Friday, August 30, 2013

Esquire writing on the world we live in - by Granger, Richardson, Marche & Raab

The September issue of Esquire Magazine had a number of great pieces, with many of them around the theme of our world and the government's role in it. Below is quoted much more of the actual text than I usually include when referencing stories I found excellent, but each of the writers noted really hit some big important themes in these pieces.

The opening letter from editor David Granger was titled "American Dread" and made reference to some of the pieces that followed, with the text from Granger that stood out to me the most the following...

"This morning, early, I read the final draft of John H. Richardson's profile of Alex Jones, a man I'd previously known only through the vicious tweets of his many detractors. Jones is the premier vendor of conspiracy theories in the country, to the tune of a million visitors to his sites some days. His ravings about the Boston Marathon bombing being a government plot and the U.S. secretly siding with Al Qaeda are both insane and influential — they, as much as the words of any commentator in the country, help shape the discussions of our national affairs.  

Shortly thereafter, I read Stephen Marche's Thousand Words column, about the state of anxiety in which we live — how our country and its popular culture live under a cloud of the awful things that might happen. 

And just a few minutes ago, I read the ninth installment of Scott Raab's epic series on the rebuilding at Ground Zero. And it reminded me where the paranoia comes from: If 9/11 could happen, then everything is possible. If everything is possible, then we are required to act on our worries to forestall the next possible catastrophe. We've all bought into a variant of the worldview expressed in Dick Cheney's famous calculation: If there is a 1 percent chance that we will be attacked, then we must treat it as a certainty. If there is any chance that the most outlandish rumor could happen — if, say, someone with an Alex Jones–sized megaphone were to equate the infamous government-funded Tuskegee syphilis study from the 1930s with the recent attempt to fluoridate the drinking water of Portland, Oregon — then many assume it's almost certain."


The aforementioned profile by John Richardson was titled "Alex Jones: Father Knows Best, Updated for the Apocalypse" and while I certainly think Jones a loon, I also had two thoughts that made him important, even if not actually correct. There's many people who hang on his every word and crazy as those words might be, they don't come from nothing. I like the current administration and generally buy the arguments made by it, but I also think what if the power held by the executive branch was in the hands of what I'll loosely call "bad guys"?

Along these lines, I found myself thinking of Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America. It was based on the premise of Charles Lindbergh defeating Franklin Roosevelt for the Presidency in 1940 and the U.S. taking dual paths of isolationism from the war in Europe and discrimination against Jews here at home. Roth's work was fiction, but based on real possibility as there were groups in the U.S. who firmly wanted to let Germany do what they will (a "not our problem" approach) and also wanted to curtail opportunities for Jews.


The Stephen Marche essay referenced was "The Empire of Anxiety" and the parts of it struck me the most were about government anti-terrorism measures as well as the financial costs of them vs. the likelihood of the events they're preventing...

"America's actual drone policies are based explicitly on how worried its agents are. Killing anywhere in the world is legal so long as 'an informed, high-level official of the U.S. has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.' 'Imminent threat' can mean anything, of course. The NSA surveillance program is operating under this same limitless anxiety. All information must be available, because who knows what is being plotted out there, somewhere, anywhere?

In 2012, only ten American civilians died worldwide from international terrorism. Between September 11 and the death of Osama bin Laden, the United States spent $1.28 trillion prosecuting the war on terror. You are 3,468 times as likely to die from a car accident as from an attack, 2,663 times as likely to die from a fall, 356 times as likely to die from drowning. You are 416 times as likely to die from an injury at work as at the hands of a terrorist. For an ultimately negligible increase in public safety, ancient values have been abandoned and huge quantities of blood and treasure have been expended. In a hundred years, historians of this period will be amazed at the ludicrous outpouring of resources to prevent a few thousand murders while all around the world the poor and hungry die. The psychological mechanism is obvious, a classic case of a phobia, creating a specific fear to hide from a general, more all-encompassing sense of dread. Terrorism has the great narrative advantage of having good guys and bad guys involved in dramatic scenes. The real crises are much more boring and present no Zero Dark Thirty–style solutions. The coming storm is no longer a metaphor. Next summer, a hurricane will come and destroy part of New York City. Or, if not next year, the year after. And then there will be an even worse hurricane a few years after that. And what will the world be like when New York City is destroyed? And what are we supposed to do about it? Nobody knows."


