Category Archives: Local in California

Google Self-Driving Car Project

A roundabout with a stop sign? Confused? So was this Cute Google Self-Driving Car. Enjoy this video!

Mountain View, California. The heart of Silicon Valley. Where in our local streets, you can actually find roundabouts. Yes the type you see everywhere in Australia and UK. Not the norm for US. But, something is difference. The Roundabouts here also have a Stop sign. Yes, the traditional stop sign you see at just about every street in the USA. Now we know a roundabout’s purpose is to keep traffic moving while a stop sign’s is to stop traffic. The 2 together are counter intuitive right? Even for a Google Self-Driving Car.

Now what would happen when you have a roundabout and you must give way to your left? Confused? Me too. Even for the new 100% automated robots cruising the local streets of Mountain View. Those cute bubble Google Self-Driving Cars. These cute self-driving cars have been around Mountain View for the past few months. They are the future of transportation. An awe of inspiration to see. A Borg like intelligence, developed by mankind up the road at Google HQ, is making autonomous decisions in transporting humans. This is the pinnacle of human innovation! They are still in closed Beta mode. Carry max 2 people. One day I hope to get an opportunity to order a lift from my smartphone.

So back to the roundabout and stop sign issue. We know the scene. We know the car. Now check out the video my wife recorded of this Google self driving car getting confused as it pulls up to such a roundabout with a stop sign. PS. I did some edits to the video to add character in good spirit. Enjoy!

Bay Area Bike Share: a new regional transit system

Bay Area Bike Share bike sharing system has arrived in San Francisco and the South Bay Area and I’m loving it! Ready to ride?

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Bike Area Bike Share is in the business of sharing economy. Centered around a human-powered transport we all take for granted, your average pedal bike (bicycle). Bikes are not new but the execution here of Bay Area Bike Share program is. It can potentially disrupt (and with time eliminate) polluting transport machines like Muni, Taxi and Bart.

Let’s face it, human-powered bikes are a great innovation and will never be replaced. In almost every European country, bikes are outselling new cars. That tells you something about the change occurring around us. Ride a bike!

How Bay Area Bike Share works

You pay $88 for an annual membership and get a digital key to unlock any Bay Area Bike Share bike. When one is available. I will get to that later too. The catch is you have to return the bike into any Bike Area Bike Share dock within 30 minutes or end up paying overtime fees ($4 at the time of writing this). Beware, This is advertised as “30 minute free” or as I like to call it, exercise motivator.

So your annual membership is the right to access to the bike network. As soon as you undock a bike you have 30 mins to get your ass from A to B fast so you don’t pay the overtime fee. This doesn’t stop you from dropping your bike off at another docking station and re-docking it again. I am sure this 30 mins time limit also keeps the bikes circulating, which helps with availability.

The Bay Area Bike Share stations are situated in SF’s Soho & Financial district and also at popular suburbs in the South Bay Area like Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose etc.. and growing. So your transport needs are sorted.

I highly encourage you to download the Bike Area Bike app to see where the docking stations are in relation to you, bike availability and free docks to return your bike into. I recently switched to using the Bay Area Bike app after the Cycle Finder app proved to be too unreliable. There is also an API you can tap into if you want to build your own app.

Saving of 50% from my foot commute

For me this bike system has shed my foot commute by 50%. Nearly 40 mins on a typical day. Yes I used to walk on average 15K steps a day. But replacing my walks with foot & pedal power I still get a lot of exercise in half the time. In fact I feel like I have a better work out on a bike.

I really believe that every employer whose staff travel on foot or public transport to and from work should offer this benefit. It’s a no brainer. It is a small price to pay for employee’s happiness. Yes riding a bike will make your employee happy – from the exercise which releases endorphins to less stress getting to work on time / making that Bullet Caltrain so they can be home with their family sooner. It’s an all round win. A happy employee is a productive employee.

Pros of Bay Area Bike Share program

  • Go green! “In the Bay Area, the transportation sector accounts for more than 50 percent of air pollution overall.”*
  • No need to worry about locking up your bike at a station or on the streets.
  • No need to maintain a bike. Sharing economy baby! And if your bike has problems, there is a button on the docking station you can press to notify Bay Area Bike Share maintenance people.
  • Have you seen all those bike owners on Caltrain with their bikes stacked according to town they are getting out? And then watching nervously that no one nicks their bike. Yes it is a pain and going on Caltrain with your bike is painful.
  • Exercise! Riding a bike spikes your heart rate which is great for burning fat and cardio workout. Unlike walking, jumping on a bike and paddling hard through the city is a great heart accelerator.
  • Get to places faster. Faster than Muni in San Francisco. Bikes are a great way to accelerate foot transport without the traffic component.
  • It’s dirt cheap. $88 for an annual membership is cheaper than catching public transport.

