These are my old Personal Updates from 2010.
12/22/2010 Personal Update Fall 2010
There goes another semester! I am writing on the Megabus home after my last final yesterday. At least the power works this time; usually neither the power nor the WiFi works. The WiFi only worked for 10 minutes before crashing today. At least Megabus now goes direct PHL-BOS without having to change in NYC! Why bother with the bus? Because it's cheap! I book in advanced, so the fares are only $5 or $10 each way. Even when you book late and pay $30, it's still much better than $80 on Amtrak or $300 on the airplane. I learned in 16.71J this year that the PHL-BOS airplane market had the highest yield (fare per mile) of any domestic route!
Anyway, I am very happy how this semester went. I had my own room this year; I think this allowed me to focus much more. I also came into the year with the mindset of fully dedicating my self to school work; not doing too much work outside of class work, and working all nights and weekends. I think I finally was able to achieve the proper level of focus at MIT, especially since I was taking 6 classes (69 units), which is 190% of "full load". You may remember that I struggled my first semester here. During my second semester (when I took 54 units), I did not have it all together either; I would sometimes do homework the day it was due, or not at all. This semester, I only did that once, and I don't think I missed any assignments. I am really proud that I pushed my productivity to an new level by stabilizing my learning.
I think 6 classes was just about the limit. If I try and do too much, I will not get enough sleep, and be far less productive. It's kinda like a control system, like we learned about in 6.01. I need to go right up to the line, without crossing it. I like being busy. I find that I am much more productive when I am busy. I hate just sitting around; I want the pressure to get stuff done in an efficient manner. Also, I still want to take advantage of my time here, by focusing on stuff I can only do when I am here.
This was my first term as a Course 15 Management major. The Sloan school at MIT has a very big MBA program, along with a whole bunch of various programs. (Each division at MIT has its own way of generating revenue. Most do it via research, but Sloan does it with students.) Undergrads take classes with the MBA students. Harvard does not do this. In 15.567, I was one of only 2 undergraduates. In addition, the students at Sloan are very international, which brings a wide perspective.
15.567 The Economics of Information: Strategy and Pricing was a mishmosh introduction to doing business online and using information in business. I don't know. In general, I was not awed by the experience, compared to other classes at MIT. The Sloan students are very different from the other MIT students. Many are only there for a year or two, fly home every weekend, and in general, have a very lose connection to the Institute. Most put more effort into finding a job; there seems to be much less passion than the rest of MIT. Their interest seems to be strictly limited to "how can I make money off this," with little tolerance for the details or culture behind it. Now of course I believe, this attention to details is what leads to success. For example, any one can put out a buzz-word compliant HR plan, but how do you actually implement it? No wonder front-line employees are filled with sarcasm about management. Ultimately, I am uninspired. In this class, I was dubbed the "class technical expert" by the professor. During presentations, one student said he would now accept questions from anyone in the class except me. The MBAs were sick of my tough questions. I got an A in the class, which is the highest grade I have ever gotten at MIT (although the +/-modifiers do not matter).
15.501 Corporate Financial Accounting was very boring. It is a boring, but necessary subject, but the lectures were extremely boring. Only about 5% of the class came to lecture each week. Luckily, the textbook was very helpful. The homework felt like busywork (and could be done in a group) and the exams seemed to measure how fast you could pound your calculator. I guess the other students did not take it seriously, since I got an A- for the year.
14.01 Principles of Microeconomics was another required course for 15. Jonathan Gruber, who was deeply involved in the writing of the new health care bill, was the lecturer this semester. It was nice to hear from him, but I wish he would have talked more (both more often and more in depth) about his "day job". 14.01 was largely a review of AP Micro Econ from high school. However, they teach the Calculus version at MIT. This was difficult because the units don't really line up in economics. Also the math parts were not taught very well this semester. The textbook does not go into the math concepts, and the P-Sets (HW) is due before the math is reviewed in recitation. In addition, Prof. Gruber invents very difficult exams. I ended up with a B in the class. I don't really know how I could have done any better.
