Friday, August 29, 2008
Book Reviews & Other Writing:
1. "Too Far From Home" review
2. "The Devil's Teeth" review
3. "The Geography of Bliss" review
4. "The Devil in the White City" & other Erik Larson reviews
5. "Company" review & other writing links
6. "Twilight" review & others
7. "A Few Seconds of Panic" review
8. "Against the Gods" review
9. "The Art of Racing in the Rain" review
10. "The Blind Side" & other Michael Lewis reviews
11. "Politics Lost" review
12. More Chris Jones writing
13. "A Sense of the World" review
1. China in Africa
2. HP press coverage
3. Impact of bottled water plant
4. Career path of Chris Snow
5. Energy & the environment
7. Obama press coverage
8. Disaster response
9. College credit-card marketing
10. Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies
11. Beijing Olympics swimming
12. Marketing of "Twilight"
13. Fast Company notes including piece on Clorox & the Sierra Club
14. Jeff Skoll
15. Michael Vick's financial problems
16. Olympic moments videos
17. Pre-fabricated homes
18. My new iPhone
19. Customer Service
20. History of this blog
This examination of the content here ties to my last "Why & How Thus Far" post and I have to agree with my assessment there (well, I would hope so)... I'm happy thus far. The overriding goal of the blog is to write about stuff I find interesting and I feel I'm doing that.
Guess this takes me fully to the promised post topic out of the "Why & How Thus Far"... that being the "path forward", specifically how to get a readership. It's a big nut to crack, but I've got some ideas...
There's a three-part topic to cover with the first two thirds discussed here and the final third in a subsequent post.
(1) Why the blog is being written... that can be best done through the blog "title", "header" and "wherefore":
like to write stuff: I genuinely enjoy writing. This isn't a new thing, but something that in the last 6 months or so, I've actually begun exercising again (really for the first consistent time since college). I'm not sure what form exactly it would take, but would like to work in a career where writing is a significant output of what I do.
A bread crumb trail towards the three Rs: reading, writing & really trying to learn new stuff. This header statement is a pretty good description of what I hope the output from this blog to be. The goal is to bring together my writing along with what I read... whether that be from magazines, books or websites (or expanding the universe further, things I view or experience). To state it simply, I hope to tie together in one place things I've found to be... interesting (hmmm... this last statement could have been taken directly from the "wherefore the blog" section).
As this has been written, I recognize that there really is another goal behind the blog. Reference was made earlier to my desire to work in a career that involved me writing... hopefully, this blog can be a vehicle to help accomplish that goal.
(2) The path to current point... this can best be summarized by pulling (in list form) some of the verbiage currently in the "transmogrification of the blog" section.
A. For several years now, I've been a "read and rip out" kind of guy. I'd come across various things I find interesting (mostly magazine articles) and rip out and save the page(s).
B. I created this blog back in mid 2006 and began posting here links to the articles I ripped out along with associated websites from said articles. This was simply in list form w/o much verbiage around what was contained within.
C. Sometime from mid 2006 to mid 2007, I added to the blog lists of both books that I've read (many of which I learned about through the aforementioned magazine articles) over the last few years and websites I've found interesting (yep, many from the same articles).
D. In March of this year I created and began writing http://ahockeyguy.blogspot.com/. Designed to be completely different than this blog in both content and approach, it's about the NHL (and my beloved San Jose Sharks) and contains mostly my original writing and very few website/magazine article/book links.
E. In July of this year I realized I wanted to bring together in this blog my writing with the notes I've taken and things I've come across (non-hockey related) that I've found to be interesting. Since that time, I've posted close to daily (32 posts in close to two months) and have tried to stay true to the goal set out... to write about things I found interesting.
(3) The path going forward... I've reached the point where I'm happy with the content I've been putting onto the blog which takes me to the next step... how to get a readership.
Ideas around this to follow in a subsequent post...
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Below is that cover image along with the various pieces published as part of the report:
- "Customer Vigilantes" is the lead story and focuses on how today's consumer world of blogs, feedback websites and access to information (such as contact #s for corporate execs) makes it much easier for consumers to express their frustrations... and publicly
(http://www.comcastmustdie.com/ being one example).
- "Rebel with a Stalled Cause" about the customer advocacy website http://www.gethuman.com/ which has had a mixed record of success, but still provides an interesting service... the ability to look up phone #s and the menu prompts to select to get a live customer service rep at thousands of different companies.
_ "Trader Joe's Recipe for Success" about how the supermarket thrives through a mixture including excellent employees and niche product stocking.
- BusinessWeek ranking of companies on their 50 Customer Service Champs list. The top 5 according to BW are: (5) Trader Joe's, (4) Lexus, (3) Fairmont Hotels, (2) L.L. Bean & (1) USAA.
This special report reminded me of how in Jan 2006, BW published an interesting article titled "Would you Recommend Us?". It was about the fairly new concept of measuring customer sat using the concept of "net promoter scores" (or NPS) which are derived through asking customers to rate on a 1-10 scale how likely they would be to recommend that company to friends and/or colleagues.
It's an interesting idea in that it seems to to both get to the heart of how a consumer feels about a brand and also ties into a concept from the BW special report... how in today's "information society", the consumer has many new ways to tell their experiences (good or bad) with brands.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I first heard about Roberts' book in the Time Magazine review titled "Have Cane, Will Travel" by Lev Grossman and was definitely not disappointed after actually reading the book. Tracing Holman's life from his birth to death is an interesting read and Roberts does a very compelling job of describing the travails and challenges faced from the explorer, James Holman.
Definitely recommend this book... particularly for those who love adventurous travel, or at least the idea of such.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
After being asked why I made the purchase, I realized that the cause is probably split equally between the iPhone's features and what it represents.
The features themselves are pretty well documented... phone, e-mail, web browsing, access to the application store; basically a small personal computer that can make and receive calls. Everything for the most part appears to work well (though I do find odd both that the typing screen can't be rotated 90 degrees to make the keys larger and that the phone texting function can't receive attachments), but what the iPhone represents is a story in and of itself.
A Nov 2007 issue of Time put the original iPhone on the cover (shown below) and in the contained "Invention of the Year" story, details it's leap forward in the areas of both design and user interface. Additionally, though, the iPhone is hyped (in a good way) both for it's being a platform rather than just a phone and it's likelihood to shape technology going forward. This shaping would be from other manufacturers designing to keep up and Apple itself introducing new and better generations of the iPhone... which it has of course already begun to do with the 3G intro.
So, while I don't consider myself to be much of a technology early adopter (to use a business lexicon phrase), I'm excited to now own this thing. The functionality is there and maybe just as meaningful, so is the promise of things to come in consumer technology. Very cool stuff.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Back to 2005, this BusinessWeek story shows seven different prefab homes and for several years now, I've seen recurring mentions of designer Michelle Kaufmann and her "Glidehouse" prefab home. Kaufmann seems to be the rockstar designer for this new movement of sustainably built prefab homes and the below You Tube video can also be found along with several others at this link on Kaufmann's website.
Prefab homes... affordable, sustainable and very cool.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Jones' book and this Esquire story now duly noted (twice), his other writings from the magazine also deserve mention. His work there can be found through a search of his name at the magazine's site and some of the stories that stood out as particularly interesting are listed below:
- "The Runaway" from Dec 2004 about Ricky Williams and his less than excited return to the life of an NFL player. Very insightful look at the choices a star football player has to make between the sport they play and the league they have to play it in.
- "Barry Zito is Lights Out" from June 2007 about the newly signed (to a $126M contract) San Francisco Giant pitcher. Similar to the Williams piece, it shows a fascinating look at an individual whose vocation places them squarely in the public eye.
- "Into the Void" from Feb 2007 about Chris Snow, Minnesota Wild Director of Hockey Operations. Snow took this role at 25 after previously being employed as a Red Sox beat writer by the Boston Globe. The particulars of this story are amazing in and of themselves and Jones as always does a great job of fleshing out the details.
- "One of Us" written in three installments from August 2006 through March 2008 about the presumptive 2008 Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain. It's a very detailed and intimate look at a one of the two remaining major party challengers to lead the country through the next four years.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The list starts off incredibly strong with British track star Derek Redmond being helped across the finish line by his father (video of which has now been made famous by Visa and a Morgan Freeman voiceover) and goes on to cover moments featuring the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team and gymnast Kerri Strug vaulting her way to a team gold on one good leg.
