Mountain View Days

In 1997 I had just finished my undergrad and was planning to go to a PhD program. Due to timing (Georgia Tech was on the quarter system, which I loved, but since changed to semesters) I had a gap and ended up doing a follow-on master’s at Georgia Tech, but decided to start seeing what my life might be like with the PhD by doing a summer at Xerox PARC, my dream research job.

A number of us from Tech where there that summer: Josh Marinacci (now an O’Reilly Java author and Sun evangelist, moving on to Palm), Jason Ellis (who did continue down the PhD and research path and is now doing very interesting work at IBM Research on leveraging mobile technology in Africa), Rob Orr and others. And who can forget the inspirational tale of “Mike Netscape and Nicole HP”?

Back the my total savings was probably $500, so finding an apartment and transportation were a pretty big ordeal. For housing, Josh’s aunt and uncle in San Jose generously put us up (well, I guess they would do it for him, but generously let me stay as well 🙂 ) for our first month while we looked for a place, which we eventually found in Mountain View. Renting a car for 3 months was exhorbitant, so I ended up buying a bike for $200 and biking a few miles from Mountain View to Palo Alto, which ended with a killer hill –Hillview Ave. to Coyote Hill Road– to the PARC campus. Sometimes the hill was just too steep and I would go up a third of the way and then into the Fuji labs and walk the rest of the way up.

The place we landed at in Mountain View was Village Lake Apartments, 777 West Middlefield Rd. As Rhonda Dean said in White Men Can’t Jump, “We live in Vista View but ain’t no vista and ain’t no view.” But it was a nice, quiet place for the summer. It was a sweltering hot summer, and to make it through I would walk to the Fairway nearby and get a freezing-cold ice cream pop. You know those ice-cold-beer commercials where people are stuck to the couch and all of a sudden a magic cold front sweeps through and they’re free and refreshed? Yeah it was like that. Only with a chocolate-covered vanilla popsicle instead of brewski (I was still a teetotaler at that point 🙂 ).

The part that tickles my memory now is that we were a mile from the Googleplex- except Google didn’t exist yet, they would incorporate later that year. However the G-boyz had already come out to PARC to give a talk about Pagerank. I remember thinking “yes, this definitely makes sense to me, and the recursive authority approach seems better than the current purely textual search engines.” Back then I had no idea the level of influence across the Valley and the world would follow.

Many other memories from that summer -of course working with Keith Edwards; the amazing feeling of history at PARC’s Computer Science Lab with Mark Weiser’s presence permeating as an aura of inspiration throughout the place; the site visits to Sun, IBM Almaden (where I first met the inimitable and unforgettable Ted Selker); and most of all the amazing night sky near Yosemite with a density and brightness of stars like I had never seen before or since.

photo credit: sporst

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