Monthly Archives: February 2006

India, the pre-coverage

Anybody who travels enough around the U.S. knows that our newspapers and news magazines can be lame. Not just lame, really lame. India’s English language press is our soul sister in this respect. Sure, I enjoyed the depth of the India Today newsweekly and some articles in the Economic Times. But imagine, if you will, getting most of your news about your nation of 1.1 billion people in a geopolitically sensitive region of the world from the equivalent of USA Today, People magazine, or the MetroWest Daily News.

Well, even our better publications can be just as vapid. Witness, the scene set by our largest print news outlets:

There must be something in the water in Britain, because their press seems to be doing things right. The BBC ignored the America-focused backstory, waiting until today to report any significant news on the meeting, all the while providing extensive South Asian news on a daily basis. And the Economist — which has become my news analysis source of choice — is running a thoughtful lead editorial on the visit and an in depth analysis in their current issue.

While I haven’t read the whole Economist article yet, the editorial cautions the US against giving up too much ground on nonproliferation and warns that India might not be the ideal counterbalance against China, if such a counterbalance is actually needed, which is unclear.

These thoughts have been on my mind since early in our trip to India, and will be the source of another dispatch soon. . . .

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The presidential adventure

Our Guide at the Taj Mahal (2005)

“As you can see, the fountains are off right now,” our guide told us. We had been told from the beginning of the ride by Baabloo, our rickshaw driver, not to get one; and we dutifully followed his advice as the teenage boys ran alongside us hawking their services. But our man in red was quite insistent that we have a guide — it’s like watching a movie without the sound — and he was a card-carrying government employee who wouldn’t charge us. “They only turn it on for VIPs. . . . Please, stand here. Photograph there, like so!”

“And there is the bench where all of the VVIPs sit for the most famous pictures.” VVIPs? Apparently, in a nation of more than one billion people there are VIPs and even more important folks. “You know: prime ministers, presidents, Lady Diana.”

“Bill Clinton came here with his family. He was such a nice man. Your current President Bush has not yet come to visit.”

I shrugged. “He doesn’t get out much.”

“Bush is a good man,” our guide insisted, ever the diplomat. “Hopeuflly he will come visit us soon.”

Well GWB is going to visit India this week, but he won’t be going to the Taj. He’s going to be on a two day tour. From the press briefing, it sounds like he will be mostly in Delhi, chatting up VVIPs, visiting a farm, and meeting with entrepreneurs. (He’s also scheduled to watch a cricket match in Pakistan — well part of one, at least. They can last longer than his trip.)

In honor of our maharaja’s visit, this week I’ll be sharing more recollections of India and covering the mainstream media reports. Stay tuned.

Posted in India | 2 Comments

And from the travel desk…

In other news . . .

Leslie tipped me off to Indian Writing which hooked me up with The Wonderful World of Ms. World, who is traveling around her namesake.

On the Indian leg of her trip she had these departing thoughts that pretty much summed up Lisa and my time there thoughts when leaving, too:

I wanted to come, so I came. I gave it everything I had. It didn’t turn out the way I would have liked it. However I’m deeming it a success because I survived it all. And I am so much more richer and stronger for it all. I also feel like there is new demarcation in my life, before India (B.I.) and after India (A.I).

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Indian economy and society

I’m toying with the idea of starting an outsourcing carnival — the blog equivalent of a “special issue” dedicated to a particular theme. If you’re interested let me know.

Whilst surfing the blogs to see what kind of info is out there, I came upon some interesting articles. The Indian Economy Blog posted a link and synopsis of an IMF Paper on India’s Pattern of Development. Not surprising, strong regulation can both help and hurt a developing economy, molding it in unexpected ways. Their post “Rule Of Law In India And Its Economic Implications” gives another good top-down view of government factors that influence development.

Read Wolfgang Koehling’s study on Economic Consequences of a Weak Judiciary: Insights from India for an elaborate study. An user-friendly abstract is stated below.

“This paper examines the empirical relationship between the quality of the Indian judiciary and the economic development of the Indian States and Union Territories…The data indicate that a weak judiciary has a negative effect on economic and social development, which leads to: (i) lower per capita income; (ii) higher poverty rates; (iii) lower private economic activity, (iv) poorer public infrastructure; and, (v) higher crime rates and more industrial riots. The results are robust and the correlations are strong and negative.”

That site led me to the fabulous How the Other Half Lives blog about the view in India from those on the outside. Which reminded me of Sonia Faleiro’s “The Other Half” series, parts one and two.

