October 07, 2011
Great Women at WITI: Isn't it Better to Have a Life of Oh Wells Than What Ifs?
Clearly I don't get to New York often enough, by now I would have met writer and products guru Maya Baratz, who is currently working on new products at The Wall Street Journal.
She started out by asking the nearly all women audience at WITI (Women in Technology International): How many of you are still waiting for your mentor? How many of you spend your time trying to prove someone wrong?
Mentors were a common thread throughout her talk. It's not that she doesn't believe in having them, but if you can’t find a mentor, don't wait around to get ahead.
"Waiting for a mentor is like waiting to follow someone else’s lead," she says. "Follow your own."
On innovation, she says, "innovation is about being unreasonable and along the way you sprinke it with reasonable."
She encouraged the women in the room not to be reasonable. "You don’t need to succeed," she says. We can fail. Women are shy of taking big risks and want to ensure they can succeed before moving forward.
Hear hear Maya. And to add to that, not only are women more afraid to fail, but they're more likely to hold back when they've accomplished something great. Many entrepreneurs will tell you to fail fast, early and often.
Failure is nothing more than feedback. And, when you do succeed, she encouraged, "don't just move yourselves forward, but move your female colleagues forward with you."
AND, taking risks was emphasized and re-emphasized. In other words, isn't it better to have a life of oh wells than what ifs? True innovation is about taking a leap of faith and that almost always means taking risks which can lead to failure.
"When you do fail," she adds, "speed up your recovery process. You shouldn’t spend your time reacting to failure. If you get stuck on the anger side, you’ll probably be stuck there for awhile. Leading a proactive life is dusting yourself off, getting up and trying again."
Women-led start-ups fail less than men yet women make up less than 10% of venture-backed startups.
The bottom line is that we don’t toot our own horn which makes us feel a lot more boxed in. We also don’t have role models to look up to....at least not enough of them.
It’s important for every one of us to tell our own story and get it out there, embrace what we've accomplished rather than be afraid of it.
She spoke of actionable things we can do now to further our lives. I can't agree enough that this is what it takes to grow. There's nothing truer than this (and having the our belief systems) to get ahead. We can have dreams and goals but if we don't get them down on paper and take steps to get there, it won't happen. When we have a little "win", it's human nature to own that win and use it as ammunition to move forward. It works for me.
I call them baby steps. Rather than think of the magnitude of the project OR all the potential obscacles that could get in the way OR the skillsets you don't have, just act. Baby steps are important because baby steps = action and action leads to results.
It's a bit like serendipity versus having a strategy, where serendipity is reactive and strategy is being proactive, infused with passion of course. Ask yourself what action can you take to make things happen?
Says a woman in the audience, "look at the way men talk about entrepreneurship – it’s okay for a man to take crazy risks and put themselves out there." Another truism.
Yet, how many times have we all thrown an idea into the wind and received negative feedback? So have hundreds of other entrepreneurs. Success stories today had dozens and in some cases hundreds of no's before they got to yes.
If it doesn't have immediate positive feedback, it doesn’t mean that its not a good idea. It may just mean that it’s new and it hasn’t been tried yet.
It's also okay for men to get tons of exposure and not just be okay with it but embrace it. I'm working on a photo book and have been turned down by a few women. Two very prominent women in the industry declined because they said they were "overexposed." I was in a bit of disbelief when I heard the response - twice. Overexposed? Really? Would a man decline an opportunity and say I'm overexposed?
Are you kidding I quietly thought when I heard the response. Deep inside, my reaction wasn't quiet - it was miffed, saddened, disillusioned and frustrated. I also couldn't help but feel that important female voices and insights wouldn't be part of an important project. Moreso, as a woman who's struggling to get support and access to great people to make the project succeed, I thought, "am I going to rely mostly on my male industry buds to help move this book forward in places I can't?" Again. (I had to say it, but yes, again).
We need to support and embrace women's journeys around us and there's no better way to do that than to be aware of their journey, where and how they're struggling and step in to help, even if its in a very small way. Baby steps. They matter.
It's also important that in the entrepreneurial process that we don't self judge ourselves but even moreso for women.
Obviously it's not the first time I've attended women events and conferences. I have been a regular at BlogHer since the very beginning, have been a member and attendee of various women organizations, attended an all girl's school and was active in 4H as a child which, while it wasn't for women only, there were predominantly girls in my club and the same applied to other clubs in my immediate area.
Yet attending WITI, a three-day event full of inspirational women in technology who are embracing challenges and hearing great talks like Maya's and others, is a reminder that while it's not easy out there and we may even recall some of the common mistakes we have made as we hear other stories, its freeing to talk about it and in the process, get feedback. Feedback can lead to action.
Not once in that session did the word confidence come up, not that I remember at least, although it certainly came up elsewhere and throughout the three days. Women don't have enough of it. Period.
I notice lack of confidence more than anything else and not just in business situations but in our personal lives as well. We need to remind women around us that they shine and tell them often.
When I got home from WITI, it was ironic that I ended up watching two episodes of Mad Men, two I had seen before. Yet somehow, watching it immediately after attending WITI made me view it with new eyes. If you're a woman, you can't ignore how women were treated at home and in the office on Madison Avenue in the 50s (and elsewhere in the world). Yet, the writing is so brilliant and authentic, and the program so great, the art wins. The storytelling wins. It was our history. America's history. AND, at least for me, I saw all of it in my grandmother's kitchen, my aunt's house, my school.
Here's one scene from the episode re-watch: Betty's friend comes over to borrow a dress for an occasion and then flops down on the bed as she says, "it doesn't matter, I'm invisible." Women were invisible in the Mad Men era and in some cultures around the world, they're less than invisible today.
Sure, we've made great strides, but we still need to step up, embrace our experiences, share our stories, toot our own horns and take more chances.
While I didn't do individual write-ups on all the speakers and panels, other women who particularly inspired and moved me include IBM's Sandy Carter, Xerox Corporation's CTO and President Sophie Vandebroek, Coca-Cola's CIO Miriam McLemore, professor Diane Pozefsky, AT&T's Alicia Abella and of course WITI founder Carolyn Leighton. (left)
On that note, I'll end with a few reflective, incredulous and humorous quotes to ponder not necessarily in that order: (what do you subscribe to? Feel free to share your own in comments).
"Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work" - Barbra Streisand in 1993
"Every woman should have four pets in her life. A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage, a tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything." - Paris Hilton
"The happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history." - George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
"The strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women ... merely adored." -- Oscar Wilde, The Ideal Husband
"Modern women are just adored. There's nothing but media telling us we're all supposed to be great cooks, have great style, be great in bed, be the best mothers, speak seven languages, and be able to understand derivatives. And we don't really have women we're modeling after, so we're all looking for how to do this.." -- Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010
October 06, 2011
Steve Jobs Tribute for Misfits: To Your Vision, Your Fire, Your Creativity & Those You Moved to Genius...
Most of the headlines I've read about Steve Jobs' death -- October 5, 2011 -- shout the obvious factoid: Apple's Steve Jobs DIES or Steve Jobs is DEAD. Why not something more honorary like: Steve Jobs Dead Today: The World Has Lost a Technology & Design Visionary, or at least something a little more dignified?
They also say that Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being, however I'd extend the former to the world, not just Apple.
You see, Steve Jobs has the kind of effect that Princess Di had on the world. Yes, really. He "touched" people. He "inspired" people. He moved people to stretch beyond their own limits and beliefs and build something more. Be something more. Care about design in their own creations in a way that would transform people. Care about what they shipped and why. Understand that they had to ship and that delivering what customers want and count on you for, matter more than your ego.
