Sound of Silicon Valley is the unmistakeable hush of money
Palo Alto is a sort of a theme park – it feels a bit like being in The Prisoner, it is so perfect and hyper-real. It is the heart of Silicon Valley.
There is an excellent guide to Silicon Valley in general and to Palo Alto in particular, written by a man called Steve Blank. So you know exactly where to go if you want to stand outside the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, where Bill Hewlett and David Packard started to develop their first product, an audio oscillator, in 1938. The garage was designated “the birthplace of Silicon Valley” in 1989, and it and all the woodwork of the pretty house, which was divided into two apartments back in Bill and David’s day, are painted dark green. The Hewlett-Packard company bought the house in 2000.
That morning – last Tuesday, November 27th – Hewlett-Packard was featured in the Wall Street Journal, and not in a good way. The story was about the company’s disastrous purchase of Autonomy, a British software company for which, according to the Wall Street Journal, HP paid more than $11 billion in October 2011. Now HP is claiming Autonomy inflated its financial results. The judgment of HP chief executive Meg Whitman is being called into question. But here on the corner of Waverley and Addison HP’s past is tranquil and heroic.
Steve Jobs’s house is about a 20-minute walk away from the Hewlett-Packard house. As you walk down Waverley Street, past Kellogg, past Churchill, past Coleridge and Lowell and Tennyson, which all cross it at pretty regular intervals, the hedges do tend to get higher, just like in a fairy tale. And the squirrels, which are everywhere, are almost black. But on the whole the houses, in this part of Palo Alto at least, have no big barriers around them; the very opposite of a gated community.
Here the cars roll into the driveways through open gates and kids swing into the front doors of their houses on their chopper bikes. The kids are wearing helmets on the bikes, mind you. The roads are wide and scattered with autumn leaves. The gardens are well tended – a lot of box – and the gardeners are dark-skinned.
Jobs’s house is on a corner, with two sides of it totally exposed to the road. This is where Jobs died. There is a barely visible low fence, more like a demarcating wire, running around it. It looks like a house in a fairy tale. It’s faux-Elizabethan, with tall chimneys and an undulating roof of small black tiles. It looks like it should be standing in the Cotswolds on a hot day. Its woodwork is black and the upstairs windows are open. At one of them a tanned child of perhaps 10 or 12 is sitting, looking out.