Additionally referenced by Granger in his Editor's piece was the Scott Raab feature "A Target in Perpetuity". It's the 9th installment in Raab's 8 year-long (so far) series "The Rebuilding" about the new World Trade Center.

This latest piece covered among other things the political infighting around the World Trade Center site and turf battles between the NYPD and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for who will provide site security. Really great work from Raab that included the text below...

"If eight years spent covering and pondering Ground Zero has taught me anything worth calling wisdom, it boils down to this: Our national response to 9/11 has been disastrous. Think first about how useful 9/11 has been to the politicians who trade in fear and piety, whose power at the federal level of our government has grown vast enough to include torture, indefinite detention, secret surveillance of the citizenry en masse approved by a secret court, and the program of inflicting death by drone despite the collateral damage, human and political. 

I'm not suggesting any conspiracy to bring down the World Trade Center beyond that enacted by Al Qaeda. I'm not talking about any black helicopters or Hollywood fantasy. I'm referring to the damage done to America not by terrorists but by our own response to one horrific attack — which, by the way, was but another version of what people around the world have gone and still go through. Gutting the values and principles that we like to think define us as an exceptional nation — you know, that whole Bill of Rights deal — isn't the response of a country confident in its freedom. It's the cowardice of a nation too fractured by fear to face the truth about the human condition: We're always vulnerable — all of us, together and alone. It takes courage to accept that vulnerability and not let it rule our lives, private and public. That's exactly what the rebuilt World Trade Center demonstrates already, already filled with people courageous enough to embrace life and liberty as a matter of fact, not foofaraw. In short: Americans."

The thing I love about Raab's writing in this piece is that it details things that should be different or done better, but it then for me adds a healthy dollop of what could be called hopefulness around who we are as people.

For me personally, I often find myself in need of that hopefulness when thinking about things that could be different in our world, both those covered in these Esquire pieces and those not. One thing that comes to mind specifically is something that I've written about previously with my April 2013 post "writing on Boston and on guns" and the approach our lawmakers all too often seem to take towards meaningful action.

Great sports writing - profiles by Thompson and St. John

Some extremely well done recent profiles on major sports figures included two from Wright Thompson for ESPN The Magazine and one from Warren St. John for GQ.

The Thompson pieces were "The Losses of Dan Gable" on the former wresting Olympic gold medalist and Iowa coaching legend and "The Trouble with Johnny" on Heisman trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

I've linked in the past to a number of pieces by or about Thompson and it's just remarkable how much great narrative he includes in his stories. The Manziel piece is about someone whose athletic talents have thrust himself into a superstar role, one that few 20-year-olds would be equipped to deal well with. Thompson details all the different entities pulling on Manziel for their own purposes and written into the story is an absolutely awesome juxtaposition between Manziel as "Johnathan" or "Johnny".

What comes out in the Gable profile is a portrait of someone who has always fought for every success earned, and with this drive fed in part by a horrific event from childhood. It's painful reading about what happened to Gable's sister decades ago and the horror endured by the Gable family, but excellent writing from Thompson that both describes events from the past and shows how they helped shape Gable into the man he would become.

