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?

bay_area_bike_share_sf

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

unSEXY tech companies that… Just Make Money

The 1-day conference about unsexy tech companies that…Just Make Money was organized by 500Startups and hosted at an unsexy company, Microsoft, on August 9th in Mountain View.

I got an opportunity to attend after helping secure Coupons.com CEO Steven Boal to speak at the conference. Steven and I have a good long 8 year history going back to Australia/UK when he first invested in our company Couponstar Ltd and later acquired us to extend the International arm of Coupons, Inc.

The day kicked off with Jeff Lawson, CEO from Twilio speaking on Self-Service Models for Growth followed by Steven Boal, CEO, from Coupons on Disrupting unSEXY: The Tale of a $1 Billion Company that Changed an Industry. Concluding the morning session with Sexy time with PowerPoint: Hacking growth for SlideShare by Rashmi Sinha, CEO, Slideshare.

The jist of the morning talks was ~ sexy or not there is plenty of opportunity to disrupt an industry and make money. Believe and keep on pushing.

Morning session

Jeff Lawson, Twilio CEO
Jeff Lawson, Twilio CEO

Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio highlighted important points around doers and how to sell to them. Doers are power users. “Make a hero out of your doers” and they will live and breathe your passion. Empower them via your site by giving them:

  • a tour – what your product does,
  • pricing – does it solve their problem at a reasonable price and
  • how to get started – empower them to start playing around. Self service.

No shenanigans. Internet sheds light so they do not have to put up with shenanigans.
Finally invert the traditional sales model. First success, then transaction.

Steven Boal, CEO of Coupons.com (a 13-year-young company) gave everyone insights into an industry which coupons.com has disrupted. Coupons.com was built without taking any funding. Recently receiving a $200m infusion of capital valuing the company at $1B. Couponing is now becoming more digital than ever before. The old paper industry is fading into the distance and getting replaced by online channels. Coupons is at the forefront of digital couponing with its leading suite of digital channels like GroceryIQ, Coupons.com, Brandcaster (whitelabel solutions) et al. Frugal is the new black.

“If you think it is an overnight success… it is a long night” ~ Steven Boal

Steven Boal, Coupons.com CEO
Steven Boal, Coupons.com CEO

Rashmi Sinha, from Slideshare finished off the morning session with an interactive presentation describing their early days to growth to Microsoft acquisition. Rashmi’s message was Build, Solve problem/s THEN get Distribution. The slides from the presentation are located here.

Aaron Levie, CEO, Box.net did an onstage debate on How Box Arrived, Survived & Thrived in a Hype-Driven World with Dave McClure, Founding Partner of 500 Startups.

Wrapping up the morning session was a comical, slightly weird in a good way presentation by the CEO of MailChimp, Ben Chestnut. He bootstrapped the company without any funding whatsoever.

CEO of MailChimp, Ben Chestnut.
CEO of MailChimp, Ben Chestnut.

Ben’s 3 lessons to the hungry entrepreneurs in the room were:

  1. Stop obsessing about the competition or you will become and copy them.
  2. Fight really, really weird – creativity is just connecting things. You do well if you make it different but you kill it if you make it funny.
  3. Always. Be. Creating. (things) – encourage everyone to build fun projects on top of your API to show what is possible. No project should take longer than 2 weeks.
Mailchimp in SF
Mailchimp reminder in SF

Afternoon session

The afternoon session was made up of 2 Tracks in 2 different rooms. Track 1 was all about Product & Customer and Track 2 on Distribution & Marketing with speakers like Jive, Yammer, Zendesk, Uservoice, Kissmetrics, Cloudera, SurveyMonkey etc. I must admit I wanted to hear both tracks but it was hard when they ran in different rooms at the same time.

Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk
Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk

Zendesk have an Exclusive Offer for qualified startups to get Zendesk for FREE for 12 months! Start a trial now.

Some notable lessons:

“Use distribution hacks like Dropbox’s upgrade, refer, tweet for more space to reduce the cost of acquisition.” – Kissmetrics

“Before you do anything ask ‘Why’ NOT ‘No’.” – Yammer

“Features should announce themselves. Imagine a world without corporate training where no one has read a manual.” – Yammer

“Don’t anger a customer over pennies or they will try to destroy you.” – ZenDesk

“Do the math on how many $20 accounts you need to be a $100m business.” – UserVoice

Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey with Dave McClure
Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey with Dave McClure

The day concluded with presentations from the last 500Startups batch of startups like…

  • Happy Inspector – Fixing the way inspections are done. Led by thunder from down-under Jindou Lee,
  • Teamly – People management made easy. Led by Scott Allison.
  • Etc.

