Thursday, January 04, 2007

Signing Off

My career as a part-time blogger has come to a screetching halt. I haven't posted anything in a long time. It's been almost a year since I started this blog, so it seems appropriate that I sign off with a few final thoughts.

I'm writing this as I'm waiting for a taxi to take me to the airport. I'm heading to South Africa (Lesotho, to be exact) to join the rest of my teammates who are currently building the first of three solar power units comissioned by the World Bank. I'll be there for three weeks, high in the mountains of Lesotho, in a small village called Bethel. Away from e-mail, phone and the small conveniences of modern life. I'm not sure what to expect, but it will be an interesting experience.

A few weeks ago we won the MIT $1K business plan competition with a business plan aimed at commercializing the system we're developing in Lesotho. Winning this small competition was a bit of a surprise, but it put a lot of wind in our sails. We're now considering forming a for-profit corporation to mass-produce these systems and make them available to a wider customer base in India. We'll see what happens...

Although my blogger career is ending, my student career is still going strong. I've extended my stay here at MIT for another semester to take a few more classes. I've also been offered a teaching assistant position which I couldn't refuse. If all goes well, I should finish by May at which point I plan to travel for a few months while pondering my future move.

I should end with a thought that has come to mind quite a bit. Friends and family always ask me "What have you learned at MIT?" My first reaction is to answer with a long list of methods, tools, techniques, etc. but I realized a while ago that the most important thing I've learned is to be a critical thinker, to analyze a situation and accept the fact that, most of the time, there is no right or wrong approach to it. What matters is "how" you think, not "what" you think. MIT has made me a better thinker. It has made me question everything around me and, in the process, generate more questions than answers!. But that's ok. Life is just a series of unanswered questions that constantly feeds my curiosity. With that thought, I'm off to my next adventure...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

What's Up in Lesotho?

Libby, one of our team members in South Africa, started a blog.
Here are her initial impressions and pictures:

I can't wait to go to Lesotho now. My plans are to go for 3 weeks in January to help with the system build and to capture some of the knowledge that they've accumulated so far.

A quick update on what we're doing here at MIT. Things have been very slooooow on the technological front. We haven't turned on the system since we finished it. I can go on and on about the lack of tools, how none of us have time, how the weather just doesn't cooperate, etc., but the reality is that we've lost the momentum when the team split.

The other day we finally had the right tools, the right people, and then... it started raining (the first rain in 2 weeks!!!). Just our luck! This weekend we made some small progress in plugging the holes in the working fluid loop. If the system can hold pressure, then the next thing would be to load it with refrigerant and give it a try on a nice, sunny day. Keeping my fingers crossed...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My 15 Minutes of Fame

I walked into the Sloan building yesterday and saw my face everywhere. The Sloan Newsletter just published a short article I wrote about living, studying and working in another country. When they asked me to submit a picture of mine, I had no idea they would put me on the front cover. What were they thinking? :) I'm walking around and people are giving me that funny look: "Didn't I just see this guy somewhere?". It's a good thing the newsletter runs for only a week. I'm ready to slip back into the shadows so I can work on my next 15 minutes of fame.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Harvard vs. MIT (part 2)

Early in my blogger career I wrote an article about the difference between Harvard and MIT. It was based on my initial impression of the two campuses. Now, a few months later, I got a chance to "peek under the hood" and understand the real difference between the two schools.

I had a chance to imerse myself in the Harvard environment by taking a couple of classes at Harvard Business School: Entrepreneurial Marketing and Energy. I love these two classes, by the way. The professors are great; the cases are relevant; the class contributions are solid. Plus, we get to meet the entrepreneurs who are the subject of these cases.

On the surface, the Harvard campus is a like a plush resort. Beautiful, manicured lawns, carpeted hallways, fancy cafeterias. Everything is spotless clean... and quiet! The students seem to match this environment: well-dressed, mature and very knowledgeable (intimidating at first, especially to an MIT student with only a hacker's knowledge of business fundamentals). The whole place oozes aristocracy. I mean, take a look at it!