Related to this idea of someone's accomplishments coming in part from events or things they didn't create was a great profile done by Warren St. John for GQ. "Nick Saban: Sympathy for the Devil" was on the Alabama head football coach and covers well Saban's relentless pursuit of excellence and extremely brief periods of celebration at achievement. Where the story particularly insightful is with St. John's description of Saban's approach not simply that of a curmudgeon as he's often portrayed, but rather one that comes from how (for better or worse) he was raised to never get complacent and always seek perfection.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Excellent Sports Illustrated writing- by Smith, Reiter, Chen, Price & Rushin

Not sure if this was a change that Sports Illustrated just made, but apparently watching a short ad online now makes available for reading a number of magazine stories that previously weren't even searchable. As a result of this, there's a few excellent stories from SI to link to here... along with a few that were already available online.

The most profound feature for me was "Frank Hall, American Hero" from the June 24 edition. The cover story by Gary Smith was on a high school football coach from Chardon, OH who in Feb 2012 helped prevent additional deaths in a school shooting that claimed the lives of three students. It's a great piece from Smith made all the more powerful with it beginning on the prevalence of this type of gun violence and then ending with mention of how the violence seems all too quickly forgotten.

Two other pieces I found noteworthy from SI over the past few months were each on the fascinating to me subject of baseball phenoms. "Where Will He Be?" was from the July 8 edition and written by Ben Reiter on Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. Very interesting stuff about how the Dodgers worked to sign Puig as a relative unknown coming out of Cuba and additionally on a baseball phenom (actually, two) was "Glimmer Twins" by Albert Chen from the Aug 19 issue of SI. About Minnesota Twins prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Santo, it's on two players who may well have a huge impact on a franchise.

From the Aug 5 edition of SI was another stellar cover story with "The Last Days of A-Rod" by S.L. Price. I'm always interested when I see a feature being done by the excellent Price and on Alex Rodriguez he writes a thorough look at someone who's fallen so far through the course of his career.

The final piece to note here isn't terribly recent, but definitely great writing worth linking to. "Symphony for a Foghorn" was by Steve Rushin from the June 10 Sports Illustrated and about the NHL playoffs. I suppose it's a description that may get bandied about excessively, but (and in line with the piece title), it's extremely lyrical and captivating hockey writing from Rushin.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Writers on writing - Mooney, Thompson, & Gangrey contributors

There's been a few excellent cases I've seen lately of writers on the subject of writing, with specific topics covered including multiple steps of writing great non-fiction.

The most recent piece was "A Q&A with Michael Mooney on elaborate outlining, 'The Legend of Chris Kyle,' and the importance of access" for Beyond the New Yorker, a blog from Meagan Flynn, an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and managing editor at Drake Magazine. It was an in-depth interview with an excellent writer and the part the struck me the most from Mooney was the following... "I try and outline everything pretty thoroughly, like in a notebook first, before I even type up a first draft. So my first draft is kind of like my second draft. I write up an outline by hand, and then I type it up. It’s really, really thorough. So I think of it as kind of like a skeleton, and then I just put in muscle around that."

Another example of a writer making available insight from another writer was from from the blog of Brandon Sneed with "This is how Wright Thompson got that Johnny Football story for ESPN The Magazine". Sneed notes that he wrote out highlights from a podcast Thompson did and there's some great material in the blog post. Particularly interesting to me were two different sections of Thompson's feedback, with one on reporting and one the physical process that occurs after the reporting done...

"You try not to think a ton. I always have a list of things I want to ask people. Not questions, just talking points. But mostly, you just want to not get lazy, because the next scene could be the one you build your whole story around. You never know what's going to be the thing. So you just want to be fully engaged. I got an email five or six years ago before I went to go do a story, from Eric Neal. He was an E-Ticket writer, now he's the editor at ESPNLA. And he basically, I was on the way, I was on some reporting trip, and he was just like, stay with the scenes and the people and don't try to imbue it all with meaning. And I have that email in my wallet still. I carry it with me everywhere. That's the thing. Don't try to figure out what the metaphor for whatever—just get it. Write everything down. I was doing a Jack Nicklaus profile one time and after a day or two he just stopped and said, what are you writing down? And I said, everything. I'll figure out what it means when I get home, but you just want to stay. You can get sort of lazy. Because 10 hours, 12 hours, four hours, is a long time with people. And the newness and excitement of a scene can wear off and you miss it, because you almost get put to sleep. So you want to stay focused."

