Sunnvyale Sunset

The evenings have started to get that cool crispness that means fall is starting. Summer skies over Northern California tend to be bland and cloudless. With the start of fall, the skies have gotten more interesting, at least some of the time. On Friday, the skies turned brilliant at sunset.

California, Silicon Valley

Fire in the Sky over Sunnyvale

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While is the image is from this year, I wrote the following back in 2013 and it still does a good job of capturing of how I feel about the solstice:

The solstice always makes me think about the humans that came 1000s of years before us. They couldn’t really be sure that days would start getting longer again.

All of our forbearers must have had the fear that maybe the days would keep get shorter and shorter and they would be plunged into darkness. The solstice was clearly an important day to many cultures. In Ireland, the massive ancient monument of New Grange is built on a solstice alignment and the rising sun on the solstice illuminates a chamber deep inside. The Mayans ended their year on the solstice which why their calendar ran out on the solstice causing people to predict the end of the world (in 2012).

In in modern times, our calendar year reset and our biggest holiday celebrations are both quite near the solstice which is no coincidence. Humans have always celebrated or marked the shortest day of the year. As the light fades from the sky on this Winter Solstice, I feel a connection to thousands years of my ancestors who also marked this shortest day of the year.

California, Silicon Valley

Winter Solstice

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Snowy Egret

A Snowy Egret at Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Silicon Valley, Wildlife

Snowy Egret

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Duck

I took my new lens out to the Palo Alto Baylands to try it out and my favorite image was this duck, which I think is a female Northern Pintail. I was unpleasantly surprised about the number of mosquitos who were more than happy to turn me into their next meal. Next time I will bring insect repellant.

California, Silicon Valley, Wildlife

Duck at Palo Alto Baylands

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California, Silicon Valley

The Start of the Longest Night

Winter Solstice Sunset, Sunnyvale

For most people the winter solstice, as known as the official start of winter, is just a curiosity and that often gets overlooked being just 4 days before Christmas.  However, Christmas is in late December because of the solstice.  The early Christian church placed in Christmas in late December to co-opt pagan solstice festivals.

Almost every human society has marked the solstice in some way.  The longest night creates a need for a festival or observance with lights to ward off the darkness.  Armed with modern science, we know that the days will get longer again.  Empirically, our ancestors knew this as well but I always suspect that they also feared that there was the possibility that days would continue to get shorter and they would be stuck in a perpetual darkness.  I suspect many early societies had rituals or offerings to the Gods to make sure the days started getting longer again.

Every year on the solstice, I think about the generations came before us and for 1000s of years marked the solstice.  The longest night is a connection humanity’s past.  We feel the darkness less in the modern world due to electric lighting.  But I think it’s worth it to take a minute and imagine how the longest night would have felt to our ancestors a 1000, 2000 or even 5000 years ago with only fire to ward off the darkness and the cold.

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Broadway Cleaners - Redwood City, CA

A classic neon sign on Broadway Cleaners in  Redwood City, CA

California, Silicon Valley

Broadway Cleaners

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California, Silicon Valley

Demolition of the Blue Cube

Demolition of the Blue Cube

 

Growing up in Silicon Valley, the Blue Cube which was officially known as Onizuka Air Force Base loomed large in my imagination.  With my parents telling me the building had no windows to prevent spies but finding what was going on inside,  the Blue Cube conjured up visions of spies, espionage and James Bond-esque plots.  With those childhood memories in mind, the demolition of the Blue Cube feels like the end of era and in many ways it is.  There’s very little defense work that goes on in Silicon Valley today.  And, no 10 year old kid is going to drive past a Facebook building and wonder what secret work is going on inside.

The Air Force claims that the lack of windows was to save on heating and cooling costs but I don’t believe them.   Rationally, it seems unlikely because every other building has windows.  More importantly, it take ways all the mystery of place.  Even at its closing, most of what went on there is still classified so the mystery will live on, at least in minds of those of us who remember the Blue Cube.

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California, Silicon Valley

Don Burnett Pedestrian Bridge

Don Burnett Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge

 

I’d driven under this bridge many times and its form would often catch my eye.  The bridge crosses over Interstate 280 between Sunnyvale and Cupertino.   The design is striking which is unexpected for a modern piece of public infrastructure.  I don’t expect California with its near constant budget crises to be building anything but ugly utilitarian designs.   In this case, some creative thinking in using steel saved millions of dollars in construction costs.  My original suspicion was correct though in that Caltrans only permits concrete construction to reduce maintenance costs.  The city of Cupertino had to agree to maintain the bridge to get Caltrans to approve it.     The result is a beautiful piece of architecture.

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California, Silicon Valley

Hendy Iron Works

Growing up in Silicon Valley, I never gave much thought to the region’s past beyond that it was agricultural area prior to becoming the center of the tech sector.   The Joshua Hendy Iron Works is a window the industrial portion of the region’s history.   The Iron Works built heavy mining equipment and steam engines for ships in addition to almost anything that could be crafted out of iron.    It was originally located in San Francisco but was heavy damaged by the fire following the 1906 earthquake.  The City of Sunnyvale offered free land and the Iron Works relocated to Sunnyvale.

I got interested in the Iron Works because of another image I wanted to create and still haven’t gotten right yet.   That image is of a large exhaust fan at the top of a warehouse.  The warehouse is visible from South Sunnyvale Avenue which I drive on fairly frequently.  On one afternoon, I tried to get a picture through the fence which resulted in a security guard racing over a golf cart and yelling at me.  Since I was standing on a public sidewalk, I knew I was in the clear legally.  Unfortunately, that vantage point didn’t work for the image I wanted to create.  The whole experience made me wonder why there’s such high security for an old warehouse.

Today,  Northrop Grumman Marine Systems owns the site and uses it make turbine generator sets and propulsion units for nuclear attack submarines.    Work on nuclear submarines no doubt includes classified information which explains the overzealous security.

For modern Silicon Valley, even the current Northrop Grumman facility feels like a throw back.  The property is 32 acres of prime real estate that would be worth a fortune as town houses.  Even more than the property value, building large industrial items out of metal feels at odds with the miniaturized computer and networking hardware and the etherial software Silicon Valley produces today.  The building pictured above feels historic and is part of the original IronWorks.  The rest of the facility was built post-WWII and feels industrial.  The historic building is now a museum that’s hardly ever open.  Visiting the museum is on my to-do list as I want to get a better feel for the Iron Works back in its heyday when Sunnyvale was mostly agricultural.

A couple of resources to learn more about Iron Works.

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