If HBS is a plush resort, MIT is like a student dorm: messy hallways, busy corridors, tiny food establishments covered in posters, all sorts of experiments running around you (watch out so you don't trip over some wires or get in the way of some laser experiment). MIT is full of exhuberance, student curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit. I mean, where else would students find that the longest corridor in the school (the Infinite Corridor) can be used to measure the speed of light? The whole places oozes innovation.

(Above picture courtesy of

This is the Infinite Corridor at MIT. Twice a year, the sun's path crosses the axis of the corridor and you can see the sunset from the end of the 825 foot corridor. Becausue of the long, unobstructed path, the corridor was once used to demonstrate and calculate the speed of light. A laser pulse was fired from one end of the corridor and was reflected back from a mirror at the other end. The diference between the starting pulse and the return pulse was then displayed (and clearly seen) on an oscilloscope. That difference was the speed of light. Only at MIT!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Parabolas in the Sun

And here's what they look like...
We tried to start the system the other day, but we ran out of fuel....ahhhh, I mean sun. Just as we were priming the pumps and getting all the pieces ready for the turbine to start, the clouds came in and ruined our test (a reminder of the limitations of our system: no sun, no heat, no electricity). So we took one last team picture and packed up for the day.
The sad part is that the team had to split before getting a chance to see the system running. Matt, Amy, Libby and Headley left for the South Africa on Thursday afternoon leaving myself, Sam and Bryan behind to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do with this thing. With school starting I won't be able to spend as much time on it. But there is hope! An MIT class (G-lab) is taking interest in our project and will work with us to devleop a business plan for the recently incorporated non-profit. More on that later...

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Why does MIT excel at innovation? After spending the last couple of months in the basement of the machine shop in building 48, I think I know the answer. MIT students have access to an incredible array of supplies, tools, machine shops and labs. Most of students take advantage of this as professors, advisors and technical staff look on with a mix of mild bemusement, curiosity and pride. "Let the kids learn from their own mistakes", they seem to be saying.

I experienced what it's like to be a true MIT geek (not just a graduate student in a management program) while helping build the solar energy prototype this summer. One of my tasks this week was to mount a pulley to a motor shaft. First I had to pry the pulley off of a power steering pump using some brute force cutting.
Next, I had to attach the pully to the motor shaft shown below.
An off-the-shelf coupling would do this easily, but in true MIT fashion, the coupling had to be hand built. "Why buy it if you can build it?", seems to be mantra around here. In the real world it could be a recipe for disaster, but this is MIT and a true lesson in geekology required that I build my own coupling from a rod of aluminum 2" wide and 3" long.

I began my journey by acquiring the material from the central machine shop in buiding 36. This is a warehouse stocked with any material you can think of. The central machine shop seems to have a mystical significance around here. Everyone knows where it is, but it's a secret only known to those MIT students who care about this kind of stuff.
Next, I had to machine the part to make two holes of different diameters to fit the two shafts. I don't think I've ever used a lathe before, but after a 30-second introduction course, I was ready to go. Another discovery: MIT students love to share their knowledge and help you get on board with the tools and the labs.

And the final result: a nicely machined piece of aluminum. Total time to do this? About 1 hour (from the time I went to the stock room). I would've probably spent as much time researching and ordering the right coupling on-line.

After drilling and tapping four holes on the side, I attached the shaft and tested the whole assembly. It worked like a dream! The motor and the pulley will be used to turn the parabolas to follow the sun. Pretty exciting!


We've done it! We've finally incoporated the non-profit organization. It is officially called Solar Turbine Group International, Inc. The principal aim is to provide financial, technical and intellectual assistance to sustainable energy projects for communities in the developing world.

I know! It sounds like a lofty goal, but it's a humble beginning. The main reason for incorporating was to provide a legal foundation for the project we're doing in South Africa and from there we extended it to include projects anywhere in the world. 501(c)(3) is the IRSs code which provides us with the tax exempt status. Most charitable organizations (but not all) fall in this category. However, our main goal for incorporating was not to take advantage of the tax exemption status, but to provide us with limited libility protection in case anything goes wrong. The world is a litigious place and we must prepare for anything.

