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High-tech companies in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California, United States. The region is home to many of the world’s largest technology companies including Apple, Google, Facebook, HP, Intel, Cisco, eBay, Adobe, Agilent, Oracle, Yahoo, Netflix, and EA.

The term originally referred to the region’s large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers, but eventually came to refer to all the high-tech businesses in the area; it is now generally used as a metonym for the American high-tech sector. Despite the development of other high-tech economic centers throughout the United States and the world, Silicon Valley continues to be the leading hub for high-tech innovation and development, accounting for 1/3 of all of the venture capital investment in the United States. Source: Wikipedia

I once came across this awesome map at SFO of Silicon Valley tech-companies distributed across the valley. And here she is:

High-tech companies in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley companies - click image to enlarge
Silicon Valley companies - click image to enlarge

The full list of companies can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Companies_based_in_Mountain_View,_California

~ Ernest

Red Rock Coffee – a place for hackers & coffee

Having visited many cafe’s in Mountain View and surrounding suburbs, Red Rock is by far the best cafe / hang out / study / hacking joint around. The atmosphere here is superb! chilled, relaxed, and filled with plenty of smart people either studying, meeting up or hacking code.

It’s a 2 store cafe. 1st floor is the cafe and sometimes where live music is played. 2nd floor is where people chill, the hang out area. Where it’s all happening. Most days it is filled with plenty of guys and gals on their laptops connected to the world-wide web while soft chilled music plays. The room has plenty of windows so natural light can flow in and naturally bath the room with light. Being in the heart of down town Mountain View, you can always jump out for a bite to eat and come back to this relaxed atmosphere. It’s an ideal place to be when you need to detach yourself from your local dwelling (home) and chilling out in a different environment where energy levels super high.

Internet? yes it’s free.

So not only is coffee, tea and The Avalance (my favorite drink) here great but they also give you free internet & plenty of free power points to plug your laptop in and start changing the world. With WiFi, you have a choice of connecting to either Google’s WiFi or Red Rock’s AeONsafe Free, Secured WiFi.

Red Rock from Castro Street
Red Rock from Castro Street - level 2 is where the action is, level 1 is the cafe with live music
2nd floor of Red Rock where hackers hang out
2nd floor of Red Rock where hackers hang out & local meetup.com groups meet

Location of Red Rock

201 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 967-4473

Links

Red Rock website:
http://www.redrockcoffee.org/

Red Rock on Yelp:
http://www.yelp.com/biz/red-rock-coffee-co-mountain-view

If you see me at Red Rock please drop by and say hi! I love meeting and connecting with like-minded individuals. I like to look at people I don’t know yet as friends I haven’t met yet. Say g’day to this Aussie 🙂

Ernest

Mountain View, the heart of Silicon Valley

After spending a good deal moving around between apartments, I decided to call Mountain View my home. Mountain View is a city in Santa Clara County, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is named for its views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The city shares its borders with the cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Sunnyvale, as well as Moffett Federal Airfield and the San Francisco Bay. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 70,708. For more information about Mountain View visit this Wikipedia article.

Downtown Mountain View, Castro Street
Downtown Mountain View, Castro Street - love the mountains

Downtown Mountain View is the place to be for food and hanging out at Red Rock. Great cafes, bars and restaurants are located on Castro Street. The picture above is of Castro Street. It’s always busy here even late into the night and you are surely going to spot a number of sport and luxury cars like Audi R8, Porsche 911 GT4 et al.

Downtown Mountain View, Castro Street
Downtown Mountain View, Castro Street
Microsoft bus shuttle service
Microsoft bus shuttle service thru Mountain View

Mountain View is a cute little town home to many high technology companies.

Tech companies located in Mountain View

Here is a list of high tech companies you would have heard or know of that have their head office located in my new home town, Mountain View.

