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November 15-21, 2006

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'In Search of the Valley'

Chips and Wine

A new DVD goes 'In Search of the Valley'

By Richard von Busack

Director/writer/editor Steve O'Hear, narrator Selwyn George and producer Fleeta Siegel tour the Silicon Valley for a month, with side trips to Napa on an important wine fact-finding tour. Even before they get to the zinfandel, the trio of English journalists are starry-eyed about both the lore and future potential of the valley. And they get some very impressive names to open their doors for them.

By his swimming pool, John Warnock, co-founder of Adobe, recalls that he and partner Chuck Geschle "didn't give a twit about money," compared to the hopes of spreading the personal computer to the world.

The highly accessible Steve Wozniak describes his own view of Apple Computers. And Steve Jobs—well, Jobs is MIA, though a few who knew him or encountered him have their say. Former Apple "evangelist" Guy Kawasaki claims, "First there was Jesus, and then there was Steve." Daniel Kottke, Jobs' former friend and first employee, ruefully mulls over what those stock options would have been like if he'd had them. Most amusingly, Dr. Brenda Laurel, a tattooed woman of a certain age, recalls looking for a job on NEXT, while wearing an unfortunate orange polyester maternity dress. According to Laurel, she was told by Jobs: "You look like a sofa." "Wow, you're as sensitive as everyone says you are!" enthused Laurel, who did not end up working with the great man.

O'Hear traces out the history of the valley and how Stanford begot H-P, which begot Fairchild and so forth; the hulks of antique computers are visited at museums in Mountain View and Boulder Creek's DigiBarn. True, much of what's here is familiar news, the saga of the hard work and messianic fervor that gave us the home computer.

The visual charm of Silicon Valley is apparent to the interviewers and viewers alike. There is a lot to like, here: our area's lack of pretension, its friendliness, the good weather, the boundless utilitarianism, except when the area is deranged by tsunamilike floods of venture capital.

The documentary provides a useful and affectionate look at the place that changed the world. However, it bypasses the hardships. O'Hear's camera gazes skyward at the towers of downtown San Jose, not at the ghettos nearby, or at the endless suburbs where the foreign programmers squeeze into shacklike apartments, or the freeways, my God, the freeways—at times, it seems as thought it might have been better if they had sent Borat to do the job.

Don't miss the closing credits with Marc Canter's "VC Blues," a 12-bar number in which the former Macromedia exec laments being rump-raped by the money-men.

Movie Times In Search of the Valley is available on DVD for $17.99; see for details.

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