Improvement / Ideas

  • Availability. Demand vs supply. I’m starting to see the 2 x docking stations in SF Caltrain empty more frequently when I exit the train during morning peak hour. A better system for managing inventory might help here. Maybe some data scientist from Uber can help.
  • Better cycle apps. Cycle Finder app is unreliable – buggy and went offline after a buggy build made it to the iTunes store. The Bay Area Bike app is better but the API which they use must be delayed or not real-time since after getting advised that a docking station had availability I found it did not and had to haul my ass back 2 blocks to another docking station to drop the bike off.
  • Better API. Open up the API with real-time data including rider GPS location. This way any developer can go nuts creating apps which not only track their biking habits but can also build a commute scheduling system to ease the pain of availability. I can already see a nice app which integrates Moves app API with Bay Area Bike Share API. Yeah!
  • Gamification. Now who wouldn’t mind finding out they are in the top 10 for say San Francisco fastest cyclists or most miles travelled in a week. A mobile app or even a website interface which would allow rides to see their standing against all the other Bay Area Bike Share riders. Then take it a notch further and do cities i.e. LA vs SF. Now it’s getting interesting.. which city is the most healthiest based on users riding, miles travelled etc… this would create some healthy competition.

If you want to learn more about this program and sign up visit the Bay Area Bike Share website. They also have a Tumblr page here where photos of the bikes and users are posted every week.

Happy Biking!
~ Ernest

Mountain View Voice “Best of” 2013 Ballot

Mountain View Voice is once again doing their yearly “Best of” 2013 survey of local businesses powered by the people of Mountain View. The Voice is a community newspaper published every Friday and available inside few of the local Mountain View businesses. Also online here: http://www.mv-voice.com/

The “Best of” 2013 voting page is located here: http://www.mv-voice.com/best_of/voting/form.php and all votes need to be submitted by July 7, 2013.

This ballot sparked an internal review of the places my wife and I love in Mountain View. After casting my vote I thought I should also throw it up here to help any newbies to Mountain View. Not just what place but also why so you can understand deeper why these places rock.

The Best of Mountain View, 2013

Zagat (Google’s) score

I have included  Zagat (Google’s) score for each place inc a link to their Google Profile so you can read the reviews and make up your own mind. “The ratings are on a 30-point scale, made up of ratings for defined areas including food, decor, service, and cost. (30 is the highest rating on the scale and 1 is the lowest)” wiki

Using the categories featured in The Voice Ballot, here are my favorite in no particular order. Note that most of these places are on Castro Street or in one of the side streets from Castro Street. Castro Street is basically downtown Mountain View.

BEST COFFEE HOUSE (INDEPENDENT) – Red Rock Coffee Company

Red Rock

Address: 201 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: Saturday hours 8:00 am–11:00 pm
http://www.redrockcoffee.org/ Google Plus / Zagat 21/30

I blogged about Red Rock in the past on The Road to Silicon Valley. 3 years later and I am still a regular at Red Rock. In my opinion, this is the best place for coffee. From great service to the quality & consistency in coffee and immediately drinkable. Think about that one for a second. How many coffee places can you think of which serve coffee that is immediately drinkable? A good coffee is part beans (materials) and part preparation. Most places over heat during preparation thus killing the taste. Red Rock always makes it perfectly good and ready to drink without burning your tongue.

BEST FINE DINING RESTAURANT – Chez Tj

Chez TJ

Address: 938 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: Saturday hours 5:30 pm–9:30 pm
http://www.cheztj.com/ Google Plus / Zagat 24/30

Chez TJ Food
Fine dining at it’s best and it has 1 Michelin star on it’s shoulders. Serves French and California cuisine in a converted Victorian house. The restaurant is laid out across multiple rooms inside the converted Victorian house giving it a very posh feel. The food is outstanding. We had their 7 coarse meal with wine pairing and walked away with our bellies full. Well satisfied with the service, quality & presentation of the food. But expect to pay a bit ($500-$700 for 2) for such fine dining.

BEST THAI RESTAURANT – Amarin Thai

Amarin Thai

Address: 174 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: Saturday hours 12:00 pm–3:30 pm, 4:30 pm–10:30 pm
http://www.amarinthaicuisine.com/ Google Plus / Zagat 22/30

My favorite Thai place. Also the only place where I get the same meal over and over and over again because it is outstanding and consistent in taste. Sweet & sour chicken with white rice. There aren’t many Thai places which make this meal as consistent and good tasting as Amarin Thai. For take away / “to go”, the meals are prepared really fast (under 10 mins) and they wont break your piggy bank at $10 to $15 per meal.

BEST SUSHI/JAPANESE RESTAURANT – Sushi Tomi

Sushi Tomi

Address: 1051 E Main St, Tustin, CA 92780
Hours: For lunch and dinner after 5pm except Sunday
http://www.sushitomi.com/ Google Plus / Zagat 21/30

Susi Tomi

Every since being introduced to this place 4 years ago I have been hooked. The sushi is outstanding. I mean outstanding. If you are a fan of sushi you will know what good fresh quality sushi tastes like. This place has it. And their popularity for good sushi is seen when you go and dine in. The lines of people outside are a dead give away of the high demand. This is the place for sushi in Mountain View at a very good price. I am a fan of their dinner combination special – teriyaki salmon, salad, sashimi (salmon & tuna), rice and miso soup all for $18.

