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Is Silicon Valley Reproducible? 415

Posted by Cliff
from the appalachains-have-some-nice-valleys dept.
sunil99 asks: "Paul Graham, in his latest essay, looks at the ingredients which make Silicon Valley what it is. From the essay: 'Could you reproduce Silicon Valley elsewhere, or is there something unique about it? It wouldn't be surprising if it were hard to reproduce in other countries, because you couldn't reproduce it in most of the US, either. What does it take to make [a Silicon Valley]?'. In his opinion: 'I think you only need two kinds of people to create a technology hub: rich people and nerds'. He concludes that if a city can attract these people, it can stand a chance of replicating Silicon Valley. What do you think of Paul's opinions? If you would like some changes to the current Silicon Valley, what would those be?" While the people are an important part to the Silicon Valley experience, they are only part of the requirement. What local characteristics must also be present, even if Silicon Valley is to be duplicated on a smaller scale? What draws technology companies to a specific location?
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Is Silicon Valley Reproducible?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:07PM (#15406822)
    Is Silicon Valley Reproducible?

    Depends on how good their DRM is, I guess...
  • by the_humeister (922869) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:08PM (#15406826)
    You have to raise the price of housing...
    • Check (Score:3, Funny)

      by weston (16146)
      You have to raise the price of housing...

      Well, that's going swimmingly....
    • by seanadams.com (463190) * on Thursday May 25, 2006 @10:36PM (#15407290) Homepage
      Actually, you hit on a good point.

      Housing was not always expensive here. When Wozniak was developing the Apple I, middle-class homes were routinesly built on 10,000 square foot lots because land was so plentiful, and blue-collar jobs could confortably pay a mortgage.

      In that environment, you can imagine how a young man could dedicate two or three years to desigingin something while taking insignificant personal financial risk.

      Just another reason why we CAN'T have another "silicon valley" here - living expenses prohibit one from starting a full-time garage business.

      I could share a funny personal story about threatening investors to leave the valley so that I could get a cheap house and work from my garage, rather than having to take their money so I could draw a salary. I've thought about this one a bit. :)
      • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday May 26, 2006 @06:53AM (#15408604) Homepage
        Just another reason why we CAN'T have another "silicon valley" here - living expenses prohibit one from starting a full-time garage business.

        I can not wrap my head around that statement.

        Go get a medicore job in a rural area where cost of living is dirt cheap and work out of your garage there creating your incredible invention that will change the world.

        The era of having suppliers near you are long gone. I have not seen a decently stocked electronics supplier for almost a decade and that was when I was in Japan and floored by the incredible supplies on the Akhiba strip. In the USA places like Warren Radio and other Electronics distributiors have stopped carrying small parts in stock for small count sales long ago. All distributors are simply sales offices where you get to place your order for 1000+ pieces now.

        I have survived on my inventing and design manufacturing by mail order. I get my boards built in China for $2.50 a square inch 2 sided plated through with solder mask and silk screening. $3.50 a square inch for every 2 layers inside after that for small or single runs for beta testing a design. I order my parts from digikey or even Jameco lately as they have massively expanded their SMT lines of parts and typically are far cheaper than Digikay or Mouser.

        All while living in a super tiny 1600 sq foot home with a full basement and full garage for my horribly expensive $800.00 a month house payment.

        I have produced, manufacturered and sold 3 seperate devices. One of which I have sold to the manufacturer of the origional home automation system I was making the module for as a third party.

        Who needs silicon valley. Being close to your competition and suppliers is a really stupid expense that holds an incredibly low value today.

        Where I am I can hire local college kids for 1/50th of what they can in the state of california and get them beating down my door. And a good student in a norther university is just as good as a good student at CalTEch. It's the student's abilities and drive not the price of education that makes them good.
        • by Raffaello (230287) on Friday May 26, 2006 @08:16AM (#15409037)
          You're forgetting the second key ingredient - VC money. You may well be willing to start a company in a relatively remote rural area, and you might even get a few like minded nerds to join you in the boondocks, but you won't get VCs to give you any money unless you move - if they do find out that you exist they'll make you relocate near them so they don't have to travel 4 hours every time they have to attend a board meeting. Of course if you'd rtfa you'd know this but this is slashdot so...
    • Also the price of gasoline. And I suppose you'd need an endless supply of SUV drivers talking on their cell phones, a bad mass transit system, and lots of passive aggressive self-righteous jerks. So yeah, I guess it could be reproduced. Umm...why would we want that again please?
  • by DoraLives (622001) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:09PM (#15406830)
    more and more restrictive with patents and all the rest of the current nonsense, they're going to have to find a way to create a new one, because they will have successfully snuffed the life force out of the one we have right now.
  • Uhmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:11PM (#15406838)
    Isn't this like asking if the Italian Renaissance could have happened anywhere except Italy?
    • Isn't this like asking if the Italian Renaissance could have happened anywhere except Italy?

      Well if it happened somewhere else, it wouldn't be italian.

      Maybe Silicon Valley could be Silicon Desert or Silicon Swamp

      • Maybe Silicon Valley could be Silicon Desert or Silicon Swamp

        In New York City, the area I'm working in (Flatiron District) is considered a part of Silicon Alley [wikipedia.org] and the company I'm working for would be considered a dot-com.
      • the black plague (Score:3, Informative)

        by dino213b (949816)
        What people fail to understand is that the Renaissance was started in Italy because of a vacuum, more or less. The black plague swept through Europe, starting from Italy and spreading outward. Therefore, Italy was the first to recover from it and also the first to recover its economic situation and its population. What happened afterwards was the good old case of arts following financing.

        As for the Silicon Valley, this is my speculative side talking now: I believe it was the level of regional education and
        • by Tassach (137772)
          Geography also played a huge part in it. Italy (particuarly Venice) had the closest ports to the Ottoman Empire, which at the time controlled trade with India and the Far East. If you were in Western Europe and wanted silk and spices, you had to trade with the Turks and/or Arabs to get it, and the Venetians were in the best location to conduct that trade.
    • Re:Uhmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ePhil_One (634771) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:30PM (#15406939) Journal
      Isn't this like asking if the Italian Renaissance could have happened anywhere except Italy?

