Sunday, January 31, 2010

Urban Meyer Follow-up from S.L. Price on CNNSI

Back in December, I did a blog post titled Urban Meyer SI Profile by S.L. Price which linked to an in-depth Sports Illustrated article on the University of Florida football coach. One of the main take-aways from that article was the health problems Meyer has had and how he's struggled to reconcile them with the demands of being a top of his profession college coach.

Well, just several weeks after the publication of this piece, Meyer has made headlines by first being admitted to the hospital following Florida's loss to Alabama in the SEC Title Game, then resigning as coach due to health concerns, then taking back that resignation to simply take a leave of absence... which now appears it will manifest itself as maybe just a long weekend away from UF football.

It's fascinating stuff as you've got someone obviously conflicted between what they love to do and how what they love to do can be detrimental to their health. Since hearing of Meyer's resignation and everything since, I was curious to know what the take of the excellent author of the SI feature, S.L. Price, would be. It's not a long piece, but I'm glad I came across on CNNSI "To understand Meyer's flip-flop, one must first understand his past." Within it, Price explains the conflict for Meyer and why it's so hard for him to leave something that in reality is dangerous to his well-being... at least has been with the way he's worked the job to date.

Here's to hoping that Meyer is able to actually reconcile his coaching with keeping himself healthy and around for his family...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti Earthquake Writing from Time & CNN

Couple of really powerful pieces on the Haiti earthquake.

From the Time Magazine Feb 1 issue (which isn't actually the cover above, but... neither here nor there) came the piece "Aftershock" from writers Bryan Walsh, Jay Newton-Small and Tim Padgett. Just powerful writing that looks heavily at the latter part of the subheading below...

"One of the worst-ever natural disasters in the western hemisphere leaves the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince in ruins. What it will take to rebuild."


From the CNN website, I a few days ago came across the Elizabeth Cohen piece "Hard lessons, humility for big-city doctors in Haiti". Gut-wrenching stuff that fits squarely into the category of "makes you think about what things are important and what things aren't."

Hopefully this piece along with that from Time are also calls to action for those who can donate money to relief efforts.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Apple vs. Google, Zappos, & BusinessWeek Pieces

Interesting cover story in the Jan 25 issue of BusinessWeek.

Titled "Apple vs. Google", the piece is about... well, that, and details how the prior close "work friends" have had their relationship move at least into the "frenemies" if not "enemies" status. This increased competition has come in the mobile space as Apple has entrenched themselves in the category with the success of the iPhone and Google has gone beyond simply the Android Operating System to now the Nexus One phone by Google. This competition is about much more than the hardware, but also poised for huge growth mobile ad market.


In addition to the above piece about a couple of really good companies now battling it out, I wanted to link to a few additional BW articles about some interesting efforts from Zappos and (well, from it's founder and CEO)...

From the Jan 11 issue of BusinessWeek came "Zappos Retails Its Culture" about efforts at the (recently purchased by Amazon) company to sell as a service it's management culture through an offering called Zappos Insights.

The Nov 30 issue featured a review of the book "Behind the Cloud" by Marc Benihoff... CEO.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Social Media... What a Place to Be!(?)

For companies today, hopefully it’s “Social Media… What a place to be!”

Occasionally instead it’s “Social Media… What a place to be?”

More often than not, though it’s “Social Media… What? A place to be.”

Punctuation isn’t usually given much gravitas today (except of course for fans of the Lynne Truss bestseller) but it can make a large difference in some things, Social Media being one.

The hot business buzzword topic has gone from unknown to the “it idea” in the span of a few short years… and was the topic of the recent BusinessWeek feature story “Beware Social Media Snake Oil.” As companies large and small figure out what if anything to do around the Social Media space, mistakes are easy to make. These can of course be in the execution of Social Media strategies and tactics, but can also be back in the all-important deciding what to do phase.

Back to the three statements above:

Social Media… What a place to be! – Something felt a company invested in Social Media and pleased as punch with the results.