"I get home and I type out all the notebooks and then I transcribe all the tape, then I print it out, I send it to Susan at UPS Oxford, she prints it out and three-hole punches it and I put it in a binder, then I take a pen and start reading through it. So I'll read through it and make notes, and the arc starts to occur to me then and a lot of times I'll just riff and write long paragraphs on the back of pages about thoughts that occur, then I'll go back through it and make a notecard for every scene or quote or thing I want to use, then I'll lay them all out and order them, and usually I'm writing outlines as I read through these things, so by the time I've read through the binders a couple of times, somewhere on the back of a page will be the outline."

What struck me from the first two links were thoughts from writers on how they go about the process of writing and reporting and the third piece to note here was about the very beginning step in non-fiction writing.

The site Gangrey had the fascinating thread "Ideas" on where story ideas come from and there's a lot of great insight from excellent professional writers. The post isn't terribly long and one of the common refrains from various comments was how great stories not necessarily about things that have never been written on before, especially if someone wants to write longform about something previously covered briefly. As noted in a short comment by Glenn Stout... "You seek out the new in the old, the untold from the told."

"Sisterland" by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld was a solid work of fiction from an author who I haven't posted on anything by or about in some time.

This is an intentionally very short write up so as not to give away anything (particularly the surprising ending), but especially those who enjoyed any of Sittenfeld's previous works (American Wife as the most recent from 2008), Sisterland likely wouldn't disappoint.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Great writing on Medicine & Money - by Fagone, Gawande & Lewis

There's been a few pieces of writing I've seen recently that struck me as particularly excellent on the subjects of medicine and money... which, sadly are inextricably linked perhaps more now than ever.

For evidence of that linkage, one could simply look at the Tampa Bay Times feature series "Never Let Go" I wrote on last week. Included in the third story from the writer, Kelly Benham, was mention of how over a million dollars in micro-preemie infant care cost she and her husband $400, and of course would have financially ruined other parents with different or no health coverage.

A medical story I haven't previously written about and linked to was "Slow Ideas" from the July 29th issue of The New Yorker. It's written by Atul Gawande, a noted surgeon and bestselling author who I've posted about a few times and this latest piece is a fascinating one about how ideas spread and recommendations take hold (in this case recommendations toward reducing infant mortality rates in India).

Another really solid medical piece I've seen lately was "Has Carl June Found a Key to Fighting Cancer?" by Jason Fagone for the August issue of Philadelphia Magazine. It's a piece I previously linked to under a different post topic and is a tremendously interesting look at a doctor doing cutting-edge work. In that regard, the feature reminded me of a couple of other physician profiles I've seen in past years, "Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World" by Wil Hylton for the New York Times and "Adventures in Extreme Science" written on Eric Schadt by Tom Junod for Esquire.

Going to the second side of this medicine and money topic, two other pieces of writing to mention here were both by Michael Lewis. Among other bestselling books, Lewis wrote The Big Short and Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (which I wrote about in 2011) and an excellent recent feature story of his was "Did Goldman Sachs Overstep in Criminally Charging Its Ex-Programmer?" for the September issue of Vanity Fair. The piece was thoroughly reported and details the length to which Goldman would go seemingly to protect their image as a company worthy of the money they make. It's a compelling story and made me think of another piece of writing by Lewis, his "Princeton University's 2012 Baccalaureate Remarks". Really great stuff from Lewis about life and career choices in this speech with the title "Don't Eat Fortune's Cookie".

Thursday, August 08, 2013

"The Telling Room" by Michael Paterniti

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti was a remarkable book that went beyond what I expected from it, but was also consistent with Paterniti’s Driving Mr. Albert in a weaving together of an interesting external story with an equally compelling story of the author himself. In relation to this idea of a writer and his work, the book was reminiscent for me of two excellent memoirs, The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer and Far Afield: A Sportswriting Odyssey by S.L. Price.

