Friday, August 27, 2010

Fast Company Magazine - TED / Alex Bogusky

Two really interesting pieces in the Sept 2010 issue of Fast Company Magazine.

In "How TED Connects the Idea-Hungry Elite" Anya Kamenetz profiles the famous (at least in the circles that most Fast Company readers run in) TED Conference and how it's extended out beyond the namesake annual event in Long Beach.

One avenue of extending reach for the non-profit enterprise is through the TEDx program of allowing virtually anyone anywhere to stage a "TEDx Conference" based on the format, content and ideals of the main conference. Even more interesting than this idea of releasing control of the events is the release of event content via TED talks online. With some 700 talks posted on the TED website (all viewable via the iPhone, thank you very much) there's plenty of content out there and an 18 minute cap on each speaker makes each ripe for easy consumption.


Also from this issue and not in the same "opportunity to learn stuff" as TED talks, but riveting in it's own right was "Alex Bogusky Tells All: He Left the World's Hottest Agency to Find His Soul."

It's a look at the career path of the former Crispin, Porter + Bogusky advertising guru and how he's "finding himself" since abruptly quitting the industry. Just the stuff about Bogusky and what he's doing now would be interesting enough, but author Danielle Sacks spends time with a good number of Bogusky's former colleagues and from this examines the question of motive behind the career change.

Sacks doesn't try to make any definitive statements, but does bring up whether Bogusky is really just steering his career in a now hot in business direction. Part of this is also consideration of whether he's a classic narcissist getting off on the idea of a grand manipulation of people and how they view him.

Just a very interesting examination of an interesting subject.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Esquire Magazine - Sept 2010 issue

Whole buncha stuff worth linking to from the Sept 2010 issue of Esquire... with an additional piece from the prior issue.

One of the feature stories from the latest issue is "Newt Gingrich: The Indispensable Republican." Written by John H. Richardson, the piece tells the story of a revived politician seemingly aspiring to high office.

In the category of really really excellent writing, Tom Junod contributed "Eleven Lives" about the men who lost their lives in the Deepwater Horizon drill rig fire. Very poignant stuff about people relegated to a postscript with the ensuring environmental calamity from the oil spill.

Two additional (and much smaller) pieces from Esquire worth linking to... but, more for the purpose of noting stuff to read or watch respectively.

"Jonathan Franzen Will Go Down Swinging" is from Esquire "Books Guy" Benjamin Alsup and about the soon to be released "Freedom"... either the "Next Great American Novel" or a 576 page small print paperweight. Me suspects it will be in the NGAM category, but will just have to try to find the time to set aside and find out.

From the Aug 2010 issue, "What They Did to Pat Tillman" is a short Mark Warren piece about the documentary "The Tillman Story". Following on the heels of the excellent Jon Krakauer book "Where Men Win Glory" (which I reviewed here) as well as the Mary Tillman (Pat's mom) book "Boots on the Ground by Dusk", the Amir Bar-Lev film hit theaters Aug 20th and examines the government cover-up and spin doctoring around Tillman's death in Afghanistan.

Nothing earth shattering in it's brilliance noted above, but some solid and interesting pieces about big topics.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fast Company Magazine - Apple, Method Products & mGive

Some interesting pieces from the latest issue of Fast Company Magazine.

Most prominent was the cover story "Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere" by Farhad Manjoo. Lots of interesting things in list format from the company Manjoo notes as being now the largest technology company in the world...

1. "Go into your cave" - about the idea of having a focus on providing value as you perceive it... and not getting bogged down in what other's say should be provided.

2. "It's ok to be king" - To the first point, Apple is a company in which CEO Steve Jobs both sets and steers the course. Highly, highly centralized decisions... which is fine as long as it's working.

3. "Transcend orthodoxy" - Apple is oft criticized for being a "closed system" company (primarily in relation to things like their oversight of what gets into the App Store), but the counterpoint from Jobs is both that they're not closed off... just preserving the user experience they seek to provide. Sorta like point 2, this also closely relates to point 1 above.

4. "Just say no" - see point 1.