Social Media… What a place to be? – Something felt by a company invested in Social Media and that hasn’t gotten what they expected. Also could be felt by a company slammed by others via Social Media communication.

Social Media… What? A place to be. – Something felt by… most everyone else. Companies (and the people in them) don’t want to be left out, but are trying to figure out the best approach to take around Social Media. This “what to do?” is the big question to be asked up front and the companies that put the most thought into it are likely going to be the ones who are happy with their experience around Social Media. As is detailed below, this figuring out process needs to include not just what a company might say via Social Media, but what's said about it.

Social Media Background

It’s been already stated here that Social Media is a new concept, but to understand it, one needs to look at where it lies on a communication (note that the word technology isn’t used here) continuum.

Prior to the wacky worldly-wide interweb-net, people communicated with one other largely via the telephone, letters and meeting in person. Conversely, companies communicated with people via the telephone, print ads, in person interaction and television.

Now with the internet enmeshed in our lives, people communicate with one another via… the telephone (including text messages), letters (including e-mails) and meeting in person as well as oh yeah, via the internet. People and companies communicate with one another (person to person and company to person) in many of the same ways as before. In terms of company to person communication, television hasn’t gone away, nor has direct mail, sponsorship or cold-calling over the phone.

With the internet (and specifically Social Media via the internet) added, though, there’s a new method of company to person communication, but probably even more important (and new to the scene via Social Media) person to person communication about companies.

Social Media Vehicles

In looking at Social Media, one has to keep in mind there’s widely different forms out there and from his book about blogging, Scott Rosenberg gives both the history of that particular Social Media vehicle and how it relates to some of the even newer Social Media vehicles.

Rosenberg's theory is that MySpace, Facebook and Twitter don't signal the end of blogs as the intent and execution of them is so different than that of blogging. He writes of how these sites can be considering a telephone type communication in that they're short form contact and blogging is about a longer form publishing of thoughts.

Regardless, all of these communication vehicles along with YouTube and even texting should be considered Social Media in that they deal with the idea of information disseminating… whether that be directly from a company or from people passing along communication themselves about a company. As a result, companies considering Social Media should look at Social Media from both perspectives… what and how they want to communicate with people and what’s being said by others.

Company to Person via Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs among other Social Media vehicles are all new methods of communication, but frankly, they’re still just communication vehicles. A company has a target audience, figures out where to reach them and then crafts a message. That isn’t necessarily different than the typical 30 second ad buy on network television… which still can definitely have its place in a world that includes Social Media. What is new, though, is how Social Media as an original communication vehicle (or vehicles) can be used to string together and supplement other forms of messaging to customers. Result is that any company working in the Social Media space needs make sure that via either in-house or outside experts, they understand how to best use the tools. It's in a way akin to how if a company is going to pay for the aforementioned 30 second network TV buy, they want to nail the message.

Person to Person about Companies via Social Media

In terms of Social Media, here’s where things get really interesting. The biggest difference between traditional communication for companies and today’s communication including Social Media is control. Previously the company controlled the message and could target, filter and adjust it to the audience.

Today, however, Social Media enables a message to be passed along virally outside the control of a company so it becomes crucial to influence that as much as possible. How to influence? Well...

You’ve got to both get it right the first time in your messaging, have people who are paid to monitor person to person communication about your firm and then be responsive when you need to be. In terms of the response, it doesn’t help to know that everyone in Social Media is talking negatively about you if valid complaints are not then acted on. Once they are out there, it then becomes a case of both action and communication of that action... hopefully through the same Social Media channel that the complaints came in on.

These would appear to be things that any company (whether they’re employing Social Media or not) needs to do, but the moral of the story is that whether you’re doing things yourself or not, you’re active in Social Media. Really, it's a way to propagate information, whether you’re doing it as a company or people are doing it for you.

Hence the need to try to set up the framework to be able to thrive (say powerful things as a company, but more importantly have powerful, and good, things said about you) in this Social Media space.

