Personal Blog

Delhi - Last Stop on the Fellows Trip

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Thu, Jan 11, 2007 @ 00:01 AM

The last stop was Delhi.  There I was surprised by the clean air.  Nearly every bus and truck now runs on natural gas; even the rattiest of these vehicles has scrawled notices of the fact on their side panels.  And, Delhi has planted a million trees – no, that’s not a superlative; they planted one million trees.  The city is green and you become acutely aware of the trees if you try to take a picture from a moving vehicle!

I learned a bit about history there. 
Delhi was actually Dilli until the British arrived.  And, long before then, the Ottoman empire (centered in modern-day Turkey) had stretched that far.  The remains of seven mosques from that era are a spectacular ochre and umber display of decorative Arabic carving.  The modern-day federal government center reminded me of Washington, DC – monolithic low buildings set along grassy parks – but the grey is broken up by a lot of rosy colored brick and there is much more elaborate decoration including the omnipresent elephant.

Most of
Delhi is “new” Delhi, but there’s a small corner which is “old” Delhi, where the 14th century meets the 21st century.  A rabbit-warren of streets so narrow that one can travel only on foot or by bicycle taxi, a vehicle so small that two women can barely fit on the seat.  In the alleys, pedestrians scuttle into doorways to let them pass and rear view mirrors mostly don’t scratch the windows!  It fulfills every reader’s fantasy of stepping back into the assault on the senses of a medieval market.  Doorway after doorway is filled to capacity with wares of every type: thousands of colorful bangles; fabrics, shoes, silver items, gold jewelry, spices, and more.  To be fair, there are also mountains of electronics.

In the spice market we had to step over a gaping hole in the floor while navigating through a sea of humanity.  And, we were invited up an ancient turquoise stairwell to an inner verandah where men were sorting, weighing, and bagging the goods, while an occasional worker slept on the filled bags.  Walking back down the steep stairs, we followed a man carrying 50 pounds or more in a large sack over his shoulder.  Outside, we passed a small group of men smoking and chatting while a cow lounged to one side and a man on a scooter passed on the other side – all on the sidewalk! 

Here, too, there is a communal sense of excitement about
India’s ascendancy.  There is a buzz among the people with whom we had contact, and a strong sense of competition with China.  I was particularly touched by a conversation with a taxi driver who explained that he had left school after the fourth grade.  His older daughter was about to graduate from the 10th grade and he believed that he would be able to send his much younger son to college when the time came.  Quite an accomplishment in one generation; my grandparents had to move countries to achieve the same for their children.  To be sure, there are still very poor people and beggars approach taxis, but the numbers were much smaller than I had expected.

India also offered two simple things I had expected: fabulous food and deliciously thin cotton clothes.  I’m not a curry eater, but was never disappointed in the arrays of tandoor preparations, saag, dahl, naans.  Mmmm.  I ate myself silly.  And, I must beg the folks at FabIndia to please build a website soon.  Mountains of western and Indian cotton clothes in the full palate, some in that soft, super thin cotton that makes intense heat bearable.  I did not buy enough.  Ah, well… a good excuse to go back!  
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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, India, technology, public policy, Delhi

The thrill of Bangalore

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Wed, Nov 29, 2006 @ 09:11 AM

It's been a long time since I've written and much has happened.  I'm working on a web "micro" start-up, planning a trip to SE Asia, and training for a fundraising bike race.  But I don't want to skip over some of the best of the past, so first I'm going to finish describing the Sloan Fellows trip.  In my last MIT blogs, I described our stops in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kunming. 

We arrived in Bangalore at about 2 am.  The contrast with the gleaming new Beijing airport was dramatic.  The image fixed in my brain is the small strip of dirt between the end of the linoleum floor and the luggage carousel; I wondered if the floor had been laid on bare ground.  I later learned that plans for a new airport are stalled in a political wrangle. 

