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Tech experts make HBO's 'Silicon Valley' a bit more real


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The new show "Silicon Valley" from writer Mike Judge premiered on HBO Sunday night. This satire about the hub of the tech universe is filled of socially awkward engineers with too much money to burn, developing products no one really understands.

"I love Goolybib's integrated multi platform functionality. Yeah!" is one of the lines in the opening scenes of the series. The overly excited engineer is over the moon because he just sold something called Goolybib to Google for $200 million. 

To help writers and actors get the Silicon Valley lingo and vibe just right, the show's creators turned to people like Vin Mishra, a graduate student and information theorist at Stanford. 

"I like to think that they were looking for both a data compression expert and a penis-joke expert and they found that!" said Mishra. 

The show initially contacted Mishra's advisor, who eventually brought him on to work for the project.

"It was a fairly fluid kind of strange role. I mean it ranged anywhere from coming up with believable compression algorithms... All the way to performing an elaborate mathematical analysis of a penis joke, which by the way is scientifically sound," he said.

The show's main characters have a compression algorithm that a couple of companies want to buy for a lot of money.

An example of compression would be putting a bunch of files in a .ZIP. Those files sizes shrink a little bit, as they're compressed. The same thing goes for images across the Internet. And that's where "Lenna" comes in.


"It turns out that the standard image that's used in image compression research... I mean it's like every single paper, is actually a Playboy centerfold from 1972," said Mishra. "If you look carefully during the show, you'll actually...see her picture on Richard's wall. And that was something that the producers didn't know about until I started talking to one of them."

So, Mishra helped keep the science straight, but how accurate is the show's portrayal of Silicon Valley culture?

"I mean, so many details they just get right. The fact that random people will pitch you their start up," said Mishra. "Like, everyone! From your physical therapist to the person you meet at Trader Joe's. It's definitely got the culture of Silicon Valley just right."

Some of the tech elite feel differently, however.

According to, Tesla owner Elon Musk had this to say the show's premiere:

“None of those characters were software engineers. Software engineers are more helpful, thoughtful, and smarter. They’re weird, but not in the same way... I was just having a meeting with my information security team, and they’re great, but they’re pretty f***ing weird — one used to be a dude, one’s super small, one’s hyper-smart — that’s actually what it is.”