Ideas Worth Spreading

October 1, 2008

Seb and I were watching Blaise Aguera y Arcas‘s amazing presentation on Photosynth and Seadragon (two of Microsoft’s semi-recent acquisitions) today. We were both blown away! Watch it.

Afterwards, Sebastian issued a friendly challenge: one of us must speak at the TED conference within the next 10 years. I think we will have a better shot at doing this if Seb and I worked together, but for now this is an individual challenge.

Good luck Seb.

-J. K. Wade


The Rapidly Disintegrating United States of America

September 30, 2008

Wall Street is gone: 25,000+ people lost their jobs overnight. Investment banks no longer exist.

The US government scares me: The Secretary of the Treasury seriously requested unfettered power to use $700 billion as he wishes – which would effectively undermine the Constitution. Our elected officials in Washington are making plays to secure their re-election rather than doing what is necessary to mitigate the fallout from this financial crisis.

American leadership is a farce: The US presidential elections have been reduced to cheap gimmicks. A woman who doesn’t believe global warming and a man who recently stated that the fundamentals of the American economy are sound are still in serious consideration for the White House.

Living abroad as an American in 2008 has been a surreal experience, and my home country – a place I lived, worked, and studied in for 23 years – seems to me, at best an abstraction and at worst a caricature of its most negative self. What is going on at home cannot really be happening, right?

For the past nine months, I have watched and studied the events of America’s economic and political soap opera as an outside observer, lacking the social and emotional elements that I had previously taken for granted and then grown tired of, and I wonder was America as crazy and messed up when I lived there?

Perhaps I am now so far removed that I can objectively understand that irrational demands for power by the government are nothing new (recall Bush’s call for unilateral power in the year following 9/11), that illogical, laughable, and pathetic campaign tactics have become a hallmark of the US presidential elections (recall the 2000 & 2004 races), or that the (false) security and safety that many Americans feel really is slipping away.

It doesn’t seem real to me. America is impervious to pain, right? The US is a land of true democracy, logical thinking, stoicism, and financial security – at least that’s what I was lead to believe. So when I return to the US in time for Christmas, this will all be over, right? Forgotten like a bad dream. Or is the nature of my country forever changing? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem real and it sure is crazy to watch from across the Atlantic.

-J. K. Wade

Credit to Ben Stein for the title of this post. See his NYTimes post here.

Knowledge Worker Rethought

August 29, 2008

Perhaps I was too harsh before. Here is another way to think about it.

My ancestors moved earth and planted crops so I could have the luxury of moving electrons and exciting neurons in the hope of shaping minds that will one day move countries and set a new course for this world.

I love my job.

Knowledge Worker

August 28, 2008

My name is Jareau Wade, and I am a knowledge worker.

I am one of 38 million Americans whom, Carnegie Mellon professor, Richard Florida claims is a member of the Creative Class. You might also know me as a white-collar worker.

My job consists mainly of sitting, thinking, and communicating – things many people do for leisure – yet, as a knowledge worker, I am considered a vital part of the economy and can command a good salary and high quality of life in exchange for my ability to excite neurons and move electrons. Indeed life as a knowledge worker is good.

But it saddens me that my position as a knowledge worker also brings a level of status and ideas of success that many of my hard working ancestors were denied because they were considered only working class and it embarrasses me that I spend a day in front of the computer, sitting on my ass, and then leave work complaining about how exhausted I am.

I do not mean to belittle my work or the work of knowledge workers in general. I DO work hard and I DO think my work has a positive effect on the lives of other people, but sometimes I think about where I come from and I am humbled by the amount of hard work (physically, mentally, & emotionally) my ancestors had to work just to survive.