I also took the first Course 6 EECS class, 6.01. I really liked it. I was a lot of fun. I really liked how the class was very well planned out. The lectures and assignments all fit together well, and I felt like I learned a lot. I also really like the beauty of EECS - namely that you reduce everything to reusable, abstract pieces. I thought that I did well in the class. I solved every homework problem correctly, I pretty much understood all of the material, I thought I did well on the exams, but I kept getting 80s on them! I ended up with an 86% for the year which is a B. I was shocked to see on the distribution that many people did better than me. I don't know what it is, but it seems like no matter how much I study, a lot of people do better. How do they pull it off????
My hardest class this semester was 6.041 Probabilistic Systems Analysis. This was a required class for Course 15, surprisingly. It was very difficult. I ended up with a C for the semester. I did spend a lot of time on it. I read every chapter in the textbook and took notes; I went to every single lecture, recitation, and tutorial (the class was 5 days a week), and I went to office hours almost every week. However, I was not very good at it, especially compared to the older students. I was at the same place in the grading curve (1 st. dev below avg) like I was all last year in every class. I think that I am not very good at abstract math concepts. When I can put a story behind it, and visualize it, I can do very well. For example, I did very well on Markov chains on the final. The one part which I did the worst on, was the part taught in the last week of the class. Since there is no homework the last week, I did not adequately review that material. I still think that I would have done far worse if I had not reformed my study skills this year.
However, I think that this class, along with my learning to learn experience has shown me that I can do hard classes if I put effort into them. I think challenging myself like this is worth it. Combined with my experiences above, It made me think that I would rather do EECS, than Course 15. I think at this point I will double major. As part of that, I need to plan out my schedule for the rest of my time at MIT to make sure that it is feasible.
After the first week of classes this semester, I decided that I wanted to add another class, so I looked through the catalog to see what would fit in my schedule. I had seen 16.71J The Airline Industry in the course catalog, and it filled in a hole in my schedule, so I decided to add it. It ended up being a fairly interested management-style class, since many of the lectures and assignments were about how to schedule operations. Much of what was taught works with any transportation methods, such as trains, which I am interested in. Some of it even made me think back to last summer working at Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway.
Outside of classes at MIT, I am still involved in university governance. I am still the VPFS at Baker House, and I am planning on running for reelection. The Institute Athena and printing committee] turned out to be over from last year. No one wanted to talk about Athena spaces this year. Our recommendations from last semester are being implemented. IS&T upgraded all of the Athena cluster printers to new models and is now providing paper and toner to dorm printers. They are currently building the authenticated Pharos system and they are planning on starting a trial during IAP.
I also became involved in the dining issue at MIT. For those of you who are unfamiliar, dining is MIT's perpetual controversial issue. I wrote a research paper about it last term. This semester, I became Baker's representative on the committee to select a new dining vendor. I proposed a radical idea, and got seriously flammed for it. At the end of the semester I was also appointed to the main dining policy committee, the infamous HDAG. My current position can be found here.
This IAP I will be an extern at State Street Capital in Quincy, MA. I picked this experience because I wanted a short induction to the world of finance. It turned out that this job is in their IT department, similar to last summer where I worked in the IT department of a train company. Still it should be a promising experience. I am also thinking about other activities which I can do to stay busy during IAP. I may be a research assistant with Prof. Brynjolfsson from 15.567 at the Center for Digital Business at Sloan. I am also planning on taking a night class introducing MatLab. There is also a Poker competition to build the best poker playing AI. I just want to listen in on the class, as I highly doubt that I can win. I also don't know how much time I will have to spend on it. Lastly, I will try to go to a series of lectures on the OLPC initiative at Sloan, by the founder of OLPC Walter Bender.
