About Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.
Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
Latest Posts by Tom Foremski
The Internet Archive in San Francisco is asking for help in recovering from a two-alarm fire that caused more than $600,000 in damage.
The archive often compares its mission to that of the famous library of Alexandria, Egypt, destroyed by fire more than 2,000 years ago. It underscores that connection with banks of mirror servers located in Alexandria.
Sarah B. reporting for RichmondSFBlog:
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said the 7 to 10 office staff that worked in the building will temporarily relocate to their Richmond, CA facility. The damaged building was originally built in the 1940′s and used as a Christian Science reading room.
The former church next door, which also belongs to the Internet Archive, was not damaged in the fire.
Kahle was in remarkably good spirits when we spoke to him around 9am this morning, and was optimistic about their plans to rebuild the office. He said they mostly lost electronic equipment including cameras and scanners, and thankfully no cultural materials were destroyed in the fire. He said he was still waiting for word from the SFFD on what exactly caused the fire.
The fire comes just two weeks after the Internet Archive announced a series of new initiatives, some were in response to NSA snooping.
Strangely, I counted only 11 panelists (math wasn’t on the list), which included Silicon Valley VC John Doerr; Joi Ito from MIT Media Lab; and the perennial favorite of every editor: whoever happens to be around the office at the time, which in this case was The Atlantic’s senior editor Alexis Madrigal.
The list starts off with:
The printing press (1430s not the earlier Chinese one).
Then you have all the ones you’d expect: electricity, semiconductors, optics, internal combustion engine, Internet, of course. But they missed the most important technology breakthrough of all time: Gastronomy.
The editors said they wanted to list the most important innovations since the wheel, or about 6,000 years ago, so that they could avoid listing fire. But that makes little sense because fire is not an invention but a natural phenomenon.
And some recent civilizations, such as those in the Americas, didn’t use the wheel for transportation, or like the Mayans used the wheel only for toys.
The Atlantic could have just said 50 most important breakthroughs (fire and wheel not included).
Mind expanding technology
When we developed the technology of cooking it literally blew our minds — our brain size quadrupled and our stomachs shrank. We became much smarter and we looked fabulous — what other breakthrough technology did that?!
Gastronomy unlocked a vast amount of energy in raw food and we used it to build a much larger brain.
But that brain had to be used for serious things because it is very expensive to maintain, requiring 25% of daily calories in the form of high octane glucose for just 2.5% body mass. And the brain has to be fed 24/7 even if other organs have to be shutdown.
The cooking pot allowed us to build a Ferrari of a brain, expensive to maintain but incredible in performance.
We left the other raw food primates in the dust and now we’re on the doorstep of our next big leap forward, into the mashed-up singularity of some kind of bio-digital reality.
Cooking gave us time to think. Eating raw food takes a tremendous amount of time to chew enough to fulfill daily needs, and so does foraging for it when you haven’t figured out yet how to grow it.
Innovation comes from thinking. In fact, when you think about it, all good things in our society come from having the time to think.
If gastronomy hadn’t been invented there would be no civilization, science, arts, computer technologies, or top 50 lists because we wouldn’t have the time to invent them all — we’d still be chewing.
Photo: Gastronomy at the San Francisco Exploratorium.
Japan’s plummeting birth rate is being partly blamed on young males called “Otaku” who show far more interest in computers and comic books than sex.
Tokyo’s Akihabara district (below) is filled with gadget and manga book stores and is the favorite hangout for Otaku, reports Anita Rani, for the BBC: The Japanese men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex
Unless something happens to boost Japan’s birth rate, its population will shrink by a third between now and 2060. One reason for the lack of babies is the emergence of a new breed of Japanese men, the otaku, who love manga, anime and computers — and sometimes show little interest in sex…
Akihabara, an area of the city dedicated to the manga and anime subculture provides one clue to the country’s problems. Akihabara is heaven for otaku.
