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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Silicon chips with everything
Oracle HQ in the valley
Silicon Valley. It's where the future arrives slightly before everywhere else.

In four Saturday morning programmes, Peter Day looks at the layers of life in Silicon Valley, California, and how the people, the businesses and the place are constantly renewing themselves as they seek out the "next big thing".

Silicon Valley is the area 30 or 40 miles south of San Francisco on the west side of San Francisco Bay.

Just over 50 years ago it was an agricultural paradise of orchards and sleepy railhead towns.

Buck's restaurant
Buck's - where the recipe of innovation may be on the menu
Today, although it's not on the Californian maps, it's the wealthiest place on the planet.

Buck's Restaurant is an unlikely centre for entrepreneurial excellence.

Jamis McNiven, who feels he is "just the pancake guy" owns Buck's in the millionaire saturated little town of Woodside.

"We're just a hang-loose local town, it's small town America, one grocery store, one school, one church, five restaurants, 250 venture capitalists - your typical small town", he wryly says.

Hotmail was founded in the front of the restaurant and Netscape in the back, and so much brain storming business is still done over coffee and pancakes.

Intel HQ in the valley
Growth was limited only by Moore's imagination
Despite a 10 year roller coaster ride, it's a place of extraordinary optimism.

Post war foundations

It was after the end of the war in the Pacific that the foundations of the dynamic valley were really set.

Hundreds of thousands of east coast engineers were brought over to the west to work on the trains, boats and planes.

Many of the talented people stayed on to create a valley that shaped the future of world commerce.

Gordon Moore, founder of the giant Intel Corporation is a legend in his time in the valley.

Starting Oracle in 1968, he didn't imagine the way in which the company would grow into the leading chip manufacturer for PC's around the globe.

Dollar bills
It's a land of milk and honey, and.... big bucks
He said: "Having an intuitive feeling for the technology is extremely important to making the right decisions - you don't have to make too many wrong decisions in this business to become marginalised".

Life here is all about making the buck.

Oracle software was spawned in the valley.

And the, sometimes second, wealthiest man in the world and founder of the company, Larry Ellison, is thought to be building a $100m house on the hill.

But in typical valley flamboyance, it's not just a house.

It's really his 40-acre Japanese garden with a few buildings and lakes here and there - but despite everything new in the garden - Larry gets there in last years BMW.

This beautiful valley is full of scents - crimped grass, lush flowering bushes and the haunting fragrance of eucalyptus.

They always find time to party

Work hard and play hard is what the valley does best. When the residents make the money, they spend it.

Oracle HQ in the valley
Oracle's HQ - innovation itself

Rick Herns is a Silicon Valley party organiser charged with making every party more striking than the last - forgetting the expense.

The parties he arranges are more like film sets and often become so.

But when the party's over, it may be time for a little home cooking.

Where better to fill the basket than at the family owned supermarket chain - Draeger's.

It's where the word expense must be replaced with prestige. Price tags are staggering - even with Balsamic Vinegar at $150 a bottle and black truffles at $200 an ounce, the check out tills have a regular ring.

Computer keys
So many of the valley's industries became the keys of success
In Los Altos, property is another of life's little expenses that you should not ponder on for too long.

In the great boom of the 1990's a modest starter home would set you back $1m.

Today, an executive house, that would be sold to an upwardly mobile'er, typically comes with little luxuries of a twin double sink, a $7k drive in fridge and a total price tag of a shave over $2m.

Oh, how the mighty can fall

Yes, the price is high. And Silicon Valley knows all about biggest, best, newest and fastest. But it's not all quite like that.

He lost it all and feeling to embarrassed too return to India without anything, he went to the rail tracks and ended his life

Victor Frost
Victor Frost is homeless in this valley of great wealth.

And as he says, it can be particularly hard when you lose everything.

"I knew a man who came from India with all his family wealth, he thought he was going to make it. He lost it all and feeling to embarrassed to return to India without anything, he went to the rail tracks and ended his life".

But back with the bucks - life is hard too.

David Winer, yet another computer software wizard, delights in the stream that meanders through his hillside estate above the valley.

And despite having the fragrant tones of live Joan Baez drifting through the valley air from his famed signing neighbour, he suffers from noise pollution.

Joan Baez
Joan's voice is regularly blowin' in the wind of the valley
Not Joan, or her roosters, but from mating frogs that keep him awake at night.

It's a valley of contrasts between values and the costs, but we must remember it's cotemporary history each time we turn on the PC.

Follow Peter Day as he explores the life and loves along the valley over four programmes.

Peter Day's Silicon Valley USA is broadcast on BBC Radio 4
Saturday 08, 15, 22 and 29 June
at 10:30 BST

Jamis McNiven
"We're just a regular small town America"
Gordon Moore, Intel
"Having an intuitive knowledge of the technology is extremely important"
Richard Draeger
"...and truffle shavings at $200 an ounce"
Charlene and Vicki Geers
"...and a refrigerator at $7,000"
Paul Saffo
"He who dies with the most toys wins"
Rick Herns
"I create parties bigger and better than the last"
Victor Frost
"I was almost killed here twice"
Dave Winer
"It's the frogs in the creek that keep me awake"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Business
24 Jan 02 | Business
08 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
23 Nov 01 | Business
12 Nov 01 | dot life
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