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Personal views on outsourcing

Over lunch at work, our little group occasionally hashes out the big issues by sharing what statistics we know and what commentary we’ve heard and what seems right or fair or likely to be true. Sometimes we get it right — GWB is a dink — other times we’re wrong — I was sure that invading Iraq was morally right in late 2002 and early 2003 — but mostly we enjoy sticking it to The Man and engaging in good-natured banter, especially after the company neutered our internal “talk” newsgroup.

We’re all mostly liberal, though we vary from center-left (i.e., Wyoming Democrat or Congress supporter) to very left (Deaniacs and drug liberalizers), though on certain issues conservative or traditional viewpoints show through. We range in age and experience, though the Americans primarily come from Ivy League or small liberal arts schools. The Desis, I gather, come from progressive, moderately well off families who let their daughters go to America to work and marry for love and all that.

So I’m going to apply the same kind of thinking out loud that we do at lunch to outsourcing, an issue that I haven’t completely made up my mind about. I’ll tell you what I think — it’s probably not so bad as software engineers fret, but we need to do more to stay competitive — and why I think so; and you tell me whether you agree and/or point me to the things you’ve heard or read that should lead me to reevaluate my narrow, misguided views.

We work, our little lunch group, at a medium-sized, private, multinational software company. Our software products are used by other highly educated innovators to do everything possibly imaginable in science, medicine, engineering, finance, and I know not what (because the military won’t let them tell me, that’s why). We have multiple offices on several continents where we support and sell to those researchers and developers; but as far as I know we don’t outsource business processes.

All of this information is available on our website, but it’s worth highlighting that the company has grown organically over the last 22 years by filling a vital need, by being good entrepreneurs, and by following a set of core values that tell us to do right by our customers and communities.

As with any respectable software company, our main purpose is to create quality software, sell it, and support it. (I’m switching over to a general discussion of software companies now, not the one that employs me.) We can do those activities in house, via contractors in developed countries, or using labor and ideas in places with low operating expenses. CDs don’t need to be pressed in house, if they can be made just as well at lower overall expense by companies that specialize in duplication; that just makes sense. But it supposes that the quality is as good or better than what can be produced in house, and the relationship must be manageable and stable. Basically, using a contractor (wherever they are) must create a product that doesn’t detract from the value of the main company. Outsourcing must allow the company to focus on what it’s good at doing by freeing up time, talent, and capital.

I totally accept that there are software engineers in India or China or Iowa or elsewhere who can design and construct software just as well (or better) than I can and that they could be trained in the internals of our products enough to do the same programming tasks that I do. These same people could also learn the needs of our customers and our corporate culture well enough to evaluate what features our customers need and make them fit into our current product lines. They could conceivably also collaborate with marketing and support and sales to get that integrated feel that helps create residual value beyond what’s in the software. Let’s face it: no job is American by birthright and many jobs can be done at a great distance from the place where all the cash receipts go. From time to time, it does scare the hell out of me (though apparently not as much as it does other engineers).

But each one of the criteria for successful outsourcing — qualified, imaginative staff; alignment with company values and needs; and the desire to build a stronger brand — is increasingly rare, costly, and essential to a successful company. These are hidden costs that aren’t usually indicated in discussions over the “race to the bottom” of wages and operating costs. In addition, innovation across a company is still difficult at a distance, and extremely difficult at the team level (at least for now). Many software companies don’t even want their local employees to work from home.

More visible but less frequently discussed costs further offset the wage savings of outsourcing. Believe it or not, our taxes are low compared to many other nations. Corruption abroad inflates prices and slows down business. Electricity isn’t always secure and infrastructures lag. Political instability, work stoppages, and rising wages all erode reasons for offshoring or (worse) entice management to move operations to another source, incurring new setup, operating, and brand-related costs.

Of course, one day innovation and collaboration will happen as naturally between workers separated by great distance as it does in today’s centralized office. How do we keep innovative, core-value jobs where they started?

If we in the U.S. are going to continue as competitive innovators, then education, taxation, economic policy, venture capital, and worker benefits must remain competitive. I’ve previously written that we’re falling behind on education, though it’s certainly fixable if everyone works at it; and I mean everyone: students, educators, parents, legislators . . . even childless suburbanites like me. I’m not qualified to give suggestions on taxation and economic policies; though I think we’re doing alright.