Ashton Kutcher: New Media Baron - from Fast Company

Pretty interesting cover story from the Dec 2009/Jan 2010 issue Fast Company Magazine.

Written by Ellen McGirt "Mr. Social: Ashton Kutcher Plans to Be the Next New-Media Mogul" is all about the new media efforts from the former "That 70's Show" star and now Twitter phenom. It's pretty compelling stuff how he and his production company, Katalyst Media, are "creating social networks for brands... through the principles of: make entertaining stuff, give it it to people where they already are, let them have some fun with it, and mix in brand messaging."


In addition, I found of interest the Mark Borden profile piece "Jeffrey Katzenberg Plans on Living Happily Ever After". Nothing overly profound about it... just cool reading about someone who loves what he does and is crazy successful at it.


Finally, the issue also had mention of the newly acquired by Intuit personal finance website I keep hearing about the site... mean to check it out, will do so eventually.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Esquire Piece on Barack Obama... & Other Stuff

Really interesting story titled "Barack Obama: Papa in Chief" from the latest issue of Esquire.

Written by Tom Junod, it relates Obama's first year in office to the parenting movement/book series Positive Discipline. From the PD website, the first two concepts (among others) of Positive Disciple are "Mutual respect" and "Identifying the belief behind the behavior".

This in mind, the main point that Junod makes is that Obama's style of governing is both the same measured and thought-out approach that he showed while campaigning and is very much in line with the principles of Positive Discipline. As defined by myself, these include "take the time to teach", "understand the viewpoint of others" and "don't act impulsively".

While it's true that more aggressive techniques of parenting or governing may get more immediately tangible results, the long haul outcome should (hopefully) be all the better for this long term approach.

Intriguing stuff.


Also from this Jan 2010 issue of Esquire was the short piece "How to Start a Small Business" by Ken Kurson. Truthfully there wasn't a huge amount of instruction (as one of the three directives was to purchase QuickBooks), but the article certainly made appealing the idea of owning at least a piece of a small business.


Finally, it wasn't from this particular issue, but given that these are all Esquire works, I wanted to link to "Garret Dillahunt: The Man Who Disappears" by MFLW (my favorite living writer) Chris Jones. I've posted on lots of his stuff here (with his story "The Things That Carried Him" being my favorite) and I suppose just as Jones writes of a sort of man-crush on Dillahunt's movie and TV work, I have the same thing for his writing. Very very short piece and interesting.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Ford County" by John Grisham - Book Review

Finished reading "Ford County" by John Grisham and found it to be a fairly enjoyable book.

It's the author's first collection of short stories following on the heels of his one non-fiction and scores of fiction bestsellers. Said catalog of Grisham books is detailed on his website and for myself "Ford County" as a read ranked somewhere above "The Street Lawyer" (which I didn't like at all) and below "The Innocent Man" (which was the non-fiction effort and I found to be excellent).

I can't say that I learned anything from "Ford County" or that the writing was particularly enthralling, but... I was entertained and if someone generally enjoys Grisham, this book would not disappoint.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

BusinessWeek Pieces - Apple Tablet & Other Tech Products

Very interested in what Apple may (or may not) announce as a new product entry in the computer tablet/reader category. Apparently I'm not the only curious party as the recent BusinessWeek piece "Five Ways Apple's Tablet May Change the World" shows.


Not to completely shun the PC world... there's also been a good amount of (mostly positive) press around the recent Microsoft launch of the Windows 7 operating system. Two different product review pieces were from the (now departed from BusinessWeek) Tech & You writer Stephen Wildstrom. From the Oct 26 issue was "Win 7: Microsoft Gets It Right (Finally)" and the Nov 9 issue "Multitouch Moves to the Big Screen: PCs"... about how Win 7 enables multi-touch capabilities.

Going back to the "maybe forthcoming" Apple tablet, Wildstrom wrote "The Hypothetical Apple Tablet: User Input Will Be the Key" a few weeks ago on his personal blog.


