June 2007

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June 12, 2007 T #

A Long Time Gone

I think since leaving for the LFM International Plant Trek back in March, I've spent more days away from Boston than I've spent in the city where I'm supposed to be going to school. For each of the last 5 weeks, I've averaged 1.6 days in Boston. Good thing the world has laptops and email.

And now that I'm on my way to the UK to start my 6 month thesis project with Schlumberger, I finally have time to look back.

Sometime in the middle of this, the incoming LFM '09 class came in for their open house, and we all had a good time. They're an impressive crew. I was impressed with so many of the applicants during interviews in January, and am disappointed they didn't have room for a few others who seemed equally qualified. It would be tough to run admissions with so many strong applicants. Everyone they admitted seem like sharp and friendly individuals, so it'll be good getting to know them.

"I read your blog, but then I get bored, so I stop reading it. But I really like the pictures!!!" (from an '09)

I love brutal honesty!!!

"It seems like you post essays you wrote for classes?" (from the same '09)

No, I don't post anything I write for class (that's even more boring). Even of the stuff I write on my own, there is much I don't post. But I appreciate feedback and respond accordingly. I think I'll post less writing with the pictures.

LFM International Plant Trek - Southeast Asia

This is the standard (non-mandatory, but generally attended) LFM trip during Spring Break Totally arranged and run by the students, we choose where we want to go, what companies to see, and make sure that we have a good time.


Singapore is a very interesting City / Country. I lives up to it's famed cleanliness, although when I made a midnight run to 7-11 for some Gatorade, I was propositioned by four different women. Chewing gum is illegal, but apparently not prostitution. A city with a different set of values. It's beautiful though, and I would enjoy living there.

I find their government very intriguing. Shortly after returning, I read an article on the pay scales of their government ministers. Based on the premises that they want the best people possible running the government, and that any one of their ministers would be at the top of their profession (since they usually come from the top of their professions), they pay them the average salary of the top ten individuals in each of the leading industries (Law, Finance, Management, Engineering, etc). I really like that method. The U.S. political system is set up to deter anybody with extraordinary financial opportunity. Government compensation is a complicated problem, but I think there is something to be said for carrying appropriate incentives to attract the best talent available to the positions.

Unfortunately, I got ridiculously sick on the flight in, so I spent most of my time in Singapore with a fever. But everyone took care of me, and what I got to see was worthwhile.


Malaysia had some good aspects, but the overriding impression I got was "The U.S. twenty years after the economy collapses." As soon as we bussed over the border from Singapore, things changed. Instead of driving cars, everyone was riding small thin-tire motorcycles. They had several modern tall buildings and shopping malls, but as we drove by, we saw them shut down with boards over the windows. The hotel where we stayed had a beautiful spacious restaurant and atrium with marble and granite stonework, flourishing plants, and neatly uniformed staff, but in the rooms and elevators, anything that had been replaced in the last few years was thin and rickety, looking more fit for a trailer park than the majestic architecture of the building. It had the glory of a previously thriving economy, eroded from cheap maintenance with cheap labor being the only remnant providing any remaining luxury.

It seems that the labor is cheap only because there is no greater local opportunity for the people remaining near the city. The lack of opportunity does not seem to be from the lack of individual work ethic, but something more broadly systematic that would take more analysis to understand. It left me the feeling of "Tried and Failed" more than the American essence of "Building on Preceding Success." I'm interested to learn more of the recent history of investment and business in the country.

Seeing this degradation from affluence was a little disconcerting, and inspired in me a greater sense of concern for the fragility of our own economy in the US. I believe the work ethic and talent of Americans in general make our economy more robust that pessimists express, but seeing this alternative in Malaysia is evidence that economies can erode. It would be a gradual erosion, barely felt from year to year, and the outcome is disappointing. I now feel it is more important to keep our economic and social policies such that they foster innovation and growth, rather than stagnation. We need to encourage the continuing development of large scale economic opportunity. The small simple jobs will always be around, as they still are in southern Malaysia, but the overall affluence of the society will diminish without the continuation of bushiness serving larger economic demands.

(Kuala Lumpur from our hotel )


That said, Kuala Lumpur is a pretty cool looking city. Looking out the window from our hotel to the Petronas Towers felt like I was looking out over a Star Wars city. KL feels like an oasis of self-sustaining modernity in the middle of the otherwise lagging country. But again, this is just my impression from a first pass through, only visiting three companies (Flextronics, Freescale, and GE Aircraft Engine Maintenance), and not learning the greater economic conditions. One of the best guys in our '08 class is from Malaysia, and he really likes the country.

