Random Thoughts on the First Experience of Silicon Valley

Driving down the street passing by offices for most of the major players in my industry as just surreal: eBay, Intel, NVidia, BroadCom.. even some new comers, Evernote.

I've heard Peter Day (BBC World Service Business podcast) talk about how important Silicon Valley is - but when you see these names and how close they are it really brings it home.

Knowing that staff from these companies socialise together and the mixing of ideas, insights, and concepts that come from that - well it is easy to understand why there are so many startups in this area.

But does that mean that the same success can't be had else where ? Well no. But you can understand the advantages of being here, or at least visiting here would bring.

That doesn't mean of course that all the ideas that come out of here are going to be great - I in particular think that google glasses concept is just nuts. If glasses were such a good idea, we wouldn't have contact lenses, and hose people who didn't need glasses would all be buying empty frames... But hey ho...

It is now time to head home. Honestly, it's been educational and fun, but now it's time to head back home and I'm looking forward to that too. I'm even looking forward to my long, and delayed JetBlue flight to JFK ... once I get there I'm hoping to get some sleep or an hour or two before meeting my family and heading back to Dublin. It's been two weeks without them - and I've really felt it. To most people the idea of a 7 hour flight with two babies, while tired yourself, wouldn't seem like a good idea - but right now, it sounds like great craic!

But I do have to share my last bit of California wonder - I'm sitting here, in a bar, typing this on an iPhone via a bluetooth keyboard, while listening to music from my iPhone on some bluetooth headphones, and I'm bopping away in my seat - yet as I look up, i'm not drawing a single glance - which is impressive, given my big hair. Maybe there just a new definition of geek here in birth place of it all ?

Travelling Ergonomics on a Shoe String

A set up for travelling ergonomics
A set up for travelling ergonomics

Ergonomics needn't be expensive. I'm on an extended trip, where I'll be travelling out of the office for about 3 weeks. During this time I've got a lot of work to do and will be spending a long time working on my laptop in Hotel rooms. I knew this was coming. So I packed a spare full sized keyboard in my check-in luggage - safely trucked between my jeans and t-shirts.

On arrival here at my hotel I was able to set up this.

Using the bag for support I could unfold my laptop and make a good working area. It really is much nicer than sitting hunched over a laptop all day. I hope this helps if your travelling too. If you've got any other suggestions for travelling let me know, it would be good to share.

Silicon Valley without the Silicon Connection

It's ironic really. I'm in what could be considered one of the birth places of the modern Internet and yet I can't get Internet access. As soon as I stepped off the plane, the data on my phone stopped working and it effectively became a dead weight in my pocket.

I'm in Silicon Valley on a work trip. The birth place of many of the Internet brands and names which we all know today. My hotel is a stones throw away from McAffee and Intel, with Google, Apple, and AMD just short drive.

Sure my hotel has WiFi and when I'm in the office the company has WiFi, but as soon as I step outside of these islands of connectivity I'm cut off from the internet and instantly geographically displaced. I'm pretty much lost. I find myself uncertain of my location and not entirely sure where I'm heading.

I learnt to map read when I was ten, I know I can do it. The problem is I don't actually have a map. I don't carry one anymore. I've come to rely on my mobile device to have the map for me, and when it doesn't. I feel a bit like a floundering fish. This I can overcome, with some scribbled notes and a constant chanting of directions. "Out turn left, third on the right" (repeat).

But what really irks, what stings, is being instantly cut off from family and friends. Most of my communication now happens over a data connection. From Viber and WhatsApp (I've both) to Skype messages, email, Twitter, FaceBook and FaceTime - it all goes via data. When the data stops it goes silent very quickly. I'm instantly on my own.

Running the numbers
I've started looking at ways to solve this problem, to obtain mobile internet. At home my typical mobile data usage is roughly 4 gigbytes a month, I use it alot - from podcast and streaming using to video calls. I'm in the US for roughly 3 weeks which translates to roughly 3 gigabytes of data or 3072 megabytes.

Turing on my data here in the US isn't an option. While travelling in the US it costs me €5.08 or $6.67(USD) a megabyte. Turning that into real money - that's €15,605.76 or $20,490.24 (USD) for my normal data usage! - My eyes watered just writing that.

So what are the options?
My mobile phone is locked to my Irish carrier (3 Ireland), so I can't swap the sim-card. But what would work would be a mobile wifi hotspot or MiFi as they are known.

One of the best options around at the moment is FreedomPop. It's a 4g WiFi converter (MiFi) which you can carry with you. It'll provide a WiFi access which would allow me to connect my mobile device to it. More importantly they provide 3 gigbytes of data as free for the first month when you sign up. It sounds ideal.

I'd love to borrow one for the time I'm here. I'd even pay for the rental of it and return it at the end of the trip. There were be little point in taking it back to Ireland - I couldn't use it, and to top it all off I only stumbled across FreedomPop on my last week here.