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Infrastructure review of the Silicon Valley


Introduction


imageThe last four years I have lived and worked as a programmer in the United States in the Silicon Valley. During this time I have collected some observations that I'd like to share. I will focus on the infrastructure issues, such as the transport, internet, roads, crime, water, entertainment, and etc. I will tell only about my own experience. I hope this article will be interesting for the specialists that are thinking about working in the Silicon Valley.

Vehicles


imageRoads and automobile transportation
First thing I noticed when I came to the valley, it is excellent quality of the roads. The highway usually has four lanes in the each direction. The outer left lane can be used when more than one person is the car. The speed limit is usually 105 km / h., and it is controlled by the police forces that pull over the people, who drive over the limit. I have to say that they do not pull over for 120 km / h., but for 130 km / h., they may write a ticket. These two statements are verified by my own experience.

The city streets vary in sizes from one to four lanes in one direction. There is the speed limit from 40 km / h., up to 72 km / h., in the residential areas on major roads. There are no signs of “main road” and “secondary road”, but they use the “yield” and “stop” signs. Traffic lights work correctly, but a couple of times it happened that the light hung on a red and I had to go on it.
A convenient thing is that you can turn right at a red light. So, when you drive up to the red traffic light, the driver must stop and let through cars then can turn right from the right lane. Stopping is obligatory: at the certain intersections are automatic cameras that take picture of the offender. Cameras work quickly, it is verified by my own experience.

Vehicles are very affordable means of transportation. Due to the favorable climate the vehicles wear out slowly, so on the streets are quite a lot of cars from all periods of the XX century. Used cars are not very expensive. If you are interested in prices, you can browse the site sraigslist: it has a lot of ads about used cars.

Drivers are rather polite in the valley; almost always they give way to pedestrians and other drivers. Very common is a non-verbal communication: they wave by a hand to another driver on the “stop” sign, which means that you can drive or wave to a pedestrian, so person may go first. They respond normally by a smile and open palm, they say, thank you.

Public transport
Perhaps someone does not agree with this, but I was left with the impression that public transportation is worthless in the valley.
For the sake of this article, I went to work on the public transport the last three weeks. I used the Caltrain, which goes through the whole valley. Train stops often located far from the destination. The train is usually late for more than 10 minutes. However, once the train was delayed for “indefinite” time at one station. Of course, it was the day I could not be late for an appointment.
Buses go very occasionally. Stops are not everywhere.
There are a few cabs. At the street to catch the car is almost impossible. However, sometimes the cabs are in the centers of local towns at the evening, often close to the bars.

Bicycles
Cyclists are a few on the streets, but the conditions created for them are very good. Many streets have a special lane for the bicyclists. Drivers usually yield to bicycles. You cannot ride the bicycles on the highway, but almost anywhere you can get using roads. It's nice that the public transportation provides space for bicycles. Thus, the Caltrain has a special coach, where you can attach it to the iron handrail and sit nearby.

Used bicycles are available. Specific prices can be viewed on craigslist. Bicycles also can be rented.

Although there are not many cyclists, they are willing to help if something happened. When it breaks down, it is very likely that someone will stop and offer assistance or point to nearest shop. It is verified by my own experience.

Basic conveniences


imageWater and electricity
Hot and cold water seem to work very stable. For four years, the water was turned off only once, when they repaired the line. Water quality is acceptable; I constantly drink water from the tap and never get ill.

Electricity is 120V/60Hz in the United States, sockets type A and B. Electricity was cut off twice in four years, because of the storm.

Internet
There are several Internet providers in the valley. I used only Comcast. Internet did not go down even once; the connection always had a decent speed. For example, now speedtest.net shows 25 Mbit / s., for downloading and 4 Mbit / s for load. However, I must say that I have heard many horror stories about the stupidity of technical staff of Comcast and sophisticated bureaucracy within the company. Fortunately, I have not faced it yet.

Cellular Telecommunications
There are several providers of cellular communications in the valley. I used only AT & T. The quality of communication is unsatisfactory. Calls are constantly lost; 3G is not perfect either. In my opinion, the rate plans are not sufficiently flexible. Once I had to deal with technical support operator. I was able to solve the problem, only when I shouted obscenities and threatened to go to court (small claims court, to be exact).

I know from my friends that other operators do not differ in the communication quality or technical support.

It is worth to say that the subscriber pays for the incoming calls and SMS, as well as the person that receives them on the basic plans.

It seems to me that one of the biggest problems of cellular communication is lock-in to specific phone providers. For example, some devices can be purchased only with a contract for two years. There are plans without a phone, but you can meet the most unexpected limitations.

Mail
There is a number of postal services: the state and some private. They work very well. Parcels reach on time and in a good condition. In the four years, there was not lost any of my letters or parcels. Perhaps, the most unpleasant was the case when I ordered four large glass frames and one came with a crack.

Postmen try to throw a parcel to the balcony. There are special boxes for parcels in some houses: parcel is placed in an iron box and the key is placed in the recipient's mailbox. In the good areas the parcel is left at the front door. In general, I have never heard from anyone of my friends that a parcel was stolen.

Money
Transactions between the citizens and businesses is carried out differently. Here is a description of the main ways:

• Cash is used very seldom. I usually carry a maximum of 10$ in cash. Almost all transactions are made by the cards.
• Debit cards are accepted almost everywhere. In order to receive a card, you need only a foreign passport. Let me remind you that the debit card is issued when you have a bank account and during transaction the money is withdrawn directly from it. I must say that I rarely use a debit card; usually I use a credit card for most purchases.
• Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. You can apply for this card at the bank. When I got my first card, I was asked to put a security deposit. After six months of use, I received my security deposit back and got a normal credit card. It is convenient to pay with these cards on the Internet, gas stations, and even in restaurants, where the check has a special column “tip”.
• Personal checks. Once I opened a bank account, they sent me a packet of personal checks. The checks I used when I need to transfer large sums of money. For example, every month I send a check to the landlady for the rent. When I bought the car, I wrote the check to the seller. I also wrote a check for friend, who bought the airline tickets for all of us. However, the checks have one disadvantage: I can write a check for the amount that I do not have on my bank account. Then the person to whom I wrote a check could not cash a check at the bank, and most likely he will be very unhappy. Here come the following types of payment.
Money order and Cashier's check. These two types of payment are essentially the same: the check with sufficient funds that guaranteed by a bank or a large organization. In order to get such check you must first give them your money. This type of payment I used only to pay for some government agencies, such as Russian and Canadian consulates.

Emergency assistance
Ambulance and the police come very quickly within 10 minutes. While vehicle has been coming, the operators of 911 stay on the line and give tips on what to do until help will arrive. It is verified by my own experience.
I must say that the vehicles of ambulances and firefighters always let through on the roads and highways. I saw like the emergency vehicles made their way through the traffic jam.

Life


imageHealth Insurance
Medical care is available if there is an insurance. Many employers pay for the insurance coverage for the employees. Insurance seemed to me one of the worst institutions in the United States. There should be very careful approach to choose a medical plan. You can choose a plan HMO, when all the services take place in one clinic or PPO, when the patient can choose the doctor. Wrong choice of type of insurance together with an unusual disease can lead to the large bills for treatment (about thousands of dollars). Fortunately, I never encountered any serious problems, however, I know about the horror stories from my friends.

Car insurance and accidents
Basic automobile insurance is mandatory. Obligatory insurance should pay for the damage to other vehicle. I used only the insurance from Geico. My car is fully insured.

I will illustrate the work of insurance company: once I ran into a big jeep. Fault was entirely mine. The driver of the jeep laughed then swept off the pieces of my car from an iron bumper, took information about my insurance company, gave me his information and drove on. The police arrived a few minutes later at the scene. They helped me pull my car off the road. After they found out that there were no victims and the other side has nothing against me, the officers left without even asking my name. I called the towing truck and towed the wrecked car to a favorite service. After, I called the insurance company and told them about the incident as well the service, where I placed the car. Then I gave to the service information on my insurance company and went home. The further the process I followed on the Internet: an agent came to a service from an insurance company, took pictures of damages, post them on the website, and approved the price of repairs. A few weeks later I went and took the car back. The cost of repairs was about 7000$ and I paid only a deductible of 1000$.

Crimes
There are areas in the valley, where local residents did not recommend me to appear. They will not kill, but they may put a knife and ask for the money. However, as I said, the police arrived on the scene fairly quickly. It is verified by my own experience.

In San Francisco are so many homeless people on the streets. For the most part they seem harmless. But it is not very nice to walk around the town at the evening. I must say that there are not many the homeless in the valley. Centers of local small towns are more enjoyable at the evening.

Housing
I rented an apartment in complex. Prices seem pretty reasonable. For specific numbers, I would go back on craigslist.

In the complexes are a swimming pool, small gym, tennis court and private parking. These conveniences and location of the complex determine the price. In all complexes that I have lived the landlord paid for the water and garbage and I paid for the electricity. One apartment was equipped with a natural gas heater: I also had to pay for the natural gas.

I have never met unpleasant neighbors. However, I must say that some of my friends had to live next to strange people. To the usual annoyances such as a drum or arguments is added an odor from the kitchen.

It is very interesting that not every complex allows pets. Friends say that cats are permitted more frequently than dogs.