Coupons.com
The leader in digital coupons, including online printable, social, mobile and loyalty card promotions. The billion dollar company, Coupons, Inc. is the driving force in transforming the multi-billion dollar coupon industry and ushering it into the digital world. http://www.coupons.com/

GooglePlex
Headquarters of the multinational public cloud computing, Internet search, and advertising technologies corporation. The company was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, often dubbed the “Google Guys”, while the two were attending Stanford University as Ph.D. candidates.
http://www.google.com/

Y-Combinator
Y Combinator is an American seed-stage startup funding firm, started in 2005 by Paul Graham, Robert Morris, Trevor Blackwell, and Jessica Livingston. Y Combinator provides seed money, advice, and connections at two 3-month programs per year. In exchange, they take an average of about 6% of the company’s equity.
http://www.ycombinator.com/
Also the group behind extremely popular hacker news site:
http://news.ycombinator.com/

Symantec Corporation
The largest maker of personal computer security software. Symantec’s consumer antivirus and data management utilities are marketed under Peter “Norton’s” name.
http://www.symantec.com/

eLance
Provides an Internet virtual marketplace for freelancers and freelance agencies to negotiate work contracts with businesses that hire independent professionals and agencies.
http://www.elance.com/

LinkedIn
Is a business-oriented social networking site mainly used for professional networking.
Very common amongst business and technology professionals.
http://www.linkedin.com/
I’m on LinkedIn – let’s connect: http://www.linkedin.com/in/semerda

Mozilla Corporation
Developer of Internet-related applications such as the famous Mozilla Firefox.
http://www.mozilla.com/

Mint.com
Mint.com is a free web-based personal financial management service allowing users to track bank, credit card, investment, and loan transactions and balances through a single user interface.
Personally this is the BEST financial product I have ever used online!
http://www.mint.com/

23andMe
Privately held personal genomics and biotechnology company founded by Anne Wojcicki and married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
http://www.23andme.com/

Google WiFi for Mountain View is provided free of charge to all Google customers in Mountain View as part of Google’s efforts to reach out to their hometown. It’s not the quickest but it works well with Google Voice and when surfing the web at one of the cafe’s in the area. Look out for a WiFi connection called “GoogleWiFi”. Kudos to Google!

Me (Ernest) at Googleplex
Me (Ernest) at Googleplex

The full list of companies can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Companies_based_in_Mountain_View,_California

Who would have thought that one day I’d be passing every morning VeriSign, Symantec, HP and eLance on my way to work. And around the corner from where all these companies are is the Lockheed-Martin air base so I get to see some cool planes fly around. Still waiting for that UFO experience!

Ernest

How to get a Californian drivers license

In America you drive on the right side of the road and back home (Australia) you drove on the left side. So even if you hold an Australian yellow drivers license with good driving history in America you still need to:

a. Pass the theory exam and
b. Pass the practical driving exam.

Yes you heard this right. You still need to pass a practical driving exam.

Oh and don’t bother with the International driving license which NRMA (in Australia) can issue you for $50. It’s just a waste of money. Worthless. You will never use it. If you want to hire a car in California or drive a car you can do so safely on your normal Australian drivers license. No need for an International one.

DMV – California Department of Motor Vehicles

DMV is the government entity similar to RTA (Roads & Traffic Authority) in NSW Australia. DMV registers vehicles in California and licenses their drivers. This is where you will go to do both your Theory and Practical exams.

But first you need to book for the Theory exam. Do this online since it’s more convenient and you are after all in Silicon Valley where most services are organized online.

Make an appointment here: https://eg.dmv.ca.gov/foa/welcome.do?localeName=en

The Theory exam

Here’s how I practiced for the theory exam. After this you should be an expert. Spend more time learning the ins and out because the theory will come in handy for the practical (harder) exam.

  1. Download DMV Driver Handbook and learn the new rules. Most of the rules should be 2nd nature to you if you did ok on your Australian drivers license.
    DMV Driver Handbook: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl600.pdf
  2. Go through sample driver written tests here: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/interactive/tdrive/exam.htm
  3. Practise on an interactive DMV flash-based exam: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/interactive/tdrive/flash/flashtest.htm
  4. Watch DMV YouTube exams videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/californiadmv

Accelerated learning process – in my personal blog on productivity I covered an accelerated learning technique. See the blog post here for more tips on accelerated learning: http://ernestblog.com/accelerated-learning. I follow these techniques in my everyday life so you will find value outside passing your DMV exam.