Also related to said hypothetical Apple tablet was this BusinessWeek piece on the Nook e-reader from Barnes & Noble. Will be very interesting to see how products such as the Nook, the new e-reader from Plastic Logic or Kindle from Amazon compare and compete with whatever Apple may bring to the show.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

BusinessWeek Economy & Housing Pieces

From the last few BusinessWeek issues there's been some interesting pieces around the related topics of the economy and housing.

From the Dec 28 issue came "Smile. The Economy Isn't in a Second Depression" by Peter Coy. Interesting piece that details how things could have been much worse.


In the category of housing, a few different articles of note...

The same Dec 28 issue had "Home Prices Face Test Without Fed Support" about how in the Spring the Federal Government will start phasing out current tax credits for people buying homes.

The Jan 18 issue had "Finding a Better Lifeline for Homeowners" about the idea of lenders cutting principal amounts due to help keep people in their homes and making payments.

Couldn't find the article to link to, but also from BusinessWeek was mention of how ING offers a simple and transparent home mortgage program for potential borrowers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Boise State RB Ian Johnson Profile & Sports Media Coverage from Sports Illustrated

The December 28 issue of Sports Illustrated was one of those magazine issues that works on multiple levels... had great content and a lot of it.

A couple of weeks ago I did two different posts with content from this issue. The first was "Wish of a Lifetime Piece from Sports Illustrated" and second "Sports Illustrated Picks for Best Writing of the Decade". Linked to was inspiring and excellent writing respectively, but which also left me with a piece from the very solid writer Joe Posnanski to post on.

"The Running Back, The Cheerleader And What Came After The Greatest College Football Game Ever" is about former Boise State running back Ian Johnson... he of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl two-point conversion for the win over Oklahoma and subsequent marriage proposal to BSU cheerleader Chrissy Popadics. The audio probably detracts from the effect of the video, but said proposal begins about 1:10 into the below clip:

Really interesting story that fits perfectly in the category of "Where are they now?"


Also from Sports Illustrated (the week prior Dec 21 issue) came the cover story section "5th Annual: The Year In Sports Media".

Starting off with the interesting story of Stephen Colbert promoting the U.S. Speedskating Team, this linked piece also included mention of the (entertaining sounding) HBO show Eastbound and Down and (having watched it... entertaining) Versus show Sports Jobs with Junior Seau (posted about here).

Additionally of interest from this Sports Media section was this story on "The Art of Basketball" from ESPN writer Bill Simmons and the Digital Media page which featured mention of the iPhone apps MLB At Bat 2009 and FIFA Soccer 10.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book Review - "What the Dog Saw" by Malcolm Gladwell

Finished reading "What the Dog Saw" from Malcolm Gladwell and found it to be a really interesting read.

Gladwell is a solid writer (whose website can be found here) and I've enjoyed reading his prior books "Outliers", "Blink" and "The Tipping Point". "Outliers" was my favorite of these and it's hard to compare his new effort as "What the Dog Saw" isn't about one overarching idea, but rather a collection of Gladwell stories from The New Yorker.

Probably the best way to review the book as a whole is to note the chapters that stood out as most interesting and get into why exactly that was.

Section One - Minor Geniuses

The Ketchup Conundrum - Addressed the question of why ketchup differs from mustard in it's number of varieties. Had the very interesting mention of amplitude as a measure of food ranking... with the concept being how well various flavors work together. Gladwell writes during this portion of how this amplitude measure is often the difference between the most popular consumer brands of a product and generic store brands... for that same product and featuring many of the same ingredients and flavors.

Blowing Up - About Nassim Nicholas Talib and the idea of not knowing what the stock market will do so betting on big deviations from the norm. Talib two years after this Gladwell story wrote about this idea in his bestseller "The Black Swan"... which I found to be an interesting, but also pretty weighty read. Gladwell's story here is interesting in that it really gets at the idea that you can't predict the future. Really, perhaps the only prediction that can be done is the obvious... like for example if housing prices are rapidly increasing and people are buying them based on income they don't have, problems will follow and prices will drop.