BEST SUSHI/JAPANESE RESTAURANT – Shabuway

Shabuway

Address: 180 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: Lunch & Dinner weekdays and most hours on Weekends
http://www.shabuway.com/test/ Google Plus / Zagat 20/30
shabuway_food_1 shabuway_food_2

If you are after a light dinner meal for a reasonable price (around $20 per head) which is also healthy then this is the place for you. Order the Koby lean beef plate which comes with a side of greens. You basically cook it all yourself in a hot-pot. Tastes great and is also a great experience. No reservations so get there early so you can get a table without waiting. Otherwise this place fills up pretty fast.

BEST GYM – 24 Hour Fitness Super Sport

24hr Fitness Super Sport

Address: 2535 California Street Mountain View, CA 94040
Hours: 24 hours 7 days a week
http://www.24hourfitness.com/FindClubDetail.mvc?clubid=814

This is nearly identical to Fitness First in Australia but much larger with more amenities. I think this may be where the idea for Fitness First came from 😉 As the name suggest this is a 24 hour gym. So you can go there anytime. I have trained as late as 2am before and it’s pretty damn quiet. This gym is usually packed before 8pm with a sweet time being 9pm (if you code you know this time is ok). After a good workout there is a pool, steam room, sauna and spa available to relax in. I find the steam room to be great after a good weights session. The only down side is that the steam room turns off after midnight.

BEST AUTO REPAIR – The Car Doctor

The Car Doctor

Address: 2235 Old Middlefield Way, Mountain View, CA 94043
Hours: 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday only
http://www.the-cardoctor.com/ Google Plus / Zagat 28/30

This is the BEST car shop I have ever had the pleasure dealing with. Most car mechanics are known for ripping customers off with phony car issues especially when a woman brings the car. Gary & Chris (owners) are the exception and are superb lads! I am comfortable sending my wife with the car to get it serviced there knowing she will be looked after and not ripped off. Everything is explained to detail so you know what needs fixing or servicing. The communication & trust here is the key to an amazing customer service from The Car Doctor.

BEST ICE CREAM/FROZEN YOGURT – Gelato Classico

Gelato Classico

Address: 241B Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: 11am to 11pm 7 days a week
Google Plus / Zagat 21/30

Gelato Classico

I am addicted to this place. Their Gelatos are simply outstanding! My favorite is Tiramisu and it even has small bread/biscuits inside it. From the warm “welcome” of the owner to the yummy Gelatos, this is the place for Ice Cream in Mountain View. Actually I am yet to find a better ice cream shop outside Mountain View. The lines in the evening can get overwhelming spilling outside the shop down to the businesses next door. Sometimes the wait can be as long as 30 minutes but it is damn worth it! Get the medium size cup coz the small is not enough and you will be left wanting more!

BEST PIZZA – Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria

Amici's East Coast Pizza

Address: 790 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: 11am to 10pm Weekdays and till 11pm Weekends
http://www.amicis.com/ Google Plus / Zagat 21/30

I have been having a damn hard time finding a great pizza place in Silicon Valley. Most places suck when compared to the many great pizza places in Sydney, Australia. What is going on?? Tell me if you have found a kickass pizza place in the valley. Now Amici’s is the best in Mountain View. Their thin crust pizzas are easy on the belly (no dough to bloat you up) and tastes great, especially their Amici’s Combo (my fav). Price ($30 for large) is a tad above what I’d like to pay but ok to pay every now and then.

BEST BOOKSTORE – East-West Bookshop

East-West Bookshop

Address: 324 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: 11am to 10pm Weekdays and till 11pm/8pm Weekends
http://www.eastwest.com/ Google Plus / Zagat 22/30

This is a place of Zen. From the vast array of books on topics of the mind to self-help to meditation to yoga to meditation bowls (metal & crystal). This place will make you feel at peace. If I ever need to calm my mind down I walk into this shop and the good energy here works wonders. There is also a large man-made water feature where you can sit in front and read a book. Every week you will also find all sort of spiritual folks running events in the back room.

Meditation Bowl

Some fun inside East-West Bookshop with the Meditation Bowl

Napa Valley: The World Famous Wine Growing Region.. L’chaim!

Napa Valley, the world famous wine growing region of California is a must for any wine enthusiast. Located only an hour north of San Francisco and 2 hours from South Bay, Napa Valley is a pleasant all day experience. Located in Napa Country, it rose to the first rank of wine regions with France by local winery Chateau Montelena winning the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. The movie Bottle Shock documents the story in a comedy-drama when California defeated French wine in a blind taste test. Great movie to watch to get into the spirit of Napa Valley.

welcome_to_napa_valley_b0

There are so many wineries to visit for wine tasting that you will not have the time in a single day or even a weekend to visit and experience all. It is something you should do over the course of few months while you work out of Silicon Valley. Wine tastings range from 20-30 USD and you get to try up to 5 wines pending on the winery. It is worth upgrading your tasting to the premium/reserve (you have to ask) so you get to try the top end limited edition wines for additional 10-15 USD.

napa_drive_b

My favorite wineries in Napa Valley for enjoying wines

Before digging into my favorite wineries, something to keep in mind. Wines change year to year. So what was/is great for me when I went there might not be in few years time. You remember how there are great years and bad years in wines. Keep that in mind. Here is a list of all the wineries in Napa Valley – http://napavalley.com/wineries/alphalistings.html

Click for larger view

Click for larger view

Take note of closing hours. The most important  Once you get into the groove and start enjoying your time in the wine country time will fly. You do not want to arrive at a vineyard only to find out it is closed/closing for the day.

