Category Archives: Silicon Valley Life

Hewlett Packard buys its own Garage, October 2000

This column appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on October 19, 2000. I’m posting it as part of my coverage of a Los Altos man’s elaborate plan to turn Steve Jobs’ boyhood home into a museum complex.

So, the kids at Hewlett-Packard finally made the ranks of Silicon Valley homeowners.

I’m happy for them, really.

They got themselves a deal. A garage in Palo Alto for $1.7 million. And it came with a house. A house in Palo Alto for under $2 million. Not bad.

I’m happy, but worried, too. Worried because I’m not sure the kids have thought this out.

William Hewlett and David Packard at work in the HP Garage on Addison in Palo Alto, 1939

William Hewlett and David Packard at work in the HP Garage on Addison in Palo Alto, 1939

“We don’t have any finalized plans for it, ” said Greg Winter, HP’s manager for the project.

Me? I’ve got my own idea, but more on that later.

First, I’m wondering if HP isn’t acting a bit like one of those overnight dot-com millionaires? (You remember overnight dot-com millionaires, don’t you?) I could see it happening. After all, the company made $3.5 billion in profits last year.

“Only $1.7 million? Cool. We’ll figure out what to do with it later.”

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Maria Elena’s in Alviso gets a side order of regulation

This is a column I wrote about Maria Elena’s having regulatory trouble and becoming a hot spot in Alviso in September of 2011.

Maria Elena’s is another Silicon Valley business at a crossroads.

No, not a Yahoo, should-we-sell-the-company, crossroads. Or a Hewlett-Packard, should-we-hire-a-new-CEO, crossroads (which seems like a weekly crossroads for HP).

See, Maria Elena’s is a bustling Mexican restaurant in sleepy Alviso — a restaurant that holds a special place in the high-tech ecosystem. It is one of those joints, like the old Wagon Wheel or the old Peppermill or the old Old Pro, where valley worker bees congregate to plot out everything from the next killer app to their weekend plans.

“It’s a serious tech watering hole for lunch, ” says Rudy Mueller, a regular who works for Juniper Networks, and whose beverage of choice is the bottomless Coke. “It’s like an icon.”

And now it faces the low-tech version of the “adapt or die” challenge so common to its customers.

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Replay it: Alviso Getting Some Respect

Here’s a column I wrote about Alviso’s transformation on April 18, 2003:

Call it the TiVo effect.

Little Alviso, San Jose’s most picked-on neighborhood, is Silicon Valley’s new hot address.

OK, warm address. OK, at least companies will admit to having it as an address.

Three of the valley’s top 150 companies in terms of sales (Genesis Microchip, Foundry Networks and TiVo) now claim Alviso as corporate headquarters.

Yes, three. But for the buzz, I credit TiVo.

You know TiVo. It’s a machine. It’s a company. It’s a verb.

“SouthPark marathon? Dude, I like so TiVo’d that.”

TiVo — the digital recorder for people with 500 channels and no time to watch them — is approaching pop icon status. In fact, you might know TiVo better than you know Alviso.

Alviso has always been a contradiction. Sitting just north of Highway 237, Alviso holds the beauty of the bay and the odor of San Jose’s sewage plant. It has the refuge of the Don Edwards wildlife preserve and the refuse of San Jose’s dump.

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BJ Heinley and his shrink wrapped Yahoo machine

I wrote the following colum in June 1998, a time before Yahoo needed to buy its cool.



by Mike Cassidy

Mercury News Columnist

BJ Heinley knew when he heard about the contest that he wanted his truck wrapped bumper to bumper in purple plastic and Yahoo logos.

Yahoo is where he worked. It was like family. His community. A group that brought him in when he had few other places to go.

“It’s kind of like being passionate about the Dallas Cowboys, ” he says, “or the Bulls.”

Kind of. But it’s a company. A workplace. Which in Silicon Valley can be like the Dallas Cowboys or the Bulls. Logos sprout on clothes, caps, even derrieres. (It’s a tattoo thing.)

So, he entered the company-wide contest, writing an e-mail explaining why his truck should be a Yahoomobile. His argument?

“Surface area, ” says Heinley, who commutes from Belmont to Santa Clara. “I have the biggest car I know of in the parking lot, and I drive up 101 every day.”

He had a point and a 1975 International Harvester Travelall — a behemoth that could go tire to tire with a Chevy Suburban. A vehicle that seats how many?

“If you seat people in the back, ” says Carrie Heinley, BJ’s wife, “there is almost no limit.”

BJ won. The Travelall was shrink-wrapped like a county bus — Yahoo! on its sides, on its hood. People loved it. They honked. They waved. They left resumes on the windshield.

“You get attached to a car, ” BJ, 27, says. “The way it moves, especially an older car.”

He bought the Travelall for $1,000 after moving from Texas. Coming to California was a dream. The Travelall was part of it.

“It fit into this idea, ” BJ says, “of the ultimate beach car.”

When his first job didn’t work out, he called the only local person he knew, a Yahoo manager. Yahoo hired him to do graphics. Then the company shrink-wrapped his truck.

But people grow. Times change. The honks and waves and cheers, well, they can get old.

“Eventually, it kind of stops being fun, as much fun, ” says Carrie, 27, a gardener, whose work truck is sprayed with sand to look like, well, a sand pile. “I guess it’s kind of like we outgrew it.”

It was time to sell. But who would buy a Barney on wheels? BJ pondered that very question aloud one day when he ran into Yahoo! co-founder David Filo in the company lunch line.

“You can’t let go of that car, ” BJ says Filo told him.

Heinley politely suggested — the way you might politely suggest to your gazillionare boss — that Filo put his money where his mouth is. And, in a way, Filo did. The company agreed to buy Heinley’s truck for $2,000.

Now, Heinley is hunting for his next wheels. He thinks maybe a classic convertible.

“I probably won’t make it a Yahoomobile.”

How could he? For Heinley there will never be another.


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Bloom Energy’s Mexican workers problem reminds me of IBM scrape years ago

This Bloom Energy story about bringing in welders from Mexico to do work in Silicon Valley that they are not authorized to do got me thinking about a brush IBM had with immigration authorities back in 1996.

IBM was eventually — and somewhat controversially — cleared of wrongdoing. Not so for Bloom, which the U.S. Department of Labor fined about $38,000 for back pay and penalties.

Publication:       SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS



Web Headline:

Reporter:          By MIRANDA EWELL, Mercury News Staff Writer

Day:     Thursday

Print Run Date:             10/3/96

Section:            Front

Edition:             Morning Final

Page Number: 1

Section Letter: A

Memo:             Thomas Farragher of the Mercury News Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

     Immigration officials said Wednesday that they were satisfied that IBM did not violate the law by using visas generally reserved for training to import Mexican workers who assembled disk drives at Third World wages in its San Jose plant.

“We reviewed their documents and received a clarification of the company’s training program, ” said Sharon Rummery, an official in the San Francisco office of the INS. “Based on our preliminary inquiry, the INS is satisfied that the B-1 visas were used appropriately and that IBM is in compliance with the law.”

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Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer invents new drinking game at Davos: When she says “mobile,” take a shot

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer joined the proud tradition of valley CEOs travelling halfway around the world before opening up to provide an interesting interview about what’s going on at their companies.

Switzerland Davos ForumAh, Davos. Bloomberg Television is calling its Swiss sit-down with the rock star CEO at the World Economic Forum as her first one-on-one interview since becoming CEO. For the time-challenged, here’s a brief summary of the half-hour interview: mobile, mobile, mobile. She said “mobile” a lot.

