Tej Dhawan

tej dhawan's random musings

The different yet similar lives lived by America’s immigrants and their children

The American immigration council’s newsletter recently introduced me to a book, a product of research previously impossible due to the quantity and type of data involved. It unravels the myth of the model European immigrants of 1860-1920 compared to those who immigrated after the 1960s. It finds that the two sets are remarkably similar in upward mobility, children’s successes and a becoming ‘from many, one’.

Immigration carries a unique stature in America. On one side is the country’s badge of honor as a country that was built by immigrants despite the devastation and destruction of Native American culture and people. On another is the unfortunate history where previously (immigrated) citizens do much to shun the new wave. Jon Stewart, once opining on a historical context of immigration stated it well

America has always been a nation of immigrants who hate the newest immigrants

It was a sentiment I saw in the textile museum in Fall River, MA. The museum clearly showed how the British who’d set up the mills, hired and (mis)treated the Germans, the Irish and others who came after. Each new wave was relegated to their own enclaves, children as young as 7 and 8 deployed to unravel stuck threads even if it exposed them to losing precious little fingers.

The book first draws comparison between those Western Europeans (Britain, Germany, Norway) and the subsequent southeastern (Italians) who came in late 19th. Then it compares the past set to late 20th century immigrants from Asia and Latin America. The similarities in why and how they came, what they brought in pain and talent, how they adopted the new homeland, and the exclusions they suffered are uncanny.

Equally uncanny is how both sets toiled for decades in their roles but their children were the ones to propel beyond expectations. The myth of ‘pulling up by the bootstraps in no time’ isn’t borne out by the data collected, aligned, and presented. In fact, the book undoes a few representative stories through presentation of lineage and research. Of course, reading as an immigrant myself married to a genealogist who traces her history to the Mayflower and various (proven) soldiers in America’s earliest wars gave me a great set of reasons to devour the book quickly.

The authors utilized technological innovations and inventions to unearth the stories embedded in generations of immigrants. The early unofficial and subsequent authorized searches across Ancestry.com databases, 8 million speeches across the political spectrum since the 1800s, Ellis island voice recordings of immigrants, the many programs written to scrape, curate, analyze, learn via ML and AI, todays tech made this book possible and repeatable to stand scrutiny.

Our country’s structure under the constitution also created natural control groups that helped evaluate the affects of immigration laws between California and Pennsylvania, Florida vs Texas, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and much more. This provided a way to turn back history’s clock and view the effects through comparison and data.

Immigrants are synonymous with America. They arrived in various roles and exhibited an ability and willingness to adopt, adapt, honor, change, assimilate and impact a culture that was once called a melting pot and is now, thankfully, a mosaic. The mosaic makes it possible for a Japanese family in a multiethnic cafe to enjoy a Mexican meal served by a Caucasian. Where a mixed race couple name their children through lenses of pop culture, ancestry, and more.

A fun book worth reading as a traveler on international flight (me reading and writing this), in a genealogical expedition, or better yet, to prepare a speech to Congress or the country.

I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them.

Unknown Italian immigrant, painted on the wall of the Ellis Island Museum

Liftoff – an engineering challenge against gravity and time

A collection of humans with a shared purposes is a powerful force. Liftoff tells the story of one such collection of people known as SpaceX. People who ran a space race after the original, a story of heartbreaking losses and a win worthy of celebration.

Elon Musk challenged status quo by creating SpaceX. His short-term goal of earth orbit and the long-term dream to transport humans to and from Mars is remarkable. The book tells the story of that early vision, drive, money, and passion that created the Falcon one hardware. It also describes the Falcon 1’s four major iterations, Falcon 9’s and Falcon Heavy’s parallel developments, and their various component computers and parts.

What make the book real, however, isn’t the hardware but the humans. We meet these humans at various chronological junctures throughout the book. We learn of their passion through the creation of the launch site in the Marshall Islands. Their tenacity as they repeatedly transport themselves between Los Angeles and the middle of the South Pacific. And their love for the profession, marvel of space, and professional loyalty to the discipline.

One of my favorite sections of this book is the Epilogue where the author talks about the humans once again. This discussion isn’t about the chronological work at hand rather the trajectories of their lives at publication. I recommend this crucial section and implore the book’s readers to look up the Falcon 1 and Falcon Heavy videos to feel the emotional roller coasters.