1. Silver Oak Cellars

The best Californian Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tried hands down. There is only 1 wine tasting package and it includes wines as old as 8 years and over 100 USD per bottle.

We picked up a 12-year-old Cab here because it tasted sooooo good. Also the price reflected its vintage. If you love your cabs you will fall in love with Silver Oak wines.

Web: http://www.silveroak.com/
Address: 915 Oakville Crossroad, Oakville, CA 94562
Closes: 5:00 pm

Main entrance to Silver Oak

Main entrance to Silver Oak

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2. Beaulieu Vineyard

Their premium/limited edition are wines are superb. If you go there ask for the “premium wine tasting” not the standard. You won’t be disappointed.

Web: http://www.bvwines.com/
Address: 1960 St Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA 94573
Closes: 5pm

bv-4-glasses

My favorite wineries in Napa Valley for the environment / history

3. Chateau Montelena Winery

Chateau Montelena is where it all started for Napa Valley. This is where history was made when they won the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976 putting California on the map as a place of great wineries in the world. Also the architecture of this place is stunning.

Web: http://www.montelena.com/

chateau_montelena_2_b chateau_montelena_b

chateau_montelena_3_b

2. Sterling Vineyards

Sterling Vineyards is an experience in itself. You get whisked by a Gondola lift up the mountain to Sterling’s wine processing plant. You do a self walk tour through the buildings stopping over at wine stations for a taste of different wines each time. You can choose the standard wine tasting (5 wines) or add the premium to it which includes an additional 3.

The only down side is that if you do not want to drink you still have to pay for the standard wine tasting experience since transport in the Gondola lift is included in the price.

Web: http://www.sterlingvineyards.com/
Closes: 4:30 weekdays & 5:00 pm weekends

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sterling_1_b

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1. Silver Oak Cellars

As mentioned above, not only do they have great Cabs but there is something about this place which feels good to be inside, the atmosphere.

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Where to eat in Napa Valley

  • Gott’s Roadside – Outdoor Burger & Beer. Not far from BV (Beaulieu Vineyard) and opposite to Merryvale Vineyards. 1207 Foothill Boulevard, Calistoga.
  • Buster’s Southern BBQ – You will smell it before you see it. The Tri-Tip Sandwich is their signature dish and really good. Watch out for the dude cooking BBQ outside and the Harleys parked around a shack. 933 Main Street, St. Helena.
  • Bouchon Bistro – A lot more upmarket than the 2 above. You need to book ahead but the food is great. It is the sister restaurant to the world-famous French Laundry (located few houses up the road). Their bakery next door is also great for macaroons. 6534 Washington St, Yountville.
Buster’s Southern BBQ's Tri-Tip Sandwich

Buster’s Southern BBQ’s Tri-Tip Sandwich

If your intent for the trip to Napa Valley is wine tasting than aim to eat at the 1st two above so you don’t burn wine tasting time. Maximise your time for wine tasting since most vineyards close at 5pm (that’s before the sun sets in summer). Otherwise if you want a romantic get away in the wine country and are staying locally there for the weekend than Bouchon or French Laundry is a good bet and plan to spend around 2-3 hours there pending on what you eat.

Before you head out to Napa Valley

Prepare for your trip

  1. Watch Bottle Shock to get into the spirit of Napa Valley and get some history lessons.
  2. Plan your route – plan to visit 3-4 wineries.
  3. Take plenty of water to drink after each winery visit. Otherwise you will dehydrate from the grog and get a headache spoiling the day.
  4. Plan your vineyard visits using maps.google.com so you can plan the route in an efficient manner.
  5. Read below how to save yourself money!

Buying wines – save yourself money

Before you jump and buy a bottle or case of a wine you like, google it. You may find it cheaper. far cheaper, to buy it online. Hey the winery still gets their profits from the sale via these channels but you also get to save a lot of money.

I saved 40% buying Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 07 from garyswine.com (note I have no affiliation with them). Also bought the The French Laundry Cookbook for 50% less from Amazon than at one of the popular wineries (no names mentioned) where it 1st caught my eye.

Happy Wine Tasting!

~ Ernest

Silicon Valley Transportation: Caltrain issues & shitty drivers

The good’ol topic of Transport. It’s going to be nearly 4 years since I have been in the valley. This has given me more than enough time to experience both forms of transport – train & road. Out of all the normal craziness that happens on road and track, 2 stand out like sore thumbs. And to newbies to the valley these 2 will most likely hang around like a bad smell. The 2 in question are Caltrain’s gallery trailer “rattlers” and the swarm of inconsiderate car drivers on the road.

