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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Dreamliner problems echo Silicon Valley’s 1990s San Jose-Oakland-Tokyo flight

The big trouble with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and the way it’s spoiled San Jose’s Mineta to Tokyo party reminded me of another aviation embarrassment from the early 1990s. I wrote about that in the March 5, 1991 Mercury News story.

SJ to Tokyo — via Oakland: Non-stop flights aren’t always

by Mike Cassidy

Mercury News Staff Writer

A month ago American Airlines officials and city dignitaries proudly launched the first non-stop flight from San Jose to Tokyo. They fibbed just a little.

The flight goes to Tokyo all right, but what airline and city officials didn’t tell their excited public was that every now and then the plane stops in Oakland first to gas up.

Did they say “non-stop”?

Well, Oakland International Airport is nice this time of year. It also has an advantage over San Jose International in that it has a runway long enough to allow the DC-10-30 jet that American flies to Tokyo to take off with a full tank of gas.

2 stops in Oakland

San Jose’s 8,900-foot runway doesn’t cut it when the wind is blowing the wrong way. That has happened twice since the flight started March 2. Each time the American flight took off with less than a full tank of gas and paid $550 to land in Oakland and take on fuel. The maneuver caused delays of more than 1 1/2 hours and left passengers — who paid as much as $2,238 — a little less than satisfied.

San Jose International Airport officials are upset with the stopovers, but they’re not surprised by them.

“I knew that’s what they intended to do from the very first day, ” said Ralph G. Tonseth, the airport’s director of aviation. “It’s one of those things that strikes you as irritating.”

No stop on first flight

Tonseth added that there was concern for a time that the dignitary-laden maiden voyage was going to have to make a detour to Oakland. It did not.

As for American, spokesman Al Becker promised the airline would not stop in Oakland again.

But in order to ensure that, he said, American will have to limit seating on the 227-passenger capacity flight to just 125 people because of San Jose’s short runways. Airline officials have said they also cannot carry any cargo — a service that would bring in about $7 million a year.

Becker pointed out that the airlines had been limiting seating on the DC-10-30 to 147 passengers in an effort to make the non-stop flight — you know — non-stop. And, he pointed out, American had landed a few thousand miles short of its destination only twice.

‘Difficult situation’

“It’s a difficult situation, ” Becker said. “We are willing to live with this disadvantage for the short term. . . But it is extremely important to see those runways lengthened as soon as it can happen.”

American will at least be able to add passengers sometime in June when it introduces a different plane, the MD11, to make the trans-Pacific flight. Then, it “probably” will hold more than 200 passengers at liftoff of a capacity of 251.

But any cargo will still stay on the ground.


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Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley Teaches Some Lessons


My Nov. 11, 2012 column on the recently departed Bravo reality show “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley:”

A Reality Check for Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs


For me, the birth of reality TV pretty much marked the end of human civilization.

I don’t see how we could go much lower in our never-ending search for banality and time-sucking dreadfulness. In short, I’m not a fan.

But I’m fascinated by Silicon Valley’s culture. So when I heard that the reality TV gods at Bravo were training their cameras on the valley, I knew that one day I’d watch “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.” That day has come.

I refuse to join the brutal bashing of the show featuring young and beautiful entrepreneurs (sometimes even fully clothed and sober) struggling against personality conflicts and market forces to launch the next tech home run.

“Silicon Valley is just balls to the wall, ” says Dwight Crow, 27, who has a Puritan work ethic for work and partying. “It’s not something you want to do if you don’t want to roll the dice. So if you’re not aiming for something $1 billion or larger, why waste your time?

Yeah, why?

But again, no hater here. (Besides all the good snarky lines have been taken. Get this tweet from TechCrunch co-editor Alexa Tsotsis: “Here Comes Silicon Valley Boo-Boo.” ) So rather than make fun of a show that surely someone finds entertaining, how about we try to learn? Yes, there are lessons in “Start-Ups” for all those many entrepreneurs who, like the shows’ stars, are working to raise buckets of money to create the next app to help you reach your goals, or track your real-time life expectancy, or upload videos of your fabulous life for all to see.

In that spirit, I’ve picked through the first episode of the show for pearls of wisdom.

First a funding primer from Hermione Way, 27, who with brother Ben, 32, is working on the life-expectancy app. (And if you must know, Hermione is mortal enemies with Sarah Austin, 26, who lives for free at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto in return for blogging about the place, and kind of has a thing for Ben.)

“In Silicon Valley there’s a number of ways to get cash for your startup, ” Hermione explains. “There is angel investors, which is like a rich person that now wants to invest in the next best thing. There’s venture capitalists, also known as VCs. They’re kind of like more corporate, bigger rounds of funding.”

