Keeping the Grateful Dead Archive Trucking, with Technology

The Wall Street Journal Blog
By Don Clark

Bill Watkins may not be the CEO of Seagate Technology any longer. But he still has connections with the big disk drive maker, and he still is a major Deadhead. That puts him in a position to help with some unusual fund-raising, Silicon Valley style.

The target is the Grateful Dead Archive, a repository of historic documents and other material that surviving members of the iconic rock band have donated to the University of California at Santa Cruz. That beach community and the university campus are not far from Seagate’s headquarters in Scotts Valley, Calif. Watkins had resolved to help raise money for the archive before his surprise ouster in January.

Fortunately, Watkins’ replacement as CEO–Stephen Luczo, in his second turn at that role–is also fond of the Dead. So it is not too surprising that the money-raising scheme that emerged involves disk drives.

Some 200 drives donated by Seagate, in fact, are being loaded up with 200 specially selected Grateful Dead tracks–with the blessing of the label Rhino Records and Ice Nine Publishing, which licenses Dead compositions. Watkins hopes to send the drives to well-heeled techie types along with a personal pitch to donate to the archives. “The key is to get to the right people,” Watkins says, noting that affluent Deadheads aren’t exactly listed on a convenient database.

Christine Bunting, head of special collections and archives at the university library, says any money raised will help such efforts as constructing a special Grateful Dead room that will contain all kinds of band artifacts. In a more unusual effort, the library hopes to set up a social networking site so that people can not only view Dead material but post their own, such as their own photos of past Dead concerts. “We are calling it Virtual Terrapin Station,” Bunting says, a reference to a well-known Dead album.

This is not all Watkins is doing now. He can’t get too involved in the world of data storage, under terms of his separation from Seagate–“I’m under handcuffs right now,” he says–but he’s trying to help out some companies.

One is Vertical Circuits, a Silicon Valley startup that says it has developed technology that can stack more chips in a smaller space than conventional packaging techniques. Besides handheld products like Apple iPods that use flash memory to store data, Watkins thinks the technology could be used to make much thinner, sexier laptops with ample storage capacity.

“I think it’s ground-shaking,” he says of Vertical, whose board Watkins has joined. “It’s the thing that allows notebooks to get thin with capacity.”

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Published in: on June 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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