Critical Section


Kazakh report

Saturday,  05/24/14  10:11 AM

Hi blog public ... well I'm back from spending a week in Kazakhstan, speaking at a tech conference called ASTEX 2014, and wow was it a great experience.  I saw a lot, met a lot of interesting people, and had a chance to get clear perspective on the US and the tech scene in 2014. 

My talk was entitled "The Future Store: Mobile e-Commerce", and it turned out to be nicely targeted and well received.  Here are some takeaways from my trip:

  • "Mobile first" is the perfect message for Central Asia.  Everybody has a smartphone - Android is much more popular than IOS - far fewer have laptops.

  • Hadoop is everywhere, the MySQL of the 2010s.

  • There are giant online companies which are very successful you've never heard of.  Every country / region has it's own Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, eBay, and PayPal.

  • Paying for stuff online is hard. Most people don't have credit cards, many don't have deposit accounts.  Stored value instruments are popular.  Bitcoin and its cyber currency brethren are taken very seriously.

  • Physical infrastructure is lacking.  No Fedex or UPS.  Kazakhstan is nearly the size of the US, with few roads, cities, or even people.  Biggest question when you order online is not when will it arrive, but how.

  • Images are huge.  With such a potpourri of languages and alphabets and cultures, a picture is worth way more than 1,000 words.  Video is big too and getting bigger.

Russian is the lingua franca but increasingly people (try to) speak English.  US is respected for its technology but even more for its culture.  Perceived as diverse, tolerant, and industrious.  Opposite of Russia :)

I haven't had such a "not in Kansas" feeling since being in Prague two years ago.  Wish I could bottle and share.  And in an attempt to do that, here's a pictorial report (aka photobomb!):

Kazakhstan is huge - and directly in the middle of Eurasia.
And Astana (yellow star) is in the middle of Kazakhstan.

On the way ... layover in Frankfurt ... visited the cool Museum Moderne Kunst

it's me, reflected around the maze

hmmm...  so this is "art", eh?  bottles of vinegar, dripping

also visited the Cathederal, which enabled me to add to my "awesome organ" collection

crossing the oldest bridge in Frankfurt, now for pedestrians only

seven-hundred-year-old clock mechanism in the toll tower, still accurate to the millisecond

the German crown jewels.  Not pictured, electronic security up the wazoo

loved this room even more than the ancient art it contains

onward to Astana (TSE) ... it's a loooong way East
who knew there was so much land in central Asia (not me before this trip)

Astana is a new city of 1,000,000 people and incredible sculpture disguised as buildings

the media center, home of the ASTEX 2014 conference
those giant video screens are transparent, from the inside of the building you can see right through

with Sanzhar Kettebekov, my host and chairman of the conference
he is trying to build a tech startup ecosystem in Kazakhstan

the exposition which accompanied the conference, lots of Kazakh tech startups

getting ready to present before 1,000 attendees, with simultaneous translation into
Kazakh and Russian, after 25 hours of travel and 0 hours of sleep

presenting ... The Future Store: Mobile e-Commerce!
(seemed nicely targeted and well received :)

VIP lunch! - with my fellow presenters and local politicians

Astana features a huge new Opera House

are those horses solid gold?  I hope not

the Khan Shatyr "entertainment center"; a huge shopping mall slash amusement park

inside the design is like a giant yurt, beautifully lit from above

headquarters of the Kazakh national energy company, the source of the country's wealth

a beautiful mosque contrasts rather dramatically with the neo-glass architecture

cool buildings and giant video screens everywhere

these buildings only seem to be waving in the wind

the Bayterek tower, symbol of Kazakhstan independance
97 meters tall; Astana became capital of Kazakhstan in 1997

cool sculpture garden in a nice little residential area established for diplomats

at the Astana Music Hall for a cultural dinner
the building is shaped like a giant vase spilling over

eating traditional Kazakh food while watching traditional Kazakh performers

the dancing was cool

at the mosque

dinner in an old Kazakh castle

grilling horsemeat on a hot stone - delicious!

at the Dymah aquarium - furthest in the world from any ocean

plexiglass tubes pass underneath a giant fishbowl...

... so you can see the sharks from underneath :)

a little amphitheater so you can watch them feed the fish

view of the Presidential Palace from the top of the Bayterek tower

inside the tower is a handprint of President Nazarbayev
you can put your hand in it, and if it fits, a red light comes on ... mine did not

view of the Bayterek and downtown Astana from the Presidential Palace

futuristic architecture for the Astana concert hall

Masonic symbolism?  The Bayterek flanked by golden columns

the Presidential Palace, known locally as "the white house"

no guards in sight ... should I climb the fence?
maybe not

the beautiful Kazakh Eli monument in independence square

the "palace of independance" hosted the 2014 Astana Economic Forum

a busy schedule for two days - nonstop speeches, presentations, press conferences, and photo ops :)

I'm in!

from the third storey of the Palace of Independence
view of the Pyramid of Peace back toward downtown (note Bayterek tower)

painting of President Nazarbayev's innauguration in 2006
see how many heads-of-state you can spot
(NB Nazarbayev has been Astana's leader since it became independent in 1991)

the massive Hazrat Sultan Mosque adjacent to the square
about 47% of Kazakhs are Muslim

the beautiful mosaic central dome of the mosque

with my new friends
LtoR: Baurjan Nazar, me, Anastaysya Petrova, fellow presenter Bob Bellack

time to head back!  First a little six-hour flight back to Frankfurt
(seat power! - started recoding vector indexing logic :)

at the Apfulwein Klaus
great setting, good snitzel, but the Wein was Apful

perfect end to the trip - strudel!

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts about this amazing trip after I have time to digest ... please stay tuned!

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