August 1, 2008

Lawrence Lessig, Commonwealth Club

Posted in silicon valley tagged , , , , , at 1:04 am by siliconmom

On July 29th, a good friend dragged me along to the Commonwealth Club and introduced me to Stanford Prof, author and political activist, Lawrence Lessig.

lawrence lessig

lawrence lessig

Finding fame in the realm of open source and Creative Commons, this young 40-something from South Dakota recently changed his focus to political corruption and has mounted a fierce campaign to end such corruption in congress with his launch of a web-based movement: Change Congress.  He considered running for congress himself, but instead has decided to put his profound skills to back a SV type strategy for change.

He describes it as “a google mashup for politics,” that will build a movement outside Congress.

The evening, hosted at the HQ of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in Mountain View, was compelling, but left me feeling a little cynical. Lessig’s aims are not novel: end corruption in Congress. Wouldn’t we all like to take big money out of the political process? No brainer! Isn’t he a crazy idealist fighting a losing battle?

Maybe. But his powerful connections in SV and unique technical vision for change makes his story a compelling one.

Using he plans to shine a spotlight on the funding behind bills in congress. He’s planning to use social networking and wiki approaches to uncover all the sly deals going on, and make public the money influencing those with the political clout. Ultimately, he envisions a map showing those congressmen and women who have signed on to beat corruption and distortion of public policy. For those who don’t, questions will be asked

Not surprised to finid out he’s an Obama supporter. Real change is what we’re all after right now.  And ending corrupion is certainly a key part of that. Though I confess to still feeling rather unconvinced of Lessig’s ability to deliver a totally transparent, corruption-free Congress, I applaud his efforts. Moving in the direction of a transparent congress will certainly help our country.

One final note that cheered me…Lessig was originally a young Republican stalwart, but spending time in my alma mater, Cambridge, England disabused him of such right wing notions.  Welcome to the club, Lawrence!


July 1, 2008

Silicon Valley’s Visionaries – Oscar party for techies

Posted in silicon valley, tech tagged , , , , , , at 10:17 pm by siliconmom

Glamor at the Visionary Awards aka The Tech Oscars    The only things missing were the red carpet and the paparazzi at last Wednesday’s SDForum’s Visionary Awards ceremony. It had all the trappings of the Oscars: glitz and glamor, champagne and cocktail dresses. OK, there were more business suits than bustierres, I admit. But I think the brain power at this Silicon Valley event was probably ten to the Nth power of its LA counterpart.  I kept expecting an announcer to say: “Reed Hastings is appearing with fabulous thoughts today, combining high IQ with the always elegant ideas for movie delivery.”

Held at the private home of Heidi Roizen and David Mohler in Atherton, the party kicked off with a VIP only event inside the Italian villa. Backed by a suit of armor, and looked upon by a giant Bison head and stag’s head, SDForum’s CEO Susan Lucas-Conwell (sporting one of her signature French silk scarves)  made the introductions, as everyone crowded into the wood beamed hall. Susan teased the crowd about revealing how the five visionaries are actually chosen, but the selection process remains a well guarded secret. Ann Winblad is giving nothing away.

Susan Lucas-Conwell

I chatted to Cromwell Schubarth, editor of the Silicon Valley Business Journal who reports that contrary to the fate of many newspapers, like the Merc, his paper is thriving. Exploiting a niche and doing it well is key, he tells me. Next up: The Green Mayor: Chuck Reed, who was unususally enthusiastic. “The best days are ahead of us!” he exclaimed. Perhaps the optimism of all those successful techies and entrepreneurs rubbed off on him. Or maybe it was his delight in driving his wonderful Prius to the event. He told me he gets a cool green 44 MPG. That would make anyone a wee bit jovial, the way gas prices are surging!

Talking joviality, the exuberant Heidi Roizen gave me some of the skinny on her startup: SkinnySongs (an interview for Women’s Radio seems inevitable). She was determined to get the visionaries to sign her “virtual” bookshelves, a masterful tromp l’oie in her living room, already adorned with Sergey Brin, author of “Googled” among other big techy names. A smart move by Heidi: no doubt adding many $’s to the value of her home, even in this down market.the next best seller

I was cheered to hear a visionary like Forest Baskett (former CTO of Silicon Graphics and Partner at VPs NEA) pushing the case for wind power and electric cas. Moving from 20c a mile (gas) to 2c a mile (electric) sounds pretty compelling to me.