Kunio Kitamara, of the Japan Family Planning Association, describes many young Japanese men as “herbivores” — passive and lacking carnal desire.
Above, a guide spells out the rules for Akihabara tour.
A survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2010 found 36% of Japanese males aged 16 to 19 had no interest in sex — a figure that had doubled in the space of two years.
Even Japanese men in a relationship don’t have much sex, a recent survey found that less than 27% had sex at least once a week.
The Akihabara district is packed with computer, gadget and Manga book stores
The lack of sexual desire could be linked to the poor economic prospects of millennials in Japan compared with their parent’s generation. Their lousy socioeconomic position seems to have led to a collective loss of libido — they’ve lost their mojo.
Roland Kelts, a Tokyo-based social commentator, said:
“If you compare China or Vietnam, most of those kids on scooters going to nightclubs, and dancing their heart away and perhaps having sex — they know it’s getting better, they know they are probably going to rock their parents’ income,” he says. “No-one in Japan feels that way.”
Life-size Manga characters and anatomically correct robot in an Akihabara store
Does the US have a similar Otaku sub-culture? We should look because there’s lots about the Japanese story that is similar to here. Our male millennials love comic books, gadgets, and computers; their job prospects are lousy; plus they carry huge college debt loads; and many have to rely on their parents.
The same lousy cultural and socioeconomic factors are at play for US, and also European millennials. I’d be surprised if a survey didn’t find a sizable population of Otaku.
And how can we help them find their mojo? Because a related problem is hikikomori: young men who shut themselves away in their rooms for years. A Japanese Cabinet Office survey from 2010 found 700,000 but there could be as many as 1 million hikikomori.
Below, seen in an Akihabara store - a man’s tie with a USB-powered fan to cool you off if you get hot under the collar — won’t be needed by Otaku.
Twitter robotics and other technology geeks work in plush surrounds and eat oysters and lamb chops, outside HQ (above) on the south-side of mid-Market Street is San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood — the Tenderloin. I was walking to an event at Moscone and took a few pictures of the neighborhood.
There’s not much chance for gentrification when all workers stay inside and clean their apartments, and washes their clothes, and feeds them for free. Competing with local services is the opposite of gentrification. For the young engineers it’s great it’s like being back at mom’s, free food and clean laundry, and without having to deal with mom.
Gary Kamiya tells stories on SFGate.com, from the history of San Francisco and its newspaper archives. It’s a rich history for such a small city, and it’s a strong literary history, too, which is apt with Silicon Valley becoming a Media Valley.
This week Mr. Kamiya tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s visit to San Francisco in 1882, as part of strange promotional stunt for a Gilbert & Sullivan opera lampooning the Aesthetes, an English artistic and literary set enamored with a “Cult of Beauty,” a heightened level of sensitivity to the beauty of nature, and in the decor of their surroundings — rooms, furniture, and even wallpaper.
[San Francisco's Legion of Honor museum last year hosted an excellent "Cult of Beauty" exhibit with several pre-Raphaelite artists represented, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti; William Morris graphics design; and Aubrey Beardsley.]
Oscar Wilde was young, just 28 years old but already well known in London for his literary and other achievements, mostly on a very public stage of London society. He was considered a leading light of the Aesthetes, even though after three decades, it was on its way out.
A withered bouquet and a sombrero…
He made a memorable first impression on his arrival San Francisco, the tall, stocky young man quickly attracted a curious crowd, and no wonder:
He was flamboyantly dressed in a black velvet coat ornamented with a withered bouquet, highly polished pointed shoes and a velvet waistcoat. His long hair hung below a Mexican-style sombrero.
The promoter of the opera paid Wilde $5,000 to go on a lecture tour of the US, so that San Francisco and other cities, could see and meet a member of the Cult of Beauty and thus find the resulting Gilbert & Sullivan performance understandable and hilarious when it arrived later.
