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March 19, 2007
Scientists, All Over
Missed a day or two there - my apologies to the readership. I was out of town, up in Boston/Cambridge (and just in time for a fine March snowstorm). Every time I'm up there, I remember the first time I visited Cambridge, some years ago. I was walking along near Kendall Square and I began to notice that the visible number of thoughtful-looking bearded guys wearing oxford-cloth button-down shirts with the sleeves rolled up and khaki trousers (that is, to a first approximation looking exactly like me) had reached a level unknown to my experience.
It was a strange moment. I'm used to feeling a bit removed from my environment, so to suddenly blend in so thoroughly was a bit of a shock. The same feeling has hit me in just a few other places, mostly around large well-respected universities, and there have been a few isolated incidents elsewhere. I still recall talking with some other chemists at a conference once when one of the group made what is still the only casual conversational reference to Kurt Goedel I've ever encountered (well, other than the ones I've made myself, and I don't trot 'em out too often, for a lot of good reasons).
It can even happen at a distance. When my wife and I were watching the coverage of the first Mars Rover landing, broadcast from JPL in Pasadena, the way the people there talked about the project and the looks on their faces as they awaited word of a successful landing made me realize again that I am in fact part of a tribe, and that these people were members of it, too. We're scattered all over the world, but we know each other when we meet.
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