This blog is all about words because they matter, they influence, they entertain and when you put them down on a page in a meaningful order, they acquire permanence. Contained here is my writing over the past 10+ years, primarily book reviews over the past ~5 years, and I also have a book review podcast, Talking Nonfiction, available on Apple or Spotify.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Time Magazine - Apr 6 Issue
Saturday, March 28, 2009
IBM People Management Articles from BusinessWeek
Under the talent management area, two particularly interesting articles were about IBM and it's approach towards developing people.
"The World is IBM's Classroom" is a piece that details Big Blue's program which relocates top management prospects to far-flung areas of the world to work in IBM teams on local humanitarian projects. The communities they work in benefit from the output of the projects and the team members benefit from the collaborative experience and good deed done.
Immediately following this article was a short piece titled "IBM Reinvents Mentoring, Via the Web" about a new corporate program where employees can post profiles and easily search and connect either as a mentor or someone seeking guidance to an appropriate match.
Both programs offer an interesting approach that seems to make sense.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Fast Company 2009 "50 Most Innovative Companies" List
Granted, a list such as this is compiled entirely at the discretion of Fast Company writers and staff, but in interesting nonetheless.
Some of what I found most interesting from the piece (with links to the FC write-ups!)...
* not that I don't find other companies from the list like Apple or Google to be interesting, but maybe I just now view their "innovativeness" as a given.
#1: Team Obama - pretty self-explanatory.
#3: Hulu - interesting in that it's the first example I've seen of someone making a professional video site (as opposed to YouTube whose content is largely populated by amateurs) work.
#5 & #7: Cisco Systems & Pure Digital Technologies (maker of the Flip video recorder) - I find each company interesting by itself... with Cisco's foray into the consumer and technology for sporting venue (yea, I made up the category name) markets and Pure Digital making an incredibly cool product with it's ultra simple and small camcorders. Now with the announcement of Cisco acquiring Pure Digital... that takes things a step further.
#9: Amazon - Amazon as a company appears to be at the forefront of two terribly innovative (and different) businesses. One is Cloud Computing where they rent out server space to other companies looking to store data and use Amazon computing power... putting them in the league of other tech heavyweights like Google, IBM and HP doing this. The second is with their Kindle electronic book reader... which looks like the best option anyone has put out to date for reading books electronically. The only solid competitor I've seen in this area is actually Apple, which offers various apps enabling the reading of books on the iPhone (which I posted about here).
#12: Hewlett-Packard - Particularly interesting to me with HP's focus on design (highlighted by the new Mini 1000 netbook computer) and touchscreen technology (highlighted by the Touchsmart PC).
#20: Zappos - From personal experience, it's a great place to locate hard to find shoes and a company that offers outstanding customer support.
Well, that's it for companies from the Top 50. There was also mention of some interesting companies that didn't quite make the aforementioned list:
- Ausra: solar energy
- Netflix: well, derr...
- Participant Media: Jeff Skoll's movie production company
- Twitter: microblogging
- Meebo: instant messaging across multiple platforms
- Ning: custom social networking
- Yelp: user-submitted reviews of businesses
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Lamar Odom Story from Sports Illustrated
Written by Lee Jenkins, "Another Sunny Day in Lamar's L.A." is about a guy who I remember as a highly-questionable "student-athlete" signing by the University of Rhode Island. It could well be that my view of Odom at the time was right on, but he's certainly been through a lot since then and has much more to him that I would have suspected.
Very nuanced and well-written portrait of an interesting guy.
Monday, March 16, 2009
"Keeping it Real" Writing from Esquire
The cover story by Tom Chiarella is about celebrity guy Ben Affleck... who also happens to be: a parent of two (yes, with a celebrity girl), an accomplished writer (if you recall "Good Will Hunting"), a pretty good actor (reference back to his monologues in "Boiler Room" and the aforementioned "Good Will Hunting") and an up and coming director (with "Gone Baby Gone" to his credit).
All of this being said, the Chiarella piece manages to convey how Affleck is often stuck in this "celebrity guy" role despite all accomplishments above and beyond that. It's an interesting read showing what someone in this position faces. If someone doesn't have time to read the piece itself, the story title of "Ben Affleck: A Smart, Talented Man Trapped in Lindsay Lohan's Life" conveys the point pretty well.
