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.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Fast Company Jul/Aug 2011 issue - Milo within eBay / Social Media ROI
From writer Danielle Sacks was "How Jack Abraham Is Reinventing EBay" about the 25 year old who sold his online shopping site Milo to eBay for a reported $75m. Abraham comes across as a very smart guy with the idea of showing online the inventory of brick and mortar stores... known as cross-channel shopping. Whether Milo (now a division run by Abraham within eBay) takes off or not, it's a concept that makes sense.
The second story from this issue that stood out to me was "Does Social Media Have A Return On Investment?" by Farhad Manjoo. Idea put forth is around the extreme difficulty in quantifying the effectiveness of Social Media spend as part of a company's Marketing budget. I'm sure there's companies out there purporting to be able to measure that (either within their own firm or on behalf of clients), but Manjoo writes of how difficult it is to say the return on a dollar spent in Social Media. Result of this is many companies are simply taking a land grab approach and trying to accumulate Twitter followers and likes on Facebook.
I wrote about Social Media over a year ago now, but the one thing that's known is it's important. The second thing known about Social Media beyond this is... well, that's what people are trying to figure out.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Writing on Loss: from Joe Posnanski, Wayne Drash and Tommy Tomlinson
Charles is by far the more well known of the two as the former co-anchor of CNN Sports Tonight and then boxing commentator for HBO and Showtime. Diagnosed in Aug 2009 with terminal cancer, he passed away yesterday and left behind three grown children, a wife and five-year old daughter, Giovanna.
His story also has a tremendous amount of uplift and I first learned of Charles through the Mar 2001 Joe Posnanski column "Lessons Of The Fight Game" for Sports Illustrated. This morning I saw word of Charles' death in the Posnanski blog post "My Friend Nick Charles". Both pieces are poignant and portray a life-affirming approach to death (a bit cliche to note here, but true nonetheless).
Further writing on Charles can be found in the lengthy April 2011 CNN piece "Facing death, CNN sports legend embraces life" by Wayne Drash. Really solid work on the man and his life.
The story of Nina Leavitt is perhaps more sad than Charles' in that her passing was sudden and came at a younger age. Written by Tommy Tomlinson for the Charlotte Observer, "Nina & Kristopher: A story of great love, great loss" was actually the second column by Tomlinson on the couple. The first was "Love lands ... and moves quickly" and reads as absolute tragedy given the news of Leavitt's passing.
Powerful writing from Tomlinson (linked to from the aforementioned Joe Posnanski's blog) that reminds of The Last Lecture (which I reviewed here) from Randy Pausch.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Fast Company Magazine 100 Most Creative People Issue
Keeping in mind the Fast Company guideline of not featuring anything on a prior 100 most creative list (nope, no Steve Jobs in this issue), here's the vignettes that stood out...
Wadah Khanfar / Al Jazeera at #1 - Not to discount what Khanfar and Al Jazeera have done, but what struck me was mention of the Qatari government ownership... and willingness to lose what Khanfar says was "much more than $80M last year." Not a promising statement for the field of Journalism when this appears to be what it takes for a major player in News like Al Jazeera to emerge.
Sal Khan / Khan Academy at #7 - I a few weeks ago posted on and linked to this Businessweek profile of Khan and view the guy and his efforts as just plain remarkable.
Ted Sarandos / Netflix at #22 - Remarkable how the company has completely remade themselves for a digitized streaming content world.
Sitaram Asur / HP Labs at #26 - Profile includes mention of HP Labs fellow Bernardo Huberman... whose efforts around Prediction Markets were featured in Businessweek back in 2005.
Laura Ching / Tiny Prints at #60 - Impressive products from the online stationery company recently acquired by Shutterfly.
Kevin Systrom / Instagram at #66 - One of those companies that I just keep hearing about.
Natsumi Iwasaki / Author at #90 - Wrote the Japanese bestseller What If a Female Manager of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker's 'Management'? Sounds interesting... now, if only there were an English translation...
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Businessweek Pieces: Nokia / Subaru of Indiana Plant / Stuck in Jobs
Cover story was "Stephen Elop's Nokia Adventure" written by Peter Burrows and looks at the turnaround efforts at the mobile phone maker. It's pretty fascinating given the various elements around Nokia right now. The Finnish company has been floundering in recent years and some 6 months ago hired an outsider in Elop, former head of Office products for Microsoft. Pretty drastic action he's taken thus far in the scrapping of Nokia's internally built phone software in favor of Microsoft Windows Phone 7. It may or may not mean success for Nokia as it battles Apple and it's proprietary software, HP and it's Palm-acquired software and a host of other hardware manufacturers running free Android software from Google, but it is certainly a bold move.
Another interesting corporate view piece from this issue of BW looked not at a company struggling, but one thriving. Subaru sales last year increased at twice the rate of the rest of the automotive industry and the feature "Subaru of Indiana, America's Scrappiest Carmaker" looks at operations at Subaru's sole US plant. Pretty remarkable stuff detailed in this Roben Farzad piece with the facility operating at a level of high efficiency as well as minimal waste generated.
Interesting as well from BW lately was "Stuck in Jobs: The New Swing Voters" from the June 20 issue. The notion put forth by Mike Dorning deals with employee's having the confidence to willingly switch jobs. He looks at it as a comparative measure with a larger number of employee's willing to switch being a positive indicator for the economy... and for people voting for politicians based on their feelings of our economic track. What got me wasn't the political implications, but just the general idea around the import of this willingness to move.
Perhaps an obvious thing, but people who are employed not liking a job, but feeling trapped in it is certainly something that can have big ramifications of the economy, as well as of course the happiness of people working in it.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Oregon Quarterly Feature on YA Novelist Gayle Forman
Written by 1995 Oregon grad Kimber Williams, "Books to Write" is about Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay, the 1999 Young Adult bestselling novel. It's a solid profile by Williams and provides a view of Forman's life and how a tragic life experience led to writing the book.
It's pretty profound stuff and gives a good sense of Forman's life and experience as a novelist. Kind of inspiring in a way...
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
"Life After High School" Annie Murphy Paul Piece - and other life lessons
Latest issue of Time Magazine featured an interesting story with connections to pieces by a few other authors.
"Life After High School" was written by Annie Murphy Paul and looks at the idea of how important high school is (or is not) in shaping who someone turns out to be. The piece is only sort of linked to here in that Time has decided not to post it online, but I was struck by Paul's high school graduation speech notions (which she had just been asked to deliver at the commencement for her old high school). In short - be all you can be, don't be limited, dream big.
All the stuff of Successories posters to be sure, but... perhaps nuggets (or even big piles) of truth there for those of us trying to figure out what to be upon growing up. To this end, Paul's writing led me thinking on a few different concepts written on by various authors linked to on this blog...
From the linked to here on a recurring basis writer, John Gardner...
"If we are conscious of the danger of going to seed, we can resort to countervailing measures. At almost any age. You don't need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again. You can stay alive in every sense of the word until you fail physically. I know some pretty successful people who feel that that just isn't possible for them, that life has trapped them. But they don't really know that. Life takes unexpected turns."
From the posted on here Robert Lipsyte book An Accidental Sportswriter...
"Don't quit. Gut it out. Try to hold on till the final buzzer. It will work out, somehow."
From the Joe Posnanski blog post "My Kansas City Goodbye"...
"And who am I now? I still love Springsteen and chocolate and reading in bed. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Winona Ryder, even after the whole shoplifting thing. But those are not who I am, not like it was then. I'm a father. A husband. A writer. Most of the things that mattered then don't matter at all to me now. Most of the things that matter to me know would have been unimaginable to me then. I am not floating. I am anchored.
My take away gist from the Paul piece along with the words from Gardner, Posnanski and Lipsyte... should move foward towards a goal while still appreciating the present. Good things both.
"An Accidental Sportswriter" by Robert Lipsyte
I first heard about the book from this Sports Illustrated review and enjoyed the description of his life and experience in writing. Lipsyte's choice of title of title was fitting given both his writing outside of sports (both general-life type column and Young Adult books) and non-traditional subjects when working as a Sportswriter.
This idea of topics on the fringe of sports comes out as Lipsyte writes of the Lodge Brother (in italics to note as Lipsyte's term) approach to sportswriting practiced by many through the years. Rather than celebrating the Jock Culture atmosphere, Lipsyte often sought out the story that revealed a greater slice of life than simply someone who could play great ball and whose exploits generated the type of prose readers wanted. Nowhere in recent memory is this concept more in evidence than the Mark McGuire-Sammy Sosa home run race... celebrated at the time as a magnificent (and non-steroid pumped) achievement.
Later in the book there was an interesting mention of ESPN writer Bill Simmons, who wrote of steroids as only being a negative in how it caused him to look at achievements. It's representative of an interesting viewpoint by Simmons... rather than focusing on the game or athletes themselves, the thing that matters is one's reaction to and thoughts of sporting events. Makes sense if one believes that big time sports isn't life for a fan, it's about being entertained.
Additionally, Lipsyte wrote of this Jock Culture mentality towards sports (and associated Lodge Brother mentality of sportswriting) with his prose around the seemingly lack of interest that people have in looking at or writing about gay athlete's coming out.
Finally, I also found of note Lipsyte's mention of his early years as a New York Times writer. From that period he references working with Gay Talese, writer of the Esquire piece "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"... often credited as being the example of New Journalism or compelling narrative non-fiction.
Closing out the book was Lipsyte's chapter on his relationship with his father (who lived past 100). Solid read, especially for someone interested in writing.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Laura Dodd Book Signing - "Dig This Gig"
Dodd's background is in television production and sometime between that work and now (she's 29) she combined together an interest in writing with idea for this book. I don't know the chronology of how it all happened, but she had a book proposal (for the aforementioned Dig This Gig accepted around the same time she got into Journalism School at Columbia.
Dodd spoke of the book as containing a number of stories of people in their 20s figuring out what they want to do and then creating that work for themselves.
One thing utterly fascinating was her mention of self-financing the book tour... and living on the cheap as she tries to get as many copies sold as possible. This provided huge credence for Dodd and her book as it shows the work she's continuing to do even though she's... you know, a published author.
To this point, I liked her mention of viewing the large number of books out there as inspiration while writing and now consternation after publishing. Gotta respect someone both doing what they want to do and putting in the work to make successful.
This dedication on Dodd's part also made me actually buy a copy to support her rather than just getting it from the library as I do most books. Looking forward to reading it...
Working Towards Something - a Career in Writing
In my case, the path began with the long ago high school level interest in writing that carried through to an undergraduate degree in English and enjoyment of crafting papers. It wasn't fiction writing that floated the proverbial boat, but rather doing really solid analysis type writing on a book or topic.
After this formative years education the process of real life began with work in Sales and then a graduate degree in Business (Sports Marketing Business, but really... Business). From that it's been off to said land of Business with more Sales and then Program Management / Customer Coddling work (with a brief interlude on the Sponsorship Marketing side of Business).
Throughout these years, there's always been at least a flicker of interest remaining in words and their arranging on a page... and that's where this blog began in earnest some three years ago. What I've found through the process of writing it is both that I really enjoy writing, and that I enjoy the same analytical type of non-fiction writing that I did as an undergrad.
With this interest in writing and producing non-fiction work established, it then becomes a question of what careers could be done and how to work towards those. I've got significant time invested in this whole Business track thing and maybe it's a delusional view on my part, but really do think there's a need for compelling narrative writing in Business (and I do find many areas of business interesting enough to write about).
The trick becomes the figuring out exactly what type of business writing to go after and how to be successful at that.
In terms of the going after and getting part, education and work background should count for something and the blog (you know, this one) is intended as a portfolio of writing work (in addition to just the fact that I enjoy writing it). Belief is that it should be easier to transition to new role within current company (rather than having to sell ability to new company to do new role). While that belief hasn't yet manifested itself as true, it still could have legs... we'll see.
Also, some other things considered around type of writing that could be done and how to pursue it...
- Don't really envision going to Journalism School (and see what's going in in the field), but interested in the idea of Entrepreneurial Journalism and new business models around writing.
- Considering various non degree path courses like a Creative Nonfiction workshop through UC Berkeley.
- Have reached out through my contacts to people who do career coaching... some with experience in writing.
- Think sometimes about my educational background in Sports Marketing and what writing that could be done in that area of Business.
- Find myself wondering about editing as a field.
- Hear from internal company contacts about Executive Communication as an area of Business Writing... taking on someone's voice in messaging.
Lots of things to consider, lots of options, lots of work. Just a matter, though, of continuing to head towards the believed goal... and trying to stay entertained in the process.
Saturday, June 04, 2011
David Von Drehle on the Joplin Tornado
Von Drehle has an ability to convey detailed reporting on a story in conjunction with the personal tales of the people involved. This piece on Joplin is no exception with it's thorough research and big picture reporting on disaster that also delves heavily into the stories of individuals and their experiences with the storm. Additionally, the two paragraph intro is just riveting... and a call to keep reading.
In terms of this personal look at the people impacted by the tornado, Von Drehle's piece brought to mind this story by Lars Anderson for Sports Illustrated. I posted on it less than two weeks ago, and both Von Drele's look at Joplin, MO and Anderson's at Tuscaloosa, AL stand out as excellent writing on people touched by the carnage of a large tornado.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Wanting to Do Something Not Being Done - Writing as a Career
To this point, the blog tag "writing" has been utilized on posts around the process of writing, whether that process be my own ruminations or the concept of writing as written on by others. The majority of posts with said tag link to and are about thoughts other than my own, but I do like to throw in personal ramblings occasionally.
On this whole personal ramblings subject, an idea that's been kicking around in the head lately is around the concept of wanting to do something not being done. In my case it's wanting to work in writing and not doing it yet, but (to probably use the phrase wrong, but still in a pithy way) everybody has their own private Idaho.
While I may not be a working (i.e. paid) writer or even working in writing (yet), two things that give solace are (1) the idea of working towards something and (2) association.
The manifestation of my concept around working towards something isn't always easy, but is obvious. I want to work in writing... so I write.
It's enjoyable writing this blog and provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I write something with meaning (and link to something with gravitas), but there's also a portfolio being built brick by brick (totally different than Step by Step by NKOTB). Eventually and somehow the opportunity to transition to doing my aforementioned thing not being done will present itself, and the portfolio of work will be there... and by there I mean, here.
In terms of association, I find tremendous value in reading great writing, but also in reading others who enjoy great writing. The best example of this comes out of the Son of a Bold Venture blog (which I try, perhaps unsuccessfully, to not mention too much) by Esquire writer Chris Jones. There's great content from Jones around the writing process, but also some pretty fascinating comments made by others.
Tagged onto the post LAST CALL AT ELAINE'S, ft. KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG was a comment from a reader, Scott Warden. I don't know the guy at all, but from an association perspective, it feels good to read something I feel as well...
From Mr. Warden about the words from Kevin Van Valkenburg...
"This might sound a little too kiss-assy (just pretend that's a word, folks, and move along), but on a smaller scale, the way Kevin felt that night is how I feel when I read this blog. We get to chat up Chris and share the comments section with Scott Raab, Gene Weingarten, Mr. Charlie Pierce, etc. For most of us, it's the closest we're going to come to rubbing elbows with legends. Really, it's as good as it gets for those of us not on an esteemed masthead.
Twelve years ago or so, when I was younger, hungrier, I e-mailed a handful of my favorite writers, wanting to pick their brains. As a huge fan of The Sporting News growing up, I was thrilled when Dave Kindred e-mailed me back. His advice was great, but the thrill was more "Holy shit, Dave Kindred now knows my name!"
It's the same thrill I get with this place, this bastion of words and truths."
So, I may not be where I want to yet, but gonna take solace in working towards the goal and through that work, already associating with great writing and others of like mind about great writing.
Sports Illustrated Pieces: Luis Salazar / Boston and it's Bruins
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
BusinessWeek Pieces: Robert Young Pelton on Somali Pirates / Khan Academy / Interesting Companies
Probably the best writing was by Robert Young Pelton in his story Somali Pirates' Rich Returns. One of the points of this blog is to highlight cases of excellent writing on a topic of note and this piece definitely qualifies. I was struck even more by the story after realizing it was written by the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places (which I read years ago). Big fan I am of what seems to be a Businessweek practice of having diverse and fairly well known (and presumably non-staff) writers doing feature stories.
Also standing out as a BW piece lately was Salman Khan: The Messiah of Math. While the writing from Bryant Urstadt was certainly solid enough, the mission of Khan is just plain remarkable. On his Khan Academy website he provides free access to a self-created 2,100+ video library tutorial which began with math education and is now expanded to many other subjects.
These were the metaphorical big rocks from Businessweek lately, but there were also a number of smaller pieces on companies doing interesting things...
- In the category of "writing on a big and innovative company continuing to do big and innovative things" was Apple's Deals May Transform Digital Music about a potential announcement of cloud storage for a user's music collection. As detailed in the piece, this type of offering has been chased by many... and would be yet another coup for Apple if they can introduce a user-friendly program bought into by the record labels.
- Similar to the aforementioned Pelton story in this regard, the piece Pacific Biosciences' $600 Million Decoder Ring was made more interesting in relation to another story. In this case, that other story wasn't by the same author, but rather on the same guy at Pacific Biosciences. As written about in this Esquire piece (which I posted on here), remarkable guy this Eric Schadt.
- Short, but interesting piece was Innovator: Carnegie Mellon's Richard McCullough on McCullough's efforts at the company Plextronics. His is fascinating work in the field of conductive ink for use in ultra-thin flexible displays (think: cell phones, televisions, magazines, etc). Definitely an area of business with huge potential.
- Finally of interest was SeatGeek Helps Online Ticket Buyers Beat the Scalpers on the ticket search site SeatGeek. Not the most profound offering in the world (digital music storage isn't either), but the company appears to be using technology well to fill a consumer need.