The former will no doubt be fixed in the next few years when the “gallery trailers” are replaced with the new bombardier line; but the latter might take more time and maybe when the US Government invests in replacing human drivers with Google’s driverless cars. A machine will certainly be a better solution and improve road safety and reduce road rage. Let me expand with some tips on managing this.

Caltrain rattlers (gallery trailer)

I call the Caltrain “gallery trailer” fleet “rattlers”; because they will shake your body like a rattler snake shakes it’s tail. This gets annoying very fast when you spend long commutes and want to utilise your time on the train to do some computer work. You are literally bouncing in your seat, losing focus constantly, especially during express hour when the train is at its max speed. The gallery trailer is a disaster waiting to happen.

Oh and boy are they loud inside. I recommend you wear ear plugs to stop long term drum damage.

Loud! - wear ear plugs to protect your ears and bring some sanity back.

Loud! – wear ear plugs to protect your ears and bring some sanity back.

A bit about the network. The San Francisco Peninsula Commuter Corridor consists of double track CTC main line which runs between San Francisco and San Jose. A 47.5 mile track. And there is only 2 of them – one for each way; making “the action” known as hot and heavy especially during commute times. The JPB runs upwards of 96 commuter trains on Weekdays, with as little as 10 minutes separation between trains at peak commute hour.

There are two types of Caltrain trainsets

Gallery TRAILER (older silver) Bombardier BiLevel coaches (newer)
22 Gallery Trailer (Nippon Sharyo)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzYbHIrh4PA
6 Bombardier (Bi-Level)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DYvxX5j27w
caltrain_gallery caltrain_bombardier

More here on the commute fleets: http://www.caltrain.com/about/statsandreports/commutefleets.html

So what to do?

1. Catch only the Bombardier BiLevel coaches (above pic on the right). They are far far better in ride quality. It’s like riding on a cushion of air at any speed. You can get your work done on these. They even have power outlets for your computer. You can also check out Quora for Caltrain hacks on where to sit to minimize noise & improve ride quality should you end up in the gallery trailer.

Typically the Bombardier are operated as “bullet train” (minimal stops) but super fast to get up and down the valley during peek hour commutes. Outside peek hour, it is back to the rattles. So if you are getting a rattler, shifting your boarding times by few minutes could yield a Bombardier.

2. Be prepared. There is chaos on these tracks. 2 tracks up and down the valley (fail). 1 accident anywhere on this line and it brings the whole network to a halt with major delays. Consistently.

@caltrain @caltrain_news your killing us on rattler #278 1st carriage ! Plz turn on the aircon b4 we melt. #annoyed #sardined

Use Twitter to Follow: @caltrain which is crowdsourced and @caltrain_news which is run by Caltrain. Often if there’s a problem on the line, you’ll know more by listening to this stream http://www.railroadradio.net/content/view/24/143/ than the conductor knows!

I won’t even start on the Clipper system. That is another fail but not as bad as the gallery trailers.

Watch out for shitty drivers

So California is putting a stop to smartphone maps while driving. This extends the sms texting while driving and supposed holding your phone while driving. Half a year ago I was fined for holding my phone in my hand on speaker phone. Go figure. What I (and I am sure many people) would love to see is a crack down on the most common form of stupidity on the road. The failure to use blinkers. Inconsiderate drivers. There is a bucket load of them every single time you set out to venture on the road. I always say;

If you are good at driving than all you have to worry about is other drivers on the road.

Yes Good is a loose term, but you will know if you are good by your driving history record, how comfortable you feel behind the wheel and how well you react on the road. Btw, slow != safe. This is a daily reminder for me when I drive on the road and even more so when on foot crossing the road.

When I first arrived in the valley back in March 2009, I thought “hey drivers stop when I jay walk. So nice of them.”. Nice yes, but this is because of all the accidents and suing going on; as I soon found out from the locals. You learn about the accidents when you spend enough time on the major freeways like 101.

did-u-know-indicators

This is how accidents happen

Failure to use indicators. Each time I venture onto the road I come across a handful of these inconsiderate drivers. There is absolutely nothing funny about failing to use the indicator to let your fellow drivers and pedestrians know about your intentions. It is how accidents happen because an inconsiderate driver was lazy or incompetent to press that short lever to tell others on the road where they intend to go. This is how accidents happen on fast paced roads like 101.

So next time you are about driving on the road pay careful attention to how many inconsiderate drivers you spot failing to use the indicator. You will be surprised  On every short driving trip I see a handful of them and on longer trips it becomes mind gobbling that so many are allowed to do this yet holding a phone to check google maps or speak to someone on speaker phone is illegal.

If you think failure to use indicators is bad, watch out for “bumping”! Really not worth owning a nice car while living in the valley. That I will leave for another post.

Stay safe peeps!