The Redmond You Tube post is below and the other four "chill-inducing moments" can be found at the link to Murphy's post above.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Klein's book "Politics Lost" is a fascinating look at his view of some of the problems in the American political process. To this end, the sub-title of the book "From RFK to W: How Politicians Have Become Less Courageous and More Interested in Keeping Power than in Doing What's Right for America" offers a good preview of his feelings on many elected officials... and the political consultants and handlers who shape those officials.
One thing of particular interest in the book is Klein's mention of Robert F Kennedy's speech (overviewed and available in this NPR story) the night of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination. Kennedy's unrehearsed (and now famous) speech to a largely black crowd on this extemely emotional and volitile night is held up by Klein as an example of the best that political leaders can and should offer the public.
While Klein has garnered a good amount of attention for his books, he is also well know for his frequent commentaries (named after the famous "Man in the Arena" quote from Theodore Roosevelt) in Time Magazine.
Several of Klein's commentaries that I've found to be of note are those on Merle Haggard returning to the Democratic Party, Tim Russert and his relationship with Klein and Barack Obama's Cabinet choices should he become President. That said, Klein has a breadth of excellent writing and his "In the Arena" work can be found at this compilation list.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Reading a story like this demonstrates why exactly the NFL holds a mandatory multiple day rookie orientation to prepare aspiring stars for everything that comes with the package of being a pro athlete.
Quite the cautionary tale...
Monday, August 18, 2008
The result of Skoll's efforts can be found both at the non-profit bearing his name, the Skoll Foundation, and his entertainment company Participant Media (formerly Participant Productions... chronicled in this 2005 BusinessWeek article).
It would certainly be a fair statement to say that Skoll's original idea of being a writer is what stood out to me, but he's a fascinating guy who is involved in a lot of interesting and worthwhile efforts.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Berkeley, California resident Michael Lewis shows himself to be the exception to this norm with three excellent books about the widely disparate subjects of baseball team building, technology company creating and football star blooming.
His most well-known book in the San Francisco Bay Area has to be "Moneyball" that Lewis wrote as a chronicle of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane and his (highly successful) efforts to build a winning baseball team while spending less money than the opposition. To this end, Beane focused (and continues to focus) on trying to exploit untapped market opportunities (i.e. to draft the best college players if other teams are primarily going after only high-school athletes).
With it's roots still in Northern California, Lewis also wrote "The New New Thing" about Silicon Valley legend Jim Clark. It's an extremely interesting subject to take on as Clark is currently the only person to create 3 different companies (Netscape, Healtheon and Silicon Graphics) that each reached over $1 billion in value. Clark's former hire at Netscape, Marc Andreesen may be the closest to joining him with his past success at Netscape and Loudcloud/Opsware and current effort at Ning, but for now Clark stands alone in this "$3B club".
Lewis' most recent book goes after something entirely different, both in terms of subject and geography. "The Blind Side" is an account of current college football star lineman Michael Oher who went from a poor neighborhood in Memphis, TN to a likely first-round NFL draft pick in the Summer of 2009. Oher's is a fascinating human tale about someone with raw physical abilities and the help then provided to help him reach this current status of potential millionaire.
In addition to these excellent books, Lewis also has published a series of pieces for Slate Magazine titled "Dad Again" which chronicle various stages in the births and lives of his three young children with former MTV VJ wife, Tabitha Soren.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Headlining these was a fairly large piece titled "Cleaning Solution" about the Sierra Club (America's oldest and largest environmental organization) allowing it's logo to be featured on Clorox Corporation's new line of "Green Works" cleaning products in exchange for undisclosed sums of money.
While it's understandable that the Sierra Club would want to maximize revenue (and likely will put said funds to good use), many Club members are raising the question of whether they should be in the product of co-labeling on for-profit products. Additionally, many are concerned about the particulars of this deal (such as what's received by the Sierra Club and how "green" is the "Green Works" line).
Some other things of note out of this issue:
- Update on awards conferred on writer Charles Fishman's 2007 Fast Company expose "Message in a Bottle" on the bottled water industry. This was particularly interesting coupled with a previous post made here about the impact of a Nestle Corp/Arrowhead brand bottled water plant in rural Northern California. Yep, water is good for you... bottled water, maybe not so much.
- Update on former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach who caught a large of "green flak" for consulting with Wal-Mart as chronicled in the 2007 Fast Company piece "Working with the Enemy". Werbach has since sold his consulting company to Advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi where he'll ostensibly ontinue his environmental efforts... while at the same time defending himself about fellow enviros who feel that he has "sold out" to corporate interests.