… offensively daft
He was scheduled for four lectures in San Francisco. I find this fact hard to believe but Wilde was a terrible public speaker and many reviews were horrible. Here’s one from Ambrose Bierce:
“There was never an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft.”
Wilde always seemed to know how to impress those around him, and for some congregations it didn’t require incisive wit. During his visit, he was invited to a reception at the city’s notorious Bohemian Club.
The merry pranksters assumed that the foppish import was, like his literary alter ego Bunthorne, a hopeless twit, a sunflower-sniffing pansy. They planned to get the “Miss Nancy” drunk and make a fool of him…
Before, during and after dinner, the Bohemians kept pouring drinks, expecting Wilde to lose it, but the beefy, 200-pound Irishman kept downing them and calling for more. Soon it was the rootin’ tootin’ sons of the Wild West who were collapsing in a drunken heap, their would-be mark still emptying his glass and continuing his urbane conversation.
It is said that the members of the Bohemian Club, filled with newfound respect for the “three-bottle man,” commissioned a portrait of Wilde to hang in the club. Wilde returned the compliment to the city, saying he had fallen in love with San Francisco.
Never ever, try to out-drink an Irishman — even if he is dressed as a “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”
Mr. Kamiya makes a touching observation: “It was a happy episode in the early life of a great writer, later to be destroyed by Victorian homophobia, in the city that would someday become a beacon of gay pride for the world.”
Gary Kamiya is a co-founder of Salon and executive editor of SF Mag. He has a new book “Cool Gray City of Love,” about San Francisco, it looks great. Here is Clara Jeffery from the New York Times:
To tell the geo-politico-psycho history of a city as prismatic as San Francisco, and to do it as skillfully as Kamiya does, is no small undertaking…
San Francisco is a metropolis molded, far more than most, by topography and weather, and Kamiya artfully helps us imagine the landscape as it once was: a place of mostly windswept dunes where nomadic bands of American Indians traveled between summer and winter camps, along trails whose contours still exist.
Photo of Oscar Wilde in in America, 1882, 28 years old.
I had a great conversation with photographer Charles DiLisio, who is a man with a mission: photographing, and tracking down old photos of some of Silicon Valley’s most important historical buildings for a project he calls, “Silent Icons of Silicon Valley.”
He was recently featured in the San Jose Mercury by veteran columnist Mike Cassidy.
He’s a big fan of the past — the old buildings and the stories they tell about creation, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.
He’d save them all if he could, not necessarily by preserving them in the space they occupy, but by capturing them in digital form and then finding a way to show the world what we have here.
For more than a year, he’s been prowling the South Bay, photographing the monuments (or what’s left of them) to the valley’s past: Fairchild, ROLM, Shockley labs, Ampex.
Most of these company names will be new to the people that make up today’s Silicon Valley but they were among the most important companies in the region. They were the Googles, Facebooks, Twitter of their day, and responsible for spinning out hundreds of startups and establishing the area’s stellar reputation as the world’s engine of innovation.
Mr. DiLisio, says that ROLM, for example, was the first company to build a corporate campus and it had tennis courts and swimming pools.
“Some of these buildings don’t exist, or there’s a Lowe’s on the site. I’m trying to track down photographs of the buildings that might be in the possession of alumni groups, or local history buffs.”
Time is running out for some buildings that still exist such as the one that housed Nobel laureate William Shockley and his team (a team later called the “traitorous eight” because they left to start a new business), it is the true birthplace of Silicon Valley.
As he told Mr. Cassidy, the Shockley site is incredibly important.
“This spawned phenomenal change in the world… This spawned the semiconductor and the semiconductor led to computing, communications, the Internet, all the electronics in your car and all the stuff the NSA is doing or not doing, for good or bad.”
He told me that one very large Silicon Valley company wasn’t too keen on publicizing its 45 year anniversary because it didn’t want to be viewed as “old.” [You don't have to be an "insider" to guess the name of the company.]