We know SpaceX and Tesla’s successes today. What we don’t know as well is how close the two companies came to death. Tesla EVs, solar panels, batteries, the relatively inexpensive satellite deployment, Starlink, and the ability to reach and replenish the International Space Station continue to impact our world positively today. I am glad to have read this book and am grateful to the tenacity and resolve of the team so clearly and respectfully presented.

Welcome back, 37Signals!

The Sunday newsletter from Farnum Street included a thoughtful (as usual!) post from Jason Fried. Jason is one of those sages who continues to shift the software development industry through philosophy, writing, and creating enduring products. Seeing his name referenced by Shane, though no surprise, led me down the path of reading Jason’s current and many recent posts!

Jason’s company has returned to its roots. The company’s articulation of their manifesto of 37 (of course!) statements of purpose is a delight to read. I have many favorites with #14 as my favorite:

Meetings are the last resort, not the first option. Five people in a room for an hour isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s a five hour meeting. How often was it worth that? Could you have just written it up instead? Be mindful of the costs and tradeoffs.

37signals — 14. Meetings aren’t free

And if you make it all the way to #37, I hope you follow the embedded link. There is meaning behind the name 37Signals.

Eliot Peper’s latest – Reap3r

“…unlike fiction, reality needn’t be plausible”

Reap3r, chapter 37

I received an advance review copy of Eliot‘s tenth novel in February and, as prior books, began to read it nearly instantly. As I read through the first few chapters, however, I found myself needing to know the characters more. So, I began again, and again, and again. Each read exposed a strength or flaw in the human characters and I chose to slow down my reading pace to get to know them better.

There is no doubt this work is a work of fiction. The quote above reminded me what I was reading may be fiction yet is very likely to be real. In the near future likely to occur within our lifetimes. And that simultaneously makes this story frighteningly believable.

Eliot’s characters often carry a social conscience, and this book is no different. It isn’t hard to distinguish right from wrong, or to empathize with their struggle. The classic struggle of power over community, money over integrity, and self over sentient collectiveness are threaded throughout.

The tale spun deftly through this extremely fast-moving book is composed of numerous complex characters, who revealed themselves to the author in a different intimacy that the reader discovers in layers. I found the memory remembered by one of the characters in the quote below quite apt for the relationship between the characters, Eliot and the reader:

You face one way – towards the source-when you are learning what you want to say, he’d advised, and the other way-towards the reader-when you are saying it

Reap3r, chapter 35

I’d looked forward to the story Eliot would tell during and after his trek he and his wife began in 2019. He credits the experiences, the journey, and the stories that unraveled through this journey in the epilogue, and reading them at the end of the book jumped me back to Twitter where he chronicled parts of the journey

Reading his #CaminoThoughts thread at the end of the book gave me a new insight into the book I’d just finished. Incredible. I have read and bought all of Eliot’s ten books, and this one is, by far, the deepest exploration of characters.

His travels influence the book. Food, clothing, jewelry, locations, and names all allude to a character’s face behind the mask. You can choose to look at the mask and discover what happens as Eliot reveals what’s within. Or you can learn more about the attributes and find the pleasant surprises as you self-discover the character early. (I knew you, O’ petite woman at the end of chapter 58).

Grab the book if you haven’t already. I couldn’t wait to buy my signed copy despite the author’s review copy.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite opening sentiments from the book

Movies used music to build tension before major twists, but real life didn’t have a soundtrack to clue you in to the fact that everything was about to change

reap3r, prologue

Beyond Obsolete

I was reminded recently of technology obsolescence when jumping behind the wheel of a maximalist (is that the opposite of minimalist?) dash on a rental car. I spent a good part of 15 minutes clearing previous settings and saved items, re-learning the basic navigation (and built-in GPS) settings, audio, seat controls and more before putting the car in gear and driving away.

Although I gave up on and decided not to use many of the car’s controls within a dozen or so miles, I remain amazed how the built-in GPS has become utterly useless. My mobile phone’s apps and maps were eminently usable and current. The recent model year car’s built-in GPS couldn’t locate my hotel built-in 2019 in a major urban city!

