Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Week in California

I'm sitting in the café of the Borders in Sunnyvale and following the great Silicon Valley tradition of sipping your latte and staring in your laptop. Almost everyone around me is staring into a screen. Are they all working on the next great idea? I doubt it: Some are studying for some sort of Cisco exam, others are reading marketing books.

I just wanted to rehash my last week in California. I met a lot of old friends, visited Google, and managed to sneak in a couple of more touristy activities.

For the first couple of days I stayed with a friend who is a longtime Googler and one of the smartest guys I know. He was kind enough to loan we his old car for the week. I was happy to see that while he had upgraded his lifestyle a bit – a nice apartment in San Francisco, flatscreen TV, etc. – he hadn't gone on a crazy spending spree. In fact, all of Google still seemed very sane. I had feared that the company might have gone off the rocker, but nothing I saw seemed more excessive than what already had existed during my internship in 2004.

So what do you do when you meet all these smart people? You ask them for ideas on your Master's thesis, of course, so that's what I did. I'm still processing all their input but will likely post on it later.

The weather wasn't that great – it was raining for 4 days out of 7 – but on Saturday, the only day that felt like summer, I went on a trip to Point Lobos, a small peninsula south of Monterey. I was accompanied by my former roommate Peter, who I tend to get into long-winded discussions with. We usually cover almost all imaginable aspects – this time, it was everything from Larry Summers to the business models of cell phone providers.

The immensity of the Pacific Ocean keeps surprising me – Lake Zurich just doesn't compare.

I also went to two museums: First, Herzog & de Meuron's new de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. I was a bit disappointed: While the copper skin of the building is a nice idea, the building looks a bit like a warehouse with an attached observation tower. Also, the architects wasted a great opportunity of using natural light to illuminate the art. I guess they didn't want to get accused of copying from Renzo Piano's fantastic Fondation Beyeler building, just a few miles from their office in Basel, Switzerland.

In addition, I dropped by the SF MOMA, for what was probably my 5th visit: They always have really good special exhibits. This time, they showed a collection of photos from the 1906 Earthquake. Apparently, handheld cameras by Kodak were ubiquitous by the early 1900s, and several thousand of photos documenting the damage exist. I was most impressed by San Francisco in Ruins, an aerial photograph by George R. Lawrence, showing all of downtown SF and the rolling hills in the background. It was taken from a kite.

The earthquake seems to be a hot topic in the Bay Area right now. If the hype went on for long enough, I'm sure it would drive housing prices down. Human fear of the incontrollable and media hype are strong forces.

I kept bumping into people I know. Across from the Apple Store in Palo Alto, I bumped into Marc Tobias, an former coworker from Yahoo Germany. I hadn't seen him in 5 years. It's a small world after all.

Update: Check out these pictures.

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