Next, I was stunned by the crowd waiting outside the building.  Like the red carpet gauntlet at the Academy Awards, thousands of people pressed against the barricades.  Probably nowhere is there greater evidence of the breadth of outsourcing than the vast array of international technology company names on the placards of the drivers meeting arriving passengers.  The energy was mesmerizing. 

We met an array of IT professionals -- owners and management of companies big and small -- who expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the work and the lifestyle.   Many had spent time in the US or Europe and were happy to be back home and for the opportunities now available there.  Those who earn the equivalent of a good professional salary in the US, can "live like kings" we were told, with large homes, many servants, etc.   We also had a great visit  with Professor  Sadagopan, the founder of the International  Institute for Information Technology,  a dynamic, interactive speaker.

Bangalore is a visual jumble – ranging from the super-elegant British colonial Leila Palace Hotel; the modern and expansive Infosys campus with its own power and water infrastructure and its own apartments and hotel; and the shanty lean-to buildings with uncollected trash in piles all around.  On of my biggest surprises, while walking around, was that the trash didn't smell.  Having lived through
New York City garbage strikes, it took a while to reconcile what I was seeing with what I wasn’t smelling.  My best guess is that every last scrap of food is eaten, so there is no decaying biomass. 

Traffic of all sorts (cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and the tiny green and yellow motorcycle-based open taxis) moves in every direction at once.  Like a Nascar race machine, signs seem to be affixed to every available square inch.  And, of course, women's saris offer a kaleidoscope of color.  For me, it had the same exciting overload of the senses as Manhattan a week before Christmas. 

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Topics: IIITB, MIT - Sloan Fellows, global outsourcing, technology, Bangalore


Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Aug 19, 2006 @ 01:08 AM

Our third stop was Kunming, in Yunnan Province, southwest China.  Closer to the Tibetan border than to Beijing or Shanghai, it wasn't really the rural environment I had imagined it would be – the metro area has about 2 million people.  The city is more cosmopolitan than one would expect for a variety of reasons. Known as the “city of eternal spring” it was the location of the Empress Dowager’s Summer Palace.  In the early 1900’s, it was a city to which many political “undesirables” were banished.  It was the base for the US’ Flying Tigers for nearly a decade during World War II.  And, it is now home to eleven colleges and universities. 


Compared with Beijing and Shanghai, though, there were some seams showing.  A question about the cost of hiring a programmer prompted a vocal debate between a government official and a local businessman.  The “five star” hotel did not have the same customer service we experienced in the first two cities.  There were exchanges with hotel staff that, due to cultural or language differences, could have been straight out of Monty Python.  In one, a hotel clerk insisted that I needed to talk to the concierge, pointed me around the corner of the check-in counter, and then turned to face me as the concierge when I had walked there.  In another, the business office attendant who was arranging to ship things, repeatedly handed back select items, announcing “You can carry this.” 


On the other hand, their impression of the US has its seams too.  Yunnan University business school faculty members often come to MIT for training, so there’s a close relationship there.  We were greeted very warmly at the school with a large banner, a reception, a group photo, and gifts.  When we came back to town on Sunday (read about the weekend soon), a number of us went out with a number of the MBA students.  It was an invigorating evening of conversation, in which it turned out that they had very similar business ideas to ours.  But, it turns out that they get “Sex in the City” and I had to explain that women lawyers in New York (which I had been) did not generally live, dress, or behave like the women on the show!




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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, Kunming

Shanghai - WOW!

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Jul 29, 2006 @ 14:07 PM

I admit it.  I was taken by Shanghai.  I would move there in a minute.  (Anyone wanting to make me a job offer there should write immediately!)

For me, Shanghai is one of the fabulous places where East meets West and it comes out just right.  As I understand it, Shanghai existed as a Chinese village for centuries.  Since the 1800's, though, it has been a major trade center and attracted people from around the world.  So, it has long been a very cosmopolitan city.

I love big cities, and Shanghai is big (more than 2,000 square miles and about 20 million people).  It's full of movement and sounds and smells and sights like all major cities of the world.  I was only there briefly but I was smitten.  Along the banks of the river at night, the city is magical; I think of it as New York meets Las Vegas -- skyscrapers in every direction decorated in lights. 