Technology for technology's sake is merely an enabler alone. Useful, sure, but Steve created technology that has been a life changing experience for all of us. Apple's technology is transparent, the way it should be and we are transformed when we use it...the way it should be. Crikey, I'm not even a Mac user. I was, once, a long time ago. Early on in my career in the early nineties, my marketing agency was on Macs and it's the only world I ever knew following my early but limited word processing experience at university in London. (the days of Wordstar, Multimate and WordPerfect).
I moved to the PC world when I started representing enterprise technology clients and thereafter start-ups that had limited budgets so didn't all support Macs out-of-the-gate. My mainstay is a Thinkpad and have 2 other laptops and a netbook.
As a creative myself, its astonishing that I've held out as long as I have. I have a iPhone and an iPad and am a heavy user of Adobe products, all of which would work more seamlessly on a Mac. And yet, the start-up industry has kept me tethered to a PC not to mention Apple's hefty costs and the fact that I have more contacts in the PC world than I do in the Apple one.
That aside, I honor and bow down to Steve Jobs for his brilliance, his creativity, his genius and his commitment to making technology "beautiful." First of all, I'm a woman who lives in Silicon Valley who actually loves design and fashion, a rarity in the technology industry. (above, Steve in 1977 at the beginning of his career)
This is a world who lives in logoed t-shirts, jeans and sneakers and not even hip ones. Living in Europe gave me an appreciation for design and once you have it, there's no turning back. Even the way the French package up one individual chocolate is insanely decadent enough to give a woman who honors and "gets" great design, an orgasm. Yes, really.
It's not something we relish in the states, and yet Steve Jobs says, we MUST. And, he did. Again and again, he did. From the Time Magazine article in their tribute: "Jobs' confidence in the wisdom of his own instincts came to be immense, as did the hype he created at Apple product launches. That might have been unbearable if it weren't for the fact that his intuition was nearly flawless and the products often lived up to his lofty claims." Hear hear.
Who can't acknowledge that consistency of design genius even if you didn't like the guy or believe in the Apple way of life?
Picasso wasn't liked by everyone and frankly if he were alive and I had coffee with him or something more at the time of his most creative days, its likely from what I've read I wouldn't have liked the man (as a woman), and yet....he's one of my favorite artists of all time. I look at his work and can be brought to tears from his genius. Steve has that gift and he has always delivered.
If you're wondering whether I'm equating Picasso's artistic genius to Steve's creative & innovative technology genius, I most definitely am. He deserves this honor. There are few who would deny it. And frankly, genius comes with a little baggage.
The baggage is there with all its bells and whistles with some of the greats I've had the pleasure to work with and for a lot of visionaries the world has ever seen -- authors, scientists, actors, creators, inventors. The list goes on.
As my grandfather who also wasn't an easy man to work for, used to say in so many words, "as long as you're "real" and honorable along the way and don't drag people down or run people over on the way, nearly everything is game. Go get it kid. This is America."
The world has lost a creative genius who inspired people who create for creation's sake, dream about things bigger than themselves, think about making the world a better place and don't, think about making the world a better place and do, and simply love and use Apple products.
My teary-eyed emotion tonight as I write this is centered around this: the man lived his dream every day until the day he died and he lived with conviction. (remember he only stepped down from Apple a couple of months before his death and rest assured they knew the end was near long before August). Since I coach companies on their marketing and social media strategies, things often come across my desk I know won't fly short or long term. They don't have "legs."
When I look at opportunities that come my way, I don't just look at the products, I look at team and most importantly, I look at the man or woman at the helm. I ask myself: is he/she aligned with their vision? Most aren't. Steve is and has always been my one pure example of a man who (like him or not) is aligned with his vision.
Great products aside, his alignment has been an instrumental part of Apple's success. Alignment is the of holy grail leadership in my humble opinion. It's what moves markets and moves mountains.
He loved what he created and wanted people's experience with technology to be transformed in ways no one else has touched. He was a visionary but only because he transformed experiences for people across three different industries: computers, film and music.
If entrepreneurs could understand the concept behind genius + passion + simplicity = transformation and nothing else, they might build products differently, investors might spend money differently and other products that we struggle with today might be transforming our lives the way Apple products do.
Two personal shares: I first met Steve when I was communications head at Dragon Systems, which was later acquired by Lernout & Hauspie and thereafter Nuance. Think speech recognition for those who don't know their history or their story.
I was backstage with my CEO Janet Baker at an Apple Developer's Conference somewhere on this fine pacific coast, Steve and his "corp comm handler" at the time, whose name I still don't remember. Why?
I was mesmerized by Steve's presence, his energy, his electricity and how focused he was about what he was planning to achieve on stage a half an hour later. We were a partner of some sort as much as you could be and stand alongside Steve on stage in front of Apple worshippers and believers.
Janet was in a flowing skirt as I remember it and Steve in jeans and a black crew neck and from a branding perspective, I was thinking 4 things simultaneously: how are we going to look and be perceived next to Jobs and Apple energy knowing there's ten rows of media in the front of the stage? how's my female CEO going to be perceived next to Jobs and Apple energy knowing there's ten rows of media in the front of the stage? what will being here mean for us as a player in the industry if we pull this off well with Steve's support and kudos on stage? AND fourth, He's Kinda Hot.
Memory number two was meeting him at a D Conference. Not that long in existence, Walt and Kara managed to get both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to participate in a fireside-like chat on more than one occasion and it was a special unique moment in our (the technology) industry to have them together, on stage, in an interactive dialogue under one roof.
I met him randomly in "group moments" between the late nineties and 2010, but they weren't solo moments like the previous two. (btw, speaking of D memories, they have honored his memory by making all videos of his interviews live here in their entirety). Thereafter, I shot Steve. Yes photography for those who don't know it's a major passion of mine.
One of the things I've learned as a photographer, whether you're shooting one-on-one in a studio, with nature as a backdrop, or in some obscure creative setting, it's an intimate moment and you see things AND learn things about your subject through new eyes.
Steve is fun to shoot and the memories still linger. I can only imagine what long-time AP photographer Paul Sakuma must be feeling right now given how many times he has followed him from behind his lens for over a decade.
Below is one of my favorite shots I took of him: (and below "it" is a visual look at his life from the 1970s to the 1990s, links to other news and feature sources, links to obituaries, links to videos, actual videos and a long list of tweets from the first few hours of his death).
Below, very early days:
More early days: Sal Veder (1984) with Steve Wozniak and John Sculley.
Taken by Richard Drew/AP. 1998 and below Ted Thai's shot for Time Life
Two images below: Louie Psihoyos: Corbis
Brand Ward: SF Chronicle/Corbis
Check out my D Conference write-up of Steve's interview including photos.
I'll end my personal tribute and comments with a boat-load of comments and shares from editorial sources I respect.
Below these summaries include additional photos, videos of his life, special Apple moments and a Twitter thread of tributes to Steve from many contacts in my own tweetosphere (inc my own), most of which flew out of people's PCs and phones within a few hours of news of his death.
Reactions, Responses and Insights...(photo from Gizmodo)
Says Time Magazine: With astonishing regularity, Jobs did something that few people accomplish even once: he reinvented entire industries. He did it with ones that were new, like PCs, and he did it with ones that were old, such as music. He was the most celebrated, successful business executive of his generation, yet he flouted many basic tenets of business wisdom. See the rest of the article on tribute to his death here. See Time's Top Apple Moments.