5. "Serve your customer. No, really" - Not just providing the aforementioned user experience (which is typically thought of in interaction with the product), but also the customer experience (like, what do you do when you need help/support). Example provided by Manjoo (that I can completely back up from first hand experience) is the value provided via the free Apple Store Genius Bar support help.

6. "Everything is marketing" - Crazy focused attention to deal from Apple around anything touching the consumer. Examples of these range from product consistencies in the ubiquitous white earbuds and Mac startup sound to marketing coordination around product launches.

7. "Kill the past" - Innovate and always move forward. The phrase "kill your little darlings" comes to mind for me here.

8. "Turn feedback into inspiration" - Like other items on this list, related to point 1 in that the company creates products and features on it's own terms and timetables according to what Apple thinks will inspire the masses. That said, this point is about taking consumer requests and using them as jumping off points for said product introductions on Apple terms.

9. "Don't invent, reinvent" - Closely related to the "innovate" idea from point 7, but rather an idea around taking ideas that may already exist (i.e. portable music players & cell phone PDAs) and completely changing the product category through a radical focus on user experience.

10. "Play by your own clock" - Again... point 1 above. Innovate and action from Apple based on what the company (specifically, Steve Jobs) views as the right product introductions at the right time. An enormously key point made by Manjoo here is around the status of Jobs as CEO. The stock and company have done well enough under his stewardship (especially now during his second CEO go-round) that he (and Apple as a whole by extension) have the latitude to act based on what he feels best... basically a free pass from the never-ending cost-cutting pressures that many public company CEOs seem to be reacting to.

Lots and lots of stuff writtten here about a fascinating company. Me thinks if one were to identify the "big rock" point from Manjoo, it would be that Apple both can and does operate in the manner it sees best to provide a great user experience to the customer... and have Apple as a company prosper as a result.


Some other interesting (and shorter) mentions from this issue...

Fast Company writeup of one of three winners of the International Design Excellent Awards Best in Show prize... Method Products ultra-concentrated laundry detergent in pump application dispenser.

Brief piece "How mGive Is Making Donations Mobile" about the mobile giving application from 32 year old James Eberhard's company Mobile Accord... description of the company and mGive program here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Joe Posnanski on Jets Fullback Tony Richardson

Great story from the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.

From Joe Posnanski, Made to Last is a profile of 16 year NFL veteran Tony Richardson. It's solid writing about a guy who takes pride in helping every season the young players trying to take his starting job. Definitely worth a read for anyone who likes football... and reading about one of the good guys.


Also from this issue of SI was The Summer's Best @#$%! Comedy by Steve Rushin about "Hard Knocks" on HBO. A really cool show that reveals a more human side of the NFL than is usually shown.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"War" by Sebastian Junger

Recently finished reading "War" by Sebastian Junger and found it be a pretty good book... with some really compelling parts interspersed with a few that dragged somewhat.

I'm a fan of Junger's writing after having finished "The Perfect Storm", "A Death in Belmont" and then "Fire" (with my review here). His most recent effort stems from a year spent in the Korengal region of Afghanistan entrenched with with a Forward Operating Base Army platoon. From this time came the book as well as a documentary film titled Restrepo after combat medic Juan Restrepo who was killed in action.

What struck me about "War" was the descriptions of the men in the platoon and how they functioned together in a combat situation. Junger describes their connection as one of Love (also the heading of the book's third and final section) for your fellow solider and a togetherness that one just doesn't find elsewhere.

To that end, I also found myself very interested in what Junger wrote about the difficulty of leaving combat to return to the trivialities of a non-combat zone base or civilian life. In particular, the life of platoon member Brendan O'Byrne was featured and as I was writing this review, I found this really interesting piece about he and Junger's relationship since their time in the Korengal. Gotta be tough to return to "real life" when it doesn't get any more real life than war.

Additional thing I found noteworthy was the idea of courage. As stated before, Junger equates courage with love, but many soldiers didn't seem to view their actions as courageous, but rather simply doing the job they were trained to do. To illustrate this, Junger included in the book a 1908 quote from New York City Fire Chief Ed Croker at the funeral for five of his men...

"Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a firemen his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work."

Compelling notion and a quote that I'm glad to have seen in this interesting book... which also made me want to see the aforementioned movie, Restrepo.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jonathan Franzen Cover Story from Time / Access to Time Content Online

Great cover story in the latest issue of Time Magazine... too bad it's not easy to access (more on that later, though).

Titled "Jonathan Franzen: Great American Novelist", the piece is an extremely well done profile by Lev Grossman. Franzen received enormous acclaim for his 2001 "The Corrections" and the upcoming publication of his 10 years in the waiting follow-up "Freedom" is what's put him on the cover of Time. Interestingly enough, it's the first time since Stephen King in 2000 that a living novelist has had a Time cover feature.

I was interested to see this story on Franzen both from the perspective of such attention being paid a writer and because after my having read "The Corrections" halfway through (it's quite the massive book), I find Franzen to be just a brilliant writer. As Grossman makes mention of, Franzen doesn't write of amazing topics or extraordinary abilities held by his subjects, but he just writes such great and authentic prose about what could be called "the human condition"... life as people live it.

Within the piece itself, what struck me the most was the work involved in Franzen's craft. After many initial false starts and abandoned roads travelled down, the author wrote "Freedom" over the course of 12 or so months filled with 6 or 7 day weeks starting early and going late. The physical writing of the book took place in a barren office on a notebook computer with it's Internet capability permanently and irrevocably broken off by Franzen to avoid distractions. Not messing around, this guy.

I also found intriguing Franzen's description of the social usefullness of reading and the focus and committment required for someone to immerse themselves in a book. Really it's a concept that I feel to be true in general with reading and writing, and a different kind of true with fiction reading and writing. I don't think fiction better than non-fiction or vice versa, but rather that both types of reading a worthwhile endevour that one doesn't get from easier to digest media like movies or television. I definitely lean towards non-fiction reading on maybe a 90-10 basis, but also think it important for any serious reader or writer to keep a place for both, and Franzen may well be carrying the torch right now in the field of fiction writing.


Another piece from this issue of Time I found memorable was the last page essay by Joel Stein. "Bring On the Elites!" critiques (and makes fun of) the popular notion of "anyone is qualified for anything" as personified by the blogosphere (and I'd say current Presidential wanna-be from Alaska, but that's a different topic).


As I alluded to early in this post, though... ability to read either the Stein column or Grossman profile might be a bit limited.

Should you go to the URL for most Time Magazine stories these days, you'll get a few paragraphs of the original piece followed by something to the effect of "This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the August 23, 2010, print and iPad editions of TIME magazine" and then an invitation to buy the hardcopy issue or the iPad pad.

So, it's not even a paywall that Time's instituting... instead it's an "invitation" for someone reading something in one media (online through whatever non-iPad vehicle) to stop everything and either (A) find a store where they can hope to find the hardcopy issue, (B) pay what I believe is the inflated price of $5/issue to read on the iPad or (C) drop $500 to buy an iPad... (since, apparently unbeknownst to the decision makers at Time, Inc., not everyone owns one now) and then the inflated $5/issue price.

Please... nice way to restrict readers from viewing your content.

My Resume Updated

Been a while so I recently updated my resume... no real change on the places schooled or worked, but did add non-traditional (at least for resumes) commentary on where I've been and want to go.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Joe Posnanski Piece on Rafer Johnson

Found myself to be pretty well riveted by a recent Joe Posnanski blog post on Olympic Decathlete Rafer Johnson. Titled Stories of an Extraordinary Life, the piece details how Johnson was much more than simply an amazing athlete.

Confidant of Bobby Kennedy (and person who wrestled the guy from Sirhan Sirhan), UCLA basketball player under John Wooden, supporter of Special Olympics, close friend of Muhammad Ali and lighter of the 1984 Summer Olympic torch... Johnson has in fact led a life described well by Posnanski.

Just a great piece of writing by Posnaski... who I've linked to a number of times here, with the most interesting and profound (to myself, at least) story being "The Quisenberry Tree" linked to in this post.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Star Island" by Carl Hiaasen

Just finished reading "Star Island" by Carl Hiaasen... good writer, funny book.

A perusal of the "books for adults" page on Hiaasen's official website tells me that I've now read almost all of his books in the "fictional tale of wacky Florida characters" category. To whit... below are the ones I know I've read:

- Star Island
- Nature Girl
- Skinny Dip
- Basket Case
- Sick Puppy
- Lucky You
- Native Tongue
- Stormy Weather

The ones from this genre I don't believe I've read yet are the oldest...

- Skin Tight
- Double Whammy
- Bass Season

Granted, none of them are anything you'll gleam huge knowledge from or become a better person for having read, but darn it... they're funny books, that certainly counts for something.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Finding of White Collar Work & Scott Belsky Creative Meritocracy Piece

A topic I've thought quite a bit about over... I don't know, the last few years, is that of finding white collar work.

My thinking on the subject has been how difficult it is for many white collar works to quantify or even demonstrate outside of their organization their value and skills. Someone can give their title and the company they work at and those they've worked for, but I'd posit it's more difficult for the white collar worker to showcase and explain their value than a blue collar worker... such as say a mechanic or plumber.

Even within the broad category of white collar workers, there's some fields that lend themselves more easily to demonstrating value and skills than others. An engineer, writer or design person can often have either portfolios of their work or can at least speak to what they've done. For many white collar workers, though, the profession can become a bit of a trap if what they do is "manage things for their company." This jack of all trades business type role can be a difficult one to both break out of and to advance in if care isn't taken to showcase both work done and ability to do work going forward.


I've been meaning to post on this, but finally compelled to do so after reading an interesting article by Scott Belsky. The author of "Making Ideas Happen", Founder and CEO of the Behance Network and guy who posts interesting stuff on Twitter, Belsky seems a good person to write about the area of work.

From his aforementioned Twitter account, I found Belsky's post "Welcome to the Era of Creative Meritocracy" on recognition and advancement of creative work and talent. Some might view it as overly optimistic, but it's a fascinating concept he puts forth. Basic idea is that as we move forward in the Internet age (my words, not his), the best creative work and workers should rise to the top because (among other reasons) more people can view their output online ("The Wisdom of Crowds" idea) and there are more places for one to post and demonstrate work.


If you take Belsky's Behance Network as an example of where a white collar worker can display their work and further this "Creative Meritocracy" it makes sense, but I think his idea has practical applications as well for those white collar creative professional type who aren't necessarily Creatives in the traditional Advertising/Design sense of the word.

Even with keeping in mind that some things might be company confidential information about projects or clients, there's a ton of opportunities someone can have to put forth their work so that it's more than just lines on a resume. Portfolios don't have to be limited to the industries that speak in that language every day. Rather, anyone with access to a computer can set up a free blogspot account and create a website about what they've got to bring.

Maybe it's gonna take a while to reach Belsky's vision, but it's definitely a direction that can and should be moved in by people. Solid stuff...

Time Magazine Pieces - Summer Vacation / Ford / Hyperlocal News / Other Stuff...

Several interesting pieces from Time Magazine over the last two weeks.

The Aug 2 issue cover story was "The Case Against Summer Vacation" by David Von Drehle about the academic damage that's incurred for kids away from learning for three months. Reminded me of both the Von Drehle piece "The Myth About Boys" (posted on here) and other stories I've seen about how lower income students often fall behind during the summer. Attributed cause for this is they don't get as much opportunity for out of classroom learning as do kids from better off families.

Also from this issue was "Are Hyperlocals Replacing Traditional Newspapers?" which covered the wave of new journalism startups over the last few years. Interesting stuff that brought to mind this blog post from Feb 2009 about and linking to the Time cover story "How to Save Your Newspaper".


In the same category of "Time piece that makes me think of past writing" was the Aug 9 issue profile of Ford Motor Company under CEO Alan Mulally titled "How to Make Cars And Make Money Too". Nothing terribly exciting in this particular story, but it does follow up on past writing and stories about Ford I've linked to.

Finally, two other stories about interesting topics from this issue that I wanted to make note of...

- "Funny or Die: How the Web Is Changing Comedy" about the popular website.

-"Building a Better Playground" about the idea of kids play areas having loose items for use rather than simply stuff to slide on and climb.

Nothing in any of these that stood out to me as great writing, but lots of cool topics covered.