What is my role in all this? Well, I'm a director of the organization (there are five of us). The directors are the ones who manage the affairs of the organization. It doesn't mean much right now because we're not going to be activelly raising funds and growing the organization (at least for now). But as a directors, we have the fiduciary responsibility to make sure the organization follows its goals and there are no conflicts of interest that could undermine the non-profit or tax-exempt status.

It's pretty exciting! I'm learning a lot about the non-profit world. For example, most non-profit organization end their fiscal year on Sept 30. Why? Because the end of September is the off-peak period for tax filings so the non-profits could get their accounting done for less (or even for free). My... they think of everything!

Our next step is to incorporate a separate for-profit organization later this fall to commercialize the technology developed by the non-profit organization.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Vacation Time?

Summer session is finally over and I should be on vacation. But I'm really not. I've been working pretty much ever day on the solar energy project. We MUST finish it by Sept 7 when the core of the team leaves for South Africa and we still have a ton of work to do. After a quick start, we got bogged down on the little details of design and implementation (and there are a ton of them). This is not a simple system!

I'm not complaining, though. It's been a lot of fun and I think I'll look back at this as one of the most productive summers I've ever had. The other day we installed the solar concentrators and let them "float" freely. It was a major cause for celebration (never mind that we had to take them down the following weekend to redo the piping). Oh well, two steps forward, one step back.
Here's what the system looks right now (that's me trying to warm up a slice of pizza; the first real application of our solar energy system :).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

System Dynamics

System dynamics has turned out to be one of the best classes this summer. System dynamics uses the concept of feedback loops and simulation models to explain organizational, economic and social system behaviors. It was invented here at MIT by Jay Forrester who was a guest speaker at our class last week (it's amazing that at the age of 87, he is still just as fired up about system dynamics as he was when he invented the concept). System dynamics has taught me some of the most useful and practical concepts which I plan to use in my thesis (and to think that I almost didn't take the class...)

One of the simulation exercises we did was the so-called Beer Game. The game (which unfortunately doesn't involve actual beer) demonstrates how system dynamics comes into play in a simple supply chain compsed of a brewery (the manufacturer), a warehouse, a distribution center, and a retailer. A small disturbance in the customer order rate at the retailer end can cause havoc throughout the supply chain . Soon the order rate perceived at the manufacturer end begins to swing wildly even though the customer order rate at the retailer stays constant after a small, initial increase. Besides demonstrating the workings of the feedback loops, the game also shows what happens when people ignore the supply chain and make short-term decisions (the so-called bullwhip effect).

Our team actually won the beer game, much to our surpise. We managed to score below the average level (a lower score is better). The perfect score in this game I think is 200, but the average is about 2000 (which shows how badly people do in this game). Even though we did better than average we still experienced a significant bullwhip effect (the graphs on the right are our results compared with another team's results on the left; you can see the difference in the oscillations; we managed to keep ours at a lower level by being conservative in our ordering policy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tangential Front Following

Say what!? This was one of the topics in today's systems engineering class taught by deWeck, a professor in the Aero-Astro Engineering department. It was probably one of the most mathematically intensive classes I've had so far. Even though I didn't understand some the theory (he lost me when he started talking about "eigenvectors"), I really enjoyed the lecture. This is what MIT is all about! I love it! One day we could be talking about tangential front following and isoperformance and the next day we could be talking about financial ratios and bond premiums.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Systems Engineering vs. Mountain Biking

