Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters" by Scott Rosenberg

I first heard about Scott Rosenberg's "Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters" from a BusinessWeek review of the book and found it to be an excellent book on a few different levels.

Book Content

The beginning of the book details some of the early blogging from people like Justin Hall... along with his "dark night" blogging sign-off video. From this point, Rosenberg goes into the "warblog" movement out of 9/11 and rise of political blogs. The influence of these has been significant ranging from the blog Little Green Footballs helping call into question the "60 Minutes" piece on George W Bush and his National Guard record to Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog helping both fight off the Bush plan to kill social security & bringing to light the Alberto Gonzalez scandal around firing Justice Department lawyers.

Also featured in the book is the blog Dooce from Heather Armstrong. Sitting firmly in the "narrative life story" blog category, this blog author became famous for being fired from a job due to her blogging about it. From that point, she's written some very personal stuff that's at the same time very funny (and it's cool that "getting dooced" has since become the descriptive phrase for someone getting fired as a result of their blogging.

From this same influential blogger category, I found interesting mention of Robert Scoble and his video on how to scan through 600+ RSS Feeds daily.

Additionally, there's detail given by Rosenberg as to some mechanics that have helped blogging become so successful. The range from the “last in first out” (or "stacking") principle of blog postings to features such as Permalink, Trackback (or Backlinks in Google Blogger) and RSS Feeds (which were of course mentioned above).

Another area that's touched on towards the end of the book is around the introduction and subsequent popularization of Social Media sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Rosenberg's theory (which seems sound to me) is that these sites don't signal the end of blogs as the intent and execution of them is so different than that of blogging. The new Social Media forms can almost be considering a telephone type communication in that they're about short form communication and contact with others. Blogging on the other hand is about a longer form publishing of thoughts. There is of course some blend between blogging and Social Media in each direction, but also differences.

What It Meant to Me

Everything above describes the book and it's contents... good things for sure to have in any review of a book. Below, though, I want to touch on some of the things that struck me while reading and I "may very well" carry forward.

The basic concept I took is that there's so much that could be done with a blog. There could be important political discourse, could be insightful and profound narrative, or could simply be thoughts and ideas about things of import that a blog author wants to pass on.

I particularly enjoyed mention from Rosenberg's book about the blog Boing Boing. The statement of the blog is "A Directory of Wonderful Things" and Rosenberg's discussion is around how the four blog authors really enjoy doing the site. At the end of the day, that should be the reason that someone writes a blog and whether it "becomes a hit" isn't as important (and especially isn't as controllable).

I also was fascinated by the personal narrative quality of Dooce. I'll have to see what direction my writing takes me, but am interested in spending time on and exploring this "personal narrative" writing. As long as it's done with the best quality I can muster (after all, a blog is a written record (or "resume" in work terms) and I'm enjoying writing it, things should work out just fine like.

Finally, back to the book... solid read and further details can be found on Rosenberg's blog and his "Say Everything..." book website.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Time Magazine - Organic Food & Republican Politicians

Couple of really good articles in the latest issue of Time Magazine.

The cover story is titled "Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food" and provides an excellent look at the food industry in America. Written by Bryan Walsh, the piece looks at the potential for problem throughout much of the food chain feeding us today. In order to keep down costs, pigs and cattle are typically raised in unhealthy conditions making them vulnerable to disease... which has to be combated with copious amounts of antibiotic drugs.

It's definitely acknowledged in the article to be more expensive (even in the title), but the basic premise is that local organic agriculture and sustainable farming is the way to go. Tough to bring around everyone, but the point made is that it's worth it to try.


The second piece of note is the commentary by Joe Klein on Republican political opposition to President Obama's health care plan. Just ill-inspiring is the description of how otherwise level-headed Republicans feel compelled to let Sarah Palin prattle on about "death panels"... simply because to refute her would help their political opponent.

Titled "The GOP Has Become a Party of Nihilists", it's a balanced story that points out this is not the way to have political discourse around an important issue.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

BusinessWeek Cover Story on Optimism

Interesting Special Report containing multiple pieces on Business/Economy optimism in the latest issue of BusinessWeek Magazine.

The lead story is "Why It's Smart To Be Optimistic" and contains lots of good points around reasons to practically be thankful for the recent economic problems... ranging from laid off people starting new ventures to the increase in education as people prepare for a different future. Really good points all contained within.