For tourists, there is shopping for every pocketbook.  Along Nanjing Road, I saw the largest mall I've ever seen, an interesting Asian Disney store, and elegant boutiques.  There were restaurants of every cuisine and the familiar-feeling old buildings renovated into new tony streetlife at Xin Tian Di.  There are also the beautiful pagoda pavilions, reflecting pools, and twinkling lights of Yuyuan (which offers shopping, a 400 year old garden, and a terrific Shanghinese restaurant from the 1800’s where I tried eel, lotus root, and a number of other exciting new things).

Another delight is the Shanghai Museum.  It’s a ten year-young building right in People’s Square and houses the greatest collection of Chinese art I’ve ever seen.  (I’m a reasonably big fan of such materials and have been to a lot of museums).  I had a limited amount of time but did get to spend some time looking at the bronzes and ceramics. 


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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, Shanghai

First Stop - Beijing

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Wed, Jul 19, 2006 @ 22:07 PM
This was my first trip to Asia.  Our first stop was Beijing.  We got off the plane into a modern, world class airport.  My first impressions were of lots of glass and light, people movers, and the feeling that things were clean and fresh.  The next thing I noticed was the amount of English.  Signs for baggage claim and billboards had Chinese and English messages. 

I was curious to see what Customs and Immigration would be like.  In fact, it looked pretty much the same as in any country.  The first room was a huge space with counters and extra forms off to one side.  There was a bit of a challenge at this stage because our airplane had not had enough forms in English and there were none in the racks.  Luckily, I had taken a form with the questions in Chinese and was able to find out a partially filled out English form in the trash.  I read those questions and made my answers on the Chinese language form, hoping that the questions were the same! 

The lines moved pretty quickly, luggage came nearly right away, and currency exchange was easy to find.  We road by bus for an hour or so into Beijing.  The highway looked like a major highway in Europe or the US.  It appeared well-maintained, also had signs in Chinese and English, and had a landscaped border.  I was surprised to see that license plates use "arabic" numerals rather than the Chinese characters. 

Our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing would be a five star hotel anywhere.  Some
noticeable differences between this level of US and Chinese hotel were the significantly higher number of staff (presumably due to the lower cost of labor but equivalent room rates) and the broader range of food choices (I was very happy with mis-matched dim sum, tea egg, and bacon breakfasts).  It is located within a short walk of the Forbidden City and Tienamen Square and is just around the corner from the deluxe shopping of Wangfujing.

I did have a chance to do a little shopping and discovered another significant difference between the US and China.  In China, clerks show you goods and then hold them after you make your selection.  They give you a mult-carbon slip to take to a cashier.  After you pay, you bring the receipt back to the clerk, who gives you a wrapped package.  Although I wondered if there would be any bait-and-switch problems, I had none and heard of none. In Beijing, I bought the obligatory Beijing Olympics souvenirs, a Yixing teapot and many yards of traditional silk (from a company I today discovered has been in business for 120 years) for a quilt I'll make someday.  I admit that much of the reason for shopping was simply to try out the small Chinese vocabulary I'd learned before traveling.  Although I'm sure my tones were not always correct, most Chinese were able to figure out what I was saying and were quite good natured about helping me muddle through.

Some of the other joys of Beijing were: the discovery that a small ivory turtle-dragon I've owned for years is a Chinese mythical symbol for longevity (I saw this one at the Forbidden City); the surprised faces and giggling whispers of groups of old men whom I greeted with "ni hao" or "zao"; the street performance of a group of waitresses who appeared to be soliciting customers; the barbeque delicacy of scorpions on a stick; and the man who wiggled his girlfriend's foot at me in a universal explanation for why he was carrying her on his back.