Says VentureBeat's Dylan Tweney: "He was often quoted as saying “we’re here to put a dent in the universe.” He did exactly that. From his earliest computers, co-developed with Steve Wozniak, to the smartphones and tablets that his company developed, Jobs showed a singleminded dedication to building products that were easier to use, better-looking and more intuitively useful than what had gone before. He liked to say that Apple’s products were “magical,” and if that’s the case, he was the marketing and technology magician behind the curtain. And if they weren’t exactly magic, Apple’s products were certainly a sufficiently advanced technology."
Huffington Post aggregated comments in a working story, Marketwatch merely reposted Apple's official statement which is below and Mashable more or less did the same. BoingBoing's tribute can be found here.
John Markoff from the New York Times article can be found here. Markoff quotes a Twitter user named Matt Galligan who wrote: “R.I.P. Steve Jobs. You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.” Hear hear. ZDNET's take: Steve Job's Big Lesson - Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
From ZDNET writer Larry Dignan: "Innovative. Quirky. Stubborn as hell. Controlling. Great leader. An artist eye for design with an engineer’s brain. Amazing legacy. “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” I’d argue that Jobs is my generation’s Walt Disney.
He entertained. He delighted. And he built something enduring. Jobs was a disruptive force. Given the Disney comparison, it’s a bit ironic that Jobs wound up being Disney’s largest shareholder via the Pixar acquisition. More importantly, Jobs loved what he did. And pursued that love with a passion." The Atlantic Wire, Fast Company's tribute, the New Yorker from August 24, 2011, and Salon's article on The Insanely Great Comeback Kid where Andrew Leonard writes about Steve Jobs's resilience, "His comeback saga is a story of redemption, a fantasy epic in which a great king is toppled, but through force of will and grit and brilliance fights his way all the way back to the throne, and inaugurates an even greater empire."
They say: "Jobs was the first crossover technology star, turning Silicon Valley renown into Main Street recognition and paving the way for the rise of the nerds, such as Yahoo founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, and Google founders Larry Page and Sergay Brin. And by changing the way people interacted with technology, Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates transformed their era in much the same way Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller revolutionized theirs with the mass-produced automobile and the creation of Standard Oil." Gizmodo aggregates "shares" of others.
The Wall Street Journal had a very "newsy" headline that didn't capture anything about what we (a grand big we) feel about his loss. (it is the WSJ with an audience who doesn't sign up for emotion and so I get that - thank god for individual voices at times like this however.
While the traditional news sources did a great job at capturing his "kudos", they were very factual accounts of his life and while comprehensive, I was longing for some texture and color. Walt Mossberg did a great job at both. From All Things D's Wall Mossberg: The Steve Jobs I Knew, Walt is the only one who captured "human moments" about Steve from a major news source - thank YOU Walt for stepping up and capturing emotion in a tribute to a man who lived and breathed emotion.
In Walt's words: "That Steve Jobs was a genius, a giant influence on multiple industries and billions of lives, has been written many times since he retired as Apple’s CEO in August. He was a historical figure on the scale of a Thomas Edison or Henry Ford and set the mold for many other corporate leaders in many other industries."
Walt then goes on to write about a walk he took with him while Steve was in ill health. "He explained that he walked each day, and that each day he set a farther goal for himself, and that, today, the neighborhood park was his goal. As we were walking and talking, he suddenly stopped, not looking well.
I begged him to return to the house, noting that I didn’t know CPR and could visualize the headline: 'Helpless reporter Lets Steve Jobs Die on the Sidewalk.' But he laughed, and refused, and, after a pause, kept heading for the park. We sat on a bench there, talking about life, our families, and our respective illnesses (I had had a heart attack some years earlier.) He lectured me about staying healthy. And then we walked back. Steve Jobs didn’t die that day, to my everlasting relief. But now he really is gone, much too young, and it is the world’s loss."
ABC News says, "Industry watchers called him a master innovator -- perhaps on a par with Thomas Edison -- changing the worlds of computing, recorded music and communications. The Wire Cutter has a personal take on Steve Jobs. President Obama on the Passing of Steve Jobs: “He changed the way each of us sees the world.”
From Google's Sergey Brin: "From the earliest days of Google, whenever Larry and I sought inspiration for vision and leadership, we needed to look no farther than Cupertino. Steve, your passion for excellence is felt by anyone who has ever touched an Apple product (including the macbook I am writing this on right now). And I have witnessed it in person the few times we have met. On behalf of all of us at Google and more broadly in technology, you will be missed very much. My condolences to family, friends, and colleagues at Apple."
From Sir James Dyson: "He was dubbed a megalomaniac, but Steve Jobs often gambled on young, largely inexperienced talent to take Apple forward; Jony Ive and his team prove that such faith was spot on."
From CEO of Apple Tim Cook: "No words can adequately express our sadness at Steve's death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much."
Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg: "Tonight our City -- a city that has always had such respect and admiration for creative genius -- joins with people around the planet in remembering a great man and keeping Laurene and the rest of the Jobs family in our thoughts and prayers."
Meg Whitman, President & CEO of HP: "Steve Jobs was an iconic entrepreneur and businessman whose impact on technology was felt beyond Silicon Valley. He will be remembered for the innovation he brought to market and the inspiration he brought to the world."
Bob Eger, CEO of Disney: "Steve was such an 'original,' with a thoroughly creative, imaginative mind that defined an era. Despite all he accomplished, it feels like he was just getting started. With his passing the world has lost a rare original, Disney has lost a member of our family, and I have lost a great friend."
Jerry Yang: "Steve was my hero growing up. He not only gave me a lot of personal advice and encouragement, he showed all of us how innovation can change lives.I will miss him dearly, as will the world."
Mark Zuckerberg: "Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you."
Steve Ballmer: “I want to express my deepest condolences at the passing of Steve Jobs, one of the founders of our industry and a true visionary. My heart goes out to his family." Apple's Website Tribute: "Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve lost a dear friend and inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple." Apple's Official Statement yesterday on the day of his death: "We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today. Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve. His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts."
Other Informative Links:
- Apple's Iconic Products Since the Beginning
- Top Apple Moments
- Apple Media Advisory (note to employees about his death).
- Interesting story on FutureWell entitled Do Celebrities Get the Best Care suggesting Steve's high-cost aggressive treatment may have sped up the course of the disease - speculative only at this point.
- The Atlantic: This Chart Proves that Steve Jobs is the Best CEO of this Generation.
- LA Times: Steve Jobs dies; Apple's co-founder transformed computers and culture
- Financial Times: Steve Jobs: 1955-2011
- The Guardian: Entrepreneur, Inventor, Genius
- Wired: Steve Jobs, 1955-2011
- Bloomberg: Steve Jobs Dies
- Reuters: Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs Dead at 56
- Gizmodo's Recap of shares
- Washington Post Photo Gallery.
- Mashable Great Steve Jobs Quotes.