I got a chance to talk to many interesting people, learn about great products and service and make new friends. Through this experience I meet Aussie founders of ScriptRock, Happy Inspector and Flightfox whom are all working on exciting products & services. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi! Good to see Aussie power in Silicon Valley making a difference.

Finally, you can view all the unSEXY presentations from 500Startup’s SlideShare channel here.

There you have it. Plenty of kick ass companies disrupting their industry. The future looks exciting!

Safe journey!
~ Ernest

MongoDB office hours in Mountain View

You may recall my previous post on MongoDB and how powerful it is as an alternative to a relational database. Since then I’ve had a bunch of discussions with other software engineers around this space and even met up with MongoDB core engineer Chris Westin from 10gen at Red Rock to gain further insights into MongoDB.

MongoDB Leaf
MongoDB Leaf

New kick ass GUI for MongoDB

Chris introduced me JMongoBrowser written by Antoine Girbal (10gen engineer). It’s written in Java so you can run it on Linux, Windows and Mac OSX. So far this GUI has proven to be a success and fills the holes where MongoHub couldn’t. Out goes MongoHub and in goes JMongoBrowser.

JMongoBrowser - MongoDB GUI admin tool.
JMongoBrowser - MongoDB GUI admin tool.

Fast crash recovery using Journaling

MongoDB uses memory 1st to write data to vs directly to file/store. This is where huge performance gains are attained. It also has Journaling, a write-ahead for operations to facilitate fast crash recovery in the storage engine. This means the stuff in memory is stored in a log incase your server goes down without affecting MongoDB’s performance.

So what happens if your box goes down? .. a common question amongst new engineers to MongoDB. Does this data also gets lost? The answer lays somewhere in between how you balance your performance needs against the risks you are willing to take with your data.

The journal is synced to disk every 100ms. So the maximum that can be lost is up to 100ms worth of changes. At the cost of additional performance degradation, you can make your application proof against even that.  The j option to getLastCommand will cause the application to block until the journal entries with the last change have been written to disk.  See http://www.mongodb.org/display/DOCS/getLastError+Command .  Of course, if you use this, your call to getLastCommand can wait up to 100ms, depending on where in the flush cycle you are. Therefore, this is left up to the user to change this default of 100ms.

Therefore, always load MongoDB with Journaling enabled, like this:

mongod --journal

This also auto cleans up crashes and puts crashed data back into MongoDB.

Don’t be alarmed when you see this

I found this in the /Journal (1GB files):

-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G 2011-06-23 02:26 prealloc.0
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G 2011-06-23 02:25 prealloc.1
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G 2011-06-23 02:26 prealloc.2

With Journaling enabled the server always creates those three 1GB files.  It rotates through them, recycling them.  They won’t grow any more.  But they are always that size, regardless of the size of your database. If the server dies unexpectedly, the files remain, and contain the material necessary for the automated recovery that happens when you restart the server.

More here:

Checking server memory usage

As mentioned above, Memory is used by Mongo to speed things up. The more memory you have the better and MongoDB will use your RAM as it sees need for it taking into consideration other server resources.

It’s always a good practice to check memory usage.
Details here: http://www.mongodb.org/display/DOCS/Checking+Server+Memory+Usage

Your MongoDB configuration file

Here’s a recommend set of switches to have enabled in your mongodb.conf.

sudo nano /etc/mongodb.conf

add or update your settings to these:

journal=true
directoryperdb=true
logappend=true
  • journal = as discussed above to enable fast recovery from crashes.
  • directoryperdb = creates a new physical directory for each new database. Clean way to seperate your databases.
  • logappend = Whether the log file will be appended or over-written. Always have true else after a reboot your old logs will be overwritten and you may lose important crash specific data.

More detail here: http://www.mongodb.org/display/DOCS/File+Based+Configuration

MySQL to MongoDB

Finally, I found this fantastic chart illustrating the difference in commands between MySQL and MongoDB. Should help the transition for us MySQL folks. Click the image below to download a large PDF version (Size: 213Kb).

SQL-to-MongoDB

There is also mapping chart SQL to Mongo located on the MongoDB website here.

Have more questions? Attend the weekly MongoDB Office Hours in Mountain View Red Rockhttp://www.meetup.com/San-Francisco-MongoDB-User-Group/events/16985746/ or post a question/comment below.

