After doing some homework, I found GM’s Cruise Automation garage in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. Two decades ago I worked not too far from the garage at Faulkner Color Lab. I think Faulkner collapsed in the first wave of the Dot Com hysteria of the late 1990’s and was leased to a pet food website.
In fact it was in this very neighborhood that I first experienced the graphical internet in the mid 1990’s at Icon Byte Bar and Grill. Prior to seeing the new W3 (World Wide Web) on Icon’s projection screen I got email on a command line browser over the phone line with a modem and a program called Pine, downloaded files with Gopher and Telnet. That was a long time ago!
Now SOMA is again at the forefront of technology. Here you can see GM’s Cruise Automation Bolts driving by. As is typical with these garages, they make a point of laying low. At least as best they can when trying to test out a billion dollar car research project in the middle of San Francisco! The garage still has the name of the previous company over the entrance.
As a photographer, I know I’m doing something good when the corporate lawyer walks across the street to talk to you 😉 A gentleman (after later researching I believe to be Matt Gipple,) asked if I minded letting him know what I was photographing. This happens a lot to me, and I really find it strange…. like you are in public, driving a car that is in dozens of news stories every day for a multi-billion dollar company working on a billion dollar project….. why wouldn’t you expect people photographing you???
In any case, here are the photos. I’ll be back to try and get some variety of locations and include the actual garage and any other relevant photos next time.
Yesterday I hit the jackpot doing the Silicon Valley paparazzi thing. First off, I visited Intel’s “Garage” for their self driving car project. I read there was a media event there the day before. When I arrived it looked like the event was still in swing. Delphi’s self driving Audi was being demonstrated and another white vehicle with the give away Lidar setup on the roof was visible in the distance. Walking up the rather terse security guard asked if I had a badge. “No” – well than you can’t come in!
But alas, I had my new Sigma 150-600mm contemporary I purchased with this sort of thing in mind. Fortunately, Delphi’s “Intel Inside” Audi Q5s is plastered with logos of the various suppliers to the project, Intel, MobilEye, Vehicle 2 Everything, Ottomatika, and a big “Self-Driving Vehicle” notice on the back. Why that’s fortunate, is that unlike most other Self driving cars I’ve stalked, Delphi’s doesn’t have the big Lidar bucket atop. Instead, If you look closely at the full resolution photos, you can see cameras and sensors all over. Not only the more obvious ones in the rear view mirror assembly, but also in various subtle spots I would likely miss walking past this vehicle under normal circumstances.
After my parking spot expired, I moved on to Google in search of the ever illusive new Waymo Chrysler self driving minivan. And this time I found them! In fact, the new Pacifica minivans were so common- it’s my guess that was the reason I didn’t see a single one of those super-cute “pod cars”, perhaps all the “drivers” are busy testing the Chryslers?
And last but not least, I stumbled upon the robot security guard at Microsoft’s Mountain View Campus.
The Knightscope robot is a bit overly cute, it even has a soundtrack with a futuristic sound.
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.
My step-mom April Halberstadt attends church on the Santa Clara University Campus. Knowing my proclivity for chasing self driving vehicles down the Streets of Silicon Valley, she made a point of letting me know that there’s a self driving shuttle on campus.
While recently in the neighborhood, I went to see what’s going on in Santa Clara and swing by the university campus. Most of what’s interesting to see is in or around the university. The city and university are centered around the mission. While on campus, I typically swing by the De Saissat museum- but I was too early on this visit.
In any case, there was no sign of the self driving shuttle actually, I noticed there literally was a sign, literally (!) that I passed. But in any case, there I was minding my own business checking out the Mission building when up pulled the Auro. A young man seated in the Auro (guess we can’t call him the driver) was asked by a lady passing by, so if you have to choose between hitting a pedestrian or a skateboarder what happens. At that point I chimed in suggesting the Auro should hit the skateboarder because they are more annoying. They then went on to discuss the “Trolley Problem” and I kept photographing.
What was nice, from my perspective at least, is that the Auro is very slow. And that it has a route and stop right in front of the iconic mission. So after a few photos close up, I sat and relaxed at the fountain a ways back to get a more distant view. After getting a few sans vehicle photos eventually the Auro drove slowly towards me. In fact, another little similarly configured electric powered utility vehicle zoomed right past the Auro. The series of photos fit nicely into an animated GIF (see below.)
On my way back from a gig in Monterey- I stopped first at MSP headquarters, then worked my way up the peninsula looking for stock photo ops.
I stopped in Mountain View, hoping to get a few stock photos of the Farmer’s Market but was a bit late. I did notice the 23 and Me building, and thinking it would be a good addition to the Silicon Valley Stock Photo library, took a few boring snaps of it and the area around the train station.
But the highlight was what I happened upon on my way just driving along a street in Palo Alto. Out of nowhere, I saw a carriage, like that you’d see in Amish Country. But instead of a horse in the front, there was some sort of mechanical contraption.
I followed the curious vehicle where it parked in a hardware parking lot and the “driver” went in. I parked and pulled out my new Sony A7Rii and took a few snaps. There were customers from the Mike’s Cafe nextdoor and random passers by also taking snaps. Eventually the gentleman came out and chatted with all the curious folks standing around.
Not that I actually remembered his name, I did a search and figured out that it’s Bob Schneeveis- a mechanical engineer at Stanford who appears to know how to spend his free time.
This is one of those rare occasions in Silicon Valley with some really cool and quirky things actually are to be seen outside the tech-company fortification
Years ago I worked with this guy….. Anything you said that he could possibly find any sort of innuendo in he’d find it and shout it out loud making it sound dirty. Well telling this story is hard without all sorts of similar thoughts coming to mind.
I’m talking about pole photography. There again somehow it just sounds dirty! But all I’m referring to is a 15’ tall painting pole that I’ve adapted to raise my camera up above what people usually see. There’s already a novelty effect from looking down in photos – it’s just an angle that you don’t see too often of things you’ve seen you’re whole life.
Recent changes in technology has made for new possibilities. The quality of cameras is constantly improving. Cameras are getting smaller, lighter, and cheaper. And most importantly many now can be controlled over WIFI. This culmination of advances means I can raise up a tiny high quality camera. In this case I’m raising my mirrorless Sony NEX 6 with a small Korean made Rokinon superwide 12mm lens 15’ up. I can then view what the camera sees on my phone, and I can also trigger the shutter . Unfortunately there’s a second or two lag. Another issue is that the image on the phone is very hard to see in direct sunlight.
In any case, I’ve been going down a list of subjects that might benefit from a view 15’ above. And I could think of one appreciably different view one would get being elevated that high: over the wall at Apple Campus II worksite! They say good fences make good neighbors. But frankly I think Apple is just being a dick. If you’ve had your head in the sand for the last couple years you might have no idea what I’m talking about… but Apple Computer (the richest company on earth) is building a second campus also in Cupertino. Tech companies are particularly bad at playing nice with their community- and Apple is a poster child. They are building a huge building with a park in the center that no member of the community will ever see. At present the work site is surrounded on all sides by very high walls of slightly varying heights. On two sections I was able to relatively easily look over the fence with the pole. On a third section I could barely see over and tried raising the pole up slightly which wasn’t easy to hold steady as the pole danced in the wind and vibrated as I tried to hold it steady an extra foot above the ground.
I tried a few other subjects on my brief tour of Silicon Valley. For example, I’d previously lamented the way the once grand entrance and primary view of the Winchester Mystery House was shuttered with a chain link fence. But go up over 10 feet or so and there’s an unobstructed view. I had a lot of trouble composing in part because I’m using the wrong connector on the pole that is quite flush. But whatever, who else has photos from that angle? I tried a few photos of San Jose’s Municipal Rose Garden as it was in full bloom. The conditions there were pretty ideal, but I get self-conscious enough photographing in an area with a lot of people. You can imagine how I felt in a beautiful park full of people with a pole elevating a camera way up there.
On my return I made a few other stops “putting my pole to work.” The most successful was in Fremont. The Niles neighborhood has a handsome old train station that has been converted to a park and museum. The old station is pretty modest in height and looking down on it worked well. The park also proved a good place for stitched pianos.
An email came out of the blue, a photo request from a previous client. They were looking for a specific train at the State Railway Museum in Sacramento. I wasn’t by my computer at the time and knew I had a few photos of trains in Oldtown Sacramento where the museum offers excursions on historic trains along the Sacramento River. I sent her a note that I’d have a look.
Further research that the train in question, the Granite Rock Number 10 just arrived at the Museum. What to do? How about a weekend in Sacramento?! Hotels.com screwed up our hotel royally in Athens last summer and gave us a voucher for $100 that was soon to expire. So I booked room at the Rodeway Inn in West Sacramento within easy walking distance of the Museum and the train’s likely path.
That Friday I got started. After checking at the hotel I went over to the museum to ask about where to find the train. The young man told me I was in luck if I was here over the weekend, since the Granite Rock Number 10 Steam Engine would be escorting rail fans on a short trip along the Sacramento Riverfront.
Great- so I went on to shoot some more stock. I’ve been honing my stitched panorama skills. The State Capitol building would make a great subject. After all, shooting panos requires a few things besides my $1000 pano machine, arguably skill but also patience, lots of time and memory cards. Whenever anybody sees my setup they assume (incorrectly) that I know what I’m doing. So it was particularly fun to see a pair of nuns ask me to take their picture with an iPhone. The younger nun was so pleased with her photo she prompted me for a “high five.” Despite my strongly held view of atheism, neither she nor I were struck by lightning nor caught fire 😉
I walked around Sacramento’s downtown. Aside from the heat, seems like it would be a nice place to live. Over the course of my stay I got quite a few useable panos, stock photos of Sacramento and hopefully my client will be impressed with my image library’s newly added train photos.
I still have to pinch myself. Did this really happen? Right before the official opening of the new Eastern Span of the Oakland – San Francisco Bay Bridge a friend let me in with his special access.
We drove around on an almost empty bridge free of all but construction and CHP traffic. We stopped pretty much wherever we wanted. Nights we could even set up our tripods right in the middle lane of the bridge and make long exposures.
My friends at Oakland Magazine previously got me press access onto the Bay Bridge on a wet and windy night to document the LED art installation. We could setup our tripods for this access, which was nice. But since there was still auto traffic, the bridge shook and long exposures were fruitless.
I could have kept shooting there for weeks if they let us. These are the views photographers like me find so beautifully frustrating: so beautiful, yet unattainable. It’s what we see stuck in traffic and think if only I could just park my car and pull out my camera.
My parting shot was a long exposure disturbed by a CHP call to “leave now” minutes before the official opening.
After a gig in the South Bay I made a few stops to the regular hotspots today. First stop was Intel in Santa Clara. They’re basically the visitor friendliest tech company in Silicon Valley. Just happened I was driving past and thought for lighting reasons and to test out one of my lenses it might make a good stop.
My day started out a bit earlier than usual, and due to the angle of the sun and slight overcast, I thought it would be a good day to revisit the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley”, the HP Garage in Palo Alto. And once again I looped by the Googleplex, and found the cute little autonomous car nearby. And as usual they didn’t like me photographing/filming. I find that whole bit kinda funny- one of the world’s richest companies, testing their new product in a public parking lot. And not just any product, but a self driving car, news about which would interest a substantial portion of the world’s readership. Ironically given all the controversy of the Google Buses, there was a sign (I wish I photographed) prohibiting them. And Imagine if you or I were to drive a car with no plates in a public lot to test out ____?! Guess if you have billions of dollars you can close off a disused public parking lot and do pretty much anything 😉
In any case (and pardon my rant), it seemed today they were testing the new Google X car for bike and pedestrian safety. A couple of young women were apparently pretending to text and ride a Gbike in the path of the car. Another young lady appeared to pretend to be texting as she crossed an imaginary intersection. I’d be very curious to hear how all that works, not that they’ll discuss any of it with me. Like how can the car can figure out how fast a bike’s trajectory could enter the path of the self driving car.
Next stop was Facebook. I wanted to get a few shots of the sign from a few different angles. Not too exiting, but that’s my life.