Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Esquire Writing - on "New Biologist" Eric Schadt & Extreme Health

There's piece of writing in the latest Esquire that both has solid content and makes me think about words and what writers think about when they pen them...

The profile by Tom Junod is "Adventures in Extreme Science" and looks at brainiac Eric Schadt and his "emperor has no clothes" approach to conventional wisdom in the field of molecular biology.

Schadt makes for an interesting topic with his proselytizing about the vast networks and cause-effect relationships within the body... and how that runs counter to the previous belief that things within ran independently enough that successful mapping of human DNA would start us on the road to disease cure. In terms of this new viewpoint, the book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is cited as being both the source of the term "paradigm shift" and one of Schadt's early influences around the idea of necessary breaking away from conventional belief.

Junod details not just the intelligence and contrarian viewpoint of Schadt, but also his propensity to get out in front of his ideas and advocate loudly for him. Lest that statement make him appear a simple self-promoter, also noted in the profile is Schadt's collaborative approach to solving problems and curing disease... regardless of whether it's he or his company getting the credit and subsequent revenue. Really interesting reading on the guy.


Above is about the content of the piece... which by itself is me thinks worth a read. What struck me within it though was a specific anecdote written about the subject. Schadt early on is described as being a breaking from convention kind of guy and torch bearer for "New Biology"... in short, a whole new approach. After this was established about Schadt, Junod related how he "likes to do his supercomputing on planes." The further description of this was how Schadt would figure out what data he needs run and then simply hop onto a plane's WiFi network and order that data run via Amazon servers.

It's a remarkable detail that carries both a "whadda know? that's interesting" feel to it and shot across the bow backing for the "New" advocated for by Schadt. Maybe it's just because I'm a sucker for funky (and yet important) detail, but this anecdote made it much easier for me as a reader to embrace a paradigm shift idea (or someone extolling the virtues of one), simply because the tools available are also a paradigm shift from previously capabilities.

It was a really cool inclusion by Junod and as a interested reader type guy, I really wonder whether he put as much gravitas behind the anecdote about server time via Amazon as I took from it.


Also of interest from this issue was the concept of Extreme Heath as written about in multiple short pieces. Featured were a number of otherwise common folk who decided to push themselves to do uncommon things... including surfer Laird Hamilton, subject of a "What I've Learned" piece.

Not that I necessarily want to go all crazy with it at this point, but I think there a lot to be said for the idea of pushing to see what you can accomplish.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Frequent Blog Tags: "Customer Service", "Social Media" & "Work"

On the heels of an earlier this month post on blog tags used, this missive takes a look at a few of the topics frequently tagged... Customer Service, Social Media & Work.

Looking at the first two, after Customer Service (tag search hyperlinked to) is provided either well or poorly, Social Media (tag search also linked) then comes into play. It's a fairly obvious point, but there's just so many avenues for either happy or dissatisfied customers to make their voices heard.

Work as a third tag topic is referenced in different ways on this blog. I write about it as something which can potentially be: fulfilling, important, or (perhaps even better) calling to mind a Patrick Swayze Roadhouse clip.


Back to the first two topics noted, my favorite theory around Customer Service (is it weird to have one?) relates to work... the theory that outstanding Customer Service is provided by employees who feel well treated and like where they work. I've done a few posts with Workplace Culture as a blog tag and feel pretty strongly that there's something to this idea of where one works contributing a great deal to how one works.

I've had enough bad experiences at various Noah's Bagels to suspect that it may not be a great job. Flip side of that is based on the typically outstanding service I've gotten at multiple Jamba Juice locations... I'm guessing it's a good place to be employed. I can't imagine the money is that different for similar jobs at the two chains so me thinks there's something from Corporate causing the difference in employee behavior.

Interesting... Work linked to Customer Service, on the heels of Customer Service linked to Social Media. Now, we just need to have employees blogging, tweeting and doing Facebook posts on their jobs.

Oh, yeah... that already happens.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Japan Disaster & New Ideas Feature - from Time Magazine

Some pretty compelling writing and interesting content from the latest issue of Time Magazine.

The Special Report on the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami featured pieces that captured well both the scope of the devastation and resilience of the people impacted.

To this end, the cover story essay was "The Day the Earth Moved" by Nancy Gibbs and Hanna Beech provided "Aftermath: How Japan Will Recover from the Quake" highlighting actions taken by individual citizens after the disaster. Really solid writing in both stories.


In the much less important, but still interesting from this issue category was some of the things mentioned in Time's "10 Ideas That Will Change the World" section. Two I found of note were about the concepts of airport communities as well as that of sharing rather than owning:

- "Think of Your Airport As a City — but Nicer" makes reference to the ideas put forth in a book I've heard about several different times lately... "Aerotropolis" by John Kasarda.

- "Today's Smart Choice: Don't Own. Share" is about the idea of item rental as championed by well known companies like Netflix. Also mentioned are less well known businesses such as SnapGoods (borrowing and renting of stuff), Zipcar (car rentals) and Airbnb (vacation rentals).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Joe Posnanski Crystal Ball Piece on the Kansas City Royals

Really cool piece of writing by Joe Posnanski in the latest Sports Illustrated. It's titled "Royals, Flush" and features one of my more favorite writing techniques (if done well)... the "written in the future" backwards look).

The story is about the Kansas City Royals future predicted success (but, with the writing actually looking back on it) and how the absolutely stocked farm system under GM Dayton Moore made that possible. I have to confess to also liking the story from the perspective of it being about a small-market team (with a beautiful looking stadium) making it big, but the solid writing from Posnanski was what really made the piece for me.

Not to make this post about something other than the writing itself (or imply I can write as well as Posnanksi), but his technique reminded me of of a favorite piece of writing from college... my story on a Native Alaskan tribe which was basically a copy of of an encyclopedia story (you know, like Wikipedia, but without the Internet) that I told through the eyes of a tribe member.

Was enjoyable writing the piece... and enjoyable reading this one from Posnanski.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Businessweek Pieces: USA Inc. / Cloud Computing / Hubris & Hacking

Three different feature stories from Businessweek lately that stood out to me as particularly interesting.

Cover story from the Feb 24 issue was "USA Inc.: Red, White, and Very Blue", a report on the financial health of the country as if it were a corporation. Written by Mary Meeker, it's reading that trends a bit towards the heavy for someone not financially minded, but is nothing if not in-depth (has an accompanying 460 page presentation).

Beyond the sheer weight of it, though, the story struck me as important and featured specific recommendations of what steps could be taken to improve the financial health of the country.

As Meeker writes in the beginning of her examination...

I reached three conclusions. First, USA Inc. has serious financial challenges. Second, its problems are fixable. Third, clear communication with citizen-shareholders is essential. If the American people embrace the need for bold action, their political leaders should find the courage to do what's right.

Perhaps her statement could be met with a hearty "yea, if only...", but this type of response wouldn't necessarily mean she's wrong.


The Businessweek cover story from a week later was "The Cloud: Battle of the Tech Titans". Perhaps not as big a nut as the financial health of the U.S., but really... in terms of the Tech Business, there's not many more important topics. In June 2009 I wrote on another BW Cloud Computing feature and in the close to two years since then, the growth in Cloud Computing has been tremendous.

This latest story featured interesting compare and contrast material looking at industry establishments like Hewlett-Packard and IBM (with significant hardware and consulting services) as well as more "true cloud" providers like Amazon.


Last (and most recent) Businessweek story I found of interest lately was "Hacker vs. Hacker" about the shenanigans at and against a top exec of Computing Security firm HBGary Federal. The hubris of this guy Aaron Barr is pretty remarkable... and almost (but, not quite) equalled in zeal on the part of the hackers taking him down piece by piece.

Quite the entertaining read.

"The Fighter" & John Gardner Writing

Some of my favorite posts to this blog have been on disparate subjects twined together... a good lead in to this missive on a boxing movie & a former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

As to the boxing movie... watched The Fighter last night and found it to be an excellent movie. It was based on the true-life story of Micky Ward and his boxing career, but struck me as being more about the idea of fighting through adversity and trying to do what you feel right. To this end, Ward came from a fairly unbelievable (for someone who never lived it) background and had to constantly reconcile the choice between going his own way without family or sticking with them through a lot of hardship.

It was pretty heady stuff and not to just write in lofty platitudes, for me showed the import of not giving up and trying to push through to see where you'll land. Someone might not always know what the right thing is, but they just keep trying to figure it out and go after said right thing.

And... Christian Bale was really, really good in the film.


On to the perhaps not so different subject of John Gardner... former Cabinet member under President Lyndon Johnson.

I wrote some two years a blog post on Gardner linking to his writing and found him to be (along with Coach John Wooden, who I wrote about in these blog posts) a champion of this same "doing your best" idea that I took from the movie. Additionally, the quote below from a Gardner speech (and the two years past blog post) traffics in the topic of family and priorities...

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account."

Yea, perhaps it's a bit of a stretch, but I'd say the Micky Ward as shown in the movie and hypothetical person who takes Gardner's advice... not so different from one another.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sports Illustrated Pieces: John Calipari & the Denver Nuggets

Two stories from the latest Sport Illustrated that struck me both for the level of the writing and thoughts about fandom they elicited in me.

The larger of the two pieces was "Too Slick, Too Loud, Too Successful Why John Calipari Can't Catch A Break" by S.L. Price. It's a profile of the University of Kentucky Men's Basketball Coach and features the same type of interesting and in-depth writing I usually see from the author.

One thing I did find, though (and maybe Price either did this intentionally or at least knew of it), was a difficulty in telling whether Calipari was a good guy or not. Not to say that every piece of entertainment I consume has to be black and white in terms of it's good guy/bad guy depiction, but me thinks it raises the bar on the quality needed from the story if this ambiguity exists. Fortunately, Price handles the task with aplomb and it's a really solid read.


The second piece from this March 14 issue that I found noteworthy was "Defiant In Denver" on the post-Carmelo Anthony Nuggets. Written by Lee Jenkins, the story gets heavily into the comparison of a basketball team with a number of solid, but not spectacular pieces working together (the current team) against a superstar-led one (that with Carmelo).


This idea of a team and the sum of it's parts rather than the efforts of it's star is interesting to me, but probably even more interesting is the idea of rooting for such team. Fandom is a concept I've thought of quite a bit lately and there's a number of different ways to look at it. Some people become a fan of a particular star and that's where their rooting interest is tied up (Michael Jordan as a good example). Really, though, I'd say that Seinfeld had it pegged for many when he said "we're just rooting for laundry." Wherever we live (or wherever we once lived and formed a team attachment)... that's who we root for.

This concept comes up for examination based on the contents of these pieces from Jenkins and Price respectively. In the Nuggets story, you've got the idea that a team could become easier (or in fact, more likely) to root for based on the makeup of it's parts. The Calipari profile is interesting in that the idea of it being easier to cheer for non-superstar players is actually turned on it's head.

Calipari as a coach has made his name by unapologetically seeking out the one and done type of high school who will star for a year in college and then move on to the NBA. Now, I'm as much of a "follow a team for my entertainment value / root for laundry" type of guy as anyone, but... Calipari's approach might be a bit much for me were I a fan of a team he came in to coach.

Now that I think about it, maybe that's where the aforementioned ambiguity about the character from the Price story came from. Interesting concepts to chew on...

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Blog Post Tags/Labels Used

As I've used this blog as a place to link to and pontificate on writing I find of note, I've also been interested to see what exactly I'm writing about (pardon the "I'm interested to see something I do" reference).

To this end, I find the blog tags/labels used for each given post to be an indicator of what's contained (as I last wrote about in Feb 2010). Since it's now been over a year, may as well have another go at it...


Within the 400 plus blog posts over the last few years are a lot of different tags... some 1,300 to be (sort of) precise. It's an inexact science to be sure since I probably on many a post have missed a relevant tag and on others prattled on with too many, but there's still value me thinks in looking at the tags used most frequently (with ~60 of those shown in the tag cloud on the blog right hand side).

As I write in the aforementioned post from a year ago, the tags fall into a few main categories:

- Where I'm linking from... what magazine, website, etc.

- Who wrote the piece linked to

- Who (or what company in many a case) the story is about

- Process or topic stuff... with most, but not all of the labels noted below (each hyperlinked to the tag/label search):
- Blogging: 17 posts... now 18 with this one
- Work: 11 posts
- Writing: 15 posts
- Customer Service: 4 posts
- Social Media: 8 posts

Yea... it's a lot of posts on a lot of different topics, but I like writing 'em and find the topics interesting and writing linked to solid.

Gotta do something to keep off the street...

Time Magazine Stories: America Not in Decline & Anthony Bourdain Travel Show

Two solid pieces from the latest issue of Time Magazine.

As part of the cover feature, "Don't Bet Against the United States" was penned by the excellent David Von Drehle and later in the issue, James Poniewozik wrote "Guilty Pleasure" on the Anthony Bourdain travel show No Reservations.

I've noted this previously about Von Drehle, but his work almost always strikes me as solidly researched and well written (with this piece no exception). In the view of "if you like this, you'll love...", I'd recommend the Von Drehle book "Triangle: The Fire that Changed America" (which I reviewed here) to anyone a fan of his Time writing.


The Poniewozik story examines the phenomenon of Bourdain's television show in a state of self-examination. Perhaps not as big picture as Von Drehle's piece about America's place in the world, but an interesting read nonetheless.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Joe Posnanski Writing... and Blogging

Since my last blog post included a missive about how great it is to read and link to a new to me author, it's only fitting that this post feature one of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski.

Additionally, this post started as being a chance to link to some solid writing from the guy, but writing it got me thinking more about the concept of writers blogging.

Earlier this week, Posnanski posted on his blog a piece on the life and recent passing of Kansas City sports announcer Bill Grigsby. The story title of "Beautiful" is referenced as being a nod to Grigsby's "favorite word, the word that doesn't just describe his life but how he felt about life."

It's writing like this on a region-centric figure that struck me (perhaps incorrectly) as why Posnanski writes a blog in addition to his writing for Sports Illustrated. The great thing about the blog is the national audience requirement falls by the wayside, leaving just a forum to write something of interest for the author. The fact that there's readers out there like myself seeking out and enjoying the work is simply bonus.

In addition to this idea of a writer's blog being a place to publish something of personal interest, said writer's blog can also elaborate and provide background to a published piece. The latest issue of Sports Illustrated featured a short piece by Posnanski on boxing commentator Nick Charles. While I subscribe to SI, I haven't even gotten this issue yet, but heard about the story from Posnanski's blog through his post "Behind the Back Page". The SI story about Charles and his life (including his terminal cancer) was poignant reading, but made all the better by the additional story details in the blog post.

So... a writer blogging can both provide them place to write freely and be a way to add details to a work published elsewhere. Both good reasons to write a blog... with the additional benefit of blogging quite possibly being that one will improve their writing by simply doing more of it.

I've written before (and about Posnanski) of how it's impressive when a writer publishes frequently in a variety of different mediums, but perhaps they're doing it for good reason.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Iraq Terrorist Hunter Piece from Esquire

Really solid piece by Daniel Voll in the latest issue of Esquire.

About an Iraqi citizen who works with American operatives to capture terrorists, "The Hunter Becomes the Hunted" is a story that would seem a Hollywood fabrication were it not real. To that end, it combines plot lines that could have been taken from a movie with well rounded reporting... like that provided by a David Von Drehle from Time.

I enjoy reading stuff from authors I know and like, but also like quite a bit coming across a solid piece like this from someone I haven't heard of.