think tank. Though breaking the Germans' communications codes relied mostly on "human" computers -- civilians recruited for their puzzle-solving prowess, as well as loftier types like author Ian Fleming and mathematician Alan Turing -- they needed machines to do much of the heavy lifting. The most famous of these: the vacuum-tube-based Colossus, one of the first programmable, binary electronic computers.

Colossus was destroyed after the war on orders from Winston Churchill, but was later rebuilt, and now stands as the premier exhibit at Britain's National Museum of Computing -- located at Bletchley -- where it continues to demonstrate how it helped break the Nazi's Lorenz cipher. If you can't make it across the pond, you can catch Hollywoodized versions of the story by renting "Enigma" (2001) or "Breaking the Code" (1996).

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