Berkeley Lab

Horst Simon Catches Up With Colleagues While Carpooling

In this third installment of the Commuter Chronicles, Deputy Laboratory Director Horst Simon talks about how carpooling has helped him connect with friends and collaborate with colleagues during their commute from Palo Alto to Berkeley.

John Wu, Inder Monga, Horst Simon and Reshma Singh carpool commuting to Berkeley Lab from Palo Alto.

John Wu, Inder Monga, Horst Simon and Reshma Singh carpool commuting to Berkeley Lab from Palo Alto.

When and why did you start to carpool?

I started to carpool from Palo Alto to Berkeley in 1996, about a year after I became the director of NERSC. Because my son and daughter were still in high school and middle school at the time, I did not want to move to Berkeley. My wife and I wanted to keep their routine the same.

My commute is 84 miles roundtrip, more than two hours on the road. I eventually decided it would be a better use of my time to carpool.

How did you find your carpool partners?

When I was still commuting by myself, I found out that one of my neighbors worked at UC Berkeley, so I started commuting with him. I found my other carpool partners through my network of colleagues who work on campus or at the Lab.

For the past 10 years, I’ve been carpooling with Inder Monga (interim ESnet Division Director), Reshma Singh (Building Technologies and Urban Systems Division Program Manager), and John Wu (Scientific Data Management Group Leader in the Computational Research Division). We have also carpooled with several postdocs and students.

John Wu was once my postdoc. I didn’t realize that he also lives in Palo Alto until he asked me for a recommendation letter, and I happened to see his home address. We’ve been carpooling together ever since.

What’s your daily routine like?

I get up every day at 4 a.m., and my carpool leaves for Berkeley at 6:30 a.m. I use the extra time in the morning to get caught up with work. Getting up before dawn also allows me to focus on important letters or emails that require a clear mind.

When I get home, my wife and I cook dinner. In the evening, I also like to read for fun — usually books about mathematics — since I don’t have time to do that at the Lab. Right now, I’m trying to work my way through Quantum Algorithms via Linear Algebra by Richard J. Lipton and Kenneth W. Regan. I’m also reading Julian Barbour’s The End of Time, a book about physics for the general reader.

What do you do to pass the time during the hour-long commute?

My carpool partners and I have a lot in common, so we always have something interesting to talk about. For example, if someone comes across an interesting paper or article, we’ll agree to read it by a certain date so we can discuss it during our carpool’s “Paper Club.” Right now, we’re talking about the New York Times Magazine article, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.”

Carpooling can also help you be more productive. In fact, during our commute, John Wu and I have worked on a few papers that we co-wrote together.

What advice would you give to someone new to carpooling?

It’s best to have a carpool of at least four people. That way, if one person is absent, the others can still drive in the carpool lane.

And tell your co-workers that you can’t meet past a certain time, or you’ll miss your ride back home. No one wants to be the reason why you couldn’t get home in time to take care of your family because you were late for your carpool.

Staff can provide input via commute.lbl.gov. See the Lab’s Zimride page for information about ridesharing.

— By Theresa Duque