Being an old company in Silicon Valley is quite an achievement given the short life of the majority of the startups, it must be doing something right.
I love history but Silicon Valley doesn’t have much interest in its heritage. It doesn’t really have a united culture, it has many different groups, and communities.
However, since the Google plus Facebook cultures aren’t too different from each other, and as those companies expand their already large workforces, we might now begin to see a distinct culture emerging in Silicon Valley with shared themes in clothes, mannerisms, and lingo. There’s certainly a certain style emerging already.
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, is excellent but it’s a relatively recent institution (founded in 1996) and it took ages to build. Its exhibit area is tragically small and reminiscent of a hotel or corporate lobby area despite having Its dual use as a large conference center gives the tragically small exhibits area the look of a hotel or corporate lobby, which is unfortunate because it has an incredible collection of artifacts and papers inside its vaults.
It’s online Revolution exhibit is excellent and gives you an idea of the size of its collection.
I love the full size working Babbage engine (photos below), a mass of gears and levers, the first programmable calculating machine and the mother of all computing innovation.
But was it a computer or a printing press? Its only job was to print highly accurate tables of logarithms for Log books. It reflects the merging of computing and media what’s happening now in Silicon Valley. Our technologies are media technologies, they publish information, and most of our companies are technology-enabled media companies. Google publishes pages of content with advertising around it. Facebook, Twitter, etc, too. Silicon Valley is very much a Media Valley.
However, it’s the tremendous innovations in chip technology that has powered our media technologies, and so much more.
The chip industry has provided an exponential powerhouse of innovation in the extraordinary achievements in chip manufacture. Fifty years of relentless doubling of transistors at ever lower prices has provided a platform of innovation that no other technology can match or will be able to match.
Software engineers might think they are the kings of innovation but they aren’t — its the chip engineers. Don’t confuse the driver of the car with the performance of the car — this isn’t The Flintstones.
Ever faster and ever cheaper chips make bloated software run like a panther, all sleek and agile. Too bad Moore’s Law is running out in about seven years; then software won’t have all those extra cycles to waste like a trust fund brat and will have to get learn to get lean and smart.
It’s fitting that Silicon Valley’s name celebrates its chip heritage and how much the modern world owes to this foundational technology.
Thanks to the historians…
The unique qualities of every place is determined by its invisible history and I applaud the work of Mr. DiLisio and the many others at the Computer History museum, and in local groups of enthusiasts, who are trying to preserve it and display it.
Without them, future generations might never know what it took to build such an amazing place, the source of so much world changing creativity. They might think it was because Mark Zuckerberg moved here to get away from the Winklevoss twins and the cold Boston winters.
Photo credit: San Jose Mercury
Above, people at Oracle World on Wednesday watching Larry Ellison’s team win the America’s Cup in a spectacular finish.
“America’s Cup racing is more aggressive in its use of technology, particularly in officiating, than any other sport. Baseball uses lots of data, but the umpire still calls balls and strikes,” said Stan Honey, director of technology for the America’s Cup Event Authority. “The America’s Cup has chosen to use data to make (officiating) calls in real time — all calls based on measurement are made in the booth using data and subjective judgment calls are made by officials out on the water.”
Honey was on dry land recently at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. discussing the technology used in the coverage of the sailing match races contested next month on San Francisco Bay. Joining Honey on stage were two members of the Oracle Team USA Racing America’s Cup crew.
Matt Mason, a grinder on the massive AC 72 multihull racing yacht andIan Burns, the team’s head of performance. Computer History Museum CEO John Hollar moderated the discussion, which was part of the center’s ongoing “Revolutionaries” series, sponsored by Intel.
Sporting fans many not have heard of Honey, but they’ve seen his work. The engineer who once worked at the Stanford Research Institute, nowSRI International, where he designed radar systems for the military, is best known for the yellow first down line used during televised football games.