Thailand - Bangkok

More fun places and things to see.

These boats touring people through the river were a riot. The raw utilitarianism in these things is second to none. It looks like they ripped the engine straight out of a Volkswagen, Ford Truck, or whatever happened to be nearby, and mounted it to a boat with a prop.

It was really interesting comparing the Ford plant here with the auto plants we've seen in the states (no pictures allowed). The lines run the same, but where there is a forest of robots in the states, here they have hoards of people. The assembly lines were clearly designed on the same principles, but according to different economic trade offs.

Vancouver / Whistler

Two weeks after Plant Trek, it was off to Vancouver and Whistler

Not as large as I expected, but the city lived up to its reputation for character and beauty.


You'd think that after a year with a class of 360, you would have met almost everyone at least once. Not so. The best part of these "treks" that are so prevalent at MIT Sloan, is meeting so many people, and actually spending some time talking and learning who they are. Parties and pubs only do so much for getting to know people. Trips like this to Vancouver are great.

More important though, I think Whistler is now my favorite ski resort. Mid-April, and the snow at the top of the mountain was as good as Colorado snow in February! And the terrain is unbelievable! Every kind of slope, cliff, and cornice is available, and there are plenty of options to choose from. I think everyone running the ski resort is from Australia. Australians travel better than any other culture, and if they choose to stop in a location, you better know there's a good reason why.

Stonehouse, UK

Next stop, England, to make sure everything would be arranged with Schlumberger before I came in to start my project. Because of last minute changes in the schedules of higher up people, what was intended to be a three day trip turned into a six day trip.

It was definitely worthwhile though. Talking with the people I did was good, and I was able to lay down a sound definition of my project and schedule. Schlumberger has some very interesting projects going on. It's amazing what they've dreamed up to control oil drilling equipment. Their technology is phenomenal, and now they're trying to leverage the different global capabilities to build a more effective supply chain (which will be the focus of my project).

The English countryside is beautiful. The most astounding part is, the ENTIRE countryside looks like this. It seems like everything is built out of stone, with an occasional brick house. I can't believe how many rolling hills with farms are still not populated, and how it appears nothing new has been built in 100 years. It's certainly a change from driving through the States.

And yes, driving on the left side of the road is a bear. It's not so much driving that is bad, or the round-about's, but it gets dangerous in the reflexes when turning training me to clear for vehicles on the right side of the road. I developed a new respect for James Bond to so effortlessly drive with such instinctive skill on whichever side of the road the country dictates.

I must say, the best part of driving in England is they don't post ridiculous speed limits! On the main motorway, I was cruising 90 mph to and from the airport, and people in better cars were passing me on a regular basis. Why can't the states be like that? If any of the upcoming presidential candidates puts higher speed limits on their platform, they'll have my vote.

St. Louis University

I think I had less than 24 hours between arriving home from England and leaving for St. Louis for my brother's graduation from medical school. It's always a laugh hanging out with him and hearing all the stories from the hospital. St. Louis is a more violent city than I ever expected. People get shot up every day, and of course they don't have insurance, so the hospital pays to patch them up. The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Dr. Ben Carson, and it was great listening to him speak about the breadth and ethics of the doctors in American society, and in the world at large. He's made some significant accomplishments in surgery, and I admire his efforts in the societal realm of medicine, curing social illnesses before they make people put other people (or themselves) in the hospital. He is certainly a doctor to emulate.

Greg and Erica are now off to Arizona for his residency in the ER. Medical school seems like the path of eternal schooling, but it actually consists of a finite number of years. It's a lot of work, but certainly worthwhile.

NASA Lunar Ventures - Colorado School of Mines

That same weekend was the NASA Lunar Ventures Business Plan Competition, in which we had three Astropreneur teams make it to the finals, and one team, AimSense, finish as Runner Up. I was impressed with several of the other teams competing, and overall it was an excellent experience.

In addition to the award money, AimSense won a trip to NASA headquarters, and there are a few people from Boeing who are interested in their concept and planning to talk with them about moving forward. That's exactly the kind of thing we hope will come out of these competitions!

And it's always nice to have a weekend back home, to run around with my brothers on our old biking trails and cliffs.

Mugged in the Boston Public Garden

I had never been mugged before, but that's pretty close to what happened in my three or so day staying Boston while taking my last Final and moving my stuff into storage. After sending Minovia back to her place in a Taxi around midnight, I decided to take a brief walk in the Public Garden. It's a beautiful park just outside my loft, and a great place for thinking.

