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PaloAlto

PaloAlto

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Published by Tom Slattery

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Published by: Tom Slattery on Apr 06, 2008
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09/27/2012

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PALO ALTO GARAGE, 1964: BEING THEREBy Tom SlatterySanta Clara Valley, California, 1964.Revolution was swirling around me, and I didn't know. Nor did many. It was one of thosetechnological revolutions that effect major changes in our lives. And they usually arrive in quietconspiracies of knowledge and proceed to overwhelm and destroy existing social order.Three-quarters to a half century earlier, a main focus had been in Ohio. Edison, the mostinfluential inventor of this period, was born in Ohio, but did his inventing elsewhere. The Wright brothers invented and stayed in Ohio, but first flew their invention where there was enough windon the Carolina Coast. Charles Goodyear invented usable rubber and caused the tire industry toset up base in Akron, Ohio.In Oberlin, Ohio, Charles Hall invented the aluminum smelting process. Kettering,Woods, and Brush invented the lesser details that made complex concepts and machines go.Michaelson and Moreley found that light did not travel through "ether." Arthur Holly Comptondefined nuclear particles. Out of a nucleus of people and ideas originating in Ohio in the latenineteenth century and early twentieth century came a revolution that tore apart social stabilityand reinvented society.And just across the Ohio border in Detroit, Michigan, Henry Ford was putting into practical use the "scientific management" principles of economist Fredrick Winslow Taylor. Fordcreated the automobile assembly line and used Taylor's invention, the time clock, as part of hisgrand design to maximize the efficiency of workers and thus lower costs of his cars. YvgenyZamyatin would later use "Taylorism" in his horrible-future novel We, one of the trio of horrible-future novels that includes Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.The technology of the infant revolution-in-progress in California's Santa Clara Valleywould surpass anything that Orwell might have imagined. It would create "glass houses" for allof us beyond anything that Zamyatin might have imagined. It would lead to cloning and thetechnological base for a brave new world that would have made Huxley shudder. And it would be focused in a small area in the San Francisco Bay Area, mostly in an area stretching from SanJose to Palo Alto.I left Cincinnati, Ohio, forever in a green and white 1959 Ford Fairlane sedan and rolledinto the Santa Clara Valley in the spring of 1964. In its center was San Jose, a rural-oriented andsmall state college town surrounded by fruit orchards. The town did not get going much beforeten in the morning.There were new and unfamiliar names. A supermarket chain named Lucky Stores wasstill in business. Gas stations were named Wilshire. A friend introduced me to a Mexican foodknown as a taco. It was a new and exciting world for a meat and potatoes yokel from Ohio,where few had ever heard of a taco.There were palm trees on the San Jose State College campus and in a park near the center 
 
of the town. Great old oak trees lining suburb-like streets absorbed ground water flowingunderground from surrounding low ranges of mountains. Pacific Ocean fog caressed themountains to the west and kept them green. The tan mountains to the east lay like a giant barenaked lady sunning herself.I was single, recently out of the US Army, and had some minimal educational resources. Iwas near broke, but I was, in the bandied parlance of racist USA, "free, white, and 21." And Iwould add to that, "male." Well, I was by then over 21. But the meaning of the racist phrase wasthan one was an adult. I was, and I could make my way around and find ways to survive.I hated racism. Five years earlier, in 1959, before my Army experience, I had been to theDeep South and had been dismayed and dumbfounded at "White" and "Negro" rest rooms,restaurant counters, and drinking fountains. If anything, California may have been the least racistof all the states. And that was the best thing that it had going for it: tolerance.The Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. President Kennedy had sent troopsinto the Deep South to begin to break down legal racial barriers. But President Kennedy was nowdead. President Johnson and the Supreme Court would legislate and set precedents to remove thelegalization of racism, but in 1964 racism was still simmering in the unspoken social contract.Population levels had not grown to desperate levels. Workers were in demand, and asingle guy without many expenses could find minimum-wage work and survive.Minimum wage was less than two bucks an hour, but that was relative to the economy. Agallon (4 liters) of gasoline was 19 cents at Wilshire, and if you filled the tank, they gave you afree drinking glass or plate. A McDonald's hamburger was 19 cents. An entrepreneur had set up atable on the San Jose State College campus and sold two sandwiches for a quarter. And I hadfound a room in a student rooming house near San Jose State for $15 per month as students leftfor the summer.In a few months, I found a minimum-wage job measuring photographed tracks of nuclear  particles at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, 20 miles north of San Jose. The two-mile Stanfordatom smasher was still under construction. The particle-track measuring unit was temporarilylocated in the M-1 Garage Building on the northeast corner of the Stanford University campusand using other people's nuclear particles. For all the time that I worked there, the group wouldget its films from the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley.I worked in a garage. I moved into a garage -- literally a former garage converted intoliving quarters by putting a rug down and then a bed on top of it -- on High Street in Palo Altofor 20 dollars a month. It was a garage not unlike the ones not far away where unknown andfinancially strapped young yokels my age named Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and others now richand famous, were thought to be wasting their time messing with marginally workable computer hardware and software.The transistor had been as much discovered as it had been invented in 1947. The firstintegrated circuits, or computer chips, invented in 1959 by Noyce, were being made in the early
 
1960s, and most of the research that had made them possible had been done in the Santa ClaraValley. Schawlow, Townes, and Maimam had made a workable optical laser in 1960, the work largely done in the Santa Clara Valley.That year that I arrived in the Santa Clara Valley, 1964, was the year that "Silicon Valley"was born out of the industrialized carcass of the sleepy rural valley. Texas Instruments receivedits patent for the computer chip. BASIC, the first programming language software, was published. And the American Standard Association adopted the American Standard Code for Information Exchange (ASCII).At the Stanford Linear Accelerator where I now worked from 8 to 5, there were bright people creating with integrated circuits. I watched while a computer designer carefully drew anearly one on white pasteboard with India ink. Then it had to be photographed and opticallyreduced in size and then etched onto a garnet or silicon chip.But more fascinating to me were the amazing new dollar-bill readers that would gobble paper money and eject coins for the candy bar and soft drink dispensers. And there was a newXerox copier, one of the first commercial ones to be purchased.It could print pages without the mess and time-consuming film-development steps of theold Photo-Rapid "wet" copiers. One copy could take fifteen minutes. The other alternative had been the Thermofax machine that made a blurry and often unreadable contact-process copy withheating elements. The new Xerox copiers that easily and quickly made crisp clear copies were brand new on the market.The particle-track measuring machines that I used all day were computerized-of-sorts.The computers were simple, I believe partly vacuum-tube. They automatically recorded X-Ycoordinates generated by a cross-hair on two spools that was moved across a viewing screen.Magnetic tape cassettes had yet to be developed. Video taping, for instance, was done on largereels.That was too much of a problem for precise scientific data. So the data we entered fromthe cross-hairs went from the primitive computer to be recorded on a series of individual IBM punch cards by an ultra-noisy IBM punch-card machine. If a mechanical puncher failed to puncheven one hole in a series of a dozen cards, the carefully measured data would be useless. If a cardgot out of place in a stack, the data would be useless.The machines were more mechanical than electronic and constantly breaking down. Thatwas a blessing because I could go outside of the dark noisy room and into the Stanford campussunlight filtering through tall eucalyptus trees onto the parking lot pavementThere were other revolutions going on around me. The garage that I lived in had nokitchen. I ate out. After work I would often go get supper at Sanford's Restaurant a few blocksaway. It was a typical mid-twentieth-century counter restaurant. It wasn't a fast-food place. Itserved full meals. But it served them on a Formica-topped counter, and customers sat on stools atthe counter.

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