I posted this on my “Streets of Silicon Valley” blog, but forgot to put here. I usually write a separate post for each blog, but this time I’m going to be lazy and just paste here:
Finally! I’d been hoping to track down the Apple self driving car project for a while now. I staked out one facility where I believe Apple is doing their research into self driving cars. There was some strange activity, notably every couple minutes a new white Lexus SUV would arrive. Some had plates, some didn’t. I suspected they were being prepped for autonomous conversion, but saw no Lidar.
And low-and-behold I came across one of those Lexus SUV’s rigged up with Lidar driving into an Apple property!
As always, a big thanks to Mario Herger, and the friendly folks at Reddit’s Self Driving Car stub for all their support! All images and text are (c) Michael Halberstadt and be sure to ask if you wish to use.
You can find more of my self driving car photos here: LINK
For family reasons I found myself in Vallejo for a couple days. I wanted to do some photography on Mare Island, an area I spent a lot of time when living in Vallejo a decade ago.
While taking a few stock photos of St Peter’s chapel a classic car came up and parked right out front. Looking at the photos it looks like a Buick 8 coupe from the 1940’s in spectacular shape. The owner must be quite a character, he came out in military dress clothes and walked a tiny dog.
To keep current, I made a loop around a few self driving car projects. First two stops were a cluster of companies in Santa Clara: SF Motors and Voyage.
Regrettably, not much to see there. Nothing I could see in the parking lots, no interesting traffic in or out of their office parks or buildings. But for the stock photo library I made a couple of photos anyhow.
So I went to a surefire location where I’d see more Lidars than anywhere else in Silicon Valley- the Google X building in Mountain View. Maybe they’d be testing something new there.
Turns out Waymo was. At first it didn’t even register. At the stop sign in front of me I saw a blue big rig. I was in fact just standing there with my Sony A6500 slung over my shoulder ready to capture any self driving car to come my way. But this wasn’t a car, it was a semi-truck. And in looking up I saw it had a Lidar assembly on top. I got fewer photos than I should have. But I got a few. In researching I found out that Google is putting together a few Peterbilt autonomous trucks. Guess they’re trying to compete with OTTO/Uber freight?
And another unlikely autonomous vehicle poked its head out unexpectedly in front of me. I barely caught it, but while scanning the road for Lidar, a Toyota Research Lexus drove right past Google X’s building.
One new thing that caught my eye was the flags atop the new stop signs. I’m guessing that Waymo’s autonomous vehicles have trouble seeing such signs occasionally. Presumably they figure that out over time. Previously I noticed that there’s a cone permanently placed on an odd stretch of curb near Google X that I assumed was for the same reason.
Well that’s my report from another day in Silicon Valley.
At least I had one pole- this is a somewhat unique view of Santa Clara’s Civic Center Park and Fountain. With the drought over, there’s water in the fountain unlike last time I came here. While I came here with a pole (mono-polar?) There was a guy in the corner of the park shouting insults at me as I photographed. I was a bit worried but he never came too close. Eventually another vagrant came buy and the had a shouting match beneath the gaze of Saint Claire and my new Sony A6500.
There’s an outfit called BoxBot testing a delivery robot. They don’t look too far along as far as autonomous-ness, there seems to be a human with a joy stick walking behind the orange small refrigerator on its back looking contraption.
None-the-less it’s fun to see a little of this autonomousness so close to home. Maybe I’ll place an order and see how it works?
Another objective I had visiting San Jose was getting a better feeling for my newish Sigma Contemporary 150-600mm lens. I’m using only Sony mirrorless cameras at the moment and along with Sigma’s MC-11 adapter, they’ve filled a gap in Sony’s lens lineup.
So my first (and it turns out my last) stop would be photographing aircraft on approach to San Jose’s international airport. That last bit used to make me giggle. That’s because not that long ago, SJC was only an international airport on a few technicalities. There were a couple flights to Mexico a week or something. But now there are regularly scheduled flights to and from Japan, China, Germany, too!
So there are more interesting planes flying in and out as well. In addition to the regular 737’s there are Airbus A320’s and Boeing 777’s as well.
From planes, we move on to trains. I set out to test my lens on some rail traffic coming and going from San Jose’s Diridron (main, central, downtown, whatever train station you wanna call it.)
It was really toasty, standing in the sunny weather atop the bridge.
After cooling down, I headed downtown and shot the VTA light rail too.
(with my apologies to the late Falco and the even later Amadeus….)
San Jose has a wonderful newish Library. I’ve visited the MLK Library a few times already. But until now managed to avoid visiting the Beethoven Center.
The MLK Library is somewhat unique as I understand it as it is both the City of San Jose’s Public library and is shared as part of San Jose State University. In addition to having some of the best publicly accessible views of the city, it is home to a number of special collections. In addition to the aforementioned Beethoven Center, there’s also a Steinbeck center, California Room various special ethnic collections on the fifth floor.
As I arrived the Beethoven Center just a few minutes before closing. The gentleman there told me that he plays some of the historical pianos – but he was wrapping up to close so I’d have to come back another day.
I knew that on of my clients was looking for photos of Contra Costa Parks so I opted to make a visit to Regional Parks Botanic Garden. Since there’s lots of color elsewhere in the Bay Area at the moment, I assumed there would be there too. Alas, as so often is the case, I was wrong. The Regional Parks Botanic Garden is a native plants garden, and I’m guessing those are on another schedule.