Additionally, this issue of Esquire contains a piece by my writing man-crush object of admiration, Chris Jones. The story titled "Jonathan Papelbon Grinds His Teeth" is a profile of the Red Sox closer that reveals the focus and downright anger that Papelbon channels to help him pitch so successfully.
Finally, there's another piece by Chris Jones that's much shorter and (using the results of google searches as a yardstick) gathering more attention than the one he did on Papelbon. Titled "My Vacation from Hate" it's about the return to competitive golf of Tiger Woods and how Jones enjoyed golf more without Woods around. This piece from the Detroit Free Press website quotes Jones' story at length, but doesn't quote Jones' sentence about how depressing it was writing this 2003 Esquire story on Woods. The statement made in this most recent piece is "there's no joy for me in anything Tiger Woods does"... likely referring to how Woods closes off his personal life from view (and the 2003 story was written even before marraige and kids for Tiger).
So... all this being said, you've got three different stories from this issue all tied together by the theme of keeping it real / dealing with the spotlight / being true to yourself / etc etc. In the case of Jonathan Papelbon, there's someone who basically sticks their chin out at the world and is brutally honest. With Tiger Woods, you've got someone who shields the world entirely and then with Ben Affleck you've got some sort of middle ground with a guy working hard to maintain a private life while at the same time live a human experience. Interesting stuff.
Health-Care Cover Story from Time
Written by regular contributor Karen Tumulty, the story details the insurance troubles her brother has gone through after having a major medical condition. Being self-insured, Pat Tumulty would regularly buy six month policies... which was all well and good as long as he simply paid the premiums and never needed the insurance. After getting sick and filing a claim, he was proclaimed not covered because of his illness being a "pre-existing condition", even though it was the same Assurant Health company that covered him six months prior.
This is a terrible story about (I don't think it stretches to say) a terrible company, but the piece goes much further than one bad business and looks at health-care in the U.S., particularly for those underinsured like Pat Tumulty. Cited in the article was a 2005 Harvard study that looked at 1,700 personal bankruptcies declared and found that half of them were due to a medical problem... with three quarters of those people actually covered under some form of health insurance. The problem that occurs is for those who do work and do have coverage, those policies often wind up not amounting to much, but the income and coverage makes people not eligible for federal or state health coverage programs.
It's a big mess, with the biggest shame being people dealing with serious illness while at the same time trying to figure out how to pay to treat it.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
"Healthy Aging" by Dr. Andrew Weil
I previously did a blog post about both Weil and Dr. Mehmet Oz so was interested in this book when I saw it at the library. As an aside, sometimes it's a hindrance to reading a particular author you're interested in when they have a number of books in print and you have to pick one. I this this was a good choice, though, as the book seemed to fully impart Weil's views on aging (in the first half of the book) along with his recommendations to try to age well (in the second half).
Some of the things I found most interesting from the book are noted below:
Chapter One - "Immortality": Interesting mention of cells in the human body and how they stop regenerating... with the exception of the only truly immortal cells, cancer cells.
Chapter Two - "Shangri-La and Fountains of Youth": Discusses various communities throughout the world that are known for having a longer living population. There tends to be some constants around diet in these areas, but an even more recurring thread is a pervading sense of community... as well as respect for the elderly and inclusion of them in daily lives.
Chapter Three - "Antiaging Medicine": Features Weil's view that most of the antiaging field is a sham. Also contains a sentiment from Weil that recurs throughout the book... the idea behind healthy aging is not necessarily to extend life, but rather to extend health so that quality of life remains high up until a rapid decline at death.
Chapters Five & Six - "The Denial of Aging" & "The Value of Aging": Both related to a point noted above from chapter 2... an examination of the notion that aging is a good thing as it can provide valuable experience to be passed on and can actually lead to improvement with age.
The second half of the book beyond this focuses more on specific recommendations to aid in healthy aging. Things get a bit bogged down with lots of detailed tips, but all appear good. They range from simple things like getting enough rest to foods that should be eaten as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Details around the diet and tons of other information can be found on Weil's website at http://www.drweil.com/ or the "healthy aging" microsite within it. Additionally, his book "8 Weeks to Optimum Health" sounds like an interesting read.
Finally, the conclusion of the book has a mention of ethical wills, a Jewish tradition that has been getting adopted by more and more people from all cultures. The idea is to create a document that passes along to your friends and family your feelings about what's important and what you want to pass on as a legacy.
This was I thought a really interesting idea and made me think of both Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" (which I did a blog post about here) and what appeals to me about writing... this idea of creating something (sometimes profound, sometimes not at all, but I figure... if it's written, it's "created").
