Oooh That Smell

Why Palo Alto is the nexus of my dreams

My favorite thing about Palo Alto is the smell. There is this sweet honey-comb aroma that comes by intermittent breaths and attracts me like a bee to pollen. I think, though this is among the most indefensible faiths you might find me admitting to, that there is a way in which Palo Alto really is trying to attract me. A way that I am a honey bee drawn by forces deep set in nature communicating by that most ancient of senses, smell. Perhaps, that is.

More saliently, Palo Alto is the home to Stanford and the fruitful legacy of its engineering prowess. Modern computing owes great homage to this beautiful little garden. From Hewlett and Packard in their parents garage to the Bros. Google, Palo Alto is the root to great swaths of the modern technical jungle that we all find ourselves in. It makes me wonder if the flowers called to these pioneers too?

Overhearing conversations in the locale coffee shop and grocery store, its remarkable how many techno-souls have congregated here to discuss programming and risky business ventures. Its like answers are swirling about me. But what pray tell are the questions? Well I'm glad you asked.

Its easy to over-hype things, but I think it would be nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the emerging internet. Consider this: 600 years ago a combination of the Gutenberg printing press and wood-pulp paper allowed Europeans access to information dissemination tools 1000's of times less expensive than the previous options (animal hide derived parchment and hand-copying). The result of this technological shift was a mass dissemination of knowledge that facilitated the reformation, modern science and democracy. And, if these conclusions seem overstated to you, consider how difficult it would be to read a bible, journal article, or newspaper if it required killing a herd of animals for each copy.

Today we find ourselves at a similar crossroads. The cost of disseminating your opinion has gone from roughly ten cents a page to roughly free for a page, a song or a video. This means that the cost to you, me, and Rupert Murdoch of reaching the world is essentially flat. Of course you have to have an opinion worthy of world-reach.

What this means for you me and the rest of the world is very difficult to say. Six hundred years ago the printing press released the flood gates of modernity. Today we are in the middle of a similar technological earthquake and if the printing press allowed for modernity, the internet might lead us to, oh, say, the future.

I would really get a kick of riding the wave of information that will come with the power to so cheaply publish from anywhere in the world. So Dave and I, inspired by our own frustrations in academia, have resolved upon the task of helping to modernize academic work (peer-reviewed and cited documents) to new capacities facilitated by the web. We are calling this effort Scidex and I will have more to say about it with time.

Which brings me back to the beautiful smells of Palo Alto. Ironically enough, Dave was accepted to Stanford this summer and invited me to come stay for a while and work on the Scidex project come fall time. I was happy for the opportunity, but until visiting this place, I didn't realize that even the flowers demand it. I guess its meant to be.


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