Friday, October 29, 2010

Fast Company Magazine - Russian Resource Grab / New Faces of Social Media

Really good story in the November issue of Fast Company Magazine... which reminded of a past feature from FC.

In this issue was "The Siberian Energy Rush" about Russia pushing natural gas exploration further and further into the Arctic Circle. Written by Joshua Hammer it's a pretty amazing look at a country staking a claim to new territory.

Thinking past just Russia and past natural gas, the story reminded me a great deal of the "China Storms Africa" special report from the June 2008 Fast Company (and which I also linked to here).

Taking these two features together with other statistics and content I've seen about jobs, education and innovation moving from the U.S. to other countries... it's disconcerting.


A counterpoint of sorts to this concern was another piece from this Nov 2010 issue of Fast Company. "The New Faces of Social Media" is all about the industry and careers carved out today that one wouldn't have dreamed of 10 years ago.

Considering these two different somewhat opposing ideas, the thing that occurs to me is it's definitely possible to create and innovate as an individual in America today... but, you can't rely upon anyone other than yourself to make that happen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kids Mental Health / Ted Kaufman - from Time Magazine

Two different pieces from the Nov 1 issue of Time Magazine that struck me as interesting...

The first was "Keeping Young Minds Healthy" by Jeffrey Kluger about some of the psychological ailments that can manifest themselves in childhood. A really interesting story with important content. I also found that this piece was part of a larger section on the Time website titled "Health Checkup: Kids and Mental Health"... which featured additional content around kids and health.

The second thing which stood out was the Joe Klein In the Arena column "Ted Kaufman, the Temporary Senator". Interesting reading about a very solid sounding politician.... which reminded me of Nate Silver's excellent political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight (now part of the New York Times).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Believing in Sports

Interesting topic to write about that came from a piece (well, two pieces actually) on by Jeff MacGregor.

I came across them via a Chris Jones twitter recommendation of MacGregor and I agree with Jones... it's good writing that leads one to thinking on the topic (which of course is in many cases, the definition of good writing).

The first story from MacGregor was "What do you still believe about sports?" and it was a call to his readers asking for their commentary on the question. Following up on this a week or so later was the piece "Fan belief and disbelief" with some of the responses received.

I was fairly well fascinated reading people's missives on the question and it led me to consider my own answer. What I found myself doing while looking at my belief in sports was actually looking at the importance I attach to them.


First thing in my opinion is a separation of sports as a topic area into (A) sports as a participant and (B) sports as a fan.

Thinking of sports as an actual participant, I think they're a great thing... both for kids and adults. For a child, they can both entertain and teach those life lesson things about trying hard and working with others. For an adult, the entertainment portion of the equation trumps the life lesson part, but the portion of that entertainment that involves trying hard and being part of the team... yea, that's still a good thing for us older type people. So, in summary of sports as a particpant... I do believe in them and think they matter.

The second topic area of sports as a fan and how much they matter and you believe in them (which is more of what I think MacGregor asking about anyways), this is a bit more complicated of an answer.

As a young lad (you know, prior to the ripe old age of 37), following sports mattered more than to me now due to time available and priorities of how to use that time. With having both kids and career aspirations (which may well take even longer than career goals because aspirations oft have to be figured out... taking additional time), sports just aren't as important as they used to be for me.

What following or watching sports in the time I allocate to them has become is entertainment. The import of it all (and whether my particular team wins or loses) isn't there in my mind as much as when I was younger, but the entertainment still certainly is. Seeing someone achieve greatly on a large stage... that's still highly entertaining to me even knowing that in the context of my life and family, it's not that big a deal.

This approaches the question of sports as a fan from the import perspective, but MacGregor's question is around belief... especially in relation to things like steroids and cheating.

On this topic, I'm a bit conflicted. I think my entertainment the most important thing (for me as fan). If I'm not thinking of things like Performance Enhancing Drugs while watching, my entertainment isn't diminished, but if I believe that someone does have an unfair advantage over others, that will diminish my entertainment.

Good example of this is Barry Bonds. When he was at the peak of his accomplishments, it was tremendously exciting for me as fan. When it then become known with pretty much certainty that he was taking steroids during that period, it didn't retroactively change how entertaining the time was for me as a fan, but did certainly impact future entertainment provided me by Bonds... and I cared not a whit about his chasing the home run mark.


So... I think sports important. I think they especially important as something to play, but also think them important as something to be a fan of. Should you believe in them? I don't know, but do think that you should be entertained by them (and with that entertainment not the most important thing in life).

I know as fans we're not cheering for perfect members of society and some people could be cheating. However, unless the evidence is enough to pretty much remove doubt, I'd prefer to think it all fair and enjoy the achievement, spectacle and entertainment provided by it all.

Along these lines, I really liked reading and agree with the MacGregor reader he quotes as having "the second to last word on the matter"...

Before answering your question I would like to propose an alternative definition for "belief," one of which Americans have very little understanding. Our word believe actually derives from the German word beleiben. The root being leib, which means love. Believe, in its root, means to belove, not to think something is right or true, which is what we have come to think in a society that only values the head and not spirit.

Our word believe is now translated into German as glauben, which is more like to know. (This sounds a lot like our English word gullible to me, which may be a good part of this discussion of what do we trust about sports). I can't tell you what I think about what's true and what's not about sports, and I'm not certain my opinion on that point matters. I can tell you what I belove about sports though.

I belove a redemption story, even the case of Michael Vick, because no matter how much we stumble we can get a second chance. I belove the transcendence of athletes pushing each other higher and making each other better, even in the midst of competition. I belove my expectations being shattered, and I belove the camaraderie of a team. I belove what athletes can do with their bodies. I belove the joy and I belove learning about myself and society. I belove the purity of a well struck free kick, of a perfect driver down the fairway, of Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing, and the paradox of outcomes on any given sports day.

I am not always certain what to think about sports, but I belove them.

-- Peace, Ben

Solid, Ben. Just solid.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Doing Work You Care About: Inc. 500 List / TechCrunch / Facebook

Three different things I've come across lately that all lead to me ruminating further on the subject of work... and the goal of efforts put into said work.

Starting off on the topic was Inc. Magazine's annual Inc. 500/5,000 List of the fastest growing private companies in America.

The top 500 are in the magazine itself and then top 5,000 featured online. In reading some of the profiles of the companies and their founders, I really got a sense for how hard the whole thing has been for many of the people (yes, also with exceptions)... and also how many of them just were doing something they really liked and kept at it.

Very tied into this idea of just starting something you have a degree of passion for, "The Way I Work: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch" was featured in the October issue of Inc. The piece describes Arrington as a guy who likes to write, likes to break stories and has actually (perhaps by design, perhaps not) built a pretty large business out of it. This is a conjecture-based statement to be certain, but I got the sense that if TechCrunch hadn't hit it big, Arrington would still be plugging away writing missives about breaking news in tech... because that's something he really likes to do.

The quick, easy and obvious point to draw from all this... try to figure out what you like to do and then do it. If it's something that turns into a viable business, that's great. Heck, maybe it's not even something that would ever turn into an ownership-stake business, but even if you just build a viable career working somewhere you like for others, that's not so bad.


Related to this subject of work and where it can go... went and saw The Social Network the other night.

Good movie, perhaps not as fantastic as I expected (based on reviews I've seen and that it was directed by David Fincher), but I definitely enjoyed it as a piece of entertainment (and it's acknowledged to be a fictionalized story for the purpose of greater entertaining).

Here's how the movie relates to the Inc. content and notion of working at something you care about... Zuckerberg did. He was a genius with a passion for the idea that would become Facebook and now a $25B business. Whether he thought it would get that big or not is almost besides the point that he was really really into what he was working on.

Zuckerberg has gotten rich from the idea and others who were there as early employees have also gotten wealthy, but I'm going to guess (or, perhaps just hope) that early on, they were putting in the long hours because they both liked what they were doing and saw the potential of it growing bigger. The fact that it did grow bigger than probably anyone would have imagined... a happy consequence of the idea and work to be sure, but definitely not one that was guaranteed. The actions towards that by people doing work they were into... that's something that's controllable (a different way of saying guaranteed).


So, tying it all together... do work you care about. If you've got the idea and willingness to fail, try to make a company out of it. If you don't have the idea or aren't in a position to take on the risk of starting a company, still do work you care about.

Seems simple, but that goal can be just as vexing a proposition as starting a company if you're not there yet. Well, I guess this is where the old phrase comes in... if it were easy, everyone'd be doing it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Roger Ebert on Secretariat Writer Bill Nack

It's not terribly often I come across writing I consider to great because of what I feel is the confluence of events required to reach this level of... great.

Well written, you most definitely have to have that. Beyond that, the subject has got to either hold a certain gravitas of import or at the very least, be interesting (I write in this blog post about an example from Charles Pierce meeting this dual criteria).

