Everything I know about Stephen Hawking I learned one evening a couple years ago at the old Claremont Hotel on the border between Oakland and Berkeley, California. I was there to give a speech and was late for the gig, so instead of waiting for an elevator I took the stairs down a couple floors in the old wooden hotel. Bursting through the doors at the bottom of the stairs and into the lobby I almost crashed into Stephen Hawking! Killing a world-famous physicist in a wheelchair is not what I wanted to be remembered for so it was lucky I was able to roll a bit to one side and avoid — just barely — taking out both Hawking and his chair.

Recovering from my gaffe, the first thing I noticed was that Hawking was surrounded by four (4!) attendants, all of them attractive young women (not the girls from the picture). This guy, trapped as he was in his body ravaged by ALS, still knew how to live. He proved this again when I bumped into Hawking — in a completely different sense — in the Claremont bar after my gig, where he was still surrounded by the laughing girls and apparently enjoying a festive beverage.

I thought about that encounter, if it even was an encounter, this week when I heard about Hawking’s new book and Discovery Channel documentary in which he cautions against announcing ourselves to the universe just in case aliens we attract want to eat, enslave, or simply eliminate us, which Hawking apparently sees as a pretty good bet. His premise being that we are a young civilization in an old galaxy and if we are visited by aliens they’ll probably bring enough firepower to burn our sorry asses.

This latter part of the story is where Hawking and I part ways, because I simply don’t agree. If superior aliens are going to find us — attracted no doubt by old Sonny & Cher and Partridge Family episodes — I’d posit that they have already done so, found us boring, and moved on. But I guess that wouldn’t make much of a book, would it?

In other news I was surprised this week, not that HP bought Palm (after all, they’d already bought 3Com, which begat Palm) but that the press had figured the deal would go to Lenovo. This was analyst manipulation of stupid reporters. Yes, Lenovo is moving into mobile devices like all of its competitors, but buying Palm made little sense because: 1) Lenovo is a Microsoft hardware OEM and pretty much nothing else, and; 2) Lenovo already over-paid for the IBM PC business and would hardly be expected to spend a comparable amount for Palm, which holds less market share and brand value. Once burned, twice shy.

HP, on the other hand, really wants to see itself as a significant player in all market segments. They have the technical depth to make good use of Palm technology and their early iPod licensing shows they are somewhat open to lateral thinking when it comes to mobile devices. Now I hope they do something really exciting with Palm’s WebOS.

At this point you’ve probably figured out that there is no dominant theme to this column, which is really a list of random ideas. Most random of all, it seems to me, is word that Google apparently revealed last week at a Mountain View, California planning commission meeting its intention to build housing units on part of its campus in that city. I’m surprised this wasn’t picked-up by the local papers. So in addition to being given free access to unlimited Lucky Charms cereal (the entire basis for Google’s technical success — remember you heard it here first) at least some Google employees will get what might be free (or certainly subsidized) housing.

If work is your life this might even make sense but I would need Google to go just a bit further and agree to regularly wash and groom my two dogs before I’d agree to move in.

This idea of company housing, which is very common in Asia, is not unknown in the U. S..  Apple tried to do it during the first reign of Steve Jobs when the company bought hundreds of acres in the Almaden Valley south of San Jose and proposed to build there a huge live-work development. When Steve left Apple in 1985 the idea left with him and eventually Apple sold the property.

It would be interesting to know if the Steve Jobs of 2010 still thinks his 1985 idea was a good one?