I come from a long line of men and women who wore blue collars, no collars, and sometimes chains around their necks. I am a decedent of African-American slaves, who picked cotton and tobacco in the Alabama and South Carolina sun. I am a decedent of Scottish coal miners who suffered black lung and rarely saw the light of day. One of my grandfathers worked for GM, making industrial tools and sucking in fumes for decades. My other grandfather worked for a railroad company in Pennsylvania and built his family’s home by hand. My father worked 5 jobs at one time after starting a family in Arizona and before that once worked construction in the biting cold of Boston. My mother ruined her bones and joints by sewing industrial scale and commercial quantity handbags for years. I am a decedent of men and women who made things with their hands and developed the world we know today.

I cannot help but feel humbled and even a bit ashamed by my kind of hard work. Even today, living in Accra, Ghana, I see men and women everyday who use their body to do hard physical labor for little pay. They endure equatorial heat and tropical humidity so they can live hand to mouth and I sit behind a laptop in an air conditioned room and earn a comfortable salary (at least I can use company time to write about my guilt).

I hope my ancestors are proud of me.

Back in Ghana

August 14, 2008

When I first arrived in Ghana, on January 14th, 2008, I had no idea what to expect from my new life. I was nervous, sad to leave my friends and family behind, eager to impress my new employer, and anxious to find out what my life in Accra would be like, but mostly memorably, I was scared out of my mind.

But returning to Accra just several days ago, on August 4th, 2008, I feel I have experienced so much in the past 7 month, such that my fear is almost entirely gone. Mostly, this is due to the fact that I now know what to expect from Accra and my job. My imagination is not able to run away with wild conjectures as it did in January because I now know what lies beyond the reception area of Kotoko Airport. I know where my bed is, I know what kind of work I will be doing, and I know who I will be working with.

It is interesting for me to compare Jareau circa January 2008 to Jareau circa August 2008. I am not entirely sure what all the differences and distinctions are yet, but I am quite certain these two versions of myself are markedly different in terms of maturity, adaptability, patience, and understanding of what is important in life. I am very excited to discover how I have grown, but I feel it is a process I cannot force.

Level 5 Leadership & Barack Obama

July 31, 2008

Level 5 Leaders, according to Jim Collins in his 2001 bestselling book, Good to Great, possess “a paradoxical mix of intense determination and profound humility.” Collins proposes that the most effective leaders of modern business have been extremely humble, self-sacrificing executives who are more interested in the long-term benefit of the team and the company than in personal ego and financial gain. Collins goes on to state that although his findings come from empirical evidence collected from the business realm, his recommendations are also good for other sectors, even politics. While discussing Level 5 leadership with my students last Spring, I proposed a minor qualification to Colling’ theory: Perhaps a really great Level 5 leader (a Level 6 leader?) is so self-sacrificing that he is willing to put himself in the spotlight, to attract fame and popularity, and to even be criticized for not possessing the characteristics of Level 5 leadership for the sake of his company, his community, or his country if that is what is needed.

Barack Obama has recently been criticized by John McCain’s camp (see McCain’s ad here) for being an arrogant celebrity, an ego maniacal personality whom is more interested in his own fame than in confronting the many challenges America is sure to face in the near future. I agree with Steve Schmidt, McCain’s campaign manager when he says, “I would say that it is beyond dispute that [Barack Obama] has become the biggest celebrity in the world,” but I don’t think that is such a bad thing. I think at this critical point in American history we need a leader who inspires us and calls on us to help move the country in a positive direction. We need a leader who is willing to assume whatever role is necessary to bring out the best in us, even if that role is as a seemingly self centred celebrity.

I, of course, have concerns about Obama’s lack of experience and his tendency to revel in his fame, but I think his ability to inspire Americans is important at this time and is something we need right now to shift our momentum as a country. It is much to early to tell if Obama is a Level 6 leader, but I certainly hope so.

Tourist vs. Visitor

July 30, 2008

I have been discussing, with my aunt, the differences between being a tourist and being a visitor. I have enjoyed being a visitor much more than being a tourist.

As a visitor, I have reconnected with old friends, engaged in deep conversations with family members, and met new, interesting friends who were introduced to me by the person I was staying with. As a tourist, I have asked random people on the street to take a picture of me with a landmak in the background, but have otherwise kept to myself.