- Sydney: http://media.smh.com.au/technology/tech-talk/steve-jobs-a-lasting-impression-2673421.html
- SF Store: Oct 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP0z1HkIwgQ
- Australia - why we love Steve: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/steve-jobs--visionary-to-virtuoso-20111006-1lakp.html
- More Australia: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/steve-jobs-dead-apple-confirms-former-ceo-loses-cancer-fight-20111006-1lag8.html
- Wired: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/10/jobs/all/1
- Steve demos Macintosh - 1984: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0FtgZNOD44&feature=player_embedded
- Guardian Life Career Video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/video/2011/oct/06/steve-jobs-life-career-video
- 2005 Commencement Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA
Steve Jobs Shows Off Macintosh: 1984:
Below is a stream of tweets from my Twitter world worth sharing:
- Photo 1: Apple Website in Tribute on October 5, 2011
- Photo 2: Apple - 1977
- Photo 3: Associated Press: 1984
- Photo 4: Ben Margot, AP - 1991
- Photo 5: NeXT - 1988
- Photo 6: Ben Margot - Associated Press 2003
- Photo 7 - Renee Blodgett, Magic Sauce Photography
- Photo 8: Very early days: Robert Foothorap
- Photo 9: Sal Veder, Associated Press 1984
- Photo 10: Diane Walker, Time eLife Pictures/Getty
- Photo 11: Eric Risberg/AP: 1990
- Photo 12: Richard Drew/AP: 1998
- Photo 13: Ted Thai for Time/Time Life Pictures/Getty
- Photo 14: Louie Psihoyos - Corbis
- Photo 15: Louie Psihoyos - Corbis
- Photo 16: Brand Ward - San Francisco Chronicle - Corbis
- Photo 17: Douglas Kirkland - Corbis
- Photo 18: Lou Dematteis/Reuters - 2003
- Photo 19: Susan Ragan - AP - 2003
- Photo 20: Marcio Jose Sanchez - AP - 2004
- Photo 21: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2004
- Photo 22: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2004
- Photo 23: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2005
- Photo 24: LA Times: 2006
- Photo 25: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2007
- Photo 26: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2007
- Photo 27: Tony Avelar - AFR - Getty Images
- Photo 28: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2008
- Photo 29: Eric Risberg in 2008
- Photo 30: Kim White/Corbis
- Photo 31: Paul Sakuma/AP - 2010
- Photo 32: Paul Sakuma/AP - 2010
- Photo 33: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg - Getty Images
- Photo 34: Renee Blodgett - Magic Sauce Photography (taken at D Conference)
- Photo 35: Gizmodo site (images of people who have shared comments and condolences)
- Photo 36: Paul Sakuma/AP - 2011 (Apple Worldwide Developers Conference)
- Photo 37: Tim Gough Image
Lastly from Apple: "Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple Inc.
October 04, 2011
Idea Festival 2011 Recap: From Robots, Art & Science to Education, Politics & Innovation
The Idea Festival is an annual event held in Louisville Kentucky every year. Founded by Kris Kimel, his vision is centered around the following belief: "with innovative ideas we create the future."
I've been meaning to attend for several years and finally made my way down to Louisville this past September for three days of inspiration and electric energy across the areas of science, politics, healthcare, education, music, design, technology and the arts.
Unfortunately, most of us have little opportunity to get out of our daily worlds (and ways of thinking) to learn about, discuss and explore how to integrate diverse and important ideas and innovations. This event's goal is provide a unique “space” for the convergence of great ideas from leading thinkers across the nation and around the globe.
To give you an idea of the diversity of the event, imagine listening to an Army combat veteran Wes Moore talk about his book about a child with the same name who was convicted for felony murder (my write-up here) and Cesar Millan, the world's foremost canine rehabilitation specialist and then Aubrey de Grey about rejuvenation science and aging (my write-up here), and Maz Jobrani on what its like to be a Middle-Eastern American in the 21st century, all within one morning?
Or, hear physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow explore the extraordinary extent to which randomness, chance and probability influence and shape our work and everyday lives? And while your head is full, energetic violinist Lindsey Stirling comes out on stage and has you tapping your foot and smiling ear-to-ear. (write-up on Linsey here).
Inside the Ideas Festival, there were other sub-events, such as the Kentucky Film Educator's Summit, which was free and open to the public. Kentucky's foremost film educators gathered for a unique symposium to discuss the rise of cinema studies and filmmaking programs across academe, their evolutionary future and what it takes for such programs to take root, thrive and remain relevant.
And if science and film isn't your thing, how about a discussion about the science of kissing, which Sheril Kirshenbaum led on the first morning. Azure Antoinette read poetry, Ruby Lerner from Creative Capital brought in a number of genre-bending artists to show off their latest on stage (and at evening receptions), and leading geo-strategist and author Parag Khanna led a discussion around the rapidly shifting political, energy and economic landscape. (my write-up of his talk here).
Installation artist Shih Chieh Huang wowed attendees with his innovative creativity (my write up here).
Patrick Renvoise taught us how neuromarketing can be used to sell more effectively (write-up in depth can be found here), and the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata took us on a wild journey of jazz, funk, rock and soul and what The Sound of Music sounds like with a layer of a little of all of it on top of each of its classically renowned songs. (my write-up of the experience can be found here).
Aneesh Chopra even showed up from the White House to talk about Obama's latest agenda (my extensive write-up here) as did the local mayor Greg Fischer. We headed to the Churchill Downs for taste after taste from the top chefs in Louisville. (I wrote about it extensively here). My write up of Suketu Bhavsar's talk here.
Other more extensive write-ups include how Elizabeth Scharpf is transforming women's lives in Africa one banana leaf at a time, John Moore on the engaged patient and the future of medicine, Georgia Tech's Rosa Arriaga on the Power of Human Censors, and Cory Kidd with his dieting & weight-loss robot Autom. Gambling addict Tim Donaghy talked about the power of addiction and learning from his mistakes. (and how this can be applied to other aspects of our lives outside addictions).
During my Louisville journey, I discovered local artist and glass blower Stephen Rolfe Powell, whose work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While I was there, I also did a handful of food reviews, so be sure to check out the Kentucky and food/wine categories on We Blog the World for local restaurant and cafe write-ups.
Brown Hotel French chef Laurent Geroli brought a group of about ten bloggers/writers into his kitchen and prepared a 4 course meal in front of our eyes talking us through each dish (Kentucky bourbon was on the table too of course) - check out the food/wine categories as there's an extensive write-up of our experience including 3 videos (also on our YouTube channel). Below is a shot of all of us at the end of the meal. (they gave us very cool personalized chef jackets as well). My write-up of the Brown Hotel restaurant experience can be found here.
Also, my write-ups of Mayan Cafe and Harvest Restaurants can be found here. Below is the infamous pork entree at Mayan Cafe. (definitely order if you are going:)
Idea Festival Labs showcased a number of topics including the Cultural Landscape in and around Louisville (including Ohio River corridor and Yew Dell to name a few), Reimaging the University, Perfecting Our Entrepreneurial Imagination, and Changing the Way Louisville Eats (and the impact of the change on overall health, environment and economy).
ARZU founder Connie Duckworth also discussed her journey from Wall Street to the dirt roads of Afghanistan.
Below is a video clip of an interview I did with founder Kris Kimel on the last day. Listen to the inspiration behind Idea Festival in his words. As for me? I couldn't stop thinking, creating and being inspired for four days and the sheer volume of my blog posts is one indicator of the extent of that inspiration. Meet Idea Festival's founder:
September 29, 2011
Wes Moore: The Journey of a Generation & How to Transform Our Youth
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, promising business leader, most known for his book entitled The Other Wes Moore and spearheading the American strategic support plan for the Afghan Reconciliation Program that unites former insurgents with the new Afghan Government.
He is recognized as an authority on the rise and ramifications of radical Islamism in the Western Hemisphere. When he was a White House Fellow from 2006–2007, he served as a Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In other words, a man who is doing something big, bold and electric with his life and my list of accolades has barely touched the surface.
Wes is passionate about supporting U.S. veterans and examining the roles education, mentoring and public service play in the lives of American youth. This passion came from his own childhood, where he didn't believe he would have made it if it weren't for his mother believing in him and making sacrifices so he could be where he is today.
He had people around him willing to say that this kid isn’t perfect and that he was worth fighting for. He emphasized this message in a recent talk I heard him give at the Idea Festival: Kids need to know that they're worth fighting for and someone is there standing by them to prove it.