Additionally, you might have some context of solid writing thrown in... typically in the form of work by someone you already like, but as this post will detail, there's another type of good writing context that can be in evidence.

Point of all this is to say that it takes a lot to make a piece of writing great and the follow on point is "The storyteller and the stallion" by Roger Ebert is great writing. Written on his Chicago Sun-Time blog, the work is about Ebert's college friend Bill Nack... including his life in writing (25 years of which spent at Sports Illustrated) and his authoring of the book Secretariat, since made into a movie.

From a writing perspective, it's really well done work by someone I'm tremendously impressed with as an author in Ebert. Additionally, I find it incredibly cool that one of my favorite current- day writers, Joe Posnanski, would link to the story on his twitter account and refer to Ebert and Nack as two of his favorite writers (very similar to the way Posnanski mentioned another one of my favs, Chris Jones, in an SI blog piece a few weeks ago).

From a subject perspective, I enjoyed this Ebert piece not because it's got content about horse racing, but because it weaves a tale of both the relationship betwixt Ebert and Nack and writing itself. Now, the phrase writing itself may seem a bit melodramatic to use, but what got me was how the piece is someone with both a proven love for words and the process of writing them detailing a friend and his love for words and the process of writing them.

To boil it down... that's just cool, and results in a piece of great writing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Working & Writing... and Writing About Working

One thing I like to do with this blog is take a look back every now and then at what I've written and pull some of the disparate posts together.

Topic for today's soliloquy is going to be working and writing, and the content written here about both since Sept 1st. Additionally, a piece from back in January bears linking to because... well, because I liked writing it.

Work, it's an odd thing. People engage in it to get the money for the things they want to do (like eat and put clothes on their kids), but in many cases, work can define someone and give their identity. For many, it becomes a struggle to bridge the gap betwixt the identity created by the work they're doing and the identity sought through the work they'd like to do. Actually, to that end, I've at times been jealous of people who have a job and are fine with it. Yes, I'm super duper jealous of someone with a job they love, but it doesn't seem like that bad of a racket to have a job that you work, leave it at the end of the day and merrily not think about either that work or any different (i.e. better) type of work till the next day.

However, burdens to bear are what they are and for those of us who aspire to something different, it's a good idea to think about it and take steps towards said different.

In terms of general musings around work, I posted both Commitment. To Work? and Urgent vs Important Work in the past six weeks. Looking more specifically at the type of work I fancy, Writers Write... And Not Always Well and Ex-CEO as Nebraska Volunteer Coach / Not too Late for Career Changes (title sure sings, doesn't it) appeared on this blog since mid-September.

All this said (and linked to), here's the point... if you want to do something, the best path forward is probably to start doing it. Ergo, if I want to write and want to have a particular type of work (yep, a writing type)... there's not many better ways towards that than writing, including writing about work.

To this end (and yea, I know the phrase was already used above), one piece I particular enjoyed writing about a field of work that's becoming increasingly bigger (with associated import) is Social Media... What a Place to Be!(?) Really had all the elements for me... a topic I find interesting, something I enjoyed writing and something I'm happy with the output.

Not bad... and something to aspire to doing more and more of.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fast Company Magazine - Masters of Design Issue

Some interesting content in the Oct 2010 issue of Fast Company that got me thinking about career choices...

Theme was Masters of Design and the first thing I found of note was the series of short profiles "A Generation of Emerging Designers Who Design With Purpose." Within was a handful of people who come across as passionate about doing great work. In the same vein was the longer profile "Fiona Morrisson Brands JetBlue With Whimsical Design" on the airline's Brand and Advertising head.

I love reading pieces about people who are really into whatever their chosen endevour is. Definitely got the impression that these individuals wanted to do something a certain way and would be willing to fight for that. So much more to that than simply going along in a work environment and not making waves.


Two other things that caught my eye... mention of Tony Hawk's new book "How Did I Get Here: The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO" and fabric iPhone headphones from Frends.

Both from a functionality (hate the way my headphones tangle) and story (Frends being the group of snowboarders whose best known member is Kevin Pearce) perspective, it's a product I want to buy... now, if only there was somewhere I could buy them (doesn't appear to be sold online and the Zumiez I visited didn't have any).

Thursday, October 07, 2010

New World Trade Center Piece & Chris Jones Blog from Esquire

Two things I found of note in the October 2010 issue of Esquire Magazine.