As for venture capital, it’s incredibly easy to get in the U.S. thanks to our speculative risk-reward system. Why, if my previous employer could get loads of cash (twice) without a more complicated business plan than “get bought” and never make a profit until the day it was sold, then I suspect anybody can. So when I asked Nimmi and Deepti (whose Indian fathers own their own companies) how hard it was to get venture capital to start businesses in India, the answer was surprising. “Difficult. And full of bribery. It’s getting easier, though.”

As far as I can tell, that leaves only employee compensation as the primary motivation for sending jobs away from the U.S. (or the Northeast or Silicon Valley or wherever wages accumulate). It’s expensive to pay Americans’ salaries and our healthcare and pension costs. Even if we fix the latter two gaping money pits, we software engineers still expect lots of cash for the service we provide. We’re worth it really — and we have mortgages and student loans and consumer debt and lifestyles that must be satisfied — but sometimes money-types look at numbers and think otherwise.

So one day the world will not only be flat but flat and close. Core competencies and values will be available elsewhere for less (including all of the hidden costs) and will still fit into medium-sized businesses’ collaboration structures. Well-educated workers and their entrepreneurial employers abroad will directly challenge American workers and companies — though the situation will most likely be more complementary than competitive — and we may lose as often as we win. Globally speaking, this is success. India and China and other nations developing their talent pools, infrastructure, governments, and economies will be better places to live and work and raise families than they are now.

But what about the displaced American knowledge worker? Here’s my (thankfully) untested survival guide:

  • Be really smart and have depth in more than one skill.
  • Save for retirement and a rainy day.
  • Work at a small or medium size company.
  • Work at a company that understands what it’s doing and the true cost of outsourcing.
  • Be part of your company’s core purpose.
  • Accept that your job could leave and be willing to take what you know and move on.

Now it’s your turn to tell me what you think. Are we sunk or will we steam on? Are you worried about your job?

There are other class and industry-based aspects to outsourcing, that I want to explore next. (Namely, jobs at the highest and lowest ends of the wage scales seem the most secure. Executives doing the outsourcing will keep their jobs, along with well compensated employees closest to the core purpose of the business. Service workers — maintenance, retail, restaurant — are also unlikely to lose jobs to foreign competition. Of course, the outsourcing of significant numbers of jobs could be an overall drag on the jobs outlook for an area; just ask the rust belt.) Anyone know of any good books?

Posted in Computing, Development | Leave a comment

Digging Out

I’m moving offices sometime in the next 10 days. A bunch of orange crates sit inside and outside my office, waiting for my to pack them full of files, books, journals, dinosaurs, and the like. In the spirit of cleaning and Getting Things Done (which doesn’t have to be a cult, by the way; it just works better for people who give in completely), I’m treating my office as an inbox and decluttering. (Notice any trends?)

But I’ve noticed the inbox extends into virtual space — RSS news feeds for blogs, the e-mail inbox, and Netscape/Mozilla tabs all pile up as effectively as their paper cousins. In order to keep this under control, I’m (a) GTD’ing my computer, and (b) unsubscribing from a lot of feeds, lists, and the like. I’ve finally found a reason to use bookmarks and tagging, just dumping web articles into a someday bucket via tags. And the NY Times’ “My Pages” features saves me from feeling like I have to read the page right now.

So what to do about all of the remaining clutter? Here are a few articles from 43Folders about staying organized and on top of the piles.

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Steichen: The Times reports that the $2.9M Steichen sale is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sugimoto: Holland Cotter reviews Sugimoto’s retrospective at the Hirshhorn.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, the celebrated Japanese-born photographer, designed the installation for his own retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden here, and it is inspired. The first half of the show is light, cool and stylishly sparse. The second half seems dusky and cushioned, as if it were set in a temple or a spacecraft, with pictures shining like windows in the dark.

Spirit Photography: Cliopatria provides scholarly links on spirit photography.

Best blogs? Maybe you have so much free time you can afford to read some European Weblogs (from HNN).

Foreign Competition: Fast Company reports that 40-45% of respondents to their online competition survey expect employment challenges in the next five years from China and India.

Open Competition: Disruptive competition for software jobs doesn’t just come from abroad (though you can try it for yourself if you want). The open source software movement releases software for free. (But free software isn’t really free; trust me, I know.) As time goes on, the quality and care with how you write software will become an ever bigger factor in whether you can pay your mortgage.