Wes shared his journey and what led to him writing the book: The Other Wes Moore. The history and how it plays out: two kids with the same name, living in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder, a story of two boys and the journey of a generation.
Here's how the story came to light:
In December 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local student who had just received a Rhodes Scholarship. The same paper also ran a series of articles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police officer in a spectacularly botched armed robbery. The police were still hunting for two of the suspects who had gone on the lam, a pair of brothers. One was named Wes Moore.
Wes just couldn’t shake off the unsettling coincidence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same newspaper. After following the story of the robbery, the manhunt, and the trial to its conclusion, he wrote a letter to the other Wes, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His letter tentatively asked the questions that had been haunting him: Who are you? How did this happen?
That letter led to a correspondence and relationship that has lasted for several years. Over dozens of letters and prison visits, Wes discovered that the other Wes had a life not unlike his own: Both had grown up in similar neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods, both were fatherless; they’d hung out on similar corners with similar crews, and both had run into trouble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decision, yet their choices and the people in their lives would lead them to astonishingly different destinies.
He was in Kentucky not only to inspired the Idea Festival attendees, but everyone he came into contact with. Moore references a moving memory he had while he was in the army. A sergeant left parting words with his crew, which was: when it’s time for you to leave this planet, make sure that it mattered that you were ever here. What did you do to make humanity better and how did you used your time.
Hear hear Moore's sergeant who is clearly no longer with us, but his words live on.
What matters in life he asked the crowd? "Education, parenting and service matters," he responded before anyone else. "BUT," he adds, "expectations matter even more. We're products not of our environments but of our expectations." If Tony Robbins and Wes Moore haven't met, they should since they're in the same camp of thinking and something I subscribe to whole heartedly as well. As Tony so often says, "change your expectations, change your life."
Wes Moore was an inspiration and his words not only resonate but sit me days later as I'm sure they will years later. All it takes for people to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Isn't that the truth?
This is also the truth: don’t let where I am ever fool you where I’ve been AND don’t let wherever I am now fool you about where I’m going.
I really love this. As long as our thoughts and our actions can be aligned with the above statement, there's no telling what we can achieve.
I often think back to my own childhood and who inspired me most. Sure, I had family members and teachers make a huge difference like we all did, but so often, I hear something someone told me I barely knew -- in a hallway, on a sidewalk, on a mountain, in an elevator, on a bus -- in so many random places, that have changed the way I think about the world and had an impact on my decision making along the way.
Believing in kids and taking the time to be present with who comes into your path along the way can change lives. As long as kids know someone is willing to fight for where they’re willing to go and stand by them in the process, they have a chance to thrive. It could be the difference between success or death.
Wes adds insight that my grandfather also shared with me growing up. "Take the 5 second pause on all decisions. Whenever we make flash quick decisions, that’s when we get into trouble." I'd modify that timeframe to 5 minute pause, but you get the idea. This obviously doesn't just apply to kids.
Ask yourself: what’s the best case scenario about what I’m about to do and what is the worst case scenario about what I’m about to do? Take the pause and understand that there are people fighting for you and making sacrificing for you and that can change the entire direction of where you’re going.
He said he probably wouldn’t have written the book if it wasn’t for the other Wes. "My story isn’t interesting unless you understand my story in context," he says in response to the question. On the surface, they can look at these two people’s lives and what they have in common except for a name.
A split decision can either close or open doors and many times we don’t even realize how thin that line can be. "That’s why," says Wes, "its important to add a bit of compassion to how we look at the world."
That brings up the question of how do we all think about second chances? There’s not one person in the world who hasn’t needed a second chance in our lives, is there? And, it's important to remember that there’s a very thin line between second chances and last chances.
September 28, 2011
Installation Artist Shih Chieh Huang Transforms You With Luminosity Exhibit
I met installation artist Shih Chieh Huang in Louisville on the steps of the Kentucky Performing Arts Center earlier this month, who transforms spaces with everyday objects. In this case, they were setting up an almost sheer white hollow tube that floated in and around the steps of the center.
His most recent project “EX-I-09″ currently on show at the Beall Center for Art + Technology focuses on exploring the unusual evolutionary adaptations undertaken by creatures that reside in inhospitable conditions.
Huang creates analogous ecosystems made from common, everyday objects. He says, "I source my wholly synthetic materials from the mundane objects that comprise our modern existence: household appliances, zip ties, water tubes, lights, computer parts, motorized toys and the like. The objects are dissected and disassembled as needed and reconstructed into experimental primitive organisms that reside on the fringes of evolutionary transformation: computer cooling fans are repurposed for locomotion. Tupperware serves as a skeletal framework; guitar tuner rewired to detect sound; and automatic night lights become a sensory input.”
If that's not using creativity in a transformative way, I don't know what is...no surprise that artwithoutwalls embraced his work, a non-profit, non-collecting art organization that presents ambitious, unconventional projects in a wide range of media and locations with the goal of bringing "new art" to "new audiences."
Thanks to an intro by artwithoutwalls Director Alice Gray Stites and a fabulous woman I've known for awhile, Ruby Lerner, President of Creative Capital, I not only learned about his work, but was fortunate to attend an opening of his latest at Land of Tomorrow Gallery in Louisville Kentucky. All of this was done in and around the annual Idea Festival, where Huang also presented on stage with other Creative Capital artists.
Co-organized by LOT and Artwithoutwalls, in collaboration with the University of Kentucky's Department of Art, Luminosity (name of the exhibit) features Huang's signature choreographed, kinetic works, as well as videos documenting his practice and sources, particularly his study of bioluminescent organisms.
The space is dark as you walk in, but his brightly lit objects filled with a brilliant spectrum of colors fade in and out in concert with the buzz of electronics. Imagine a purple and pink tinted ocean that you're swimming through with an array of objects buzzing about you (in this case, hanging from the ceiling), that change colors and make noises, all made from everyday objects found in convenience stores and controlled by electronic circuitry which Huang assembles.
His work hasn't gone unnoticed around the globe. Huang's work has exhibited at museums and galleries worldwide, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei; the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai; the University of California-San Diego Price Center; the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid and Burgos, Spain; and the New Museum and Queens Museum in New York.
Below is a video so you can get a better idea of the experience the artist wants you to have.
September 07, 2011
Nominations Open For Tech4Africa Innovation Award Till Sept 12
Tech4Africa is calling for entries to their inaugural Tech4Africa Innovation Award. Designed to recognize homegrown innovation and further inspire the industry to develop global solutions to uniquely African challenges, the award is open to both individuals and companies.
The process has been broken down to its bare bones in a bid to make applying as simple and cost-effective as possible. Individuals or companies need to send a single-page synopsis of their product or service, what the innovation is and the level of success or traction that it has attained.
The only qualifying criteria are that the innovation must have been in the market for at least one and a half years and have been created by Africans to solve uniquely African challenges. Participants are welcome to nominate themselves or suggest a deserving recipient.
Entries for the Tech4Africa Innovation Award close on September 12, 2011, following which a list of 10 finalists will be drawn up. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony to be held the night of October 26, 2011, as a curtain raiser for the two-day conference that starts the following day.
Some of the industry’s leading minds gathered for two days to participate in presentations by and discussions with international speakers on the state of web and emerging technology on the continent.
The 2011 edition of Tech4Africa will be hosted at The Forum in Bryanston, Johannesburg from October 27 to 28, 2011. Registration for the conference is open, with full details on the website.
* Photo by whiteafrican (Creative Commons)
Idea Festival: New Ideas Create the Future
We're planning to go to Idea Festival this year as a media partner which is exciting on multiple levels. The whole premise of the event is that "new ideas create the future."