What the Dog Saw - The title chapter of the book and written about the "Dog Whisperer", Cesar Millan. Featured Gladwell's writing about the fascinating concept of Laban Movement Analysis... basically high level non-verbal communication (and the concept of phrasing as a combination of posture and gesture).

Section Two - Theories Around Experience Or Events

Open Secrets - About Enron accounting and how it wasn't lies, just information people didn't look for or want to believe. The model the company followed was predicated on normal, but the company was brought down by not normal conditions. In many ways, this chapter reminds me of the Taleb story.

Connecting the Dots - About military intelligence and stands out as interesting given how this chapter relates to the intelligence failure around the attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner (from Time Magazine).

Blowup - About the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and how it really was due to an acceptable risk not having an acceptable outcome. Reminds me of my blog post about terrorism in Detroit in that the world isn't a perfect place and bad things can happen.

Section Three - Predictions About People

Late Bloomers - Was a fascinating chapter about how you have boy wonder types and then those who work and flounder around prior to success. Gladwell quotes the economist David Galenson who says "late bloomers goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental" (and experimental). Another idea put forth by Gladwell is that late bloomers simply often aren't that great to start, they have to improve to get there... which reminds me of the David Kord Murray book "Borrowing Brilliance" (that I reviewed and summarized here).

All in all, really an interesting book with some chapters that may appeal more than others, but that's where the practice of skimming through the less interesting stuff comes into play...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Book Review - "Trust Agents" by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith

Finished reading "Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust" and found it to be a solid read with lots of things to check out.

It's written by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan (who is probably the more well known of the two as a result of his blog and associated Social Media evangelism). I heard about the book from the Dec 2009 BusinessWeek story "Beware Social Media Snake Oil" and found him to have a lot of interesting things to say.

Social Media as a category is a fascinating growth area (for both business and interpersonal communication) and I've written about and linked to a good amount of content on it... much of that consolidated into this blog post from a few weeks ago. Linked within there was four or five magazine articles and three different books that deal at least a bit with Social Media... one by Jeff Jarvis, one Sarah Lacy and one Scott Rosenberg.

Back to "Trust Agents" itself, though... having already said that it's a good read for someone interesting in Social Media, there's probably also value is detailing the things I found of most interest and websites from the book I want to check out.

So... stuff of note (you know, to me, so some of this is straight out of the book and some my ideas as a result of content in the book):

Intro - The aforementioned Chris Brogan blog.

Chapter One: Trust, Social Capital, and Media
- Idea of a Trust Agent building a portfolio of themselves through their online interactions... a very real and complete resume of sorts.
- Things to consider around blogging... usage of Word Press as a hosting service a step above Blogger, usage of Copy Blogger for writing and both LinkedIn Answers & LinkedIn Reading List for Social Media content, commenting on other blogs.

Chapter Two: Make Your Own Game
- The Four Hour Workweek blog by Tim Ferriss and how he both wrote a bestselling book of the same name and basically created the category of Lifestyle Design from scratch.
- Links and comments are basically a form of currency is building a personal brand on the web.
- The Guy Kawasaki blog.
- Hacking as a way of doing something different... and better. Much easier to hack work when at a small firm than large corporation.
- Affiliate Marketing site Commission Junction.

Chapter Three: One of Us
- Quality of website / blog gives a powerful impression of someone.
- Importance of being human in online communications.
- the Guy Kawasaki website Alltop... featuring tons and tons of content in different areas.
- Concept of searching the web (possibly using Technorati or Google Blogsearch) for groups interested in the things you're interesting in.
- Yet again, the idea of comments on other's blogs as a valuable form of currency. Site to check out around comments is BackType.

Chapter Four: Archimedes Effect
- Chapter is about the idea of leverage... in both time utilization and accomplishment.
- Idea of RSS Reader usage, such as Google Reader.
- The seemingly non-profit focused website Drupal as well as the Chris Brogan launched parenting site Dad-O-Matic.