I was standing, looking over the pond, and two guys dressed gangster style were walking by on the path (nothing unusual). Then one of them strolled over to me while his friend stood waiting. "Do you know where Park Street is?" I gave him simple and clear directions, then returned my eyes to the pond and my mind to my train of thought. He stayed standing there, and asked a few other "small talk" questions, to which I gave short one or two word answers, indicating I wasn't interested in conversation. Then he got to his real reason for talking. "Do you got any money? Just a few bills?" If his brand new shoes, hat, and meticulously chosen clothes, had been any style other than ghetto-gangster, I would have been surprised at his request.

I don't believe it is charitable (in most cases) to give money to panhandlers. There are more effective ways to help out a man who is "down on his luck," and I support those efforts. Furthermore, I do not believe it is the duty or responsibility of any single individual to give of their resources to another individual because they have less. An individual may 'choose' to give of their resources for their own reasons (as I do, when, where, and how I choose), but there is no inherent moral obligation for them to give in any particular quantity or form.

I don't make excuses for my ethics, so I replied disinterestedly saying: "I don't need to give you any money." He whined about "just a few bucks" and the such. As I gave no reply, he eventually started saying "I'm being 'nice' man. I'm being 'nice.' You got plenty of money. You should give me some. That's why I'm being nice."

Regardless of my ethics, I had left everything in my apartment except my keys. I didn't have any money to give him. Under general circumstances I would have had money, but I'm accustomed to telling a persistent beggar that, yes, I have money, but no, I won't give them any. I didn't want to pretend to acknowledge this guy's right to take any money that I may have on me, so I responded "Any money that I may have on me, you have no right to any of it." He replied "I know that, but I'm just asking for a few bucks." I didn't respond, so after a pause he started in again.

"Why are you risking getting yourself severely injured and hurt? You only have to give me a couple bucks. You got it! I know you got it! " I turned to him. "You have no right to anything that I have. I don't have any money on me, but even if I did, you have no right to any of it."

It was interesting how his eyes lit up when I said I don't have any money on me, and he then started insisting that he search me, as though he was going to catch me in a lie. He had no right to search me, and I was tempted to stand on that point as well, but things happen quickly. He was determined to search me, I didn't want to haggle with him, so knowing I would take the moral victory on this point I reacted saying: "Look at me. Look me in the eye." He would only slouch and couldn't hold eye contact. "I don't lie, and I don't make excuses for what I will and won't do. I'll let you search me, but know this: You have no right to anything that is mine, or anything that is anybody else's."

He endured that remark with the attitude of a 2nd grader getting scolded, just anxious to search for money. After he acknowledged my point with a nod, I lifted the tail of my shirt where he could see I had no wallet in my pockets. In just a moment, his hands were in my pockets, not just checking for a wallet, but feeling very thoroughly on both sides. I was appalled, but again thought it better to not resist. I thought he was done when he finished the second pocket, but then his hands were in my front pocket! One hand on the inside, and one on the outside! In the small front pocket of my jeans were my keys, and as he was feeling those I commented "Those are only keys." You would have thought I sounded the starting gun for a sprint because his hand then plunged so deeply and strongly into my pocket that I thought it might rip. As I resisted his arm, commenting that there's obviously nothing else in there, he gave up on the pocket and went instinctively to my ankles. I was exasperated "Who keeps money in their socks?!?!" He looked up at me insistently: "I keep money in my socks!!!"

He finished checking my ankles, and finding nothing, he paused, stooped half way between my ankles and standing back to a slouch. He was confused about what to do next. He must have realized there was nowhere left to search, because he jerked and dejectedly began slouching away, twitching and mustering: "You had no right to take my ancestors from Africa either! You had no right!"

While he was stalking away with his friend, I'm not sure if he realized that he would soon be passing by the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial (only 100 yards away), named after Col. Shaw who was killed in battle in 1863, leading the Massachusetts 54th regiment; the first black regiment of the North to fight in the Civil War to abolish slavery.

Moab / Lake Powell

I think it says something about your hobbies when you plan a trip to Moab with one friend, find out your brother already has a trip planned there for the same weekend, your cousin likewise has a trip planned, and in the middle of dinner during the trip you run into a friend you haven't seen for four years!

As always, it's still a beautiful and fun place.

And a little further south, Lake Powell has become a favorite vacation spot for our family. Beautiful terrain with lots of fun stuff to do during the day.