I had the opportunity to take quite a few walks in the city, generally in the early morning hours.  My favorite walks were through the long garden to the east of the Forbidden City and in the park surrounding the Temple of Heaven.  The former is behind a high brick wall that runs along the street (Dongchang'an Jie) and I think most visitors miss it.  It's a peaceful traditional garden with a meandering brook, arched bridges, a water lily pond, and large scholars stones.  What I'll remember most about the Temple of Heaven is the primal yells in the early morning fog, known as kiap or ki-hop and used to focus the chi while performing tai chi.  To me, it was reminiscent of the coyote calls at home.
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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, Beijing

China/India - The Big Picture

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Mon, Jul 17, 2006 @ 23:07 PM
As previously mentioned, I've recently been on a whirlwind tour of China and India.  I only touched on a half dozen cities, so I'm aware that my perceptions are skewed, but here's what I saw.

In the major cities in China, I was struck by the fast growth of infrastructure - roads, power, subways, buildings, etc.  I wish I had counted, but I think a highway merge I was on in Beijing had more than 20 lanes in each direction.  In 16 years, the rice fields of Pudong across the Bund have been replaced by skyscrapers rivaling Shanghai on the opposite side.  The theory in China appears to be that if you have sufficient infrastructure, the businesses will have a foundation on which to grow and, as a result, expand the economy.

And, I was doubly struck by the amount of English.  There was English on all major highway signs, street signs, at least 1/3 of the billboards, and subway maps, making it relatively easy for me to navigate.  I think this is a very intelligent way to attract international business.  I remember my friends traveling to Japan for business in the 1980's and early 90's and being completely unable to navigate without assistance because they could not read the characters.  I've had the same experience traveling a little in Russia and the Ukraine, where at least I could carry a copy of the cyrillic alphabet that I've reordered to correspond with the English alphabet so that I can sound out words.  In China, I discovered that a little bit of strategically placed English goes a long way towards making one feel comfortable and more likely to return.

In India, I saw a different model.  Rather than big government infrastructure projects, I saw individual enterprises building regions of infrastructure.  A single company will build a campus with offices, housing, recreation, etc. as well as its own power generation and water filtration systems.  The process here appears to be that as Indian companies capture outsourcing dollars from the rest of the world, the money will trickle down through the economy. For example, if the successful IT professional buys a car, then he is willing to pay people who will put gas in the car, service the car, and wash the car.

In the major cities in both countries there is a tremendous amount of confidence among people that their countries are in the ascendancy.  Taxi drivers, hotel workers, store clerks, when asked, will talk about the increasing opportunities for education and advancement for their children.  Business and government officials talk readily about the increasing competition for qualified professionals and the rapid escalation of salaries. (Perhaps it is a bit like the US during the heady early days of the space race and nuclear power?) Over the next ten years, it will be interesting to see whether one of these two models prevails. 
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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, India, public policy

MIT - Fast Forward - April / May Blur

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Jun 17, 2006 @ 11:06 AM
There's little to be said about the end of the MIT academic experience.  The time went by so fast and the pressures were so great that I wrote no blog.

I did, however, write a really fun thesis.  The abstract is posted under the professional tab and I hope to post the whole document soon. 
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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows

MIT - March - California Deamin'

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Wed, Apr 26, 2006 @ 23:04 PM
The month of March was marked by moving in different directions. 

In the first half of the month, we finished the first half of our final semester.  At MIT Sloan, there are half semester courses and I'm happy to report the end of Systems Dynamics.  As I've mentioned before, it was a great course, but a lot of work. We each had to develop a personal project and mine was an analysis of the cycle of the growing volume of data in the world, wanting to improve data privacy, and the creation of new data in an effort to protect privacy.  (I didn't solve the problem but I did learn from this course that I tend to see intractable problems as vicious cycles.  This gives me a lot of insight into how to address them differently in the future.)  The most impressive output of the course was an analysis of the problem of violence in the Middle East jointly prepared by a citizen of Saudi Arabia and a citizen of Israel.