      Silicon Valley is full of itself. There are serveral areas that have vibrant Tech communities besides Silicon valley, there's a whole class of nerds that want nothing to do with the fruitcake culture of the west coast. The one thing they have is "cachet", if you're clueless and rich its a hip place to go broke investing in Fedex'ing Iron ore around the world, in other areas you need a more solid plan than "I'm gonna do stuff on the intarweb".

      • Re:Uhmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dubl-u (51156) *
        There are serveral areas that have vibrant Tech communities besides Silicon valley, there's a whole class of nerds that want nothing to do with the fruitcake culture of the west coast.

        I'm not denying that there are other good places to do tech, but that's not enough for startups. It's no coincidence that of the four internet giants, three of them are in the Bay Area (with the fourth in Seattle). Best of luck to Austin or wherever you favor in coming up with the next three, but if you're looking to do an int
      • Silicon Valley (Score:3, Interesting)

        by crucini (98210)
        I live in the Valley. It does not have a fruitcake culture. It has little in common with San Francisco. What the Valley does have:
        1. High respect for engineers.
        2. Bias towards creating, rather than consuming technology.
        3. Management with a clue.

        All of which makes it a pleasant place to be.

        And all the Valley startups I've seen since the crash have been pretty sensible. Maybe you only hear about the silly ones.
    • Well the center of the Renaissance in many ways moved to Rome from Florence following the Medici's expulsion from latter and the havoc created by the French king Charles VIII.

      Not to mention the Northen Renaissance [wikipedia.org] so it is not really a good argument. Rather an argument that creative centers can be recreated and do indeed move

    • Silicon Valley got its start because William Shockley started Shockley Transistor with people he brought from Bell Labs. They left, and started their own companies, from which other people left to start their companies, and so on, and so on.

      When Shockley was looking for where to start his company it came down to Pasadena vs Palo Alto, both of which he had lived in as a child. An administrator at Stanford recognized the importance of encouraging new companies and leased Shockley space that Stanford owned.
  • by jay2003 (668095) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:13PM (#15406847)
    Nerds and rich people are not enough. Silicon Valley works because there's a culture of risk taking. Starting a company that fails is considered good expirence in Silicon Valley. In many places, such a failure would make it very difficult to find a job or ever find investors again.
    • Is Silicon Valley Reproducible?

      It does f*ck many people.. waiting for the results to come in.. :)

    • Actually you're wrong. I read an article recently (where escapes me now) that when hiring managers were asked whether they'd take a candidate who had led a startup and failed or a candidate who hadn't the majority picked the failure. The kind of person that would start a company and take a risk often has characteristics that are important to employers such as drive and ambition.
    • by i am kman (972584) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @11:06PM (#15407421)
      I lived in Silicon Valley and the DC region and worked with VCs in both areas. There's a tremendous difference in culture between the two regions. West coast startups are all about innovation and foster new ideas. East coast companies are all about services and contract execution. That's why you have SUN and Apple in California and AOL and Verizon on the east.

      California focuses on brilliance and creativity. East coast focuses on formality and contract execution. I was think that was government-related, but it's also true within NYC with financial services and more old-school business.

      So, Silicon Valley CULTURE is very unique and it's far more important than $$ and nerds.
  • Northern Virginia? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hsmith (818216) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:18PM (#15406879)
    There is a massive influx of cash in this area because it is the seat of the gov't. Granted, it is all tax money, but that is where it flows. I don't know about the possibility of another "tech hub" like Silicon Valley.
    • Silicon Valley is not the seat of government any more than other large metropolitin areas. It's primarily in Santa Clara County and San Jose is the county seat, a big ho-hum.

      It consists of several cities and each has it's own city government. Nothing different there from many other metropolitin areas either.
    • by feijai (898706)
      It's obvious that the government has benefitted the Northern Virginia technology corridor by its proximity, but it's hardly the only reason for the influx of cash. Much of it is the internet boom. MAE East. AOL. UUNet. Of course, the governmental "IT solution" consultant shops (the "beltway bandits")can't be overlooked. Northrup Gruman. Boos Allen and Hamilton. SRA. And the massive SAIC.

      At any rate: Graham's article betrays a surprising lack of knowledge about situations outside his orbit. Of course
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:21PM (#15406894)
    "If you would like some changes to the current Silicon Valley, what would those be?"

    gotta say, having grown up watching santa clara county turn into silicon valley, i'd have to say i'd like all the orchards back. the apricots, walnuts, prunes, almonds, apples and all the rest... and the wetlands, too.

    the valley is still beautiful with the santa cruz mountains and the hamilton range (and climate, minus the smog), but it was truly spectacular before the mass of sprawl changed things.

    of course, the folks living there a century ago would have preferred the almost entirely rural lanscape. but i do miss it.

    • by mrraven (129238) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @10:32PM (#15407272)
      I like my ibook as well as the next guy but the specific culture and landscape of Silicon Valley is putrid and dehumanizing. I think the real question is can high tech be produced in a more humane way. OSS seems to answer that to some extent in software, hardware may be a different question altogether. This passage from the essay Life on Margins should give all techno utopians pause to think:

      "Taking a wrong turn off the walled highway, from which, through extensive work over the last several years, all landmarks have thoughtfully been concealed, I discovered the sanitized strip of North First Street in sprawling, silicon-powered San Jose. I knew about Silicon Valley, of course. Who doesn't? But I'd never been at its epicenter, surrounded by the built world it makes and is, in turn, made by. Along North First Street, mile after mile of modern office parks squat on old orchard land, the lovely, irrelevant mountains far away on either side. No humans can be seen behind the endless ranks of tinted windows or outside in the dead lakes of their windswept parking lots. Meaningless logos: UNISYS, INFORMIX, 3COM--glow like neon eyes from empty concrete faces.

      All is new, clean, quiet, freshly painted, expensively landscaped. But the rows of young trees, stuck in the manicured earth as ornament, look more like famished prisoners lined up to be shot. They, and the glass box buildings, seem as untouched by life and movement as an architect's scale model. Even the brilliant sunshine can't make it look real. A single refrain is repeated in the parking lot signs: This Area Is Monitored by Video Surveillance at All Times.