Good friends Forest Baskett & Diane Greene

Diane Greene, pioneer of mainstream virtualization and CEO & co-founder of VMWare was the most modest of the bunch. She simply credits her ‘visionary powers’ to being an optimist. According to her intro, she established a company culture that is employee-focused and about being “nice people”.  Mendel Rosenblum summed it up by saying “she showed you can build a multi-billion dollar software company and not be a jerk.” Amen to that.

I look forward to exploring both her company culture and her great passion for sailing (she tells me she sails a trimoran) when I interview her for Women’s Radio later this summer.

Founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings had some interesting wisdom to share about growing a startup: success is all about employee freedom he says: encourage creativity, take risk, do things different…

And finally: Steven Levy, senior writer for Wired Magazine and author of “Hackers” was entertaining: he described all the poses Bill Gates goes through in the space of a two hour interview – from rocking madly, almost horizontal, to fetal position. Steven is proud of the fact he antagonized the richest man in the world so much that he threw a pencil at him! Only a geek would boast that claim to fame.

Heidi warned me the party goes on till the wee hours…sadly I couldn’t stay around to see if techies really can party like the Oscar party crowd. But with Heidi at the helm, I don’t doubt they’d give it a good try.

May 14, 2008

Teens plugged in! – SDForum showcases stars

Posted in silicon valley, tech tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:54 pm by siliconmom


 (Sejal Hathi)    Yesterday’s Teens Plugged In Conference, organized by SDForum, Silicon Valley’s excellent networking and relationship builder, was a feast of youthful exuberance. HP’s auditorium in Palo Alto was overrun with young geeks from 14 to 21 who were excited to share their thoughts, sell their companies (yes: some are already CEOs) and get more funding for their tech based philanthropic enterprises. Susan Lucas-Conwell, SDForum’s chief, did a masterful job keeping the peace when Internet connections stalled at 9 am, (how can this happen in the epicenter of Silicon Valley?), but technology prevailed and soon it was on with the show.

Anshul Samar, the 14 year old  CEO of Alchemist Empire launched his PowerPoint with the panache of a seasoned techy, explaining his biz opportunity: combining kids’ need to have fun with parents’ desire to educate their kids. After launching the idea for his battle-making game that teaches chemistry at last year’s conference, he’s already raised some capital and is poised to take it further. “Being in Silicon Valley makes it impossible NOT to be an entrepreneur,” enthused Samar. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that name in the future.

Notre Dame Junior, Sejal Hathi dominated the teen panel with eloquent answers and details of her philanthropic venture: Girls Helping Girls, an international girl empowerment program fostering links between US schools and developing countries. Go girls!

Talking philanthropy, I got the chance to interview Salina Truong for my Women’s Radio show. She works with Gumball Capital, a clever nonprofit based at Stanford that seeks to teach students about microfinance by giving them this challenge: here’s a loan for $27  and 27 gumballs, go out and use your entrepreneurial smarts and make it grow. The proceeds? They’re sent to enterprising charities like If you want to hear about some of the creative projects and how much they raised, check out my radio show Silicon Valley Talks next week.

Finally and perhaps most impressive of all, I interviewed Alina Libova, the unassuming 19 year old who created an Easter Egg application using the Facebook framework, garnered 300,000 users and recently sold it to Thingi. A turning point for her was hosting a Vista Party at Foothill College, that drew over 300 attendees….this while she was still a high school student in Mountain View. Alina is transferring from Cal Poly to Cal next Fall and is bursting with ideas. With success like that, and her quiet yet compelling personality, she looks like a rising star. If you want to hear more from Alina about her inspiration and future plans, check out my radio show next week.

 And one last note for those who lament the end of kids reading real books and losing the art of face to face communication, one teen panelist gave a glowing endorsement for Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to win friends and influence people.” I wonder what advice Carnegie would give for navigating Facebook, winning online friends and not sullying your employment prospects, 5 years down the line?