Applying these techniques I studies like this:

  • Do the sample written tests until you only get 0 or 1 wrong.
  • Do the flash practise exam until you only get 0 or 1 wrong.
  • Watch the DMV YouTube videos once.
  • Read the DMV driver hand book. I skim read through it because it’s long and most of the stuff you should have learnt from the practice points a-c above. As you read the exam, write notes down of stuff you “did not know”.
  • Go over your notes, the DMV videos, sample written tests and flash practice exam before bed time.
  • Next day in the morning go over your notes and sample written tests to refresh your memory.
  • There is an iPhone DMV app which essentially carries the DMV videos and sample written tests. At the DMV I did the sample written tests on my iPhone since the wait was at 30 minutes (yes, even after booking the exam online).

After this you are guaranteed to pass with flying colors.

On the day of the exam at the DMV you will need to do a lot of paper work, get a photo taken and then a “written” test in a voting style booth. Not electronic like in Australia. The test should take no more than 20 minutes with 30 questions to answer. After your complete it, hand it to a DMV personnel and they will mark it on the spot. If you get more than 6 wrong answers you fail. But you shouldn’t since you prepared so well. You will be issued with a temporary 3 month license. This gives you 3 months to get your practical exam booked.

The Practical exam

Book for your Practical exam ASAP. Do not wait till the last-minute before your temporary license expires. The booking wait line is typically a month in the future. Book immediately after you pass your Theory exam!

Make an appointment here: https://eg.dmv.ca.gov/foa/welcome.do?localeName=en

The practical exam starts at the DMV and ends at the DMV parking lot.

The practical exam consists of a number of pre-drive checks to make sure you know your vehicle well followed by the actual 20 minute drive around the neighborhood. So its important to use your own car. One which you are comfortable with and know where all the settings (like defroster) are located. The examiner will just sit there observing how you drive (normal stuff) and will only tell you where they want you to turn. So basically you just drive straight until you are given an instruction to turn.

To pass, you must have no more than 3 errors marked in the pre-drive checklist, no marks in the critical driving error section, and no more than 15 errors marked for the scoring maneuvers.

So you passed your practical exam!

At the end of the 20 minute practical exam the examiner will hand your “Driving Performance Evaluation Score Sheet” with a score of errors and whether you passed or not. You obviously passed so you take this sheet into DMV and provide it to the booth the examiner tells you to. In about a week or 2 you will receive your actual physical drivers license. It will look something like this:

Australian (top) vs Californian (bottom) drivers license
Australian (top) vs Californian (bottom) drivers license

Resources

Bets of luck with your exams! If you follow my simple methods outlined above you too will have no trouble passing them. 2 friends have passed with flying colors and no stress after I shared this information with them. If you find this information useful in your exam I would love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below 🙂

Good luck!

Ernest

Checklist – buying a car

Here are a few things to take into consideration when buying a car. I’m sure this list can be expanded but this list should prove to be fruitful in your 1st endeavours.

Checklist

General

[  ] Are you shopping at the end of the month? If not go home and come back closer to the end of the month. Dealers need to meet their monthly quotas hence will give you a better deal towards the end of the month to make the sale.
[  ] Research “Kelley Blue Book” to understand a reasonable price of the car you want.
[  ] “YELP” the dealer you plan to visit or have visited. Yelp is a great resource of information about service & product orientated businesses. Yelp is where I also located a fantastic (seriously fantastic) mechanics (Gary & Chris from The Car Doctor) – http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-car-doctor-mountain-view
[ ] Look up the car you are interested in on “Edmunds.com” and check its reliability and consumer reviews.
[  ] Does the vehicle come with at least 50% coverage or 2 years warranty? Make sure you get warranty which fits your risk profile.
[  ] Is the vehicle Pre-Owned Certified? Expect to pay up to $2K more for certified vehicles since this typically includes at least a 100-point inspection of the car by 2 mechanics and a quality guarantee from the dealer.
[  ] If the vehicle is not Certified, have you got it checked by a 3rd party mechanic? See The Car Doctor’s above.
[ ] Does the “CARFAX” and Log book tell an ok history of the vehicles maintenance?