Globalization and Competition: “First, you concentrate on making something cheaper than anybody else. And when you can no longer make something cheaper than anybody else, you concentrate on making something better than anybody else. And when you can no longer make something better than anybody else, you concentrate on making something different than anybody else. That’s the innovation economy.” (More…)

Fine Printing Workshop: There’s still time left to sign up for Stephen Johnson’s Fine Art Printing Workshops. Maybe next year…

Camera Club: Carole Berney responds to the “Fine Art v. Camera Clubs” thread by echoing some of my own feelings on the subject: “the [competition] format could encourage staleness, formulaic pictures, and a slavish adherence to rules.” Though I’m still grumpy about NCC, and will vent soonish.

Posted in Development, General, OPP, Photography | Leave a comment

Current score

Today’s close
Dow: 11,120.68
Sensex: 10,124.30

Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index v. Dow Jones Industrial Average (5-year)

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Outsourcing challenges

Today’s New York Times looks at outsourcing to India and China in two very different ways. Steve Lohr examines the increasing willingness of American and European businesses to outsource high-paying, knowledge-intensive R&D jobs. The Times’ Saritha Rai — whom I would really love to meet — warns that Indian outsourcing firms may not be up to meeting the growing demand for qualified workers.

A new study that will be presented today to the National Academies, the nation’s leading advisory groups on science and technology, suggests that more and more research work at corporations will be sent to fast-growing economies with strong education systems, like China and India.

In a survey of more than 200 multinational corporations on their research center decisions, 38 percent said they planned to “change substantially” the worldwide distribution of their research and development work over the next three years — with the booming markets of China and India, and their world-class scientists, attracting the greatest increase in projects.

Whether placing research centers in their home countries or overseas, the study said, companies often use similar criteria. The quality of scientists and engineers and their proximity to research centers are crucial.

The study contended that lower labor costs in emerging markets are not the major reason for hiring researchers overseas, though they are a consideration. Tax incentives do not matter much, it said.

Instead, the report found that multinational corporations were global shoppers for talent. The companies want to nurture close links with leading universities in emerging markets to work with professors and to hire promising graduates.

“The story comes through loud and clear in the data,” said Marie Thursby, an author of the study and a professor at Georgia Tech’s college of management. “You have to have an environment that fosters the development of a high-quality work force and productive collaboration between corporations and universities if America wants to maintain a competitive advantage in research and development.” . . .

The globalization of research investment, industry executives and academics argued, need not harm the United States. In research, as in economics, they said, growth abroad does not mean stagnation at home — and typically the benefits outweigh the costs.

Still, more companies in the survey said they planned to decrease research and development employment in the United States and Europe than planned to increase employment.

In numerical terms, scientists and engineers in research labs represent a relatively small part of the national work force. Like the debate about offshore outsourcing in general, the trend, which may point to a loss of competitiveness, is more significant than the quantity of jobs involved.

The American executives who are planning to send work abroad express concern about what they regard as an incipient erosion of scientific prowess in this country, pointing to the lagging math and science proficiency of American high school students and the reluctance of some college graduates to pursue careers in science and engineering.

MUMBAI, India, Feb. 16 — India’s leadership in global outsourcing may be in jeopardy unless it increases its supply of skilled workers, according to executives gathered here for an foindustry meeting.

Experts at the meeting of Nasscom, the country’s outsourcing group, said Thursday that an incipient skills shortage was the biggest threat to the industry’s blazing growth. . . .

“The irony is that while the outsourcing industry partially fueled an economic boom amongst the middle classes, the growth has now spilled onto other areas offering ambitious young college graduates an array of job options outside of the outsourcing industry,” said M. S. Krishnan , professor of business information technology at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. This, too, is putting an unexpected dent on the outsourcing talent pool, he said.

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$2.9M photograph?

I love me some photography, and Edward Steichen’s work is great. But $2.9M for a photograph seems a bit extravagent to me.

Whether or not the Met should be selling The Pond-Moonlight is another matter. But they can definitely afford to buy a lot of work from contemporary photographers with all that loot — including all of my current work . . . hint . . .

Posted in OPP, Photography | Leave a comment

California — Bolinas, Forestville, Santa Rosa

At first I was prejudiced against California. So many people, so many problems. O.J. M.J. Chinatown. Boyz N’ The Hood. Tens of thousands of square miles of expanding suburbia. Valley Girls. Ronald Reagan.