May 9, 2008

Funny in Farsi at Silicon Valley’s Commonwealth Club

Posted in Inspiring mothers, silicon valley tagged , , , , , , at 9:35 pm by siliconmom

Fun with Firoozah

Last night the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley hosted Firoozeh Dumas the author of bestseller Funny in Farsi and her latest book Laughing without an Accent.

The charismatic Judy Miner, President of Foothill was moderator and did an excellent job keeping the questions coming fast and furious. She jolly well had to because although Firoozeh is as funny as hell, she’s also pretty succinct with her answers, which had me a little anxious toward the end of the interview that Judy would actually run out of questions.

They quipped about how they both often get mistaken for one another since they share the same dark eyes, enthusiasm for life: and hang out at the same Writer’s Conferences!   Firoozeh recounted a number of stories from her life that had the audience in hoots of laughter. My favorite one was how, as a newcomer to America (age 7), the boys in her class plagued her until she told them what she described as the WORST swear word she could think of, and begged them never to use it. Needless to say, within minutes they were blasting round the school screaming it at the top of their lungs. But what they were actually shouting was: I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot! Classy gal.

But beyond the hilarity, Firoozeh shared her deeper message: to concentrate on our common humanity, to change perceptions of Iranians, and counter the attitude that EVERYTHING in the Middle East is to do with war and hatred.  Her book is now widely used in schools and she hopes that will help change the view of Iran for the Post 9/11 generation.

Her advice to parents to encourage reading: give them the gift of boredom – no TV. Smart mom. Unfortunately we’re a bit too late for that in this house. But thankfully JK Rowling has saved the day!

I ushered Firoozeh into a dark annexe at the back of the stage for a quick interview for my Women’s Radio show before the event started. She was very trusting and forthcoming! 🙂

We discussed how being in Silicon Valley influenced her writing and “go for it” attitude. She also shared with me that Alexander McCall Smith was staying with her this week. Hey! Now why didn’t she invite me over? I speak the same language after all. Och aye.

Took her book to bed and kept hubby awake with my guffaws of laughter. She really is hilarious you know!

May 3, 2008

In the Palm of My Hand

Posted in silicon valley tagged , , , at 4:20 pm by siliconmom

In the palm of my hand,

From the siliconmom column archives by Alison van Diggelen March 2000

This winter, I joined the throngs in Silicon Valley who proudly parade their Palm Pilots.  I learned to cherish mine like a last remnant of umbilical cord, keeping me afloat in the heady seas of Dot Com Mania. 

However I soon learned that respect for my human limitations is a key part to living in harmony with a Palm.  My mistake was thinking that the control of my whole life could fit into the palm of my hand.

It’s fascinating to see Palms pop up everywhere from the board room, the student book-store to the Children’s Discovery Museum.  Forget flashy cars, cool khakis and teeny weenie cell phones.  The latest and greatest fashion statement in the valley is the Palm Pilot.

Typical example: last month’s job faire in Santa Clara.  Thousands of techies milling around, checking out the gold mining potential of over 200 recruiting companies. “Pre-IPO” banners shone like glistening Sirens.

The old fashioned way of passing out a whole forest of business cards is now pass‚.  With your Palm, you can politely ask, “Do you Beam?” With one press of the button, your card is automatically transferred to the recipient.  Looking cool and saving a few trees in the process is an instant recipe for feeling good about yourself.

I spent six solid hours plugging in the contents of my business calendar, my social appointments, address book, miscellaneous reminders and Christmas list.  There were still 1159 kilobytes of memory available, confidently awaiting my next few thousand appointments, like an enthusiastic boss, certain of my future success.

On screen, my life looked so simple, a breeze. I found myself saying “How could I have lived without one?”

It was satisfying to see how my day looks, my week, the coming year.  I got a heady feeling from shrinking my hectic life and my children’s schedules into the palm of my hand.  Now, at last I’ll have control over my life, I thought.

The built in secretary reminder saved me on countless occasions.  Not just for work appointments, but mundane stuff like getting kids to sports practice on time, returning library books, knowing when the cat needs vaccinations, even when my mother needs a call.

It’s perfect for early senility.  Just plug in the information and it will beep you every time you have to eat, put the trash out, take your tablets, get dressed or go to bed.