~ Ernest

Rocket Space: accelerator for high-growth seed-funded tech startups

Hidden at the edge of Soma 181 Fremont in San Francisco is a kickass community of over 100 startups working in a funky environment changing the world. This place is called Rocket Space. It is situated in Soma, as is known as the Silicon Valley of San Francisco.

Rocket Space is best described as follows:

“RocketSpace is an accelerator for high-growth, seed-funded tech startups. We provide the fuel that every startup needs to accelerate: access to top talent, tier 1 venture capital, and blue-chip brands representing millions of users. Startup. Blast off.”

Startups in Soma, San Francisco – the Silicon Valley of San Francisco

What is Rocket Space

So as mentioned above, Rocket Space is an accelerator for high-growth seed-funded tech startups. Started in 2011 today hosts around 130 hot startups in two 3 level builds – plenty of room. Rocket Space provides fuel that every startup needs to accelerate: access to top talent, tier 1 venture capital, and blue chip brands representing millions of users. More about Rocket Space here. And it is open 24×7 to members.

Unlike HackerDojo which I have blogged about in the past Rocket Space is for the next level in a startup’s life cycle. Still lean but “after” the idea has been developed into a product and a minimum viable product (MVP) launched.

I’m not delusional I’m an entrepreneur

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” ~ Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google

What I find cool about Rocket Space

  • The environment is kickass. From the decor to the energy. There is just a great vibe being there. It feels like Facebook inside but everyone is working on their own startups.
  • Let me touch on energy again. With over 100 startups here there are plenty of smart folks to hang with, learn from and collaborate. Just being around smart people changing the world is inspiring and motivating to get things done. Beats sitting at home listening to the fridge buzzing.
  • Plenty of meeting rooms scattered around the edges of the large open working space.
  • Conveniently located between Soma and the Financial District in San Francisco. Around 20 minutes walking distance from San Francisco Caltrain station.
  • Plenty of fuel (food) around Rocket Space. My favorite is the SF Soup Company since it is light and doesn’t generate any brain drain. They have great Clam Chowder. Yum!
  • Finally Rocket Space offers access to weekly community events, founder mentoring sessions, access to talent and education program called RocketSpace Academy (RSA).
  • Rocket Space and GTDfaster (my productivity app) both contain a “rocket” in the logo – I thin Rocket Space was meant to be! GTDfaster logo comes from the fact of getting stuff done fast – accelerating. Rocket Space is Startup and Blast off!

Foyer at Rocket Space space

Want to get a tour? Get in touch with Rocket Space via their online form:
http://www.rocket-space.com/contact-us/

A meeting room at RocketSpace

Is Rocket Space for everyone?

Nope. You must be at the right stage in your company’s life cycle to get accepted.
See the table below to see if you are at the right stage to gain the most value out of being a part of Rocket Space community.

Phase Funding Team size Space
Exploring None Founders Home / HackerDojo
Hacking that idea None Founders HackerDojo
MVP out Seed Founders Rocket Space
Scaling Series A Founders + 10 to 20 Rocket Space

Finally, if you see me at Rocket Space say GDay! I am disrupting the health industry and saving lives at medlertapp.com via leading edge mobile technology powered by high-tech event-driven python platform. If you want to learn more about Medlert say GDay! See you around.

Top floor working space

Top floor working space

David testing Medlert's new Android app - medlertapp.com

David testing Medlert’s new Android app – medlertapp.com

How to connect with Rocket Space

Keep your family safe today. Download the free app that with One touch calls 911 & notifies your family of an emergency.

~ Ernest

Floatation: Sensory Deprivation for Engineers by Scientists

I have blogged about Floatation Tanks, also known as Float Tanks, Isolation Tanks, Sensory Deprivation Tank et al before here and here. To get the detail, read those 2 posts first. Alternatively here is the skinny version. Floatation in a Floatation Tank was first invented and used by John C. Lilly (scientist) in 1954 for Sensory Deprivation experiments to “switch off” our senses. The goal was so our mind free of external stimuli could light up brighter and tap into the void… temporarily. Today, such floatation tanks are used mainly for meditation, relaxation and as alternative medicine to help Athletes (by Australian Institute of Sports) with faster recovery.

Where it all began for me

My wife and I have been floating in floatation tanks since 2008. It all started back when I saw a floatation tank being used in the 1st episode of Fringe. In Fringe Dr Bishop uses his flotation tank/sensory deprivation tank (sounds more scientific) to connect Olivia and Agent Scott’s mind. That was super cool. Being a body hacker I got interested in the perceived ability and started my research into floatation tanks. I took the red pill and went down the rabbit hole. And here we are today.

Floatation Tank in Fringe - notice the Isolation Tank behind Olivia

Floatation Tank in Fringe – notice the isolation tank behind Olivia

Now, “Floating” is the term commonly used when referring to an isolation tank experience, you float. You float inside the floatation tank like a cork. The high concentrate of epsom salt creates this effect. If you have been to the Dead Sea in Jordan you will know what I mean.

Are you a Software engineer? If so, you should float!