I have picked out a slate of potential classes for next semester. 15.401 Introduction to Finance, is a popular core Sloan class. I want to learn more about the financial markets, and learn more about why the financial crisis happened. 15.761 is another core Sloan class; this one is about making things efficiently. I also plan on taking the next EECS class, 6.02 which deals with communications at a very basic level. That should be very informative, although some of my friends told me it is not as fun as 6.01. I also need to take 7.013 Biology and 15.279 Managerial Communications as requirements. I am not looking forward to them. If they fit in my schedule, I will take them. If they don't then I will kick the can down the road again. I also need to take 14.02 Macroeconomics. I don't remember the currency markets very well, so I can use a refresher. I don't know what the format of the course is. I hope that it is taught better than 14.01. I am also signing up for two math classes. 18.06 Linear Algebra is supposedly a pre-req for 6.02. I did not see that before, so I am plan on taking it concurrently. 18.443 is one of the two options for a statistics class. I want to take the Course 18 Math version, because I think it will be more rigorous than the Course 15 Management version. I know this won't be too favorable for my GPA, but my experience in 6.041 says I can do it if I try. I also need to take a HASS class. I chose 4.211 The Present and Future City as the one that seemed to be the most interesting this term. Unfortunately it is not a CI-H or a HASS-D class, which will put me a little behind on those requirements. The HASS restrictions are just too complex and restrictive at MIT. Why are more classes not HASS-D classes? Lastly ESD.00 is a new class for this year. It is designed to introduce freshmen to the world of systems development, but it looks interesting, so I am planning on taking it as my fun class. Now I know that this is too many classes. I will likely end up with 6 of them that fit together in a schedule.
I have been doing The Weekly Spin during the term. Gdovin's internet connection at Kutztown has been bad (not as bad as mine over the summer though), but I hope the show is still informative for people. We are covering the same issues as always.
I took about 3,000 photos this term, bringing my flickr item total to 54,931. My family took me on a road trip halfway through the term, and I went on a walk through of the new MIT dorm W1/Massey Hall which will be completed next year. I have put the most of the rest of the photos into the Around MIT Fall 2010 set. These are my first photos with my new Samsung HZ30W camera. I am very happy with it; it is much better than my old Kodak M1093 IS camera.
I am looking for another internship this summer. I want something that combines tech with business, like last summer. However, this seems to confuse most companies I talk to. I always get pegged for a regular technical position, for which I am only moderately competitive for. Oh well, here's hoping I find something.--ThePlaz 16:05, 22 December 2010 (EST)
9/10/2010 Personal Update Back from Germany
My summer working at Deutsche Bahn, the state railway of Germany, is over. I worked on the PPX/Touch&Travel team. I worked on the design for the new smartphone version of T&T and I prototyped out a map/GIS platform. Hopefully they will like what I built and what I helped develop will be seen by millions of people. Working at Deutsche Bahn was real a change of pace from MIT; I did not even have access to my DB email outside the office. It was challenging to work in German and I learned a lot about what it is like to work in a big company. Hopefully I brought some American-style thinking to the team to help create the next version of Touch&Travel and improve people’s trip planning.
During the summer, I had a great time going on trips to Berlin, Venice, Verona, Nuremberg, London, and Hamburg. I also went to smaller day trips to Mainz, Geysir Andernach, Wiesbaden, the Rhine, the Opel Factory, Holiday Park, and Worms, plus plenty of random photos. I also took lots of photos of trains and transit systems This trip help boost my flickr count to over 50,000 items! Almost all of the photos are geotagged. Over the summer I bought a new geologger, the I-Blue Tripmate 850 GPS Logger. This new logger is a lot more sensitive and accurate than my old AMOD 8050 GPS Logger. In addition it has a screen and a Bluetooth connection so you can see live data as it is recording. I’ve included a geotrack of my time in Venice, to demonstrate how good this logger is. Geoov should be up and running again with my latest photos. I built it last summer so I and others could see where I have been by displaying all of my geotagged photos on one map. I love seeing more and more areas being filled in!