Chapter Five: Agent Zero
- No, not a Gilbert Arenas (he of the Agent Zero nickname) reference.
- The idea seems to be a restating of the Trust Agent concept... someone who uses the web to make connections, between people, companies and ideas.
- Links, links, links and... links.
- Dynamic usage of LinkedIn.

Chapter Six: Human Artist
- As stated before, have to be human on the web.
- If hoping for a response from someone you're reaching out to... first make a connection, then look at being a part of their world by commenting, then perhaps reach out in a short manner with your specific question.
- Keep your connections live by regular touches.

Chapter Seven: Build an Army & Chapter Eight: The Trust Agent
- Getting into summarizing the prior chapters, but still valuable... thinking about the idea of Make Your Own Game and what future businesses (and categories of business) are to be built.
- If it's important to you, there's value in it... and probably others as well. Good principle to think about when looking at where to invest time and energy.


Intent in this blog post wasn't to provide a Cliff Notes version of the book, but rather to create a record of what I felt of import from it and the links it pointed to. Really an interesting topic this Social Media thing and quite frankly, someone else would likely have different ideas that stand out to them from reading the book.

Highly recommend to anyone interested in the topic.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Best Time Magazine Writing: Politics & The Economy

After publishing posts last month with my favorite articles from Esquire & Sports Illustrated and then great BusinessWeek and Fast Company features on Bottled Water & BPA I wanted to look next at some of the best stuff I've seen from Time Magazine.

Looking at my favorite Time pieces, I found several were around two related topics... politics and the economy.


From 2008 came two pieces by the excellent writer David Von Drehle. The first was "The Five Faces of Barack Obama" chronicling multiple views of how the then-candidate was seen and second "The Limits of Race". This story had a subtitle of "For White Working Class, Obama Rises on Empty Wallets" and looked at voters in the key swing state of Missouri and how the economy was influencing their Presidential choice.

The August 2009 issue of Time contained "Inside Bush and Cheney's Final Days" by Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopt. The story was about the VP's attempts to get a Presidential pardon for Scooter Libby and gives a good portrait of Bush and Cheney individually as well as the relationship between the two men.

The Ecomomy

From an October 2008 issue, historian Niall Ferguson did a cover story titled "The End of Prosperity" and then in 2009 there were two pieces from Kurt Andersen (who wrote the bestselling historical novel "Heyday").

The first from Andersen was "The End of Excess: Is This Crisis Good for America?" (which was turned into a book) and second five months later was "The Avenging Amateur". Both featured really interesting writing and a definite optimism for the future.

Great pieces all about these two topics.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Workplace Culture Blog Posts

Last month I did a blog post with the business topics most frequently covered here and within those topics, have now aggregated posts done around touch-screen technology (as a part of aforementioned business topic blog post) and Social Media links and commentary.

With this leaving Cloud Computing, Workplace Culture and Customer Service as other business areas of note covered here... I wanted to tackle first Workplace Culture... but, with the statement that it closely links to Customer Service.

The concept behind this coupling notion is that the helpfulness and attitude of a company's employees in many ways can be an indicator of how well those employees feel treated. Someone simply doing their job is one thing, but to do it exceptionally well often requires a combination of personal excellence (pardon the cliche) and a desire to exercise that on behalf of the company. This is going to be particularly true in a customer facing role where someone may not necessarily have to "delight the customer" in order to fulfill their job function.

So... blog posts done around workplace culture:

The most recent was last month and my post about Best Buy included pieces both about the retailer's success and it's People Management. The two things related? Probably...

In Nov 2009 I did a post titled "Employer / Employee Relationship BusinessWeek Pieces"... containing several links from the Nov 16 BW issue. These included both one about the (seemingly outstanding for both the employee and company) Microsoft health coverage and one about the pending talent exodus from companies where employees feel mistreated.

From Sept 2009, I linked to the annual BusinessWeek "Best Places to Launch a Career" and then in Jan 2009, did a post on Fortune Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For".