~ Ernest

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

Hacker Dojo – a community center for hackers and thinkers

Hidden in Mountain View, California, few minutes walk from Castro St (downtown) is one of a kind 13,000-square-foot (1,200 m2) community center and hackerspace. It is called Hacker Dojo. Every since finding this place I have been less frequent at Red Rock and more at Hacker Dojo where I am also a member and occasional acting staff.

HackerDojo logo
http://www.hackerdojo.com/

What is Hacker Dojo

Hacker Dojo is a community center for hackers and thinkers to meet, discuss, learn, create, build and play.

Hacker Dojo is a community center in Mountain View which is about 1/3rd coworking space, 1/3rd events venue, and 1/3rd a big social living room.  In the spirit of DevHouse, a physical community space for hackers and thinkers on the Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a location for events, lectures, parties, BarCamps, DevHouses, LAN parties, hackathons, knitting circles, tinkering, brainstorming, coworking,  etc. While Hacker Dojo is technically a “members only” private club, they welcome visitors to many of the lectures and classes, and invite people to use the space on a drop-in basis as well. It is not a residential space.  The Dojo is a community space first and foremost – this means that the focus of the layout and activities is to lend itself to be a useful place to throw classes, host parties, brainstorm, and hang out. * Source HackerDojo

Hacker Dojo front entrance
Hacker Dojo greets you!

Hacker Dojo: Origins, Context, and Future

This slide is good at explaining the origins of Hacker Dojo and where the concept of hacker space is heading: http://www.slideshare.net/dweekly/hacker-dojo-origins-context-and-future

Why a community space and not home?

A number of reasons, but the most important one is that it’s very hard to study and tinker in an environment that is set aside for living, eating and sleeping – the home. Like they say to never study in bed since it’s used for sleeping and if you do you will disturb your sleeping pattern. Which is why libraries are effective as a study environment – not just for the quiet zone but because you are in an environment with positive energy that encourages education. Hacker Dojo is that environment with the energy and resources which encourages hacking, tinkering & learning. It just works. I’m sure there is a proper psychology explanation behind this but I’m sure you know what I mean.

Let’s look inside

Here are some snaps I took while attending a mobile development class and then later hacking in one of the private rooms. Click each photo for a full size version.

HackerDojo - Savanna
Hacker Dojo - Savanna

HackerDojo - Mobie Development class in 140B
Hacker Dojo - Mobile Development class in 140B

HackerDojo - 140B
Hacker Dojo - 140B

HackerDojo - Private rooms
Hacker Dojo - Private rooms

The dojo has it all for the nerd inside you

  • Ton of interesting and smart people either running their own startups or networking,
  • 3 bathrooms,
  • A kitchen with filtered water and all sorts of teas and occasional freebie snacks,
  • Library with a vast number of technical and business books – both new & old,
  • 6 x private rooms with whiteboards big enough to fit a team,
  • Top floor sports a living room style area where you can watch movies on a projector and kick back on a couch or bean bag,
  • Fully ducted air condition – perfect temperature year round,
  • Plenty of spare LCD screens to hookup your laptop to with converters,
  • Laser & injet printing facility (in Savanna room),
  • Fiber Optic Internet – fast up and down (see below). Great for working with remote servers.
HackerDojo Internet SpeedTest 2012-03-04
HackerDojo Internet SpeedTest 2012-03-04


Larry gives a video tour of the Dojo

Hacker Dojo is Located at

Address: 140 South Whisman Road in Mountain View, CA. (map it)
More info: http://wiki.hackerdojo.com/w/page/25437/FrontPage
Become a member: http://wiki.hackerdojo.com/w/page/25447/JoinTheDojo

Other Hacker Spaces in California

If you see me at the Dojo come and say G’day to this Aussie!

Hacker Dojo in the News

April 4, 2011 4:00 AM PDT
At Hacker Dojo, Silicon Valley techies build toward success
Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-20050179-52.html

~ Ernest

Things to do in Silicon Valley + San Francisco

Things To Do in Silicon Valley, The Bay Area & in San Francisco.

So you decided to visit Silicon Valley and/or San Francisco and want to know where to go. Here is a hand full of places in Silicon Valley and San Francisco you can visit during your stay. Of course there is plenty more to do and see then what’s listed below, but this should be a good start for you. Don’t forget to read public transport options so you know how to get around Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

Things To Do in Silicon Valley (south bay)

Silicon Valley is suburbia, sprinkled like candy with many high-tech firm and great places to eat. It is nothing what you expect and must be experienced to be enjoyed.