Vehicle inspection

[ ] Inspect the car for dents, dings and scratches before taking final delivery. Any dents or dings tell the dealer to fix under their own cost before you even sign any purchase paperwork.
[  ] Run a magnet on parts of the body you suspect damaged. Where there is bog (material used to cover-up previous accident) the magnet will not stick and your suspicion will be correct.
[  ] Test-drive the car under your normal driving conditions.
[ ] Ask for last service, why whom and what oil was used. Synthetic oils are the go and also protect the engine. Organic oils are only used on new engines to wear them in but to maintain engine quality, more expensive Synthetic oils should be used.
[ ] Check whether all accessories are in working conditions eg. power seats, mirrors, lights, windows, air con etc.
[ ] Under the bonnet look for oil leaks on parts like suspension or shazzy (the body). An oil leak can lead to expensive future service.

Speaking with the Dealer

It’s not what they say it’s how they say it and what their body language speaks. Observe and listen to their context, content is not as important since it only accounts for 20% of the message.

  • Understand the dealer’s primary human mode – best way to communicate with them using the right words based on who they are. See my post inc. tips on my productivity blog here: http://ernestblog.com/visual-auditory-kinestatic
  • Does the dealer cross their arms or step back when you ask a question about the vehicle?
    • Crossing arms are an indicator of hiding something and
    • Stepping back is a strong indicator that they are trying to distance them-self from your question – maybe you hit something which they are trying to hide.
  • Build rapport with the dealer by imitating their body language or tone of voice.
  • Stamp wide feet apart, arms by your side and head high. This sends a positive and strong message that you are strong and in control of decision-making. Never put your hands in your pocket, behind your back or fidget with them in front. Never look down either. Unless you want to send a message of inferiority and get taken for a ride.
  • Read my blog post on how people tell lies here: http://blog.ernestsemerda.com/2010/02/15/telling-lies-how-do-people-lie-and-how-can-they-be-caught/

Have fun!

Remember that this is all just a game and never take anything personal. Enjoy the experience and make the most of it. Good luck with the car hunting!

Ernest

Don’t get ripped off – how to buy a car in America

So I bought a 2nd hand VW Jetta from a dealer. 1st time ever from a dealer let alone one in America. In Australia I always bought cars from private sellers. In Canada I sold the unwanted cars to Ottawa junk car removal service. I don’t believe in buying new cars since cars are a depreciatable liability, not an asset. I believe that if you want a new car you should lease. Better still, if you have a business structure with profits, run it through that.

The good news – cars are cheap in the USA. Dirt cheap. So is petrol, or should I say “gas” as the American’s call it.

My experience

I’ll be upfront about this, I don’t trust dealers. They are nice just to get you to sign that purchase paper work and then forget about you. That’s commission selling. Get used to it. Remember, they are not your friend, your pal, or someone who is on your side. They want to make money. It’s that simple. Keeping this in mind should help you stop from falling into their “nice guy” charm and help you stay focused on your goal, to get a car for as little as possible.

Dealer or Private?

I went with a dealer. I didn’t need to, I never have in my life, so why now? Because I needed to get a loan to build credit history in the USA. I recommend you read my post on building credit history to understand the ins-and-out of this approach. A car loan is by far the quickest way to build credit history. Refer here to see how you can Save for a down payment to purchase a car of your choice.

I could have also gone private but the hassle of connecting the buyer to my bank to get part loan sorted would have been a nightmare. Also it’s far easier to get a loan from a bank if you are buying the car from a dealer.

Dealer it was.

Remember that:

  • The dealer is a person like you but with a different need. You want to get a good car for a bargain price and the dealer wants to sell you a car while maximizing his profits.
  • A good dealer will not waste time with you if you are “playing the game” – the game of haggling. So make sure you know what is a reasonable value of the car you want to purchase and tell him straight where you stand and what you want to offer. Know what you want and ask for it when the time comes.
  • Always go for a test drive. You just never know, the car you may be looking at drives like crap or you do not like how it handles and it’s not worth your time pursuing it any further.
  • If you are not buying on the day of inspection make it clear that you are researching around without any intent to purchase. Leave your business card with the dealer if you feel you may want to connect with them later. Check out my post on your privacy using free online tools so that you can protect your privacy.
  • If the dealer offers you a great deal on a car remember that this great deal is good but there are others out there who can do better. Never buy without sleeping on your decision. Compulsive buying due to fear of loosing on a deal leads to long-term withdrawal and regret as you subconsciously try to align your conscious reasoning with the subconscious decision.

