Monday, September 07, 2020

The Story of More by Hope Jahren

The Story of More by Hope Jahren is a good book following up on her biography Lab Girl and this effort subtitled How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here.

Part One: Life - Jahren notes how in 2009 she was asked to teach a class on climate change and the research for that led to The Story of More. The point is made that the problem we have with resources in the world today is one of distribution, many of us consume beyond our needs and many don't have enough resources. The vast majority of deaths in the world come from illness, with in the developed countries those coming from heart disease and cancer, and in less developed countries, from things linked to lack of access to clean water, sewage systems, vaccinations, and antibiotics. Jahren covers that there have been definite improvements in access to clean water and immunizations, but it still a large problem in much of the world.

Part Two: Food - Jahren starts this section by detailing how eating meat requires an enormous amount of resources. Six pounds of grain fed to an animal results in one pound of meat harvested. She makes the point that people don't necessarily need to become vegetarians, they just need to eat less red meat and poultry, as eating less meat means less grain that goes into feeding the animals that are eaten. If the 37 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) cut meat consumption by half, it would free up 120 millions tons of grain per year to feed the hungry. Additionally, there's a similar problem with fish that there is with meat as most fish eaten today are harvested via aquaculture rather than line-caught, and require large amounts of fish food, one pound of salmon requires three pounds of fish meal. Jahren also notes the negative impact of waste, 20% of what American families send to the landfill each day is edible food, around 2/3 pound a day.

Part Three: Energy - Detailed in the book is how we use energy for everything, and energy, just like food is heavily weighted towards developed countries. Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, has just over 13% of the global population and less than half the people there live without electricity. The region also has half of all people globally who live without access to clean water. Back to the idea of distribution, Jahren notes that if all the fuel and electricity used today were distributed equally to every person on the globe, they would have plenty, consuming the same amount as the average person in Switzerland in the 1960s. The mantra around this, and many other things in the book is use less and share more. It's also covered how cars and airplanes are enormous energy hogs, as well as outrageously dangerous, and how most discussion around energy is around how we can get more, not how we can use less.

Part Four: Earth - Jahren writes of how the burning of fossil fuels leads to more carbon dioxide, warmer temperatures, melting ice, and rising waters. We're at a risk for a sixth mass extinction of species, with the last sixty-six million years ago wiping out the dinosaurs. There are wide-scale geo-engineering projects being talked about, and those discussions should occur, but energy conservation requires the least effort of any approach. There is reason for hope, we can foster that by looking at our own lives and how we use.

Appendix: The Action You Take - She closes the book with the notion that each person should think about what matters to them, learn about it, make a change that they can make. Even seemingly simple changes like buying less food so there's less waste and keeping the heater or A/C in the house turned off or down matter. It's noted that home energy use largely driven by the water heater, if someone can go from a fifty gallon heater to twenty, energy usage in the house can be cut a great deal. It's a sobering book to be sure, but also one with reason for hope and tangible ideas that can be implemented.

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost is a solid memoir from the fifteen-year Saturday Night Live veteran, hired as a staff writer, and then head writer and for the past six years, also co-host of Weekend Update.

Jost provides interesting and entertaining stories of his life, starting with growing up on Staten Island, and at the age of 14, getting accepted into Regis, a free Catholic high school in Manhattan. The school is one of the best in the country, with each year tens of thousands of kids applying for 120 spots in each class. It's covered in the book how it would take Jost at least 90 minutes one-way to commute to and from school, with him on his own taking a bus, ferry, and subway. He and his friends then would often roam New York City after school and Jost while at Regis did speech and debate, something that required having a short-term memory of success or failures, which he noted as helping later while at Saturday Light Live.

Jost got into Harvard and covers in the book how he didn't fit in for much of his freshman year, and then discovered the Harvard Lampoon magazine. He learned he wanted to be a comedy writer and, just as with Regis, it was difficult to get accepted, with hundreds applying every semester and usually only three or four writers being accepted into the Lampoon based on the strength of their writing. He got in on his third attempt and over the course of two and a half years on staff, had more than a hundred pieces published in the magazine. He was elected president in his junior year and notes in the book how he found others who cared about comedy as much as he did.

He graduated Harvard, with his studies in Russian Literature, and got a job as a night editor with a Staten Island newspaper. He wanted to be in comedy so even though he liked the job, saved up enough money to cover rent for two months and quit, sending letters to TV shows asking them to read his writing samples. He took a job writing for a now-defunct company called Animation Collective and while there, got a call from Saturday Night Live based on a submission, and was hired as an SNL staff writer at the age of twenty-two.

There's great stories from Saturday Night Live, as well as his stand-up comedy, which Jost notes that he's been doing for sixteen years, thousands of shows and still fifty to a hundred a year. It was tremendously interesting reading of how Jost after graduating Harvard worked so hard for little money to get started in entertainment, and about his insecurities, being afraid of being boring. Jost also writes about his mom, who was Chief Medical Officer for the New York City Fire Department during 9/11, and what she went through that day and immediately after. It's an excellent book that's insightful and has great stories.