The space the screen consumed on the dashboard, the car’s numerous buttons on the touchscreen, dashboard AND by the gearshift were an exercise in ridiculously poor customer experience and wasted opportunity. The center console, stuffed with buttons, some duplicated on the steering with others labeled in confusing and non-standard ways confounded me further.

The sad part is that this late model year crossover from a ‘luxury’ carmaker was as much (or more) confusing than our 2015 Acura MDX, itself a victim of poor dash design, TWO 6-inch monitors, and a GPS UI that’s reminiscent of the early 2000s.


The following have outlived their useful life on car dashboards and are beyond need of retirement. They just need euthanized:

1. Built-in GPS (and the $149 fee for the dealership to ‘load’ the map updates!
2. Dare I say, car dealership cartels!
3. Custom voice interfaces – Siri, Alexa, and Google won.
4. Radio station presets. The rental’s largest and most prominent buttons were the six radio presets.
5. Steering control for anything but voice command, volume, and possibly cruise control.
6. OBD port. Why not show the output directly to the screen(s)?
7. Single device Bluetooth. We know cars frequently have two or more passengers. Do we really need to be connected to only a single device?
8. Low wattage USB ports. Drivers and passengers routinely carry multiple devices with larger, hungrier batteries that demand charge. Why, then are built-in chargers still delivering barely 0.5-1 amps?

Legacy carmakers – Are you innovating or sleeping at the wheel?

Failure: an unfulfilled expectation?

We celebrate failure in modern life and use it as a means of self-improvement. My introduction to this conversation comes from the field of startups and entrepreneurship where this badge of honor is well-known as a path toward and predictor of eventual success.

My memory of recognizing failure is rooted in elementary school where incorrect answers to math problems led to a low score. Being the son of a math-loving mother, the failure at school invariably led to additional punishments at home, thereby cementing the memory. The high school punishment of 12 canes on the behind for scoring 36/100 on a math exam further created an expectation to score at least high enough to not be caned again. An expectation that stayed with me long past high school, the teacher, and even into environments that no longer permitted corporal punishment.

A recent discourse between a middle school student and a film artist recently shook that memory loose. During a Q&A hosted by Ballet Des Moines at the Des Moines Art Center, a young man asked a Beau Kenyon, a composer, DaYoung Jung, a ballerina, and Oyoram, a movie maker how they manage failure. Oyoram responded that to him failure isn’t criticism by a client, a critic, an audience or a viewer. Failure instead is when his work fails to live up to his own vision.

Oyoram had earlier shared his process of scripting, modeling, creating, and installing his immersive experiences. He explained how the experiences came alive at scale.

Mental Banquet: Painting with Lights, 2018 Des Moines, Iowa

But if he couldn’t feel what he had imagined and documented during the visioning process, he had experienced failure!

I’ll have to try this technique. Rather than await validation or criticism, I’ll try to be the golfer who knows almost immediately upon hitting the ball or the composer who can hear discordance even when the listener cannot.

So , why not evaluate failure as an unfulfilled expectation. After all, isn’t the expectation tied to the original vision? And if we decouple the two, aren’t we lying in a way that renders success elusive forever?

Bias encumbers learning opportunities

150000 lbs each.

I’d gotten bumped and rebooked twice for flights yet was going to miraculously end up flying cross country AND make it to my destination 5 hours earlier than scheduled. The gate agents had still put me in advanced boarding so I boarded with wheelchair bound fellow passengers. Two ladies above 70s settled in next to me for the short puddle jump. And I began to wonder how I’d get out of my window seat at the destination ahead of them.

As the mother and daughter talked, I stared out the window, marveling at how close the Vegas strip was to the runway. It was then the daughter pointed out one of the tugs to the mother.

“Ma, it’s been 20 years since I made one of those “

Made?? I eavesdropped further; my eyes no longer focused on the strip.

Yes, the last one was for the 777s and boy those are heavy. The trailer bringing the weights for the first one twisted and broke apart when taking its first turn.

Now, I was really listening. I’m a sucker for all things airplane.

Yes, the tugs ordered for the 777s are 5 times heavier than those pushing our “little” 737. Each weigh about 150,000lbs to push the plane.

Without thinking first principles, why? I wondered aloud, betraying my silent eavesdropping.

She knew.