Getting outside the realm of "best places to work" lists, I did a March 2009 post around the Fast Company 2009 "50 Most Innovative Companies" List. Does a company being innovative mean that it's employees have a good work environment? Nah... definitely not, but it sure doesn't hurt as it's going to be tough for a well-intentioned and employee friendly firm to hold onto it's best employees if they're bored.

Two different blog posts about People Management at IBM... from Nov 2009 was a post about the 401K... and IBM's program offering to employees and from Mar 2009 was a post with two different pieces on IBM... one on training and one mentoring.

Finally, in October 2008 I posted a blog entry titled "Corporate Workplace Culture: the Good (Not the Bad or Ugly)." Within that was multiple links about (positive workplace example) companies like Microsoft, Netflix, REI, Costco and Google).

Lots of posts, even more links within those and I think it all comes down to a basic concept... companies that want to do well over the long run have to offer a solid product or service AND have employees that feel valued.

Short-term positive results can certainly be achieved without these employees, but sustainable excellence... not so likely.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Book Review - "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown

Finished reading the Dan Brown blockbuster novel "The Lost Symbol" and found it to be... fairly entertaining.

Didn't like it as much as "The Da Vinci Code", but enjoyed the book a far sight more than "Angels & Demons". I will say, though, that I thought "Angels & Demons" was a decent (heavy on the action) movie and I imagine "The Lost Symbol" will be a pretty good and similarly crazy fast-paced movie.

As to the need to read the book rather than just wait for the film... eh, lots of other good books out there in my opinion.

Attempted Airline Terrorism Story From Time

Interesting (and disconcerting) cover story from the latest issue of Time Magazine.

Titled "What We Can Learn from Flight 253", it examines the attempted detonation of a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight into Detroit on Christmas Day. As the piece by Michael Duffy and Mark Thompson reveals, would be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab came very close to his goal of blowing up the plane... which raises a host of questions about both how that occured and also what our response was.

Abdulmutallab used a similar explosive to what hopeful shoebomber Richard Reid used, only rather than in his shoe, it was sewed into his underwear. While it's true that there are some next-generation airport screening devices that would have detected the bomb-making gear, the standard metal detectors at most US airports wouldn't have spotted it. Additionally, Abdulmutallab was on a US terrorist watchlist (but, only the first level which doesn't mean much).

Profiling is another way that authorities can try to help prevent terrorism, and in their book "Superfreakonomics", (which I reviewed here) Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner tell an anecdote about how effective it can be. However, profiling as well as full-body scanning machines at airports raise legitimate privacy concerns and can't be counted on to prevent bad things from ever occurring.

On the same subject of preventative measures, there's the concern of simply taking after the fact actions that don't help going forward. From his book "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable", Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about this idea... with a potential example being everyone taking their shoes off going through airport security.

Another thing to keep in mind is the recent example of Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. As Nancy Gibbs detailed in her Time cover story (which I wrote about here), terrorism doesn't necessarily have to be sponsored, paid for and planned by a terrorist organization, but rather can be the act of a person or persons wanting to commit a terrorist act.


All this considered, and as Duffy and Thompson argue in their cover story, you can't guarantee as a government that terrorism will always be prevented, so as prevention is practiced, you also have to look at response.

To this end, the Duffy and Thompson piece quoted Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano playing down the attempt by saying "once the incident occurred, the system worked" and spoke not of terrorism, but "man caused disasters." Also, "The Lesson: Passengers Are Not Helpless" by Amanda Ripley in this same issue of Time addresses both passenger response on Flight 253 and then how the FBI treated people after the attempted bombing was thwarted by the same passengers.

Just annoying stuff from Napalitano and the FBI...

The whole things is a big nut and tough to easily solve, but after reading the pieces both both Ripley and Duffy/Thompson (as well as past stuff), I think our government can do a better job of it's preventative measures, but perhaps even more importantly... of communicating with us as adults who understand we live in a dangerous world in which bad things can happen.