ExWeb tech series kick-off: bits from the Silver Bullet

Posted: Jun 24, 2011 02:11 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren) "Another one fresh off the boat, eh?" It began as an immigrant song in New York City ten years ago. Last fall, we fled early winter storms across high passes in our version of the pioneer wagon: an old aluminum trailer dubbed the Silver Bullet.

Leaving a three-year-long hole up at 11,400 feet in the Rockies we continued west, chestnuts in pocket slipped there by a friend. Losing our miners pay in Vegas over Christmas, we pulled anchor again when the desert cactus came to bloom.

Within hours of the lowest point in North America at Badwater in Death Valley we reached the home of the highest summit in the contiguous United States: Mount Whitney in the Sierras.

Skinning up dazzling snow chutes and skiing down wearing only shorts was all we wanted for a while. Life was easy in Lone Pine, where a sign in the graveyard reminded locals they need a permit to bury people there.

Reaching Mecca

Following a freak snow storm and an offer to join the local hockey team at Lake Tahoe (go Grizzlies!), Silver Bullet has landed in San Francisco, culminating our pilgrimage to tech Mecca of the world.

Hanging out at Mavericks and other storied surfing spots along the foggy central coast, we perform daily treks inland to where the sun is always shining: Silicon Valley, origin of the simple sand grain that transformed into a semiconductor chip and changed the world.

That's how this weekend the circle came to a close: "Another one fresh off the boat, eh?" winked an Irish fellow immigrant at us. He was founder of the Glocal Systems sustainable vertical farm and we met at the San Francisco NextGEN Science Fair.

Turf war

Our expat encounter was no oddity, it turned out. "How many in this room were born in the City?" asked David Chiu at the Fireside Chat arranged by TechCentral earlier this month. Among some 50 attendants, not one hand came up.

Boston native himself, born to Taiwanese/American parents, the Mayoral Candidate had run an online communications technology company. At Rocketspace - an incubator office-share - Chiu talked about taxes, dark cable and how to get Twitter to pitch camp downtown. See a local turf war is going on.

Driving in over the bridge you can't miss Alcatraz in the water, Fisherman's Wharf on its edge, and a big Zynga sign above. Yet while folks in the tech industry live in SF central, early morning they are hijacked by bio-diesel buses with black tinted windows and built in WiFi.

Shuffled southwest of the bay, they are dropped in San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Gatos, and Santa Clara.

Waiting for the migrants are Apple, HP, Oracle, Cisco, Ebay, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, Salesforce, PayPal, eTrade, various biotech, Tesla, Zynga, Netflix, LinkedIn and Tivo. To name a few.

Stanford University is never far, located conveniently next to the very center of venture capital on Sand Hill road.

Financial micro climate

In RV parks during our journey we had listened to the tales of the misfits. Most hard working individuals from small businesses never reached by the bailouts. Their belongings now stuffed in cheap storage spaces, they were the first victims of the financial crunch.

Senior full timers who had lost their homes. Former executives living in trailers and driving cabs in Vegas. Young couples on cross country job hunts. Only Canadian snowbirds and retired government workers seemed to be on actual vacation. Political debate, mostly Republican, was steaming in the hot tubs.

Entering San Francisco was arriving an almost unreal, financial micro-climate.

Announced on the internet, meetups take place nightly in bars, cafes and office-shares dedicated to merge money with ambition and clever thinking.

Some events offer a steady line of developers and entrepreneurs 5 minutes sharp to pitch their ideas. Google, Stanford, even big legal firms hold invites about what's hot, how to build the next big thing, and how to find the funds. The talks are free and food is included.

Happenings can be found every single day and most of them are packed. Following what's going on with religious fervor are dedicated boards and newsblogs such as Techcrunch.

Location-based services, games and various apps are manufactured feverishly in a frothy financial market. Groupon, Yelp, Zynga, Quora, the semantic web, search algorithms (also called AI by some), and the cloud are buzz words of the month.

The Age of Reason

The crowd on University Avenue and other valley hangouts is young, trim, and mostly of Asian and Indian origin. Clean-cut, soft-spoken and dressed in the smart causal wear you'd expect in Mumbai or Singapore; many are first generation and flyers offering English degrees are pinned up everywhere.

Different from downtown San Francisco where streets divide the wildly eclectic from the strict professional, Silicon Valley is not all uniform though: a Japanese kid sported hair dyed in perfectly hued Google stripes.

The air is electric, the optimism is shocking, and the ambition is physically tangible in San Francisco and its valley. It's as if this spot alone drives the entire US economy. How come we didn't know, a voice inside us asks.

Coming here today is like entering the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century Europe. The vibrant desire to advance knowledge, for intellectual interchange, to strike it rich and reform society - this awakening that once birthed the French Revolution and even the United States - perhaps you had to be inside Paris to really understand.

Indeed, some veteran investors say the unusual thing about what's going on is exactly that it's so localized: big boom in SF, with smaller rings in NY and LA.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley shine like a star of hope in the current times of financial darkness. Unlike in many other parts of the country not to mention the world, restaurants are still packed with customers downing lamb at 30 bucks a plate.

Of course we came here to take ExplorersWeb to the next step. Meanwhile, stay tuned for Bits from the Silver Bullet: our SF tech roundups with an adventure edge.

Serial entrepreneurs and ExplorersWeb founders Tom and Tina Sjogren climbed Mount Everest in 1999, skied to the South Pole in 2001/2002 and to the North Pole in 2002. To communicate from their trips they pioneered new technology, such as building a WiFi network on Everest, and enabling the first live reports from private polar expeditions. Their next goal is to unite adventurers and pioneers in a vertical network, and to open up Space for private exploration.







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Across high passes we fled early winter storms in our version of the pioneer wagon: an old aluminum trailer dubbed the Silver Bullet.
Image by ExplorersWeb courtesy ExplorersWeb.com, SOURCE
Developers and inventors are offered 5 minutes sharp to pitch their ideas. Last week was Japan's turn.
Image by Tina Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
We pulled anchor again when the desert cactus came to bloom.
Image by Tina Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
Skinning up dazzling snow chutes and skiing down again wearing only shorts was all we wanted for a while.
Image by Tina Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
Lake Tahoe threw a freak snow storm and an offer to join the hockey team.
Image by Tina Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
ExWeb's bullet editor Tina Sjogren.
Image by Tom Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb.com, SOURCE
Into the mouth of the beast: Tom visiting Google HQ in Mountain View.
Checking in. Nemesis Facebook is in Palo Alto, 10 minutes away. Apple is in Cupertino, another ten minutes drive.
Image by Tina Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
One of Google's famous cafeterias. The food is healthy, prepared on site by chefs, and free. Campus toilets are Japanese, high tech, and with heated seats.
Image by ExplorersWeb courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
"How many in this room were born in the City?" asked S.F. Mayoral Candidate David Chiu at the Fireside Chat. At a later event about how to monetize new media, the question "how many in this room have a TV set," rendered only one third of hands.
Image by Tina Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE

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