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen is another entertaining work of fiction from the author, with the book featuring several of his recurring characters as well as many new in the zany state of Florida. This is the 11th book of Hiaasen's I've read and it's a funny one that doesn't disappoint.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is subtitled A Leadership Fable and the book introduction notes "it is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare."

Lencioni provides the dysfunctions through a fictional story of a newly hired CEO at a technology startup, and after completing the fable about the company and its management team goes over the dysfunctions and how teams can overcome them.

1. Absence of trust - Trust is the foundation of real teamwork. The first dysfunction is a failure on the part of team members to understand and open up to one another, overcoming their need for invulnerability and speaking openly and honestly about their strengths and weaknesses. Lencioni notes that a good way to tackle this is to have people talk about themselves, their background, their lives, and families.

2. Fear of conflict - If there's not trust, there's likely going to be an aversion on the part of team members to having open, constructive, ideological conflict or debate.

3. Lack of commitment - It's a failure to buy into decisions. People don't have to always agree with a decision, but they want to have their views heard and understood before they commit to something, especially if they not 100% behind at first. The concept to go for is disagree and commit.

4. Avoidance of accountability - Once there's clarity and buy-in, people can hold each other accountable.

5. Inattention to results - Status and ego can cause people to become focused on themselves and individual rather than team results. Part of having goals is to have them be simple enough to grasp, and specific enough to be actionable, like for instance adding a certain number of new customers in a certain time frame. Also noted was the statement that "politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think."

The flip side positive view of the model is that teams...
1. Trust one another
2. Engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas
3. Commit to decisions and plans of action
4. Hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans
5. Focus on the achievement of collective results

Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace

Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace is a good book with the subtitle The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World.

It starts with Vice President Harry Truman elevating to the Presidency with the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945 and covers Truman and others involved in the effort to build and then drop the two atomic bombs on Japan August 6 and 9.

In addition to giving details about the events, Wallace writes about the compelling people involved in them. Featured are Truman, Manhattan Project scientific director J. Robert Oppenheimer, military head General Leslie Graves, Colonel Paul Tibbets Jr. who piloted the plane that dropped the first bomb, one of the women working control dials in the uranium separation plant in Oak Ridge, TN, and a young girl in Japan. Wallace details how after being sworn into office, Truman was told by his Secretary of War that there was an urgent matter they had to speak about, a project underway to develop a new explosive of great power.

Along with the development of the bombs, there's also interesting material in the book about Truman wrestling with the decision of whether or not to drop them. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 and projections Truman received had the invasion of Japan by American troops costing the lives of an estimated 250,000 Americans. He had to balance that information against dropping weapons of such destructive power.

The test of the bomb was done on July 16, and the weapons-grade uranium for the bomb was delivered to the Far East about the USS Indianapolis, sunk days later by a Japanese torpedo. Tibbets and his flight crew flew the Enola Gay and the bomb codenamed Little Boy close to seven hours from Tinian Island to Hiroshima. It exploded 1,890 feet above the city, with the Enola Gay then six miles away, flying fast to try to get away from the blast and accompanying shock wave. On August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and the dropping a day later of the bomb Fat Man was a mission riddled with near misses. The plane, Bock's Car, was short on fuel, not enough to make it back to Tinian so landed on Okinawa. Also, the original target was the city of Kokura, but weather conditions there led to the alternate target of Nagasaki being bombed.

Japan surrendered shortly after and the epilogue of the book covers the lives after the war of people featured in the book, and how they viewed the dropping of the bombs and creation of the nuclear age.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The Impossible First by Colin O'Brady

The Impossible First by Colin O'Brady is an excellent book on his 2018 solo trek all the way across Antarctica.

The crossing had never before been done without assistance, and O'Brady raced against British explorer Captain Louis Rudd, also attempting to complete the 932 mile solo crossing. Each man skied while pulling a sled with close to two months of supplies and the book a remarkable tale from a dangerous and beautiful place.

Also in the book is writing about O'Brady's Explorer's Grand Slam expedition in 2016. He reached the summit of the highest mountain on each of the seven continents and trekked to both the North and South Pole in just over four months, the fastest time that anyone had ever done the seven summits, much less also the two poles. Additionally, O'Brady reached the highest point in all fifty US states in a record-breaking 21 days and he in The Impossible First writes a great book on his efforts.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Denali's Howl by Andy Hall

Denali's Howl by Andy Hall is on a June 1967 climbing disaster in Alaska that claimed the lives of seven people on Denali, the highest mountain in North America. The book written in 2014 is subtitled The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak and Hall a journalist who at the time of the tragedy was living in Denali National Park, the five-year-old son of the park superintendent.

The seven who died were part of the Wilcox Expedition, a twelve man group cobbled together and led by Joe Wilcox. There were some shortfalls in teamwork between the men and poor decisions made in terms of gear brought, but the disaster caused more than anything else by a once in a lifetime blizzard. Four in the party went up to the summit one day and returned back down to the remaining eight. Then one person decided to descend without a summit bid, and the seven men who would perish headed up. There was only primitive weather forecasting available in 1967 and what the men faced was a confluence of meteorological events, described by Hall as one of the most violent storms ever recorded on the mountain. He recounts a 1997 storm that people barely survived, with that storm lasting twelve hours rather than the seven days of the 1967 storm, with winds likely half the strength of those 30 years earlier.

Hall provides interesting content about rescue operations on the mountain and the attempt to save the men, but the storm was bad that by the time rescue operations launched, the men almost certainly were dead. The five survivors barely made it down and a rescue party only found three bodies on the mountain, two of them fairly close together. The story that Hall tells was of a dangerous undertaking combined with a once in a lifetime storm.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon

Keep Going by Austin Kleon is noted as having been done because he needed to read it, a great reason to be sure, and the book subtitled 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, with some ideas from it below:

1. Every day is Groundhog Day - You just have to control what you can, in the day that you're in. If you can establish a daily routine, all the better.

2. Build a bliss station - Disconnect yourself from the world for your own good. Airplane mode can be a way of life. Learn how to say no.

3. Forget the noun, do the verb - "Creative" is not a verb. Be willing to play in your creative work, it's ok to practice for practice's sake.

4. Make gifts - Let your work be your hobby, one of the easiest ways to hate something is to turn it into a job. If you put your work into the world, don't obsess on consumption numbers. Make stuff to give to people.

5. The ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary - There's great things in the everyday world around us and great things we can do with them. Slow down and draw things out. Pay attention to what you pay attention to.

6. Slay the art monsters - Art is supposed to make our lives betters. This applies both to art we create and art we consume. If it's not beneficial, walk away.

7. You are allowed to change your mind - To change is to be alive. It's good to say "I don't know," and be kind. Think more of being like-hearted with others and less of being like-minded. Read old books, visit the past.

8. When in doubt, tidy up - Keep your tools tidy and your materials messy. Leave things better than you found them and do no harm. The writer David Sedaris picks up trash by the road, he estimates for 3-8 hours a day.

9. Demons hate fresh air - Get out and walk, be part of the world. Walking is good for physical, spiritual, and mental health. See the world rather than a screen.

10. Plant your garden - Think of the permanence of nature, and how like it, creativity has seasons. Live for the long haul and in hard times, remember that this too shall pass. Keep doing your verbs, whatever they may be.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham is an excellent book subtitled The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster. Written in 2019, it's about Reactor Number Four of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station exploding early in the morning of Sunday April 26, 1986 and the aftermath of that.

It's a remarkable level of detail from Higginbotham, covering events that as the book jacket notes, have been clouded from the beginning by secrecy, propaganda, and misinformation. The first reactor at Chernobyl came online in the mid-1970s and by 1986, there were four reactors built, with two more under construction and scheduled to come online in 1988. Construction and operation of the plant at Chernobyl was an ongoing process of dealing with unrealistic deadlines being passed down from leaders, planning agencies, and bureaucratic committees. What this led to was both often delayed safety tests and, even more critically, systems that demanded an extreme level of precision from operators just to function as they should. The water and graphite nuclear reactor design used in Chernobyl, and designed by the head of the Soviet Institute of Atomic Energy, was inherently less safe than that used in the West on Nuclear power plants. A major flaw in them was something called a positive void coefficient, making the reactors vulnerable to a runaway chain reaction in the even of a loss of coolant. The design of the reactor was such that triggering the shut-down actually had great potential to cause a meltdown. Additionally, the Soviet reactors had no containment dome like over reactors in the west, safety measures were often never passed along to the people who needed them, and accidents were to be regarded as state secrets.

The test being done on Reactor Number Four was to pilot it through a shutdown. There was definitely at least one human error made that night, but the system itself was the larger cause of the reactor being destabilized, leading to an explosion that completely destroyed the core of the reactor. What was left was a radioactive blaze of uranium fuel and graphite. For the better part of a day, it wasn't communicated that the reactor had been destroyed and that radiation was being released as people were afraid to deliver bad news or the destruction of the reactor was outside the realm of what they could accept. People weren't acknowledging that there even was an explosion, just saying there was an accident and it's being taken care of. Workers at the plant lived in the 50,000 person city of Priyat, a ten minute drive away and the order to evacuate the city was given at 10:00AM Sunday morning, with people receiving it at 1:10PM, a day and a half after the explosion. Around that time was when the first radiation cloud appeared over Denmark.

Initial efforts at stopping the release of radioactive contamination from the torn apart reactor, with fire still burning inside, had bags of sand and boron dropped from helicopters into the destroyed reactor. As the days went on after the explosion, there were two primary concerns, both having to do with the burning radioactive mass in the destroyed reactor, which combined with sand and boron had turned into a lava-like material burning its way down through the floor. If the mass came into contact with the water pools underneath the reactor, it could cause a steam explosion taking out the other three reactors, as Higginbotham writes generating "enough fallout into the atmosphere to render a large swath of Europe uninhabitable for a hundred years." And if that calamity was averted, there was also the possibility of the mass burning into the earth. This could have been cataclysmic if the mass got into the water tables, contaminating drinking water for millions.

To alleviate the first concern, someone had to go underneath the burning reactor and manually open the valves to pump out the water in the steam suppression pools, an extremely dangerous task that was completed successfully. The next concern was about the water tables. To alleviate this risk, they built a heat exchanger to cool the earth and stop the molten mass from continuing to melt through. This heat exchanger was never actually turned on, though, and what they eventually found was the reactor just burned itself out. All the efforts dropping sand and boron into the reactor were mostly pointless, but the lava did burn perilously close to getting through to the earth. The on the ground cleanup then involved people being drafted into service and serving as liquidators manually clearing debris, each working for a very short period of time to limit their exposure to radiation. Once this completed, a containment structure, or sarcophagus, was built around the destroyed reactor, completed seven months after the explosion. Due to the radioactive fallout, eventually every child from preschool to the seventh grade was temporarily evacuated out of Kiev, some 363,000 children, and there had to be a permanent resettlement of 116,000 people. 

After this came the scapegoating, the sending to prison of the director and others involved and who lived. Mention in the investigation was made of design defects, but then swept aside in favor of the more palatable operator error assignment of blame. While it true that the operators played a small role in causing the disaster, the main fault lay with the design of the plant, the need for perfection on the part of the operators, and the aggressive Soviet bureaucracy behind everything. Higginbotham in the book provides a meticulously reported look at the disaster, its causes, the reaction to it, and the people involved.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

King of the World by David Remnick

King of the World by David Remnick is a thorough book subtitled Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero. Written in 1998 by the longtime New Yorker editor, the book focuses on Ali's life up until the time that his title stripped and ability to box professionally taken away following his refusal of military service during Vietnam.

Ali was born Cassius Clay and grew up black middle class in Louisville, Kentucky. He was as a talker from a young age and his bicycle stolen when he twelve, leading to a kindly police officer who ran a local gym suggesting to Clay that he learn how to fight, and then training him. Clay was blessed with size and quickness, and also worked extremely hard at the craft of boxing. He never smoke, never drank, and just trained to build his body up. He talked about how good he was, how he would be champion of the world someday, and was by all accounts a nice kid, not a bully. He entered the main black high school in 1957 for the 10th grade, and wasn't a good student, but the principal liked him and sent him through, saying that he was going to be a great boxing champion. By the age of eighteen, Clay had an amateur record of 100 wins and 8 losses, and two national golden gloves championships.

Clay won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and then turned pro. Remnick in the book provides great detail about what a force of nature Clay was in his late teens and early twenties, both in terms of physical prowess and showmanship. Related to this, it was interesting reading about the influence sportswriters had in crafting narratives to the public, and most didn't like Clay due to his bombastic personality. When he was in high school, Clay had wanted to write a term paper on the Black Muslims and in his early twenties, he heard about Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam that he the leader of. Clay was a searcher, and in the Muslim religion he found something that resonated with him, and became close with one another Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X.

Clay's first fight for the heavyweight title was against Sonny Liston in February 1964 and few expected Clay to win the fight, with Liston viewed by many as an unstoppable force. Clay defeated Liston and very shortly after confirmed that he had become a member of the Nation of Islam, also noting that Black Muslims wasn't a real thing, rather a word made up by the press. Once Clay won, Elijah Muhammad welcomed Clay into the fold, his fold. On March 6, Elijah Muhammad gave a radio address and said that Muhammad Ali would be the boxer's new name. Elijah Muhammad had begun to view Malcolm X as a rival for power within the Nation of Islam, speaking in favor a civil rights bill, and working with Martin Luther King, whom Elijah Muhammad wanted to not associate with. As a result, Malcolm X was cast out of the Nation, and Ali no longer talked with him.

The rematch between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston was to be in November 1964, but three days before the fight, Ali got a hernia, and the fight rescheduled for May 1965. Malcolm X was killed in February 1965 and Ali dominated Liston in the fight, knocking him out in the first round, leading to the famous photo of he standing over the fallen boxer. Later in the year Ali fought and defeated Floyd Patterson and three months after that began his battle with the US government over Vietnam. He was reclassified so that he could be drafted and said that he had no quarrel with the Vietcong. He started speaking out against the war and said that he wouldn't simply fight exhibitions for the government to satisfy his service requirement. In April 1967 he appeared at a US Armed Forces location where he had been summoned, and said that he was refusing draft orders as a minister of the religion of Islam. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The Supreme Court would clear him in 1971, but he didn't box for three and a half years, and then regained the heavyweight championship in 1974 against George Forman in Kinshasa, Zaire. By the time of his final bouts in 1981 his neurological decline, eventually to become Parkinson's, had almost certainly begun already. Ali later in his life greatly regretted his casting aside of Malcolm X and died in 2016 at seventy-four.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday is a solid book about stoicism and the writing of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180), Seneca, and others.