Problem is, I started to get carried away and scheduled how my day would run in half hour intervals.  Work time, kid time, nature time, couple time, social time, reading time, TV time.  Shocked at how much of the day I spent in bed, I scheduled myself to get up at 5 am not 6 and marked it, “work out time, creativity time.”

My sense of control and calm lasted about a month and then I started feeling like a frazzled operator.  My incessantly beeping Palm, was taking over.  I felt overwhelmed by the relentlessness of its annoying reminders.

My schedule didn’t account for gnarled traffic, fickle kids, meetings over-running, my husband’s deadlines, unforeseen accidents, and sickness. 

I was waking, working, eating and breathing to the beep of the Palm’s schedule.  Constantly trying to keep up with the machine, I became quite manic, sleep deprived and way out of control.  A slave to the Palm.

At the end of a long day in January, through the haze, a reality check hit.  I sang the children’s bedtime song

He’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got you and me sister in his hands
He’s got you and me brother in his hands

“How big God’s hands must be….. all of us in his hands?”  My four year old remarked. 

I realized why this Palm was not working for me.  I had lofty ambition.  Trying to fit my whole world into the palm of my hand is not for a mere mortal like me.  To push, prod and schedule every last activity, even the lumpy ones into a space the size of a mango is absurd. Some things can’t be forced.  Creativity,  meeting children’s needs, spontaneity, and impulsive charity can’t be scheduled.  They need room, wide open space to breath, even to happen.

So, I’ve decided to have a Palm sabbatical and regain some control.  I’m going back to the old fashioned calendar system for a while.  That is, until they invent the Palm LV.  You know, the one that will simultaneously give you complete digital control over your rambunctious toddlers, your workaholic husband and your waistline.

© Alison van Diggelen

May 1, 2008

Maria Shriver inspires the moms

Posted in Inspiring mothers, Radio, silicon valley tagged , , , at 11:50 pm by siliconmom

Maria Shriver with siliconmom in Palo Alto CA On Tue evening, Maria Shriver was in town to promote her new book: Just Who Will You Be? and I was lucky enough to be invited to a private reception in Palo Alto.

I had several burning questions for her, but was most intrigued to explore the theme of losing your sense of self when you get married and have children. She had some great advice for women who’re married to high achieving husbands (the majority of us in Silicon Valley). She encourages us to ask each day: what am I going to do with my one WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE? And points out that most men have no problem with finding their calling and going for it…

Here’s an extract of the interview I recorded:

 Siliconmom interview with Maria Shriver

I was most impressed with Maria’s grace. Despite her stunning appearance, she comes over as “just another mom”: no fancy airs, no superiority – despite the secret service guy hovering around; and she has seemingly endless energy to chat (indulged me as I asked about the dire state of California’s schools -high on Arnie’s priority list she assures me- and breaking the poverty cycle). Maria was completely honest about the challenges of having career and family (On having to quit her high profile TV job in NY/DC: “I hate hate hated that”) and described exactly the same conflicts we all face attending evening events and finding time for yourself. Maria even admitted to hiding in her closet the night before just to do some centering and meditation before dinner…though I imagine her closet is about the size of our master bedrooms in Silicon Valley!

Many thanks to Jill, Beth and Tekla of The Silicon Valley mom bloggers group for organizing this event.

Hail to the Celebrity Forum chief

Posted in silicon valley tagged , , , , at 5:28 pm by siliconmom

Dick Henning gets the ovation he deservesLast night, Dick Henning got what he deserved! The founder and moderator of Celebrity Forum, an unsung hero for many of us in Silicon Valley, got a good dose of praise and recognition for his 40 years of bringing excellent speakers to the Bay Area to educate and delight us.

The audience rose to its feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation as Judy Miner, President of Foothill College preempted his usual punctual 8pm appearance and introduced the great man.  She presented Dick with a special plaque as a “small token of appreciation for 40 years of leading Celebrity Forum with distinction and panache.”

The “panache” part is doubly apt as it recognizes Dick’s excellent style and also his lovely wife: Paulette, who is French.

I was thrilled to see the cover story I wrote about Dick for the Los Altos Town Crier projected on the enormous screen behind Dick. He actually looked rather overwhelmed for an instant, but gathered himself and with his usual humility said, “If you do something long enough, someone will eventually give you an award.”