Your accent – they know you are a foreigner

So if you are from Australia (like me) or England, you will stand out like a sore thumb when you speak. The seller will know you are a foreigner. As much as we want to believe it that we live in a perfect world where everyone is treated fairly, you are wrong. Some people will take advantage of you if they can gain something from this interaction. So be prepared, show that you know how the law works in this country, you understand the ins and outs of buying a car and know your car details. All of this comes from research… and this blog is here to help you.

The car – inspect it

So you found the car you want, what next?

  • If you are using a 3rd party dealer get the car inspected by an authorized workshop. Do not opt in for someone the dealer knows. Find your own workshop using YELP.com and pay the $150 to get the inspection done properly. This makes sure you do not buy a lemon. There is a California lemon law which protects buyers from shonky dealers having sold a lemon (bad vehicle).
  • If you are buying through an authorized name dealer like Volkswagen then make sure the car is “Certified Pre-Owned“. This means they dealer has done a 200 point inspection by 2 different mechanics and has certified the car to be in perfect condition – like brand new. Expect to pay $1-2K extra for a certified vehicle.
  • Find out what type of warranty the vehicle comes with. Don’t settle for anything without at least 50% coverage and 100K miles or 2 years. This means you pay 50% to get the vehicle fixed and the rest goes under the warranty.
  • I have crafted a wonderful checklist based on my learning’s from this adventure which I recommend you print and use when making your vehicle purchase. Click here to go to the post where this checklist is located.

Let’s buy it – you got the deal and now what

Here’s how it went down for me considering that I was doing a 50% car loan and 50% down right payment for the vehicle.

  1. If the vehicle inspection came back with minor faults get the dealer to fix them before you make the purchase. Fill out paperwork which specifies what the dealer has to fix at no charge.
  2. Tell the dealer you are going to pay half in cash and half using a loan.
  3. You will pay the 50% by bank cheque. The other half (the loan) will need to come from the bank as a deposit cheque. Make sure you have this pre approved from the bank or at least in the works so that your purchase isn’t delayed. Adelaide pawnbroker is an option for those who want to borrow some money without credit checks.
  4. Fill out all these paperwork:
    1. Paying fee is bullshit. These are the hidden gems dealers use to get extra cash from you. Make sure you speak up and get them to waive it.
  5. Make sure you have purchased vehicle insurance. The dealer will not hand you the keys unless this is done. Read about the common types of vehicle insurance here.

Finally drive away and enjoy your new car!

Online resources

Here is a bunch of great websites which have helped me in my quest to get the “right car”.

Similar to (Australia): http://www.redbook.com.au

Purpose: Great resource for New Cars, Used Cars, Blue Book Values & Car Prices. Use it as a comparison guide to make sure you are not being taken for a ride.

Also check out http://autos.yahoo.com/ and http://sfbay.craigslist.org/ to get an idea about car prices and what’s on the market.

Purpose: Allows you to get a detailed vehicle history report from a nationwide database. All your need is the vehicle VIN number.

However be aware that this is not a full record history. Not all service centers record service history into this nationwide database. If there is no record history, be suspicious and ask questions why. Check the log books and if there is nothing there either you know something isn’t right.

Purpose: Review of a lot of businesses in USA. Great resource to see people’s experience in all business services inc. car dealers. Just don’t forget that majority of people only ever review a business when they have something to complain about or are ecstatic about a service. Nether less, great resource to get an idea.

Check list

I have crafted a wonderful checklist based on my learning’s from this adventure which I recommend you print and use when making your vehicle purchase. Click here to go to the post where this checklist is located.

Most of all, have fun. Remember that a mistake has a companion, learning. Something learnt is worth sharing with the rest of the world. Please use the comments field below to do just that. However it’s always best to learn from others mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself. This is why this checklist and blog exists, to help you learn from my adventures in Silicon Valley. Have fun!

Ernest

Travelling to New York (NYC – Manhattan)

New York also known as the Big Apple is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation’s third most populous state. It is known for its status as a financial, cultural, transportation, and manufacturing center, and for its history as a gateway for immigration to the United States.

