Magical History Tour - Quiet Country Lanes of the Bay Area - CycleBlaze

November 18, 2020

Magical History Tour

This first ride is an easy one that starts from home and does a loop through Mountain View and Palo Alto to visit some of the older and newer Silicon Valley historical sites, including - get this - TWO birthplaces of Silicon Valley. Most of it is part of a regular ride I used to do.

This tour might be of particular interest to those of you who are computer scientists or electrical engineers. My interest is not that deep but I do have a deep appreciation of the magic that these companies produced that had such a profound effect on the world. It's not just me saying that either - there's a brass plaque that says so and everything.

To add to the specialness, I picked the same time some rogue showers   decided to pass through. Hasn't rained since May, and won't be raining again for a couple of weeks. Ah well. It felt good.

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And we're off. The SF Peninsula decided to join the fall foliage extravaganza just a few minutes ago.
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Despite how old-lady cranky I am about Silicon Valley companies these days, I do have to give them a lot of credit for how fast they all jumped on the work-from-home orders. Google, Facebook, Apple, employers big and small sent their people home a week or two before the Bay Area county health directors shut us down for the virus in mid-March. They and lots of their employees have deep ties to Asia where the virus was first running out of control, and they paid attention to what was happening. I'm convinced that their actions saved a lot of people from getting the disease.

The big employers are not letting employees back at the offices until at least July 2021. So there are hardly any tech workers moving around in this area right now. Traffic is way down. Millions of square feet of office space are sitting empty. Thousands of acres of parking lots have have lonely tumbleweeds blowing through. It's been eerie cutting through those empty lots that always used to be full on a weekday.

On the Permanente Creek Trail bridge over US 101, the main street of Silicon Valley. While traffic has increased since the first lockdown in March, this is still really sparse. This bridge crosses 101 between the two main Google exits; in the Before time it was usually packed.
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Approaching the Googleplex. Praise be, they cut through this median to get across this road. Before this week it was a bit of a detour to continue on the bike path. Of course, no traffic to worry about these days.
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The Googleplex is the main headquarters for that upstart that is now 20 years old. We live not far away because the original builder of the complex was Silicon Graphics Inc., back in the 1990s. My wife worked for them and she wasn't a big commuter so we moved close by. The original SGI colors of teal and light purple are still accents on these buildings.

SGI was the company whose computers rendered all the special effects graphics for the movie Jurassic Park. Their equipment was the standard for graphics, weather, geologic, and defense computations, which as you can imagine need a lot of crunching and munching (sorry for the technical terms), just like movie dinosaurs need. But not long after Jurassic Park came out, the humble PC started being not so humble and SGI became a dinosaur itself.

And we're at G HQ. It's Indigenous Peoples month, so their logo reflects that.
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And you thought it was all server farms. This - THIS - is the Google search engine. Seems to be down at the moment.
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Forgotten fact: the Googleplex was actually built by Silicon Graphics in the late 1990s. My wife worked for them here.
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The T-Rex is abiding by CDC guidelines. Note the little mound behind the T-Rex's back legs. Some wit created a concrete dropping. It has plastic pink flamingo parts in it.
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The Android says hello would you like some cherry pie.
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Moving along, we pass a few RVs. Homelessness has exploded around here and lots of people are now in these. About half have jobs but even now can't afford rent. Mountain View has several places where these folks can park safely and have basic sanitation. This isn't one of them.
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Next up: Intuit, maker of tax preparation and small business accounting software. I hadn't been through their campus until recently and thought they did a nice job.
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Nice little amphitheater and stage.
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Cool fountain.
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Soon after I enjoyed the fountain a couple of security gals pounced on me to say that no one was allowed on campus, even employees, due to covid and that photos were forbidden. They certainly are more security conscious than even Google.

I exit the campus without demur and then skirt the marshes of San Francisco Bay.

We're at the Palo Alto Baylands so Pokey can say hi to Bliss in the Moment.
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Bliss in the Moment honors Bill Bliss, a Palo Alto resident who was a big cycle tourist and who helped create the San Francisco Bay Trail. He died while on a cross-country tour in 2005.