- "Forces of Nature" about the newly rebuilt California Academy of Sciences in the Golden Gate Park area of San Francisco opening Sept 27, 2008.
- Former Microsoft (and now everywhere tech) blogger Robert Scoble and his "Sky Fighters" piece about competing telescope's available on the web... MS's WorldWide Telescope and Google Sky.
- Article on the popular travel site Kayak.
Some of these sites include: Twilighters, TwilightMoms, Twilight Guy and Meyer's personal website.
One particularly interesting thing from the article was mention of how other best-sellers such as "Freakonomics", "The Last Lecture" and "The 4-Hour Workweek" have attempted to replicate this type of online community. This illustrates that true impact status is often achieved not just by singular success, but by the impact that success has on the world around it.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
While this is probably not a book that will resonate with all, it's lyrical and deep in meaning nature is sure to appeal to many... particularly those who love both wisdom and dogs.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
“Diversification is both recognition of ignorance and an aggressive strategy because it puts you in position to profit from wherever the next big hit might come.”
‘You can never be sure that today’s market is going to be a replay of the past.”
“Maximizing returns is an investment strategy that makes sense only in very specific circumstances. In general, survival is the only road to riches. You should try to maximize returns only if losses would not threaten your survival and if you have a compelling future need for the extra gains you might earn.”
This last concept around not simply attempting to "maximize returns" struck me the most in that it means you never will know the absolute highest point an investment will reach, so you never attempt to simply maximize, you always balance against risk.
Monday, August 11, 2008
While the NBC coverage was a bit annoying with it's focus on Michael Phelps, it was interesting to hear commentators talk about this as one of the most incredible relays they've seen.
The photo above was taken from CNNSI in their "Beijing Games: Day 3" photo wrap-up.
Broadcast of the race itself can be found on the NBC Olympics website.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
This probably shouldn't be surprising given the government support of these games (to the tune of a reported $300 million USD on the production), but the actual event itself was truly spectacular.
Some coverage and reporting of the ceremonies can be found at the following:
Thursday, August 07, 2008
While the book dragged on at times, I still highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the NFL as it gives a detailed look at what life in the league can be like for the players... a very few of whom are the stars and majority are often expendable parts.
I've for quite a while found fascinating the fact that the NFL is the major league you're most likely to suffer a dehibilitating injury in, and the only one that doesn't have fully guaranteed contracts.
There's also a terribly interesting observation made in the middle of the book that the league is broken down into two types of players... not by age, race or salary, but by respective love of the game. There's one camp of players that still just love the game and accept that the parts of being a pro athelete they don't like just come with the territory. The other camp probably also started out loving football (as I imagine most college players still do), but now continue on with NFL careers for the money (understandable given how high the salaries can get), and in spite of the berating of coaches and potential for life-impacting injury.
All in all... really good read.
Monday, August 04, 2008
So, all this being said, the point of the story is is someone wants to write, they will. It may be tough and may require disciple, but it can be done. That's encouraging.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
"Thunderstruck": published in paperback in Sept 2007, it's a dual account of the invention of the telegraph (by Marconi) and a murder in England... including how the two intertwine.
"The Devil in the White City": published in paperback in Feb 2004, also a dual account of the Chicago World's Fair and... you guessed it, a murderer in the city.
"Isaac's Storm": published in paperback in July 2000, a tale of the deadly Hurricane which hit Galveston, Texas at the turn of the 20th century... told with focus on the local weather bureau chief, Isaac Cline.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Often the "sin industries" of alcohol and tobacco are assumed to be the worst, but there's a sometimes overlooked contender for most repugnant... the specific areas of the credit-card industry that target college students.
The July 28 issue of BusinessWeek features "The College Credit-Card Hustle" about the contracts between large credit-card companies and Universities and University Alumni Associations to target students. These can be big money deals and often include commitments from the school to promote affinity cards to students. Schools and alumni associations make big money from these deals and credit-card companies defend them by saying their cards offer the valuable service of credit to students.
The question the article raises is how valuable is this service for youth who often don't comprehend what they're getting into with a credit-card and according to figures from Florida State University are "four times as likely as alumni to be delinquent on a (MBNA) credit card bill."
Credit-card companies cannot (and shouldn't) be prevented from offering cards to students, but schools and school-affiliated organizations should take a hard look at their complicity in the effort.