I use the floatation tank to turn off the noise from my primary senses (visual, auditory & kinesthetic) and accelerate the transition from beta brain waves (normal state) to alpha (learning state) and ultimately theta (dream state). This is the same process as meditation, but a lot faster. Way faster. It is like forced meditation without the pains of sitting up right and trying to detune the world around you.

The goal with both meditation and floatation is to reach the theta state. This is a powerful state where you can consciously listen to your subconscious mind. Usually through a series of what appears to be auditory or visual hallucinations. Monks train years to do this through meditation while staying consciously awake. Your body does this naturally every night but you switch off, fall asleep. Recall those auditory or visual flashes you get before you off switch kicks in and you fall asleep. That’s a glimpse into theta state. In an isolation tank you are consciously awake observing your subconscious mind. Most of the time. No years of training required. For me it was 3 floatation sessions and I was hallucinating baby!

Our subconscious is a powerful supercomputer (no surprises there) which constantly gathers, calculates, builds patterns & connections faster than we can consciously observe (process). I think this is a natural safe measure so we don’t go insane. However imagine having the power to tap into this wealth of stored info. You know when you sometimes get a gut feeling? I believe that is the output from all the processing making their way to your conscious mind.  I use the floatation tank to tap into this and get my answers faster then waiting for them to bubble to the top.

The body and mind are a very busy and noisy place.

Especially if you are a software engineer you will know all about the noise and how distracting it can be to productivity. Hence why you like working nights pounding away at code, right. I know the feeling. But health wise, this is not sustainable. The answer is the floatation tank to help you calm down both mentally & physically and tap into your mind, the supercomputer.

The flotation tank immediately cuts out your auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses creating an environment similar to a womb. Allowing your mind to start exploring the inner self. Looking for answers to your questions. Tapping into the hidden recesses of the mind that are usually outside the reach of your conscious awareness.

Want answers to your software engineering challenges? don’t just sleep on it… Float!

Floating in an Isolation Tank

You may recall from my last post on how many of us get “cubed” and spiral down into learning helplessness. I needed some answers to some recent questions and thus decided to step up a notch and not only use the standard John C. Lilly isolation tank but also a Sensory Exaltation from Be and Be Well based out of Shanti & Jai’s house in Santa Cruz, California. If you went to Burning Man 2011 then you would have seen the Sensory Exaltation tank.

Floating in an Isolation Tank - The Apollo ELV Float Tank. The Best Flotation Tank I have Floated in.

Floating in an Isolation Tank – The Apollo ELV Float Tank. The Best Flotation Tank I have Floated in.

There are many scientifically proven natural ways of tapping into our brain, the super computer. Floating is the best one I have found in years of searching without going into the extreme of substance abuse. An alternative exists but you would need to spend few years with the Monks in Tibet and learn how to consciously be awake while your brain is in the Theta state. Same state that turns your conscious mind off and starts the dreaming process at night. However inside the isolation tank you are conscious when this change to Theta happens and thus get to observe interesting insights coming from your subconscious.

The 2 x Tanks at Be and Be Well

This is what you can expect from Be and Be Well down in Santa Cruz, California.

Sensory Deprivation Tank

The key to your mind. This tank is more advanced than the ones I have mentioned in my previous posts. Pictured below, the light inside can be switched on and off by pressing the black button next to it. So no need to freak out in pure darkness when the lid is closed. It also has great heating to keep a constant skin temperature as you float. You never get cold and is big enough so you do not feel claustrophobic.

Sensory Deprivation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

Sensory Deprivation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

Sensory Exaltation Tank

This is a dry tank. A pod with a sac filled with foam for comfort. You put on audio speakers to hear binaural beats and glasses with synchronized strobe lights over the eyes. This is often refered to as Photic Driving. Designer brain waves. This technique was invented in 1930s. It basically changes your brain waves to follow and pulse at the same frequency as the light strobes creating different conciousness states. Different strobes & beats affect your brain differently hence the designer brain waves analogy.

FYI, The design on the Be and Be Well Exaltation Tank (pictured below) is of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “Vitruvian Man”.

Sensory Exaltation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

Sensory Exaltation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

In conclusion

  • Float tanks rock! Note to newbies; you need about 3 sessions to really get into it and learn to let go faster.
  • Forget sitting meditation. Flotation therapy is the easiest way to get a brain and body massage. Don’t forget the heath benefits from the Epsom Salt used inside the tank to make you float.
  • If you code then you must try this!

The benefits

  • Relaxation (mental & physical) from the daily stresses of running your own business or writing ton of code,
  • Learning a new skill – play audio while you float to accelerate the learning process,
  • Get answers to questions faster – you’ve heard of sleep on it right and that it works. Well this is better because your conscious and you get more answers.
  • Better understand yourself – some call it enlightenment,
  • Faster healing – used by athletes in recovery and
  • At Stanford scientifically proved by studying monks concluding that “Essentially when you spend a lot of time meditating, the brain shows a pattern of feeling safe in the world and more comfortable in approaching people and situations, and less vigilant and afraid, which is more associated with the right hemisphere,” she said.

