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Margaux Rhymes with Fargo

Mirthful Musings, Ridiculous Ramblings, and Comical Codswallop

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Exploratorium

Caltrain Stats: the dreaded morning commute

Now that I’m done volunteering at the Exploratorium, I am very much looking forward to sleeping in since I was waking up super early to arrive at work by 8:30 am. To get to the museum, I had to bike ten minutes from my apartment to the train station, ride the train for an hour, and then bike another fifteen minutes from the San Francisco train station to the Exploratorium. That, my friends, is a long-ass commute. On the bright side, I’m now really good at biking.

Here are some stats from my time as a train-and-bike commuter:

  • Times I almost left my wallet on the train: 7
  • Times I actually left my wallet on the train: 1
  • Times I wasn’t allowed on the train because there were already too many bikes: 2
  • Times I (accidentally) rode without a ticket: 2
  • Times I got caught: 1
  • Times I talked my way out of a fine: 1
  • Times I whacked someone with my backpack (by accident) when trying to get on/off the train with my bike: 9
  • Times I forgot to tag off on my way home, realized this right as I was biking into my apartment complex, and had to bike all the way back to the station: 4
  • Times I was late to work and it wasn’t my fault: 2
  • Times I was late to work and it was my fault: 1
  • Times I wished I had driven the car: none. Not once. Traffic up there is horrendous. And that’s coming from someone who used to live in LA.

Bikes-Boarding-Caltrain

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I wrote a poem in honor of my last day at the Exploratorium

There once was a group of Explainers

Who might or might not have been sane(r)

Teaching science to kids

Their hair all a-frizz

Their excitement couldn’t have been plainer

 

These Explainers, they welcomed me in

With a chuckle and a grin

A home away from home

As on the museum floor I roam

Attempting not to step on little kids

 

I learned many important things

Such as where the cow dissection is

And pointed to the bathroom

Until my head went boom

I promise I’m useful for other things

 

I’ll miss this wonderful place

And wandering through the space

Exhibits big and small

But most of all

All of your beautiful faces

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I almost ran over a pigeon today

I have to ride on the sidewalk for the last part of my bike ride from the Exploratorium to the train station because the bike lane disappears. So this pigeon lands about 5 feet in front of me, and I’m going pretty fast but I expect it to fly away. It doesn’t. Pigeons are stupid.

So I braked super hard and bumped it in the wing. I literally touched this pigeon on the sidewalk before it decided to fly away, much to the amusement of a passerby who remarked, “Man, you totally had him.” I wasn’t totally sure how to respond so I awkwardly smiled and biked away. Classic Margaux.

Slingshots and Trampolines are part of my daily work

The Exploratorium has a Tinkering Studio which allows visitors to play and think with their hands, more so than the rest of the museum because people can actually build their own machine.  One of the activities involves creating a Rube Goldberg or Chain Reaction machine, where each action triggers the next action in a whole series of events.

I always get super excited about it when I have a shift in the Tinkering Studio (and usually finagle my schedule so that I do), although sometimes my ideas are a bit grand for the time constraint and materials that I have.  But my slingshot worked!  So this is what I have been doing at work the past few days:

I also really wanted to use a balloon for something other than expelling air, so I made one into a trampoline:

Very productive indeed.

If scientists were rappers

Every morning before the Exploratorium opens, the Explainers attend an hour-long informal training led by one of the scientists at the museum to teach us about a new exhibit or delve more deeply into an existing one.

Today’s training was about light, specifically rainbows on soap films and oil spills and the like.  This brought up Thomas Young because he was a scientist at the same time as Isaac Newton and made some important discoveries even though nobody knows him except for structural engineers (Young’s modulus) and small-particle physicists.  So Ken, the physicist leading the training, decided to make up a rap about him to try and make him more well-known.

Some background information: he made significant contributions to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics as well as created a method for tuning musical instruments.

 

Trying to figure out how light’s a wave

Standing at a party, an Egyptian rave

The pictures on the wall are telling me things

I wonder if I can tune these instrument strings

 

This whole interaction reminded me of this hilarious song, so I’ll just leave it here for you.

Apparently I need a “real job” and other things I learned at the Exploratorium

One of the demonstrations at the Exploratorium is called “Where Do You Sit?”, and it’s basically just a philosophical question where visitors can sit around a table at “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe” and then talk about their opinions.  For example, some questions we use pretty often are: Can anyone be a scientist? Should people always tell the truth? Is there a specific age when you become an adult?

I was running this demo and the current question was “Do memories last forever?” when a young Asian girl (eight years old, maybe) and her father stopped by the table to chat with us.  The girl reported that her earliest memory is from when she was one year old, and her father butted in and bragged that she was talking at 3 months.  Then he goes on to ask us whether we are students and whether we have a college degree.  I said I had just graduated from Caltech, to which he responded, “Wow. You need to get a real job.”

First off, I’m a volunteer, but mostly this IS a real job for the other Explainers.  I mostly just feel bad for his daughter.

On a different day, I was looking at plankton through a microscope with some other Explainers and we were talking about how they can be hard to find/follow because a lot of them are see-through.  At which point Garza remarks in his Peruvian accent, “At least they can never steal your chocolate because you’d know right away.  Like, if people were see-through and you ate somebody’s chocolate, you couldn’t just deny it…pretty awkward.”  Awkward indeed.  Good observation, Garza.

Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

What can go wrong will go wrong.  Sometimes you have those days that are so bad it’s just funny.  That’s definitely what happened on my first day of work.  I should have known I was in for something when I burnt my steak the night before AND dropped the soap seven times in the shower.  That’s an omen for sure.

I woke up in the morning having exactly planned the time I needed to do everything before heading out the door (twenty minutes).  Except my roommate was in the bathroom the WHOLE FREAKING TIME and I peed in the other bathroom but didn’t get to wash my face or brush my teeth.

I made my smoothie without complication and headed out the door to the train station, where I arrived a full five minutes early.  Pretty proud of myself.  Except then I was standing on the wrong side of the platform up until 30 seconds before the train actually arrived, meaning I tagged in on the wrong machine and then I had to go tag in on the other side with my transit card, except that just cancelled my trip but I didn’t know it at the time and so I actually didn’t tag at all.  And so when I got to the other side and tagged, it just charged me the full fare instead of one “ride” from Mountain View to San Francisco since it didn’t know where I came from.  Which would have been fine except that made my balance on my card go negative, and they wouldn’t let me on the train on the way home at the end of the day until I fixed that even though I still had rides left.  It was a mess.

Anyways, back to the beginning of the day at the train station.  I have to put my bike on the train since I have a fifteen minute bike ride to get the Exploratorium once the train gets to its final stop in San Francisco.  Except when the train arrived, the conductor announced that only 3 more bikes were allowed on because the bike car was already almost full.  There were 20 of us with bikes waiting on the platform.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fight off the guys in racing helmets and fancy click-in biking shoes and button-up shirts, so I was forced to wait for the later train and had to call my boss to tell her I’d be late.  On the first day.  Moreover, I had tightened the lid to my smoothie too much and couldn’t open it and I was super hungry and a mess.  And of course when I did finally get there, everyone else was already sitting waiting for announcements and everyone stared directly at me when I walked in.  My favorite position to be in.

The morning went well, albeit awkward because no one really wants a shadow so I ended up shadowing the same two people all day.  And then somewhere in the afternoon I looked down and my brand-new navy blue trousers that I got specifically for this job are bright pink on the knee.  That definitely wasn’t there at lunch.  I guess they use bleach to clean up from cow-eye dissections and some got on my pants without my knowledge.  But I really liked those pants.

And then I had to stay a bit later to chat with my boss and missed the earlier train and had to wait a full half hour for the next one and got home later than expected and missed my soccer game.  I was super bummed about it.  But then I ate ice cream with Will at home and everything was okay.

My New Gig

As a mechanical engineer who doesn’t really enjoy machining or designing things on the computer, I’m pretty screwed when it comes to industry jobs.  I’m also not really sure how to turn playing with kids and robots (which is what I like to do) into a career path. Luckily, Caltech has a scholarship for people who don’t know what they want to do with their lives, so I got a job volunteering in the San Francisco Exploratorium for a month while Caltech pays my rent. Pretty sweet deal, right?!

If you don’t know what the Exploratorium is, think giant science playground. At the museum, I am a Field Trip Explainer, which means that in the mornings I greet the field trips as they come, giving the students a short orientation before they go into the museum, and then I run demonstrations during the rest of the day. Sort of. I divide my time between the equally important tasks of building demo lightbulbs with visitors, performing magic card tricks, playing with the exhibits, chatting with other explainers, and getting a larger-than-average daily dose of vitamin D as I look out over the bay. It’s a pretty cush gig. And the people I work with actually get paid!

Some highlights from my time at the museum so far:

  • At the beginning of my very first day, I went to greet one of the buses that had just pulled up.  Immediately after the door opened, this little boy (couldn’t have been more than 8 years old) galloped sideways onto the sidewalk doing an impressive rendition of “Smack That”.  Gestures and everything.
  • I was at the magic table with another Explainer (Cesar) when an elderly couple came up to the table.  Cesar proceeds to fan out the cards and ask the gentleman to pick a card, any card, and the trick proceeds like normal.  But then when Cesar laid the cards face up in three columns (part of the trick) and asked the gentleman to say which column his card was in (also part of the trick), he proceeded to put his face about two inches from the table and look at every column in minute details as he scrolled down them with his face.  We found out afterwards that he’s mostly blind, but it was a pretty entertaining sight nonetheless.
  • I had an electromagnetic coil taped to my forehead and connected to a radio because if you plug your ears, you can hear the vibrations of the radio signal and thus the sound, actually listening to the radio through your forehead.  It’s pretty legit.  Anyways, I’m sitting with wires taped to my forehead and my fellow Explainer is holding them in place while I plugged my ears, and I looked up a minute later to find a gaggle of kids just kind of staring at us across the table.  We explained the demonstration, and while most of the kids wanted to try, one middle school girl just kind of shook her head and walked away.  I can just imagine her saying to herself, “So that’s what they’re calling it these days.”
  • Two of my fellow Explainers look incredibly similar.  Think tall white guy with longish curly frizzy hair.  Their names are Rob and Dan so I just call both of them Robdan.  Anyways, we all had to introduce ourselves and describe our first pet for one of our trainings (as I said, very serious job) and I discovered that Robdan’s first pet was a bird in a cage named Doorknob.  Interesting name for a pet.  Although I must admit that I once had a fish named sushi.  So there’s that.

exploratorium

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