Category Archives: Los Angeles Times

Silicon Valley is having an architectural breakthrough

For all the technological breakthroughs it has produced, Silicon Valley is an architectural wasteland.

Rather than complementing the lush rolling hills to the west and the expansive San Francisco Bay to the east, this high-tech hub has produced an unending line of dreary office parks full of two-story, cubicle-lined buildings whose main visual goal is to escape notice.

Yet amid this backdrop of bland, Silicon Valley is suddenly showing signs of architectural life. The latest evidence came last month when Nvidia Corp. of Santa Clara and then Google Inc. of Mountain View unveiled plans for elaborate new campuses.

Google’s new complex, dubbed Bay View, would be a series of bent, rectangular buildings connected by bridges arranged around courtyards and topped with green roofs. Nvidia’s campus would sport a space-age look with a pair of triangle-shaped buildings with geodesic roofs that mimic the miniature triangles used in computer graphic chips.

“The new Nvidia building will capture the ambition and imagination of our people,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and chief executive of the computer chip maker. “It will stand at the intersection of science and art, just as our work in visual computing does. It will be the symbol, the physical manifestation, of our vision for the company…. You’ll see how it fuses together smart design, craftsmanship, and soul.”

Art? Soul? In Silicon Valley?

Believe it. Google and Nvidia are just the latest distinctive office designs that have been announced for the region. The most buzzed-about has been Apple Inc.’s spaceship-like campus in Cupertino. In Menlo Park, Facebook Inc. hired architect Frank Gehry to design its expansion.

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From paralyzed to PhD: A robotics engineer’s road to academic success

Ryan Williams is smiling, as he always seems to be, and cracking jokes as his wheelchair rolls into the Bovard Auditorium at USC.

He one of the more 100 students from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering in red graduation caps and gowns waiting for the start of the PhD ceremony.

His father, Clay, and brother Keith help adjust his billowy robe, making sure it stays tucked into the sides of the wheelchair. Unable to shake hands when meeting a stranger, Williams raises his right arm and extends his partially clenched hand in greeting.

“It’s a fist bump,” he says, laughing. “It’s all I’ve got.”

As the event, known as a hooding ceremony, begins, Williams waits patiently until near the end, when it’s his turn to get in line for his big moment on stage. This is only his second visit to USC since the accident more than six years ago that left him mostly paralyzed from the neck down and nearly derailed his dreams of a career in undersea robotics research.

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Your Brain is the Joystick in “Throw Trucks With Your Mind”

Lat Ware pauses to straighten his jacket and organize his chaotic mind. For Ware, who has attention deficit disorder, standing in the halls of a gaming conference as people rush by can feel like being in a hurricane of humanity.

He takes a deep breath before he steps up to a passerby to pose the question he has already asked at least 100 times today.

“Excuse me,” Ware says. “Would you like to throw trucks with your mind?”

The target’s face goes through a range of expressions, trying to formulate the appropriate response to the fantastical offer before settling on an uncertain reply.

“Um, suuuuuure…” says Natalia Veselova, who has come from Russia to attend the Game Developers Conference in March.

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Creative San Francisco laments death of guerilla art masterpiece ‘Defenestration’

Brian Goggin perched on the blue sofa that hung halfway off the roof. He looked down one last time on his guerrilla art masterpiece, “Defenestration,” that had become one of the city’s unlikeliest icons.

More than 17 years ago, Goggin and an army of artists had transformed the four-story, dilapidated building below him by attaching a menagerie of furniture to the sides, creating the illusion of objects being flung into the air.

It was a physical manifestation of the word “defenestration,” which means “a throwing of a person or thing out of a window.”

There was the vintage green refrigerator. The grandfather clock twisted into a slight corkscrew shape. The tables and TV whose bent legs made it appear they were running and leaping. A telephone, swirling lamps, an old radio. Altogether, 34 pieces, including the blue sofa.

Now it was time to take them down. The building is scheduled to be demolished to make way for much-needed affordable housing.

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How Twitch turned livestreaming video game play into big business

Max Gonzalez settles into his home studio, where the former Home Depot cashier now makes a living playing video games full time.

He makes his final preparations before live-streaming his latest exploits over Twitch, the gamecasting service that has emerged as one of Silicon Valley’s hottest start-ups. He checks the lights, adjusts the three computer monitors on his desk, and looks over his shoulder at the green screen.

Gonzalez, 23, launches the live stream and starts playing “BattleBlock Theater.” He cracks jokes, provides running commentary, mocks his online opponents, makes funny noises. More than 1,800 fans are watching him online.

They respond with enthusiasm, typing comments into a live chat box that Gonzalez acknowledges with a friendly greeting or a snarky reply. Every couple of minutes, a “ping” sounds, announcing that another viewer has paid a $5 monthly subscription fee to support Gonzalez.

“It’s like a kind of talk show,” Gonzalez says. “Some people are watching just to hear me riff on the game. Some people are trying to pick up tips. It’s great, because Twitch has really exploded.”

Although Twitch has become a phenomenon in the gaming world, it flew under the radar of even many tech insiders until last weekend — when rumors surfaced that Google’s YouTube was in talks to buy it for $1 billion.

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Minecraft offers a virtual way for Berkeley kids to be with their deported friend

To save their classmate who was deported to Mexico, the fourth-graders devised an epic plan.
That Rodrigo Guzman, 10, could no longer be with his friends and attend Jefferson Elementary seemed so obviously unfair to these students. So they started an online petition that got 2,788 signatures. They created a Facebook page and posted videos to YouTube.

They petitioned the Berkeley City Council and school district, which passed resolutions supporting their cause. They met with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) to ask whether she could intervene.

“We have to fight for Rodrigo’s rights because he is not able to do it himself!” Kyle Kuwahara said in a letter to President Obama. “Today I’m writing to you on Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday to do the right thing. To allow Rodrigo and his family to return to their home, school and friends in Berkeley.”

Even as the children’s “Bring Rodrigo Home” campaign built momentum, it became clear that things would not move fast. The immigration system is complicated, the students were told. There were too many agencies and politicians with rules that didn’t seem to share their urgency.

Worried that they’d lose touch with Rodrigo and that he’d lose hope, Kyle and his twin brother, Scott, turned to Minecraft, a video game where they’d forged their greatest bonds with each other.

With the ability to create virtual worlds in Minecraft, one of the unlikeliest video game hits in recent years, these students could create a haven for themselves and Rodrigo.

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Steve Jobs leaves a legacy of ‘delight’ in Silicon Valley

Ask Joshua Reeves about his online payroll service, and the last thing he’ll want to discuss are its features and algorithms and software code and all that other cold jargon that usually comes pouring out of the mouths of Silicon Valley engineers.

No, what Reeves really cares about is what he hopes you will feel when you use ZenPayroll Inc.:


“That’s the effect we’re trying to achieve,” said Reeves, whose company has applied to trademark “delightful payroll.” “We talk about how to create that ‘aha moment,’ that feeling the first time you use it where you just stop and say, ‘This is amazing. Why weren’t you here 10 years ago?'”

Yes, delight. A squishy, subjective, hard-to-pin-down term. So daringly unquantifiable, so proudly immeasurable. And now, suddenly, all the rage in data-driven Silicon Valley.

Like so many other things in Silicon Valley, the word is a legacy of Steve Jobs, the Apple Inc. co-founder who often spoke of wanting to “surprise and delight” people.

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