Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

You can contact us at werkingwells (at) gmail . com

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Geekier and geekier

It's Andy again. I just figured out how to enable people to subscribe to our mailing list, so that they'll receive a copy of each message we post on this blog. All you have to do is enter your email address in the box in the left column and hit the "Subscribe" button. You should get an automatic confirmation email from us at our gmail address, along with information on how to change your delivery preferences. To change your preferences, you'll have to register with Google, but all you have to give them is your email address and your chosen password.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to our mailing list by sending email to an address at I don't want to post a mailto: link here because the spammers will grab it and we'll be receiving all kinds of junk. But the instructions for signing up this way are located here, and the group name is only-planet .

By the way, I'm not going to include our gmail address as a link here because I'm worried that spammers will harvest it and add it to their mailing lists. It's a clean email address, just created today, and I'd hate to start getting spam on it already. But for those of you who are legitimate human beings and want to email us, we're planning on using the follwoing address throughout our travels. Just remove the spaces and put in the @ and . punctuation to create a normal-looking address:
werking wells a t gmail (do t) com

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The World is Flat

I (Andy) just finished reading the book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman. There's an excerpt which was published in the Times Magazine here, and I strongly recommend you read it and/or the book. In the book, Friedman describes ten changes which have happened in the past decade or so which have put all the people of the world on much more equal footing than they have been for the past couple of millennia. He writes that the power to achieve and connect and the dynamic force driving change has transitioned from nations to corporations, and from corporations to individuals. With all the technological innovations available to us, huge numbers of people can now do leading-edge work from wherever they were born: they no longer have to travel to centers of commerce to avoid being left out of the successful classes. As he writes, an engineer in India or China (or scores of other countries) can do work equal in quality and skill to the work of anyone in the U.S. This fact means that workers in the USA lose the security of having leading-edge, high-value-added, good-paying jobs available to them, since someone in Bangalore can perform the same job equally well at 1/5 the wages.

I found myself making a bunch of notes about things that occurred to me while reading The World is Flat. I don't usually get this deep into the books I read--even the good ones--but this one really resonated with me. I think it's related to this trip we're about to embark on and the work I've been doing for the past 12 years at ESI. So here are some of the notes I scrawled on my bookmark, about which I'd like to think while we're traveling around the world.
  • How do the workers in Bangalore feel about performing low-thought jobs all the time? OK, so sitting in an air-conditioned room in front of a computer, talking on the phone to someone halfway around the world is a far cry from selling food or handmade goods on the street. But the work that many of these people are doing is well below their skill levels: there are graduates of very competitive universities transcribing notes or taking orders. How soon will they demand work that actually taxes their abilities? Will there be enough of that work to satisfy the desires of the workers?
  • How connected is the whole world? We're going to set off with the expectation that we can update this blog from cybercafes in almost every city we visit. But how omnipresent is an internet connection? And how connected does everyone in the world want to be? I love Google and the ability to find information almost instantaneously, but am I missing the simpler pleasures of the card catalog and the stacks of books? And does everyone in the world also want any fact at their fingertips, and will they contribute their knowledge/facts/culture to the massive amount of mostly English-speaking data on the web? How is that going to affect our lives in the coming decade?
  • Is human labor going to become a domain for arbitrage: will traders quickly shuttle work from country to country, chasing wages that are just a bit lower than those offered elsewhere? Are people (or their job functions) becoming fungible items, completely interchangeable with each other?
  • What's going to happen when China and India develop significantly? Where will they get the resources to produce the products that middle- and upper-class people demand? Where will their waste be put? Where will they outsource their work?
  • Is there a demand for people who are "culture guides," who explain their native culture to offshore workers and inspect what they're doing/saying/producing to make sure that the customers see the products as genuinely of their own culture? For example, someone to inspect translated manuals so that strange locutions are avoided, or someone to coach customer service reps on the proper accent and slang to use, or (closer to the area I work in) someone who looks for the unwritten assumptions in design specifications and ensures the developed product will meet the customer's expectations.
  • With the global competition to work harder, or to be more productive, than workers in other countries, will everyone be chained to rat wheels, running as fast as they can just to try to stay ahead of the billions of other workers who are vying to take their place? Who is going to have any leisure time to enjoy themselves? Sure, more people will have more money, but how can anyone be happier when we're all working 12- and 16-hour days?