The final page essay (thankfully not written this week by Obama critics Jack & Suzy Welch) is also very interesting, and unfortunately, almost a counterpoint to the "cause for optimism" from the prior piece. "The Buyback Boondoggle" is penned by William Lazonick and details the lavish amounts of money spent by corporations on stock repurchases.

Lazonick brings up three excellent points about this practice.

- First is that the money is often spent at the expense of jobs... with companies buying back large of amounts of stock at the same time employees are being laid off.

- Second is that it can be done by a corporation for the sole intent of raising the stock price... which can lead to an interesting question as public companies are legally chartered with maximizing value to shareholders, but that often can wind up more short than long term.

- Third is that when companies buy back stock on a large scale, the largest beneficiaries can wind up being executives of the company with options to exercise.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Marc Buoniconti Sports Illustrated Cover Story

Great story in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated on quadriplegic Marc Buoniconti.

Written by S.L. Price, it's titled "Three Lives, Two Hits, One Happy Ending" and is about the impact that Bouniconti has had since his freak spinal-cord injury suffered on the football field some 24 years ago. In addition to his vast contribution to spinal cord injury research through The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the ex-Citadel football player has individually helped both the person involved in the accident (through Buoniconti hitting him, not the other way around) and countless others.

Price gives a riveting tale that makes me both have tremendous respect for Bouniconti and wonder what the heck was going on at his school at the time he was injured. The article details how (incredibly) The Citadel didn't want to pay medical bills for or honor the scholarship of the athlete injured during a game... one in which there's question as to whether team doctors should have allowed him to play. It's a good postscript that the school and individual have since reconciled, but still... it just sounds to be bizarre behavior on the part of the military school.

Just a compelling read from an excellent author. Price has done several different SI stories I've linked to and is also the author of the excellent books "Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in the Minor League America" (which I reviewed here) and "Far Afield: A Sportswriting Odyssey".


Also from this issue is a memorial piece on Eunice Kennedy Shriver who passed away recently. Written by Jack McCallum, it remembers the tower of a woman who founded Special Olympics. Having volunteered at local Special Olympics events, I can say it's an amazing organization and the world is a better place for it.

From McCallum's piece, I love the anecdote he provides about Shriver prior to the founding Special Olympics...

"Everybody told my mother that mentally challenged kids would start crying if they lost," says Bobby Shriver, "to which my mother said, 'So what? That's what everyone does.' Her thought was, You compete, you exult if you win, you get sad if you lose, and you go back and try harder."

That's great stuff.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt

Finished reading "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt and... man, I'm glad I didn't grow up poor in Ireland 60 years ago. The below second paragraph of this memoir describes pretty well what's to come in the follow few hundred pages:

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

What makes this such a compelling read is that it contains the two basic elements of great writing... a compelling topic that's described well. McCourt's phrasing and language used through the book is simply excellent writing and brings to life the day to day scratching for survival of he and his family.

One thing I found interesting after reading the book was to see what happened to the main characters of the book. McCourt himself passed away of cancer in July 2009 and his wikipedia page describes his three brothers now living in the US, two of them being published authors and one also having run against Eliot Spitzer for Governor of New York.

There's also some controversy around McCourt, not surprising given that he doesn't portray his hometown of Limerick, Ireland (or that Catholic Church there) as being terribly nice. A particularly incendiary attack was made by the late Irish actor, Richard Harris (who played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies) in this interview. It's certainly possible that some of what McCourt wrote of in "Angela's Ashes" isn't an exact retelling of events, but I still found it a fascinating story written really well.

I suppose it had the mark of a good book in that I'm now interested in reading McCourt's follow-up autobiographies "Tis" and "Teacher Man".

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Time Magazine - Aug 24 Issue

Nothing I found enthralling in the latest issue of Time, but several different stories that had interesting enough stuff to be noted here for posterity.

The cover story by Joel Stein (he of the frequent back page commentary) is "Less Vegas: The Casino Town Bets on a Comeback" about the recession impact on Sin (& Eternal Optimism) City. Striking about this piece was it's vignette about successful estate agent Brooke Boemio... and her specialty of representing current home buyers who buy larger at reduced price, and then walk away from the old house.

Lovely, just lovely. Not that shady real estate agents and homeowners with no sense of responsibility to their debts are the only poor links in this poorly functioning chain (with Banks and mortgage brokers also deserving blame), but geesh... this doesn't help.

Also from this issue was a profile on Steven Chu, Obama's choice as head of the Department of Energy. Of interest here was both how Chu is perhaps the first truly qualified scientist in this role and his championing of white roofs and light-covered pavement. As remarkable as it sounds, Chu cites studies that the carbon savings of these two introductions (which would have to come over time) would be equivalent to taking all cars off the roads for 11 years.

Finally, two other articles of interest were "Building a Media Empire Around I Can Has Cheezburger" about Seattle-based funny website entrepreneur Ben Huh and the poignant commentary piece by Nancy Gibbs on the costs and benefits of raising a child.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sept 2009 Fast Company Magazine - Open Content Ed & Other Stuff

Some interesting stuff from the September 2009 issue of Fast Company... including a feature story about a fascinating topic I've been hearing frequently about of late.

FC writer Anya Kamenetz penned "How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education"... a long title given for a piece about an important topic. The concept is "open content" education, basically making available online learning that previously had been held behind an (often extremely expensive) brick and mortar wall.

The leading force behind the movement seems to be BYU professor David Wiley... who is also heavily involved in both non-profit and for profit private enterprise around open-content (or open-source) education. The first I heard of the movement or concept was from a Nov 2008 Time Magazine article about Western Governors University and more recent mentions of YouTube EDU and Apple iTunes U.

Attached to the Kamenetz piece is Fast Company's "Five Startups to Watch"... with these and other companies being part of the inaugural Venture Capital in Education Summit held earlier this year. The field is growing and I'm terribly interested from both a macro and personal level.

Big picture, the concept in it's various forms and representations should make education more available to all and for myself, I'm thinking of it as a way to find resources and forums to improve my writing.


In addition to that on open source education, there were two other pieces from this FC issue that stood out to me.

The first was "Heard of Allegiant Air? Why It's the Nation's Most Profitable Airline" about a carrier profitably serving mostly small markets (and doing it well I can say from personal experience).

The authors of "Made to Stick", Dan and Chip Heath, provide the second with "The Gripping Statistic: How to Make Your Data Matter"... about how to describe data and have it make sense. An example they give of something that could be worded better is "disposable diapers used could stretch to the moon and back 7 times". The Heath brothers point is that this doesn't tell you much, because if the trash generated was cut in half, "to the moon and back 3.5 times" still seems like a heck of a lot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chris Jones Esquire Piece on Photographs of Military Caskets

I've posted umpteen times writing from Chris Jones, but just came across yet another poignant work of his that I want to keep track of.

In the May 2008 issue of Esquire, Jones wrote "The Things That Carried Him" about Sgt. Joe Montgomery and process and care involved in transporting fallen servicemen and women back to the US for burial.

This story garnered a greatly deserved National Magazine Award and was the jumping off point for a short piece from Jones about the Pentagon lifting it's ban on news images of military caskets returning home.

The title is "From Iraq to Grave, We Can Finally Remember the Fallen" and piece just plain powerful.

H1N1 Flu Article from Time... & Books of Note

Intriguing (and a bit pause-inducing) article titled "Inside the Fight Against a Flu Pandemic" from the Aug 17 Time Magazine.

Written by Michael Scherer, the piece looks at the flu formerly known as "swine" and steps private industry and the Federal Government are taking to prepare for the fall flu season.

As the story details, many are expecting a rash of cases as school starts as well as when the more traditional flu season hits in the fall. In anticipation of this, an H1N1 vaccine is being manufactured, but that likely won't be ready until the October time frame, and require two shots spaced four weeks apart... this on top of the standard flu shot already long recommended each year.

Scherer writes of the uncertainty about H1N1 because nobody knows if the virus will remain in it's fairly non-dangerous state, become even more mild or turn into something with a larger impact. While that works itself out and vaccines are prepared, the standard anti-illness remedies of washing hands frequently and keeping surfaces clean are very much recommended.


Not from the same issue, but also from Time are a couple of different mentions of books that sound interesting:

The first is a recommendation of "The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works" by Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat from California).

The second is Time's "Summer Reading List" featuring 15 different recommendations. Those that stood out for myself are listed below:

- Recommendation for "The Man Who Was Thursday" by G.K. Chesterton. I've heard of Chesterton's writings about religion and apparently this is a short read also available for less than $2 on the Kindle (and conversely the Kindle for iPhone app).