One of our quiet bike paths in the Baylands, part of the Bay Trail. But if you turn your head to the left ...
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... there's our friend 101. Twelve lanes at this point.
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And we cross back over. Only eight lanes here down from 12 a half mile back - imagine the backups in the Before times.
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Mike AylingYes, not busy now. It didn't take long for traffic to get back to normal in Melbourne Australia once we got the virus under control.
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1 year ago
We are deposited into Palo Alto with its quaint wayfinding signs. So like the ones in Merrie Olde England.
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One of the village churches, St Albert the Great. It's about 700 months old.
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I spent about 15 minutes waiting out a passing shower under a convenient redwood tree next to the village church.
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Ah. The Garage. The Birthplace of Silicon Valley.
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The HP garage is famous among people who know about HP. Some say this is the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Hewlett and Packard met at Stanford and in 1938 started to work together using this garage as their workshop (Packard and his wife lived in the house). An audio oscillator was their first product, which they sold to the Walt Disney Company when they were releasing Fantasia.  A story I heard was that years later, as the myth about the garage grew, some in the company thought they should buy the property for its historical value. H and P had no interest or attachment to it at all - to them it was just a dumpy garage and all they could afford as they were just starting out. Still, a historical landmark plaque was installed in 1989 with them posing for photos. And the company did finally buy the property in 2000 and fixed it up to its current glory. I heard it was used only for small functions but there was a sign on the door saying it was a private residence.

Certified that something historic happened here. But no silicon was involved I believe.
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This plaque makes a good point. It wasn't just that H and P started their business here, it's that Professor Terman thought his students should start their electronics companies out here. Stanford has a long association with Silicon Valley, from HP to Sun (Stanford University Network) Microsystems to Sergei and Larry of Google.

The manse. How would you like to live in a nerd mecca?
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Many great old homes in this part of Palo Alto, which is called Professorville. This house, though, is from 1883, yet Stanford was founded in 1891.
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The part of Palo Alto where the garage resides is a nice part of town with multi-million dollar homes. It's called Professorville because - wild guess here - of all the Stanford professors that live(d) there. Yet some of the homes are older than the university.

I continued on Bryant Street, which is officially the Ellen Fletcher Bike Boulevard, the first such designated street in the US. Ellen Fletcher was quite the bicycle advocate. Also a Holocaust survivor. We were lucky to have her here.

The bike boulevard means that bikes have the priority in traffic. Some parts of the street are blocked off to vehicle through-access, and all the side streets have stop signs. Bryant Street does not have a lot of stop signs. It's great for bike commuting. And especially nice now that the leaves decided to finally turn.

More recent fall colors on leafy Bryant Street, which is the Ellen Fletcher Bike Boulevard, the first such designated street in the US.
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Stopped for a potty break at Peers Park. Wonderful old coast live oak overhead.
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Like we need a reminder? Turns out I know this guy but only realized when I saw the license plate. He walks the talk with sustainability, does a lot with his church, school, and community. But I still don't get the sign. Didn't seem to light up or anything. The neighbors must love it.
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Always loved these little cottages. There are about six of them in a row. Just off the Stanford campus.
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What Hewlett Packard Company is today. This is just one building on their Palo Alto campus. And no cars on a Wednesday.
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I was in the main HP building once a few years ago. They've preserved Hewlett's and Packard's offices as they left them, and they're open for you to wander around. They're very proud of the fact that the wood paneling behind their office doors has not faded like the rest of the paneling because H and P's doors were always open.

Now this is a place that should be more famous: Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.
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I rode up to Xerox PARC parking lot and it was FULL. I was astonished. I decided not to ride through to the building because I don't like riding through full parking lots and I was a little shy about running into security folks again. But PARC, dear PARC - Xerox could have been as big as IBM or Microsoft back in the 1990s, it's said, but they never really capitalized on all the inventions that came out of here. Ever use a laser printer? A mouse? A graphical user interface? Object-oriented programming? WYSIWYG text editor? Bitmaps? Ethernet? All out of PARC. Go to Wikipedia and read about the Alto.