I also built out my wiki with some new features and content. I extended the FlickrSet Extension to help meet some of my needs. I also built a Delicious Extension from scratch. In both cases I want to display more of my content from other sites directly on the relevant page on my wiki. I have not made much use of the extensions, but I am now able to pull flickr items and items tagged on delicious straight into certain wiki pages. I also wrote some new content about the Laptops, Cameras, GPS Loggers, MP3 Players, and Cell Phones devices I have owned.
I also figured out a way to once again display OneNote notebooks. This new method uses Microsoft Office Online/SkyDrive and it works in all browsers. However I could not trick it into embedding into my site, so you will have to click to go offsite. Also, ink will not display. I’ve uploaded ink notebooks from first semester in the legacy 2007 web export style. This displays ink, but only works in IE and Opera. This works out well since I was switching to scanned paper anyway and my tablet broke in March. Some of my notebooks from second semester were all in paper anyway, so I just uploaded a series of PDFs with the pages scanned in. I know this is lower tech, but in my experience, this is how I learn best. So check out my notes from freshmen year.
I am still covering the latest in tech news on The Weekly Spin podcast. With the start of episode 68, I wanted to redouble my effort I put into the podcast to be better prepared with the issues and stories. I am very interested in the things I cover and along with some of my classes this year I want to be able to understand the issues better. Hopefully this extra effort will pay off in the show’s quality. Being on a better internet connection should help as well.
It looks like I will be shutting GridView down at the end of the year. Facebook recently discontinued the “Boxes” tab and they will completely remove application tabs from your Facebook profiles by the end of the year. You, and you alone, will still be able to see your GridView on the app’s page. I don’t think this small bit of functionality will be worth continuing to maintain GridView and keep it alive. I originally envisioned it as a way to show off your Facebook friends on your Facebook profile. With this change, Facebook will be prohibiting the purpose of the application. If you object, and think that being able to see your grid is still useful, please send me your feedback.
It is also time to look forward to next year. It my first year taking Management classes, since I got general requirements out of the way my first year. The department strongly suggests I take 15.279 Management Communication for Undergraduates. I just did 2 communications classes last semester, so I am grudgingly going along with their recommendation. I am also doing the requirement 15.501 Corporate Financial Accounting to get it out of the way, and I want to understand all of the financial terms, as well know how to manage the money in my own business. I am also doing 14.01 Principles of Microeconomics. I believe this is a requirement, and a fairly introductory class. I took a similar class in high school, but I have heard that the MIT version is very different! I am also taking a graduate-level management class 15.567 The Economics of Information: Strategy, Structure and Pricing which is about the internet and the sale of information. At MIT most of the detail classes are grad classes, so I wanted to try one out. This is my one interesting, somewhat discretionary class this semester. I have to take another math class [[6.041|6.041 Probabilistic Systems Analysis] for the management degree, so I have to do this one. I never really learned probability, which seems more interesting to me than Calculus. At HHS, the probability class was an easy math option, but I have my doubts at MIT. I also want to get a better understanding of computer science by taking a few classes, although I am not planning on majoring in CS. So I am taking the first class 6.01 Introduction to EECS to get a well-rounded introduction to computer science. This should help improve my programming by giving me a theoretical base to work from. It will be a fair bit of work, but I hope this will positively shape how I think, like 8.01/8.02 did for me last semester (see Learning to Learn at MIT. So this is 69 units, which is a lot. I may drop one of the classes if it becomes too much work.
This summer I did a bit of work on my UROP at the Media Lab on SocialSaver. If you are at MIT you can help by joining the experiment. I do not plan on continuing to work on that project. For MAS.111, I presented on my experience. I will be continuing as VPFS at Baker House and I will be picking up a job working on the Baker Website. I also plan on continuing to work on the Athena Committee for UA CSL. MIT has already started implementing some of our recommended changes to upgrade printers and move dorm printers under a full support model. I also plan on becoming more involved in SIPB, the computing club at MIT.