- Recommendation for "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas. Must be good as I keep hearing about it... plus, I already have it on my iPhone.

- Recommendation by Joe Klein for "The Increment" by David Ignatius. It's a spy novel from a prolific writer in the genre... and recommended by one of my favorite writers.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Strokes of Genius" by L. Jon Wertheim

Recently finished reading "Strokes of Genius" by L. Jon Wertheim and found it... pretty good.

In it, the Sports Illustrated writer expands upon his original coverage of the 2008 Wimbledon Men's Final into a book subtitled "Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played." At times I found my interest waning as the match itself was detailed, but always found interesting the descriptions of the players themselves.

What emerges throughout the book is a fascinating portrait of the two undisputed heavyweights in men's tennis who have many characteristics in opposition to one another, but also have much in common. That you can have such high level competition between combatants with so much respect for one another's abilities as well as each other is refreshing to read about.

All in all, an interesting book for either a hardcore tennis fan or sports fan interested in rivalries at the highest level of the game... whatever that game may be.

One thing I did find odd (though it doesn't reflect at all on the book itself) is in reading Wertheim's coverage of the one year later 2009 Wimbledon Final between Federer and Andy Roddick, I never came across any real comparison between the two matches. I would expect that the Federer-Nadal match had more gravitas in the broad scheme of things, but also would think a five set final that ended 16-14 in the 5th set deserves to be at least compared to "the greatest match ever played."

Sports Illustrated Pablo Sandoval and Mpho 'Gift' Ngoepe Pieces

Couple of very cool baseball profiles from the latest Sports Illustrated.

The first was written by the ever more frequent writer of great SI pieces, Lee Jenkins, and chronicles the San Francisco Giants fun-loving and from the heels swinging 3rd baseman. The profile on Pablo Sandoval reveals a guy who is easy to root for and becoming more and more the face of a franchise (at least the hitting face) whose visage was much more of a scowl in recent years.

The second story is very similar in showing someone who loves the game of baseball, but different in that it portrays a guy with a long way to go to equal Sandoval's success. Mpho 'Gift' Ngoepe is a 19 year old infield prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates lower minors... and attempting to become the first MLB player from Africa. The profile on him is written by SI Senior Writer Gary Smith and combines excellent writing with a compelling story.

The overriding feeling I had from reading this is hope that Gift is able to make it. As the S.L. Price book "Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in the Minor League America" (which I reviewed in this blog post) details, minor league baseball is a tough road to glory and riches.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Time Magazine - Judd Apatow Profile & Kurt Andersen Piece

Several interesting things from the August 10 issue of Time Magazine.

First was the back page essay from Kurt Andersen titled "The Avenging Amateur" about the amateur spirit of many Americans... and how that can help us come stronger out of the current financial crisis. The essay relates to Andersen's new book "Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America". Interestingly (well, to myself), the book came out of a Time cover story that I linked to in a March 2009 blog post.

Andersen is an excellent writer and also penned "Heyday"... a work of historical fiction set in the mid-19th century which I've seen rave reviews for.

Also from this issue of Time was "Taking Judd Apatow Seriously" about the producer / director / writer. As his wikipedia entry shows, everything Apatow is involved with seems to succeed at the box office. For good reason, though... they're funny movies.

Finally, this issue also contained in the "Short List" section film director Werner Herzog's picks of things he's found interesting. Three books mentioned within are listed below:

- "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy

- "The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway" (including Herzog's favorite "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber")

- "The Warren Commission Report: Report Of The President's Commission On The Assassination Of President John F. Kennedy" (which Herzog describes as the "best and most convincing detective work he's read")

Saturday, August 01, 2009

MLB Perfect Game Article from Sports Illustrated

Really cool piece titled "Miracle On The South Side" from the the latest Sports Illustrated on Mark Buehrle's perfect game.

Written by Lee Jenkins, it chronicles the events around the White Sox pitcher throwing on July 30th only the 18th perfect game in major league history. Compared to this, mere no-hitters are practically a commonplace event with there having been 263 in the major leagues.

Just a really well written story about an amazing event. Also makes me feel bad for Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants (who lost his July 10 perfect game to an 8th inning Juan Uribe error) and all other "close but not close enough" pitchers detailed in this sidebar piece.


Additionally of interest from this SI issue was this Kenny Moore written piece about the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics. Very short and very solid writing from a guy that I wrote about in this blog post.