With an extended title of The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese, Paterniti’s book was a great history lesson, travelogue, appreciation of slow food and epic tale. Not as explicitly spelled out in the subtitle, it also was about a way of life with family and friends, believing in someone, and storytelling… with stories told by the central character Ambrosio Molinos as well as Paterniti around his writing of The Telling Room.

 The book is set largely in the small town of Guzman, in the Castile area of Spain, where the craft cheese Paramo de Guzman was once made by the aforementioned Molinos. As Paterniti reached out to and then began visiting Molinos, he was exposed to the epic storytelling both common in the region and trafficked in by the former master cheesemaker.

Over the course of time, Molinos passed along to his frequent visitor Paterniti his stories: about Paramo de Guzman, no longer making the delicacy and a life of food, drink, nature and history lived different than most all in America. Molinos and his tales seemed to hearken back to an older time and as he told Paterniti “everything is rushing forward so I must go back." In terms of Paterniti and his relationship with both Molinos and the town of Guzman, the author wrote of his experiences there as aspiring to “a life antlered by meaning and mysticism” and of later bringing his family to Guzman, Paterniti wrote “without all the distractions, we quickly became reacquainted with each other, taking long walks, lingering over meals, sharing observations or delighting in some little things our kids did. So it was that, if only briefly, we’d broken the cycle.”

In terms of Paterniti and writing of the book, he noted early in The Telling Room that “I sallied forth; temporarily occupying whatever foreign country, then came home in the back of an airport taxi with a mess of scribbled notebooks, trying to find the narrative line in all the facts and quotes.” He additionally wrote “I returned to Guzman to see what else I might find, to gather yarn, as the journalist says, when the journalist doesn't know what the hell he's doing."

As Paterniti’s time in Guzman increased, through repeated trips both before and after the months spent there with his young family, his increasing friendship with Molinos perhaps began to cause a corresponding increase in difficulty writing the book as a dispassionate observer, especially given the generous nature of Molinos and his stories, of which Paterniti wrote that his “the kind of fable in which everything, especially the hero, is bigger than life and thus takes on the quality of legend.”

About struggles writing The Telling Room, Paterniti noted “I was a journalist used to getting in and out, asking tough questions, checking off my sources with ruthless efficiency. Here, Ambrosio Molinos was my only source, and for some reason, I kept it that way. Maybe I thought if I started asking questions around about the cheese it would violate an important trust we’d established, that it might suggest that I didn't take him at his word. And that’s all an Old Castilian had in this world: his word.” Additionally, Paterniti wrote that “maybe the reason I couldn't move forward on my book was that I’d come here to move backward. This was a special case, wasn't it? Or that’s what I told myself. As a journalist, you entered other people’s lives, collecting what you could, positioning yourself off to the side, as the ultimate observer. Later, after you wrote the story – your story about their story – the reaction was never predictable. Sometimes you ended up friends; sometimes you never heard another word; every once in a while, you were threatened with a lawsuit. Perhaps this was my unconscious hedge with Ambrosio, then: If I wasn't a journalist, he wouldn't have to be my subject – that is, we’d never have to be anything but friends. If I wanted to be in his world, then I wouldn't have to stop and observe. I could just live it.”

In The Telling Room there was a fascinating and recurring thread about ideals and actuality. While the events and betrayals discussed throughout the book may well have been different than portrayed by Molinos, the ideals he espoused and friendship with Paterniti certainly felt real. Towards the end of the book, a shift occurs where Paterniti certainly doesn't betray this friendship with Molinos, but rather moves from simply being a part of his stories to a chronicler of them, albeit one who has created stories of his own as a writer who along with his family connected with Molinos and his narratives.