In 1998 as we flew over miles of the urban grid on approach to LAX for a connecting flight to Portland, Oregon, I mumbled to Lisa, “So this is why they shoot each other here.” She rightly shushed me. And I suspect that Leslie, who grew up in Long Beach and loves her state, was growing weary of my disdain. (To be fair, I didn’t like Massachusetts much then either.) Three years of acculturation later, I actually visited and changed my mind. California may not be a Garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see, but believe it or not I really look forward to my almost annual trips there. Though it feels like a different country, it’s New England’s wilder, go-go twin: just as full of vitality and character, but brighter, more vibrant, more diverse in worldview, friendlier.

For me it’s partly a place of work — both the kind I get a regular paycheck for and for developing my photogrpaphic self. I’ve never returned without maturing in vision, experience, and execution. It was there that I started to realize I needed to switch from photographing nature to the societal landscape. In the San Diego backcountry I kicked the habit just before getting stuck in the sand and meeting some nice people in the middle of nowhere. Early last year around Davis, I broke forth on my current aesthetic, which I had been incubating in 2004.

The most recent images from Marin and Sonoma counties reflect continuing refinement and selectiveness. Here is the latest installment of images that I will eventually add to my Small Town, California series:

Bolinas, California (2005)

Bolinas, California (2005)

Bolinas, California (2005)

Bolinas, California (2005)

Forestville, California (2005)

Forestville, California (2005)

Forestville, California (2005)

Forestville, California (2005)

Forestville, California (2005)

Forestville, California (2005)

Forestville, California (2005)

Santa Rosa, California (2005)

Santa Rosa, California (2005)

Posted in Photography, USA | 1 Comment

Survey says . . .

As seen on TV, The Clutter Museum (a.k.a. “Locke’s site”), and elsewhere, another unscientific pop culture quiz says . . . I’m Kate.

You’re Kate! You’re not really a bad person, you’ve just had some trouble with your past – what’s a few lies, anyhow? You’re a little secretive but let’s face it … what others don’t know won’t hurt them. Under all that, you really are a good person. You’re ready to help even if it’ll set you back a bit.

Kate 81%
Locke 69%
Charlie 56%
Claire 56%
Sayid 56%
Michael 50%
Shannon 50%
Boone 44%
Hurley 44%
Jin 44%
Jack 44%
Sawyer 38%
Sun 38%

Who is your "Lost" alter ego? (QuizFarm)

Posted in General | 1 Comment

India has a better economic future than China?

From China Could Learn From India’s Slow and Quiet Rise, a Yale Global Online reprint of Yasheng Huang’s FT article of 27 January 2006:

Two years ago the view that India might have a more competitive economy than China was met with incredulity. Now a comparison of the two countries offers valuable insights for anyone studying economic growth. A fundamental distinction is that China’s growth stems from resource accumulation while India’s is rooted in increasing efficiency. . . .

In an article published in 2003 called “Can India overtake China?” Tarun Khanna of Harvard Business School and [Yasheng Huang of MIT Sloan] argued that India’s domestic corporate sector – strengthened by the country’s rule of law, its democratic processes and relatively healthy financial system – was a source of substantial competitive advantage over China. At that time, the notion that India might be more competitive than China was greeted with wide derision.

Two years later, India appears to have permanently broken out of its leisurely “Hindu rate of growth”– an annual gross domestic product increase of around 2 to 3 per cent – and its performance is beginning to approach the east Asian level. From April to June 2005, India’s GDP grew at 8.1 per cent, compared with 7.6 per cent in the same period the year before. More impressively, India is achieving this result with just half of China’s level of domestic investment in new factories and equipment, and only 10 per cent of China’s foreign direct investment. While China’s GDP growth in the last two years remained high, in 2003 and 2004 it was investing close to 50 per cent of its GDP in domestic plant and equipment – roughly equivalent to India’s entire GDP. That is higher than any other country, exceeding even China’s own exalted levels in the era of central planning. The evidence is as clear as ever: China’s growth stems from massive accumulation of resources, while India’s growth comes from increasing efficiency.

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New Images – Commonwealth Series

From the Commonwealth series:

“Be American – Georgetown, Mass.” (2005)

“Dalton, Mass.” (2005)

“Buckland, Mass.” (2005)

Posted in Commonwealth Project, Photography | 1 Comment

New Images – Signs of Nature

From the new Signs of Nature series:

“No Parking – Douglas SF, Mass.” (2005)

“Parki – Douglas SF, Mass.” (2005)

“No Motorized Vehices – Douglas SF, Mass.” (2005)

“Gate 25 – Douglas SF, Mass.” (2005)

“Danger Unguarded Water Area. Alcohol Prohibited – Waconah SP, Mass.” (2005)

“Pole 20 – Waconah SP, Mass.” (2005)

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