In the last 2 years I have been to New York twice. Every visit leaves me feeling like it wasn’t enough and I want more. There is more to see and experience on each visit. New York is my favorite place on this planet. The best! Yes it’s busy & fast but it’s Alive! Full of energy and plenty opportunities for experiences. It is an ecosystem of it’s own which I recommend everyone should experience. For some it will be too much but for others that let go it will be a playground.

Some quick notes about travelling in the USA

  • Use a “SuperShuttle” to and from the airport. http://www.supershuttle.com/ it’s a shared taxi van of around 9 people. It’s dirt cheap vs. crazy taxi fares and you get to see more of the area as they drop off people around town.
  • Come to USA without much clothes since clothes / fashion here is cheap and the range vast.
  • If you need to rent a car do it through Enterprise. They are the cheapest. http://www.enterprise.com/
  • For accommodation I highly recommend AirBnB (Air, Bed & Breakfast). http://www.airbnb.com/ You basically rent a room with people who live in the area. So much cheaper than a hotel and you get to experience the real culture of the city. Best of all is you can live in the heart of the city / anywhere you like without being restricted by Hotel locations.

Now… onto New York, Manhattan!

The city that never sleeps.

Downtown
Downtown

Here are a bunch of places I’ve been to and recommend you also drop by and experience for yourself:

To be, do & see

  • Check out Seinfeld CafĂ© (if you’re a fan of Seinfeld) – it’s at the corner of West 112th Street and Broadway, near Columbia University. Food is nothing special but the photos of the Seinfeld crew plastered all over the walls and the feel make it worthwhile.
  • Visit Central Park – it’s huge and beautiful. The photo below was taken during winter. An ice rink is setup by Trump Group for everyone to enjoy the cold season. During summer the whole park lights up in green flora.
  • Shop shop shop @ SOHO District in Manhattan. You do not need to go anywhere else. This is the place to be ~ http://www.sohonyc.com/
  • Nightlife is at the “Meat Packing” district in Manhattan – weird name for a place but it’s where all the top clubs are. Make sure you go to:
  • Visit “Pier A” for a boat trip to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. Get there early since it’s always packed.
  • Coming back from Pier A visit Wall Street NYC Stock Exchange. It’s only a few blocks away on foot.
  • See a Broadway show. Anything will do! It’s something everyone has to experience.
  • Empire State Building queues are crazy so you can get the same experience from the Rockefeller Building if not a better view since you get to see the whole of Central Park and the Empire State. You really get a feel for how high you are when all the sky-rises look like tiny lego blocks from Rockefeller ~ http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

Food

  • Finally, best for last, dine at Daniel. Be prepared to pay BIG $$$ for an unforgettable dining experience that excites the senses, an elegant and vibrant ambiance, gracious service and a delectable menu. Chef Daniel Bouluds award winning contemporary French cuisine is inspired by the rhythm of the seasons. This restaurant has 3 x Michelin stars. Only 5 restaurants in NYC have this high level of achievement. Located at 60 East 65th Street, New York, NY, 10065 ~ http://www.danielnyc.com/daniel.html

If you have any questions regarding New York please contact me. I’m always happy to help and share my experience. Also feel free to contribute to this post by commenting below.

Happy trekking!

AirBnB – find a place to stay

If you need a short-term stay there is nothing like the service AirBnB provides. My wife and I have used their service a number of times in New York & Los Angeles and loved the experience. Their online service is “wife proof” meaning that it’s so friendly and easy to use that I didn’t have to get involved when my wife used their service. Check them out by clicking here to visit Air Bed and Breakfast website (also abbreviated / known as AirBnB).

~ Ernest

Airbnb

Major roads in Silicon Valley

We flew down the twisty mountain road in a metallic gray VW Jetta. The wheels screeching tightly to the apex as I took the corner holding the steering wheel at 9 & 3 o’clock. Yes I was taught to drive this way at a rally school back in Sydney (Australia). The Jetta was a hire car. The surroundings screamed past us as I demonstrated to my friend how to take the apex on sharp corners for a smoother tight turn. Then we noticed a group of bicycle riders heading straight toward us. Well this is odd, I said. What are they doing on our side of the road. Oh crap, “we” are on the wrong side of the road. I jabbed the steering wheel to the right to get the car back onto the “right” lane. As soon as we did this a car zoomed round the corner on the right side of the road. We avoided a collision. Missed by that much.