One last, unrelated, note. Yesterday, I told the folks at ESI that I'd be leaving in August, and today I sent out an email to a bunch of my friends and colleagues at work (or who I've worked with in the past) letting everyone know about our plans and my impending departure. I was encouraged by the overwhelming display of support for our decision, and that everyone tactfully avoided rubbing in the fact that I am deserting them and they'll have to do extra work to finish everything that we've planned to do. I also got a lot of "I wish I could do that" and "I wish I was as brave as you" comments. While it's flattering to be seen as an intrepid explorer, I'm more of the view that this is something that almost anyone can undertake, to some extent. Sure, it took a lot of cajoling by Loey to make me come to this realization. And not everyone is blessed by rapidly-increasing home values and a reasonably good expectation that their skills can get them a new job in relatively short order when they want one. But traveling doesn't have to be round-the world or expensive. And there's always going to be demand for some sort of labor out there, though it may not be the perfect job for the long term. Maybe we'll end up in Shanghai or Singapore or Amsterdam or Sydney, competing with people there for a job that'll let us stay there. But (returning to the original subject of this entry), we'll probably be competing on just as level a field in a few years even if we stay home. So why not do some traveling now and jump into the global labor market a little early?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Coming towards a Closing

It was back in March when I had last posted our plans. Sell the house, move stuff to storage, buy plane tickets. It looked so easy. Actually it hasn't been too bad. Things took a little longer than I had expected (more than 5 days!) but with the gods on our side, we should close on our house June 13th. Shortly after, we are leaving for Colorado for 10 days, and will be back in Portland June 26th, only to hang out for a month, before leaving on August 4th to Montana and then on to the big adventure. That said, we are questioning whether it is really possible to rent a place for one month. With a combination of Craigslist, Extended Stay hotels and help from our friends, we hope to cobble together some lodging for the month of July with some housesitting gigs, camping spots and whatever else we can come up with, so that we don't have to tap our vital nest egg too heavily before we've even left the US!*

We are staying around for a couple reasons. One, is that in order to visit Andy's family before we leave, the soonest date that his brother and sister-in-law could get to Montana was early August, so that set one date for us. Another reason is that Dylan is a huge fan of the Grace Art Camps put on by the Grace Episcopal Church which doesn't happen until mid-July--this year its theme is India--so we've made it a priority for her to attend that camp as well as a few others. Besides, since the house is selling kind of "late" in the game, and we jet off to Colorado so quickly after it sells, we need the month of July to make firm travel plans, and get those last minute appointments done before we leave, hair, dentist, doctor, immunization clinic, etc.

What is always fascinating to me when hearing about people who get rid of it all, is finding out what they really are keeping a hold of. I have an odd interest in people's stuff. In fact one of my all-time favorite book is Material World, by Peter Menzel. In it, he photographs people from around the world in front of their homes with all of their stuff. Amazingly the Americans in the book do not have the most crap. Their furniture seems larger than most, because they have the square footage in their home to accommodate a queen sized waterbed with it's bookshelf headboard, but for pure ostentatiousness, the Kuwaitis win that award with their 40 foot couch and their 3 Mercedes. The Indian family in the book, has 2 rope beds, a broken bicycle and about the amount of stuff to fill the back of a Dodge Dart, with room for their three kids to spare.

And where do the Werking Wells family fit in? Well right now we have a 10x10 foot storage space that is almost halfway full. After doing inventory of EVERYTHING we own, we are looking at 75 boxes (rubbermaid roughneck sized 20 odd gallon containers and small and cube boxes from U-haul) 7 bookshelves, 3 dressers, an armoire, chair & ottoman, 2 mattresses, small table and 3 chairs, & kids desk. We haven't packed the stuff we really need to use up to the last minute, (computer, towels, bedding, dishes,) but it shouldn't be too much more. While we far surpass owning what most people in the world own, if we can fit it in our storage unit, we are probably carting around less than most Americans. Perhaps we're in the lower 50%? We've sold a lot of our stuff as well, which is why we are down to so few pieces of furniture. We have become avowed fans of Craigslist as the best medium for getting rid of stuff!

So, even though we have not yet set foot on a plane, this trip has already taken us to many places. Some comfortable, (buying Lonely Planet books is fun!) some stressful(the selling of the house has manifested in a number of sleepless nights and welts for Loey) some sad,(the idea of leaving friends, & a city we know so well) and some just weird (the idea of being homeless is kind of unsettling) but we keep the end goal in sight and try to make it pleasant for those around us. (A special thanks to Ronda who has been our real estate agent. In this case friends and business have mixed very well!) When we check in next, we hope to be a little further down the road!

*One of the best scenes from a movie in the past 20+ years has to be the one in Lost in America where Albert Brooks finds out that his wife, played by Julie Hagerty, has just gambled away their nest egg in a wild night at the casinos in Vegas. They had sold everything they owned, quit the high stress job and bought a Winnebago to see the country. Sound familiar? Because they are now broke, they settle in a small town where he gets a job as a crossing guard and she starts work at a Der Weinerschnitzel!