Much of the mesmerizing innovation that we are witnessing in the 21st century emerges at and from the intersections of many disciplines – science, the arts, business, design, technology, education, medicine and more. The IdeaFestival provides the opportunity for people across all of these disciplines to group together in a unique “space” for the convergence of ideas.
Now in its eleventh year, the IdeaFestival will be held in Louisville Kentucky from September 21-24, 2011. The event is a unique non-linear event designed to stretch people's horizon's and promote breakthrough thinking... utilizing multiple venues to showcase, discuss and "connect" important ideas in science, the arts, design, business, film, technology, education, etc.
More from the ground, but to give you a taste of the line-up and speakers so far, take a look at their schedule.
September 7, 2011 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 06, 2011
Vanity Fair's New Establishment of Technology & Power Rockstars
October's Vanity Fair hits with a list of the new Establishment, their annual ranking of the top leaders of our time. The list is made up of owners, creators, buyers, thinkers, and innovators — the movers and shakers in the worlds of technology, media, business, politics, entertainment, and fashion.
Excerpt taken from a write-up over on the All Things D site, these men and women are the taste-makers and trendsetters, opinion formers and agenda creators, not to mention empire builders. Entry into the ranks of Vanity Fair’s list is based on a number of factors: wealth, influence, and philanthropy, as well as such intangibles as vision and the x factor. Drum roll please.
Below the list is the Hall of Fame list:
1. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
2. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google
3. Jeff Bezos, Amazon
4. Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive, Apple
5. Jack Dorsey, Square, Twitter
6. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz
7. Reed Hastings, Netflix
8. John Lasseter, Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios
9. Lady Gaga, singer
10. Dan Doctoroff, Bloomberg L.P.
11. Dick Costolo, Twitter
12. Mark Pincus, Zynga
13. Jim Breyer, Accel Partners
14. Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Graham King, Movies
15. Michael Moritz, Sequoia Capital
16. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter
17. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park
18. Reid Hoffman, Greylock Partners, LinkedIn
19. Herb Allen III, Allen & Co.
20. Judd Apatow, Apatow Productions
21. Jay-Z, Roc Nation
22. Todd Phillips, Green Hat Films
23. Yuri Milner, DST Global
24. J. J. Abrams, writer, director, producer
25. Robin Li, Baidu
26. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook
27. Andrew Mason, Groupon
28. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, television
29. Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson, Leverage
30. Angela Ahrendts and Christopher Bailey, Burberry
31. Elon Musk, Tesla Motors, Space X
32. Natalie Massenet, Net-a-Porter Group
33. Paul Graham, Y Combinator
34. Sean Parker, entrepreneur
35. Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures, Flatiron Partners
36. Peter Thiel, Founders Fund, Clarium Capital Management
37. Peter Jackson, Wingnut Films
38. Ryan Kavanaugh, Relativity Media
39. Mike Allen, Politico
40. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, All Things D
41. John Hennessy, Stanford University
42. Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp
43. Ashton Kutcher, actor, investor
44. Tyler Perry, director, producer, writer, actor
45. Dennis Crowley, Foursquare
46. Kevin Ryan, Gilt Groupe
47. Daniel Ek, Spotify
48. Henry Blodget, Business Insider
49. Mikael Hed, Niklas Hed, and Peter Vesterbacka, Rovio
50. Justin Timberlake, singer, actor
HALL OF FAME LIST
Edgar Bronfman Jr., Warner Music Group
Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway
Ron Conway, angel investor
Philippe Dauman, Viacom
Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, IAC, DVF
John Doerr, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Larry Ellison, Oracle Corporation
Tom Ford, designer/filmmaker
Ted Forstmann, IMG Worldwide
Tom Freston, Firefly3
Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, Imagine Entertainment
Tom Hanks, actor
Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation
Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures
Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel
Ralph Lauren, Polo Ralph Lauren
John Malone, Liberty Media
Ron Meyer, Universal Studios
Leslie Moonves, CBS
Ronald Perelman, MacAndrews and Forbes
Miuccia Prada, Prada
Charlie Rose, talk-show host
Eric Schmidt, Google
Terry Semel, investor
Oprah Winfrey, OWN
September 03, 2011
Eastern Europe Attitudes Shift as Tourism Leads & Corrupts the Way
Life was different and people were present more often than not, so lacking even in a 1980 and 1990-something America.
The wild west didn't have cell phones and we weren't glued to social networks, yet we still weren't as present and as engaged as Europeans were, at least that was my first experience of the place -- on the continent and the UK.
I've been back to Europe dozens of times since I moved back to the states, but more often than not, the goal was less about being committed to a life there and more about networking or sadly, even shopping. Or, a conference. Yawn.
In recent years, at meet-ups and conferences, everyone had their laptops open and cell phones handy so the "chat" was more to it than it was with each other. Yes, even in Europe, largely because the events were within a particular ecosystem, the one I live in inside the bowels of Silicon Valley -- technology.
I went on a walkabout to London (one of the places I lived btw) a few years back and decided to disengage from technology and re-engage with people and my trusty Canon 7D. One result aside from quality time with old South African and English friends in the burbs was a photo book entitled: Faces of London. I probably "shot" 10,000 photos during my time there across at least a dozen neighborhoods and had nothing short of a blast.
Even though I had "alone" time on my European "city" trips (Paris, Munich, Dublin, Rome, etc) in recent years, I didn't have the same kind of deja vu moments I had in Prague and Budapest over the past couple of weeks.
It started in Budapest where I met with a few start-ups and by chance, was lucky to be there for their annual "Independence Day" equivalent. I stayed along the river at a boutique 4 star hotel, one with a fabulous view of Parliament.
While I have done business with western and northern Europe, I haven't directly worked with Eastern Europe. In London, you can do a walkabout and get completely lost in the fabric of the city and no one will quite notice.
In Eastern Europe, even though physically I could blend in with the city's fabric, there are less tourists and the kind of tourists are likely different than what you'd find on the streets near Knightsbridge and the UK's own Parliament. The same applies to Paris.
What I forgot about the east was how structured things were despite the fact that in many ways, their bohemian past makes them rule-breakers rather than conformers. Like the rest of Europe, they seem to be obsessed with privacy so conversations about social media tend to get interesting.
AND, like southern Europe, things move at a snail's pace. If I send an email at 10 pm on a Friday night at home in California, chances are that email is answered by Saturday morning if I'm pinging someone in the states, east OR west coast. If you want to continue a discussion from a Friday meeting that went from 10 to 2 on a Friday, chances are you won't pick up that dialogue until Monday afternoon or Tuesday at the earliest. (not abnormal of course but in the land of technology start-ups, no response for 3 days feels like an eternity, at least to this overly connected baby).
I was hooked up with an iPhone on Tmobile which didn't work more than it did. That said, there were a number of free Internet cafes in both Budapest and Prague so if I really wanted to give the cities amiss, miss out on the history and culture and merely be connected, it wouldn't be too difficult to do so. Hotels still charge a fortune a day for connectivity and it's not always that fast.
Being connected and "staying" connected makes it pretty hard to truly be present with a destination's history, antiquity and human stories, all of which capture 700 year old castles, its walls and ceilings not to mention the nearby cathedral's altars and stained glass windows.
What was interesting about this trip was the polarity of things. On one hand, I was not as inspired to "shoot" as much as I normally am; somehow I anticipated I'd shoot 30,000 photos or more of romantic Prague, pegged the Paris of the east.
Yet, because of the commercialism I couldn't seem to escape from, I found it hard to be connected to my surroundings because in the foreground, there were countless groups of tourists with cameras and brightly colored sneakers and segway tours with loud-mouthed guides shouting at the dozen of so people in its wake.
