Friday, May 31, 2013

Businessweek writing - on Netflix, Google X, GoPro & Southern New Hampshire U

There's been a few pieces from Businessweek over the past few weeks that stood out as particularly interesting with two cover features and two smaller stories.

From the May 13-19 issue was the feature "Netflix, Reed Hastings Survive Missteps to Join Silicon Valley's Elite". Written by Ashlee Vance, it's a terribly interesting piece that starts off with the sentence from Vance that "on a normal weeknight, Netflix accounts for almost a third of all Internet traffic entering North American homes." Also, from this issue was "A Little College That's a Giant Online" on Southern New Hampshire University. As opposed to a company like Coursera, Southern New Hampshire is a traditional college that also has a significant online education offering.

From the May 27-Jun 2 issue was "Inside Google's Secret Lab" by Brad Stone and it's fascinating stuff on the Google X division within the company that's devoted to "moonshot" ideas or problems that Lab Director Astro Teller says about which "over some long but not unreasonable period of time we can make that problem go away." Additionally of interest from this Businessweek edition was the extremely short piece "Ask a Billionaire: GoPro CEO Nick Woodman".

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Oklahoma tornado writing - by Layden, Montgomery, Von Drehle and Kluger

There's been a few great pieces of writing I've seen on the tornado that struck the town of Moore, Oklahoma. The Time Magazine cover story last week was by David Von Drehle and Jeffrey Kluger and titled "16 Minutes". The Editor's Note at the beginning of the issue mentions how Von Drehle two years ago wrote "Torn Asunder: How the Deadliest Twister in Decades Ripped Through Joplin, Mo." so this recent piece on the Moore tornado would have a focus on the time prior and life-saving tornado warning given. Both pieces require Time online accounts to read and each well written and extremely compelling.

For the Tampa Bay Times was "A family is calm, resilient amid devastation of Okla. tornado" by Ben Montgomery upon returning to the area where he grew up. It's a highly personal piece that's detailed and just really solid.

Last piece to mention here was by Tim Layden for the Sports Illustrated website. "At Southmoore High, football provides family, a refuge from devastation" was written based on the days immediately following the tornado that killed 24 and destroyed 1,200 homes, including those of 22 players from the 170 member Southmoore football program. Also included in this excellent piece by Layden was mention of Southmoore Junior Darius Joseph, brother of one of the subjects in a piece from The Okalahoman I posted on last week.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"How Children Succeed" by Paul Tough

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character was written by Paul Tough and a bit of a slow read at times, but which also contains some very interesting stories and information.

As part of his examination into what brings about success for children, Tough breaks the book up into the following sections: How to fail (and how not to), How to build character, How to think, How to succeed and A better path.

How to fail covers a number of compelling ideas with many around early childhood development and how success in school and beyond often predicated on what happens prior to starting. The impact of how many words a child hears from their parents early in life is noted along with the the import of a parent's nurturing and soothing a baby during the many situations of stress early in life (with this frequently described as "attachment parenting").

Following up on this idea of stress and it's potential negative impact was a significant amount of material from Tough on how childhood mental trauma often results in health problems later in life. He notes how this occurs because of the negative health effects of mental stress as triggered through the body's HPA axis system that manages our reaction to situations of stress. They're two slightly different flavors of stress management, but examples would be the stresses of living in poverty and of being in dangerous situations. What comes into play in this second scenario is the physiological fight or flight response where adrenaline builds up as our instinct is to avoid harm. While the adrenaline can be a good thing in helping deal with the immediate danger, it can also have a negative effect on the body if a common thing. It's a bit of a simple statement, but a definite  point that could be taken from How to fail is that it's not just on the schools to teach children as their home environment has a big impact.

The How to build character chapter dealt heavily with the subtitle of the book, Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. The idea from Tough is that pure intelligence (as measured via I.Q.) often not as important as character traits or non-cognitive skills. He cites how important finishing high school is to success later, but not necessarily for knowledge learned there, rather for an example of how someone has the traits needed to follow-through. The basic idea is the value that can be derived from persisting at anything that can be at times boring and feel unrewarding.

They may all be just alternate for what Tough includes in his book subtitle, but some other important traits he notes are self-regulation, persistence, conscientiousness, self-confidence and optimism... with Tough's writing on the last of these making reference to the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman.

The latter parts of How to Succeed felt to bog down a bit for me, but there continued to be some interesting material including the chapter How to think that dealt heavily with children devoting time and energy to the game of chess. Featured was Elizabeth Spiegel, the chess coach at IS 318, a public middle school in Brooklyn.

All in all, Tough wrote an excellent book for anyone wanting to read about the topic of children and their paths to success. Additionally insight can also be found from the New York Times book review by Annie Murphy Paul.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Inspiring stories - on Oklahoma tornado survivors, astronaut Chris Hadfield & Ricochet the surf dog

There's a few stories I've seen recently on very different topics, but that all fall under the umbrella of being inspiring words and/or video.

The article was by Berry Tramel for The Oklahoman newspaper with the story behind an iconic photo taken in the aftermath of the deadly tornado that hit Moore, OK earlier this week.

"Oklahoma tornadoes: The 'Big Dog,' the little boy and the hug that triumphs over tragedy" was great reporting and writing from Tramel about friends Jim Routon and Hezekiah Darbon.

The first video to note here featured Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield with him in space singing "Space Oddity" by David Bowie.

The second video was a ESPN segment with Tom Rinaldi telling the story of a comfort dog named Ricochet that surfs with children in need of support.

It's a terribly heartwarming story that brings to mind for me two pieces of writing by Chris Jones I've previously posted on, the Esquire blog post "Autistics" on he and his son and an ESPN column "Watershed Moment" on surfer Garrett McNamara and volunteer work he's done with autistic kids and the ocean.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Great sports stories - by Jones, Lake & Watson

There's three pieces of sports writing I've seen over the past few weeks that struck me as particularly solid and are available now to post online.

From the May 13 issue of ESPN The Magazine was the back page column "Boston Strong" by Chris Jones. Really compelling and short piece on Boston and what the 2014 Marathon could be like.

In the Sports Illustrated May 13 edition was a feature by Thomas Lake titled "Drinking and Driving and Dying". It's excellent writing about the long history of high profile DUI accidents caused by professional athletes with particular focus on the death last December of Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown with his teammate Josh Brent behind the wheel.

Finally, another piece that struck me was the heartwarming story "Athletic departments work together to save college football reporter’s life" by Graham Watson for Yahoo Sports. Recounted in the piece is how Wyoming assistant athletic director Tim Harkins during a phone interview with freelance journalist Natalie Meisler recognized that she might be having a stroke and tracked down her location so emergency personnel could respond.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fast Company Writing

The past few issues of Fast Company Magazine had a number of features and short pieces that stood out far a variety of reasons.

Going furthest back, the Feb issue had both an interesting interview piece and really well-written feature story. The interview was by Charlie Rose with Biz Stone and Ev Williams who co-founded Twitter and begins with Stone and Williams making the extremely important point that Twitter not simply about 140-character expression of thought, but also the linking to content of all subjects and length around the web. Also noted in the interview was the blogging site Medium and the feature story from this issue was by Max Chafkin with "The Zen Master of Silicon Valley Chatter" on Kevin Rose. It was a detailed and interesting look at the Digg founder and internet investor who first backed early stage companies on his own and now as part of Google Ventures.

The March issue had "Working Beyond the Cube" by Greg Lindsay on co-working and Fast Company's annual "50 Most Innovative Companies" list.

The April issue had three different feature stories that stood out. Cover story was a lengthy piece by Nicole LaPorte title "The Rebels Saving Hollywood" and then Max Chafkin wrote "Why Kickstarter Won't Sell" on the crowdfunding website (with both features referencing Angel Investor Chris Sacca). Finally, Danielle Sacks contributed the feature "'Fifty Percent Of 'The Tipping Point' Is Wrong' Jonah Berger Shows You Which Half" on the author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Finally, an interesting mention from the May issue was the short pieces "What's Hot in Alaska" on startup companies in the state.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Time Magazine writing - on U.S. manufacturing / Uniqlo / 3 of the Time 100 Most Influential People

There's been a few interesting things out of Time Magazine recently with three of them being short pieces on people in the Time 100 Most Influential People 2013 edition and two feature stories from other issues (and all of them requiring a Time account to be able to read online).

The people whose short profiles stood out were that on Jared Cohen (who founded Google Ideas and co-wrote The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt), Perry Chen (CEO of the crowdfunding website Kickstarter) and the team of Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng (co-founders of the online learning site Coursera).

The feature stories of greatest note to me were "Made in the USA" by Rana Foroohar and Bill Saporito and "What They'll Wear to the Revolution" by Michael Schuman. The latter piece was on Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo (which I've previously linked to a Fast Company article on as they make a major push into the U.S. market) and the feature story on increased US manufacturing. In terms of topic, it was very reminiscent of another piece I linked to previously, this one a September 2012 Outside Magazine piece by Tom Vanderbilt on the same trend.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Excellent feature writing - by Pressler, Paterniti & Mooallem

There's been three feature articles I've seen lately that struck me as outstanding, with two from GQ Magazine and one the New York Times Magazine.

From the April issue of GQ was "The King of Oontz Oontz Oontz" by Jessica Pressler and it's a well done profile on Electronic Dance Music DJ Tim Bergling, better know as Avicii. While Avicii not a well known name outside dance music circles, he's gotten probably the most acclaim for his song Levels and Pressler notes him commanding $100,000+ for some of his gigs. Within the profile there's some content not particularly flattering to Avicii (and which he took offense to as detailed in an LA Time story) but it seemed a probably pretty accurate look at a 23-year-old kid whose career is within the party scene.

The May edition of GQ had another excellent story with "The Luckiest Village in the World" by Michael Paterniti. It's written about the Spanish village of Sodeto and experiences of the townspeople with many of them splitting a lottery win one year ago. I've twice posted on GQ writing from Paterniti and both find him to be a really good writer and looking forward to his book The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese coming out July 30th.

In the same vein of a really good feature story by someone with a forthcoming book was the Jon Mooallem piece "Who Would Kill a Monk Seal?" for the New York Times Magazine. The story is about a endangered species that lives around the Hawaiian Islands and has a lot of great material around the conflicting viewpoints between people wanted to protect the seals and those whose lives are negatively impacted by protection efforts. Terribly interesting piece and makes me even more interested to read Mooallem's book coming out the 16th of this month, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Writing on people with ALS - by Jeff Pearlman & Pete Thamel

I last Wednesday coincidentally came across two pieces of writing about people afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Each work was really well done and showed both the devastating effects of the disease and the support received by each person featured in the respective pieces.

For the Sports Illustrated website Pete Thamel wrote "Dick Kelley gave his heart to BC; now the school is giving back" and as part of an ongoing Q&A series (100 and counting) on his blog Jeff Pearlman wrote "The Quaz Q&A: Adrian Dessi".

Thamel notes in his piece that Kelly has worked in Boston College administration since a BC freshman in 1983 and Dessi is the father of two of Pearlman's childhood friends (with a Pearlman blog post about one of them, Chris Dessi, self-publishing a book being one of the sources of inspiration for me to self-publish).

Both the Q&A by Pearlman and more traditional profile by Thamel are excellent and accomplish well the dual tasks of showing how horrible ALS can be and how great the support received by Dessi and Kelly has been.

Writing on economies in trouble - by Joel Stein & Stephan Faris

Two excellent pieces of writing from Businessweek recently shared the common theme of being about economies in trouble and what's being done in them. Published a little over a month ago in was "Screwed in Cyprus" by Stephan Faris and more recently, was the BW feature story "How Jerry Brown Scared California Straight" by Joel Stein.

Good writing in both and definitely interesting to read about how bad things have gotten in at least one area of Europe and what Brown working to avoid in California. Very reminiscent of the Michael Lewis book Boomerang which I noted in a Nov 2011 review as covering financial trouble for the cities of San Jose and Vallejo.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Jason Collins SI cover story & writing on Collins

While none of it as singularly impactful as the first-person narrative "Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now" that Collins did with Sports Illustrated writer Franz Lidz, there were some other excellent pieces of writing done on the heels of the announcement Monday by Collins.

About the piece itself was SI Senior Editor Chris Stone who wrote "The story behind Jason Collins' story: How it happened" and Lidz a day later provided "Jason Collins overwhelmed by enormous support for his announcement".

In terms of pieces published placed other than Sports Illustrated, Bruce Arthur wrote for the National Post the excellent "Jason Collins coming out a new beginning for sports" and specifically about the #98 jersey homage to Matthew ShepardSam Gardner wrote for Fox Sports "Collins' act wows victim's parents".

Additionally, "The meaning of Jason Collins' coming out" was written by Cyd Zeigler for SB Nation Outsports and "Just the Beginning" by Chuck Culpepper for Sports on Earth and the last piece to mention here was "The Decision" by Charlie Pierce for Grantland. Like many pieces I've seen from Pierce, it's extremely thought-out and contains the interesting idea that people shouldn't get caught up in basically congratulating themselves and society as a whole for being so accepting of Jason Collins on the heels of his coming out publicly.