Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 19, 2010

News Digest

Palo Alto Online swamped by demand

Palo Alto Online's Web servers received unprecedented traffic during Wednesday's power outage, slowing the system to a crawl for most of the day. More than 18,000 visitors came to the site, with as many as 500 people simultaneously attempting to load pages throughout the day, substantially more than the previous maximum.

Normally, Palo Alto receives more than 130,000 unique visitors each month.

Palo Alto Online's servers are not located in Palo Alto and were unaffected by the power failure. Reporters and editors worked from locations outside the city limits or from the Embarcadero Media office in Palo Alto using limited emergency power from generators.

"We regret that our servers were unable to handle the tremendous volume yesterday," Webmaster Frank Bravo said. "This experience makes clear that people are counting on us to provide information on major breaking stories and we are working to expand our ability to serve massive spikes in Web visitors during emergency situations," Bravo said.

Some Palo Alto residents reported phoning friends or relatives outside the city and asking them to relay news from Palo Alto Online, but this only magnified the demand on the servers already caused by there being a national news story taking place in the community.

Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly also used the Palo Alto Weekly Twitter account (twitter.com/paloaltoweekly), to make tweets throughout the day with news updates.

Valley losing federal 'mega-investments' race

Silicon Valley is losing the race for huge federal investments that will jumpstart the industries of the future, a panel of Valley leaders said.

As the Obama administration makes "a series of mega-investments in the future," Silicon Valley trails regions such as Huntsville, Ala., in procuring funds, CEO Emmett Carson of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation told more than 1,000 attendees at a 2010 "State of the Valley" conference Feb. 12 in San Jose.

The conference was convened by the Community Foundation and Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a nonprofit "analysis and action" group.

Carson and others outlined a regional funding gap in clean technologies.

He said the Valley is getting none of the $2 billion federal funds now being disbursed for research in vehicle batteries and only $4 million of a $184-million federal investment in energy storage.

Silicon Valley got none of the $3.5 billion going to smart-grid technology, and just $38 million of the $16 billion going to energy efficiency and renewable energy, he said.

Attendees heard a range of expert analyses of the 2010 Silicon Valley Index, an annual measurement the region's wealth and health.

Joint Venture CEO Russell Hancock announced he will create a new position to run "special ops" for procurement of federal investment for Silicon Valley.

"The person will travel to Washington, D.C., a lot and mobilize the entire region to advocate and cheerlead for the federal funds we require," Hancock said.

There is a Silicon Valley mythology that could feed overconfidence: That entrepreneurs created it all by themselves, Managing Director Gary Pinkus of McKinsey & Co. said.

But the reality is that early companies such as Fairchild Semiconductor secured 80 percent of their original contracts from the Defense Department, he said.

Despite the problems Pinkus said the state still has many factors working in its favor.

"We're still the eighth-largest economy in the world, though it might not be going quite in the right direction."

"While 90 percent of our economy is in services, we still hold the highest level of manufacturing employment in the country, ahead of number two, Texas.

Youngsters escape Atherton house fire

A fire caused more than $200,000 in damage to a large ranch-style home in Atherton late Tuesday afternoon, Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

Three children, ages 12, 14 and 16, were inside when the fire started but escaped unharmed.

The single-alarm blaze damaged a 5,000-square-foot, single-story home at 251 Greenoaks Drive. Schapelhouman said a neighbor reported seeing heavy smoke at about 4:15 p.m.

It appears the blaze started in the motor compartment of a Ford Expedition and spread to a breezeway, then through the attic and wood-shingled roof, Schapelhouman said.

Twenty-four firefighters responded and had the fire controlled by 4:43 p.m.

Schapelhouman said the fire caused $150,000 to $200,000 in damage to the structure and approximately $50,000 in damage to contents. The house was not immediately habitable, he said.

The official cause of the fire is under investigation.

— Bay City News Service

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