Just put in a little vineyard and maybe you'll get an agricultural tax write-off. This might be VMWare, a company big in the Virtual Machine world, but the vineyard predates them.
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One of the new places: Tesla Motors. This is their R&D and administrative offices, and the parking lot was full. Their security staff was on alert as soon as I rolled by.
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One thing that shows you've made it in the valley is if you drive a Tesla. I inadvertently captured a couple of them in some of the photos above. They are ubiquitous. And you have to give Elon Musk and his company credit for creating a successful electric car.

A lovely bike lane and a pleasant way to cut through some neighborhoods. Alas, last year they trimmed up all the oaks that used to arch across the path. Just because the nasty old San Francisco water company that owns the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct that runs under here thought things had gotten too overgrown. Well it did but still ...
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My next historic site is one I've driven by many times but never stopped to actually visit. See what you made me do?

The site of Schockley Labs. It is also the Birthplace of Silicon Valley. The timeline shows all the companies that are direct descendents of Schockley Labs and Fairchild, from 1956 to 1970. The only one still around that I recognized was Intel.
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"Though Schockley was a brilliant researcher, he was not popular as a manager." Read all about the Traitorous Eight.
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Models of the Schockley transistors on a schematic diagram on the sidewalk.
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The photo of the original building is as I remember it. It was torn down for the redevelopment just a couple of years ago, and was most recently a produce market. Also, this Birthplace of Silicon Valley, while it's not on the register of historic places, has an IEEE plaque, which the HP garage does not. So we have a stalemate.
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The new development kept the address. I like that.
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A quiet lane between a train station and an expressway as we make our way to our next stop on the tour.
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First headquarters of Fairchild Semiconductor, where the Traitorous Eight moved when they left Schockley. Building looks much the same as it did back in 1958.
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The silicon chip "brought profound change to the lives of people everywhere." Got that right.
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That's our last stop on this Magical History Tour. I'm off to get dry and warm.

Today's ride: 20 miles (32 km)
Total: 20 miles (32 km)

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Mike AylingGreat IT history lession, Kathleen!
Mike
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1 year ago
Bob DistelbergThanks Kathleen. As a guy who who worked as a software engineer his entire career on the other side of the country (IBM in the Hudson Valley in NY and Research Triangle Park in NC), it was really interesting getting the Silicon Valley tour.
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1 year ago
Kathleen JonesTo Mike AylingThanks, Mike. Glad you enjoyed it.
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1 year ago
Kathleen JonesTo Bob DistelbergThe folks out here sometimes forget that a lot of tech started back east from IBM and Bell Labs (just to mention two). I grew up in the Hudson Valley and some neighbors worked across the river for IBM, so I remember: only white shirts!
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1 year ago
Scott AndersonGreat to see you on the road again, Kathleen. And thanks for the stroll down memory lane. GUI’s! Object oriented! It almost makes me nostalgic for the office. Almost
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1 year ago
Suzanne GibsonNice to see you out and about again, Kathleen! An interesting tour! Thanks.
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1 year ago
Kathleen JonesTo Scott AndersonThanks, Scott. I hadn't seen "object-oriented" in years myself until I was looking things up on Wikipedia.
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1 year ago
Kathleen JonesTo Suzanne GibsonHey Suzanne!
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1 year ago
Susan CarpenterThanks Kathleen - a most enjoyable and informative tour! Including the waypoints on the map really emphasized their physical proximity. Happy Thanksgiving!
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1 year ago
Halûk OkurBeing both an Electronics Engineer and a Software Developer I loved to follow this wonderful tour around the Silicon Valley, Kathleen.

Thank you!
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3 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo Halûk OkurSorry for the late reply, Halûk. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. It’s interesting to have lived in the middle of all this. It was quite easy to get tunnel vision, to think that Silicon Valley is all that matters.
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2 months ago