University Avenue & Stanford University, Downtown Palo Alto
You can’t go wrong here. There are plenty of great restaurants to eat at, shops to explore and Stanford University is just round the corner (across El Camino Real).

Stanford University is enormous. There are plenty of free shuttle buses from Palo Alto CalTrain (on University Ave) which can take you directly to and around Stanford University. The University is beautifully located on a large piece of land surrounded by trees, grass lands and mountains. You can freely walk through the grounds and enjoy the Spanish-colonial style building architecture. Drop by the library and the gift shop if you want to get yourself some merchandise.

The road leading out of Stanford University is called University Avenue and heads directly into Palo Alto downtown. Downtown is full of great restaurants and shops.

Some of my favorites places to eat there:

  • Cheese Cake Factory – largest menu of choices you will ever see. And their cheese cake’s are like no other. Simply delicious.
  • La Strada Ristorante Italiano – nice little Italian place with great Seafood Marinara and delicious thin crust Pizzas.
  • Zibibbo – outstanding food & presentation and they know how to match the wine to your meal. They are a part of a larger group called Restaurant LuLu. Their San Francisco LuLu Restaurant is just as superb.

Castro Street, Downtown Mountain View
This is my home town and also another great place for dining and mixing with the locals.

Downtown Mountain View, Castro Street - one of the things to do in Silicon Valley
Downtown Mountain View, Castro Street – one of the things to do in Silicon Valley
  • Red Rock Cafe – if you want to feel experience a hackers atmosphere then this is the place to be any evening during the week. Grab an Avalanche (a better version of Starbucks Frappuccino), connect to the free wi-fi on your laptop and absorb the energy in the room. You will no doubt also find me there. Check out my post on Red Rock here.
  • East West Bookstore – known as a spiritual bookstore, it is the source for expansive ideas, a retreat from ordinary life, and a gathering place in support of community ideals and spiritual growth. It was founded by a monk by the name of Swami Kriyananda who is the author of over 100 books and the composer of over 400 pieces of music. If you are into spiritualism then you will find this place valuable + it’s across the road from Red Rock.

Some of my favorites places to eat at Castro Street:

  • Gelato Classico Italian Ice Cream – you won’t look at another ice cream again after having some of these. Try the Tiramisu Gelato, there is something super tasty about it.
  • Tomi Sushi – this place is a must for dinner. The sushi here melts in your mouth, it’s reasonably priced ($16 dinner combination) and the atmosphere & setup is authentic Japanese. including the chefs.

Santana Row
Santana Row is an upscale shopping, housing, dining and entertainment complex in San Jose, California. Westfield Valley Fair is located just to its north, on the other side of Stevens Creek Boulevard, and the Winchester Mystery House just to the west, across Winchester Boulevard.

High-tech companies to drop by for a picture

  • Googleplex – a must! Located at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View. You will see plenty of Google bikes around which the Googlers use to move around between the campuses. Something is always buzzing around here. From the T-rex in the courtyard, outside swimming pool to the university style feel atmosphere.
  • If you venture a tad down the road you will come across the Android complex with the large statue of the Android robot next to a cupcake and around the corner Mozilla & LinkedIn Corporations. If you run into some sheep don’t worry, they are working for Google eating cutting down the grass.
  • HP (Hewlett-Packard) & Symantec – because they are right next to each other on Ellis St in Mountain View and the HP founders are famous for having kick started what is known today as the Silicon Valley.
  • While you’re in Mountain View, check out the other tech companies located in Mountain View. There are plenty here!
  • Facebook is located on 1601 S California Ave, Palo Alto. Although there is not much to see from the outside. See my post on Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol (OGP) where I have included a picture of the building. Again not much to see but if you have it on your to-do list then why not.
Me at Googleplex for lunch - a must on the things to do in Silicon Valley
Me at Googleplex for lunch – a must on the things to do in Silicon Valley

For more high-tech companies in Silicon Valley mapped out on a nice map of the bay area, check out my blog post located here.

Attend a Meetup
If you have the time try to go to one of the popular meetup groups. There is always a buzz in the air, plenty of energy and interesting people to connect with + score a free pizza & coke. Read my prior blog post on which meetups to attend.