There was great hilarity and then Dick smiled and thanked Judy and “all those involved in this nefarious deed.”

Then it was on with the show: Dick introduced Bill Frist, former senator, top surgeon and big fan of Al Gore. Frist told us all we wanted to know (and more!) about the dire state of US Health Care. 

Afterwards, it was excellent to congratulate Dick in person at the Green Room reception; and finally meet Judy Miner who is even more sparkling in person than I’d anticipated.  I also got the chance to thank the Editor Bruce Barton, Paul and Liz Nyberg (the publishers) for using my working title for the piece – a rare honor for this lowly writer. I look forward to interviewing Judy when I get my show up and running on Women’s Radio

Reception in the Green Room

Downturn impacts SV

Posted in silicon valley tagged , , , at 4:25 pm by siliconmom

Demise of the Corner Café
By Alison RG van Diggelen
From Silicon Valley Biz Ink column archives, 2002

When I was over in London this summer, a friend, who recently left Silicon Valley for the greener pastures of Ascot, asked me how things were in the valley these days. Good and bad, I said.

After months and months of huge job cuts dominating front-page news, I told her that silver lining stories are now beginning to bud. Perhaps it’s because the downturn has been with us long enough that we crave some good news. Every paper has stories about shorter commutes, easier hiring, reduced house prices, quality of life improvements.

But really! We should be ashamed of ourselves. It’s a little soon to be making hoopla over our dearly departed. They may be in deepest Demoines but I mean their bodies are still warm. They’re probably still wired to the web, still in touch with the valley in one way or another. The way some press stories read, it’s as though those fleeing Silicon Valley fell off the edge of the earth. OK, Siliconians are not renowned for their empathy, (we’re too busy being creative), but still. For all we know, those with pink slips may have looked over their shoulders on their way out of the valley and heard us cheering, reveling in the extra room on the road now that their car is no longer jostling for position on Highway 85 every morning. Hey, shouldn’t we be showing a little more respect?

By contrast, London is still thriving thanks to a huge consumer spending boom. As I shopped with about half of the European Community in Covent Garden one Saturday morning, I kept recalling the independent café in our San Jose neighborhood, which folded this summer. It’s been sitting empty and forlorn for months. There is no silver lining in sight here, just a gradual destruction of its “Down-Under” memory as creditors come by each month to seize more fittings.

Two years ago, I was delighted when this independent coffee shop moved into the neighborhood. I rallied to support this one-woman business as she tried to swim against the tidal wave of Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee. I’d watch her red-rimmed eyes as she frothed the milk for my cafe latte and looked around the empty tables. I wondered how many cups of coffee she had to sell each day to pay the rent.

I got in the habit of going in just before my son started school around the corner. By June, her anxious manner had melted into a jolly disposition. She’d say to my five-year old, “Come on back and let’s make your mama’s latte.” He would trot round beside her and emerge moments later with a beaming smile waving a blue and white sticker or a shiny new Frisbee showing the coffee shop logo.

The coffee shop supported local charity events, turning up at the Almaden Times Classic 10K with balloons for the kids and free coffee for all. (Funnily enough there wasn’t a Starbucks cup in sight.)

One Saturday the kids and I cycled from our house along the creek path and refreshed our tired bodies with strawberry milkshakes and ham croissants from the café before we journeyed back. We sat at the table by the window and the kids counted the fluffy gray Koalas peeking out from make believe trees, their branches festooned with silver tinsel, around us. That was just days before she served her last cup of coffee.

On our return from London we went to check out the coffee shop. “What will happen to the Koalas?” the kids ask.

We peer in through the plate glass window. The trees and Koalas were gone. All that remains of them are a handful of plastic leaves strewn across the gray vinyl floor and some loose strands of silver tinsel. Wooden wall cupboards gap open; a couple of coffee bean sacks lie limp where the coffee roaster used to be. On the counter top sits a half empty bottle of Calistoga. Near the counter lies a computer box, its side ripped off, a mangle of electronic innards exposed.

We turn away, my teeth catching my lower lip, as the kids bombarded me with questions, “But why?” “Will the Koalas be OK?”