Holiday in the introduction notes that the book isn't a study of stoicism and the people who wrote about it, rather an attempt to "collect, understand, and publish their lessons and tricks." The hope is to show how to turn an obstacle into an advantage; overcoming obstacles is about perception (our attitude towards obstacles or problems), action (what we do about obstacles), and will (how we handle defeat or difficulty). There's good content from Holiday, with below each chapter in his book and what stood out from it:


The discipline of perspective - The goal is to see opportunity in difficulties. They're going to arise, so what becomes important is how we react.

Recognize your power - We can't always control what happens to us, but we can control how it affects our psyche and how it makes us feel. We're never completely powerless.

Steady your nerves - In situations that can overwhelm, grace, poise, and nerve are the most important characteristics someone can have as without them, other characteristics like talent can't be employed.

Control your emotions - Uncertainty and fear are relieved by training and logic. Through this, one can become in control of their emotions and not get rattled at the moments of greatest stress.

Practice objectivity - It's often better to observe obstacles, not also perceive them and  read into problems. Try to remove yourself from the equation in a situation, see it for what it is, not how you're impacted.

Alter your perspective - Look at problems from a new angle. Also, don't overstate the importance of problems, quoted is Richard Branson with "business opportunities are like buses; there's always another coming around."

Is it up to you? - Someone facing obstacles should be thinking of whether there's a chance at success. If there is, it may well be worth going after. Also, it's about focusing on things that can be changed, not what can't.

Live in the present moment - It's not worth the energy to spend thinking about whether things are fair or you're at a disadvantage. Remember also that a given time isn't your entire life, just a moment in it.

Think differently - Since our perceptions influence what can be done, it's often going to be best to simply be optimistic that something can be accomplished.

Finding the opportunity - When we control our emotions in looking at a problem, it enables the possibility of looking at the opportunity inside the obstacle, even if it's just seeing it as something to learn from.

Prepare to act - The worst thing to happen with a problem is to lose your head, then you have to deal with both the problem and your reaction to it.


The discipline of action - When you're dealt a bad hand or suffer a misfortune, should run towards it, looking to take action and improve your lot. What's important is what you do after something bad happens.

Get moving - Take an opening and press forward, or get the bat off your shoulder and take a swing. if you've done something, great, do more. Stay moving, always. If you want momentum, get started so it can create.

Practice persistence - Keep trying, if something doesn't work, try something different. The answer to how to do something may be entirely unexpected. It's supposed to be hard. First attempts aren't expected to succeed.

Iterate - There's nothing wrong with failing, it's how we know what doesn't work. Stories of great success are often preceded by stories of epic failure as improvement can come from it.

Follow the process - Think about the task at hand. Excellence is just a matter of steps repeated. Things at first are hard, and then they're not. Things don't happen all at once and small steps are better than no steps.

Do your job, do it right - Along the way to success, we're all going to have some jobs we don't want to do, do it with pride anyways, everything we do matters. A job is only degrading if we give less to it than we're capable.

What's right is what works - We get things done, by just that, by getting them done. Don't get too caught up in what you or someone else thinks is the correct way to do things. Do the best you can with what you've got.

In praise of the flank attack - Unexpected approaches are often the best kind. Be creative, find workarounds, and tactics others might not have thought of.

Use obstacles against themselves - Sometimes restraint is the best action to take, have patience and let things settle. Passive resistance can in fact be incredibly active.

Channel your energy - Adversity can harden you. Or it can loosen you up and make you better if you let it. It's seeking the right balance of physical looseness and mental tightness.

Seize the offensive - Use negative events as triggers to get things done, push forward. Life favors the bold at time of decision points.

Prepare for none of it to work - Nothing can prevent us from trying. Problems are a chance for us to do our best. Be the type of person who gets things done.


The discipline of the will - Will is taking on a onerous task without giving in to hopelessness, to be in great difficulty and tell oneself "this too shall pass." Strength in terrible times is when strength most needed.

Build your inner citadel - Nobody is born with a steel backbone, we have to forge it. We're going to be more successful toughening ourselves up than making the world easier. To be great at something takes practice.

Anticipation (thinking negatively) - Think in advance of what things can go wrong, that way you're not surprised by them, and you may even be prepared to deal with them. Know that things will go wrong.

The art of acquiescence - Be willing to accept, and not resent, a difficulty or shortcoming. You don't have to like something, but you can't let it control you. Things will do what they do sometimes, and we react from there.

Love everything that happens: amor fati - When bad things happen, they happen. We then should continue forward with unfailing cheer. We make the best of things.

Perseverance - It's not about what happens in the beginning, or the middle, it's continuing forward all the way through, to endure.

Something bigger than yourself - There's a bigger cause to life. It's not all about us. Whatever problem we're going through isn't really unfair, it just is what it is. Try to leave things a little better than before we started.

Meditate on your mortality - The things we think are so important, really aren't. If something is in our control, it's worth our energy. If something is out of our control, it's not worth our energy. Eventually we'll be gone.