Lesson: What the heck. Go for the bigger rounds. How hard can it be?

Next, let’s talk about dressing for success. OK, it isn’t done in Silicon Valley — unless you’re on a reality show.

“Bloody hell, ” Hermione, who is from England, says one morning while getting dressed. “This is the worst outfit ever.” Now, I’m told Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg is often heard to say the same thing. Well, yeah, he wears the outfit anyway, but, you know.

The truth is the “Start-Ups” kids seem really lost on this fashion question. Take this from Sarah: “On a typical day it takes me two hours to get ready for work.”

Lesson: Honey, if you want to look good, go for it. I’m just saying, you tack a two-hour commute onto that two hours getting ready and you’ll never have time to create that $1 billion company. Balls to the wall, remember?

Now a word on networking. Hermione has got this down.

“Nobody goes clubbing here, ” she says. “It’s about costume parties at people’s houses.”

So, next time you’re invited over to some VC’s place to schmooze, be sure to rig up a costume. Togas appear to be big. Or take a tip from Sarah (who says she’ll take three to four hours to get ready for a party) who showed up at a bash wearing what looked like two fig leaves covering her breasts.

And, of course most importantly, some pointers on the pitch. Hermione actually got herself and Ben a meeting with Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups and an A-list tech investor. How’d she do it?

“I sent him a message with this, ” she says saluting the camera with her middle finger. Really, flipping the guy off? I wondered about that one. But Hermione explains: “He says, ‘If you’re not upsetting someone in business, you’re doing something wrong.'”

I’m just wondering whether your prospective funder is the one you want to be upsetting.

Anyway, the kids got the meeting and of course they had to wait quite a while in McClure’s office. “VCs always make you wait, ” Ben says. “It’s their little power game. They want you to sweat it out, so they can take control of the meeting.”

Lesson: The VCs already have control of the meeting. You want money. They have money.

Finally, it’s best to never waste valuable time. Sure Ben and Hermione had to wait around, but not to worry. Hermione, you see, was terribly hung over from that toga party the night before. Why not use the wait to catch a little nap, in McClure’s conference room, under his conference table? Talk about madcap!

Suffice it to say McClure was not amused. His advice: “Don’t sleep under my (expletive) table anymore.”

Lesson: Just hope he was joking.

Contact Mike Cassidy at or 408-920-5536. Follow him at


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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg something of his own Superman

So, I’m sitting in a dimly lit theater in Palo Alto waiting for Superman.

Not the one who wears a red cape. The one who wears a blue hoodie. Silicon Valley boy wonder, Mark Zuckerberg, star of stage, screen, “The Simpsons, ” Facebook and the universe in general, has invited a few of his 500 million friends to a special movie screening.

ZuckNo. Not that movie. “The Social Network, ” Aaron Sorkin’s fictionalized account of the rise of Facebook and the guy who either invented it or stole it, is not what this night is about. This night is about education and “Waiting for Superman, ” a documentary that those looking to save our schools hope will do for the education disaster what “An Inconvenient Truth” has done for the global warming disaster.

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MIT’s Sherry Turkle says there’s a time to unplug

February 4, 2011

OK, the first thing: If you think your kid has fallen into some black hole of always-on mobile Internet access and you haven’t heard from her in a week or two, don’t text her to tell her to shape up.

Go talk to her. Face to face.

You might think I’m joking. Sherry Turkle wouldn’t. She’s been studying how people relate to technology for decades. Lately she’s been making the rounds with a new book. Part of it talks about how omnipresent mobile devices are affecting our relationships with loved ones. And guess what? It’s not in a good way.

Photo by Peter Urban for Basic Books

“Sometimes we’re too busy communicating to listen to each other, ” says Turkle, a professor in MIT’s science, technology and society program. “We’ve lost our way. We’re forgetting our human purposes.”

It seems we are so busy virtually friending people that we’ve never met, and never will, that we’re neglecting to pay attention to the real people right in front of us, including our spouses, kids and co-workers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since I scored a seemingly harmless iPod touch for Christmas. It allows me to carry Facebook and e-mail and the Web around in my pocket — and to the dinner table, and breakfast table and to the couch, where my wife and I watch TV. Yes, it is a distraction. No, I can’t multitask — not to the extent that I can update my status and actually pay attention to what my daughters learned in school that day.

And so, I’ve tried to step away from the machine at those times when the people I love are right there, face to face, in front of me.

I can do better. I’m guessing we can all do better — and basically that’s all Turkle is suggesting.

“I’m not saying unplug, ” she says by phone while at a stop in San Francisco on her book tour for “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.” “Too many headlines are saying, ‘MIT Professor says Unplug.’ I’m not the grinch. I love my gadgets.'”

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