      In its regimentation, if not its ostentation, North First Street ironically calls to mind the old Socialist bloc, except if you recall that the ugly architecture there was mostly built to house people. (It's clear no people actually live anywhere near these buildings, they must live miles away, in suburban tracts.) Even the eternal spying generated by that now fallen system was a perverse form of employment, performed by actual human beings instead of neutral, unresistant machines.

      But Silicon Valley, in spite of the reversals of recent years, is a zone of expansion, not collapse. New ground is being cleared every day. There is money here, and more is pouring in, like cement into a mold, to shape a future.

      At the northern end of this long, silent no-place, atop lead-gray bunkers, the enormous white radar disks of Lockheed rise from behind a straggling line of brush, blank dish-faces turned toward the bright, generous California sky, looking for death."

      http://www.whatifjournal.org/pages/Online/rodgersm argins.html [whatifjournal.org]
  • If you would like some changes to the current Silicon Valley, what would those be?
    More women. WAY more.
    • You probably have plenty of women. I remember going to an Internet Society conference there several years ago and I was probably the one with the least amount of facial hair at my table. You might have counted the woman next to me twice because of her mustache.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:25PM (#15406912)
    As an 8 year resident of Silicon Valley, I have observed five major things that set it apart (not in any particular order).

    1) Weather. Man, it is great. It may not seem important, but it matters to me a ton.
    2) Smart people. The best people like to be with peers, with people who understand and think like them.
    3) Borderline idealisitic mentality. Entrepreners fall under this category. Essentially the believe than you can, in fact, change things, make things better, start from nothing and create an empire.
    4) Diversity. Silicon Valley is far from a mono-culture. The diversity extends well beyond the tech work force and is a part of every day life.
    5) Great Universities. Stanford and Berkeley often spawn many startups that make it big (i.e. HP, SGI, Google)

    The reason why this is hard to re-create is more often than not, people have to pack up and leave where they currently live and go (often) to a far away place (I moved from Ohio). It doesn't seem particularly realistic to go to a potential Silicon Valley if you can go to the real thing. Essentially, Silicon Valley as we know it today took 30+ years of the mentioned points to grow and cultivate.

    IMO, to start another Silicon Valley, it would probably take 20 years and starts with an excellent university and a touch of diversity. I do think it is possible, in fact, I think it is probable that we will see similar places pop up in the world.
    • I do think it is possible, in fact, I think it is probable that we will see similar places pop up in the world.

      Despite my earlier post in this thread I agree with you. Just not in the US. It isn't easier to duplicate Silicon Valley in the US, it's harder, because. . .

      It doesn't seem particularly realistic to go to a potential Silicon Valley if you can go to the real thing.

      As I concluded that other post: "Why compete with what's easier to join?"

      Now, foreign countries like China/Brazil/Hoboken have real reaso
      • Nah, it's pretty easy to replicate Silicon Valley in the US. In fact, it's been done numerous times. None of the replications is close to the size of Silicon Valley (except Boston which is within a factor of ten), but that doesn't mean it hasn't been done. A lot of people don't want to work in Silicon Valley. It's a lousy place to raise a kid (though this may depend on ethnicity) and the real estate is epically expensive, for example. The state government also tends to be hostile to business and there's oth
  • Lots of things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:26PM (#15406915) Homepage Journal
    You need a culture where experimentation is rewarded and failure is treated as a normal cost of experiments. Compare bankruptcy in the US (oops, try again) to bankruptcy in Japan (your children hounded at school, people looking at you strangely for not committing suicide). Compare the fraction of engineers willing to work for a fly-by-night^Wyoung and innovative startup and get paid with lottery tickets^W^Wstock options in the US versus other countries.

    There are very few things in the world like the Valley's venture capital system. Some will say "Good! Give thanks to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that!", but the good VC firms provide a lot more than money. Professional referrals, blunt advice, and (if honestly done) supplying management teams are just part of it.

    Just rich people and nerds? I can't think of a single innovative high-tech center that wasn't anchored on a world-class research university. Thereby hangs another cultural sine qua non, you have to have professors willing to start companies as opposed to growing beards and getting pompous.
    • You need a culture where experimentation is rewarded and failure is treated as a normal cost of experiments.

      Well, that disqualifies modern business. NEXT!

    • Re:Lots of things (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anthony Boyd (242971) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @10:10PM (#15407161) Homepage
      You need a culture where experimentation is rewarded and failure is treated as a normal cost of experiments. Compare bankruptcy in the US (oops, try again) to bankruptcy in Japan (your children hounded at school, people looking at you strangely for not committing suicide).

      That's a good point. I would build upon it to add one other ingredient that we have here in SV that others lack: encouraging entrepreneurship not just in words, but with law. Most of us have read the stories on Slashdot over the years about contract employees who had great ideas and worked on them on their own time only to have the employer sue to take the idea & whatever practical implementation had been created.

      But in California, there is a law that makes it very clear that in an employee's free time (contract, full-time, whatever), they are free to come up with ideas and launch their own companies. In fact, one of my employers had a clause in their hiring contract which stated they owned everything I would ever do. I struck the clause before signing (just crossed it out) and wrote in the margin "this is not legal in California." The HR person read it, shrugged, and said "yeah, OK." Even if I had not struck the clause, it still wouldn't have applied, because the contract cannot override law (they cannot hire me to kill people, they cannot mandate 20 hour workdays, and so on).

      To wrap up, the point is this: I have created many small money-making Web sites for myself while employed with others because I can. My ideas are safe. They cannot be stolen, even when companies want to claim them for their own. This is important enough that I have chosen to NOT move to other states that do not have similar laws. I will not move to technology centers in other states (or countries) unless I feel the small guy with the good idea has solid protection.

    • Re:Lots of things (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cgenman (325138) on Friday May 26, 2006 @12:05AM (#15407633) Homepage
      Having lived in the Silicon Valley, I'd add a lack of anything better to do.

      Seriously. The night life in the valley consists of maybe club paradise, the Edge, a few comedy clubs here and there, and the VERY occasional bar. Which lends itself to people staying at home, tinkering with their computers, reading, and watching an unfortunate amount of television.