As a visitor, I saved money on lodging by sleeping on my friend’s couch and cooking in her kitchen. As a tourist, I spent money paying for a hostel and eating out every night.

As a visitor, I knew exactly what cafe to go to for the best service and best coffee in Vienna. As a tourist, I was forced to pick an over-priced, under-quality restaurant at random because it was near by.

As a visitor, I have had free and unlimited access to internet to stay in touch with friends and keep up with my blog. As a toursit, I have had to pay for internet access in an overpriced, overly hip cafe.

I have been lucky enough to stay with friends or friends of friends in all but one of the cities I have visited and I am thankful for that. In the future I hope to be a perpetual visitor and infrequent tourist.

Point & Shoot

July 30, 2008

Traveling through Europe has given me plenty of opportunities to take photos and improve my photography skills in general. While, in the past month I don’t think I have become a much better photographer, taking pictures has taught me a few things:

  1. Sometimes it is better to not take pictures at all. During my trip I would often feel frustration at my inability to capture the full essence of a place or event with my mediocre point and shoot digital camera. Of course getting a more expensive camera would help me capture the scene better. Learning more about photography would also help me take better pictures. But, regardless of equipment or expertise nothing can recreate the experience of being there. Sometimes it is better to stop taking pictures, breath in the air, closely examine the details of what you are looking at, and experience the place you are at like a human being, rather than a digital eye.
  2. Don’t rush. Sometimes it is very nice to take pictures and I try to do so whenever I think it will enhance, or at least not limit, my enjoyment of a place. But when taking a picture, don’t rush. I have seen people in Paris racing around the Eiffel Tower getting as many shots as possible. My opinion is that it is better to take quality pictures than a bunch of craptastic ones, and if the picture doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, have the patience to check your settings, your lighting, your angle and try it again.
  3. Take lots of (quality) pictures and throw the bad ones away. Thanks to digital technology the marginal cost of taking, storing, and retrieving a picture is close to zero. This is a good and a bad thing. Good because it allows people to take many pictures in the pursuit of a great shot. Bad because most people don’t throw the bad pictures away. Chances are you won’t come back and look at those pictures very often over the course of your life, but when you do wouldn’t it be nice to see good quality pictures?
  4. Don’t be embarassed. I don’t know if other people feel this way, but sometimes when I am taking pictures I feel very embarassed, which leads me to rush through the picture-taking process or sometimes not take a potentially great picture at all. This embarrassment comes from several things: a)being associated with a subject (person, place, or thing) that seems stupid, silly, or inappropriate; b) identifying myself as a tourist; c) crouching in heavy pedestrian traffic. This has been a silly inhibition of mine and I a working to get over it. If I am interested in taking a picture of something or in directing a subject to do something stupid or to crouch in the middle of foot-traffic to get a nice angle I should be proud of the creativity, attention, and thought I am giving to my pictures. I shouldn’t be embarassed that I want to take a picture of something.

Although these are things I have learned from taking pictures, I think they make nice lessons for my life as well.


London with Anneka

July 26, 2008

I have been slacking on this blog, but for good reason…I am lazy. Here’s the latest update:

  • My friend Anneka has been kind enough to let me crash on her couch for a few days. Anneka is a Londoner, born and raised, and attended the University of Sussex. In 2004 she studied abroad at Penn where I met her and we have kept in touch ever since.
  • I have had my fill of huge cities for the moment so I am trying to take it easy while in the UK. I spent my first day in London in my towel, watching movies and doing laundry.
  • London is busy and crowded, but has a charm, which I am hoping to explore more today.
  • My friend James (born in Ghana, raised in the UK) took me to a movie screening the other day, Meltwater has an office in London, which I was able to visit so I have been finding plenty of ppl to hang out with and plenty of things to do

I am going to stay with my Auntie tomorrow in the British countryside.

Paris at Sunset

July 21, 2008
Start: 9:13pm | Paris Sunset | End: 10:21pm
Sunday, July 20th 2008 | Fron: Tour Montparnasse | Height: 210m

Looking west: