Friday, September 21, 2012

First week rundown

Our first week of the placement was a bit of a whirlwind to say the least. We flew in the day of a football game between Stanford and the University of Southern California which explained why almost every hotel in the university area had been booked a month in advance (we eventually settled in at the Stanford Guest House which is actually more like the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center Guest House). Unfortunately* the game was just about over by the time we arrived at the stadium but we did get to watch a water polo game the next day.

*Or not. As someone who had an entire conversation with someone about the "Senators" thinking he meant the upper house of Parliament, I'm not sure I was entirely ready to experience the full force of American college sports fanaticism. 

Campus Tour

Sunlit and covered in palm trees, bicycles, and tourists, Stanford looks friendly and inviting. We took a walking tour of the 8,180 acre-campus and learned a little about the history of the university. Stanford's official name is Leland Stanford Junior University, after California senator Leland Stanford's son who passed away as a teen from typhoid fever. Stanford is also often called "the Farm" having been a stock farm before the school was built. 

Every other building had an interesting story (I won't recount them all here) that our tour guide patiently divulged. One of the campus landmarks is Hoover Tower, a library/archival collection founded by Stanford alumnus and later 31st president of the United States, Herbert Hoover. 

Hoover Tower
The view from Hoover Tower's observational platform. The building with the blue triangle is the J. Henry Meyer Memorial Library.

We also saw Memorial Church, a project primarily led by Leland Sr.’s wife, Jane, the Hewlett and Packard buildings, the libraries, the main quad and the Oval, and the roundabout. 

Memorial Church
Roundabout, which apparently exists because of student persistence.
The path to the science buildings is quite picturesque.
Max next to the very first Google server, located in the lobby of the Gates Computer Science Building. [edit] Actually, the server is in the lobby of the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center - sorry if I've led you astray! [/edit]

On another day, we also took a tour of, the Institute of Design at Stanford, which was pretty neat. is not technically a school since they don't grant degrees or have a specific curriculum. Instead, is targeted at graduate students who want to do something a little different with their degree. For example, one of our tour guides, David Janka, was a med student at Stanford before becoming a fellow specializing in design for medicine.

Our tour guides, David and Molly.
The rooms are designed to be adaptable to students' needs. Tools like whiteboards and furniture are all mobile and re-arrangeable.
I wish I took more photos at It's a really cool space and from what I gather, very different from the rest of Stanford's buildings where attempting to remodel a room would probably be inappropriate.

Stanford and Entrepreneurship

Despite having a small-ish population of just under 65,000 people, Palo Alto is a busy city. Everyone seems to be juggling a handful of projects at once. Sometimes, it's hard to find a divide between Stanford and Silicon Valley with people transitioning in and out of the campus at lightning speed. But there does seem to be benefits to being affiliated with the university, such as access to StartX, a nonprofit startup incubator/accelerator for Stanford students. 

More than an incubator, StartX is a community. The place is covered with inspirational mottos like "Fail fast and try again", a sentiment also shared by VentureLab president Jeremy Laurin during our intensive classes. Tony, a CodeX fellow and co-founder of LawGives, explained that StartX is a support system, a way to learn from each other's mistakes and share information. This is the secret to Silicon Valley's success - instead of competitors holding each other back by being secretive, entrepreneurs here share their resources and propel each other forward. I have a feeling I'll be writing lots more about StartX in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Well, that was week one. Classes don't start until next week so I expect the campus will be bursting with activity very soon.

p.s. My classmate and fellow visiting researcher has a blog which can be viewed here:

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