The first was great feature writing about an important topic. Written by Scott Raab, "Good Days at Ground Zero" is about the transformative work being done at the World Trade Center in New York City. Raab that details a level of accomplishment I had no idea of...

Second thing that struck me (and gave me a bunch more stuff to read) was mention of the Esquire blog My Second Empire (with associated twitter page!) written by Chris Jones. It's about his efforts renovating a house, but since the most recent post is an MLB playoff prediction, I'm expecting to see a goodly amount of ground covered by an excellent writer (I mean, how bad could he be if praised by Joe Posnanski?).

"The Wave" by Susan Casey

Recently finished reading "The Wave" by Susan Casey and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I heard about the book from an excerpt in Sports Illustrated (which I linked to and posted on last month) and was looking forward to reading the book even before I read the excerpt. One of the early posts I made to this blog was on Casey and her excellent book "The Devil's Teeth" about the Farallon Islands and the Great White Shark containing surrounding waters. From that book along with Casey writing I've seen in Sports Illustrated as well as Esquire, I consider her one of my favorite authors.

To the new book from Casey... really interesting read that's split between (A) giant waves and their impact... and (B) the people who surf them. I often felt like I was reading two different books joined together as the chapters would go from one on Laird Hamilton surfing Jaws off Maui to one on the very busy rescue and salvage operators who work out of Cape Town, South Africa. Pretty different topics, but everything that Casey wrote about was interesting enough to stand on it's own, and still worked together as part of a larger look at the power of the ocean.

The Sports Illustrated excerpt was excellent and almost exclusively focused on the big wave surfing content from the book (understandable since it's Sports Illustrated), but the bigger picture content in other parts of the book are fascinating.

More and more big waves coming due to climate change and oceans rising, large numbers of ships lost at sea every year, giant rogue waves that known models wouldn't have predicted the height of (including an 1,800 foot wave at Lituya Bay in Alaska)... all stuff that Casey details.

This is the non-surfing stuff, but there's also some extremely compelling content in the book on big wave surfing. Casey spent a large amount of time with Laird Hamilton... and retells the story of his surfing partner Brett Lickle almost bleeding out in a December 2007 day with 100+ foot waves on Giants off Maui. Just amazing content written about well...

Some places to go for addition content on the book and topic are the book website (which is pretty rudimentary), the associated Facebook page (which has a lot of good content) and Laird Hamilton's website.

Pretty wild subject matter and definitely worth reading about in Casey's book.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Time Magazine Cover Story on Militia Groups

Pretty fascinating cover story from the latest issue of Time Magazine.

A pretty length piece by Barton Gellman (with accompanying photos by 19 year old Ty Cacek... I don't know what I was doing at 19, but it wasn't shooting cover pics for Time Magazine), "The Secret World of Extreme Militias" is definitely worth a read.

For lack of a better way to put it, the story is scary stuff and makes me think about the importance of the Time cover story I wrote about and linked to a couple of weeks ago.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Billy Wagner Sports Illustrated Pieces by Michael Bamberger

Good story in the Oct 4 issue of Sports Illustrated... that led to my reading an even better story written 11 years earlier by the same author on the same topic.

From the latest issue, "The Last Stand Of Billy The Kid" is by Michael Bamberger and about Atlanta Braves closer Billy Wagner. It's interesting reading about a guy who after 16 years in the major leagues states that this will be his last. A professional athlete retiring doesn't typically have great profundity associated, but Wagner's story is one to pique interest.

He's having one of his best seasons in baseball and by retiring will leave at least $6M on the table. In the Bamberger story, Wagner's stated reasons for walking away have to do with spending time with his family. As he puts it "Sarah's been raising our kids and running the house alone for a lot of years now, it's time for me to step in."

This piece struck me as interesting writing on an interesting guy, but in doing a search for the story on the CNNSI Vault, I came across a Bamberger piece from September 1999 that reached a different level of the aforementioned profundity. Titled "Astro Physics", it's subtitle gets at the content within...

"To understand how Houston closer Billy Wagner can throw a baseball 100 mph, you've got to examine the dynamics of his rural upbringing."

Really compelling writing about someone who has been through things in life that few have experienced. Him retiring perhaps before he needs to (i.e. is forced out of the game due to production on the field) doesn't seem as important or foolish when you consider Wagner's life story. Perhaps it even leads one to consider the real import of wins or losses on the field.


Two other things of interest from this recent issue of SI were mention of the recently published books "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption" by Jim Gorant and "Sports Illustrated The Hockey Book."