So that is all for now, with classes starting up at MIT, that will be taking up my time. I still have to update my bio to cover the full scope of the things I am interested in. –-ThePlaz 01:17, 10 September 2010 (EDT)
5/24/2010 Personal Update from Freshmen Spring Semester at MIT
I made it! I passed all my freshman year classes at MIT! I was really busy again this semester. When I look back, I don’t understand how I was so busy. However, during the semester I was always optimizing every minute. I am trying to understand why I felt so busy. Part of it was that I learned the material. When I look back on a P-Set, I wonder why it took me so long to complete the first time. Of course this is normal and to be expected. Also, MIT provides an almost infinite array of options to spend every extra minute that you want to spend. Despite being over my head last semester, I took on new responsibilities this semester. I also let other activities fall to the wayside, and it felt like I spent more time on school work this semester.
It seemed like I took a lot of humanities classes this semester, and I think my writing skills have improved significantly. I took 21W.732 (Science Writing) which was the first time I had received detailed comments on my writing. In high school, I would receive a marked-up paper back from the teacher. However, in this class, I also received a page reflecting on the higher level problems of my writing. This was very helpful to me because I struggled with organization and focus. I tend to stuff too many details in, causing the reader to lose sight of the big picture. I tend to be comprehensive in my communications, whereas cutting stuff out would make the message clearer. I also need to work on how to organize large blocks of prose. In addition, I still have to work on mechanics. This semester, I wrote about Learning to Learn at MIT where I talk about how I finally learned how to study material during the first semester finals. I propose changes to THOMAS, Congress’s database to make it easier to use. I wrote an article on the Sixed Sense project out of the Media Lab, and a review of Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail.
I was also in MAS.111 (Introduction to Doing Research in Media Arts & Sciences), which had several professors who had been around the block a few times sharing their experience on journals, conferences, etc. It was a nice contrast to 21W.732, which discussed similar topics, but with their personal experiences as opposed to an establishment/party line point of view in 21W.732.
I started out taking STS.050 (The History of MIT) as a listener; however, I switched to taking the class for credit. The class tended to cover the state of technology in the world, and how MIT influenced and was influenced by that. This reflected the experience and interests of the professors. For example, Prof. Mindell talked about the history of the Apollo computer systems, which were invented at MIT. He even wrote a book on the topic, called Digital Apollo. The front cover of the book is an animated scene of what Neal Armstrong would have seen seconds before he touched down on the moon. Mindell researched the position of every switch and the contents of every display. The professors did not talk much about the history of MIT as an institution. Instead, students were assigned to research that. I wrote about The History of Dining and Scholarships and Financial Aid. We had to use Institute Archives to research for the paper. It was the first time I did research using actual primary sources.
I learned how to speak basic German from my mom when I was little. I never tried to read or write or learned any formal grammar. I took German 2 as a listener to learn how to read German and have a basic understanding of the grammar. I succeeded in reaching these goals that I set out, but I did not put the time in beyond that to score highly on writing pieces or exams. I felt that if I really put the time in, I could learn to speak and write correctly, as opposed to just understandably. I am unsure if I will study German more in the future.
