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.