Two days in Boston, then on a flight to Bogota. Minovia is working for McKinsey for the summer out of their Bogota office, though she'll be on an operations project for a utility company in Puerto Rico. She spent her previous 5 years down here working on and running several government projects. For the summer she wanted to try consulting, operations, work in the govt/private company cross over sector, and leverage her Latin America experience but get outside Colombia. She got everything on her list!

End judgment: Colombia is a country with an excellent future! The Colombian people are hard working and entrepreneurial, and their government is very supportive of private industry.

Minovia has some very interesting friends from her work in Colombia, who are involved in all ranges of business, politics, etc. (Not to mention they're very hospitable). It was very interesting to hear their views of world politics, US politics, and how it all affects their country. It was wonderfully refreshing to hear one guy talk so positively about the upcoming presidential election, and how impressed he is the the candidates both parties are bringing to the table. I wish more US citizens could likewise look at candidates from both parties for their qualities, instead of selective filtration of good or bad qualities based on party affiliation. I agree that this upcoming election has some good moral individuals in both parties, and I hope this election can focus on constructive debate instead of name calling.

After a couple days of seeing Bogota, Minovia started with McKinsey. I was given the opportunity to visit the herb farm of one of her friends from her previous projects (No, not marijuana. Real high end fresh herbs that chefs cook with, like Oregano,Thyme, etc).

It's amazing what he's doing with this place. It's like seeing the Toyota Production System applied to growing herbs. When he started 14 months ago he was getting the industry average of 15 kilos per bed (in chives). Presently he's growing 50 kilos per bed, and has developed a system to get 100 kilos per bed! In addition, his new system creates greater consistency on the width (very important to the chefs who buy his herbs), resulting in more consistent quality.

He focused on chives for the first year, and trained his foremen on how to run trials and monitor the results. "All I taught them is the importance of tabulation, and acute observation." Now he's expanding similar experimentation with the other herbs he grows. It's impressive the way he has trained his foremen in the scientific method of production, and seeing they way they're bringing their own creativity to the experimentation. Sometimes, all that's needed is a more effective way to approach the world, and the same individual can become far more productive.

I was also surprised to see the safety involved in their construction. In much of Aerospace production, we've gone so overkill on safety that it slows all activity to a near halt. I always carried the impression that developing countries usually gained more labor productivity by avoiding many such safety considerations. It was inspiring to hear from his experience that doing work professionally in terms of process and scientific improvement also means doing it professionally in terms of safety. Good managers intrinsically want to guard the safety of their employees. When they have good management practices, they find that , not only can they afford to guard employee safety, but their employee's knowledge is too valuable to risk loosing it to an accident. In addition to the ethical reasons for safety, good managers create employees who provide strong economic reasons for safety.

For the weekend, we were invited down to a ranch, saw the country side, rode horses, and had a good time in general.

Lesson: Mexican food is not South American food. We had a genuine Colombian lunch, and it was more like a genuine cattle ranch lunch. A great tasting good hearty meal with no beans.

Just a couple weeks prior to my visit, the US and Colombian military succeeded in a joint sting operation to capture the Gorilla's (Drug Runners) largest Arms Dealer! I know he's not tied to Osama, but that's a huge success that should have made some news in the country!

June 25, 2007 M #

Back in Boston

Now that I'm supposed to be gone from Boston, I can't seem to get away. I showed up in England and they were kind enough to let me in as a tourist, but I legally can't work until my visa is processed, and I have to get that taken care of here in the States.

Not a big problem though. I was able to get started on my project, and I'm making reasonable progress on it back here. Plus, I'm really enjoying the time to decompress from everything, and catch up on a lot of other things I've been neglecting. (Pics from Cardiff Castle, Wales)

And I've been hanging out with the LFM '09's. They're a fun crew. They don't party as much as we did last summer, but I think that's to their benefit. They also brought me to this bouldering attic at the top of the Walker Memorial building. It's funny what you find stuffed into the corners of MIT.

This guy was accepted to our '08 class, but he turned it down to stay working on the Mars Science Lab at JPL. Basically, it's a Hummer size Mars Rover that does all kinds of science. Pretty darn cool. He finished that project and reapplied for this year.