Not far away was the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. I remembered that my reciprocal NARM membership should get me in for free, and so it did. Visually, this garden offered much more. The stock photographer in me kept photographing the signs.
I remembered a visit I made to the Medicinal Herb Garden in Seattle a couple years ago- this seems even more medicinal. There was a Chinese section that claimed to have herbs for cancer to pretty much everything else. But ironically, there were signs all over the place stating “Many Plants Here are Toxic, DO NOT EAT THEM!” Well so much for Chinese medicine!
I’ve also been seeking out fountains recently that seem to work particularly well with my slightly aerial view setup. And I managed to check one fountain off my list: Berkeley’s “The Fountain at The Circle”.
My next stop was Kensington. I stopped and got a coffee and almond halva at Country Cheese Co. Coffee Market. I have a knack for inserting my foot in my mouth, and while paying the pretty young woman at the cash register noted that she had a shirt just like mine (a dark green plaid) – I said I can’t picture that. What I meant was that she seemed far to chic to wear anything that resembled what I wear, but I’m sure she was left with the impression of what’s wrong with that guy! Not that this has anything to do with my stock photo blog, just getting this off my chest. Sorry miss!
I’ve been a fan of Semifreddy’s croutons for some time. And I think they got their start in Kensington, though they now have a big bakery in my town of Alameda. Semifreddy’s has a retail location in Kensington and I stopped in and puzzled what to order. The young lady at the counter asked if I liked olives, (of course I do!) because they accidentally just made a vegetarian Muffaletta – so they made the decision for me (and it was good!)
Not that I planned it that way… I did start looking (for cherry blossoms) in two of San Jose’s Japanese landmarks, Japantown and the Japanese Friendship Garden. But the Japanese Friendship garden turned out to be closed, perhaps due to the recent flooding. And turns out the beautiful pink blossoms that are blooming in my neighborhood were plum trees, not cherry. I’ll have to return in a month or two.
So I walked around San Jose’s Japantown looking for stuff to photograph. I’d been meaning to add a few photos of the newish Japanese Museum. And I couldn’t help but get a few shots of the already well covered Buddhist Church. And as I do whenever I can, I stopped at an old familiar restaurant I’ve visited since my childhood: Kazoo.
And while thinking of gardens and trees in bloom, I thought of another place from my childhood. Right next to my high school, Independence HS on the East Side, there’s a park. I took a few photos there a few months ago, and it was really, really brown and dry due to the drought. Now it’s flooding in SJ, so I figured it would look a bit different, perhaps with some plum trees in blossom if I was lucky.
Well I was lucky- to some degree at least. There were a few pink blossoming trees next to an arch commemorating the Chinese Garden. The gardens themselves seemed kinda shabby. The main pavilion was still barricaded like the last time I visited months ago. And one big surprise for me was that the pond around the Confucius statue was completely empty. I assumed the last time I visited it was because of the drought, but alas there must be another reason.
Onward on my Asian journey, I made a stop to a favorite suburban gem that was built when I was growing up in the neighborhood: the Pao-Hua Buddhist Temple. I think this is mainly used by ethnic Chinese Vietnamese folks. I really like the walls of Buddhas especially. And the people there are so nice, a monk came up to me and encouraged me to continue photographing pointing out some details I should pay closer attention to.
All in all, it was a nice visit. I do know the way to San Jose, and enjoy taking that route.
I thought it’d be fun and go out and photograph a few versions of the same thing, like on a theme. I’ve also been exploring Oakland a bit more for the stock photo biz. So I opted to check out something new to me in Oakland. The theme I intended to follow was Rose Gardens from Oakland to Walnut Creek. But plans don’t always work out. My intended reconnaissance mission was then to see what I could of the secretive GoMentum automated car testing grounds in nearby Concord.
There are so many cool and hidden pockets of Oakland to surprise even those of us who’ve lived nearby for ages. The Morcom Rose Garden was yet another surprise for me. It was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project, which I find particularly cool. If it weren’t for Republican resistance, I think we could have had a modern wave of building innovation after the economic collapse that started under the Bush administration a decade or so ago.
In any case, Morcom has that WPA look. The buildings have that sort of Mission Revival ? style and the gardens are terraced in nicely symmetrical. Though I’m reasonably happy with some of the photos I took, this wasn’t the ideal time of year- I should come back in summer next year.
So, on to the next rose garden on the list. This was in Berkeley. Unfortunately for photographic purposes this was something of a bust. The lighting was less than ideal when I arrived. But more importantly some renovation was underway, so there were vehicles and orange plastic fencing etc ruining the aesthetic.
Ces’t la vie.
So next stop I had planned was Walnut Creek or Concord- I didn’t care what order. But as is often the case, I got sidetracked. From highway 4 I saw the signs for the John Muir National Historic Site. I was relieved to see a “free entry” sign at the front and went on in. Again, the lighting for the exterior was far from ideal.
Inside however there were a few fun finds. The ranger inside said to go on up to the top bell tower and ring away if I wanted. And I did. I got a bunch of bell photos thinking that they would be a good geo quiz type image. And though I had no tripod, I couldn’t help but shooting a few interiors.
It was late afternoon and I hadn’t had lunch or much of a breakfast, so I tried finding something in Martinez. But instead I found the handsome buildings downtown including a historic courthouse and post office and photographed them.
And then moved on to Concord, still hungry.
I drove around the Gomentum/old military base but didn’t see many gaps or any self driving cars. I’ll have to do more research. And I never made it to the rose garden in Walnut Creek. Guess that’s for another day.