Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Too Fat to Fish" by Artie Lange

I recently finished reading comedian Artie Lange's memoir "Too Fat to Fish" and... man, what a train wreck (not the book, but his life). The book itself is well organized and written and if someone is an Artie fan, they'll likely be entertained by it (which is of course the point). Some of the stories from Artie's life he's told while on air at the "Howard Stern Show", some are brand new, and all are interesting (again, if you're a fan).

Back to the train wreck of his life comment, though... Artie certainly deserves credit for his talent and work put in towards his comedy career, but it's both painful to read about his drug addiction and the situations it and his self-destructive behavior have put him in. Through what's likely equal parts luck and his talent (and associated people helping him), he's still alive and not in jail, but there's really no telling how long things will stay that way.

It was interesting reading this book about an entertainment figure who has gone through (and may well still be going through) drug addiction and comparing it to the memoir of a pro athlete who was also hooked on drugs. In his book "Hero of the Underground" (which I reviewed here) ex-Cornhusker and NFL player Jason Peter tells his story of addiction. One huge difference is that while Jason could of course go back to the addiction that held him for so long, it seems like Artie is still there. He hasn't publicly stated that he's on drugs now, but all indications seem to point in that direction.

The "Last Word" chapter from "Too Fat to Fish" is insightful both in that it makes reference to drug problems at the time the book was being finished and the forgiveness and help he's been granted due to his talent and the ability to earn money for people. While it's great that this has helped keep him alive and out of jail, there are limits of how much people will forgive and be willing to bail someone out (as Artie himself states in this section).

To borrow an old phrase, it's a slippery slope that he's on. As a fan... I hope he's able to keep it together and not fall off the metaphorical edge.

Cover Story on Cisco in Fast Company Magazine

Really interesting story in the recent Dec/Jan issue of Fast Company Magazine on Cisco Systems.

The piece by Ellen McGirt is titled "How Cisco's CEO John Chambers is Turning the Tech Giant Socialist" and details Chambers efforts to move decision-making in the company down from simply the top levels to a more collaborative approach. The advantages being both an increased speed to action and openness to new ideas. Interesting stuff from what sounds like an excellent work environment.


Also from this issue of Fast Company were two smaller articles of interest. The first was Robert Scoble's column titled "Google's Push for Mobile Domination" about the company's mobile efforts. The impact of Google is of course widely known, but this would likely surprise many people.

Finally, there's a one-page piece titled "Next-gen Job Sites" that introduces four career sites people may not know of.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

HP PC Division & Other Stuff of Note from BusinessWeek

The Dec 22 issue of BusinessWeek featured an interesting strategy profile on the HP PC business titled "How HP Got the Wow! Back". The gist of the article is how the previously money-losing personal computer division has turned things around by focusing on product innovation and design... while also reaping the benefits of company wide cost-cutting measures.

Interesting stuff, while most business writing is very doom and gloom, HP is popping up more and more as a company that should both do well through tough economic times and be positioned to thrive once things eventually do turn around.


Additionally, the current (Dec 29/Jan 5) issue had several things of interest:

- A review of the new Michael Lewis book "Panic! The Story of Modern Financial Insanity". Lewis made a name for himself as an author with such varied topics as baseball ("Moneyball"), Jim Clark of Netscape/Healtheon/Silicon Graphics ("The New New Thing"), and football ("The Blind Side") and his new book is actually a collection of different writing during and about multiple financial panics in recent history.

- An interesting piece titled "A Wrench in Silicon Valley's Wealth Machine" about how private tech startups (Digg as the featured example) are seeing a reduction in their valuations... and as such are focusing more now on reaching profitability and less on a target date for going public.

- Many different pieces about the economy... all with a theme that things could get worse prior to getting better and people should attempt the dual tasks of saving (with a target savings of a year's living expenses) and maxing out 401K contributions to take advantage of current low stock prices.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Obama Election Night Piece from Esquire

A great piece from the Jan 2009 issue of Esquire Magazine is "American Surprise: How Election Night Brought Us Home Again" by noted author and frequent sportswriter-type Charles P. Pierce... whose website can be found here.

The short essay by Pierce is part of a collection of works from various Esquire writers who describe their experiences and thoughts about Barack Obama's election on Nov 4. I found all of them to be interesting, but Pierce's piece to be the most moving as he vividly paints this day into a historic context.

An image from the victory speech at Grant Park in Chicago accompanied Pierce's work.


"2008: Best Sports Year Ever" Story from Sports Illustrated

From the same Dec 29 Sports Illustrated issue with "Michael Vick's dog" on the cover comes an excellent piece from Michael Farber (who usually writes about hockey for SI) titled "The Best Year Ever 2008". Chronicling the amazing and incredible in sports from 2008, the story runs the gamut from David Tyree's Super Bowl catch against the Patriots to Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt's record-breaking efforts in the Summer Olympics.

While the above-mentioned story details the inspiring and amazing, a sidebar piece titled (and subtitled) "Precious Medal: An altruistic act by eight high school runners in Washington reaffirmed the value of sportsmanship" is equally inspiring, just in a different way.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Michael Vick Dogs" Story from Sports Illustrated

It being Christmas, it's more than appropriate to have linked here the cover story titled "Happy New Year" from the Dec 29 Sports Illustrated issue.

The very well written piece by Jim Gorant details what's taken place with the 51 pit bulls taken from Vick's dog-fighting operation.

Not to give all the details, but keeping in mind the title of the article, the subtitle on the magazine cover and the allusion to a proper Christmas Day story... it's a very cool read.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Time Magazine - Person of the Year: Barack Obama

No surprise at all, but it's still exciting to see President-elect Obama as Time's pick for 2008 Person of the Year.

Featured in the Dec 29 issue are an insightful piece on Obama's current actions and priorities by the excellent writer David Von Drehle as well as a series of the best Obama images and art posted to the photo site Flickr. Really good stuff.

As scary as the current times are, I'm just thankful that Obama is the guy to lead us through them...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nancy Gibbs essay from Time Magazine

I'm sure there's going to be other great stuff from Time's 2008 Person of the Year issue (one guess who it is), but I found compelling enough Nancy Gibbs' "Listen to the Kids" commentary to write about it here on it's own.

Really good stuff about children, tradition and (especially now two days before Christmas) what are supposed to be the things that really matter...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sports Illustrated: Dec 15 Issue

Some interesting stuff from the latest Sports Illustrated...

- Brief mention of former SI writer Roy Blount Jr. and his new book "Alphabet Juice". Sounds as if it's an interesting primer on the English language (perhaps similar to "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" or those books written by Bill Bryson), but written by an accomplished former sportswriter.

- Profile on Northern State men's basketball coach Don Meyer titled "The Game of His Life". It's a really good look at the person poised to overtake Bobby Knight atop the list of men's NCAA coaches with the most wins. Beyond the victories, what's interesting about Meyer is the impact that he's had on the game and his players... and their impact on him as he lives with the effects of a near fatal car accident which required the amputation of his left leg below the knee.

- In depth look at the impact of Russian billionaires on the world of sports titled "To Russia With Love". From England's Chelsea Soccer Club to teams in Russia itself, these uber-rich individuals are raising the profile and skill level of the teams they own through huge cash layouts.

Rather than doing so for the purpose of turning a profit, these "oligarchs" are able to to spend lavishly for the purpose of enjoyment (and at the same time to curry favor with the Putin government by supporting Russian sporting achievement). The article has the astounding quote that "22 men reportedly control some 40% of the country's gross domestic product".

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Hero of the Underground" by Jason Peter

Sakes alive... "Hero of the Underground" by ex-Nebraska Cornhusker football star Jason Peter is quite the read. It's a memoir that takes the reader from Peter's youth to his role as a leader of Nebraska's famed "Blackshirts" Defense and then his NFL career... and subsequent descent into addiction.

There's so many levels on which the book is interesting. In the anecdote about a famous person category, there's the story of Peter's younger brother Damian. A hugely talented high-school football player, Damian was headed to Notre Dame to play for Coach Lou Holtz. However, a freak swimming pool accident left him paralyzed... and according to Jason, also no longer of interest to Coach Holtz.

Additionally, Peter's story shows some of the profound differences between life for a college as opposed to pro football player. He may have had it exceptionally good in college playing at Nebraska for top-level coaches in front of (what I can say from personal experience) extremely knowledgeable and supportive fans, but the NFL was a whole different story. Fans at the pro level were much more fickle towards the players (probably understandable given that they're large contracts) and the coaches much more desperately needed to win in order to hold onto their jobs. As a result, Peter found an environment where it was all about winning... to a point where the camaraderie was gone... and where you did whatever you had to do in order to keep your body performing at a high level.

This concept of health (or lack thereof) and what players did with their bodies in the pros takes the reader to the most interesting, and astonishing at times, aspect of the book... Peter's drug addiction and the hold it took on him. What started as a vicodin habit in order to keep playing then morphed into a full-blown painkiller addition. Throw in recreational cocaine use (often as an attempt to bridge the gap between the social life he loved in college and his outside of football boredom as a pro) and Peter's habits were set. Once his body officially gave out, he found himself a late twenty-something guy living in New York City with a drug habit, money to burn and a unfulfilled identity as a pro athlete.

From there, Peter began his hard-core partying career... including time spent holed up in $400/night LA hotel rooms with hookers and hanger-on fellow addicts. This all became much more complicated (and potentially deadly) when Peter eventually brought heroin and crack into his addiction menu. This whole portion (really, the largest portion) of the book is amazing in reading about the various situations that Peter put himself into and to know that he actually came out of each alive.

His story is certainly still an unfinished one, but after many trips in and out of rehab, Peter appears to have pulled himself through. Reading his story, it's easy to be amazed by the experiences he had, but also to hope that he can continue to keep everything together.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who... loves football, is interested in the psyche of the pro athlete and fascinated by tales of "extreme lives lived".

Time Magazine - Dec 22 Issue

One really good opinion piece and several interesting tidbits from the recent Time Magazine...

- In his story "Black Gold: It's Time to Raise the Gas Tax", Michael Kinsley presents a very compelling argument for why the gas tax should be increased. He makes the point that just months ago, oil (and correspondingly, gasoline) prices were at all-times highs, but consumers were dealing with it just fine. Now, the economy has tanked (pardon the pun) and oil/gasoline prices have plummeted as well.

Kinsley's argument is that we shouldn't simply celebrate our good fortune (while the economy remains poor) and aimlessly wasting gas and abandoning the adoption of hybrids and new energy sources and technologies. Rather, we should raise the gasoline tax to keep the conservation direction going... and at the same time cut payroll taxes to stimulate both job creation and reduce the taxes coming out of consumers paychecks.

Seems logical both from an economic as well as a trying to save the planet perspective.

- "The Six-Figure Job Hunt" is an interesting piece about the number of white-collar workers looking for work. One thing that stands out about it is rather than just being a doom-and-gloom story, it makes the point that there's still jobs out there through natural turnover and the right approach through networking and resume targeting can land them for those inclined.

- Time's "Top 10 Everything of 2008" is a list section highlighting the biggest people, stories and things from the past year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama

I almost feel guilty for saying this, but I found "The Audacity of Hope" (at least the first half of it that I did read) by President-Elect Barack Obama to be... ok. Well, good, but a bit boring..

I definitely agreed with many of the views he espouses about politics and found his personal anecdotes to be extremely interesting. That said, I also found myself wanting more personal anecdotes and less about policy. It's not a slam on the book at all, but perhaps just a sign that I would enjoy much more Obama's book "Dreams From My Father".

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Multi-touch" Screen Technology

I suppose I'm interested in it due to my huge appreciation of my iPhone and have come across a few different articles about multi-touch (using two hands in natural movements) touchscreen technology and one of it's innovators, Jeff Han.

This 2007 Fast Company Magazine article on Han was the first I heard about the technology (now fairly well-known on the "magic walls" used by various news organizations to show election projections.

Then in May 2008, the BusinessWeek article "A Touch of Genius" overviews the technology and then Time Magazine profiled Han as one of it's "100 Most Influential People".

Fascinating stuff both from the perspective of the technology out there right now and what's to come...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

2008 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Issue

Two excellent articles from the SI Sportsman of the Year Issue... one being the cover story on Michael Phelps, SI's Sportsman of the Year and the second being a profile of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver... SI's pick for it's inagural Sportsman of the Year Legacy Award.

The story on Shriver is extremely well written and (as could be expected) very touching. Interestingly enough, though, the story on Phelps is also moving as it gets into the time Phelps has spent as a role model and the impact that he's had.

Very good stuff...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

BusinessWeek Magazine - Various Stuff

Below are some various and sundry stories of note I've come across in BusinessWeek over the last few months... no common theme to them other than I found each interesting.

Dec 8 Issue

- Book Review of "Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World"... written by Don Tapscott. Discusses examples of companies like Best Buy that use a company wiki to gather employee insights as well as platforms for social interaction and connection like Facebook. Sounds interesting...

- Piece titled "User-Friendly Finance for Generation Y" on PNC Bank's new "virtual wallet" consumer account offering. Designed by IDEO, the program sounds as if it utilizes a really solid user experience based on the desires of this young banking market.

Dec 1 Issue

- "Facebook's Land Grab in the Face of a Downturn" about the social networking company's efforts to expand it's user base.

- Book Review of "Outliers"... written by uber-insight guy Malcolm Gladwell, the book contains Gladwell's views on what causes some to succeed greatly in life. One concept from the review... Gladwell's idea of a "10,000 hour rule" (practice anything long enough and you'll get good at it).

Nov 17 Issue

- "LinkedIn and Reid Hoffman: Recession Ready" about both LinkedIn founder Hoffman's views on what Web 2.0 companies need to do to survive (invest/grow even in hard times) as well as what LinkedIn is doing to position itself.

- "How Nike's Social Network Sells to Runners" about www.nikeplus.com and how the company is using the site as a social networking tool... and increasing sales as a result. Really interesting from a marketing perspective...

Nov 10 Issue

- "Dell Bets Splashy Design Will Sell It's New Laptops" about the design efforts (led by former Nike industrial designer Ed Boyd) at the computer manufacturer.

Oct 13 Issue

- "The Power 100: The Most Influential People in Sports" featuring the list itself (compiled by panelists including Paul Swangard of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon) as well as features on Yahoo! Sports, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and Gatorade's Sports Marketing head.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Time Magazine - Dec 8 Issue

Quite a few interesting articles from the most recent issue of Time Magazine...

The cover story is about Michelle Rhee, the controversial chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system. It's a look at Rhee and her efforts to turn around the extremely troubled public schools in Washington D.C. and makes one think about Rhee's overriding philosophy that students will do better when they have better teachers... and the way you get better teachers is through better pay for the best ones. Interesting read...

Also in this issue was a look at President-elect Barack Obama's actions around the economic crisis titled "Why He Just Can't Wait". It chronicles the steps that have already been taken to prop up the economy prior to the Jan 20, 2009 inauguration and shows someone who appears to be really stepping up to a huge challenge.

Two different smaller pieces of note from this issue are below:

1. "Don't Panic, Retirees" from money writer Dan Kadlec which among other points makes the argument that the market should be going up and people should invest now to realize those gains.

2. The last-page essay from Nancy Gibbs about the current rush to collect items related to the Barack Obama election victory. Gibbs is a very poignant writer and I really enjoyed this piece that takes a broader look at collections as a whole and how as she puts it "collectibles are the memory of the moments that make us who we are."

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Zero Days" by Barbara Egbert

Just finished reading "Zero Days"... a pretty interesting book by Barbara Egbert, who took a sabbatical from writing for the San Jose Mercury News to hike the Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada with her husband and 10 year old daughter.

I came across the general story from reading an excellent newspaper article by Egbert for the Mercury News after the hike. I wish I could find it to post here, but at least for the time being will have to simply say that it was a really good piece and I enjoyed it more than the full-length book itself. While the topic of the through hike for a family that included the youngest person to ever hike the entire distance was interesting, I wasn't a huge fan of the narrative structure of the book that had chapters organized as topics rather than narrative following the duration of the hike.

This said, it was an interesting story and I have to give huge credit to both the then 10 year old daughter who completed the journey and the parents who did it along with her. Further details about the Egbert family can be found on their website, PCT Family.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Interesting Television Articles

Below are some interesting articles I've come across about various television shows...

- "The Wire": In the February 2008 issue of Esquire Magazine, David Simon, creator of the critically acclaimed HBO show "The Wire" gives a fascinating look into the newspaper industry through his story "A Newspaper Can't Love You Back". Really good writing about an interesting topic...

- HBO: In a March 2008 issue, BusinessWeek did an interesting profile "From Hitmen to Hitless" of the management issues at cable channel HBO as they attempt to replicate the success of "The Sopranos".

- "Heroes", "Lost", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" & other sci-fi shows: From it's May 2008 issue, Fast Company Magazine published the story "Rebel Alliance" about the successful young creators of hit sci-fi television shows... and how many of them were influenced by Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

- "This American Life": In May 2008, Time Magazine published "10 Questions for Ira Glass" with the creator of the popular NPR radio show... that has since been adapted into a Showtime series by the same name.

- "Mad Men": I don't actually have a specific article linked, but have come across enough mentions of the AMC show that I'm interested in watching it from the series beginning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Esquire Magazine - December '08 Issue

As is almost always the case, there was some excellent writing in Esquire Magazine's latest issue... it's "Best & Brightest" from Dec 2008.

The cover story was written by Esquire writer-at-large Chris Jones, the object of my "writing man-crush". An in-depth profile of Vince Vaughn, it features the same type of great prose that Jones seems to deliver with each piece.

From this same issue, Jason Fagone writes a fascinating profile on iconoclastic video-game programmer Jason Rohrer and his most well-known creation, "Passage". Available for download here, it's a small game with old-school pixelation that has been trumpeted at video game conferences by some of the biggest game designers in the business. Rather than having more bells and whisltes than the current hot titles on the market, the game has enough depth in it's plot to bring both Rohrer and other industry bigwigs to tears... all in the five minutes it takes to play.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"The Hard Way" by Mark Jenkins

I recently finished "The Hard Way" by Mark Jenkins and celebrated reading this tale of mountaineering exploits and excursions to the remote corners of the Earth by... catching a cold and staying inside all week.

Well, while this is a bit of an aside to the book itself, it actually does relate. When I read Jenkins' tale of his various adventures, I admire him for the desire and heartiness to visit these dangerous locales, but don't actually want to myself.

What I can say, though, is that even though I may not wish to climb a mountain after reading about someone else doing it, I am probably a bit motivated to get out and go camping or hiking... and to do so with my son as he gets older.

So, that takeaway combined with the experience of being entertained by the interesting content combined with excellent writing (from someone who's doing what they love)... yep, it adds up to time well spent having read the book.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Time Magazine - Nov 10 & Oct 6 Issues

This is very much a hodgepodge posting, but below are links to some interesting articles I've come across in Time Magazine, but haven't posted about previously...

November 10 2008 Issue

Time's "Invention of the Year" piece highlighted the various product breakthroughs from in the last year. In the purely entertaining category, the list included the online video "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris. The 43-minute 3-part musical has since crossed over from mere online video to now having a DVD in the works.

On the more serious front, Time's #1 Invention of the Year is a $399 DNA test that people can use to determine their susceptibility to various genetic diseases. While the test (and current science behind available to the consumer gene testing) has it's detractors, it's still a fascinating concept from the Google-backed startup 23andMe.

October 6 2008 Issue

Contained in this issue of Time was a profile of Michelle Obama, wife of now President-elect Barack Obama (whom I've written about a few times). Written by Curtis Sittenfeld, author of the novels "Prep" and "American Wife" (a fictional look at the life of current first lady Laura Bush that I previously reviewed), it's a fascinating look at this woman now very much in the public eye.

Also in this issue was a James Poniewozik commentary about the ABC Television show "The View" and what it provides to the public. The opinion piece makes the interesting assertion that "The View" is good television precisely because of it's inherent bias.

Poniewozik's point is that watching the show you know where each member of the panel comes from... and how they likely feel about Democrats or Republicans among other topics. As a result of this, people watching the show are able to listen to very different perspectives... while knowing whatever preconceived notions might be behind those views.

This becomes particularly interesting to me when you consider the oft-made argument that the media is biased towards a particular political party. My feeling is that I don't agree with this argument because I think that the media is not a large entity (like "The Borg" from Star Trek), but rather an collection of writers and broadcasters all of whom have their own particular feelings and leanings.

I think we can expect our network news anchors to come across as completely objective, but don't think we need to ask that of each and every person reporting information to us. Thus... you have the interesting dynamic that "The View" provides.

Fast Company Magazine - Nov 2008 issue

There was a couple of very different articles of interest from the November 2008 issue of Fast Company Magazine.

First was a profile of Microsoft Live Labs head Gary Flake and his efforts to innovate at the software giant. While it will take years to measure the true legacy Flake leaves at Microsoft, early returns have been interesting with the 3-D photo application photosynth as an example.

Also from this Nov 2008 issue was a Q&A session with Costco cofounder and current CEO Jim Sinegal. Among other things, it feature's Sinegal's views of how a big publicly-traded retailer can (as some assert) be overly generous to it's employees and still prosper (perhaps due in part to said generosity).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Boys Will Be Boys" Writing from Time Magazine

About a year apart, Time Magazine published two issues whose cover stories shared a common theme.

The first was from Aug 2007 and contained a cover story written by the excellent writer David Von Drehle. Titled "The Myth About Boys" it examines the held in some circles notion that today's male youth are going down the wrong path and pretty much concludes... things are fine.

One interesting point the article touches on is the held in some circles idea that boys are not spending enough time exploring on their own, but rather spending all their recreational time in highly structured team sport environments.

Drehle doesn't completely disagree with this assessment, but does offer examples of how many boys are spending time on wilderness exploration and makes reference to the wildly popular "The Dangerous Book for Boys" activity guide book written by Conn and Hal Iggulden.

The second issue was Time Magazine's July 2008 annual Making of America special report... focused on Mark Twain.

Pieces range from Managing Editor Richard Stengel's "The Mark of Twain" introducing the issue and it's chosen subject to an in-depth look at the man titled "Mark Twain: Our Original Superstar" among several other pieces from the entire issue.

Great writing on interesting subjects from both issues. As to the connection between the "Myth About Boys" piece and Mark Twain himself... well, I think the guy who wrote "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" would have been quite interested in what Von Drehle had to write.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

"The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch

Just finished reading "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. It was written along with Jeffrey Zaslow after Pausch's lecture about life and preparing to die (Pausch passed away recently from cancer) to his Carnegie Mellon students.

The book itself is somewhat interesting, but it's primary impact was to make me want to actually watch the lecture itself and to learn more about some of the work that Pausch did while teaching. Two of the outputs of his efforts are the "Entertainment Technology Center" and "Alice".

The ETC is a master's degree program in what sounds to be incredibly cool stuff... robotics, video games, animation, etc. and Alice is a software program that teaches computer programming.

Additional information on these works as well as links to other aspects of Pausch's life can be found at http://www.thelastlecture.com/ and the aforementioned lecture itself is below...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Saved" by Jack Falla

Just finished reading "Saved" by acclaimed hockey writer Jack Falla. It's a fictional look at a goalie in the NHL and blends in stories of family, commitment and life around a hockey tale.

While I would say that the book probably is a bit longer than need be, it did make me interested to learn about and read more from the author...

Jack Falla passed away in September 2008 at the age of 64. His career included stints writing for Sports Illustrated and more recently teaching communications at Boston University.

Some of his most well known writing was about his backyard rink in Massachusetts and can be found in his book "Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds" or in a condensed version at this link to the story "How and Why to Build a Backyard Rink". Early in 2008, Falla also came out with the book "Open Ice: Reflections & Confessions of a Hockey Lifer" discussing his life spent around the sport he loved.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Obama Victory Speech

What to say? Well... maybe the best way to express it by offering up the words of some others.

From http://www.time.com/, there's Joe Klein telling us that "Obama's Victory Ushers in a New America" or Nancy Gibbs giving us "The Meaning of Obama's Win: How He Rewrote the Book".

Really, though, the best words to use are from the man himself...

Other YouTube videos from Obama can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/BarackObamadotcom.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

November 4, 2008: Election Day

This being said, "Why Barack Obama is Winning" is a very insightful piece from Joe Klein in the Nov 3 issue of Time Magazine.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Excellent Writing: From Esquire

Below is a hodgepodge listing of some really good writing from Esquire Magazine over the last few years...

- "What I've Learned" by Glenn Fitzpatrick, 46-year old Esquire editor diagnosed with ALS... from the March 2008 issue.

- "What I've Learned" by Carrie Fischer featuring some various ramblings in the Jan 2008 issue from the actress who portrayed Princess Leia. One of the most interesting is “I like having written the same way I like having gone to the gym. I’m a conversationalist more than a writer. I take dictation from myself. I talk about myself behind my back.”

- A Scott Raab written profile of Sean Penn just before the release of "Into the Wild", the movie Penn wrote and directed based off the Jon Krakauer book of the same title. Really insightful stuff...

- "I Do Not Have a Death Wish" from writer David Vann. This story was from the Dec 2007 issue of Esquire and it's a first-person account of Vann's preparations to attempt a round-the-world sail of a homemade boat. The follow-up to this introduction can be found here on the Esquire site. One of the compelling things here is that it's such good first-person writing of an interesting story.

- An obituary of sorts of writer W.C. Heinz by my favorite living writer, Chris Jones (previously posted about here as well as here). Jones references Heinz's short story "Death of a Racehorse".

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama Articles from Time Magazine

Couple of really interesting articles from the October 20 issue of Time Magazine...

The first is essentially the cover story by David Von Drehle titled "The Limits of Race". With a subtitle of "For White Working Class, Obama Rises on Empty Wallets", it's a very well written and interesting look at voters in the key swing state of Missouri and how the economy appears to be trumping everything for voters looking at their Presidential selection.

Also in this issue is a commentary written by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller "Eat, Pray, Love" titled "A Family Divided by Obama and McCain". Gilbert is an Obama supporter and the piece is about her relationship with her McCain supporting father.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"How Tough Could it Be?" & "The Sweet Season" by Austin Murphy

There were a couple of interesting things from the latest Sports Illustrated... one of them written by an author I've come across in the past.

In his magazine story "Coming Attractions", senior writer Austin Murphy wrote about Penn State football and their upcoming game against Ohio State (in which they've now beaten the Buckeyes). It was good writing and reminded me of the two books I've read by him...
Austin Murphy Books

In "How Tough Could It Be?: The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad", Murphy recounts his time on sabbatical from SI. Taking over the household management and primary (during the work day at a minimum) responsibility of their two kids provided Murphy a chance to see just how tough the whole stay at home parent thing is.

Overall, it's a very funny book and also gives good insights into what Murphy went through. Definitely recommended for those with kids, particularly if one of the parents has this stay at home role.

Several years prior to this, Murphy wrote "The Sweet Season: A Sportswriter Rediscovers Football, Family, and a Bit of Faith at Minnesota's St. John's University" about his time spent with Coach John Gagliardi and the small-college St. John's football team.

An excellent book for those who love college football, particularly a smaller and "less corporate" version of college football that isn't necessarily leading towards the bigger NFL stage, but rather just towards the love of the game.

Other Stuff from Oct 27 Sports Illustrated

Not related to Murphy at all, but two other things I found to be of note from this issue...

"The Good Ol' Days" about the recent DVD release of the of TV show "Sports Night" that ran for 45 episodes from 1999-2000.

"Friday Night Futbol" by SI writer Melissa Segura about a high-level Mexican high school football team that travels to Texas (and has come in the past) to play their American counterparts. The story is especially interesting for any reader familiar with the fervor around big time high school football in Texas.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt

It likely wouldn't have been predicted to sell well, but "Traffic" by frequent magazine writer Tom Vanderbilt reached into the Top Ten on the New York Times Best Seller list. Having just finished reading it, I can see why as it had some very interesting points to make about something that affects many people each and every day... traffic.

Some of those insights are below:

- Late merging onto a freeway: Rather than simply being selfish driving, it's the most efficient usage of the road as it means the largest portion of available space is being utilized for the longest period of time.

- Cell phone usage: While it probably is safer to use a hands-free device than to not, the safest thing to do is not use a cell phone at all while driving. The reason has to do with attention... studies of driver's gaze while on a cell phone shows them picking a fixed point directly in front of them and keeping focus there. This is as opposed to experienced (i.e. good) drivers not talking on a cell phone who are continually scanning the path ahead to adjust to any obstacles that may arise.

- We miss seeing things we don't expect: Accidents often result from outliers in traffic that they're not used to seeing. Cars frequently collide with police and emergency responders parked alongside the road and a main reason why is that the drivers of those cars don't expect to see anything parked there and when they do, the processing of that information often isn't done quickly enough to take the right course of action driving.

- Roundabouts and shared spaces are safer for all: It's really two different but related points... roundabouts are a good thing in traffic because they slow everybody down and make them be aware of their surroundings (similar idea to not talking on a cell phone) and shared space between cars and pedestrians accomplishes the same end. The alternative to this is simple four-way stops and lights... where accidents often occur when people don't expect either the other car or pedestrian to enter "their space".

Related to both of these concepts is the idea that the most dangerous roads are the most boring ones. Rumble strips on highways help reduce this danger, but what occurs is driving are lulled into a false sense of security (or sleep) and reduce their attention... which is never good on the road.

There's definitely some other interesting concepts (around commute times, parking and building more roads, for instance) out of the book and even though it's a bit dry (it is an entire book about traffic for gosh sakes), I'd definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the concepts.

"For Those About to Write" by Dave Bidini

It's I'm sure an extremely little known book in the U.S., but I just finished reading "For Those About to Write" from Canadian writer Dave Bidini.

Written for the young adult (teen) audience, it's a very fast read (an hour or two) and contains Bidini's autobiographical path into a writing profession. There's not much in the way of narrative to the book, but there are some interesting things aspiring writers can take away. Below are a few of them...

- Reach out to writers: Bidini knew from a young age he wanted to be a writer and worked towards that... by both spending time writing (outside of school) and sending letters to accomplished writers asking for advice. While not everyone knows that they want to do from a young age (or even middle age), Bidini deserves admiration for his efforts toward his goal of being a writer (and his path reminded me of that Stephen King described is his autobiographical book "On Writing").

- Just write: I suppose this ties into the above notion, but one point that Bidini makes (which also happened to be made in King's book) is the best way to become a good writer is to just write. As he puts it, writing garbage is ok to do, it gives you practice and if you write enough, the good stuff will eventually come out. When it does and you're "feeling it", that's great and you of course keep writing the good stuff, but even when you're not writing well, it's still good to keep putting pen to paper so to speak.

It's not necessarily a criticism, but one thing that I found interesting in the book was that at the end, Bidini comments about writing on the Internet and while he doesn't disparage it, he's also doesn't seem terribly impressed with it as a medium. Where this seems odd to me is that earlier in the book he recommends writers put out "fanzines"... short newsletters on a given topic. To me, this would be in essence a different version of a blog. Both simply mean that the aspiring writer is doing the best thing towards their goal... writing.

All in all, I think "For Those About to Write" is pretty decent book. I came across it because Bidini does a fair amount of hockey writing (I'll be reading his "Tropic of Hockey" book soon) and wanted to see what he had to say about the process of writing itself. If that's a goal of someone, they probably couldn't go wrong taking an hour or two out of their day to see his thoughts on the topic.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Various & Sundry Parenting Articles

A bit of a hodgepodge list, but featured below are links to some various articles I'm come across that deal with parenting (of particular interest to me given the presence of our 17 month old rapscallion).

- "Tripping the Parenting Blogosphere" from a March 2008 BusinessWeek issue features mentions and descriptions of various parenting sites including babble and offsprung (started by Neal Pollack, author of "Alternadad"... which I found to be a fairly good book about raising a young kid).

- "When Lead Lurks in Your Nursery" from a September 2007 Time Magazine issue.

- "Fatherhood 2.0" from an October 2007 issue of Time about fathers being heavily involved in the raising of children.

- May 2008 Time Magazine profile of the band They Might be Giants... previously known for songs such as "Istanbul, not Constantinople" and now the creator of children's albums.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"American Wife" by Curtis Sittenfeld

I tend to be more of a reader of non-fiction books, but try to throw in some fiction here and there to "keep myself honest" and read a wide variety of stuff... from both categories of work.

That said, I just finished reading "American Wife" by Curtis Sittenfeld. It's a fictional (i.e. made up) account of first lady Laura Bush and the circumstances of her life and how she wound up married to George W Bush (again, fictional, but with general themes from George W's past that many would recognize). Additional information ranging from author bio to a reading guide for the book can be found at http://www.curtissittenfeld.com/.

My reaction to the book is both that I was impressed by it and thought it could have been better.

Impressed by It

The basic genre (if genre is the right term) is fiction, but I think "American Wife" could be further categorized as what I'll call "story of life" fiction.

Similar to "Straight Man" by Richard Russo (which I finished earlier this year) or "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen (which I'm about halfway through and hope to finish eventually), Sittenfeld's book carries the reader through a life (or at least period of life) history of the main character.

The manifestation of this on the page is Sittenfeld's (as well as Russo's and Franzen's) work comes across as being character as opposed to plot based. One of the thoughts I have reading good character based fiction (especially Franzen's) is "damn, I wish I could write that well." I love the way this type of writing (done well) paints a vivid portrait on the page of who a person actually is.

This is in no way to mean that plot based is bad as there's of course great plot based stuff out there (The "Twilight" books by Stephenie Meyer and "Harry Potter" books by J.K. Rowling come to mind), but just as I think it's good to read fiction in general, it's also good to read really good character based writing.

I suppose it should also be said that there's fiction writing out there that does both character and plot based well, but it's not common (an example that comes to mind is the character of Howard Roark and circumstances of his life... as written by Ayn Rand in "The Fountainhead").

Anyhoo... back to Sittenfeld's work. What I liked about it was the portrait of a first a girl and then a woman growing up in small town Wisconsin. Her meeting and then interactions with the character later to become President was a fascinating juxtaposition (if I'm actually using that word correctly). What the reader sees is how someone assimilates into a family and social class completely different than their own and the emotions and actions that then evokes in the main character. This period of the book was really well done.

Thought it Could Have Been Better

Interestingly enough, the part I liked the least about the book was what caused me to read it in the first place. It's marketed (correctly so, I suppose) as a fictional account of Laura Bush and her life with George W, but for me, the book basically ends with the conclusion of the section just prior to the Presidency.

I suppose this ties into one of the problems with this so called "story of life" fiction... you either have to pick a discreet time period (as Russo did in his book) and have it be manageable for the reader or cover it all (as Franzen did) and have the book take forever to get through (much as I love the writing, I don't know when I'll finish it).

What I don't like about Sittenfeld's book is that it feels the final part in the White House is simply tacked on to be able to say "this book is about Laura and George W". However, I would have been just as happy if that last section were treated as simply a post-script paragraph rather than another 100 or so pages.

That said... all the stuff above about the excellent character based writing is true. That in itself I think is enough to make this a solid read.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"The End of Prosperity" Article from Time Magazine

Really interesting cover story from the Oct 13 issue of Time Magazine titled "The End of Prosperity".

Written by Niall Ferguson, it's subtitle is "a noted historian looks at parallels between this financial crisis and 1929 and shows what must be done to avoid Depression 2.0".

Monday, October 13, 2008

BusinessWeek Magazine - Oct 13 Issue

Three different (and completely unrelated) features from the recent BusinessWeek that stood out as interesting...

1. "Dangerous Fakes: How counterfeit, defective computer components from China are getting into U.S. warplanes and ships" is a downright alarming piece that exposes a systematic problem... with potentially devastating impact on our military servicemen and women.

2. "The Power 100: Most influential people in sports": as compiled by experts from all sides of the industry... including the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

3. "Nokia's Bid to Rule the Mobile Web" is an interesting look at some of the efforts and strategies under way at the phone maker. While not as sexy as Apple with the introduction of the iPhone, Nokia has a huge influence due simply to it's large share (half a billion handsets expected to ship this year) of the market.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sports Illustrated Article on FiveThirtyEight.com

The Oct 13, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated has a brief piece titled "The Sports-politics Connection" on http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/.

The article describes the website as using a statistics-based approach to predicting the winners of political contests. The sports connection (and why this would appear in SI) is that the economics grad creator of the site also has a background in sabermetrics.

This statistical approach to predicting player performance in baseball was begun by Bill James and became more well known as a result of the Michael Lewis book "Moneyball" which was previously reviewed on this blog.

Back to FiveThirtyEight... it's a fascinating site and given that it's about politics and predicting winners, it's probably worthwhile to note that on the FAQ section of the site, the author, Nate Silver, describes himself as someone who votes Democratic the "majority of the time", but attempts to not have his own convictions reflected in any of the statistical predictions.

Really interesting stuff.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Teaching the Bible in Public Schools & Katharine Jefferts Schori interview

There was a fascinating Time Magazine cover story from April 2007 titled "The Case for Teaching the Bible" about the author's view that the Bible should be taught in Public Schools.

The argument is that the Bible's impact as a book that shapes and impacts people's beliefs should be openly discussed... and if that discussion is done properly, there is no conflict between religion as a thing and public school education as a separate thing.

Very interesting idea and the article is a fascinating read.

Additionally (and related in that it's a non-religious look at something closely associated with religion), Time in 2006 ran a very interesting "10 Questions" interview with then President-elect of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Many religious conservatives have taken umbrage with Schori's "liberal" views on gay clergy and in the interview she speaks to that criticism as well as her feelings on the relationship between religion and science.

Again, interesting ideas and regardless of someone's religious beliefs, there's a lot to be said for understanding where such an influential religious leader is coming from.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) Conference

I've been hearing about the annual TED conference in Monterey, CA (moving in 2009 to Long Beach) and am just plain fascinated by the whole thing.

The impression that I continually get from reading stories such as this BusinessWeek TED wrap up are that it's full of terribly interesting ideas given by brilliant people. Additionally, I pick up from the linked in BW story column by tech author Sarah Lacy (who happened to write a book described on this blog) that it's also a bit elitist... but, c'mon... it costs $6,000 to attend and everyone wants to. How could it not be elitist?

Anyhoo... regardless of how kind and friendly TED as an entity (kind of like the computer "Hal" from "2001: A Space Odyssey") may be, it does have those aforementioned brilliant people and accompanying ideas.

At the end of the day, maybe you just have to be thankful that the organizers of TED are good enough to provide us common folk with a website where we can view what's been presented by the smarties at TEDs past.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Corporate Workplace Culture: the Good (Not the Bad or Ugly)

While Corporate America often gets a bad rap (justifiably so) for the environment (not CFC-type environment, but employee mattering-type environment) it's people work in, there are some stories out there of companies that do it right...

In a September 2007 article, BusinessWeek ran "Netflix: Flex to the Max" about the efforts at Netflix to both attract and retain the best employees... through extreme "flexibility and responsibility" provided from CEO Reed Hastings on down.

Also, from September 2007, BusinessWeek published "How to Make a Microserf Smile" about the efforts at employee responsiveness done at the tech behemoth. Led by HR chief Lisa Brummel, Microsoft has fought gamely over the last few years to keep both it's star employees and overall moral up.

It's probably not necessary to point to Google as a company that treats it's employees well (given the legendary free cafeteria, child care, laundry, etc), but in it's March 2008 "50 Most Innovative Companies" issue, Fast Company has a piece about the perks enjoyed at Google, including an author and Presidential Candidate speaker series (pretty good stuff).

Finally (and more recently), Fred Kiel in his October 6, 2008 BusinessWeek opinion piece, tears apart the notion that employees are motivated only by self-interest. Kiel argues that rather than this, employees greatly value a workplace culture that trusts it's people (REI as an example) and gives them opportunities to advance (i.e. Costco Wholesale).

Sunday, October 05, 2008

BusinessWeek Magazine - Sept 22 Issue

Some interesting stuff from the September 22 issue of BusinessWeek:

Piece on Business Exchange, a new portion of the BusinessWeek website where individuals can track and comment on specific business topics.

"Los Alamos and Sandia: R&D Treasures" about how Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories are sharing their research expertise (for a fee, of course) with private sector companies such as Proctor & Gamble.

"Philips: Philanthropy by Design" about how Royal Philips Electronics is designing products to for purchase by the world's poor. The result can be both increased profit for the company and something valuable provided to the consumer (in one case a new chula stove that causes vastly reduced smoke inhalation).

"Getting Inside the Customer's Mind" about marketing research firm Dunnhumby and it's partnerships with major US retailers Kroger and Macy's.

Jon Fine media opinion piece about the website http://www.spinspotter.com/.

Disneyland for Free on Your Birthday

Entry to Disney Parks (Disneyland, Disneyworld, etc) is free on people's birthdays in 2009. Register in advance and save the $69 adult (or $59 for child 2-9 years old) entry fee.