You may already know this but in America everyone drives on the “right” side of the road. In Australia it is the left side. Today about 66.1% of the world’s people live in right-hand traffic countries and 33.9% in left-hand traffic countries. Being Australian I fell into the 33.9%. However it was time to adjust to the 66.1% and learn to drive on the right side of the road. In the beginning it takes some getting to used to. I found that having a non-Australia passenger in the car helped. Every time I would drift to the left (wrong side of the road) I would be instantly slapped back into gear avoiding another collision.

Unfortunately in the story above I was with another Australian and thus for us being on the left hand side felt comfortable so no internal alarms were set off until we noticed strange traffic patterns. I love telling that story because we spent so much time on the wrong side of the road feeling all comfortable until a shock later and we learnt one valuable lesson.

Roads are wide and big

One of the 1st things you will notice in Silicon Valley and well America in general, are that the roads are massive. Kramer (from Seinfeld) wasn’t exaggerating when he adopted a piece of the American freeway and showed us how wide the lanes are. They are huge here. You can practically dance around in your car on one. Not only that, most freeways have 4-5 lanes each way. That in comparison to Sydney (Australia) where the Sydney Orbital (freeway that takes traffic around Sydney) is 2 lanes each way – that explains the traffic issues!

Major roads in the valley

Major roads in Silicon Valley - from left: 280, El Camino & 101
Major roads in Silicon Valley - from left in green: 280, El Camino & 101

There are 3 major roads you can travel up and down the valley. They are, starting from the left (see map above in green):

a.       280 – Interstate 280 (I-280) is a 57 mile (92 km) long north–south Interstate Highway in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California. It connects San Jose and San Francisco, running along just to the west of the cities of San Francisco Peninsula for most of its route. This is what I call the sceanic route and you get to see the fog roll into the valley over the mountains – looks scary & beautiful when it’s happening (see pic below).

b.       El Camino Real – El Camino Real (Spanish for The Royal Road, also known as The King’s Highway) runs between the 280 and 101 through all the major cities in the valley. It is the road to take if you intend to do some shopping / food hopping during your drive.

c.      101U.S. Route 101 (US 101) is one of the last remaining and longest U.S. Routes still active in the state, and the longest highway of any kind in California. From San Jose to San Francisco, Highway 101 is known as the Bayshore Freeway as it passes through Palo Alto and the other major communities along the San Francisco Peninsula.

When going to San Francisco for dinner or to party I like to take the 101 if I want to get there quicker or the 280 if I’m in the mood for a scenic drive. On the 280 you will get to see a lot of eagles (American National Emblem) and that famous fog San Francisco is so famous for. The fog starts rolling in around 5-6ish in the afternoon as demonstrated in the pic below.

The fog rolling in over the mountains towards 280
The fog rolling in over the mountains towards 280

American’s drive fast

Yes it’s true. American’s drive fast on both 280 & 101. I have a heavy foot but still find myself trying to keep up to the average traffic speed of 80 miles (128 km) per hour. In America as long as you are not driving dangerously a cop wont bug you. That sort of explains the mutual traffic flow at high speeds – mutual agreement. I love it.

So you have 3 roads to choose from when heading up and down the valley. This is great and has the power to beat boredom by allowing you to alternate your routes and keep the drive different. Now that you know your roads, here’s to safe and happy driving!

Ernest

Build credit history superfast – get a car loan

Yes it’s true. If you want to build credit history in America you should consider getting a car loan. There is no better or faster way to building credit history then through a car loan. Here’s why.

Why a car loan?

Remember my last post on building credit history? If not then click here to read about building credit history in America. In a nutshell, getting a car loan is the BEST way to quickly building your credit history. You need to have a listing on your credit history that you are capable of paying off a sustainable large dept, like a car loan. This loan must be no smaller than $5K.

Get a loan from Technology Credit Union (TechCU)

TechCU were the only folks who would even consider giving me a car loan. And remember I came to America with 0 credit history. TechCU caters for technology folks in Silicon Valley with no credit history. The downside is you will be on a higher interest rate – around 15%.

According to Zmarta Fi and their loan experts, no big American bank will lend you money on good rates because you are a liability, someone without credit history. I have a personal account with Wells Fargo Bank (one of the largest in the US) with plenty of money in it sitting in a special high yield checking & savings account and they they still thought I was a liability when I wanted to get a loan through them. Again, because I had no credit history. Loans Now is the option available to customers at the click of a mouse.

Well Fargo would only give me a “secured loan” – a loan which was backed (locked up) with my own money. This is not good enough for me since:

  • it’s using my money and
  • it is not what the credit bureau considers a “car loan” – not good in building credit history.

Before you can get the loan approved by TechCU they will need from you:

  • Paper work from the dealer on the car you are purchasing inc. it’s Kelley Blue Book value. See my post of purchasing a car from a dealer located here.
  • See certificate of purchased for “car insurance”. Also the dealer won’t let you drive off the lot without one, and so, it’d be a good idea to take one from Utility Saving Expert
  • See that you are a “software engineer” – basically you need to bring a letter from your company’s HR department showing your income and your position/title of a software engineer. The position/title is important since TechCU is for technology folks only.
  • A copy of your Californian Drivers license. Your International Drivers license will not do. It’s worthless. Read this post on getting your Californian Drivers license. All you need to do is pass the Theory exam to get your temporary drivers license number. But don’t forget to schedule your practical exam since your temporary drivers license expires in 3 months.

Sounds painful? it is! But it pays off in the end.

Links mentioned in this post

TechCU website: http://www.techcu.com/

Building credit history: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/finance/building-credit-history-america/

Let me know if you found a quicker way to get around this by posting in the comments below.

Ernest

Choice of Banks in America

The following is a short list of Major Banks you can use in America. Last in this list I included a Credit Union which is not a major bank since those guys look after new engineers (with no credit history) in the bay area.

Wells Fargo

About: Wells Fargo is the fourth largest bank in the US by assets and the second largest bank by market capitalization. In 2007 it was the only bank in the United States to be rated AAA by S&P, though its rating has since been lowered to AA- in light of the financial crisis of 2007–2010. Wells Fargo is the fourth largest bank in the US by assets and the second largest bank by market capitalization.In 2007 it was the only bank in the United States to be rated AAA by S&P, though its rating has since been lowered to AA- in light of the financial crisis of 2007–2010.

Experience: This is the 1st bank I established my accounts with. As soon as I walked in I was greeted by one of their representatives and asked what help I needed. Once this is established, they directed me to the right bank associate. All Wells Fargo banks share this personal service. The atmosphere inside the bank feels warm and comforting eliminating any anxiety you may face regarding finances. Everyone is smiling.

In comparison to CitiBank and Bank of America branches (which I also visited), they both were very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant.

URL: https://www.wellsfargo.com/

Bank of America

About: Bank of America Corporation is a financial services company, the largest bank holding company in the United States, by assets, and the second largest bank by market capitalization. Also known as BOA – short for Bank of America.

Experience: Very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant.

URL: https://www.bankofamerica.com/

CitiBank

About: Citibank, a major international bank, is the consumer banking arm of financial services giant Citigroup. Citibank was founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, later First National City Bank of New York. As of March 2010, Citigroup is the third largest bank holding company in the United States by domestic deposits, after Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

Experience: Very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant. BOA must be their idol. I setup an account with CitiBank because I have a Credit Card in Australia with Citi. However as soon as I did I realized that their service is just as poor as the one in Australia – I’m surprised that for a bank this size the low understanding of what a good consumer experience is like both offline and online.

URL: http://www.citibank.com/

Technology Credit Union

About: Tech CU is now among the top 1% of the nation’s largest credit unions with ten full service branches in the Silicon Valley. Now with more than $1.3 billion in assets and still growing. Also know as TechCU – short for Technology Credit Union.

Experience: Best way to describe this is a very small-scale of Wells Fargo. There is the personal touch component and also the booths for fast service. They only work with folks in the technology space like software engineers / entrepreneurs. TechCU also takes risks and will give you a loan for a car so that you can start building credit history. This is the bank which I approached after Wells Fargo said no for a car loan.

URL: http://www.techcu.com

If you have any specific questions about these banks please use the comments section below. I typically respond within 48 hours to all questions. If you have other banks which you’ve had experience with or want to add to my experience above please feel free to do so by commenting below.

Happy Banking!

~ Ernest