      People have a lot of freakish hobbies in the valley, mostly stemming from having nothing to do. People talk about starting their own companies, then do it, largely out of having nothing to do. They weld jet engines to the backs of cars, make networks of AI chatbots, reprogram furbies to say dirty things because it's more interesting than going to golfland.

      Out here in Boston (where I live now) there is no shortage of great minds, great ideas, and people who say "I should have done that when I had the chance." There is just so much going on here, though, so much social competition, that you can't do it. You need to have at least a masters, a full-time relationship or two, and four hobbies, all of which must be social. The average person doesn't have nearly as much time to develop a pet project into a full business.

      And so less gets made out here. Less crazy ideas get out of people's heads and are given a real chance to prove themselves. When they do, MIT has great financers. But if you're not making carbonated ice cream as a senior thesis, chances are you're just not going to finish your great idea.

  • I would say no, since most geeks are single with little hope of polluting the gene pool.
    • I would say no, since most geeks are single with little hope of polluting the gene pool.

      Is this tired old cliche really true though? I imagine most of the "geeks" in Silicon Valley were actually pretty cool guys who probably got laid a lot in school. They're generally very attractive, ride skateboards or rollerblades, and hack into mainframes in between pimpin' on their ho's. I think the idea of the traditional socially awkward "nerd" stereotype is horribly wrong and outdated. I doubt these people eve

  • Short Answer No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by baronben (322394) <ben.spigel@gmaiBLUEl.com minus berry> on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:27PM (#15406925) Homepage
    This is a huge question in economic geography (the economics of regions), and as grad student in economic geography, maybe I can at a bit.

    Short answer is no. Long answer is yes with a but. Silicon Valley is the product of several interacting factors. The first is the presence of Stanford, which produces a great deal of spin off research, that locates near by so that people form Stanford can keep on interacting with the community. In a recent survey of biotech firms (in Seattle, not the Valley, but the example is still good for an example) over 75% of business owners said that continuing access to university resources was a large component of their locational decision. Stanford is important for another reason, it has a unique culture that encourages sharing of knowledge between people and firms. One of the reasons why Route 128 in Boston performs historically worse than the Valley is that its graduates are, generally, less likely to share information freely. This sharing creates what today is called "communities of learning," which allow all firms in a region to grow much faster.

    The Stanford culture has created a unique culture, one that doesn't punish failure. Hell, you're expected to fail there at least a few times. No one gives money to someone who hasn't crashed at least 2 previous ventures. Its also created a pool of labor unrivalled anywhere else for what the Valley does best - software design, networking and chip design. People who are good at these locate there to be close to other people with the same interests, created a labor pool that attracts new firms looking for talented people.

    This culture can't be recreated at the drop of a hat. It takes time. Sure, you can set up office space for chip designers, offer tax incentives to get firms to locate there, and sponsor high-tech grad programs at local universities, but it won't create a new Valley. It will create something else. Maybe better, most of the times worse. If anyone is interested, I expand on the subjects, but you're better off reading works by Melecki, Florida and Gertler.
    • Re:Short Answer No (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jeffrey Baker (6191) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:44PM (#15407001)
      Way to leave out Berkeley ;)

      But really, the universities and the national laboratories have been key in the region's history. Why else do dozens of Nobel Prize winners live here?

      As for the original question, Silicon Valley has been reproduced on smaller scales in several places. Cambridge is notable, as is Beaverton (home to many companies which are often mistakenly said to be in Silicon Valley).
  • by Coward Anonymous (110649) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:28PM (#15406929)
    His basic premise about nerds and rich people sounds about right. His meandering definition of a nerd attractive city is a off the mark and plain wrong with regards to San Francisco. San Francisco was not considered part of Silicon Valley until recently. Silicon Valley was typically considered to be 32 miles south of San Francisco, from Palo Alto in the north to the environs of San Jose in the south. Sprawling, faceless San Jose is definitely not a "nerd town" per his description and the neighboring towns are plain suburbia.
    Most of the startups you can think of - Google, Yahoo, HP, Apple, Cisco, etc. were started in that southern area. Much fewer were started farther north or in San Francisco proper.
    • You may be spliting hairs. Back in the day, SV was just a lot of cheap land ready for tilt up concrete business parks. SF hasn't had any elbow room or cheap office space to spread out on since the Big One, which I'm sure the city fathers in places like Campbell are forever grateful. The people with the bucks were and are up in Atherton, the Oakland hills, and SF proper. Without some cultural center, the bucks are just snowbirds, and don't invest in anything but real estate.

      And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts

  • In his opinion: 'I think you only need two kinds of people to create a technology hub: rich people and nerds'. He concludes that if a city can attract these people, it can stand a chance of replicating Silicon Valley.
    Not too sure about the rich people, but I'm thinking a strip joint with Cat6 to every table would attract the nerds.....
    • If you've got the internet access, why bother with the strippers? Surely there are plenty of websites that can give you the same thing for free, and I'd imagine most strippers can't be saved to a hard drive and then reused. But maybe you've got upgraded females out there.
  • by barutanseijin (907617) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:30PM (#15406938)
    However you want to define it, "Silicon Valley" is a product of history. That being the case there are a lot of things that went into producing what we now know as "Silicon Valley". In no particular order:

    • The Cold War. (the impetus for much basic computer research)
    • Massive investments in education from both the State of California and the US federales. (Nerds are made, not born)
    • Relatively cheap land (obviously not anymore.)
    • The youth rebellion of the '60s. (contributed in no small part to the popularity of mini/personal computers, *nix, free software, WozJobsMacintosh etc.)
    • Communications and transportation infrastructure. (Some degree of connectivity was important, but too much makes centralisation unnecessary.)

    As a general principle, what was a possibility for previous generations is a possibility for us, too. Whether it's likely or not is another question.

    I think the article overemphasises economic factors at the expense of the cultural and historical. Silicon Valley is history, and history is a lot more complicated than that.

    • Those are funny ones.

      I've lived here for 3 years and visited for much longer.

