Hard drive

28 June 2008

Hard drive

Considering that we're soon to embark on a massive drive, taking an RV between Phoenix Arizona and Minneapolis, I've never actually driven a car in the USA before. I've driven on the wrong side of the roads plenty of times before in Europe, but thinking that American driving style might be a tad different to the French, I thought that getting a wee bit of practice might be a grand idea. So yesterday our plan was to rent a car, drive up over Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County and then head down the freeway to Silicon Valley so that Alex could pay tributes at two temples of geekdom.

There was a slight delay in picking up our Hertz rental Kia, so we decided to switch plans around and head first down Highway 101 to Mountain View in Silicon Valley. Doug Bowman (who is preparing for the arrival of his first daughter in a few weeks by taking birthing classes) showed us around Google’s main buildings including their company store (currently in Beta) before treating us to lunch in their main cafeteria. I say treating, but generous though Doug is, all the food on Google campus is free and Google employees talk of the Google 20; the twenty pounds that you’re likely to gain in the first year working on campus. I’m sure that if I worked there I’d quickly become the size of a house, but Doug seems to have avoided the Google 20, despite the fact that every floor has several micro kitchens filled with just about anything you might want to eat.

It was fun to watch Alex’s expression change as we wandered into Google’s main lobby, where real time search queries from all over the world are projected onto the wall. Several other large monitors display search related information in different ways (including the globe view that Jeff Veen shows off in his latest conference talks) and a life-size replica of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft hangs above the the stair well. As he wandered through the corridors and walkways, Alex’s face had a perpetual ‘I can’t believe I’m in Google look’ that was really fun to see.

After lunch, we headed to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I’d been looking forward to visiting for a while, but to be honest the aisles of ancient hardware left me feeling a little cold and we didn’t stay too long. While I did enjoy seeing the collection of early Apples (and winced at seeing some handheld devices that I used to own in the nineties), the museum reinforced what I’ve been thinking for a while; that I’m less and less interested in the mechanics of computers and more interested again in art and design. As Alex pointed out as we rushed past huge device after huge device, not paying too much attention, it was very difficult for me to relate to these machines in any meaningful way because there were no graphical or visual interfaces. I would love to see an area of the museum that focussed on GUIs or Operating Systems and would have been fascinated to see how early Apple or Microsoft OSs looked and felt to use or how NeXT became the basis for the OSX that I use every day. I hope that the museum will add a gallery on software at some time in the future.

From there we took the highway south to Cupertino for a brief stop at the Apple Company Store at their main campus at 1 Infinite Loop, before heading back up the 280 towards San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific.

By the time we arrived back in the city, the hot sunny weather of Silicon Valley had traded places with fog and a chilly wind and the Pacific at Ocean Beach was no place to go paddling or play with buckets and spades. But we did collect a little plastic bag full of sand and I think that the plan is to carry it with us across the continent so that we can deposit it in the Atlantic in some kind of ‘we did it’ ceremony at the very end of the journey.

By Andy Clarke

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