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PALO ALTO--What do a vacuum tube, an oscillator and a lone dollar
bill have in common?
A lot, actually, and they and their ghosts are all within walking
distance of each other here, in a weird inverse Bermuda Triangle of
Here, looking like a stylish modest French farmhouse, is
2101 Waverley Street. Down the street and around the corner sits the
legendary Dave Packard/Bill Hewlett innovation man-cave at 367 Addison
. And back a
quick walk uptown is 913 Emerson St., arguably the real birthplace
of the Silicon Valley (in spirit if not in direct technological
lineage). Here Lee De Forest
magic at Electronics Research Laboratory
a place that gave birth to the invention of the three-element radio
vacuum tube 100 years ago this year.
In a valley legendary for being a hub of innovation, this area--less
than a mile square--is home to some of the most important invention
of the past century. But what may be more important is not the
inventions themselves but the spirit that's been harnessed in these
It's the spirit of humility. 913 Emerson
was a small house that
served as a launch pad for an amazing era of wireless electronics.
It's long gone, replaced by a structure of mind-numbing blandness
designed by a hand that suggests an acute indifference to his or her
At 367 Addison, there is nothing humbler than the Garage. It not
only launched Hewlett-Packard but sparked the spirit of
experimentation and innovation that every entrepreneur celebrates.
"I started in my garage" is shorthand for "I had an idea and needed
a comfortable place to try it out." Even innovators who started in
their kitched say they started in their garage. From humble
beginnings emerge great products and companies.
The lonely dollar and 2101 Waverley are another thing altogether.
View Palo Alto's Vortex of Innovation in a larger map
Earlier this summer, a sad sack former college football player broke
into this house. He stole thousands of dollars in jewelry, mobile
devices and computers--one of which ended up in the hands of a
And he stole what is a man's most personal
possession--his wallet. Amid the gold, platinum, titanium, and
uranium credit cards in the man's wallet sat a lone dollar bill. It
was the late Steve Jobs' house and it was his dollar.
That buck was more than just currency. It was his Apple
salary, and it was as much a symbol of the valley, of innovation and of
entrepreneurship as a three-element tube or an oscillator.
Yes, Jobs was fabulously wealthy and not in need of a yearly salary.
But the lone bill in his most personal possession suggests he liked
(needed?) to be reminded that the journey was about more than the
trappings of success; that an idea could be a huge, culture-changing
success... or just as easily not; that an idea is just an idea
without people, passion and purpose.
I thought about that lonely bill on a solitary stroll through this
leafy little vortex of innovation, where Fisker Karmas and Ferraris
roll by unremarked and weekend family sorties to Switzerland are
common--the trappings of success born of humble ideas in
humble places. Contemporary shot of 913 Emerson in Palo Alto, where Lee De Forest worked and invented 100 years ago.