His technology company, Sportvision, also is behind the superimposed strike zone TV viewers see during baseball games and graphic insertions used in live video coverage of hockey, auto racing and the Olympics. For the America’s Cup, Honey and his team have developed AC LiveLine, which overlays geo-positioning lines and other data — with accuracy within 2 centimeters — onto live race video shot from helicopters and on the water.
“The principal objective of inserted graphic systems is to take things that are hard to see and make them easy to see,” said Honey.
“Inserting graphics into live sports broadcast provides the most value when there’s information you can’t see. The first down is important to almost every play in football, but you can’t see it. The same is true with sailing. The graphics allow people to interpret visually basic information like who is winning (not always obvious in sailing races when boats are sailing at different angles towards the finish line). The graphics define the field of play and basic information so viewers can embrace the tactics.”
Burns endorsed the value of having graphics help viewers understand the races. He said, “Even expert racers can’t tell when watching sailing racing on TV which boat is winning because everything is moving on the water, nothing is fixed.”
All that motion creates problems that Honey and his team didn’t face with graphic insertions for football, baseball or hockey.
“All the other sports have cameras mounted on tripods,” said Honey. “With sailing, the camera is on a helicopter that’s moving around the sky. The distance is huge, the location, speed and camera angle all change constantly — it’s really a measuring challenge.”
It takes big processing power to compile all the camera variables, data coming from sensors on the boat and insert graphics into live video in almost real time (the TV broadcast is only a second or two behind the action on the water), but it takes a much smaller footprint than when Honey got started.
At the 1996 NHL All-Star game when the puck-tracking technology Honey and his team developed made it’s debut, the set up required a 50-foot truck filled with Silicon Graphics workstations. Today they use less exotic technology.
“We use quad-core PCs,” said Honey. “We get the most powerful PCs we can conveniently buy and run them up to the top edge of what they can do.”
In addition to his technical accomplishments (he’s an IEEE Fellow, holds more than 20 patents and has won multiple Emmy awards), Honey has long harbored a second, parallel career as a professional sailor. He’s been the navigator on private yachts for the likes of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, which led to his work with the America’s Cup. He was named U.S. Sailing’s 2010 Rolex Yachstman of the Year and was the navigator aboard the crew that held the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe (in 48 days).
It’s only in his current project that his engineering and sailing careers have merged and his work may bring a new generation to the sport.
“It’s about telling a story so that sports fans who are not sailing fans can become sailing fans,” said Honey.
Vanity Fair struggled to come up with ten examples of stylish Silicon Valley executives for its slideshow: The Top 10 Best-Dressed Execs in Silicon Valley | Vanity Fair
In fact, a couple of them aren’t really Silicon Valley based, and spend more time in New York, such as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (above) and Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable. And there’s several on the list that you’ve probably never heard about – the result of desperate Googling in researching this topic.
Marc Andreessen is listed as well dressed even though he wears the standard VC uniform of Sand Hill Road: blue sports coat and tan trousers. Vanity Fair says he’s not afraid to put on a power suit when needed.
Dressing well is better appreciated in New York than in Silicon Valley where the business-park culture of the tech companies favors the style set by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s always-on T-shirt and jeans. San Francisco’s tech workers dress a little bit better but not by much.
Here are the others on the list:
Marissa Mayer -Yahoo! Silicon Valley’s Stevie Nicks. (Above at Crunchies Awards.)
Sean Parker – Spotify, Facebook. Not really a Silicon Valley exec but a character drawn by Sean Parker.
Alison Pincus - One Kings Lane. Old school classic.
Juliet De Baubigny - Partner At Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Looks great in a ball gown.
Vint Cerf – Google. Looks great in grey suit and grey vest.
Ruzwana Bashir - Peek.Com. She was in a recent New York Times article so it didn’t take much Googling to find her.
Jeremy Stoppelman - Yelp. Yep, he thinks about what to wear.