The nose of the aircraft carries nearly a sixth of the plane’s weight being pulled down by gravity. To counter those forces, the tug has to apply at least that much force. At a 90-degree angle to gravity, even more.

By now, I’d forgotten my reason to rush out of the aircraft upon landing. I’d even stopped wondering when our tug would arrive at the plane to push it back from the jetbridge. I was now simply mesmerized by the stories told by this retiree, my seatmate, who loved driving from Ogden UT to Las Vegas to see her sister regularly. On a plane this time because car rental and fuel were more expensive than the plane ticket.

Luckily for me, I was seated next to her due to my own set of circumstances and learned something new about airplanes, airports, and even the tugs.

What was the hurry to deplane again?

A decade of collaboration

November 17, 2010.

How to be a successful startup
https://www.dsmpartnership.com/news-media/blog/episode-30-tej-dhawan-talks-growth-of-the-dsm-startup-community

I had no idea a chance meeting with Mike on the Mercy Hospital skywalk would lead to a decade of collaboration and friendship. I mentioned that I wanted to help tech companies get started in Des Moines. He, in turn, asked if I had time to go to lunch with another colleague who wanted the same. Mike and I ended up at Proof and talked until Christian arrived. Of the many serendipitous moments in Des Moines startup community’s history, I know and am glad I got to be part of this one.

As Mike transitions to a retirement from *this* job as the entrepreneur-whisperer in Des Moines, his friends know he can’t really retire. Have you ever not seen him working? He’s retired more than once before, and this retirement will prove to be but a transition again.

I am grateful for having been a part of Mike’s circle of friends, where we were able to conjure up, make real, or grow ideas such as StartupCity Des Moines, Plains Angels, Global Insurance Accelerator, Accelerate, Iowa Agtech Accelerator and so much more. So, when I first learned of a new love affair with Colorado, I knew his time in Des Moines was limited. With his imminent departure from Des Moines, I know he’ll be missed by this circle of friends and colleagues, fellow angel investors, entrepreneurs, corporate partners and his colleagues at the Partnership.

I’ll miss our regular (vegetarian – his style) lunches at Centro – made rare by the pandemic, and sadly rarer now in the future by the distance.

Bon voyage, Mike and Beth. You are wonderful friends and I am glad we had lunch at Proof on November 17, 2010.

Downstairs steals the show

There are no spoilers below

The world has changed since the first scene of the first episode!

I finally made it to the Downton Abbey movie and found better closure through the movie than at the end of the final televised episode of 2016. Though the entire cast did an excellent job throughout the movie, the downstairs part of the household clearly stole the show for me. They were experts at balancing the positive and negative, the crazy and mundane, and the believable vs the unbelievable parts of the story.

My initial exposure to this awesome series was a few episodes into the first season when a bitter head cold had me watching TV late in the night and the opening episode caught my eye. Not one for period dramas, I am not quite sure why I picked it up but, moments in, knew I would finish the episode and like it. So began the six-ish year love affair with the expertly crafted story. Though I lost a few of my favorite characters through the years, the story remained compelling through the end.

The movie could be set a year after the TV series’ end or a decade yet the story seemed continuous. Hairstyles and costumes are different but not much else seems to have changed. The melodramatic responses to seemingly meaningless events remain omnipresent as do the wide panoramic shots to take in Downtown one last (?) time, now complete with a few beautiful drone images of the estate.

There are a few interesting moments, especially linked to Branson, Barrow, Edith, and Daisy. It took Daisy the entire journey through the series but she finally has grown up and can be seen proudly standing on her own two feet. Edith continues to push the envelope but seeing any of the ladies of Downton in the state of undress is strange. Yet, leave it to Edith to push. Branson continues to show the dual life he’s had to live since his introduction to the story to the very end. Barrow shines brightest for me. I’ll probably remember this line as he’s walking toward Downton late at night (not verbatim)

will they ever see our way?

(no Tom, still not in 2019)

Violet’s quips remained amazing:

sarcasm is the lowest form of wit

Thanks, Violet, for all the laughs. The theater seemed to giggle, laugh and endear to you throughout.

She who feeds controls the conversation!