Two weeks of the month were out of class and away from Boston.  One week, we took a trip to San Francisco/Silicon Valley and heard from some of the country's leaders of technical innovation.  We also had a chance to meet some of our Stanford counterparts (there is another Fellows program there) over lunch.  That was enjoyable and informative -- it turns out that we have a lot of the same experiences and concerns.  I also got to sneak in some time with a Stanford member of the TAMI research team - Deb McGuinness - and help with the preparation for the AAAI presentation.  All in all, March was a time for a lot of of private consulting and some intense thesis drafting, so there wasn't much "break," but I did get to do a bunch of my work at home on the back porch in the Arizona sunshine with the dog at my feet. :-)

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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, privacy

February - MIT - Spring (Final) Term

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Mar 04, 2006 @ 18:03 PM
Spring (final) term has begun.  There's a weird tension in the air -- we all seem to be leaning forward towards our return to fulltime, full-focus work while trying to pull back on the reins and make this fantasy year last a little longer.  Some are slowing down the pace of school and gearing back up on the work front, accelerating the transition.  Others are throwing themselves into school full-throttle, wringing every last ounce from the experience. 

Our biggest time sink this half-term is Systems Dynamics, an interesting discipline that applies engineering to problem-solving any issue. I've been loking forward to this class since I came to visit the school in the fall of 2004.  It provides a methodology for forcing assumptions, competing values, hidden costs, and delays into the open.  And, the diagrams are great to look at!

In addition to core classes, working, and research, I'm taking two other fabulous classes this term.  "Corporations at the Crossroads," brings in CEOs of companies from many different industries to talk about the challenges they face.  So far, we've seen a Fortune 100 and a Fortune 1000 CEO and have enjoyed some very frank comments about satisfying shareholders, finding new markets, redefining the business model, etc.

And, there's "Generating Business Value from Information Technology" taught by Peter Weill, Director of the Center for Information Systems Research.  This class really bridges the business/IT gap, showing how to focus both parties on the legitimate benefits of well-governed IT -- documented increases in Return on Investment.  You may recognize Professor Weill from the extremely popular book on IT Governance that he co-authored with Jeanne Ross.  They've shared with us a part of their next book (coming out in June) and I think it should be a hot seller based upon what they've shared with us -- an easy-to-understand, easy-to-apply model for discussing management goals than can readily be translated to IT priorities.

Like everyone else, I'm also focusing on the things that I had hoped to do while here at MIT.  So stay tuned for the possibility of a little start-up and/or a technology & public policy project!

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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, technology for business managers

MIT - January - Independent Activities Period

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Thu, Feb 23, 2006 @ 01:02 AM
January is Independent Activities Period (IAP) at MIT - 30 days of learning, excitement, and spontaneity! 

IAP offers accelerated for-credit courses for its matriculated students.  But, the magic is in the non-credit events open to, and taught by, MIT students, faculty, employees, and family members.  This year, IAP had 700 HUNDRED events scheduled! 

Some of the fun included

- the Chocolate Tour of Boston (actually, a search for "chocolate" returned seven events though I'm still confused by the one that compared karate and chocolate chip cookies)

-  a sleep-deprived, weekend long Mystery Hunt which apparently drew scores of puzzlers from elsewhere

-  lots of robotics:
    - a month long class that teaches robot design and ends with a public competition
    - an opportunity to build an underwater remotely-operated vehicle and keep it!    
    - meetings of the Mars Society  to discuss the robots that will be needed when humans settle on the red planet

- courses only MIT would offer - "How Baseball, Poker, and Fermat Teach Us the Best Way to Elect the President"

I definitely did not do enough of these!  I did, though, get some work done on my thesis (see the current state of the draft under the Professional tab), spent some time at home, and made a quick trip to Washington.

And, I had a great weekend in Stowe, Vermont with about twenty members of the extended Sloan Fellows family.  A group of Fellows, partners, and children went for a weekend ski trip.  Even though the weather's been warm, there was enough snow for neophytes like me to take a lesson.  Truth be told, I was pretty unsuccessful, but could see how much fun it would be.  Navigating reminded me of counter-steering on a motorcycle.  And, I'm sure with another lesson, I would learn how to stop! 

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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, technology