I took 8.02 (Physics Electricity and Magnetism) and 18.02 (Mutli-Variable Calculus) which both felt like a lot of work because they had lengthy P-Sets and exams which I spent a lot of time studying for. Both of the classes are GIRs, or requirements for all students. I barely squeezed by in 18.02. I just did not like it. It just seemed like weird symbols that seemed meaningless. I only understood several important concepts when I found some nice 3D visualizations online while studying for the final. The class could be far better taught for visual learners, especially compared to 8.02. I am a big fan of the TEAL system of learning. In Physics, I felt like I understood the material better than I did first semester, but I ended up with almost the same grade. This was disappointing. I declared Course 15: Management Science. As I detailed before, I struggled to find a major that fit what I wanted to do. I was very interested in Media Lab human-computer interaction style work, as somewhat interested in STS/policy/law style issues. However, neither the Media Lab nor STS offered a major. I actually was a 17: Political Science major for 2 weeks. When I talked to the undergraduate administrator, she implied that I would be happier elsewhere. I did not want to do Course 6 (Computer Science) because I am not interested in inventing the next ZIP compression algorithm. I quickly considered Course 4 (Architecture) and 1 (Civil Engineering), but I just have minor interests in those fields. Many people urged me to major in an engineering major. I considered this, but I decided that I would rather do something that I was interested in and relevant to what I want to do. I may double major in Course 6, but I may not complete the full program. I would rather stay busy with classes around the Institute that I am interested and have time for UROPs or other experiences than just get a second line on my degree.
Next semester, I plan on taking 6.01 (Introduction to EECS 1) and 14.01 (Principles of Microeconomics). The department strongly recommends that I take 15.279 (Management Communication) next semester, so I will likely do that despite being humanities heavy this semester. I also want to take an actual management class, either 15.567 (Economics of Information: Strategy, Structure, and Pricing) or 15.501 (Corporate Financial Accounting). I will also take a math class, either 6.041 (Probabilistic Systems Analysis) or 18.06 (Linear Algebra). More info
I was elected the VPFS (Vice President of Facilities and Services) at Baker House. That put me in charge of the printers and the rooms in the basement. In conjunction with my RCC job, I supervised the trial of the Pharos hold and release printing system on our printer “bricks.” I also did the Baker House Signage Project where I replaced the visual clutter of the front door with a single nice sign, as well as installing signs in other parts of Baker. In addition, I participated in one of the most successful Exec’s in history. With about 25 active members, which was about 10% of the dorm, we threw a large rooftop party during CPW. The line to get in to the party stretched down 7 floors from the roof to the ground and we signed in almost 500 people. I never thought I would learn how to run a party at MIT. This year’s Exec also kept the Baker House Piano Drop traditional alive. Check out my video of the drop from the roof on YouTube.
I also became a member of the UA CSL (Committee on Student Life). I am the primary person working on changes to Athena (computer labs) and student printing. I am also on the Institute’s committee that is working on changes. Although we were convened to save money, we are also working at reimagining what computer labs at MIT should look like in the future. The UA wrote a lengthy 22-page recommendation, but we decided not to release it, since the committee and the UA were on the same page. The committee is close to (or done?) a short-term recommendation, which will be coming out any day now.
I broke my old tablet computer, the T4220. After much research, I decided to get a Lenovo U350 (Model 2963-47U). I picked one up on Amazon for $500; it’s actually more expensive today. I wanted to get a really light 13” machine after seeing my advisor tote his MacBook Air around China. I can’t even feel the U350 in my backpack and it is very thin. It is 1/3 the price of a MacBook Air. The machine turns right on when you open the lid and goes to sleep when you close the lid. The processor is labeled as a “Pentium” but that is only Intel’s marketing efforts. It only feels slow when I have 6-7 things open at once. I am not planning on doing much gaming or video encoding on the laptop, so it is perfect for me. I would highly recommend it for students.
I worked as a UROP on the SocialSaver project at the Media Lab, but I spent very little time on it. I continued to make mock-ups and icons for the project. I do not plan on continuing to work in this UROP. I may find a new UROP next semester, or I may focus on schoolwork.
I also want to do more to upgrade my website. I want to figure out how to communicate my interests beyond tech. I want the website to populate more stuff automatically. For example, delicious items should be listed on my site and when you search for something. I also need to figure out how to display OneNote Notebooks. Once I do that, more from my first year at MIT will be uploaded. MIT already proves many courses online at http://ocw.mit.edu.