Prepare to start again - Behind mountains are more mountains. There's always another challenge. Get used to it. Passing one obstacle means you're worthy of more.

The book has excellent wisdom to impart and in the preface, Holiday quotes what Aurelius wrote to himself...

"Our actions may be impeded... but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."

All That You Leave Behind by Erin Lee Carr

All That You Leave Behind by Erin Lee Carr is a memoir by the filmmaker and daughter of  David Carr, the late New York Times media writer and author of The Night of the Gun, which I wrote about after his death in 2015.

Erin Lee Carr has directed documentaries for HBO, with Thought Crimes, At the Heart of Gold, and I Love You, Now Die as well as Drug Short, an episode of the Netflix series Dirty Money. She in this book shows herself to be an excellent writer and tells a very open tale of loss, grief, and making one's way in the world, including in the creative world that she and her father worked in.

It was a compelling book, and ended with "Things I learned from David Carr: a list":

Listen when you enter a room.
Don't buy into your myth.
Don't be the first one to talk, but if you do talk first, say something smart.
Speak and then stop; don't stutter or mumble; be strong in what you have to say.
You have to work the phones. Call people. Don't rely on emails.
Ask questions but ask the right questions.
Ask people what mistakes they've made so you can get their shortcuts.
Know when enough is enough.
Make eye contact with as many people as possible.
Don't be in shitty relationships because you are tired of being alone.
Be grateful for the things you have in this life. You are lucky.
Practice patience even though it's one of the hardest things to master.
Failure is a part of the process, maybe the most important part.
Alcohol is not a necessary component of life.
Street hotdogs are not your friend.
Remind yourself that nobody said this would be easy.
If more negative things come out of your mouth than positive, then Houston, we have a problem.
We contain multitudes.
Always love (see band: Nada Surf).
Have a dance move and don't be afraid to rock it.
Don't go home just because you are tired.
Don't take credit for work that is not yours. If your boss does this, take note.
Be generous with praise and be specific in that praise: "that line was killer."
Cats are terrible, they poop in your house.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Be defiant.
Do the next right thing.
Our dogs are us. Only cuter.
You are loved and you belong to me, the world, and yourself.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Legacy by James Kerr

Legacy by James Kerr is a solid book subtitled What the All Black Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. Kerr covers the importance of culture creation and leadership, inspired mainly by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, and the chapters and some of the ideas from them are noted below...

1. Character (Sweep the Sheds): Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done as successful leaders balance pride with humility.

2. Adapt (Go for the Gap): When you're on top of your game, change your game. Organizational decline is inevitable unless leaders prepare for change, and organizational leaders should work to create an adaptive culture.

3. Purpose (Play With Purpose): Leaders connect personal meaning to a higher purpose to create belief and a sense of direction. It's about people being able to connect their values and beliefs with those of the organization.

4. Responsibility (Be a leader, Not a Follower): Leaders create leaders by passing on to others responsibility and ownership, utilizing accountability and trust. Quoted from the chapter was Tom Peters with "leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders."

5. Learn (Create a Learning Environment): Excellence is a process of evolution, cumulative learning, and incremental improvement. If you create a learning environment, you set up the structure to realize marginal improvements, and those marginal improvements add up quickly to success.

6. Whãnau (No Dickheads): Do things for the good of the team, and one selfish mindset will infect a collective culture. Everyone must move forward in the same direction, and the members of the team must all be people on board with this concept.

7. Expectations (Aim For the Highest Cloud): Successful leaders have high internal benchmarks, they set their expectations at a lofty level and then try to exceed them. Quoted in this chapter is Ira Glass, host of This American Life, with "great stories happen to those who tell them."

8. Preparation (Train to Win, Practice Under Pressure): Training with intensity conditions the brain and body to perform under pressure, to let peak performance become automatic. Success comes from putting in the reps.

9. Pressure (Keep a Blue Head, Control Your Attention): A blue head is loose, expressive, and in the moment. Words or mantras can be used as anchors to reach the right state. Pilots use: aviate, navigate, communicate to remind themselves what order to do things in. First focus on flying the plane, then fly the plane in the right direction, then tell people where you're flying the plane.

10. Authenticity (Know Thyself, Keep It Real): Act the same in public as in private. The best leaders remain true to their deepest values, lead their lives, and others follow. High-performing teams promote a culture of honesty, authenticity, and safe conflict. If everyone on a team does exactly what they say they will do, clarity, certainty, productivity, and momentum are the results.

11. Sacrifice (Champions Do Extra): When we give our time to something, we're giving our lives to it, we should make it worthwhile.

12. Language (Invent Your Own language, Sing Your World Into Existence): Leaders are storytellers, and all great organizations are born from a compelling story. This central organizing thought helps people understand what they stand for and why.

13. Ritual (Ritualize to Actualize, Create a Culture): Rituals drive home culture, they reflect, remind, reinforce, and reignite the central story.

14. Whakapapa (Be a Good Ancestor, Plant Trees You'll Never See): Leave things in a better place than before you were there. The way we lead our own life is what makes us a leader.