One quote that was included in a book footnote (of which there are many, just as in the Castilian way of storytelling) was taken from the Miguel de Cervantes book Don Quixote, “It is one thing to write as a poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth.” Closely related to this idea of Paterniti morphing from being part of the poetry of the story to more of a historian of it was the author writing “This, I now realized, was about me, my version, wasn't it – and why I’d thrown over everything for it. No, this wasn't Ambrosio’s book after all. It was mine.”

The phrase that came to mind while reading of Paterniti’s attempt at a more dispassionate retelling of the life of his friend Molinos was one from Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, with “warts and all” was the way to tell his story fully. Again, in no way betraying either Molinos the man or way of his life that Paterniti had grown so fond of, but rather as the author wrote “this is what I’d come to do, tell a story. And if this was the cost, perhaps I’d be forgiven, if not by Guzman, then by myself.”

Out of all this, Paterniti finished with a compelling book that covered a huge amount of ground (again, similar to Castilian storytelling) and likely would be enjoyed by anyone appreciating either writing about writing or simply an epic tale.

Great newspaper writing - from the Tampa Bay Times, New York Times & San Francisco Chronicle

There's been a number of newspaper stories I've seen recently that struck me as outstanding works to note here, with two of them from the New York Times, two from the Tampa Bay Times (including a three-part series) and one from the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Times pieces were both short ones with "Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer" by Eric Weiner from March 2012 and "A Sea Change for the America’s Cup" by Warren St. John published last week. The story by Weiner was a lovely one that brought to mind his 2011 book Man Seeks God and about the idea of "thin places", those spots (sometimes sacred or otherwise religious, sometimes not) in the world that as Weiner writes "transform us - or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves." The piece by St. John may not have been as profound, but was an interesting one in part because of the author himself. After reading his 2004 book Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer on time traveling with Alabama football fans, I was happy to see his byline in the story, as well as learn about his Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town, published in 2009.

The features for the Tampa Bay Times included three from December 2012 that fell under the series title "Never Let Go". Written by Kelley Benham, the pieces are about the premature birth of her daughter and riveting work on the medical choices and struggles for all involved when a child born four months early. With a decidedly different flavor, the other Tampa Bay Times piece to note here was by Lane DeGregory in July of this year. "At 99, a St. Petersburg man finds meaning in the working life" was about Newton Murray and a piece to make one feel good about both Murray and the Bama Sea Products company he works for.

Finally, also from July of this year and posted to one of the San Francisco Chronicle's blogs was "Man acquitted in romantic bear-spray squabble". Written by Will Kane, it's a short, rollicking and immensely entertaining read that begins with "A San Francisco man was acquitted Thursday of breaking into his ex-fiancée’s house and assaulting her new lover before getting sprayed with bear mace by a shirtless neighbor."

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Businessweek features - by Featherstone, Faris, Greenfeld & Vance

Four different Businessweek features that struck me as particularly interesting over the past few weeks were on nuclear cleanup, unemployment in Greece, that well-know electric car maker and a new 24-hour sports channel.

Most recent piece was from the Aug 5-11 issue with "The Plutonium Gang: CH2M Hill Dismantles the Hanford Nuclear Site" by Steve Featherstone. One great detail from Featherstone about this dangerous task was the $33,000 per day cost of protective gear for cleanup workers at the Plutonium Finishing Plant and the story made it feel fortunate there hasn't been a larger nuclear disaster (planned or unplanned) than we've seen.

Another great BW feature that dealt with potential calamity of a different sort was the cover story from the July 29-Aug 4 edition. "Greece's Unemployed Young: A Great Depression Steals the Nation's Future" was written by Stephan Faris and brought to mind his earlier this year piece "Screwed in Cyrus". The detail that stood out the most from this recent story was Faris noting youth unemployment rates (fairly certain the criteria for inclusion is ages 18-25) as above 35% in Italy and Portugal and above 50% in Spain and Greece. These statistics somewhat mind-blowing and scary, especially in conjunction with the xenophobia (that's at least partially related to economic hardship) I've been reading about in various parts of Europe.