What do they have in common? Nothing, of course. Which is why I have to give up one for the other. Usually on Tuesday mornings a few MIT Outdoors Club members organize a mountain bike ride in the Fells, a wooded reservation just north of Cambridge. I can't make it to these rides because my System Engineering class which starts at 8:30 am. But last Tuesday I said "What the heck! I'm going to skip class and do the ride". I was glad I did. It was an awesome bike ride. It reminded me how much I miss the outdoors, the mountain biking, the exhilaration of running over obstacles, the feeling of crashing at any moment... Living in California I almost took this for granted, but now I need to make the extra effort to get out of the city and experience the great outdoors. Which is why I'm contemplating a hiking trip in the White Mountains during the break. I hope to convince some of my classmates to join me.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I've been meaning to post this for a while... Serge, Nick, Fernando and I scored front row seats to the 4th of July fireworks show because of our auspicious affiliation with the MIT sailing club. (the week before we rented a couple of boats and sailed around the Charles River; that made us bona-fide sailors and gave us the privilege to view the fireworks from the sailing club dock).
The fireworks were launched from a barge right in front of us. Not only did we see the fireworks in all their splendor, we also felt them; every explosion sending shockwaves through our bodies moments after it spectacularly unfolded in the skies.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What Is Going On...

in this world? I just turned the TV on for the first time in days to find out that the Big Dig tunnel is closed and the Boston area has apparently been hit by some major rainstorms. When did all this happen!? With school work ramping up, I'm either stuck in that bunker in building 9 (where my classes are held) or finishing some group assignment in the Student Center. The world keeps turning and I'm not even aware of major events happenning right here in my own backyard!

We're half way through the summer session and the amount of coursework is peaking (taking a cue from the spring semester, the midpoint is the toughest period). After next week, the load should go down and, maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to enjoy a day in the sunshine... or keep up with the news.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Before and ...

after? I'm hoping that some day, a solar concentrator system will take up this space. Ahh, what a beautiful sight that would be! Our team is busy spending the Ignite money on a prototype system that will help us showcase our technology to potential investors (and, of course, the prototype will also help us figure out how to build the systems more efficiently in South Africa).

For now, the MIT Facilities department has agreed to let us install the system on a parking lot in West Campus (at the end of the soccer fields). I've marked up the site and with a bit of luck, we may have a system installed on this very spot at the end of the summer. Keeping the fingers crossed!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Financial Accountability

I love the Finance and Accounting class! Even the most dedicated CPA would agree that accounting is the most boring subject you could take (especially during the summer!). Which is why I think the professor is phenomenal because he manages to make it interesting while at the same time fun and engaging. To be sure, we're not learning how to do basic accounting, instead we're learning how to analyze financial statements and manage financial expectations. We're learning where the boundaries are and what rules to follow.

This is a really interesting topic in the post-Enron world. For example, how did Enron manage to hide its losses? Let's see if I can remember... Enron was showing revenue coming from sales to entities which were "sufficiently, but not totally independent" of Enron (these were the shadow companies established by Skilling and Fastow). However, because they were not really independent, Enron should've included their gains/losses in a consolidated financial statement. Basically these "independent" firms were taking the losses that should've shown on Enron's financial statements.

The lesson here is that, as future managers, we may find ourselves in a position where we could influence the financial reports of our companies. With the lessons from the Enron or WorldCom fiascos and Sarbanes-Oxley hanging over our heads, this is a pretty heavy burden...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

World Cup Fever

I was supposed to start my thesis this semester, but I've been procrastinating. Major procrastination! But I have a couple of reasons. One of them, I'm taking an extra class (Business Dynamics) so I have less time than I was envisioning. The other is, World Cup Soccer. I'm so wrapped in it! I don't know why. Maybe because it's only every 4 years. Or maybe because the school schedule has made it easy to catch a game here and there (well, ok, almost every other game) between classes, homeworks and other reading assignments. It also helps to have an on-campus bar that shows every game (Muddy Charles has been my official WC Soccer headquarters). Regardless the reasons, I think I'll always remember the summer of 2006 as a hot summer spent between watching soccer games and doing Dupont ratio analysis. cheering for Mexico and Portugal to support my friends...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Summer School

I love summer school! It reminds me of my undergrad days when I took summer classes to catch up with studies after my internships. I love it because it's so laid back, it's not crowded and I can always reward myself with some outdoor fun after studying for Accounting or Business Dynamics.
I'm taking four classes this semester, more than I had planned, but if I can finish my engineering electives this summer (with Business Dynamics) I can take it easier in the fall when there are many more activities and distractions. Business Dynamics is, in fact, turning out to be the most interesting class this summer. I was reading an article in the NY Times this morning about the rising ethanol production in United States and I couldn't stop myself from thinking about the positive and negative reinforcement loops that drive this new business. Ok, that's a sign of too much studying! I need to go watch a soccer game...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Avian Flu?