      The Bay Area has one of the most stubbornly backward, if not the most stubbornly backward, communications infrastructures in a major US metropolitan area. Ask someone about the "A/B" cable system. I don't know if DSL is available here everywhere or not now but there were large areas where it wasn't a couple years ago. Cellphone coverage? Sucks.

      Transportation? Rush hour commutes are awful again (they were light during the dot bomb e
      • By way of comparison: NYC has the subway and affordable cabs - with flat rates to the airports. You can go anywhere you want in NYC on the subway and maybe a cab.

        So my boss is visiting from HQ in San Mateo. We're meeting with clients in downtown Brooklyn and we need to go to midtown for the next set of meetings. He asks "How are we going to get there?" I told him "The many-windowed limosine."

        $2 each and 10 minutes later we're riding the #2 subway under the East River and he hits me with "How late do

  • There was an article in the San Jose Mercury News, if I recall correctly, about 15 years ago, that explored this question. It examined various candidates, and looked at why they had not developed as technology birthplaces to the extent Silicon Valley has.

    There were a variety of factors that could stop such development. For example, what stopped Research Triangle Park is Southern attitudes toward failure. The financial infrastructure there is dominated by Old South money and attitudes. If you start a compa

  • Where else are there 3 major airports within 50 miles of each other with a Bay between them? Where else are can you find enough land to support the millions of poorer people who live on the edges of the valley and take all the supporting jobs that the rich dont have to do, but are willing to pay someone else to do? Decent Mass-transit, Two major Colleges, a better freeway system then most places, AND better then average weather?

    In short, Silicon Valley has everything good about all the other technical cen

    • The San Jose air port is a product of silicon valley. You are mixing cause and effect.
    • Where else are there 3 major airports within 50 miles of each other with a Bay between them? Where else are can you find enough land to support the millions of poorer people who live on the edges of the valley and take all the supporting jobs that the rich dont have to do, but are willing to pay someone else to do? Decent Mass-transit, Two major Colleges, a better freeway system then most places, AND better then average weather?

      In short, Silicon Valley has everything good about all the other technical ce

    • Where else are there 3 major airports within 50 miles of each other with a Bay between them?

      Wash. DC. No Bay, though - that's off to the side.

      Where else are can you find enough land to support the millions of poorer people who live on the edges of the valley and take all the supporting jobs that the rich dont have to do,

      DC has poor people.

      Decent Mass-transit, Two major Colleges, a better freeway system then most places, AND better then average weather?

      Check, check, and, um, nope. DC has 4 seaso

  • perhaps say, India , or China or some other place in the world , where Tech is still new and exciting and growing and a very high rate.
  • Silicon Hills? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SydShamino (547793) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:48PM (#15407023)
    Austin, Texas, is known as the Silicon Hills [siliconmaps.com] because it has reproduced Silicon Valley, albeit on a smaller scale.

    It also has a major research university (University of Texas), which might be a key component. It also has a good supply of risk takers, and plenty of money.

    But, it also has a few things that Silicon Valley lacks. Namely, it has a better cultural scene for folks. I don't mean the high-class snobby rich folks that fit in well in California. I mean young folks, the kind that like to live someplace that is the live-music capital of the world, with two world-class music festivals, a world-class movie festival, site of the flagship whole foods, the state's only public nude beach, and plenty more to keep you busy every week.
    • Re:Silicon Hills? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by spxero (782496)
      Could that be a reason it hasn't flourished as well? When you have a bunch of geeks with nothing to do but get excited about tech, I bet they can do more than geeks with everything to do. Austin has its festivals, nude beach (not always a plus), and plenty to keep you busy. But silicon valley's a 3.5 hour drive to the snow, a 1 - 1.5 hour drive to the ocean, 30 min to San Fran, and 6 hours to L.A. There's plenty to do there (I was born and raised in the east bay, now I live in Texas), and from my visits to
  • If you would like some changes to the current Silicon Valley, what would those be?

    1. I would double the size of the East Palo Alto IKEA. Nay, triple it. I simply do not spend enough time lost in their bazillion cubic meter zipcode.

    2. I would move Google and MS closer together. I know they're in mortar range, but think of the small arms possibilities!

    3. I would clone Ridge Winery and place one every five miles rimming the valley. Every three to be safe.

    4. All "boat track"-style sushi joints would lin
  • by Peyna (14792) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:52PM (#15407059) Homepage
    Part of the reason Silicon Valley was able to do what it did, is because non-compete clauses are unforceable there, so employees were free to move between companies at will. It worked pretty good.
  • The thing that made silicon valley was neither money nor nerds. In fact, when it started out it didn't have much of either. The thing that really made silicon valley was Non Proprietary Technology. That is what made it. That is All that made it. The rest followed naturally.

    The regulatory environment in California (back then), the free market economy (back then), and engineers that were willing to walk out the door and not put up with the corporate overloards that got greedy and tried to fence off th

    • The thing that made silicon valley was neither money nor nerds. In fact, when it started out it didn't have much of either. The thing that really made silicon valley was Non Proprietary Technology. That is what made it. That is All that made it. The rest followed naturally.

      But you can do "Non Proprietary Technology" anywhere. So why is there only one Silicon Valley?

      Because there's another (related) item - and it's a BIG one:

      Callifornia law - then and now - had a zinger on inventions:

      If you invent something
  • There are other places which are trying to make a name for themselves in biology, nanotechnology and I'm sure plenty of other fields.

    The best example I can think of is San Diego and bio research. You've got more than enough rich people, plenty of smart people and whole lot of institutes, businesses and academic centers. The locals are into it and to top it off, you've also got an insane housing market, but lots of room to build. That's not to say San Diego is the Silicon Valley of biology, but it's not h
  • Far more earth shaking inventions have come from Northern New Jersey. I'm still waiting for Silicon Valley to catch up. eg. Light Bulb, Transistor, Golf Tee.
  • by Temkin (112574) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @10:11PM (#15407168)


    Having lived/worked in both, Austin seems to have some of the pieces. Throw in a bit of rich wildcatter oilman mentallity, and you're almost there. Sadly, The difference seems to be in the colleges. In the SF Bay area, you have Stanford, Berkeley, Santa Clara U., SJ State, Hayward state, SF state, and if you stretch a bit UC Davis and Sonoma state. Round this out with a first rate community college system, and it's a nerd factory. In Austin, UT is a good anchor, but it almost stands alone. St. Edwards, San Marcos state, and ACC don't fill the gaps anywhere near like the second/third string colleges in the SF Bay.

