Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Silicon Valley is Where it's At

I used to watch Carmen Sandiego when I was younger (though certainly not young enough to be watching shows like Carmen Sandiego). At the end the finalist would get to choose anyplace in the continental U.S. to be sent, if he or she finished the last challenge. A lot of kids would say Anaheim, presumably because of Disneyland. I used to say that if it were up to me, I'd choose San Jose, aka, Silicon Valley. At one point it occurred to me, what would I actually do there? It's not like there's a Silicon Valley theme park or anything.

Last year I was going to be teaching in Mountain View the week before Christmas. I tried to use my Skymiles to fly my wife and kid out with me, but there were too many restrictions. Even then, I wondered: what would they actually do out here while I was teaching? At that point, I hadn't spent much time here. Now I've been here enough times to have officially lost count, and I know what I would do.

When I flew out this week, I did not go directly to my hotel. Instead, I decided to spend a few hours of quality time at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. I even borrowed a camera just for the occassion, and since I wasn't used to the camera I ended up snapping about 500 to 600 photos without realizing it was in night vision mode. Most of the photos ended up at least a little blurry. But the tour was fun. I did the full Mansion Tour and the Behind the Scenes Tour. In the first, I learned that Mrs Winchester was a crazy, eccentric old woman who was difficult to work for. She would pay her staff at the end of each day, so that she could hire and fire them at will. She also liked spying on her staff, and had a secret room from which to do so. In the second tour, I discovered that she also made and sold dried fruit (several tons a year), so at least she had a normal hobby too.

When I taught in Santa Clara a few months ago, I took a moment one afternoon after class to visit the Intel Museum, conveniently located within walking distance of my training center. This is the sort of thing that I would have loved in my Carmen Sandiego days, and it was still fun this time around. One of my favorite parts was a marquee that you could type a message on, so long as you didn't mind punching out the letters in binary first and then punching the button to add the letter to the board. My message said "BITE ME". It was interesting and informative, and I wish I'd brought something other than my camera phone with me to take photos.

I tried to get my company to send me to teach in the bay area this year in time to catch the end of the Maker Faire in San Mateo. I think I ended up going to Raleigh, NC instead. I've always been interested in going to this faire, but never more than when I found out about the gathering of steampunk enthusiasts there, almost all people whom I'd been following on their sites and blogs for a good two or three years now.

Fortunately, it looks like at the very least, Jake von Slatt will be attending The California Steampunk Convention in Sunnyvale. Hopefully I'll be able to convince my employer to send me out here to teach a class. With any luck a few more of my favorites will be able to make it there as well.

I have been told that if I can remind him, my boss might be able to send me out to teach in this area in time for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It is said that you can literally smell Gilroy from miles away, because of all of the garlic that they grow there. Just between us, what I'm looking forward to most is the infamous garlic ice cream that I've heard so much about. Okay, Gilroy is actually somewhere around an hour south of San Jose, but that's still pretty close.

Speaking of food festivals, I was dismayed to discover this week that I'd just barely missed Mushroom Mardi Gras in Morgan Hill, on the way to Gilroy. I love just about everything about mushrooms, except actually eating them. I'll leave that to the experts. Still, it would have been fun to check it out and see what they had there.

Of course, would it even be right to visit the bay area without going to Chinatown? The last time I taught in San Francisco, I spent a couple of nights there walking around and trying not to spend more money than I actually had. The closest I had to experiencing any of the food there was my visit to the Empress of China, which does not go on my list of favorite restaurants in the world. I think I may very well have stopped by Subway on the way back to the hotel that night to get some real food. Next time I'll have to stop by one of the little hold in the wall restaurants that the Chinese locals actually go to, and get some real Chinese food.

There's plenty more in the bay area, and one could spend weeks, if not months here just experiencing the area. I feel sorry for all the poor saps that live here and have to work every day, rather than going out and having fun. But then, I'm the sorry sap who doesn't even live here. But at least I can visit.


  1. The Tech Museum of Innovation is a fun stop too. Right across the park there is a tasty steakhouse called The Grill on the Alley.

    I always stop there when I'm in San Jose.

  2. yeah- there's a tech museum right across the street from the San Jose Convention Center. Can't remember what it's called. Might be the Tech Museum of Innovation. I saw a flashbake oven cooking pizzas in 2 minutes there long before Subway had them.

    The Exploratorium in Presidio Park is cool too- especially if you've got kids in tow.


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