Friday, March 13, 2009
Crazy Bad ESPN writing
Not quite the greatest writing contained within his Jonathan Papelbon-Manny Ramirez piece on the espn.com Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.
My personal favorite sentence from the piece: "I don't agree with what Manny may or may not have done to leave the Red Sox."
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Fiction Writing Notion
I did a post a few days ago titled "blog topics to date... & forward" and at it's conclusion I wrote of an interest in fiction writing, but the kind based based in reality (i.e. historical fiction).
Using that as a jumping off point, I began outlining (maybe I did actually learn something from the "Day of the Writer" seminars last week) and realized what I would like to write. I'm certainly making no guarantees of doing it, but I would like to do a fictional autobiography of myself.
Now... I fully recognize that an autobiography up to this point in my life may well not cover the most awe-inspiring stuff (certainly not as interesting as Buck's life in "Call of the Wild"), but... note the word fictional. This gives lots and lots of leeway on potential content.
Maybe it doesn't even need to focus on myself... who ever said that an autobiography has to be about the person writing it? Ok, maybe Webster's dictionary said it, but does that mean it has to be the case?
With this all stated, it's time for a "future details as events warrant" closing. Check.
"Call of the Wild" by Jack London
I'll begin with the technology. I've had the 3G iPhone since last Summer and heard about books being available to read via phone from this BusinessWeek story... which I then linked to in this larger blog post.
After doing a very simple search of the iPhone app store, I found and downloaded the "Classics" application (website of which can be found here).
For what I believe was no greater than $2.99 I received first 12 and now 18 different titles (with the increase coming via software updates at no additional charge). These titles range from "Gulliver's Travels" to "Robinson Crusoe" and "Call of the Wild" among others (listing can also be found at the "Classics" website linked above).
In terms of usability, I have nothing but high marks to give... it's very easy to read the text and the user interface is designed so that you see the page turning every time you glide you finger across the screen to move forward. Super cool stuff and a very nice thing to have available... especially if you're in line somewhere or waiting for any period of time.
To the book itself... it really is a powerful read that I think should be experienced by first and foremost any kid in school, but also by adults. The reason for this is portrays such a different world than most people experience. Told through the experiences of a dog (see, that's different to begin with), the book tells a tale of the Alaska Gold Rush and... a hard life. When I say hard, I don't simply mean difficult, but rather a life requiring resiliency and self-sufficiency to survive.
Interspersed with that, though, is also a story of both love and that of a journey. The love story told in "Call of the Wild" portrays an incredibly powerful bond between dog and owner. At the same time (and running for a longer period throughout the book), there's the tale of the journey that the lead character Buck travels. Through his portrayed experiences, he becomes something new and different that is part of his heritage (an illusion to the whole "call of the wild" idea).
I suppose the story has more meaning for me as a dog owner (particularly as a Husky owner), but it's a very descriptively written story which moves forward briskly (quite a fast read). In terms of "big theme" elements... it has quite a few: high drama, love, coming of age, fighting for survival.
Did I mention I liked it?
Sunday, March 08, 2009
Blog Topics To Date... & Forward
So... I started posting early July of last year and in these last 8 months have done... around 120 different posts.
What this means: Well, I guess that I went from wishing in June of last year that I was writing to having done a blog post (otherwise known as "writing") every two days on average. Pretty happy with that.
Getting into the details of what exactly I wrote about, here's what I found:
31 book review posts (25 from non-fiction and 6 from fiction books).
89 remaining posts that fall under the following topic areas:
- 34 posts: Business
- 9 posts : Entertainment
- 10 posts: Life (kind of a catch-all category to be sure)
- 16 posts: Politics
- 8 posts: Sports
- 12 posts: Writing
What this means: Two things jump out to me. One is that I find important the idea of reading books (and then having an opinion about said tomes) and two is that I find at least some aspects of business to be interesting.
Yes... I can also really like something that's "pure art", but me thinks there's also stuff of note in the business world (you know... the one in which lots of people make the money that pays living expenses).
Taking a different view of the 89 posts that aren't book reviews... here's the sources they come from / reference / link to:
- 23 posts: Time Magazine
- 14 posts: BusinessWeek
- 9 posts: Sports Illustrated
- 7 posts: Fast Company
- 6 posts: Esquire
- 30 posts: other... includes websites, television shows, my own ramblings and a few other publications.
What this means: Not entirely sure, but I'm gonna go with the idea that I like the magazines I subscribe to. One of the great things about the whole worldly-wide interwebnet information superhighway is that it gives tons and tons of material (like for instance... this blog), but one of the problems is... same as the aforementioned great thing.
With so much material out there, it's nice to have magazines (or websites if you prefer) that you expect to have good stuff contained within. What I find is that often the stuff I read serves as a jumping off point to go find out more... both on the web and... to the point of the reading books mention, to actually seek out and read books referenced from a magazine article.
Trying to now take this information and tie it back to the point of the post... I'm pretty happy with both the type and content of writing (and reading) I've done with this blog thus far and will likely continue it.
What I am toying with, though, is the idea of writing fiction (perhaps based in reality in the vein of an Erik Larson), but I'll have to both chew on that to try to figure out how it may incorporate into the blog and... oh yeah... you know... actually start writing it.
Future details as appropriate...
Saturday, March 07, 2009
"Day of the Writer" Cinequest Film Festival Event
1. A seminar with Professor Hal Ackerman of the UCLA screenwriting program.
2. Another seminar... this one with Professor Richard Walker, from the same UCLA program.
3. A panel discussion with four accomplished screenwriters talking about their work.
4. A moderated Q&A session with "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody.
Yep... a pretty good value for the $20 ticket price.
The dominant theme that I took from the day was was something said in one way or another by multiple speakers... writers write. The idea being that for someone to consider themselves a writer, they simply have to put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) and do it. Where the success comes from (keeping in mind that whole thing about talent helping) is from repeating the writing process over and over.
There were variations on this theme to be sure with some people focused more on the writing schedule that you stick to and some on just getting the words out whenever, but all seemed to echo this notion that you just have to keep writing consistently.
With this said, below are some of what I felt were the more interesting things from each speaker:
Hal Ackerman: author of “Write Screenplays that Sell: The Ackerman Way"
A really friendly seeming and engaging guy who hit probably harder than any other speaker this notion of creating a writing schedule and sticking to it. As others noted, you're not always going to create great work during that time (heck, you may not write much of anything), but you're committing to it.
Tying into the prior stated concept of "writers write", Ackerman told an anecdote about how he wanted to call his screenwriting book "Take Vienna" (as opposed to the title that he attributed to the book's publishers). The story behind this was from Napoleon Bonaparte who when asked his military strategy replied somewhat incredulously... "if the goal is to take the city of Vienna, then the strategy is... take Vienna!" As Ackerman related... nothing gets written if you don’t write it, and what makes you a writer is the physical act of writing.
Ackerman also imparted some of what I'll call high-level wisdom through his story of meeting George Burns at a party and the comedian asking “What do you do?” and then upon hearing that Ackerman was a writer, following that up with “Do you love what you do?” Ackerman then being able to respond "yes, I really do"... that's good stuff.
Was also some pretty good technical type advice from Ackerman:
- Desire: when you start writing something, don’t worry about theme, instead think about what the desire of the character is... what does the character want?... what are they willing to do?... how will they get it?
- Intimacy trumps morality: if they audience connects with a character (often through experience or the objective of the character), what they do isn’t as important… they can still be rooted for.
- The 3 act movie: end of act 1 – sea change event, end of act 2 – something horrible, end of act 3 – it all goes down.
- Inevitability: what to shoot for, as opposed to predictability.
Richard Walker: also a professor (and screenwriting author) from UCLA
Had some interesting things to say as well. Some of his ideas are listed below:
- You must write your own personal story… told an anecdote about George Lucas and his father (with whom he had a difficult relationship) influencing the story of Star Wars.
- All we have in life is time… and the clock is ticking so we have to decide how to use it.
- Integration of a story means absolutely everything moves forward the character and expands your knowledge of him.
- Be wary in writing of using “discussions” to reveal plot. Have to think about how people really interact (isn’t sitting around talking about their motivations).
1. Suck for bucks – should try to reach as big an audience as possible.
2. Sex and violence are good – remember that it’s dramatic art.
3. Lie through your teeth – it’s not a true story.
Panel Discussion featuring:
(1) Executive producer of Fringe and Everybody Hates Chris.
(2) Writer of both the book and screenplay for 1906… being made by Pixar.
(3) Writer of “The Machinist”.
(4) Writer on George Lucas Clone Wars TV show.
Lots of random interesting things from the panel discussion:
- You have to learn to write well… it’s a craft.
