Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Recently finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and found it to be a fascinating study of the man, his life and career.

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

Several short pieces of interest from the Dec '11 / Jan '12 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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

Quite a few interesting pieces from the Dec 12 issue of Businessweek.

Cover story by Felix Gillette was The King of All Vegas Real Estate Scams on fraud run amok in the area of faulty condo construction. It's a fascinating look at the illegal practice of taking over homeowner association boards and then funneling damages and repair contracts to businesses tied to colluding board members. Not surprising to read of something like this given legal Vegas real estate practices like buying larger and walking away from old property, but the scam described by Gillette shows a remarkable amount of fraud and deception.

Also from this issue were three smaller pieces that each dealt with interesting companies and topics previously noted on this blog...

- OnLive Mobile Helps Gamers on the Go is on the cloud gaming service from startup veteran Steve Perlman and stood out both with Perlman being someone I've linked to previous BW features on and with the described OnLive efforts around online tablet and smartphone gaming.

- Voice Control, the End of the TV Remote? covers innovation already occurred and especially to come in the future around the home television. Topic is especially interesting given rampant speculation about what Apple may eventually bring (in conjunction with the iPhone and iPad) to the TV market.

- Pat Hanrahan's Tableau Analytics Software provides a brief look at data analysis tools way beyond simple Excel in terms of both user interface and display of information. It's an interesting subject area and Hanrahan as a guy (and his Tableau Software by extension) is interesting with his time spent as an early stage Pixar engineer and two Oscars awarded for animation work.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kevin Van Valkenburg Q&A on Blog TVFury

It's been a few months since I've posted on any writing from Kevin Van Valkenburg and, fortuitously enough, came across recently a ridiculously good Q&A with him about his career and other topics around writing.

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

Remarkable profile of former NHL player Derek Boogaard earlier this month in The New York Times. Written by John Branch, the three-part series is titled Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer with first Learning To Brawl about his early years and then Blood on the Ice about his National Hockey League career. Finally, A Brain 'Going Bad' covers both his accidental overdose (from painkillers and alcohol) death last summer and then damage found upon study of his brain.

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

Some great writing from the recent Sports Illustrated double issue that features Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski as the SI Sportswoman & Sportman of the Year for 2011.

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.

If Wolff's piece was a well-written profile of exceptional public figures, two other features from this issue of Sports Illustrated stood out as really good writing on subjects known in much smaller universes.

Centered in the town of Magazine, Arkansas, How To Become An American is on the children of Hmong immigrants (with the Hmong portrayed by Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino) playing high school football. Written by Charles Pierce, it combines an almost lyrical beginning with an in-depth description of the athletes and their assimilation into the community and impact on the team. I see Pierce stories most frequently in Esquire and expected and then found a great piece after noting his name in this SI story byline.

A feature that actually turned out to be much more than I expected was According To Alex Kline... on the 17 year old college hoops recruiting guru. Written by Jim Gorant, the two things that stand out in the piece are Kline for creating a thriving avocation out of his interest and Gorant for the style of the piece. After the introduction, the writing flows backwards with sections on various ages of Kline's life to trace what led him to today. This approach helps take something that if done superficially could be little more than a puff isn't that cute? type of piece and makes it a revealing and interesting profile.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Entrepreneurial Journalism Education / Difficulty in Sports Reporting Today

Expanding a bit on my post from yesterday about the Nieman Foundation (and Nieman Storyboard), I've come across some interesting Journalism education content lately including a webinar attended earlier this week.

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

Having not heard of it until fairly recently, I've found online some really cool work and resources from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. As is detailed on the about page of the site, the foundation administers a yearlong fellowship program for journalists, but where I heard about them was through the Nieman Storyboard website. Taken directly from the Storyboard about page...

"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

Quite a few interesting stories from the December 5 issue of Time Magazine.

All pieces require a magazine subscription to read online and first of note was The Case of the Grim Sleeper by Terry McCarthy. Pretty fascinating content on familial DNA testing and how it was used to locate a suspected serial killer in Los Angeles.

Another feature was by the excellent David Von Drehle titled The Little State That Could about the recent Rhode Island pension reforms enacted by State Treasurer Gina Raimondo. Her efforts might run counter to those from AFL-CIO labor leader Richard Trumka (profiled well in this Esquire piece), but Raimondo comes across in the story as someone extremely intelligent driving necessary change.

With the subject being in the same adult voice in the room category, Joe Klein's column was Jon Huntsman's Big Idea. As Klein writes, the top six banks hold assets of almost 65% of U.S. GDP and Huntsman's idea is to reduce their power (via a targeted fee) and hold on the economy.

Final thing of note from this issue of Time was the short Reinventing the Wheel on the new high-tech home thermostat from Nest. Very interesting product designed to foster energy conservation through both it's technology and stellar user interface (with the company founded and led by Apple iPod creator Tony Fadell.)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Profiles from December 2011 Esquire

Some excellent feature profiles in the December 2011 issue of Esquire Magazine.

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

Very interesting cover story in the November 28 issue of Sports Illustrated.

The entire text of the piece by Time Inc Sports editor Terry McDonell doesn't appear to be online now (just silly, me thinks), but Sport In America is posted as an abridged version. The story introduces a future HBO series of the same name that Sports Illustrated will be co-producing.

Overall concept of the series and introductory story is described on this Inside Sports Illustrated blog post and around the question of what sport means to individual people... with this question still quite relevant in today's environment of large money and high level cynicism around sport.


The piece by McDonell was interesting (if only the whole text could be provided here) and got me thinking more about sports journalism and what it does. There's certainly recapping of with scores and game summaries, but also much more. The narrative recreation of fan memories is a huge offering that sports journalism can provide and another aspect of journalism around sports is the revealing of information.

This can be around things like player profiles a well as supremely important topics like Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State child sex abuse case (with my blog post last month on writing about the scandal). This case provided another example of how sports journalism can play a much more important than score and game notes role with this NBC interview with Sandusky where noted sports journalist Bob Costas let Sandusky eviscerate himself in relation to the accusations made and charges filed.

Very important stuff to be sure... and this revealing, recreating and recapping that can be provided by sports journalism doesn't even fully cover the entertainment value that solid media coverage can add to the (financially very valuable) total fan experience.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Writing on Unstructured Data Analysis - Palantir / Hewlett-Packard

Very interesting cover story in the latest Businessweek that got me thinking about the concepts of structured and unstructured data analysis.

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

Several piece of writing on money I've come across lately that were interesting by themselves... with two downright fascinating when viewed in relation to one another.

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

Just finished reading The Postmortal by Drew Magary and found it to be pretty enjoyable.

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.