    Oh... and the weather in Austin is just terrible. Riding your bike on loop 360 is just tortures the eyes and the body. Anyone that told you that Austin has a lake kind of like lake Shasta 20 minutes from downtown is just lying to you. Trust me... Y'all would just hate it.

  • ...that the "real" Silicon Valley is all but completely dead and gone.

    Yes, it takes rich people and nerds. But it takes rich people who know business and are willing to take an honest shot at building a real one, and it takes nerds who are passionate about their work, as opposed to hacks who'll take a job at whatever place is burning the most VC dough. Silicon Valley has vitually NONE of those people left.

    The question I've been asking myself is not can there be another silicon valley, but where will it be?
  • I have never lived in Silicon valley, but I have been a regular visitor for about 15 years. I travel there for business meetings and conventions usually for a week at a time. I have been all over the valley at all times of year, etc. My follow-up question would be "which Silicon Valley ?"

    Stanford is certainly a great source for alpha nerds, but the founding technology seeds of Silicon valley were not started by Stanford grads. Think HP, Varian, Xerox PARC, National labs, Nasa, Apple, ... Stanford fuels
  • I know that this is off-topic, but I just want to address an issue I've been seeing in the tagging beta:

    Why do people tag stories with keywords that are part of the headline? The only tag showing for this story is "siliconvalley," which is about a zero on the usefulness scale of 1-10. The whole point of tagging is to provide additional meta-data about a story, not just to take the nouns in the headline and turn them into tags. For goodness sake, you could at least play the Fark card and just tag stories
  • California does not enforce employee non-compete agreements as a matter of law. I've heard an interesting theory that this promotes greater workforce mobility and therefore the distribution of knowledge equilibrates to pareto efficiency more quickly, which can be quite valuable to an industry that advances as rapidly as information technology did during the late nineties.

    Of course, it's possible that we still would have had a Silicon Valley without this legislative environment, but it may have progressed mo
  • Nonsense time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by br00tus (528477) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @10:50PM (#15407355)
    Most of what I have read of Graham's is useless, this is even more so. If you want to see what made Silicon Valley, simply go back to the 1940's and 1950's and see what made it. Writers from Cringely to Jeff Goodell have done this. Graham can't be bothered with looking back a few decades and seeing what happened, he simply looks around in present time and tries to deduce what happened, without ever looking at what happened, which is not hard to do. If this were a technical discussion I would be telling him to RTFM.

    I see one of his headers is "Not Bureaucrats". I'm sorry, but bureaucrats are exactly what created Silicon Valley. Billions of dollars in government contracts in the 1940's, 1950's and on are what created Silicon Valley, are the engine which created it. Look at the Internet - the first RFC came out in 1969, and yet no commercial traffic was officially allowed on it (NSFnet rules) until the mid 1990s. Those 20+ years of interim were from the government gravy train. Exactly what Graham seems to not want to hear, which is probably why people like him are so ahistorical.

  • Rupert Sheldrake first describe these, I don't totally agree, but
    I have come to find, a city, a company, organizations, families and many other things are at some level forever trapped by the original starting conditions.

    Very much like crystal growth.

    Unless a city (no region really) started under similar conditions as Silicon Valley did, it would be next to impossible end up in a similar way.

    Silicon Valley for me was like Mecca for a Muslim when growing up in New Jersey.
    I was the holy capital for te
  • Washington DC, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BlueQuark (104215)
    In a recent visit to the DC area, I would think that Silicon Valley would be easy to reproduce there.

    From Dulles via the 267 Toll road in Virginia there are alot of technology companies, though they seem more gov'ment contracters and military industrial companies.

    A friend of mine who was raised in MD just north of DC said that the 270 in Maryland has alot of tech and IT related companies. It has a few good universities (Georgetown/Geo. Washington/Virginia Tech/UofMD), alot of nice museums (Free) a fair amou
  • Requirements (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blofeld42 (854237)
    SV has an inherent advantage as a first mover. (Please, don't mod me down for using buzzwords.) Any new SV would have to compete with the original, and the original already works and has market share.

    Industries often cluster around certain areas. Autos around Detroit, Aerospace clustered in LA for a time, gun maufacture in the Conneticuit river valley in the 19th century. Some of it appears to be simply random; that's where the industry inventors got their start. Seattle has lots of Microsoft jobs because t
  • I propose Missoula, Montana for next Silicon Valley, in hopes that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This has long been such a beautiful place to live that many PhDs choose to live here in humble poverty instead of seeking fortunes elsewhere (myself included). So all you rich people and nerds, come check it out! There's plenty of room to grow in Montana and thanks to global warming, the weather in Missoula just gets warmer each year!
  • Like redmond? There's a ton of software companies in redmond, not just microsoft. Does Cupertino have something that Redmond lacks aside from a cool nickname?
  • Critical Mass (Score:4, Interesting)

    by georgewilliamherbert (211790) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @11:24PM (#15407507)
    What started Silicon Valley was that it had critical mass, of everything that modern tech companies needed to grow out of.

    The article lists a lot of that, but misses some other things. Pre-existing tech and engineering companies... before it was Silicon Valley, HP and Varian already started here, IBM was a major major force in the area (one of IBM's bigger research centers), GE was here in force. Lockheed is here, doing unmentionable space stuff, and Space Systems Loral's predecessors.

    These were all more traditional tech companies, but the untraditional tech companies were in a sense a spinoff from the density of skills and suppliers and environment that the larger tech companies had been growing in for decades previously.
  • by xx01dk (191137) on Friday May 26, 2006 @02:03AM (#15407981)
    So here's another angle. The original silicon valley is suffering from the current housing "bubble" that has yet to "burst". What this means is that as the average cost of living (i.e.: housing costs, gas, etc.) go up, fewer and fewer people can afford to live here. So all the young talent now are forced to migrate elsewhere.

