Miscellaneous and Useless Information

Business and economy


Just one day after his keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Steve Jobs made an appearance last night at the Cupertino City Council to present the company’s plans for a new campus in Cupertino, on the old Hewlett-Packard site. It essentially consists of one giant building shaped like a doughnut that will hold 12,000 people. It will be surrounded by open space, and the parking will be mostly underground.

While the plans certainly make a statement, I’m more an urbanist and not usually fond of buildings surrounded by lots of parking lots or open space, since they don’t tend to be very energetic spaces. So I’m actually lukewarm on what I’ve seen so far. I’m also left with a lot of questions:

  • How accessible will the open space be to the public?
  • In the slides that Jobs presented, Pruneridge Avenue disappears. Where does it go? Is it eliminated? Does it go underground? Does it become a private street, serving only the underground parking garage?
  • What are the plans for the existing redwood grove and the historic Glendenning Barn?

I’m sure that the final result will be pretty close to what was presented — I can’t imagine Cupertino giving Apple a really hard time. And even though it would still be a corporate office park instead of a more urban neighborhood, it would be a really nice office park, better than what is there now. By the way, I grew up in Cupertino and I still live nearby, so I know the area very well.

And I echo Mayor Gilbert Wong’s desire to open an Apple Store in Cupertino. Too bad the city’s Vallco Mall is such a basket case.

Almost three years ago, I blogged about Microsoft’s plans for a new West Campus. They finished last year, and I was impressed when I visited it a couple of weeks ago. The Commons has a nice urban contemporary vibe to it, and it feels energetic. Other companies should definitely take note.

I noticed one amusing thing about the West Campus: instead of going with their traditional building numbers, Microsoft decided to letter the new buildings. And then they decided to re-letter existing nearby numbered buildings, to the amusement of some Microsofties.

As I was cleaning out my papers, I came across some old receipts for various tech gadgets. While I’m used to high-tech stuff getting cheaper and cheaper, I still find it stunning how quickly prices have fallen for certain items:

Item Purchase date Purchase price Current price Annual depreciation rate Annual overall inflation rate (CPI)
1 GB USB flash drive Dec 16, 2005 $69.99 $7.99 −43.8% +2.4%
2 GB SD Flash card Nov 24, 2006 $84.98 $9.99 −57.6% +2.4%
Canon PowerShot 7.1 megapixel camera Nov 23, 2006 $361.49 $179.99
(8.0 MP)
−24.4% +2.4%

Last month, Danyel blogged about Microsoft Research’s moving into a new building, Building 99, and linked to several newspaper articles about Microsoft’s expansion in general. I’m somewhat familiar with the Microsoft campus, having interned there in 1995 and visited a few times since, so I was curious to find out even more.

On Microsoft’s web site, I found a couple of maps showing its Campus Development Plan, one from February 2006 (PDF), and another from November 2007 (JPEG). There are a couple of minor differences, which is to be expected as a master plan is implemented. One of them shows how the footprints of Buildings 94–98 have gotten more funky:

Microsoft West Campus plan - Feb 2006

Microsoft West Campus plan - Nov 2007

But more interesting is a change in the original campus. Currently, there is empty space next to Buildings 5 and 6. The 2006 map shows the space occupied by a new Building 7, where the 2007 map has it renumbered to Building 37:

Microsoft Building 7 - 2006

Microsoft Building 7 - 2007

7 makes more sense than 37 — why the change?

There has never been a Building 7 at Microsoft. The numbers jumped from 6 to 8. Company pranks soon began referring to the mythical Building 7, such as sending new interns there for an urgent meeting, or employees announcing they were heading over to Building 7 when they were heading out for lunch.

So not surprisingly, there was an outcry in the company when facilities announced a new Building 7 in the expansion plan. Luckily, facilities has a sense of humor and decided to renumber the building. (I guess there wasn’t a Building 37 either…)

Remember this slogan? “If you paid full price, you didn’t buy it at Crown Books.” Another company bought the naming rights to Crown after it went bankrupt in 2001, and the chain has opened a store in Cupertino. This incarnation of Crown Books buys remainders and overstock at big discounts and passes the savings onto customers. It may not be a first-run bookstore, but it’s the closest thing to a mainstream bookstore Cupertino has, and I’ll take what I can get. Time to pay them a visit.

One more amusing anecdote from Morris Chang. The initial funding for TSMC came mostly from the Taiwanese government (48%) and Philips. There were also a few key individual investors who put their own money into the company. But TSMC was proposing to be a silicon foundry, a brand new business model. How did the company convince those people to invest?

Dr. Chang said the government essentially coerced them to put their money in. One person was asked to take a 5% stake, and he started getting cold feet. The premier of Taiwan actually called him and said, “It is government policy to get this company started. Don’t you want to support government policy?” It turned out to be be pretty enlightened coercion.

This was back in 1987, when Taiwan was just starting to transition from an authoritarian government to a democracy. I doubt it could get away with that now.

[Photo of Morris Chang] I just got back from a Computer History Museum event: a conversation with Morris Chang (張忠謀), founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, better known as TSMC, and Jen-Hsun Huang (黃仁勳), co-founder and CEO of Nvidia, the last independent graphics chip company. Morris Chang is a pioneer in the computer industry: TSMC was the first dedicated silicon foundry, which manufactures integrated circuits for customers — it does not have any products of its own. Not surprisingly, Nvidia is one of TSMC’s most important customers. Dr. Chang made a couple of points that struck me.

TSMC is fundamentally a customer-focused company. One of the most important metrics for evaluating its fab managers is how many complaints that manager gets from its customers. Dr. Chang said this makes the culture of his company totally different from other semiconductor companies such as Intel, and this would impede their entry into the dedicated foundry business.

Dr. Chang also said Americans and Asians start companies for different reasons. Americans want to promote a new idea. Asians want to be their own boss. As an example, Dr. Chang used to go to a barber shop in Taiwan with two barbers. The younger barber decided he wanted to be his own boss, so he left and started his own barber shop, three doors down. Each of them had to work much harder than before, for the same number of customers. On top of that, the two barbers got into a price war, so they also made less money. Not surprisingly, the former partners became very bitter. The atmosphere became so unpleasant that Dr. Chang now doesn’t go to either barber. He joked, “That’s entrepreneurship, Asian style.”

Both were eloquent and humorous speakers. I’ve heard that Dr. Chang’s reputation is that of a very strict, demanding businessman, so this interview showed a more human side.

As an aside, the food at the reception for Computer History Museum members was great, too: seared tuna, crab cakes, and crostini with brie. Oh yeah…

[Photo of a Lucky sign, before and after the conversion from Albertsons] When Save Mart bought the Albertsons supermarkets in Northern California earlier this year, I fully expected them to rebrand them as Save Mart. Instead, it’s pulling an “AT&T” and rebranding them as Lucky, their old name before they were bought out by Albertsons. I couldn’t help but smile when I found out — strong brand names truly never die.

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