Recapping the popular meetups:

  • Hacker Dojo: Located around the corner from my place (in Mountain View) is a place for hackers to hang out and code. Also the home of Android weekly developer meetings and monthly presentations from cloud companies et al.
  • Googleplex: Hosting Silicon Valley Google Technology Users offers members who develop applications using Google technology to connect and present their projects.
  • Yahoo’s LAMP meetup hosted every month to share Yahoo’s engineering efforts and provide an environment to learn.
  • Stanford Bases: Stanford University’s entrepreneurship group is one of the largest student entrepreneurship groups in the world dedicated to cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond.
  • The Silicon Valley NewTech Meetup Group [SVNewTech] – always fills up in minutes once the reservations open with over 200 people attending each month.
  • The Silicon Valley iOS Developers’ Meetup – another one which fills up with over 100 people attending each month.
Things to do in Silicon Valley on a Google Map
Things to do in Silicon Valley on a Google Map

Things To Do in San Francisco (the city)

San Fransisco is a city of micro climates. You can notice the difference as you drive up 101 or 280 and the weather changes from a beautiful sunny day to overcast & cloudy. So check the weather online before setting off on you trip from the valley into the city.

Lombart Street & Zig Zag Street
Lombart Street is famous for having steep hills. The Russian Hill part of Lombart Street intersecting with Van Ness Ave is the start of the most steepest hill in San Francisco. It must be driven up to be experienced. As you drive look back for a second to get a glimpse of the street’s sharp inclination.

Once you reach the top, you will be greeted by the most famous “Crookedest Street in the World.” with a 40-degree slope and tight hairpin turns. It is lined with houses and beautifully manicured gardens. It’s worth walking and driving down it.

San Francisco - Lombart Street at night
San Francisco – Lombart Street at night

Fisherman’s Wharf
It is the northern waterfront area of San Francisco and a famous tourist location. It is best known for being the location of Pier 39 & it’s blubbery sea lions, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, the Musée Mécanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, Forbes Island and restaurants and stands that serve fresh seafood, most notably Dungeness crab and clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. It is also the place where you can organize a trip to Alcatraz (ref The Rock movie with Sean Connery) – which is clearly seen from Pier 39.

Cobb’s Comedy Club
My favourite comedy club! Headliners who performed at Cobb’s Comedy Club are regular guests on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. Many have their own comedy specials on Comedy Central and HBO and can be seen starring in movies and on television.
More here: http://www.cobbscomedyclub.com/

Samovar Tea Lounge
Fanastic place to start your day with a nice selection of teas. There are 3 unique locations: Samovar Yerba Buena Gardens, Samovar Mission-Castro, and Samovar Hayes. Yerba Buena Gardens is my favorite for it’s atmosphere and unique location.
Website: http://samovarlife.com/

Dinner

  • LuLu Restaurant – great service, reasonably priced food and always fresh and tasty.
  • One Market Restaurant – awarded a Michelin Star for its excellence. If you have extra cash laying around this place is worth a visit.
  • Burger Bar – never disappoints, if all you want is a burger. Try the Kobe Beef Burger – it comes from Wagyu cow and the Kobe beef is rich, tender and juicy and cannot be matched by any other beef.

Nightlife

  • Vessel – located in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square district, Vessel represents a luxurious lounge of signature San Francisco style and elegance.
  • RubySkye – another club located in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square district in the famed theatre district, Ruby Skye is San Francisco’s premiere Nightclub and Special Event Venue.
San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge. North of SIlicon Valley.
San Francisco – Golden Gate Bridge. North of SIlicon Valley.

More Things to do in Silicon Valley?

This should keep you busy during your visit. There are also great posts by the Y Combinator team on things to do while you’re in Silicon Valley here:

Startup School – Things to do (other than Startup School)
http://wiki.startupschool.org/doku.php?id=having_fun_in_the_bay_area

Paul Graham – Where to See Silicon Valley
http://www.paulgraham.com/seesv.html

Steve Blanks – A Visitors Guide to Silicon Valley
http://steveblank.com/2011/02/22/a-visitors-guide-to-silicon-valley/

If you know / have heard of other cool places please share it with the rest of the readers here by placing it into the comments section below.

Happy exploring!

Other related posts of value:

Public Transport in Silicon Valley

http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/transport/public-transport-commuting/

Major roads in Silicon Valley
http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/transport/major-roads-silicon-valley/

Red Rock – hackers hangout
http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/local-stuff/red-rock-hackers/

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