Romania was in the midst of an avian flu warning when we travelled which made this sight quite common as we drove through villages that had the unfortunate distinction of being hit by the virus that COULD cause avian flu. Of course, no one in Romania died of it yet (the virus hadn't been detected in humans), but the authorities didn't want to take any chances. With the European Union decision hanging over their heads, a good showing in the fight agains avian flu was very important. Yup, that's our fate! Always defending the rest of Europe from some Eastern invasion. :)

Transylvania - Myth and Reality

If there is one tourist trap in Romania, it must be Sighisoara, the birthplace of Vlad The Impaler, also known as Dracula. He was a famous in Romania not for his vampire shenanigans, but for defeating the Turks and keeping his kingdom independent. Growing up in Transylvania I had never heard of Bram Stoker's novel until I moved to America. People's eyes would lit up when I would tell them I'm from Transylvania. "You mean Dracula's land?" "How cool!" "Are you a vampire?"

Why Bram Stoker chose Transylvania for the setting of his famous novel, I'll never know. But a centry later, we can credit him for launching Romania's tourist industry as old, medieval towns like Sighisoara have become "must see" tourist attractions. I had a chance to visit Sighisoara this time around (I was there a long time ago during a school field trip so I didn't remember much of it). If you ignore the other tourists, the vendors who try to sell you everything in sight and the beggar children who know they can make a good profit from clueless tourists, you'll enjoy the sights. I was surprised how small the town is. I walked through the narrow streets and up to the 14th century gothic cathedral on the hill.

The tower at the entrance of the fortress looks as imposing as it did centuries ago. One of the smaller towers used for defending attackers still shows the pockmarks from the last assault a few centuries ago.
Of course, you can't miss Dracula's birthplace; it's been converted into a fancy and expensive restaurant. So that Dracula's spirit may suck the blood out of all those hapless and hungry tourists.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Signs of Progress

Just got back from Romania, my second trip in less than a year. I'm still amazed at the progress the country has made in the last few years. But the old ways of living cannot dissapear overnight which makes for an interesting contrast everywhere: the old and the new living side by side. Take for example the new trains that run now between the major cities: fast, clean and comfortable; a huge contrast with the old, clunky and dirty trains that still carry the majority of passangers.

It's easy to confuse this with the rich vs. the poor, but I prefer to think of it as the old vs. the new. Outside Sighisoara I ran upon this old couple with a donkey-pulled cart. It's quite rare to see them these days. On the same road that this cart travels, you may very well see the latest BMW flashing by.

Further down the road I saw this old man with his hybrid horse/car contraption (I guess we'll call this a one horse-power car). A rare sight indeed. Ok, so not everyone can afford a BMW yet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I'm off to Romania for a 3-week vacation. Amynescu's been busy with her film and she could really use my help. I helped her start it, and I should help help her finish it. I'm looking forward to doing something else other than writing papers, reading articles and figuring out how to do risk assessments.

Pieces of My Thesis

Tech Strategy was my favorite class in the second half. Partly because I liked Mary Tripsas' teaching style: lively, funny and insightful. So much so, I asked her to be my thesis advisor. But, wait! What's my topic? Most sane people figure out their thesis topic first and then look for an appropriate advisor. I did it completely backwards. After asking Mary to be my advisor I started thinking of possible topics. So I asked Mary to suggest some topics (isn't that what an advisor is for?). She seemed really excited about this solar power stuff that I've got myself into so she encouraged me to explore it. Hmmm! I do think energy (and especially clean energy) will be an important area of research and innovation in the coming years. So it may not be a bad idea to do a thesis on clean, renewable energies. Who knows? It may even lead to some entrepreneurial opportunities in the future.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Lifetime of Knowledge