Even in Paris, one of the most visited city in the world, I can still barter in a market, but in Budapest and Prague, they were less willing to barter and their prices were steep, i.e., $40 for a barrette sold by a street vendor, $70 for a plate of salad, pasta (no meat) and one glass of wine, $200 for pottery, and so on.
While entrepreneurism wasn't at the core of their attitudes, something had shifted and it was much worse in Prague than Budapest which is much less commercial.
In Prague, tour buses zipped in, leaving droves of people in groups who followed those in front of them like sheep not really listening to their tour guide who spent far too long telling the history of a brick statue than anyone should.
"Dribble, dribble, 14th century, dribble dribble," her voice echoed as about a quarter of the audience tried to follow along while others snapped shots of the statue they'll never remember the name of later. Then there were others who were merely starring off into the distance, still trying to recover from jetleg.
I ducked under and above the dribble and the wall of people who stood so close that it was hard for me to find my way to a free space. Alas, freedom. Blue sky. Clouds. Soft wind. Breeze. And then, more of them pile out, clinging to each other for safety and belonging, only later to be found at some Americanized or Anglicized pub where everyone speaks English and all the menus have prices listed in Euros as their primary currency.
In Prague, I found myself in angst by day four, ready to declare Prague the Eastern European Disneyland, a city who sadly sold its soul to the yanks, with its McDonalds and KFC scattered through its old town. Local artists have grown so accustomed to the tour buses and wealthy tourists that small photos were $30 and above on the Charles Bridge and a small regular coffee was about $4 a pop.
Grant you, I began to realize quite awhile ago now that the U.S. was on its way to being a third world country and its currency was going along with that title: Thank You George Bush. It was no more prominent in a place like Prague where prices felt more like Paris than East Europe, some of which was the result of the dollar being in the toilet. 20-something year olds even remarked how they remembered the dollar being at 40 when they were younger (5-8 years ago) and today it stands at about 15-16 to the Czech currency making most purchases a serious consideration more than an impulse buy.
Other aspects of disenchantment and disillusion had to do with the fact that Prague had become so commercialized that it was hard to break free from its Disney-like facade. The only way to avoid it was to jump on a metro or tram, choose a funky neighborhood ten or so stops out, get off and start walking. (away from town).
And, so I did. There was no other choice really. Not wanting to declare Prague a commercial write-off (it's beauty is far too magnificent and its musicians too awe-inspiring), I discovered side-streets and neighborhoods that locals told me.
I requested grit and grunge. I requested working class communities. I requested graffiti. I requested former bomb shelters. I requested local pubs and bars. I requested cafes with local prices and local service. I requested parks and steps, stairs and alleyways. I requested stone walls, weathered and torn. I requested places that didn't have places to serve me at all, but merely buildings, houses and terraces where people lived and life was exactly the same every day.
The discovery process began of course, but like every European city, you really need a few months (a year is better) to really get acquainted with its smell, culture, nuances and quirks. The more I meandered outside the inner walls, the longer I wanted to stay. The more I got stuck in old town and the tourist areas, which seem to spread for miles in Prague, the more I wanted to leave. (even Paris felt less saturated I thought).
I met 26 year old Marek, who told me his life story. I found him on a side street and intrigued by the fact that he was in old-fashioned overalls, I learned about his trips to various countries, all of which were escapes from commitment and a "real job," the primary reason he left Prague in the first place.
He would work for a month or so at high wages, so he'd have enough in his pocket for a few months of travel and then the cycle would repeat itself. (not uncommon for adventure-types in their early twenties, but I got the sense that Marek -- a high school drop-out -- would be doing this two decades from now.
He lived on "weed" and not much else. Connections with interesting people and diversity seemed to be important to him and after awhile (a long while), he admitted to the main thing missing in his life: a woman in his life, just one. Aren't we so much more alike than we are different, despite our demographics, despite our income levels, despite our goals?
Then there was the placid nature of my late twenty year massage therapist in Prague. She didn't seem to know the protocols of more formerly trained therapists yet she listened to what you needed and responded like a robot. I found it hard to find a male masseuse and wondered how much that had to do with protocols and culture than it did interests, norms and trends.
Everyone seemed to be afraid to break the rules, whether that was giving you a cup of tea 15 minutes after the breakfast dining room closed or sampling a taste of ice cream because there were 25 flavors to choose from. (on that front, the ice cream in both Budapest and Prague were so well presented, you thought for sure you must be in Italy not Eastern Europe -- and might I add, ten times more tasty than the U.S.)
My experience of Prague was about as close to my memory of it from the mid-eighties as Disneyland is from central Africa. Because of its intense overly processed structure, I had to move beyond my notion that Prague sold out to the yanks -- from its coffee to its tour buses to its castle tours and postcards to its outlandish prices.
The talent of the local musicians made most of this melt away, not to mention the incredible textures in the bridge walls and other antiquated buildings in the city. Then there was the outstanding art, conversations with local vendors and shop owners and overdoing it daily with chocolate, wine, duck, venison, lamb, foie gras and other such delicacies without feeling guilty for taking it all in.
Certainly a different experience than twenty years ago or even ten. The East has caught up with the west even if its governments have not. Go but go with more research and be sure to get out of the city centers into the neighborhoods and have conversations with people -- young and old -- and hear their stories. After all, isn't that what makes every trip memorable?
August 20, 2011
The Connecting Flight, The One Following the Mad Tearing Run…
The flight is delayed and you have to make that connection….or else.
It seems to happen to me more often these days and I’m not sure if that’s the result of airlines having less planes available resulting in fewer connecting flights or the fact that systems are just breaking down.
Certainly, most of the internal systems are antiquated or ridiculously absurd and don’t have a lot of logic.
For example, recently I was on an Air France flight to Paris and had to catch a connection to Budapest. I saw the connection time on the flight itinerary and in “theory” it seemed fine. After all, it was a connecting flight and for some odd reason despite how much I’ve traveled, I thought there’d be one of those “side lanes” where you could transfer to another flight within Europe. You know, arrive at gate C and just walk down a hallway to Gate D and board your plane. Logical right?
The flight was actually on time (ish) however it took awhile to settle at the gate delaying gate arrival by 15’ish minutes. Again, in theory, I didn’t think I’d have a problem making the connection. After all, I was arriving in Gate C and I was departing out of Gate D (Gate D2 that is) from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Sure, I knew it was massive but as I was scurrying out, the Air France agent assured me it was close, repeating the C and D twice, which certainly seemed logical to me as well.
I started with a brisk walk but not a sprinting one until I realized that D was nowhere close to C since the signs for it kept reappearing after every corner turn and after yet another walking escalator disappeared behind me, there was another one on the horizon with D2 off in the distance.
We’ve all done a short sprint but this one seemed to never end until I finally stopped to ask an Air France staffer who was lingering in a busy hallway with a clipboard pressed up against her. “Budapest D2” I gasped short of breath. “Pardon,” she replied. “BUDAPEST, DAY-EH DEUX” I said, gasping even more dying for my bottle of water which had fallen from my carry-on backpack by this point.
“Tout de doit and sortie,” she motioned. “Sortie,” I thought, NO, I don’t want Sortie, I have a connecting flight. When I heard Sortie and realized she wanted me to exit, I said to her exasperated, “I have a connecting flight, une connection a Budapest. Je ne reste pas ici a Paris.” She pointed straight ahead and repeated Sortie.
So what does a seasoned traveler do with 15 minutes to go, knowing that their flight “in theory” was supposedly already boarding. She sprints of course.