The local merchants tutt-tutt and gossip. The tenant was behind in the rent, disappeared. “We’re fed up being next to an empty shell,” they say. They’d like to see a Starbucks go in. It would be good for business.
About the author: Alison van Diggelen is founder and editor of She lives in San Jose with her husband and American born children.

© Siliconmom.

April 15, 2008

Aspiring to be an eco-mom

Posted in green living, Inspiring mothers, silicon valley tagged , , , at 6:29 pm by siliconmom

Aspiring to be an eco-mom

My weekend is never complete without reading Chrystia Freeland’s excellent column in the Financial Times Weekend section however, a recent one really made my blood boil. Titled, “Save us from the eco-mom” my hackles were up before I’d even scanned the first paragraph. She reports to “feeling the first stirrings of eco-resistance” as she’s forced to hand wash her daughter’s glass milk bottles…and then extrapolates into a whole peeve-fest about “eco-moms’ tendencies to complicate and belabor domestic life.” Oh my!

I agree that we shouldn’t forget the emancipatory power of the dishwasher and washing machine, but I think we should also be prepared for a little inconvenience. Saving the planet is worth a little hassle, is it not?

I aspire to be an eco-mom; I aspire to recycle, buy local, drive a hybrid, reduce my carbon footprint etc., but I certainly don’t aspire to the fundamentalist eco-mom definition she describes…moms who’re completely consumed by the eco movement to the point of turning the clock back, abandoning science and technology. Brings to mind an image of  women down by the river, scrubbing their underwear with carbolic soap for hours…Oh, please!

And another thing…

I think Chrystia was so busy with her eco-warrior warnings she missed an important part of the eco-picture: that the eco-movement is pushing for scientific and technological advancement (not regression); that eco-moms are pushing for renewable energy , hybrid cars, low carbon footprints and energy saving ways to run their homes.

Eco-moms are looking for ways to get their groceries from local producers, not from half way round the world. Eco-moms want green solutions, not ways to chain themselves to the sink all day. It’s opportunity not tragedy; a wee bit of inconvenience for the common good. I reject her branding eco-moms fundamentalist: we’re pragmatic, we’re realists and we’re more than ever aware that we’re all in this together. Al Gore says it best in his surprisingly funny and self-effacing call to action

Finally: I’m curious to observe that Chrystia is the one who tries to sneak recyclables in the trash and her kids are the ones who catch her red-handed. Why is it the complete opposite in our house and I’m forever fishing plastic yoghurt cartons etc out of the garbage? Are the New York schools so much better at making the eco-message stick than the California schools? Am I pushing too hard? Fodder for another column perhaps?

Original post

March 12, 2008

The Scottish invasion

Posted in silicon valley at 4:14 pm by siliconmom

Last week  Susan Lucas-Conwell, chief of kindly invited me to a gathering of the Edinburgh-Stanford Link, a high tech collaboration between both universities,  funded by Scottish Enterprise. She knows only too well I can’t resist a good evening out with my fellow lads and lassies. Och aye.


Internet guru Mark Fletcher was brave enough to host the invasion of whisky-drinking venture-capital pursuing Scots at his Dr. Suess-inspired pin-ball and pool table filled mansion in the hills of Redwood City.


I chatted with some jolly Scottish entrepreneurs (who sounded suspiciously English!) and they described the humiliation of pitching to VCs at Google. One nugget of advice: if you want to build a social network –  hosting competitions is key. Everyone wants to be a winner of course! Mike Clauser, US tech entrepreneur and angel funder in Scotland seemed a bit under the weather: whisky or flu, I’m not quite sure? But I hope he’s recovered by now.


Also chatted with the host and his entourage about proper kilt wearing etiquette, and the Scots’ propensity for deep frying everything from haggis to mars bars. Even plugged my concept for a green living website, but sadly no blank checks were forthcoming…


Before Susan and I hit the winding road, I met with the charming Margaret McGarry of who told me about the three Scottish entrepreneurs who knocked on every door in Sand Hill Road earlier that day and had some good leads (no joke!). Still hoping to hear the good news from Margaret: that their mission was $$$$ successful. I love to hear about SV sharing its wealth and wisdom with the Auld Country.

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