“I think there are amazing things you get to see all the time,”  all kinds of amazing technologies on mobile,” Mayer said concerning  what technology excites her. “When you think about what it means to be location sensitive…Some of these are very basic in terms of things like being able to check in, so there’s Foursquare, but if you actually know where people are and where they check in, there are all sorts of sophisticated and interesting thing you can go on to do.”

But Mayer made it clear that Yahoo wasn’t going to be doing those sophisticated and interesting things on its own. Maybe it was the Swiss air, but Mayer was all about alliances when she talked to Bloomberg TV’s Erik Shatzer about Yahoo’s mobile strategy. (They do so have one.)

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Why Google worker bees need sleep pods for nap time

Here’s a column I wrote a few years back about sleep deprivation in Silicon Valley. The re-emergence of sleep pods at Google today got me thinking about it again.


Tireless Preaching Virtues of Sleep

August 29, 2008

San Jose Mercury News


My first clue that Mark Rosekind is serious about this sleep stuff came when I called to make an appointment to meet with him.

“Is 9:30 too early?” his assistant asked.

Nine-thirty? Too early? This is Silicon Valley. Half the day is gone by 9:30. There have been gym workouts, power breakfasts, the kids have been schlepped to school, companies have been bought and sold and sold again.

Next came the couch — a cushy black one along one wall of Rosekind’s office at Alertness Solutions in Cupertino.

“The couch is not for show, ” Rosekind says. “We absolutely practice what we preach.”

Which is sleeping. A lot. Or a lot more than you probably do. You need eight hours a night, you know. Nine or 10 if you’re an adolescent.

Rosekind is a bona fide sleep consultant. A man who studied under and worked for sleep guru Dr. William Dement at Stanford before starting a company that comes up with strategies to help corporations make sure their workers are well-rested. A man who’s spoken on sleep at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland — twice. (No word on whether any of the world’s biggest movers and shakers nodded off.) A man, in short, on a mission: Rosekind is out to tell anyone who will listen that we simply don’t get enough sleep — and that there are serious consequences when we don’t.

“We need sleep and now we know it’s vital, ” he says. “Without it you die.”

OK, so Rosekind doesn’t have a list of people who died literally from lack of sleep. He does have studies, statistics and a PowerPoint presentation, which argue that accident rates go up and performance goes down when human beings cut corners on snoozing.

While he makes his money from working with airlines, trucking companies, hospitals and businesses where sleep is a serious safety issue, he attempts to make his point for free — speaking at local high schools in an effort to reach kids and their parents.

The thing that fascinates me about Rosekind is that he is mounting his assault from a place that is arguably the capital of sleeplessness. It’s like arguing for vegetarianism in Nebraska or coming out against Botox in L.A. And he knows it.

“We live in the heart of it here, ” Rosekind says of Silicon Valley’s always-on culture. “Right in the heart of it.”

The valley is a place where lack of sleep is a sign of success, a place where college kids graduate from pulling all-nighters in dorms to pulling all-nighters in cubicles. A place where corporate histories (think Apple, Yahoo, Netscape) are rich with founders and early engineers surviving on catnaps under their desks.

Rosekind says those sleepless success stories are all about pushing the envelope. And what entrepreneur doesn’t want to push the envelope? But there are other stories, too. Stories people aren’t as anxious to talk about.

“Everybody’s got a story when they stayed up all night, ” he says, “and hit the wrong button and lost all the code that they did last night.”

Rosekind argues more would get done a lot faster if workers simply took the time to sleep. And yes, there are simple things we can do to make that happen. Naps at work are good. And caffeine used strategically can stoke performance. (Naps and coffee. I love this man.)

But the biggest change needed, Rosekind says, is a change in attitude. And that change could take a while.

“I think we’ll be at this for a long time, ” he says. “I’m not going to be around when it happens.”

But as long as he is around, he will keep up the fight. Tirelessly.

Read Mike Cassidy’s Loose Ends blog at Contact him at or (408) 920-5536.



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