I will be working in Germany this summer for Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned railway company. I will be working on the [http:// touchandtravel.com Touch&Travel team]. I am excited to work on computer development at a transport company. I also am looking forward to working with RFID/NFC and mobile phone development. It will be my first time working for a big company and it will be extra challenging because of the language and cultural differences. I will be staying with relatives and commuting every day to work an hour each way. I don’t think I bring my desktop with me on my trip which will be a bummer for developing. I leave later this week. That’s all for now. I will be back with a new update after the summer. --ThePlaz 14:47, 24 May 2010 (EDT)
1/25/2010 Personal Update: Back from China
I am somewhere over the Sea of Okhotsk, off the coast of Russia, traveling at 33,200ft traveling back home from China. At home, it is 4:09 AM. In China, it’s 5:09PM. I was in China as part of an MIT class, 6.A53, Entrepreneurship and China. We traveled through Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guilin, Yangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Along the way we visited companies, universities, and entrepreneurs. We also saw the sights of China and participated in the MAD 2010 Asia conference. It was a high paced tour of China’s customs and business.
Taken with Amod GPS Logger
The trip started on January 1st. to Shanghai. There were a lot of families traveling back home on the airplane. Shanghai is the world’s largest city, and it sprawls out since it is not contained by anything like Manhattan or Hong Kong. We took their $1.2 billion USD maglev ride. It was cool, but it did not really go too far. Also the maglev did not have good English. That was a recurring theme in China, even official tourist sites don't have good English.
We then got on their metro system. The system is all very new, all the stations look the same, and it is expanding with a line opening every month or so. This is so incredible. In the US a city is considered transit friendly if it opens a new line every decade!
On one day, we visited the Shanghai World Financial Center, one of the world’s tallest building. So apparently that title is very contentious with what counts as a building and what is included in the height count. Wikipedia says it is the third tallest building in the world, but the highest occupied floor, the highest height to roof, and the highest observation deck. We were their a day before the Burj Khalifa opened and took some of the title of highest occupied floor and highest height to roof.
There are signs for the expo everywhere. I really hope to get to go. I think it will be one of the last big ones as they are expensive with little direct benefit. We had an hour one morning, so we visited the construction site.
All of the buildings, including the subway, use this granite. I suppose it makes the building look fancy, but it is very annoying. It is everywhere in China, and I think it makes the buildings feel cool and inhospitable. The worst part is when it rains. Depending on how it is cut, it can be very slippery.
Where we were was a very wealthy area. It was a home for the newly wealthy Chinese to enjoy conspicuous consumption, American style. In addition, there were a lot of hawkers. You could could buy a fake Rolex only a few feet from a luxury store selling legitimate ones.
It was very cold when we were in China, around 0C. Due to an old law, buildings below the Yangtze River cannot have heaters. Almost all of the homes have these inefficient “air conditioners” which have electric heaters in them. Dorms rooms do not have heat. One school even requires students to go to another building for water or showers! Even the Chinese think this is a little too rustic. The classrooms have a little heat, but are still cold by American standards. The hallways are not heated as well. I've also seen this trend in the Caribbean.
It is very hard for a Chinese student to break out and stand out. Entrance to universities in China is by entrance exam, counting school skills only. They have to work very hard to get to the top-tier university in China. But once they get there, the road is still very long. Only a few can go to an American graduate school, let alone MIT. Even if they go to American grad school it is challenging to find a company willing to sponsor their work visa. But they do work very hard to learn science and engineering.
The students do not get much chance to work as a team or think creatively. Entrepreneurship in China in some senses is very strong; there seem to be millions of people selling stuff. However, entrepreneurship as a career path is not looked upon as high as a standard position in a large company. In addition, the infrastructure is not ready to support ventures who want to go for economies of scale and lead the industry, in the way that Silicone Valley ventures do. Part of this might just be the scale of business in China. The cost of labor is so low that firms can not really use technology to compete. In addition, failure is highly stigmatized, where as westerns know that one learns for failure.