Waiting to LEGALLY work in the UK

A fun irony to my stay back here, waiting to enter the UK to work legally, is that I've been simultaneously watching the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" bill regarding our country's policy on illegal immigrants. I personally welcome hard working, honest, law abiding individuals who want to join this country. In this context, I have to put an emphasis on the traits of "honest and law abiding." I don't think it's outlandish to conclude that an "illegal" entrant to the country is, categorically, breaking the law. At the same time, I do believe in a good humanitarian approach to law enforcement... humanitarian to the encroacher, yes, but likewise humanitarian to the citizens in good standing, both native citizens and legal immigrants.

Even if you don't read any more of this entry, READ THIS ARTICLE!!! It's long, but it is densely filled with substantive research:
The Illegal-Alien Crime Wave; by Heather Mac Donald
(Critics claim that one stat cannot be verified, listing that 95% of the 1,200+ outstanding homicide warrants in Los Angeles are for illegals, but they acknowledge its approximate accuracy.)

I support LEGAL immigration. When I first moved to Boston, I asked a particularly helpful salesman at Staples where he was from. He said "I'm from Mexico" and then he proudly followed that with "But now I am American! This is my country now! Now I am American!!!" I'll invite people like that to this country all day long.

That attitude is a far cry from the Mexican demonstrations in Los Angeles a couple years ago. One hard working, smart, technician of Mexican ancestry with whom I worked happened to have that day off on the regular rotation, but he told me that a group of Mexicans had come by his house earlier that week threatening that "If I was at work that day, there would be serious consequences to his house and family." He was glad he had the day off anyway, because he's not sure how he would have responded to the threat. Aside from (reportedly numerous) instances like that undermining the credibility of the demonstration (which most California citizens didn't even notice), it shows a serious lack of appreciation amongst a forceful component of the nationality who makes up the very large majority of the 12 Million illegal immigrants in this country.

For comparison, 12 M is about 4% of the US 300+M population. It helps you understand why billboards and signs are appearing in Spanish instead of English. 4% is a large enough consumer population to go beyond the "niche" category.

So here's the Amnesty bill in a nutshell. It was drafted by the President and a small bi-partisan group, including Senators Kennedy and McCain, and rapidly introduced to the senate without going through the procedural public hearings. It would effectively grant amnesty to the 12M illegals already here, along with anybody else who can get here illegally before the border gets secured. Sensibly, Illegals with a criminal record (drunk driving, theft, etc) wouldn't be eligible. Applicants would have to do some paperwork, pay a small fine, and they'd be legal. It implements several changes to the legal system making it easier to enforce deportation, but reduces the existing standards for border security.

The public opinion polls are truly unique. 56% oppose the bill, and 20% support the bill. What's unique is that both Democrats and Republicans show the same %'s of support and opposition! This isn't a party-line split amongst the public! This is NOT a Democrat vs. Republican issue!!! Except in the Senate, where the President introduces it, Republicans oppose it, and Democrats support it. It's a strange twist. Independent of the bill, over 90% support stronger border security.

It has been interesting seeing the fundamentally different nature of articles written on this issue. The very large proportion of articles written for the bill heavily emphasize the difficulties of the individual illegal immigrants, with very little data on economic impact, feasibility of enforcement, etc. They frequently address the debate in terms of "all" immigrants, clouding the distinction between legal and illegal.They appeal to individual compassion. The very large majority of articles written against the bill emphasize a comprehensive analysis of the bill, also of the impact (economic, (2), criminal, cultural, demographic, terrorist, (2), etc), numerous cases (it's shocking how many illegal immigrant drunk drivers are causing fatal accidents), and feasibility of enforcing the proposed law. They make side notes of compassion, but appeal to reason.

It's also interesting that, strict as some claim our immigration laws are already, the EU imposes far more restrictive immigration regulation.

Reading the statement from the White House on the bill (by far, the most convincing pro-Amnesty bill reading I found), it seems to me that it clearly has some valuable components. What was more surprising is how much our border security has improved over the last 6 years. Progress has been made.

This Thursday, after an (unexpected comeback on Tuesday) the bill got shot down, short by 14 votes. So, we still have holes in our immigration enforcement policy, but we won't be granting amnesty to the illegals like we did in '86.

If you read the article on the Illegal-Alien Crime Wave, then you've seen the magnitude of the problem. It's not a problem with individual immigration, it's about the criminal results from uncontrolled immigration. We can't fix it all at once, but we absolutely must start making progress on the problem. It's not a matter of Democrats vs. Republicans, and it goes far beyond the price of strawberries. It's a matter of the conditions necessary for prosperity. Prosperity cannot grow in the presence of criminal activity.

This is a personal web page. Things expressed here do not represent the position of my employer.

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