He was born in Silicon Valley in 1968, right when the first lunar landing was being prepared for and the space race, arms race, and major social upheavals were happening all around the world. His overarching memory of growing up during the Cold War was looking at a poster about nuclear armaments in his junior high school and noticing that the so-called “Doomsday Clock” was at like 4 minutes to midnight. He then had a very real feeling that civilization was at risk of total annihilation and it really scared him. His grandfather was a US Air Force colonel at the time, and was working on armament and strategic air defense development, and his father was an engineer working for a major defense contractor. His step father had also been a US Marine on a high-profile aircraft carrier during the Vietnam war. So he had a real feeling of unwanted participation by association in the preparation for war, potentially WWIII. It influenced his thinking in ways he may not even know about. But what he does know is that it produced in him a personal responsibility to understand why the Cold War was a real war of ideas and economics, and eventually led to his travelling first to Finland as an exchange student, and eventually to the USSR at age 20 to extend a hand in this attempt to understand. He eventually received a Bachelor's degree in Russian and Soviet Studies from the University of California. He also studied Japanese modern dance for years, in another attempt to understand and embody the cultural impetus of Japan, and classical music studies with a Ukrainian ex-pat cellist for many years also. He came to believe that art and cross-cultural expression of ideas have been a way to live peacefully and develop deeper understandings of the reasons for warlike behavior on a mass level.
His father and his brother and sister were born and lived on US military bases for their entire childhoods. They moved around the country a lot as his grandfather was assigned to different projects, and so his dad related to him once that he has lived in 30 different US states, as a result, which is pretty impressive. He believes the family was living in Alamogordo, NM, near the Trinity test site, when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened in 1962, so he was 15 years old at the time. One evening, when they were having a talk and he was about 17, he was telling him about the terrible feeling he had that the country was going to very probably engage the USSR in a nuclear confrontation. He watched his face as he told him the story, and it was a strange sensation to see his eyes show resignation and disbelief, mixed with helplessness. His father was just telling a story, but he hadn’t seen this expression on his face often. Perhaps never. He told him other stories about going to the area around the Trinity site to play and goof off, and picking up blue-green “trinitite” off the ground. Trinitite is a glassy mineral, created from the soil by the intense heat of the first atomic bomb detonation, and may have contributed to his later studying chemistry. These stories were interesting but primarily terrifying. He had moved to his house when he was 17 (he usually lived with his mom), and he was getting ready to go to Finland for a year as an exchange student when Chernobyl happened (about 3 months before he was to go, in April 1986). Radiation was detected to a very high level in Finland, and that perhaps was the subject that motivated their “nuke-talks.” That’s a whole other story/memory/fear and motivation to work for peace and understanding of how terrible nuclear energy and weapons are, and how insane the whole situation seemed to be.