    I can barely afford it; I am an entry-level field service technician at a semicon equipment supplier. And if you figure I'm on par with an recent college grad (10 years Naval service, Electronics Technician), then what hope do they have what with the massive school loans they are also trying to pay off in conjunction with starting a new career? If it weren't for my awesome girlfriend of 5 years who makes substantially more than me, I could barely afford a studio appartment anywhere near San Jose or Fremont. BTW, side note, at $22/hour I'm grossing over $1800 every two weeks but net pay is only $1200. THAT's what you get for living in California, number one, and number two is that there is no way in hell I'd even consider trying to own even a modest home when the average 1200 sq ft, two bedroom house near the East foothills (at least 10-20 miles from anywhere) goes for around $600,000.

    Entry level. $600k for a house/condo. $2400/month. 10 years experience in the electronics field. You do the math, and try to pay for a car and gas and all the other bills. I'm getting the hell out of the valley as soon as I possibly can because it simply costs too damn much. Me and everyone else. So what happens when we leave (or refuse to settle to begin with), and the current crop of "founders" retires (think about it, it's happening now...)? What are you left with?

    Silicon Valley has enjoyed a good run, but higher taxes and cost of living are going to prevail when it comes to where the nerds will settle and prosper. Don't get me wrong, I love this industry (I work as a tool vendor at frikken Intel for chrissakes--a geek's veritable wet dream if you will) but like I said, in less than 5 years I'm out of here.

    Back to the "housing bubble". Even if it levels off (might be happening, who knows, it's becoming more and more fashionable to live here) then it's not going to go down, it will just stay at the current level--unaffordable.

    Geeks are smart. You will see.
    • The upside to living in such an expensive place, is that when you reach retirement, you'll have huge retirement assets. You gross $3600 a month, which is really low for the area, particularly for someone 10 years out of high school (which would for a more typical college ba mean 6 years out of college). That puts you in a tough spot, no doubt about it. But the college grad with 6 years of experience is going to be making $5000 a month (or more). That's the difference between where you are now, and maxin
  • Silicon Glen (Score:3, Informative)

    by zerosignal (222614) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:57AM (#15408228) Homepage Journal
    In Scotland there's an area called Silicon Glen:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_Glen [wikipedia.org]
  • by leeum (156395) on Friday May 26, 2006 @04:32AM (#15408309) Homepage Journal
    ... so I feel interested enough in this topic to post a comment. :)

    The "success" of Silicon Valley is being reproduced in different parts of the world - Cambridge in the United Kingdom especially springs to mind. Having spoken with some of the people heavily involved in this project, we determined that there were several key ingredients that made Silicon Valley essentially unique and hard to reproduce.

    The superficial similarities are easy to point out - there are quite a large amount of venture capitalists in both places (or easy access to venture capital money), proximity to large research universities. However, the differences between the two locations are telling.

    Firstly, as several other posters have described, the attitudes towards bankruptcy can be vastly different. In our study, we looked at differences in attitude between the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and found that while failure in your first entrepreneurial undertaking is considered almost de rigueur in Silicon Valley, the culture in the UK and the Netherlands tends to be less forgiving. While this is now changing, there are still many people with good ideas who are still worried about taking on high-risk projects because the perceived cost of failure is much higher.

    Secondly, the attitude of the VCs and business angels towards companies. For example, we found that VCs in the Netherlands tended to have a narrower scope than VCs in both the United Kingdom and the United States. We spoke to a few large VC firms in the Netherlands and found that many of them invested only in companies whose main base of operations would be in any one of the Benelux countries. Their justification for this being that they felt it lowered their risk profile.

    I also believe that Paul Graham might have downplayed the influence of governmental policy on entrepreneurship. While I'm not too sure about the situation in Silicon Valley, certainly in the UK and NL, there are entrepreneurs who view VC financing as a "lender of last resort", as it were. They've heard many stories of how VCs put very restrictive covenants on the way business is conducted, for example the need to sell their stake in the company after a certain amount of years, and they are wary of this before seeking out such financing. The first port of call for money tends to be grants, either from the nearby universities or from the government. These grants have the advantage of being relatively liberal (once you've convinced the committee to give you the money, they maintain a pretty hands off approach to the way you run your business) and are a good way to build value in the company with a very low cost to the founders.

    There is also some evidence that rates on personal income tax and capital gains tax can have a strong effect on the rates of entrepreneurship, although I wouldn't want to comment too much on this as I haven't studied this avenue in very much detail. There are, however, papers that go into this in more detail. Notably:


    • Cullen, Julie Berry, Gordon, Roger H., 2002. Taxes and Entrepreneurial Activity: Theory and Evidence for the U.S. NBER Working Paper 9015

    • Gentry, William M., Hubbard, R. Glenn, 2005. "Success Taxes", Entrepreneurial Entry, and Innovation. NBER Innovation Policy & The Economy, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p87-108

    • Keuschnigg, Christian, Nielsen, Søren Bo, 2003. Tax Policy, Venture Capital, and Entrepreneurship. Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 87 Issue 1, p175, 29p.



    I could go on and on about this, but the point is that this is still an active topic of research and the actual drivers of entrepreneurship can be quite hard to elucidate. There is a very good book that serves as a good launching point for further study in this topic entitled "Clusters of Creativity: Enduring Lessons on Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Silicon Valley and Europe's Silicon Fen" by Rob Koepp. Book is readily available from Amazon.
    • How about the national personality of Americans? We are a nation of risk-takers. All immigrant. Uprooters. Destroyers and builders on the ruins. You can't replicate that in Europe. Change your laws. Throw money around. But that is one of, no doubt, the many x factors involved. Greece during the rise of Athens. Italy during the Renaissance. Books are written on why and how they arose. None satisfy entirely. Paradigm shifts occur. Never can they be replicated deliberately. Success in other parts of the world?
  • Silicon Fen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DataCannibal (181369) on Friday May 26, 2006 @05:40AM (#15408432) Journal
    They tried to reproduce Silicon Valley near Cambridge in the UK. As far as I've heard it's not been the rip-roaring success that the people who thought of the idea imagined. The impression I get from a friend who works there is that there are a lot of start-ups which quickly turn into tits-ups. He's having more success with his home business making and selling infra-red controllers http://www.redrat.co.uk/ [redrat.co.uk].