15. Legacy: Write your legacy, this is your time.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombardi

Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombardi is an insightful book from the former NFL GM who started in 1984 as a scouting assistant for the San Francisco 49ers, with one of his primary duties to be Bill Walsh's driver.

The book is subtitled A Master Class in Building Teams and Winning at the Highest Level and Lombardi notes that he wrote it to go over football strategy and tactics, but even more so philosophy and theory that can be applied outside of the game. He covers that a successful coach a good leader, and there's interesting content on what he learned about leadership from Walsh as well as Bill Belichick. From the Patriots' coach, Lombardi notes the principles of always looking forward, especially after a decision made, combating complacency, preparation, and attention to detail.

Lombardi wrote how he learned from Walsh the importance of culture and that Walsh introduced him to the writing of management gurus Warren Bennis and Tom Peters. Also noted are Walsh's book The Score Takes Care of Itself, and the former 49ers coach's "Standard of Performance" leadership maxims:

1. Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement.
2. Demonstrate respect for each person in the organization.
3. Be deeply committed to learning and teaching.
4. Be fair.
5. Demonstrate character.
6. Honor the direct connection between details and improvement; relentlessly seek the latter.
7. Show self-control, especially under pressure.
8. Demonstrate and prize loyalty.
9. Use positive language and have a positive attitude.
10. Take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort.
11. Be willing to go the extra distance for the organization.
12. Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation.
13. Promote internal communication that is both open and substantive.
14. Seek poise in myself and those I lead.
15. Put the team's welfare and priorities ahead of my own.
16. Maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high.
17. Make sacrifice and commitment the organization's trademark.

It's a good book and Lombardi closes with the principles he's learned and feels most important in any field:

Culture comes first
Press every edge all the time, because any edge may matter anytime
Systems over stars
Leadership in a long-term proposition
You're never done getting better

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

This is Chance by Jon Mooallem

This is Chance by Jon Mooallem is an interesting book about the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in Anchorage, AK, with focus on Genie Chance, a part-time local news reporter who valiantly served as the the focal point for reporting, coordination, and communication in the period right after the quake.

Chance had moved to Alaska from Texas with her husband and three children five years prior and was downtown on March 27 with her thirteen-year-old son when the quake struck at 5:36PM, lasting four and a half minutes. It had a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter scale, the most powerful quake recorded at the time and still the second most powerful. Felt far outside of the Alaskan epicenter, it shook water in wells around the world and triggered a tsunami that killed eleven in Crescent City, OR.

Chance was near the Fourth Avenue Theatre headquarters of her KENI station when the quake struck and saw the devastation that occurred, taking down the year-old JCPenny department store and causing a large section of road to drop some ten feet. She then took her son back home, saw her family safe, and went back downtown and worked. Chance started broadcasting from a VHF shortwave radio while in the Public Safety Building, as she later said, talking pretty much constantly for the next thirty hours. The power was out, but KENI able to put out a radio broadcast and Fire and Police Chiefs turned down her offer for them to speak directly via the airwaves, rather they had her serve as the voice to the people.

She served as a hub of both recovery efforts and connection, letting people know when and here help needed, and giving notice of people that were safe. Additionally, phones were out in Anchorage, but the broadcast was going to Fairbanks, and people there communicating with the lower 48 to pass along word that the city did need help, but hadn't been completely destroyed. A big part of the book was also the tales of how just like Chance did, many people stepped up with kindness and heroism, getting things done. The latter third of Mooallem's effort covers some different territory, including a local production of the play Our Town, the remainder of Chance's life, and disaster experts who visited Anchorage in the aftermath of the quake and saw the brave and orderly behavior of people that they'd witness after disasters elsewhere.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson was an excellent read about Winston Churchill and focuses on his opening year as U.K. Prime Minister. Hitler invaded Holland on Churchill's first day in office, May 10, 1940, and the Dunkirk evacuation ordered May 26.

The book provided a view into how Churchill during this crucial year both held the country together and convinced Franklin Roosevelt to offer much needed aid to the United Kingdom while it unclear if the United States would play a role in the war. Churchill had to manage a fine line with Roosevelt as well as the American public, showing that Britain needed help, but also that the aid wouldn’t be in vain and they could overcome the German bombing campaign. The first air raid on London was September 7, 1940 and last May 10, 1941, with that final attack killing 1,436 people. Over the course of this period, there was a stretch that bombing went on for 57 straight nights, and the Blitz killed some 45,000 British people, 29,000 in London.

Churchill was demanding of the people who worked for him, both in terms of hours required and mandating an economy of words in reports, people having brevity and getting directly to the point. He also understand gestures, having anti-aircraft guns positioned in London and firing skyward during raids. Even though the chance of doing damage were minimal, it showed Brits that they were fighting back. 1940 was a US Presidential election year and Roosevelt won reelection with his opponent Wendell Willkie in the months just prior to the election running as an isolationist. The Lend-Lease Act was proposed by Roosevelt in December 1940 and in early 1941, he sent the first of two emissaries to the U.K. to assess Churchill and the state of things against the Nazis. Churchill would later describe Harry Hopkins and then Averell Harriman as key allies in making his case to Roosevelt.

It’s detailed in the book how a reason the feared ground invasion of the U.K. never came was that Germany never took control of the air, with the British Air Force fighting back valiantly against the Luftwaffe headed by Hermann Goring. Germany then diverted attention to invading the Soviet Union, fighting the two-front war that Hitler had said shouldn’t be done, and in December 1941 Russia was getting bogged down with its Russia invasion, and then came Pearl Harbor on December 7. The US declared war on Japan the next day and on December 11, Germany declared war on the US. The war in Europe ended May 8, 1945, a week after Hitler committed suicide, and the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

10 Stories Great Leaders Tell by Paul Smith

10 Stories Great Leaders Tell by Paul Smith is a short book that covers well how to communicate a compelling message and he makes the point early on that it's more important what a story is than how it's told. A story is to be a narrative, and include a time, place, main character, goal, and obstacle to achieving that goal. Smith then provides ten types of stories, with examples of each:

1. Where we came from - a founding story: The story is told of Gary Erickson, living in the Bay Area in the late 1980s and running his own bakery. Erickson was a passionate bicyclist and in 1990 out for a long ride and eating poor tasting and hard to digest energy bars. At the top of Mount Hamilton east of San Jose he had eaten five of the six and was still hungry with 50 miles left to ride. From this, he got the idea to work in his bakery on a recipe for a healthy and tasty alternative, which led six months later to him forming CLIF Bar.

2. Why we can't stay here - a case-for-change story: Smith recounts the tale of a ten-year-old Gainesville, Florida boy diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of kidney cancer. There were immunotherapy treatments available in clinical trials, but nothing approved for a child to take part in. Then in mid-2014 a new drug was approved for use and he got his first injection in October, over a year and a half after being diagnosed. The drug started working, but the boy died less than a month later. It wasn't that it not effective, it was that he started too late on the drug. Smith in the book writes of how a corporate client of his who produces lifesaving products that take a long time to get to market saw the story as a way to rally their company’s effort to get to market faster, it was putting a human face on the effort.

3. Where we're going - a vision story: Smith notes how "a vision is a picture of the future so compelling people want to go there with you." A particularly effective way to tell a vision story is through one person and describing what things are like for them after a vision has been realized. In the example Smith provides, it's of a sales forecaster who has the information people need, and how that impacts both the results and how she feels about providing them.

4. How we're going to get there - a strategy story: Just as in the vision story, Smith covers how a strategy story can be told as a future look back. The example given was of the manufacturer of a cold medicine detailing all the innovative things they "had done" to achieve a specific success metric, in this case passing competitors. Smith notes it can also be an "imagine if" story rather than future dated one.

5. What we believe - a corporate values story: Smith recounts a story of Sam Walton in a store of his about to meet with a fellow CEO, and having them wait while he was talking with a customer looking at ironing board covers. The fact that he did that conveys through a story how important customers were to Walton.

6. Who we serve - a customer story: Told is the story of a marketing manager meeting in house with a poor mother in Chennai, India, and how the story of this person and their relationship to the product so much more impactful than simply a listing of functions and features.

7. What we do for our customers - a sales story: To illustrate a sales story showing how customers can benefit from an offering, Smith writes of a company that puts on reverse auctions for buyers.

8. How we're different from our competitors - a marketing story: The story told is of a commercial cleaning company and how the effort they put into a new contract impacts the actual people who clean, through making their jobs both easier and more effective. A key part of this story is focusing on new customers and how their experience different than it was with the prior vendor.

9. Why I lead the way I do - a leadership-philosophy story: Smith recounts the story of a U.S. Army tank commander in a training exercise making a quick decision that was the wrong choice. Because the decision made quickly, others that he led learned from his mistake and it resulted in a successful effort in the exercise. Smith shows how this story more effective than simply saying people should make decisions quickly.

10. Why you should want to work here - a recruiting story: The story is told someone about to graduate with an MBA deciding between different corporate offers, including one from Proctor & Gamble. They talked to a recruiter who told them that people he placed there didn't later tell him that they worked with smarter people elsewhere, and that P&G promoted from within, so now as a new grad would be the time to be there. This type of story is more memorable than a listing of employee benefits.

Smith closes by noting that stories told should answer the following questions, preferably in this order:

1. Why should your audience listen? (hook)
2. Where and when did the story take place? (context)
3. Who is the main character and what did that person want? (context)
4. What was the problem or opportunity the main character ran into? (challenge)
5. What did he or she do about it? (conflict or struggle)
6. How did it turn out in the end? (resolution)
7. What did you learn from it? (lesson)
8. What did you think your audience should do now that they've heard it? (recommendation)

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama was a compelling read from the former First Lady of the United States, with it containing a remarkable amount of detail about her childhood and the experiences that shaped her.

The book also covers well her time in the White House, including her advocacy for healthy food options and active lives for children, and provides a very thorough look at her life.