Flight School: The Lord Will Provide

The flight suit was a long time coming -- the problem was that they couldn't find one small enough.
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Well, I still need to write the rest of the story of my days in the woods, but everything has been so busy lately. This past week has been full of excitement, from the tragi-comic (couldn't find my classroom and finally got an official to tell me directly that there's no map of Star City "because it is secret") to the delightful - a string of magical coincidences.

As background, one of my favorite stories concerns an old man in an old house during a horrible, hundred-year storm. A guy drives by in a pickup truck and offers to take the old man to safety, but he demurs. "I have faith in the Lord," he says. "The Lord will provide for me."

The next day, the water has risen, and two fellows row by in a rowboat.. Again, they offer to take him to to safety, and he demurs. "I have faith in the Lord," he says. "The Lord will provide for me."

The next day, the old man drowns, goes to Heaven and meets the Lord. "Lord," he asks, "why didn't you save me?"

"What more did you want?" the Lord asks. "A helicopter? I sent a pickup truck. I sent two guys in a rowboat...."

The Lord provided well for me this week, with all sorts of nice magical coincidences.

Despite getting to class 15 minutes late, I had mostly a good week.

I lost my cell phone in a GCTC van to Energia (for a class on the photo equipment Charles will be using on board) but the driver found it. I had it in hand again the next morning, almost the same moment that I got my new flight suit.

The flight suit was a long time coming.... The problem was that they couldn't find one small enough. But finally, Dima Gaidukov, head of the department that handles such things, showed up with one for me to try on...and with a woman I hadn't met before. (There aren't many women here other than translators, receptionists, cafeteria ladies and cleaners.) This woman, it turned out, was his wife - and she runs a bridal salon! At last there was someone who understood my shape, and here she was with pins in her mouth (as opposed to the tape measures they use at space-suit maker Zvezda). She actually took in the suit to fit while I was wearing it. Bless her! she laid a bunch of pins (horizontally) on a nearby must-be-airtight space suit and caused some consternation among the bystanders, but now I have a flight suit that fits.

The week ended with dinner Friday night with Arkady Volozh of Yandex, whom I last saw at his dacha. He has a set of memorial plates on the wall - the kind you buy at tourist shops around the world. Usually, it's tough to figure out what to give someone as a present, but this one was easy: A memorial plate from the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. I had seen them in a little shop in Building 1, where we do the Soyuz sims, but I wasn't sure of opening hours. This week I had two Soyuz sims, so I resolved to check out the store... The bad news: The plate I wanted cost 540 roubles; the small ones cost 270...and I had about 500 roubles. Good news: Open every day from 9 to 6, no break, so I just needed some cash and could come back on Friday.

Over dinner that evening with the NASA astronauts, many of whom could become chefs if they lost their day jobs, I asked if anyone knew of a nearby cash machine and explained why. (Stupidly, I forgot to bring money with me that night.) Michael Barratt, who will be launching with Charles March 26, mentioned that he had just such a plate; he had planned to give to some friends but he won't end see them before launching later this month, and I was welcome to it.

Finding the rightful owner

So I had the pleasure of giving Arkady something I knew he would actually like!

What to get Michael in return? Well, I could always just buy a replacement plate later on, but I was hoping the Lord would provide something more interesting.

Meanwhile, on Saturday morning I had breakfast with Andreas Kemi of UCMS Group, which is not green so much as "white"; it offers legal-payroll software-as-a-service. Russian payroll rules are fairly complex, so many companies pay black not only to save money but also because they don't know how to pay "white." (Of course, these days many companies are not paying at all....) I'm an investor, and I was interested to hear about the company's expansion into a large variety of HR services. I suggested he get in touch with Endrik Randoja, an Estonian entrepreneur who runs conferences and employee skills training sessions. That afternoon, before I could even hunt for his e-mail address from our last exchange a year or two ago, I got a message from Endrik.

Another service UCMS now offers is an online scheduling service called FlexForce, which simplifies staff scheduling with templates for such industries as restaurants, airlines and transportation fleets. It includes not just manager access but also a peer-to-peer mode whereby workers can switch shifts with managers' permission. I had been talking abstractly about precisely such a tool in perhaps not-too-veiled frustration at the impenetrability of the Star City training schedules. Later on, I gave the URL to one of the Star City translators. I'm not sure they are ready to schedule classes with such a tool, but perhaps ti could help the translators, who are slightly more fungible and seem to switch among themselves frequently anyway...

Meanwhile, before that message and after an advisory board meeting of IBS Group, I had lunch with the IBS CEO and his wife. They had invited another old friend of all of us who lives part-time in Moscow and whom I hadn't seen for two years. He proceeded to offer me his spare flat to stay in. People here are generous when they have things to share, but I'm not that comfortable staying with people I don't know well. Sergey, however, has actually stayed in *my* spare flat in New York....and his flat is right across from my favorite swimming pool... solving my accommodation problem for next weekend.


Finally, still in Moscow the next day, I had a bunch of successful "cross-meetings".... Typically, I set up a string of meetings, one after another, and each person meets the people before or after him. I love it when this works: The first person I met, Yaroslav Senshin, was the son of an old friend who has a start-up that might be of interest to the second and fifth people I was meeting, and he came back to join the fifth meeting. He also volunteered to critique the FlexForce service. The second person, a venture investor, met with the fifth one later that day. And the third, who has a proposal for Yandex, got useful marketing advice and a few contacts from the fourth.

That fourth one was executive recruiter Ludmila Kaupuzha of Profylink. She brought me a beautiful Russian book of Easter recipes. In Russian fashion, she had bought 20 of them to give out to friends. (In the old days, with controlled pricing, goods were always worth more than they cost, and so people would buy anything they could in the knowledge that someone they knew would want it.) With Ludmila's blessing, I will pass the book along to Michael, the current leader of Star City's cooking culture, for the NASA cottages' main kitchen. Michael tends more to spice than sweets, but his family - wife and five children! - will be arriving shortly.

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