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"Born Standing Up" by Steve Martin

Having heard Steve Martin's book "Born Standing Up" spoken about in glowing terms on the Howard Stern Show, I decided to give it a read and... was not disappointed.

The book is an autobiography of sorts about Martin's time in doing stand-up (was a distinct period of his life), but also has both some fascinating insights into his character as well as interesting asides that reveal how he views things.

At times it gets a bit tedious and reads a bit like a list of the things he's done, but that's outweighed by the good stuff. Some of that is as follows...

- The idea of Martin starting his entertainment career at age 10 working at the newly opened Disneyland. I couldn't help but be jealous of someone who basically knew from an early age what he wanted to do (even though he went from magic to comedy and then movies and writing)... course, I also give huge credit to someone who kept going after that despite adversity.

- Tied to the notion above, Martin had a quote about his "lean" years that I loved... "Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration."

- Martin's depression during his period of greatest stand-up success... right before he ended stand-up.

- His reconciliation with his parents and corresponding reconnection with his sister.

All in all, an interesting read for anyone who is either a fan of Martin or wants some insight into the show business world through someone that has been very successful in it.

It's also short with big words... ;)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Dixie Chicks on the cover of Time Magazine

It's certainly not recent, but the May 2006 Time cover story on the Dixie Chicks is worth a read. It's a fascinating look at a modern day Salem Witch Trial. All because someone critcized President Bush...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Brilliant Sports Illustrated Writing

Sports Illustrated has provided some great writing over the years (perhaps all of which is now available online at through the SI Vault), but for the purpose of this point, I want to focus on both a recent story and two columns from a few years ago.


The Sept 29 issue of Sports Illustrated features a great cover story by Gary Smith on the Chicago Cubs... more to the point, on Cubs fans and their devotion (and frequently associated heartbreak).

The story brings Smith together with the same group of fans he met 10 years prior in the Wrigley bleachers and looks at what the team means (as well as what a Cubs World Series title would mean) to them.

Having just come back from a college football sojourn to Lincoln, Nebraska, I understand devotion to a team, but it was fascinating reading Smith's account of that devotion being associated with baseball. it's an entirely different topic, but my thought would be the only rival (in terms of fan association) to big time college football would be said Cubs baseball and soccer outside the US. Pro football, basketball, auto racing and hockey... certainly followed by given audiences, but I don't think with the same level of fervor as college football and Cubs baseball.

Anyhoo... the cover story is a great read and makes the reader think about what it is to be... a fan.

Not Recent: Rick Reilly pieces

"Worth the Wait" about high school runner Ben Comen who competes (and finishes) despite having cerebral palsy.

"Funny You Should Ask" about a made up conversation between a dad and his kid about sports, life and things in between.

Monday, September 22, 2008

John McCain Fumbles Through Today Show Interview

So great. My favorite part by far of McCain's bumbling Today Show interview (love that Meredith Vieira) was him talking about the nasty executives getting exorbitant compensation.

This was of course all good and well for McCain until Vieira questioned him about the $45M golden parachute received from Hewlett-Packard by key financial advisor Carly Fiorina when she was fired from the CEO role (and around the time 20,000 HP employees were laid off).

McCain's response... "I'm not familiar with that" followed up by "I think she did a good job".


Friday, September 19, 2008

Time Magazine Sept 22: National Service

Interesting cover story on National Service in the Sept 22 issue of Time Magazine.

It beings with an overview from Managing Editor Richard Stengel (who references the cover story from a year ago also on National Service). From there, the issue contains "21 Ways to Serve America"... some of the ones more personally interesting noted below along with the corresponding # in Time:

#1: Support the "Serve America Act": Bill being introduced in the Senate this month.

#4: Give Up One Day: Service events being planned for Sept 27 and Jan 19 (MLK Day). Details at http://www.events.servicenation.org/ & http://www.mlkday.gov/.

#8: Get Out!: Civilian Conservation Corps is an organization helps clean and protect parks and other natural resources.

#9: Work with the Secretary: California is the first state to have a Cabinet (CA) level position around Service & Volunteering (from this came the California website http://www.californiavolunteers.org/.) Done at a Federal level this type of position would be in the President's Cabinet.

#15: Do It Pro Bono: Service opportunities utilizing Professional skills can be found through the Taproot Foundation or http://www.abillionandchange.org/.

#21: Log On: Another place to seek out volunteer opportunities is through http://www.volunteer.gov/.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Who's Better... Obama or McCain? Not "Is Palin Interesting?"

John McCain (and his associated policies, beliefs and inclinations) is running for President against Barack Obama (and his associated policies, beliefs and inclinations). The person we should elect is the one who is "best" in two areas... the known and the unknown.

On the known side we have things like the economy, health care, energy and the environment and the unknown side we have things like foreign policy (the big events and concerns) and domestic disasters.

When I look at the known issues, I think Obama to be the candidate with the much more detailed plans and when I look at the unknown, I'm also much more comfortable with Obama due to his very measured approach (which I don't think McCain as a noted "Hawk" shares).

It appears that the McCain camp appears to also feel their candidate would come out on the losing side should the race be solely about the issues, hence the entrance of "personality"... defined by Sarah Palin (and all of the fictitious slights against her allegedly perpetuated by the Obama camp and members of the media).

There's a fascinating article from the San Francisco Chronicle titled "About Sarah Palin" which both prints and goes into depth about an extremely detailed e-mail written about Palin by a fellow Wasilla resident. My feeling about Palin after reading it is close to what it was before... she seems to have a very good political sense for backing the positions that will be popular and... she is in no way shape or form qualified to be President as soon as this coming January.

I touched on this pick a bit in a prior post about McCain (and of course not at all in a post focused on Obama), but my feeling is that Palin is both not qualified and should not be a relevant asset to McCain's campaign.

When people vote for the Presidency, they are voting for who they feel will be the best in that position (again, best being defined by how they would be in the known and unknown). They (hopefully) are not voting for the personality brought in by the VP candidate.

Hopefully the Obama camp can help steer the conversation in this very important direction. If not, I'm concerned.