Now, I’m not a marathon runner and nor am I in the best shape of my life, but having grown up as an athlete, the muscle remains. In other words, it re-emerges when it needs to, in cases of emergency or when you know you’ve spent far too much time in front a PC monitor and your body is desperate for a little oxygen.
I was wearing out and not getting a minute of sleep on my 10 hour flight didn’t help matters. When I saw the long line through passport control, I panicked as my heart raced. “Fuck,” I thought, I really don’t want to miss this flight. It’s not that I mind getting stuck in Paris, but getting stuck at an airport waiting for a small plane heading east after a half day of travel across 4 time zones wasn’t my idea of fun. Besides, Hungary was waiting.
In fact, Hungary was calling in a loud voice, saying, “Renee, you’ve been to Paris hundreds of times, I’ve been waiting for your Gypsy spirit to come taste my wine, come eat my beef medallions and my goose pate.”
I firmly but politely grabbed another Air France rep explaining the urgency, flashing my ticket and pointing to my watch which I had just changed five minutes before the plane landed. She took pity on me and ushered me through an empty line, obviously waiting for loud, late, ill-mannered Americans like me. (after all, aren’t we all?)
Passport control man was in no hurry despite seeing me out of breath and sweating and I knew it didn’t help when I hurriedly said in my pathetic French, “Je ne reste pas ici, Je suis en retard pour mon vol de Budapest.”
Quietly I was cursing, thinking, what the hell are they giving me a stamp for when I’m going to be here for 15 minutes? I also knew that the number of pages and blocks which could be stamped was running out and I still had a few years left on this passport. Slowly and smugly, I got my stamp and flew like a bird running from a cat who hadn’t eaten in days.
Sortie was ahead of me but when I re-entered, I noticed that I was somehow standing in the middle of F. Where the hell did D go I thought? It looked like arrivals and I started to move from exasperated to pissed. What kind of connection was this I thought? 45 minutes to get through Immigration’s long line and find your way half way (no, all the way) across what should be one terminal (C to D)?
Here I could speak the language (enough anyway) and was sprinting like a failed marathon runner but one who had a reason to win, and yet boarding had already begun according to my ticket 20 minutes ago and I had not even gone through a NEW security gate.
Security found me amusing no doubt as I whipped off my belt with fury like I was ready to have quick and passionate sex with a 23 year old lover. My boots came flying off as did my jewelry and I was sweating up a storm, as if the sex was already over and it was the best I ever had.
My hair was tossled, my brow was wet, my light cover up was off which showed that I wasn’t wearing a bra.
FINALLY, a sexy polite French security agent who wasn’t 23 came to my rescue. He smiled as he assured me I would make my flight and that I was in D2. but still had to get to D70 WITHIN D2. But, he added, “it’s just around the corner. I’m trying to help.”
Carry me I thought, that’s how you can help. Show up in one of those airport mini-trucks that shuttle the handicapped and seniors and make the damn thing go faster than you think its capable of going. Whisk me away. Call them and tell them to hold the plane for 30 minutes and let’s do a driveby the Air France First Class Lounge for a Parisian cappuccino & some pate for the road and then drop me off in front of my plane.
I imagined him kissing my hand bidding me Au Revoir after he completely turned my nightmare mad dashing run across the entire Charles de Gaulle airport into a nice sweet travel memory.
Cursing under my breath but remaining focused like a good seasoned traveler always does, I made a hard “gauche” after exiting security where they confiscated my mini-bottle of Merlot from my last flight. I looked up and saw the number 58. Of course I was at 58 and of course, the Budapest flight would be 70, at the EEEENNNNNNDDD of the hall. And, so I sprinted.
Nothing about arriving in Paris felt like Paris but thankfully I had so many positive memories of Paris that it would be easy to give this one amiss.
Even if the plane didn’t screw around at the gate for 15-20 minutes, anyone would be hard pressed to make this connection with the long immigration line, the distance they had to travel, and the likelihood that they didn’t speak French if they got lost on the way…easy to do at Charles de Gaulle and easy to do if you’re not a seasoned travel.
Puffing (and huffing) and puffing, I flicked my passport and ticket at the woman standing behind the gate who was about as calm, collected and type Z as you can get.
It was 12:39 and the flight was supposed to take off (up in the air, take off) by 12:45 pm. Obviously the flight was late, so while I was catching my breathe, I asked how late it was. “It’s not late,” the woman behind her said.
Hmmm, I thought. No one was on the plane yet, I was informed they were still cleaning it, yet 6 minutes before take-off and they didn’t classify it as late. Welcome to Hungary I thought, although both agents were clearly French.
I did one of those circular paces that people do when they need to think for a minute. (clearly that is). I circled around 3 or 4 times and then made a slow-paced walk over to the coffee stand where I learned that a bottle of water with the horrific U.S. dollar exchange rate would cost me $8. Had I ever been to Europe when the U.S. dollar was weaker than the Canadian one? At a time, when there are plays, comedians and talk show hosts talking about China as the new super power and America as a third world country?
I didn’t want to think about the exchange rate or the likely $10 beers and $500 shoes that lay ahead which was unlikely to be the case in Hungary since they weren’t on the Euro and I figured I’d lay low and avoid purchases in Paris to and from until Obama fixed SOMETHING, anything, so I could return and buy those $500 shoes for $200 again.
I opted against the $8 water and flopped down on a bright pink “kitch” plastic couch that wrapped around a plant sitting in a bright pink "kitch" plastic pot. It only then occurred to me that I made my flight and as I was looking for napkins at a nearby café to wipe my sweaty body down, a 15 year old Italian girl came down and sat next to me, bumping into me twice when she did so, despite the fact that there was a ton of space on the other side of her.
As we boarded, I stripped down even more since the mad tearing sprint caught up with me and not only was I sweaty but I was baking.
As I got close to the entrance to the plane, I could see the Paris day through the open crack and feel the August sunshine and feel the warm breeze coming through, hitting my face, blowing my hair back just slightly. AHHH yes, Paris in the summer I thought.
There’s nothing like boarding a plane from a place where the weather is fabulous knowing that you’re going to a place you really want to see and knowing that the weather is fabulous there too. The last time I had been to Budapest was in the mid-eighties. Yes, really.
I flopped in my seat, which had no one next to me and the seats were slightly wider than normal with an actual place to sit two drinks to my left. Recline worked. I was in the front. The Hungarian flight attendant handed me a bottle water when she saw the way I looked and I settled in for my 2+ hour flight on Malev, an airline I had never flown before.
Budapest, I reflected as my heart rate started to finally slow down. Gypsies, artists, dreamers, foodies, lovers of wine, musicians, old souls and historians. I remembered an “old world” dining experience I had with an ex-boyfriend so many years ago, where the violin players circled around us and I thought of how young I was. A kid really. What did I know of violin players and good red wine? Or duck, liver, pork, mousse, goulash and cured ham?
And then I smiled when I remembered I was coming to meet technologists not gypsies. From Silicon Valley to Hungary because there’s a wealth of incredible engineers in Budapest I was told and knew I would soon discover. As for my host?
Look for the bald man he had said. I thought, “would there really only be one bald Hungarian at the airport?” “Some say I’m as wide as I am tall,” he had added. A little more data I thought, certainly more than Air France provided me about my connecting flight.
I drifted off curled in an arch, my last visual memory of blue sky and powdery white clouds through my window, knowing that Germany was below us by that point. Hungary is waiting for me I thought as I drifted off into my thirty minute nap. Hungary is waiting for me.
August 20, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On France, On Geo-Location, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, South America, Travel, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack