This blog is all about words because they matter, they influence, they entertain and when you put them down on a page in a meaningful order, they acquire permanence. Contained here is my writing over the past 10+ years, primarily book reviews over the past ~5 years, and I also have a book review podcast, Talking Nonfiction, available on Apple or Spotify.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Isaacson is an accomplished biography writer and the start of this book includes mention of how Jobs didn’t ask for any editorial control and convinced Issacson to write it so there would be an account of him done by someone trusted. The trade off for that which Jobs acknowledged was there would be some stories and details showing him in a negative light.
All in all, though, he comes across as a remarkable individual and some of the things noted by Isaacson that stood out as particularly interesting are noted below:
Differences between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak - The two met while in high school and were draw to one another by shared interest in electronics as well high intellects. Where they diverged was both socially and in terms of motivations. Wozniak was a brilliant programmer while Jobs wasn't nearly as technical, but could both conceptualize and sell very well. Early on, the two developed technology that Wozniak would have given it away, but Jobs pushed for selling something he knew people would want. This initial successful partnership eventually led to the creation of Apple.
Non-traditional lifestyle choices and views of the world - Jobs at an early age because interested in LSD, fad diets and Eastern Spirituality and Zen Buddhism... to the point of leaving his job at Atari to go to India searching for enlightenment and a guru.
Almost immediate judgements made - Other people & their ideas would oft be decided by Jobs to be either great or horrible. This same hair-trigger determination could then be reversed at a moment's notice, at times with Jobs proposing as his own an idea previously rejected.
Favoring of open rather than closed systems - Jobs early on decided to not license the Macintosh operating system (different than Microsoft and their approach with Windows) and instead had hardware and software bundled together. This same closed system approach came out later on with development of the iTunes store, apps and Apple stores.
Championing of Design over Engineering - Jobs would seek for and identify great design and push for that in the products sold, oftentimes to the chagrin of engineers who would have to figure out how to make work the design. This was a topic throughout Jobs career and he talked about Apple products being "at the intersection of humanities and technology."
A respect for the creative - This manifested itself both in the appreciation of great design, focus on stellar advertising and actions taken while running Pixar. Jobs had respect for people who he viewed as truly creative and that led to him following the lead of John Lasseter and other Pixar creatives requesting money to make animated shorts. This work that was outside of Pixar's initial core hardware business eventually led to Toy Story being made... and started the company on the path to taking over leadership of Disney Animation.
All this said, Isaacson wrote an excellent biography of Steve Jobs and as previously stated, the book wasn't designed by Jobs to be his legacy, but perhaps he would want the famous June 2005 Stanford commencement speech to serve as such...
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Fast Company Dec/Jan Issue: Toms Shoes, Louis C.K., General Assembly, Bluefin Labs, Nest
In the Now section of the magazine was Toms Founder Blake Mycoskie's Fashion-Forward Childhood. Nothing terribly new in the short piece, but Toms Shoes an interesting company given it's practice of giving away a pair of shoes for each sold.
Also notable for the subject was Louis C.K.: The Next Steve Jobs Will Be A Chick. As this CNN story details, C.K. has been selling online for $5 a self-produced standup special and after a few weeks is now at $1M in revenue. Very interesting approach taken by C.K. and also cool given the $280K+ in charitable donations he's already dispersed from the proceeds.
Two longer, but not feature length pieces from this issue were on augmented education and utilization of Twitter for business intelligence...
Anya Kamenetz penned General Assembly Provides Entrepreneurial Skills To A Chosen Few about the New York-based startup which offers classes and education programs in the fields of "technology, design, and entrepreneurship". Seems a solid concept for a business as education certainly can't stop with the traditional receipt of a college diploma.
On a company working to aggregate and make accessible some heavily fragmented information, Rachel Arndt wrote Bluefin Mines Social Media To Improve TV Analytics. Selling services to "brands, agencies and TV Networks", Bluefin Labs works in an interesting area.
Finally, this issue of Fast Company had a short piece on the company Nest and it's smart thermostat. Fascinating product designed with user experience in mind from former Apple exec Tony Faddell.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Businessweek Dec 12 Issue: Vegas Real Estate Fraud, OnLive Video Games, TV Remotes, Tableau Data Analysis
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Kevin Van Valkenburg Q&A on Blog TVFury
Interview was done by and posted on the blog TVFury ("Sports, writing and life through the eyes of Terry Vandrovec and Shawn Fury") and the final words of the Q&A intro are pretty much catnip to someone like myself with a bent towards great narrative sports writing...
"Here, Kevin talks about growing up with an editor mom, life as a college football player, literary heroes, leaving Montana and living in Baltimore, his story that made it into the Best American Sportswriting book, The Wire, David Stern’s ego, the writing life and much more."
Couple of things that stood out in the (long at 10,000+ words) interview were how different journalism was when Van Valkenburg graduated college and (towards the end of the piece) his listing of favorite long-form pieces, books and authors. Quite a few of the writers noted were ones I follow and of particular interest was a quote from sportswriter S.L. Price in his excellent memoir Far Afield.
Very well done interview with interesting answers provided. Not a surprise, though, as Van Valkenburg is a really good writer who (as noted in the piece) does a number of different types of writing.
He references in the Q&A his most rewarding work being this five-part serial narrative about a football team in West Baltimore and my favorite piece of his I haven't already linked to was Sense of loss drives Ngata on Baltimore Ravens (and former Oregon Ducks) lineman Haloti Ngata. Additionally, Van Valkenburg is known for his interesting Five Things We Learned Baltimore Sun column following Ravens games.
Friday, December 16, 2011
John Branch on Derek Boogaard / Sports Journalism Today
It's captivating reading about first the idea of sixteen and seventeen year-old hockey players seeking to make a career with their ability to fight during games and then those same players having severe neurological trauma later in life... in Boogaard's case, a life of just 28 years.
Branch's piece is an extremely thorough profile that's sports journalism by virtue of it's athlete subject, but does more than hold it's own in the broader category of journalism. To this point, there's been several interesting stories come across lately about sports journalism and the great work being done in the field.
For New York Magazine, Gabriel Sherman wrote Blitz!: How sports journalists learned to go for the hard tackle which uses the Branch series as an example of the deep investigative reports being done into sports topics in recent years.
A second piece lately on sports journalism is The Sporting Scene column for the New Yorker by Reeves Wiedeman. It's an interesting short missive about the volume of solid beyond the boxscore sportswriting being generated online.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Sports Illustrated Writing: from Alexander Wolff, Charles P. Pierce & Jim Gorant
Longtime SI writer Alexander Wolff did the cover profile on the coaching icons and paints a revealing portrait of two driven individuals who appear focused on winning the right way. It's solid writing made the more so given that Summitt no longer does one-on-one interviews with her diagnosis of having early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.
Friday, December 09, 2011
Entrepreneurial Journalism Education / Difficulty in Sports Reporting Today
As could be expected, the online session was the most engaging of the various sources of wisdom and class itself the Knight Center webinar to teach journalists how to start a successful entrepreneurial project taught by journalist and City University of New York J-School professor Jeremy Caplan.
I wouldn't say I was disappointed with my time spent, but it did leave me feeling it tough to get a tremendous amount from an online learning environment. There was the opportunity to post questions to a chat board that were then answered, but not much interactive learning (which isn't a terribly damning statement as you likely shouldn't expect much more from a two hour online session).
As to the content itself, material was posted to both Scribd and Google Docs and the high-level 7 Steps to a successful entrepreneurial Journalism startup are below...
1. Market research
2. Competitive analysis
3. Content & structure development
4. Building community
5. Cultivating sustainability
6. Leading on the path
7. Adjusting on the way
Important points to be sure, but my thoughts on the content were that it was pretty basic business school type stuff (but, again... maybe that's not being critical as it could be new learning for some in the session) and that the actual application of the steps seemed to be described as most frequently towards building hyper-local community news websites.
All in all, Journalism and the business around writing (which obviously could cast a pretty wide net) is definitely of interest and attending the session was a good step in learning more.
On this subject of new opportunities in Journalism, the aforementioned Nieman Foundation had on it's Nieman Lab site recently a Justin Ellis piece How Time Inc. is preparing for a future in digital news with a j-school of its own. Interesting concept with the old media giant offering in-house education (heavily leaning towards digital new media topics) to employees.
Finally (and also related to the idea of changes in Journalism), excellent piece titled Death of the interview posted to ESPN earlier this week. Written by Tim Keown, it delves into how sports reporting (both by the press and athletes) has changed in today's environment of short attention, tight news cycles and need for the sensational. Very solid piece that's both entertaining and thought-provoking.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Writing & Work from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism
"Nieman Storyboard looks at how storytelling works in every medium. In addition to highlighting outstanding print narratives, we seek to feature the best examples of visual, audio and multimedia narrative reporting. As a bonus, we’ll also give you occasional updates on conferences, awards, and other narrative news."
Given my interest in learning more about and love of interesting narrative stories written down (and to fall a bit into a cliche)... that's right in my wheelhouse!
First time I came across Nieman (Foundation or the Storyboard website) was with mention of venerable narrative journalist Gay Talese doing a lecture with two-time National Magazine Award winning Esquire writer Chris Jones. While it would have been great to actually attend the talk, Nieman Storyboard provided this transcript of the session as well as the notes from an equally interesting Jones Q&A with Narrative Writing Instructor Paige Williams.
Looking further into the Storyboard site, I found noted as contributors a number of the writers whose stuff I admire and look for. From 2009 there was Tommy Tomlinson: making words work for a living and more recently a Storyboard series titled why's this so good? with analysis of classic narrative nonfiction writing. Concept held a lot of sway with me as it's the intent of this blog... but, with stuff by accomplished writers rather than just my ramblings.
There's so far been 23 different pieces in the series with those below representing ones either about or by authors I'm familiar with and enjoy...
- “Why’s this so good?” No. 4: W.C. Heinz on Air Lift, son of Bold Venture by Chris Jones
- “Why’s this so good?” No. 11: Tom Junod on Mister Rogers and grace by Susannah Breslin
- “Why’s This So Good?” No. 15: Michael Lewis’ Greek odyssey by David Dobbs
- “Why’s this so good?” No. 18: Brady Dennis goes short by Ben Montgomery
- “Why’s this so good?” No. 22: Hank Stuever on 9-ish by Michael Kruse
- “Why’s this so good?” No. 23: William Langewiesche’s voice of experience by Thomas Lake
Very cool writing series and lot of other interesting things being done by Nieman.
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Time Magazine Pieces - Familial DNA testing / Rhode Island Pension Reform / Jon Huntsman / Nest Thermostat
Monday, December 05, 2011
Profiles from December 2011 Esquire
Americans of the Year on the cover refers to an entire section of profile pieces within and not to make short shrift of seventeen of these remarkable individuals, but three stood out as particularly interesting.
Cover story itself is Mark Kelly, American by Chris Jones and portrays someone who appears to exemplify the best of people can offer of themselves. I find Jones to be an excellent writer and it seems some of his best pieces are on the subject of space and the people who explore it.
The other two profiles to highlight aren't on people in roles necessarily as glamorous as astronaut, but are on individuals doing things both interesting and impactful to many.
Richard Trumka, American is written by John H. Richardson and profiles the head of the AFL-CIO. As Richarson details, the union is made up of "twelve million firefighters, teachers, nurses, miners, electricians, and entertainers" and Trumka's efforts have a large impact in the role of labor in America. Additionally, the statements made and advocacy described by Trumka in this piece seem to ring true and be very timely in what could be described as a rich getting richer economic climate.
Another of the people profiled is similar to Trumka in the leading of a large organization many have strongly held views on. Craig Fugate, American is about the head of FEMA and, as chronicled by Tom Chiarella, seems to be doing an exemplary job (much better than "a heck of a job") running the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Structure put around the agency and it's role by Fugate appears to be extremely solid and is described well by Chiarella.
Saturday, December 03, 2011
Sport In America from Sports Illustrated... and role of Sports Journalism
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Writing on Unstructured Data Analysis - Palantir / Hewlett-Packard
The feature is Palantir, the War on Terror's Secret Weapon and looks at the Palo Alto, CA company whose data mining software is used by a number of government agencies to flag and compile information on potential threats. The aforementioned unstructured data refers to information held not in database (structured) form, but rather in bank transactions, purchases made, videos recorded and social media postings.
What Palantir does is take in and sift through all these disparate data sets to try to provide a clear picture of what's going on... with this offering being valuable for private industry (example being banks fighting fraud) as well as government. The BW story detailing all this is an interesting piece from Ashlee Vance and Brad Stone on a fascinating topic.
This idea of unstructured data analysis is coming to the forefront in Business today with both the amount of loose data multiplying and newer and better product offerings trying to tame and make sense of said data.
Written a few days ago by Brandon Bailey for the San Jose Mercury News was HP unveils new products for sorting 'unstructured data'. The piece is around the first publicized results of HP's Autonomy acquisition and published yesterday on ZDNet UK was HP mates Autonomy with Vertica that brings in the early 2011 HP acquisition of Vertica.
Money Writing from Businessweek, Bloomberg & Time
From the Nov 28 issue of Time Magazine came the feature Below The Line on living in poverty. Written by Barbara Kiviat, it's a solid piece that looks at the 46 million Americans living on less than an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four. A lot of interesting content there... including how different external events (sickness, injury, car breakdown) can be cataclysmic financially for those barely making ends meet.
A different story on what feels like the opposite end of the financial spectrum was Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress from Bloomberg. Very much made me think of my blog post from a month ago on Boomerang by Michael Lewis as well as Wall Street Isn't Winning – It's Cheating by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.
Also on money, but not in the same curl your stomach vein were two short pieces from the Nov 21 issue of Businessweek. All Those Stock Buybacks: A Bullish Sign? is on the trend of companies feeling valuations low and buying their own stock and James Altucher, Wall Street's Keeper of the Pain on the venture capitalist and author (of both books and his self-titled blog).
"The Postmortal" by Drew Magary
I'm not a huge reader of fiction, but I heard about the book from the Chris Jones Son of a Bold Venture blog with a Five for Writing Q&A with Magary and have since seen his work for the sports websites Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber.
The Postmortal is set in the future where a cure for aging has been discovered and follows one particular character through this landscape. It's an interesting premise leading to negative enough outcomes that the book could probably be included in the genre of apocalyptic fiction. Additionally, Magary is an engaging and entertaining writer which prevents the read from devolving into pathos as the inevitable bad things occur.
I wouldn't say I loved the book, but thought it to be a pretty good read and developed from it an appreciation for Magary as a writer.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Sports Illustrated Writing: from Alan Shipnuck, Chris Ballard, Tim Layden
From the October 17 issue came The Invisible Fastball by Chris Ballard and Owen Good. The piece chronicles the life and 1950s era career renaissance of minor league pitcher (Kelly) Jack Swift in rural North Carolina. It's a solid read on baseball as I wrote about it here and reminds me again of how hockey is my favorite sport, football the one I'm most easily entertained by and baseball the one I find to be the best.
For the November 7 edition of SI, Tim Layden wrote The Forgotten Hero on former Williams College football player Mike Reily and why his jersey has been retired since the 60s. Excellent piece that combines together a thorough reporting job with profound story.
Finally, the recent Nov 28 issue had Tim Tebow's Wild Ride by Alan Shipnuck. Tebow's story is fascinating given how polarizing he is to both the media and general public and Shipnuck uses the tactic of writing the piece through quotes in and by the media. It's the same approach as was taken in a recent book on the history of ESPN (which I reviewed here) and seems to perfectly fit the breathlessly reported on overall Tebow story.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Writing of Profundity - Posnanski, Kruse, Brooks and Simpson
With this idea of profundity as the common thread (why the heck not?), the first piece to note here was the Joe Posnanski blog post I Hope You're Happy With Your Husband. Very cool and heart warming story about his youngest child... and which brought to mind this equally cool and heart warming piece about Posnanski's oldest.
Other three pieces pieces to link to here all have a retrospective on life slant to them... beginning with Born to race, Dan Wheldon found happiness in town's slower pace. Written by Michael Kruse for the St. Petersburg Times, it looks at the Indy car driver who died as a result of injuries suffered during a Las Vegas race. The story is well told here in part through vignettes and anecdotes of people who interacted with Wheldon (with this story approach being something I've previously seen employed successfully by Kruse).
Given that Kruse's subject in the link immediately above was Steve Jobs, it seems fitting to also highlight A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs by Mona Simpson. Extremely poignant and well written piece (Simpson is a novelist and English professor) for the New York Times on the brother she didn't meet until in her twenties.
Also in the New York Times, I also found noteworthy The Life Report by David Brooks. It was written about a month ago and asks readers over 70 to provide Brooks with written evaluation of their lives and what they've learned. It's an interesting request that Brooks wrote of making to then post some reader responses online. There may well be more coming, but as of today, Brooks has posted to his Times blog ten of these reader Life Reports.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Fast Company Pieces - 3M Design Chief / Serial Entrepreneurship / Ads on the Web
From the recent November 2011 issue came Bill Nguyen: The Boy In The Bubble on the founder (or co-founder) of at least four different startups, including Lala (sold to Apple) and now the much talked about, but uncertain as to it's eventual success or failure, Color.
The piece is written by Danielle Sacks and a pretty fascinating read not so much because of the verbiage about Nguyen himself, but the article's description of the ethos of Silicon Valley and the startup culture. Interesting content on seed and venture capital investors backing founders who have had multiple successes (defined by exit with money for investors) and a business idea in an area considered hot at the time. While both of these things do certainly carry an import to them, what's often not taken into effort account is the particulars of the idea itself.
Also interesting from the piece was the description of how investors don't necessarily put a mark against the company founder's track record if not all ventures succeeded. Concept being the business failure looked at as simply a shot that didn't work out and not a big deal as long as other efforts did succeed.
As to Nguyen himself, Sacks details his bona fides in the areas of wealth creation and deal-making (in both the initial cash raising and then end-game business selling phases) and how this past success led to such large amounts of money invested in Color as a business idea. This outlay by investors takes on greater import given the underwhelming launch of Color and subsequent repositiong (with that so called pivot being another acceptable and almost expected thing in startups). Whether the company eventually succeeds or not, Nguyen is wealthy from past successes... and likely would resurface with another business idea, and investors willing to back him.
From the October 2011 issue of Fast Company was another solid feature... this one dealing not with a startup culture, but rather someone creating change in a large corporate environment. The Nine Passions Of 3M's Mauro Porcini is written by Chuck Salter and details the design chief at the Minnesota based conglomerate. Porcini is described as succeeding at 3M by trumpeting the process involved with outstanding design work as well as it's pure aesthetic value. Beyond this, he's developed credibility within the company by doing the all-important trick of being behind design work that's increased sales.
Additionally, Adam Lisagor Is Advertising's Quietest Pitchman was an interesting short piece from the September FC issue. Written by Bill Barol, it's about Lisagor's small production company, Sandwich Video and the straight-forward and well received online product videos (web ads) produced for the likes of Groupon, Airbnb, and Flipboard (with the Airbnb spot below and four other videos linked from the Fast Company piece).
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Esquire Mental Health Writing - Chris Jones & Mike Sager
The Jones piece covers his own past suicidal thoughts to the point of first contemplating jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge and later superficially cutting himself with a knife. Each episode was described as something of a culmination of spiraling emotions involving excessive anger, stuck thoughts of problems not improving, or runaway thoughts of those same problems getting much worse.
It was remarkable reading because of the level to which the author gave himself up to readers and a positive conclusion of sorts to this story comes in the form of a post by Jones towards the bottom of this SportsJournalists comment thread.
It wouldn't be true to write that I understand how he felt because that’s just dumb and I've never been in the place he describes. That said, life can be a challenge at times and it's almost inspiring to read of how it's not easy for those that one might think live a charmed life (and I've had that view of Jones with his writing ability and career).
The Mike Sager piece differs in that it's about someone who was not actually sick with depression, but very well could have been giving his life circumstances. Sager was going through a divorce and accompanying time apart from his teenage child and actually diagnosed with major depressive disorder. He fought the diagnosis which drove up insurance costs and was able to overturn it as incorrect. Sager’s writing certainly seems to indicate a lack of depression as he keeps his life moving forward and makes the all-important statement “how much can one man take? As much as need be."
While the two pieces come from very different places, it seems the aforementioned Sager quote in line with how Jones closed his story by writing that he wished "we would always be terrified of death... and spend the rest of our lives running from it."
Other thing I keep thinking about in relation to both pieces is the distinction between two different ways of viewing situations… one being to imagine how much better things could be (bad view) and the other how much worse the possibilities (good view).
This relative ranking of viewpoints doesn't advocate for perpetual status quo, but rather for an appreciation of things good and/or really not that bad.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Clay Travis Writing on College Football
According to the Bio page on the site (which lists eight different writers), Travis is a Nashville afternoon radio show host in addition to writer and I first came across his stuff with the hilarious Les Miles and LSU Make Alabama Frat Boys Cry about the game in Tuscaloosa.
On the more serious (not you know... serious, serious, but more in-depth reporting serious) note, I last week saw the profile Kirk Herbstreit: The Face of College Football on the ESPN/ABC announcer and College Gameday host. I found both this and the LSU piece to be very well written and had planned on doing a post on College Football writing that doesn't make you ill, but then learn that lo and behold... both pieces from the same guy.
With the first two pieces of his I've seen being highly funny/entertaining and detailed/insightful respectively, the trifecta completed with now the third story of his I've seen (all on Outkick the Coverage) being reasoned/informative. Starting 11: If LSU Splits Arkansas, Georgia, it's in Title Game is on this year's BCS Title Game possibilities and includes the analysis from Travis that "there is a 95% chance -- potentially even greater than that -- that this title game will be LSU-Oklahoma State or LSU-Alabama."
Businessweek Pieces: Workplace Productivity Software / Apple Supply Chain / Rare Earth Metal Mining
Other recent feature of note from BW recently was Alaska’s Billion Dollar Mountain on entrepreneur Jim McKenzie and his mining company, UCore. Focus is on Bokan Mountain near Ketchikan, Alaska and the large support of valuable rare earth metals held deep underground. It's an interesting story written for Businessweek by Daniel Grushkin in the efforts of McKenzie to gain mining access and in how the land reached it's current valuation.
Previous attempts to mine Bokan were unsuccessfully trying to find and extract uranium and this is exactly what McKenzie was initially interested in and hoping to convince the old prospector (Bob Dotson) who owned the mineral rights to allow him access to. Through spending time together, McKenzie learned of it's rare earth metal potential and then brokered a deal with Dotson and his estranged children (to whom who he had granted shared rights) to be able to mine Bokan.
In 2010, China as the world's largest producer of rare earth metals then made the decision to dramatically cut it's exports of these minerals (that go into complicated electronics, jet engines and missiles) and as a result made prices skyrocket and dramatically increased the value of Bokan. It still remains to be seen whether the cost of deep underground extraction will make the investment pay off, but the potential is very much there. Interesting story from a lot of different perspectives.
Final Businessweek piece to mention is Apple's Supply-Chain Secret? Hoard Lasers. Apple combining great consumer experience with supply-chain competitive advantage... that's a pretty compelling proposition.
Time Magazine - Troops Coming Home / Progessive Messaging / Virus Hunting
Written by Mark Thompson, The Other 1% examines the ever-widening disconnect between those in our Armed Forces and the rest of the population (including our elected representatives). The problem detailed by Thompson is an important one, but short of a there being mandatory service (which hardly anyone advocates), it's not really clear how to fix the problem and bring more in step the military and rest of US society. Also, it's neither a backing for Thompson's points nor a rebuttal, but another piece closely related (and referenced in the issue's Editor's Note by Richard Stengel) was The New Greatest Generation by Joe Klein on contributions made by returning veterans.
The other story from this issue that stood out was the Michael Scherer written profile on former Obama Administration staffer Van Jones. The Return of the Rabble Rouser looks at the efforts by Jones around messaging of progressive issues and features interesting content related to both the Occupy Wall Street movement and President Barack Obama. Extremely simplified point around Obama was any sort of effort has to be led by ideals rather than an individual. It certainly didn't seem to be a slam at the President, but rather a statement that the man is not the movement. Whether someone agrees with Jones political views or not, the concepts from him as laid out by Scherer are interesting ones.
Final recent Time piece to mention was Virus Hunter from the Nov 7 issue. The Bryan Walsh story looks at Nathan Wolfe and his work as founder and head of Global Viral Forecasting. Fascinating efforts from Wolfe in an effort to identify early on future infectious diseases so outbreaks can be prevented prior to the level of a full-blown pandemic.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Penn State Crimes, Moral Failures & Journalism
Details of the actual indictment and alleged crimes within are horrifying, but what's really captured attention has been the characters apart from the accused molester Jerry Sandusky, especially living legend and now ex Penn State coach Joe Paterno. In his case, you have someone who has done much good, but in this case (by all appearances) failed at the most important moment.
It's a fascinating subject, this concept of duality within an individual... his good deeds remain so, but one specific thing handled in entirely the wrong way impacted so much for the victims. Paterno is of course the most recognizable name involved that could have raised these allegations to police years ago, but there's also now ex Penn State President Graham Spanier and his head in the sand approach both years ago when Sandusky's crimes were raised and since the indictment came down over the weekend. If one can detach from the horrible nature of the crimes, it's a study in how people in power (now including the Penn State Board of Trustees that fired both Spanier and Paterno) react to events, create environments and set policy.
So... the story itself has been riveting, but what's also held my attention over the past week has been the words from sports journalists reporting on the story. Some writers I respect a great deal have had fascinating observations to make and they've first appeared as real-time twitter musings and then as published columns.
There's been so many good pieces written already, but what many sports journalists and fans of sports journalism are waiting to eventually read is the announced earlier this year book from Joe Posnanski on Paterno and this season (which of course nobody could have envisioned turning out like it has). Posnanski thus far has written two different blog posts on the scandal, first Darkness and then Curiously Short Posts and I doubt he knows what his eventual book on Paterno will contain, but I have to imagine it's going to be an enthralling read. Just a guess of course, but it may well be heavy on the aforementioned duality of how a good person (which Paterno certainly seems to be) can do a bad thing (specifically, the limits to his actions taken when allegations were brought to him).
Back to the subject of reporting and sports journalism... reading the columns and musings from good writers as this story has unfolded has gotten me thinking more about journalism and writing. To this end there's been three different pieces I've come across lately about the profession that all stand out as interesting.
First was an address given by Nate Silver to the Columbia School of Journalism. Silver founded the political blog FiveThirtyEight and in his speech imparts both his background and valuable career lessons for someone about the enter the field of journalism.
Second was a series of tweets from Tommy Tomlinson about an Ira Glass speaking event. I've also been at a live event by the This American Life creator and concur that Glass is a definite master storyteller.
Third was a tumblr site We Are Journalists I just came across today. Very interesting vignettes from people in the profession working to chase down and report well on stories... including things like the horrible crimes and subsequent inaction (and now action) out of Penn State.
Updated on 11/14 with additional pieces that struck me on the child sex abuse scandal (not a "scandal, not a "sex scandal")...
- Good Riddance, Joe Paterno by Buzz Bissinger for The Daily Beast
- Omelas State University by author John Scalzi on his website
- The End of Paterno by Joe Posnanski on his Sports Illustrated blog
A horrific and amazing ongoing story.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Boomerang by Michael Lewis & Matt Taibbi on Occupy Wall Street
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Wright Thompson on Good BBQ, Les Miles and Great Pizza
A few months ago I did a post linking to a number of his pieces and fairly recently I've come across some more of his writing from various sources. To this point, the story that stood out the most did so because it was published not by ESPN (or the ESPN property Grantland that Thompson also writes for), but in Garden & Gun Magazine.
The piece is titled Pork-a-Palooza and is about Thompson joining together / hanging on with a team of BBQ aficionados (like, they make their living doing it) competing in the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. It's really engaging writing that coupled together with the other Thompson stuff I linked to cements the concept of him as someone whose writing oft includes first person alcohol and food indulgences (sweet niche he's carved out).
In the same (completely fantastic) subject vein, another piece of his I came across earlier today was The Best Pizza in the South from Grantland. The story is about a hole in the wall joint in Baton Rouge and chowing down with LSU football coach Les Miles and the Miles family. Yep, as noted before... pretty sweet writing life he's got there.
Linked within the Grantland story was actually the point of Thompson's time in Baton Rouge... an ESPN Outside the Lines profile on Coach Miles. I suppose it's a bit of a cliche to say, but it's one of those profile pieces that stands out because the author goes deep and gives a nuanced look at the subject's personal as well as professional life. So, it's not all about the food and booze... it's also just solid research and excellent writing from Thompson.
Friday, November 04, 2011
2011 World Series Writing
There was great writing done on that Game 162 (with pieces by Messrs. Verducci, Posnanski and Kruse linked to here) and as could be expected, also some excellent pieces on the World Series and particularly the epic Game 6. Starting things off with the widest (post World Series) view was the excellent Go Crazy, Baseball, Go Crazy by Tom Verducci story for Sports Illustrated.
It doesn't take anything away from the very solid Verducci piece, but the unbelievable if not real 6th game of the World Series provided the writing that stuck with me the most, with the three most memorable pieces below...
- 2011 World Series: David Freese caps Cardinals’ unbelievable comeback by Thomas Boswell for the Washington Post.
- David Freese, St. Louis force Game 7 by Jayson Stark for ESPN.
- Game Six by Joe Posnanski for his Sports Illustrated blog.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Michael McRae & Mark Jenkins in Outside Magazine
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean
Orlean is also the author of The Orchid Thief (which I reviewed here) and each book features as part of the storyline specific individuals and their obsessions. In the case of The Orchid Thief, it was a guy and his devotion to a type of flower and in the latest Orlean effort, it’s actually several different people (with one primary) and devotion to a dog. Beyond that, though, the story of Rin Tin Tin is about devotion to what Rin Tin Tin meant.
The story began on the battlefields of WWI with US solider Lee Duncan rescuing some German shepherd puppies and then bringing them back home. From there, Duncan developed a deep attachment with one of the pups and he eventually got the idea of and was successful at getting a silent film made starring the dog.
This spawned many other feature films with Rin Tin Tin performing amazing feats and saving the day countless times. As a result of this, the dog became inextricably tied with the hero persona for countless movie goers who could be completely entertained in a silent film by this concept. Eventually, talking pictures came to Hollywood and that signaled a decline in Rin Tin Tin’s career with Warner Brothers cancelled with him in 1929 and then Rin Tin Tin dying in 1932 at 14 (when Lee was in his late 30s).
Lee was unquestionably devoted to Rin Tin Tin and even though there were Rin ancestors, none resonated with him as much as did his original dog. Rin Tin Tin Jr. performed in smaller budget movies earning less and then Rin Tin Tin III was born in 1941 and eventually become known through promoting the US Dogs for Defense effort during WWII.After the war, came The Return of Rin Tin Tin in 1947 and though the movie was a success, things were relatively quiet for both Lee and his dog until Bert Leonard met the trainer in 1953. This was during the time that television was exploding in popularity and Bert convinced Lee that the traits of goodness and heroism personified by the character of Rin Tin Tin would translate perfectly to the new medium. The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin television program was a Western set in 1870 and once again made Rin Tin Tin a household name.
One interesting distinction between the show and the original silent films was the actual character of Rin Tin Tin was being played by a dog completely unrelated to the original dog brought back from WWI. Bert and the backers of the television show didn’t view the current Rin Tin Tin dog to be smart or physically capable enough to star in the show so brought in another dog to play the role of Rin Tin Tin. Lee didn’t seem to mind (or at least left no record of his objection) so maybe the point is that he realized the original dog was his favorite and all of the descendants were about representing rather than actually having the traits of the original.
The show started in 1954 and was an immediate hit and then Lee got wealthy once again and passed away in 1960. A key point that gets made in the book by Orlean is how Lee seemed a good person, but one who seemed to have less of a connection with his family than he did first the original Rin Tin Tin dog and then with the idea of the dog's qualities and legacy. It's interesting reading about someone completely devoted to a thing or idea, but an effect of the devotion often seems to be that other areas of their life suffer.
At this point, the Rin Tin Tin legacy on television was being carried on by Bert Leonard with episodes being rerun in syndication at various points and Bert unsuccessful seeking to have another Rin Tin Tin movie made, but this one being the story of Lee and his life with the dogs.
The story of Bert then becomes a sad one at the end as in addition to his lack of success in continuing with Rin Tin Tin entertainment, he become entangled in a web of lawsuits with people around the name of Rin Tin Tin and what could be done with it. Primarily legal combatant was Daphne Hereford, the granddaughter of someone who got Rin Tin Tin puppies in the 50s and then bred them.
It’s a good book by Orlean and really it’s about the ideal of Rin Tin Tin and how it became such a strong narrative through many decades in people’s lives. As part of this, she wrote about her grandfather who cared so much for a Rin Tin Tin figurine (and his attachment would have come from the original silent films), but also how writing the book made her feel like Lee Duncan in the way she became consumed by the story.
Solid read on the human condition and devotion to a concept.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Brandon Sneed Writing
Previously I had posted on his interview with newly published in Sports Illustrated writer Tommy Tomlinson and now Sneed has made the same author jump to national magazine (well, least first national mag piece I've come across). The October 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine has Sneed's story Nobody walks alone on former NBA player Mike Williams and his near-fatal injury and learning to walk again.
It's an excellent piece of unfairness, struggle, courage and determination (yep, those oft seem to travel in a pack). What really strikes me about Sneed, though, is the process of writing posting he's done on his site http://www.brandonsneed.com/. Love me some good content on the topic... as evidenced by my month-ago post Five for Writing Posts from Son of a Bold Venture Blog.
Sneed has certainly reached a level of success (published in ESPN The Mag at a young age), but he seems really grounded around the process and work required. To this point was his blog post The Giant in the Wheelchair III: It's Out. It's REALLY Out. about the ESPN piece and since then he's done three insightful posts on the writing process...
- Making It As A Writer: Remember, It's All Relative
- Why You Should Write A Book
Really cool content in all of these...
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Luke Dittrich on the Joplin Tornado & Other Esquire Pieces
Really, though, what stood out from the issue was the Luke Dittrich feature from Joplin, MO. It's one of those stories that pulls double-duty with being very well written, but also about an absolutely gripping topic. The storm killed 160 in Joplin and Dittrich profiles the experience of a dozen or so whose lives were saved by taking refuge in a convenience store walk-in cooler. Several times during the reading I felt a bit choked up reading about the decision points that led each person to that convenience store and just how arbitrary the difference between living or dying was for many hit by the tornado.
Two other Esquire pieces I found interesting recently...
- From the same Oct 2011 issue was the brief vignette on the Esquire Economy Car of the Year - the 2012 Ford Focus. Much less profound than the Dittrich piece (or Pierce one noted below), but I have grown fond of Ford lately and like quite a bit the looks of this car.
- Mentioned in the same issue's Note from the Editor was a Charlie Pierce profile on Barack Obama some six months prior to his November 2008 Presidential victory. The piece is titled The Cynic and Senator Obama and Esquire editor David Granger referenced the below passage on Obama from Pierce...
"There is a remove to his movements and a distance to everything he does that mutes his charisma and dampens what might be a frenzy in his crowds into a patient, well-behaved enthusiasm."
It's an interesting view and may well factor into how Obama seems to have garnered admiration for his efforts, but has also taking quite a bit of criticism (even from ardent supporters) for not selling his ideas well enough and even for not trumpeting well enough his successes.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
GQ October 2011 Issue - Devin Friedman on Hip Hop Artist Rick Ross & Other Features
Thursday, October 13, 2011
"Life Itself" by Roger Ebert
I first developed an interest in Ebert from the highly regarding Esquire piece
"Roger Ebert: The Essential Man" (which I posted on here). What caught my eye was the profile being written by a writer I like in Chris Jones, but it revealed a pretty fascinating individual as the subject. From there, I started reading with some regularity Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times blog and found some great work by him. Some of the posts that stood out (and all of which I posted on and linked to) were "How do they get to be that way?" on racism, "All the Lonely People" on... that, and one on the value of a great video game vs The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In this regard, it was borderline annoying reading about how he knew at a young age he wanted to be a writer and then devoted himself tirelessly (and with success) to the goal. Stephen King wrote in On Writing of basically having the same goal and approach at a young age. Good for both of them that they knew, but the annoying part is that most of us don't know the life or career goal that early on...
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Steve Jobs Writing... On & By Him
From Michael Kruse for the St. Petersburg Times came As Apple grew, so did an entire generation. Kruse seems to do very good human impact writing (another example being this on the Tampa Bay Rays a couple weeks back) and he writes of Job's death through the story of someone that's grown up using the devices conceived of and supplied by Jobs and Apple.
Another piece of writing on Jobs that stood out to me wasn't even directly about him, but rather the concept of forward-thinking entrepreneurship best exemplified by him. The Steve Jobs MBA Unit 101: Don’t think about the present was published in June 2011 and part of a series for Wired Magazine. What got me to read the piece (and truth be told, what also influenced my enjoyment of it) was it being written by Alain De Botton... author of the fascinating book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (which I linked to and posted on here).
Finally, it's been referenced over and over since Jobs passed away, but his June 2005 Stanford Commencement address really is deserving of the all the attention as a testament to the guy and his ideas.
Working... & Writing on Michael Lewis Working
A couple of concepts around work have been floating in my head lately... that of everything counts and taking a path.
Everything counts as a perspective is something to employ (pardon the pun) when looking at where we want to go or want we want to be doing career-wise. It can oft be a daunting task looking at something new, but the past shouldn't be discounted when looking to the future. Past experiences (whether those be education, past jobs held or roles within those jobs) can very well provide the linkages to the go-forward ideal.
The old jobs held may not related to the future jobs sought, but the connections and relationships from those prior roles could well provide that entree to what is desired... just gotta be proactive about looking. At the same time, skills from the past may not necessarily be the skills that a desired job would employ, but perhaps the skills learned could either get a foot in the door of something new, or even be used in the finding of thing new.
Taking a path in relation to careers and job changes is the principle of just doing something. In cases of uncertainty as to how to reach an end goal (or even knowledge of of what that goal may actually be), it's best to just... do something and be going forward. One may not know whether it's the right path or not, but if the current state isn't an ideal one, it's best to be moving... and maybe the ideal will reveal itself eventually.
So... if you want to do something not done previously, think of what you have done and how that can help and then just start doing something new. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won't, but the movement probably won't hurt.
Granted, all of this can seem a bit fluffy and hypothetical, but it should be noted that with talent, work, utilization of past efforts and action-taking, work efforts can come up roses.
To that point in the writer world, there's the subject of It’s Good to Be Michael Lewis. Pretty fascinating on the author by Jessica Pressler for New York Magazine. It's a solid piece and Lewis an excellent writer deserving of success... and he's certainly knee-deep in success right now.