I really enjoyed the "Organizing for Innovative Product Development" class taught by Tom Allen. Tom is one of the foremost authorities in organizational structures and designs. His ground-breaking studies of communication patterns among engineers have produced often-quoted principles like the Allen Curve: the frequency of communication between engineers drops off exponentially as the distance between them increases. After about 50 m, there's very little communication between groups of engineers. His research studies have led to new organizational structures and building designs. The class was a bit slow; we could've probably finished it in 3 or 4 sessions. The advantage of having a professor like Allen is that he could give us a lifetime of learning in a nice, concise module. Not many professors can summarize their teachings so well. Tom did. And I feel fortunate to have had him as a professor (not least because this may be the last class he'll teach before retiring - which made me think of this picture I took in the spring: the young blossoming tree next to the old perennial).

Oh, and yes, he did answer my question regarding the concentration of biotech firms near MIT. Biotech is one of the industries that feeds directly on science and converts it to marketable products (unlike other industries where science needs to be converted to technology/engineering and then to a product). And were would you find the best scientists? At MIT of course.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

And the Winners Are...

... third place: Synergetic Power Systems!

Not bad considering we put all this together in just 3 months. I'm psyched! The grand prize winner was a company called Stellaris that has patents, customers and is well on its way to being a real start-up (we're not even incorporated, but that may change now). Winning a prize in this competition is a great validation for us: we have something here and we should continue to develop our technology.

However, this was not the biggest news that we received last night. We now have a customer for our product. A customer that has big, deep pockets and offices in every country of the world: it's called the World Bank. Yup, we received a $130K grant from the World Bank to develop this technology and make it available to emerging marktes around the world, starting in South Africa. The World Bank grant was not connected at all with the Ignite Clean Energy competition (in fact, the application for this grant was done before I even joined the team), but it should help us tremendously with our US-based business plan. Here's a huge pot of money (with some strings attached) which will help us develop prototypes and validate the concept. And better yet, we don't have to sell our souls to the (VC) devil...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ignite Clean Energy

I've spent most of the weekend working on our presentation for Ignite Clean Energy business plan competition. The final competition is on Tuesday night. We're competing with nine other teams for a grand prize of... who knows how much. It doesn't really matter. I've already learned so much through this process that even if we don't win anything on Tuesday, we'll all be better off after going through this entire process. I have to say, we've developed a nice little business plan (considering that it all started with a few half-baked ideas just 3 months ago). Our team has put on a tremendous effort including in-depth market research, meetings with potential business partners, marathon brainstorming sessions, financial analysis, practice pitches, etc. Along the way we've done a lot of organizational soul searching and got to know each other pretty well. If we win anything, we may even incorporate and attempt to start a new business. If we don't win anything, well..., the fond memories will remain. I found this picture of our team on the Ignite web site.

Entrepreneurship, Finance and Law

While looking through the catalog of Sloan classes that I should take this fall, I found an interesting one called "Basic Business Law Tilted Towards Innovation and Strategy". Now, business law can put me to sleep sometimes, but, as an aspiring entrepreneur, it can also put me out of business if I don't pay attention to issues like contracts, patents and employment law. The course promises to: teach "legal issues that arise in the context of innovation and development of busines strategy including the legal framework of transnational business, developing cutting-edge technologies and products, and restructuring and repositioning major corporations." Sounds very interesting! So I plunked down all my 1000 Sloan bid points hoping to get into this class which is only taught in the fall and has a limited enrollment of 55.