    There's a number of pulled-out-of-my-arse random reasons why it hasn't taken off like Silicon Valley:

    1. It was pushed by National and Local Government. This never works, otherwise the North East of England would be like Silicon Valley after the amount of money that has been plowed into the region through Government and through the regional development agencies.

    2. The Weather: as another post mentioned the weather in Silicon Valley is brilliant. In Cambridge it is the opposite. Nine months of the year an east wind blows out of the Russian steppes, across the North Sea and blasts across the flat fens of Norfolk towards Cambridge. It gets a bit warmer for a month or two in the Summer but if you try something like punting in the Cam and fall in, you could still die of hypothermia in August.

    3. Marketing: No-one outside of the flat and soggy corner of England that is East Anglia knows what the fuck a "Fen" is. Anyone readin the name "Silicon Fen" will know straight away that it will be a cheap knock-off of Silicon Valley. Doh! The people who built Silicon Valley didn't call it that, it was called that by people who saw what he entrepeneurs and risk takers were doing.

    4. Food: The UK is well known for having the worst food in Europe. I know there are more Michelin starred restaurants in London that ever before but 99.9% of the food in the UK does not come from Micehelin starred restaurants and who want to come and live here in you can live in California, France etc. This ties i with point 2 as well.

    5. Risk Aversion: most brits don't like taking risks. They are terrified of risks, even more so then the Germans. One kid cuts their knee on a school trip and all school trips are banned because they are too dangerous. One person gets stabbed with a knife and know they are talking of banning all carrying of knives in public places. No more camping knofe fro me then when I head off into the mountains. Is it any wonder that people living and growing up in such an atmosphere aren't willing to take business risks. We will never see the likes of Alan Sugar, Richard Branson and Anita Roddick again.

    I'm sure there quite a few more.
  • by beaverfever (584714) on Friday May 26, 2006 @07:53AM (#15408914) Homepage
    When I read the opening blurb the first things I thought of were the weather and the geography. I have lived in the Bay Area, and quite simply it is a beautiful place to be, and the weather is as close to perfect as can be found. Not a day went by that I didn't appreciate how nice a place it was to be, even in my first apartment in San Francisco, in the super-crappy category.

    This being Slashdot, I suppose I wasn't too surprised that the opening blurb said "While the people are an important part to the Silicon Valley experience, they are only part of the requirement. What local characteristics must also be present, even if Silicon Valley is to be duplicated on a smaller scale?" and almost every post moderated up discussed the people (after the predictable DRM comments, of course).

    It wasn't until almost right at the bottom that I saw a comment moderated up which mentioned weather (and restaurants). People want to be somewhere nice. Until San Antonio and Ottawa and Cambridge and Vancouver and Seattle and wherever else these other tech areas are start up their weather machines and bulldozers and make some changes, companies trhere are going to have a harder time drawing the employees they want than those in California.

    Don't forget: a huge proportion of people in California aren't from California. These employees are drawn from outside, and it takes more than money to pull people in (usually). Perhaps the people writing the comments and moderating them for this thread either haven't been to California and so can't appreciate its physical qualities, or they are nerds who, even if they are in California, keep the blinds drawn and don't go out in the sunlight.
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday May 26, 2006 @12:46PM (#15411009) Homepage
    I live in Silicon Valley, have since 1974, and live within walking distance of downtown Palo Alto. I went to Stanford, have been through some startups, and did reasonably well. So here's how I see it.

    Stanford plays an interesting role. Stanford was started by a robber baron, and it still shows. Stanford isn't primarily a university. It's really a landowning company and investment bank [stanfordmanage.org] that runs a school on the side for the tax break. This is clear if you look at Stanford's IRS filings. This works out quite well for all parties. Stanford's investment unit invests in private venture capital partnerships, which is an unusual investment for a university but works out well, because they have people who can evaluate which portfolios have enough potential winners to come out ahead.

    The second item that made Silicon Valley is a little provision in the Californa Labor Code. This is the famous Section 2870:

    • (a) Any provision in an employment agreement which provides that an employee shall assign, or offer to assign, any of his or her rights in an invention to his or her employer shall not apply to an invention that the employee developed entirely on his or her own time without using the employer's equipment, supplies, facilities, or trade secret information except for those inventions that either:
    • (1) Relate at the time of conception or reduction to practice of the invention to the employer's business, or actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development of the employer; or
    • (2) Result from any work performed by the employee for the employer.
    • (b) To the extent a provision in an employment agreement purports to require an employee to assign an invention otherwise excluded from being required to be assigned under subdivision (a), the provision is against the public policy of this state and is unenforceable.

    So what you do on your own time, unrelated to your employment, is yours. Period. And that's why employees can work on startups in their spare time. Few other states have that, and it's never something that seems to come up when other places try to copy California, because employers hate it.

    Then there's 3000 Sand Hill Road, the address known to everyone who's ever had anything significant to do with a startup. This is a quiet little place near the intersection of Sand Hill Road and Interstate 280. It looks like a nice little housing development composed of concentric rings. The outer ring has houses and condos, and is adjacent to a golf course. The middle ring has small offices. At the center is a restaurant, the Sundeck. It's all very peaceful, and there's no indication that you're in one of the world's great financial capitals. Except that there's a directory board. On that directory board are all the big names in venture capital. Even the VCs who've outgrown the place maintain offices there. It's unique in the world; all the big players are in one small place and talk to each other.

    Silicon Valley as a center of innovation is kind of slow right now. The dot-com boom messed it up. Before the dot-com boom, Silicon Valley was about doing cool stuff. The dot-com boom was about retailing. And retailing people just aren't that innovative. The huge increase in land prices pushed manufacturing out of the Valley. Then engineering moved to follow the manufacturing. Now, Palo Alto is really a kind of retirement town; you see students and old people, but not that many twentysomethings. In downtown Palo Alto, we lost Stacy's, one of the world's best technical bookstores, to get some store selling overpriced kitchen utensils. It's not clear if the Valley will come back, or remain the place you stay after you've made it.

    But it's been great fun being here.

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