Geek Tour

My daughter’s friend Lewis is here to visit. He’s a computer whizz-kid – eighteen and already has his own business building web sites – so he was pretty excited coming to Silicon Valley. I bought some McIntosh apples specially for his arrival. Apparently they were the favourite apple of Macintosh inventor Jef Raskin . (I was disappointed. In the McIntosh. Not the Macintosh.)

Yesterday we did the geek tour. Lewis had already found the garage at 367 Addison Ave where BillDave HewlettPackard started in the fifties, and the Facebook Offices in University Ave. (The HP garage is officially California historic landmark number 976). I had told him that Steve Jobs lives a few blocks away in a modest house, but we don’t know where. Today we drove past the Googleplex on Amphitheatre Parkway, and most important of all, went to the Apple Campus at 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino. It is HUGE. I was ready for a giant corporate building of some kind, maybe some surrounding greenery, but there is street after street after street of Apple buildings. Seems to be half of Cupertino. I was going to call this post “a visit to the Mothership” but when we dropped in to the company store I found there were T-shirts for sale that said “I visited the Mothership” so suddenly that all seemed obvious. Lewis loaded his bag with goodies.

Americans tend to tell you they don’t have any history, and that they are jealous of Europeans and their ancient buildings. The truth is that Americans are obssessed with history, and the place is crammed full of the stuff. Its not a quaint museum thing. Its real and resonating. Years back when I lived in Massachusetts you could walk round the Freedom Trail or drive out to Concord and practically feel the Minutemen breathing down your neck; people were debating whether their precious freedom was being eroded. History happens fast. The modern world started here in the nineteen fifties, accelerated in the 1970s, and again in the 1990s dotcom boom. As soon as I got here, people told me about the Homebrew Computer Club that used to meet in the Panofsky Auditorium.

Of course, if the HP Garage is the birthplace of Silicon Valley, and the Apple Campus is the Mothership, the Stanford Campus, where all that useless academic research goes on, is the Queen Bee. Sorry about the gharssly mixed metaphors, but there’s got to be a lesson there somewhere.

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11 Responses to Geek Tour

  1. Tony says:

    Hard to believe it is history when it happens in your own lifetime but I was reminded all yesterday that the integrated circuit was born when I was already 5 years old! That something so small (well, not quite so small back then) could have created so much history 🙂

  2. Vinay says:

    “History happens fast.”

    Does it ever. I discovered recently that it has been only 350 years since the death of Oliver Cromwell. Really? That seems so wrong. He ought to be so much older. Boston already existed by then! And only a hundred years after his death, the English had absorbed Scotland, and were ruling Bengal. A hudred years hence, and they had all of India. A further hundred years, and the Empire is vamoosed.

  3. Hywel says:

    I think the lesson is mostly for Europeans. Back during the reformation, all those motivated, energetic Puritans decided Europe was too backward for them, and they headed west. Out of that first cut, the REALLY motivated ones went even further west until the Pacific stopped them going any further. That self-selection is I think behind the progressive attitude of the Californians, and is why the USA in general has been so far in advance of other countries. Maybe you’re part of that exodus, Andy!

  4. andyxl says:

    Nah. I’m coming home. (Though my partner Deb might have to be dragged home physically). Scottish folk of course invented TV, penicillin, logarithms, the steam engine, tarmac roads, etc etc,, and although they love playing the injured underdog to the English, in fact they pretty much ran the Empire.

  5. andyxl says:

    Another US-leap : I just saw the Amazon Kindle e-book reader. Pretty amazing. Can’t get it in the UK yet .. and there is no point buying one to take home because it relies on the Sprint phone service. But … it doesn’t come from Silicon Valley, but from Seattle.

  6. Alan Penny says:

    The Computer History Museum on Shoreline Blvd has some amazing exhibits. They range from a 1503 abacus through actual parts of the NORAD SAGE computer to a replica of the Difference Engine. They
    also do a lecture series, with people like Bill Gates talking.

  7. Tony says:

    I should hold off on the Kindle for a while, Andy: see http://tinyurl.com/6fm9wd .

  8. andyxl says:

    I just spotted also that Hywel has a fairly ecstatic review of the Sony Reader, which is coming out in the UK.

  9. Michael Merrifield says:

    I was playing with a Sony Reader the other day (which is available now in the UK, and does have a UK-accessible online store through Waterstones). It is a very neat toy with an amazing display, but I do see some disadvantages: real books don’t run out of batteries, and e-books are not so useful when you find that there’s no loo roll…

  10. Michael Merrifield says:

    Wow… a bit of a mind thing there, Andy!

  11. Martin E. says:

    “History happens fast.”
    Yup. Always has. My father-in-law had the whole Oxford History of Europe in ~15 volumes. I couldn’t reqady it ‘cos it was in Italian, so I stared at the covers while trying to get to sleep. (The guest room was the study too.) Each volume was something like “Renaissance” or “Reformation”, and after a bit I spotted that every one of these hunking great Historical Periods was only 50 years long. So I don’t think we’re speeding up, its just perspective, like the road signs zipping past, but the distant mountains not.

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