My reasoning is that in the spring I focused mainly on entrepreneurship (entrepreneurship Sloan class, business plan competitions, etc.). In the summer I'll be focusing more on finance (we're taking the Accounting and Managerial Finance class which is required for SDM). That leaves the fall semester to focus on business law so I can round up my knowledge for a career in small business or entrepreneurship. I'm psyched!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Creative Space

Excellent guest lecture today by Prof. Gunter Henn from Dresden Technical Institute. Prof Henn is the architect who designed BMW's R&D center in Munich. His premise is that physical space has a direct effect on organizational structure (and vice-versa). A hierarchical organization will prefer traditional office spaces (individual, closed offices), whereas a network organzation will prefer a more open space (open desk areas with high ceiliings, for example). Creativity is bred in large open spaces where the right people come together at the right time to solve a problem. A work environment should stimulate communication while protecting concentration and these seemingly opposite goals can be achieved with the right architecture and organizational structure.

Lately, I've re-discovered the idea that I'm more creative in open spaces and more productive when I interact with people. Today's lecture confirmed my thoughts. At one point, Dr Henn postulated that "the higher the ceiling, the more creative you are". Hmm! This may explain why I tend to gravitate to the lobby of 77 Mass Ave, the large open area with the domed ceiling at the entrace of MIT. There's a Peets Coffee in the corner and I usually get my caffeine shot there every morning. Maybe it's not just the caffeine buzz I'm searching for, but that ever-elusive spark of creativity?
PS. Rajiv wrote a much more detailed summary of this lecture in his blog.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Brain Drain

Given MIT's reputation in the scientific world, it should be no surprise that corporate America is knocking on its doors looking to hire the best and the brightest students. What is surprising (at least to me) is to see that some companies are setting up shop right in the shadow of the Institute. Interestingly enough most of these companies that circle the campus are biotech or pharmaceutical companies. I wonder why? Is it because they're so addicted to MIT's best brains that they need their "fix" as soon as a promising result becomes available?

MIT always takes pride in its connection with the industry. But, for me, these pharmaceuticals are a little too ubiquitous. Why don't we have an IBM or an Oracle or a Google in our backyard?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

New Media

Great article in this week's Economist about the rise of a new form of media: participatory media, as opposed to mass media. It turns out that as a blogger, I'm the forefront of this media revolution. How so? Mass media uses the classic one-to-many approach to disseminate information from content creators to an audience. Participatory media uses a many-to-many approach to disseminate the same information; more like a "conversation" rather than a "lecture". Examples of new media are blogs, podcasts, and Wikipedia. The survey goes on to predict a media revolution on the same scale as the one that happened 600 years ago when Gutenberg invented the movable type. Wow! That a bold prediction. Will these "new media" predictions be as good as the "new economy" predictions of a few years ago? One thing is certain, there is a revolution; we just don't know how deep its impact will be. We'll see...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Long Weekend

Ahhh! What a relief! A much needed long weeekend to catch up on school and life. Monday was Patriots Day holiday here in MA and Tuesday was a special "student holiday" at MIT (now I know the reason behind this special student holiday: the last couple of weeks have been horrendously busy). I took advantage of the holiday to catch up on my ERBA lectures (second exam is coming up), do my taxes (I've never waited until the last minute), and, of course, do a couple of long bike rides. On Sunday I rode around Boston and ended up, by chance, in Copley Square the finishing point of the Boston Marathon. I walked along the route and watched people who would never, ever run a marathon take pictures of themselves crossing the finish line. On Monday I went to the Fells reservation where I could forget about asphalt, cars and pedestrians, and remind myself how to negotiate between all those sharp-edged rocks, exposed roots and other obstacles. On the way back I took a picture of this sign on the road. I always wondered, does anybody read these signs backwards?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Asleep at the Wheel

Michelle Pelluso, the CEO of Travelocity, was the featured speaker in the CEO Perspectives class that I'm auditing on Wednesday nights. She was very laid back, casually dressed and spoke to us while perched on the table at the front of the room; a huge contrast with the other CEOs that came before her. I enjoyed her casual style, approachable nature and (perceived) soft management skills. Which comes to show that you don't have to be a high-strung, tough-as-nails, superachiever to become a CEO. Or so I thought... Until she said she'll answer every e-mail that is sent to her within 24 hours, no matter what the subject is or whether she's on vacation, traveling or working at the office. Which begged the question: How do you manage to do all these things and still have a life? Her simple answer: "I don't like to get a lot of sleep". Ouch! I guess being a CEO means never falling asleep at the wheel...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Big Apple