- Clone Wars guy started after he didn't like his 9-5 job and enrolled in a short-story program at Stanford.
- Research can be a good way to start writing.
- Exec producer screenwriter writes from 12:00-3:00AM.
- The minutiae of life is not high drama.
- Importance of the writing schedule… eventually stuff will come.
- Outlining as a critical part of writing.
- All different types of writers. Among the four panelists, three described themselves as 1. A bleeder writer, 2. A component writer & 3. A vomit writer.
- Should read “Writers at Work” from the Paris Review.
- If you sit in a chair for an amount of time, you’re a writer.
- Should be confident in your voice… from the writer of “1906”.
Super super cool. She came across as down to earth, friendly and very grateful for the success that she's had. Probably more than anyone else she provided evidence of the fact that if you're doing good work (in her case, it was writing a blog), it's actually possible for someone influential to notice it... and there's your big break.
Her appearance was a "moderated" Q&A discussion with the audience and Lew Hunter, the Chairman Emeritus and Professor of Screenwriting at UCLA. I use the quotes because... well, because it was a bizarre often rambling moderation. That said, the appearance was excellent.
Below are some of the random things I noted from her talk:
- Author of “Candy Girl” prior to "Juno" and has "Jennifer's Body" coming out this fall.
- Wrote “Juno” w/o outlining or taking a screenwriting class… just bought a script in a bookstore and followed that.
- Highly recommends blogging… it’s a way to get eyeballs w/o rejection. Just hit publish.
- Posts regularly to Twitter and does a column for Entertainment Weekly.
- Loves John Irving.
- You just have to write daily… it may not be good, but it’s done.
All in all, an excellent day with some really good content.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
"God Save the Fan" by Will Leitch
Leitch's website with links to his work and current writing for New York Magazine can be found here and (as his website also features) "God Save the Fan" is just his most recent book, with several others, including the Young Adult book "Catch" coming prior). Back to the book at hand, though... it's an entertaining read that gives the author's view on sports through the prism of it's major entities: the players, the owners, the media and most importantly, the fans.
The fundamental point that Leitch makes throughout the book is that sports are simply games that provide an escape from everyday life for the fans who watch them. The commentators who ascribe huge meaning to events and attempt to generate epic controversy can get in the way of that basic escape and enjoyment.
Maybe it's expanding on this and maybe it's digressing from it a bit, but below are some of the more interesting things I took from the book (yep... in order from start to finish):
Introduction: Features an anecdote about the "pre-everyone finding out about the dogfighting" Michael Vick. At the time he was hugely popular and heavily promoted by ESPN and other major sports entities. Though it was posted on http://www.thesmokinggun.com/, nobody seemed to care that Vick was being accused of giving a girl herpes... and then seeking medical treatment under the most excellent name "Ron Mexico". Good stuff.
Part 1: Players
- Leitch makes the point that the steroid controvery is a touch silly given that it's portrayed as such a crime and yet taking cortisone shots described as athletes simply paying the price.
- NBA star Gilbert Arenas is trumpeted as being the perfect pro athlete for fans to relate to because... he's a bit loony and speaks of sports as being a diversionary entertainment for the fans rather than being something of enormous import that it's not.
Part 2: Owners
- Observation about how fans often side with owners over players in cases of salary disputes. The surmised reason why is that fans can see themselves as being management more than they can imagine being pro athletes. This is tied closely to the fact that people think they could be general managers "if just given the chance".
- Mention of the college football website http://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com/
Part 3: Media (and why it can be lame)
- Leitch's college experience reporting with Michigan basketball player Robert "Tractor" Traylor. The phrase "because he can" comes to mind... and the story is enough to push anyone away from wanting to be a sports reporter.
- The ESPN empire and it's various foibles... some amusing and relatively harmless (especially for the fellas) and some more disconcerting. Especially how ESPN influences through it's coverage choices.
- The Carl Monday saga. Too nuanced and fantastic to fully describe here so the wikipedia reference will have to do. Having seen it, I highly recommend The Daily Show with Jon Stewart report on Carl Monday.
- The idea of a "sports media expert". C'mon... please. Hence, the blogs...
Part 4: Fans
- Again... it should be about being entertained (or distracted and entertained as the case may be). Everything else... well, to borrow a phrase, it's just noise (or Dick Vitale / Stephen A. Smith / Skip Bayless shouting).
Good book. Entertaining for a sports fan.