One of these universities serves more meals in a minute than MIT does all night. It is also far lower cost. One meal is about $7 RMB, or 1 USD, while MIT struggles to make money off $7 USD meals. Granted, it looks like a prison cafeteria and the food is mass produced, but the cost is so much lower.
Cisco has set up an R&D center in China with about 1,500 people. They told us that they did that as a pre-condition for being able to sell to the Chinese government and state-owned telcos. It does look like they invested a lot of money into the center. The people we saw seemed to be doing testing – for operations and temperature. I got the feeling that the center does the testing and entry-level engineering, which Americans would find too boring. I suspect that these centers will be doing more and more. The Chinese are also very proud to be doing entry-level engineering work for an American firm. (no photos from this stop)
We visited two large factories, one produced bags and the other produced clothes. One had a city of about 12,000 people. Both worked for many well-known US brands side by side in different production lines. The label is responsible for the design, picking the fabric, and ensuring quality. The cost of the product to manufacture is about 1/5 of retail cost. The workers make a little more than $1,000 RMB a month (about $150 USD). Both companies were run by Hong Kong owners and managers. The company with the large city had a 300 room “hotel” for its managers.
These factories are successful because of the nearly endless stream of China’s 1.3 billion people into the city looking to take any job they can. Southern China at $1000 RMB/month is actually too expensive; many factories are moving up north where labor is only about $500 RMB/month. Remember the cost of living is far, far lower. From what we saw, the workers seemed OK with the work. They want to work more and earn overtime. For them it's better than the farm where they made nothing on plots the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. People's quality of life is improving, but for many, a comfortable life still has a long way to go.
I liked the town of Yungsho very much. It was a very outdoorsy-tourist town, like the Jersey Shore. That means that the town does not have big luxury hotels and stores, only moderate priced locally-operated stores. They said that before most of the visitors were western, not now it is 80% Chinese. The town exists for the wonderful landscape that you can see with rafting down the river in a Bamboo raft, or riding a bike.
We took a sleeper train from Guilin to Shenzhen. It was the first time I had taken a sleeper train, and I enjoyed the experience. China’s railroads have very little scenery around as you go by. The train station in Shanghai was very nice and big. I was surprised at how many people were in there. They also have more of a process where you wait in a waiting room and when you exit, you take a separate path. The trains were also all full, even the CRH (China Rail Highspeed). In the west the train system is used mostly by business travelers, and is far more expensive. In China, everyone travels by rail. The cost of a ticket, even for high-speed, is only a few US dollars.
When you cross the border into Hong Kong, it feels very different. It just seems cleaner and more modern, including the customs building. 95% of the signs are in English as well, and they use good English. The place has more history and they don’t use that granite tile everywhere. The trade-off is that the buildings are older and smaller. Our hotel room was very small. Over the border in Shenzhen we had four times the space for the same cost.
Over the trip, I read both Superfusion and China Inc. Both were written before the current recession. Superfusion’s thesis was that the United States and China’s economy have become, without much notice, intertwined and inseparable. An idea that I agree with, but can be described with far fewer words. I enjoyed China Inc. much more. It recounted this history of China and smoothly jumped from topic to topic on China's economic rise. It explained much of what I was saw and experienced for myself in China.
I believe that in the future, pure manufacturing and engineering jobs will continue to leave the country, much to the protest of unions whose artificially high wages and benefits will come crashing down. The US still has the lead in creative enterprises for now. As the Recession Generation article from Newsweek points out, the US will be faced with a world where credit may not be as easy as it was in 2008 and where more people are facing a comfortable standard of living around the world. However, I disagree with the assessment made in the article that hard work no longer pays off in America. We will have to continue to work hard, study science and engineering, and come to terms with the new way things are. Personally, I think that all of the hours I have put in have led to my admission to MIT and my selection to go on this trip. Entrepreneurship and advancement in a company are still tied to hard work. Americans cannot grow up and be entitled to a job. There is too much competition from worldwide.
--ThePlaz 15:49, 28 January 2010 (EST)