I floated last weekend and I got what I wanted from that session. The answers to questions that were lurking inside me. The answers now sync with the gut feeling I was getting and I feel mentally at peace.

Float like I did

Get in touch with Be and Be Well down in Santa Cruz, California.

Road from Mountain View to Be and Be Well.

Road from Mountain View to Be and Be Well.

Have you floated before? Share you experiences before in the comments below.

Also don’t forget to check out my previous posts on Isolation tanks:

~ Ernest

The difference: Police vs Sheriff?

Your driving one day on the America roads and you see a Police car and later a Sheriff car. What gives you may ask. What is the difference between the 2 I hear you ask.. I was in those shoes and here’s what I found.

Police is city/local enforcement while Sheriff is county enforcement.

A Sheriff department will also look after a town where no Police exists. And there are plenty of small towns in the USA. Think Supernatural, when the lads visit those small towns there is always a Sheriff to be seen but never Police. It also appears that a Sheriff is more bad ass since they have a bigger job, have access to SWAT, helicopters, always take 911 calls and will chase a criminal across cities throughout the county since it’s their jurisdiction.

Now you know :-)

Farmers Markets: bay area fresh organic produce suppliers

Farmers Markets in California is a must for every food buff. This is the best place to buy locally grown, fresh and organic produce. Everything is reasonably priced so it wont send your wallet home empty. In comparison to Sydney (AU) prices, expect to pay the same amount as you would at Woolworths or Coles but here you get fresh organic produce for the same price.

Benefits of shopping at Farmers Markets

  • Obtain farm-fresh fruits and vegetables that travel a shorter farm-to-table trip.
  • Purchase directly from a family farm.
  • Obtain cultural/specialty fruits and vegetables not easily available in supermarkets.
  • Purchase of local products, which strengthen the local economy while decreasing the demand on transportation from outlying areas.

Being a Mountain View resident I like to take a walk down to the Markets most Sunday mornings and grab this healthy produce.. in between all the free sample of fruits and other goodies! Yum.

About Mountain View Farmers Markets

“The City of Mountain View is proud to have one of the best certified farmers’ markets in the Bay Area right here in our own backyard! The Market is operated by the California Farmers Market Association and is open every Sunday from 9:00 a.m.-to 1:00 p.m. The widely attended and acclaimed market features over 70 growers and food vendors with peak season produce, including organic produce, as well as many other offerings. You can enjoy a day of shopping for the freshest ingredients.” Source: http://www.mountainview.gov/…

“Consistently award-winning farmers’ market for over 15 years and within the top 5 largest farmers’ markets in California! Farm fresh fruits and vegetables in Downtown Mountain View every week, rain or shine. Mountain View farmers’ market was awarded # 1 Favorite Farmers’ Market in the Bay Area by the American Farmland Trust’s America’s Favorite Farmers’ Market Contest. The Mountain View Farmers’ Market was also awarded # 2 Favorite Farmers’ Market in the State of California, and # 5 Favorite Large Farmers’ Market in America! With over 80 farmers and food producers, you can do all of your shopping while getting to know the farm that grows your food.”
Source: http://cafarmersmkts.com/…

Where and when?

Location: Caltrain Station Car Park, Mountain View
Time: Every Sunday 9:00 am to 1:00 pm
More here: http://cafarmersmkts.com/markets/category/mountain-view

My top 3 yummy for my tummy must haves

  • The 2 fish stands are finger lickin good. Try the fresh smoked wild salmon at 2 for $22! Freaking awesome. Then the fresh wild caught sashimi grade salmon stand further up. The fish colors are bursting with brightness – that’s what you call organic and fresh.
  • ACME bread smells & tastes amazing. The texture & fresh crispiness of the bread is superb. They only deliver this fully organic bread to local resturants so this is an opportunity to grab restaurant quality bread. At few bucks it’s cheap as chips.
  • Morganic Hill Honey is an orchestra to your mouth. Grab the Dark Buckwheat – it’s unique texture and health benefits are a must to try at $9 per pound. Darker then most honey you see in store this is a fine delicacy, and different than that of a commercialstore purchased honey. Goes perfectly well on ACME bread and also an alternative tea sweetener.

Pictures from Mountain View Farmers Markets

Click on each picture to open it up in a larger view. Larger pictures open up in my Flickr account. Feel free to explore other photos there of Silicon Valley.

Farmers Markets - stalls Farmers Markets - ACME bread
Farmers Markets - ACME bread Farmers Markets - free fruit tasting
Farmers Markets - Ula picking fresh organic fruit Farmers Markets - berry heaven
Farmers Markets - organic strawberries Farmers Markets - more berries
Farmers Markets - fresh wild salmon Farmers Markets - fresh wild tuna
Farmers Markets - yummy honey Farmers Markets - carrott anyone?
Farmers Markets - a farmer Farmers Markets - strolling down

Finally check out this website which lists all the local farmers in the California area supplying fresh organic produce to Silicon Valley: http://www.localharvest.org/

Enjoy!

~ Ernest