Personal Blog

Technology and Southeast Asia

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Fri, Feb 09, 2007 @ 13:02 PM
I just took a monthlong trip to Southeast Asia - Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Thailand.  Along the way, two things struck me about technology.

Cell phones and internet shops are multiplying like bunnies.   And, surprising to me, were satellite dishes everywhere in democracies and dictatorships alike.  I learned that you can run a black and white television on a car battery and a color tv on a gas-powered generator.  Against the backdrop of so much political, social and religious turmoil in the world, it's a powerful contrast to see that the basic human desire for connection supercedes what we would see as the more basic need of plumbing.

During the trip, I had an extended stay in Siem Reap to see the Khmer temples (Angkor Wat and many others).  At first, I was overwhelmed by the obvious intellectual superiority of its day; the temples represent mastery of advanced mathematics, architecture, and engineering. They are heavily decorated in beautiful, intricate sculptures and carvings.   They were created at a time when Europe was in the Dark Ages.  Over several days  my unconscious began to piece together that all the fabulous ruins I'd seen (Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, etc.) represented a single culture that held the keys to knowledge -- both scientific and artistic -- during its supremacy.  I'm left wondering what impact the ascendancy of the internet, when most knowledge is immediately shared, will have on this phenomenon. 
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Topics: Southeast Asia, technology, public policy

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

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

MIT - November - Halfway Home

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sun, Dec 04, 2005 @ 01:12 AM
We’ve hit the halfway mark of the program! It’s a bit of anomaly. We’re finishing our third of four semesters, but we are completing the sixth month of our year. In theory, then, the second six months should be easier. We’ll see…

November was a months of ups and downs.

On the exciting side:
• On one fabulous evening, I went to a happy hour with the women MBA’s; a cultural function put on by the MBA’s from India (though I stood in line between a Korean student in an intensive English program and a Mexican friend who’s a London School of Economics student visiting MIT and cross-registering at Harvard); and a tour of the glassblowing lab from an Australian classmate (where I met Macarthur “genius” grant recipient who’s a full professor at 23 and his father who is now artist-in-residence at the Computer Science/Artificial Intelligence Lab).
• One of the people who couldn’t make this year’s class came for a visit. She’s a dynamic IT executive and I think we convinced her this is a program she can’t live without!
• We learned that our class’ international trip will be to China and India! We’re going to Shanghai, Beijing, Kangmai, Delhi, and Bangalore.
• Through a small seminar, I met Jim Champy, ( the Chairman of the MIT Corporation (it’s Board of Trustees). He’s an extremely accomplished, but for me he offered a special delight. I discovered that he had been responsible for Technology Review, the alumni magazine, during the late 1970’s when I used to read my father’s copy. It had been very readable for a teenager and provided some of my first insights into applied science and technology policy. It also offered a wonderful page of puzzles, a tradition that’s been abandoned to my chagrin. I’m sure its vibrancy and unlocking of life’s mysteries is part of the reason I’m at MIT today. It’s not often that we have the opportunity to thank someone for influencing our earlier life.
• I gave a presentation at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. The talk was entitled “Granular Access: Information Sharing in a World of Complex Laws & Policies” (there’s a link to my PowerPoint under the “Professional” tab on this site, but all the fun was in the anecdotes!). The best part of the day was hearing the other presentations ( and meeting many fascinating new people: Doug Oard (, Sonia Siglar (, etc.

On the up and down side:
• This was the month in which I had to finalize my thesis proposal. I am grateful to the professor who told me that the fourth idea is likely to be close to right. Those who know me, know I don’t lack for ideas. For me it’s a challenge to come up with a narrow enough topic to be appropriate for a thesis. Serendipity took its course and Professor Oard gave me a lead on a marvelous idea. Stay tuned!

On the very down side:
• We lost Glenn Mitchell, my brother-in-law on the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving. He was a talented radio reporter known to the Dallas community for thirty years. I hope you’ll take the time to read about his life (; and listen to his work: (
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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, technology