Downton Abbey, I’ve missed you for the last 3ish years and will miss you more after this movie. But as in the parting dialogue, Downton will be present 100 years hence (today?!) and the extravagance is here for all to see. Maybe the next trip to England will include a stopover at Highclere Castle

The metadata on higher education

It takes 18-years (d0h!)

The news is filled with stories predicting higher education’s demise. Whether derived from falling enrollments around the country, high cost of tuition to attend college, the irrelevance(!?) of a college degree to a lifetime of employment, or simply political rhetoric, higher-ed is under persistent criticism. Rhetoric aside, what does data say about the state of higher ed? I was introduced to the book, Demographics and the demand for higher education, in April and read it then as a reference. Something new compelled me to read it with a data perspective and it revealed a few interesting thoughts.

Whatever faces a college today isn’t simply a function of the college admissions office or the school guidance counselors. The student who matriculates into a freshman class is a product of at least 18-years of interactions. The author takes us through a bit of history and (quite) a bit of data. Here are the highlights.

The demographic headwinds

The US faces a trifecta of demographic headwinds, the first of which defines the country itself – immigration. Hispanic and Asian immigrants comprise a majority of the 2.3 to 4.4 new legal immigrants per 1000 existing citizens and settle in enclaves around the country. The second is migration within the US with a measurable move from the northeast and Pacific areas toward the south. The remaining move is generally a zero-sum. Fertility, the third factor, is dropping below the threshold of 2.05/female. Texas is the only populous state among the growing states to reach this threshold.

High school graduation

This was a startling statistic for me. The projected number of high school graduates shifts from 3.45M in 2012 to 3.375M in 2007 to an expected peak of nearly 3.5M in 2025 before cratering to 3.25M by 2032. What’s more startling is the drop by ethnicity where white graduates increase only in MT, SD, ND, KS, TX and OK! A majority of the states’ graduates through 2032 will be of Hispanic, Black and Asian descent. The author’s graphic below displays this shift:

Forecasted growth in 18-year-olds by race/ethnicity, 2012 to 2029

Ethnicity is important because the four segments show a distinct difference in where students typically go to college. Whether one or both parents went to college influences if their children will attend college. The midwest, northeast and Pacific regions, typical destinations for non-Hispanic white students will most certainly suffer or have to redefine themselves!

Higher Education Demand

The author studies the factors impacting demand for higher education. Parents’ education levels directly correlate with what their children pursue in college – a 2-year, a 4-year or no-degree. Migration patterns and parent ethnicity seem to impact the elasticity of demand in certain regions, but, the migration at a macro level seems like a constant.

Diversity

The data projects what is likely to happen to diversity on campuses. With non-Hispanic white students falling in numbers with a corresponding increase in Asian students, non-Hispanic black students, however, will experience a significant decline. Campuses will look different, won’t they?

A concurrent shift in parents of the enrolled students will show that a significant number of them have one or both parents with at least a Bachelors degree. Think about this – if parents with BAs present children to four-year colleges, does it predict a drop in two-year college enrollments? Yep. Data can accurately predict an uptick in the mid-2020s followed by a precipitous decline at two-year colleges. Remember the ‘it takes 18-years’ rule? Yet, four-year colleges’ gain still results in fewer overall students due to demographics showing fewer numbers of prospective 18-year olds available to go to even these colleges.

So, who will feel this demand most? Another important statistic highlights the impact on schools that attract students regionally or nationally vs the elite institutions. Regional schools attract students from within a few dozen miles, National schools from nearly 200 miles, and Elite institutions who attract students universally. The Elite institutions, despite the lowering population, may still fare well because of their ability to stand above the rest whereas the regional institutions in many parts of the US will need to redefine themselves.

Final takeaways

The latter third of the book shifts toward attitudes toward paying for college, how individual institutions will redefine themselves, and the effects of policy on higher ed. These latter variables could upend the entire demographic impact and shift the face of higher education across America.

I will try to remember

  1. You must begin with the demographics of the markets first to study why higher-ed is undergoing a seismic shift, and
  2. There is no homogeneous solution to the shift. Each institution will have to redefine itself within its shifting market.

Change is constant, even in the glacial movement of academia!

If you want to study this in further detail, start by grabbing the book from the link in the first paragraph. Source data are available at the author’s page at https://people.carleton.edu/~ngrawe/HEDI.htm.

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