Shops
There are many shops in the valley. You can find goods for every taste. I will try to describe by the categories:

• Food. It should be noted that many products are in the stores with a suspiciously long shelf life. However, you can find shops that sell fresh meat, fruits, vegetables and bread. There are markets apart from the usual self-service stores. Markets, farmers' market are gathered on the certain days. There you can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and food directly from farmers.
• Russians. There are a few Russian stores in the valley. There you can find a doctor’s sausages, black bread, brew, sprats, cottage cheese and the books in Russian. These stores also have the newspapers in Russian. According to these newspapers you can follow the life of the Russian community.
• Household. There are a lot of shops, usually self-service stores. Let me note that due to the English system of measures is very difficult to choose the right size of building materials.
• Clothing stores. You can find shops for every taste: from the cheap to fairly expensive. Within an hour's drive from the valley in Gilroy, there are dozens of shops selling the designer’s clothes with a good discount. I usually go there a couple times a year and buy everything I need in one day.
• Electronic stores, bookstores, and more. These stores are offline. However, the majority of purchases I made through Amazon or eBay.

Restaurants and pubs
Choice of restaurants is great in the valley. There are almost all cuisines: from American to Ethiopian. It should be noted that the ethnicity of the restaurant often coincide with nationality of the owner. Usually, you can dine decently for 12$. The cost of dinner highly depends on the restaurant, ordered food and alcohol.

There are a lot of pubs in the valley. Because the alcohol cannot be sold after 2 am, many pubs close early. For example, one of my favorite places is Gourmet Haus Staudt, which closes about 10 pm. Kitchen closes about 8 pm. As a matter of fact, an employee of Apple has lost a prototype of the iPhone 4 in this pub.

Earthquakes
The Silicon Valley is located on the San Andreas Fault. There are many earthquakes in the valley because of this. For four years I can remember three earthquakes: staggered walls and some things fall to the ground. Of course, there were quite minor incidents. However, the large earthquakes have occurred not so long ago. It is always interesting to watch the ongoing earthquakes on the U.S. Geological Survey website.

Also it should be noted that most insurance companies do not cover the damages from the earthquakes.

Smoking
Most public places is smoke-free. Pubs, restaurants, night clubs - everywhere there is this prohibition. Next to some institutions are hanging sign: “Smoking is prohibited within the five meters”. The most of the rented apartments and hotels prohibit smoking inside. It is allowed to smoke on the balcony.

Cigarettes are sold almost in many grocery stores. Almost every town in the Silicon Valley has a special tobacco store with cigars, tobacco for pipes, etc. Often, these stores have a special room for smoking.

Free time


imageMuseums and concerts
The valley itself does not have many museums and concerts for these you have to go to San Francisco. Permanent collections of major museums did not seem very broad to me. However, the temporary exhibitions change several times a year. Often, the exhibitions come from the Europe. For example, a very interesting exhibition of impressionists came from the Museum of d'Orsay last year.

Modern and classical music are represented widely. I was able to listen to the favorite electronic group and the touring concert of Temirkanov.

Movie theaters
There are many modern movie theaters, so you can watch a movie anywhere. Interestingly, the tickets are sold without the seat numbers: buy a ticket to a movie, pass a control and sit down, where is an available seat. Usually, there are free seats. However, if you come for the premiere of a famous film, you can stand in line, and look at the fans dressed as the movie characters.
I want to mention that a movie theater at Stanford: there are shown the old black and white American films.

Hobbies and sport
Support for various hobbies is very wide. Whatever hobby I chose, whether they are calligraphy, printing, micro-electronics, art, or drawing for all was a small store with all the accessories and the same club of enthusiasts.

Sport equipment and gyms are also very good. Unfortunately, I do not do much sport. However, my friends play soccer, hockey and tennis with colleagues, and run an annual marathon in San Francisco.

Travel
The Silicon Valley is located in the center of California. You can get to San Francisco within an hour and to Los Angeles for seven hours. In winter you can ski and snowboard at the Lake of Tahoe that is in four hours of driving. In the summer it is pleasant to walk in the park of Yosemite that is also in four hours of driving. The valley itself has quite a lot of parks, where you can walk, run or ride a bicycle.
The nearest exit to the ocean is an hour away of driving. The water is cold all year round. I splashed around only once during a hot day. I ran out much faster than ran in the water.

You can fly from San Francisco to different parts of the United States. A ticket to New York costs about 400$. Airplanes fly well, I never met with delays or lost luggage.

Conclusion


I cannot seek objectivity, however, I hope my review has shown interesting to you.

I look forward to any additions or questions on the topic.

“Translated from another resource”
Sparks 30 september 2011, 13:22
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