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Metro's 20th Anniversary
20 Years of News: Thanks, Silicon Valley, for being news to us.
Sub-Urban: For 20 years, San Jose's downtown has grown in everything but stature. What's it going to take to get a little respect?
Lost Roots: In the last 20 years, Silicon Valley has finally realized that it needs to preserve its agricultural heritage—in museums. Meanwhile, land that could be saved is being marked for development.
Tech Will Eat Itself: Boom! Bust! Boom? Drink this Kool-Aid to remember the wacky and possibly circular history of Silicon Valley high tech in the last 20 years.
Blinded by Science: Silicon Valley has a reputation as the home of the cutting-edge scientific innovatiors. But what have they done for us lately?


Robo Crop: While science-fiction films went bigger and bigger with fictional technology, Silicon Valley's innovators went smaller and smaller with the real thing. This statue of Robby the Robot stands in the lobby of Alien Technology, who are themselves known for some controversial creativity—namely Radio Frequency Identification, which Metro wrote about last year.

Blinded by Science

Silicon Valley has a reputation as the home of the cutting-edge scientific innovatiors. But what have they done for us lately?

By Najeeb Hasan

Finding real science in Silicon Valley is tougher than you'd think. There are plenty of ideas for making money, but new ways to sell the same old stuff does not always pass for innovation.

However, there's no denying that Silicon Valley has changed the way human beings live their lives. In 1997, local historian John McLaughlin and the late Peninsula Times Tribune editor Ward Winslow came out with the documentary, Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance. The two famously compared Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and their personal computer to Gutenberg's printing press from the 15th century. More importantly, they traced Silicon Valley's emergence as a scientific powerhouse to the founding of Stanford University in 1885.

But what about the last 20 years? What's Silicon Valley done to be true to its edgy image?

  • For starters, the mid-1980s witnessed the growth of the microcomputer industry. There was a flurry of developments, including the introduction of a 32-bit computer that had enough oomph to, for instance, allow office desktops to be useful to businesses. Meanwhile, the icon movement also emerged, with Apple Macintosh substituting icons that could be chosen from a screen for typed commands. And finally, who can forget Douglas Engelbart, who invented the prototype for the present-day mouse?
  • Silicon Valley can also brag a connection to the Hubble telescope, which was built, in part, by our very own Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale. The construction of the telescope was assigned to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Marshall, in turn, subcontracted out the outer shroud, support systems and the final assembly of the telescope to Lockheed. The telescope was, of course, launched in 1990.
  • Meanwhile, Steve Jobs also broke through in the mid-1980s with Pixar, when he purchased the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm for $10 million. The innovation behind Pixar led to Toy Story, which was 1995's highest grossing film, making $362 million. In terms of innovations, Pixar has, over the last 20 years, introduced three software systems in the computer graphics arena: Marionette, Ringmaster and RenderMan, all of which have allowed animators to control the motion of characters with precision.
  • The valley has also invested heavily in the emerging field of nanotechnology, the science of building materials atom by atom. In 2003, Rep. Mike Honda introduced a bill that asked for $2.4 billion for research into the field. The valley has been trying to keep up with New York state, which already boasts a $1 billion nanotech program. Boosters of the science claim that funding nanotech will bring forth a deluge of new inventions—everything from tiles that heat your house to television screens with the electronics built right into the glass. Nanosys Inc., in Palo Alto, is reportedly planning on bringing these inventions to the table in the next three years, and that's only the tip of the iceberg.
  • And finally, another milestone for Silicon Valley came in 2003 with the death of Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb. He died at the age of 95 at his home near Stanford University. During the latter part of his life, Teller had argued obsessively for missile defense systems—his way, said his obituary in The Times of London, "of trying to protect his adopted country from the horrors he helped bring into the world."

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  • From the March 9-15, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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