Fun Facts from the Russian Consulate

This morning, Jodi and I drove up to one of the four Russian Federation Consulates in the United States, conveniently located here in San Francisco. It was my day to hand in my visa application and hope I did all the paperwork correctly. It was a beautiful day, and from other people’s experiences I expected a short, efficient process.

The most memorable part of the short visit to the consulate was the sign right above the visa application service window. It read, “Please keep you voices quiet. Did you know that by being quiet, you can get to the window faster?”

That was a very satisfying, and most Russian, way to begin what otherwise might have been a normal Thursday.

30-year essay

After 30 years, it seems sensible to look back a bit and reflect on the life that was, and the life that will be. It would be wise to think about the contrast between my first decade, the second and third, all of which led to to where I am now. After all, it is the ability to learn from the past that can help secure the future.

But I won’t. I will, however, share a story from the day. Jodi and I hopped the Caltrain late this morning, after a fine breakfast at “Stacks”: in Menlo Park. Our ultimate destination was “the Tech Museum”: in San Jose. I’ve wanted to go for a while, and a birthday is a prime opportunity to hang out at the premiere interactive museum on this side of the peninsula. I had insisted we catch the light rail in Mountain View, since it takes you right past NASA Ames and Lockheed Martin. Besides, I’d never in five years taken the light rail anywhere on this peninsula.

Needless to say, the light rail trip was fun. Not only did we get a “NASA commuter’s” view of the road the Ames, we got to see all the cool “No unauthorized sketching or photography” signs around Lockheed! The trip was long, and less direct than just staying on the Caltrain the whole time. But it was worth it – I always like seeing the world through public transportation. It’s so freeing to abandon the highway, hit the rails, hop from train to train.

The Tech was great. The interactive exhibits, including a dummy with a small probe and a camera inserted into its “liver”, were a lot of fun. Kids and adults alike were having a ball with all the goodies there. Jodi and I even checked out a mocked-up clean room, where they had a wafer handling machine with a huge mirror over it, so you could see into the machine without leaning.

In addition, you could sit in a chair inside a 3-D scanner and have a full image of your head taken. They give you a wrist tag when you enter, and when you wave it in front of exhibits (including the scanner), you can later re-explore your adventures on the museum website. I had my own adventure getting a windows machine that could run the VRML plugin. Anyway, the result is a remarkably creepy likeness of myself!

To close, here is the story I mentioned at the beginning. Jodi and I were checking out a series of remote-control submersibles. I got engrossed and lost track of Jodi, so that when I turned to look for her she was gone. I took a few steps, looked past the single-occupant submarine simulator and around toward the Mars bio-dome. I went a few more steps, still didn’t see her, and started to head into a small theater with a Jupiter flight simulator playing inside. A boy, maybe 11, walked up to me and said something like, “Excuse me, mister? If you’re looking for your daughter, she’s in the spaceship.” He pointed to the sub simulator I’d walked by. My first reaction was to correct him, saying, “Oh, my wife. Thanks!”

I’m 30. Do I look old enough to be Jodi’s father already? CREEPY.

Quiet after 10 pm

This is going to be a hard month, and it hasn’t even started yet. I’m talking about July. I’ve been working pretty seriously on my research, getting it ready for the summer. Along with my 500 colleagues on BaBar, you could probably wring the toil out into a bucket and use it to power the world. Physics seems like it’s all mindgames, but it’s hours of arguing, days of crafting computations in computer code (which is often like building a house of cards, if you’re not very careful), and weeks of checks and cross-checks.

But now it’s Wednesday, and it’s after 10. Jodi is sleeping, and there is very little e-mail trickling in (yes, even international collaborations sleep). This is the best time of the day: crickets chirping, a light breeze cooling the dining room, quiet in the house, and no more responsibility drifting into my inbox.



Rituals are important to life. They can be secular or religious in origin, but having a regular event to which you can look forward is important. I’ve tried removing ritual from my life, and I always feel unglued as a result. Jodi and I decided a few months ago that Sunday night was sacred, and that we would always drop what we were doing, hop in the Honda, and head north to the Borders in San Mateo to scan books and music, and definitely sit and have a drink.

Last night was no exception, and had the added benefit of a spectacular bank of fog rolling in over the Santa Cruz mountains. Such fog, gently pouring over the mountaintops, is a contradiction, a creamy liquid of cottonballs. With the sun setting behind it, the sky was fire on top of this foaming ice.

I’ve put some photos in here of the fog, the sunset and the mountains, Border, and Jodi and I enjoying the teapot service.