Nineteen years ago, when I first set foot on American soil, I had one and only one wish: to see the Statue of Liberty. As soon as we landed at JFK, I asked my dad if we can go see the Statue, that quintessential symbol of America who greets new immigrants and welcomes them into the land of freedom. But timing, logistics and rush-hour traffic prevented us from doing even a drive-by. And so, my American experience started with a few images of Manhattan, dark cornfields of Pennsylvania and then... my new hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. I never had another chance to go back to NYC after that. So it should come as no surpirse that my American experience should be unfullfileld until such time when I get to see New York and the Statue of Liberty in all of its splendor.

And now that I'm on the East Coast, I had to go see it. During spring break I made a run for the Big Apple. To keep with the immigrant theme, I took the Chinatown bus, a Greyhound-like bus that ferries mostly students and Chinese shoppers between the two cities with incredible speed and efficiency. From Chinatown, the Statue of Liberty was a relatively short walk. And so, on a beautiful March afternoon I sat on a bench in Battery Park and marveled at the Statue. From a mile away it seemed small and unimportant. And then I realized how appropriate this should be: its symbolism has gotten smaller over the years. It's as if Lady Liberty's torch no longer burns the same mixture of promise, idealism and wide-eyed immigrant curiosity as it did 19 years ago. Slightly dissapointed, I walked back towards Midtown and lost myself into the turmoil of the Big Apple, searching for a new symbol of promise and hope.

Promise and Hope

Our team made it into the finals of the Ignite Clean Energy business plan competition. It's a huge achievement for us. Last Tuesday we presented our plan to a private panel of five judges: three VCs, a university director and a CEO. We must've said something right because they picked our team for the finals (9 teams out of 30 made it). What have we got ourselves into!? Our next step is a presentation to a panel of judges (in a public setting this time) on May 9th at MIT.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Catching Up

I haven't written much lately, but that's not because there's nothing going on. Quite the opposite. There's too much going on! School is incredibly busy, the business competitions are heating up, the social network is widening and I find myself with less and less time to blog. Through all this I try to remind myself to "stop and smell the flowers" sometimes (it's spring time, after all!).

If I do so, I'll discover all those interesting little surprises that life offers. Like this lost toy that I saw on the side of the road the other day. She sat there lonely and dejected, calling to its owner who perhaps had forgotten about her upon seeing his friends at the park accross the street.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


It's only been a week since we started school again, but it's been a fast and furious time. I've been slammed with school work this week which explains the lack of activity on the blog (reading some of the other blogs, looks like I'm not the only one in this position).

I was already behind in my classes before the semester even started. The second class on Monday is a new class (Tech Strategy). This is a case study-based class and, apparently, everyone but me read the case beforehand. Needless to say, I didn't have much to contribute. I hate showing up unprepared for class. "I'll catch up quickly", I said to myself. And catching up I did... all week long. I had to get up to speed with my PDD team, the business plan for the Ignite competition was (and still is) full of holes and unexplained assumptions, the readings were piling up.... and the hours of sleep were going down. Thankfully the weekend is here to save me from this vicious cycle (I slept for 11 hours last night. Ahhhh, what a relief!).

It's funny how the weekends are no longer a time of relaxation, but a time to catch up on readings and sleep. That's student life for you!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Midterm Report

It's Spring break time at MIT. We're half way through the semester and it's time to pause and take stock. Amynescu asked me what I thought about it so far. My short answer: I'm a happy sponge. I don't have much to complain about and I'm learning a ton of things.

I've decided to treat myself with a short vacation to NY. I've only been to NY once, but didn't spend much time there. Fresh off the boat from Romania, I got a glimpse of NY as I was being carted away to my new home in Ohio. Everything was amazing! I remember the lights, the impossibly tall sky-scrapers, the stores full of electronics, people walking around everywhere. Now, 19 years later, I'll be able to look at NY with a whole different set of eyes: a tourist in my own country.