The last two Businessweek features to note here both came from the July 22-Aug 8 issue and were on decidedly less serious subjects. "Fox Sports 1's Strategy vs. ESPN: 'Jockularity'" was written by Karl Taro Greenfeld about the Fox Sports cable channel debuting August 17th and "Why Everybody Loves Tesla" was the cover story by Ashlee Vance. Interesting content in both features and related to the Tesla piece was a two-minute video shot inside the Tesla factory in Fremont, CA.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Interesting Fast Company writing - with features by Jon Gertner & Charles Fishman

There's been a few different pieces from Fast Company recently that struck me as particularly noteworthy with two from the magazine and two the website.

The June issue of Fast Company featured the "100 Most Creative People in Business" and the people and write-ups I found to be most interesting were Carl June at #11, Scott Harrison at #10 and Nate Silver at #1. The pieces on June and Harrison were both very short, but on two people doing important work. Harrison is founder of the highly regarded Charity: Water and June an immunologist working on cancer treatments and who was featured in "Has Carl June Found a Key to Fighting Cancer?" by Jason Fagone for the August issue of Philadelphia Magazine.

The write-up of Silver as the founder of the (moving from the New York Times to ESPN) website FiveThirtyEight was a fairly lengthy feature by Jon Gertner and included some excellent material. Gertner made multiple references to the two concepts in the title of Silver's recent book The Signal and the Noise (which I reviewed last December), with the signal being actual valuable information and  the noise everything else. I also found interesting Gertner's note that "Silver enjoys capitalizing anytime he thinks someone is making a decision for the wrong reasons" and it reminded me of a blog post I wrote last year that got into stock valuations and how skewed or ethereal they can be, with Facebook's stock an example of that (just as Silver noted). The final thing that struck me from the Gertner piece on Silver was a fairly lengthy portion about how data analysis (often known as big data) has potential applications for public good, with specific mention of the areas of education and medicine. Noted in the piece were Rayid Ghani who was the chief scientist of the 2012 Obama campaign and Jake Porway who founded Datakind, a non-profit with the Twitter description "Connecting non-profits in need of data analysis with pro bono data scientists who can work to help them with data collection, analysis, visualization, and more."

Another Fast Company Magazine piece I found excellent lately was "The Road to Resilience: How Unscientific Innovation Saved Marlin Steel" from the July/August issue. The feature was written by Charles Fishman, whose writing I've posted on a few times on all the way back to "Message in a Bottle", his 2007 Fast Company feature on the bottled water industry. This latest piece by Fishman profiled a company that used to solely make bagel baskets and has grown tremendously with now the large majority of products being much more expensive baskets for industrial and manufacturing environments. Noted in the piece was an interesting quote from owner Drew Greenblatt with "What I realized is that the customers who are a pain in the neck are really the great customers."

The final interesting Fast Company pieces to note here were two shorts ones posted to the website. "How Vice Hacked Google Glass to Tell Crisis Stories" was by Neal Ungerleider about journalist Tim Pool and his on the job usage of Google glasses. Also was the Sarah Kessler piece "Pixar's John Lasseter on Steve Jobs, Creativity, and Disney Infinity" leading into the launch of a Disney game offering. In terms of Lasseter as a subject, it brought to mind the profile "Father of the Year" on him by Tom Junod for Esquire.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Outdoor adventure writing - by Chivers, Broyles & Rose

Three pieces of excellent outdoor-related writing to note here included two works from Outside Magazine and one from Field & Stream.

From the June issue of Outside was an essay by William Broyles titled "My son and the bear". Broyles is a noted author and screenwriter and his essay was about fathers and sons, hiking in the woods, and memories of dangerous times fighting in Vietnam. The writing is riveting and with an additional part of the story of course being about... a bear, the story reminded me of a great short piece "Pain" that C.J. Chivers (more on him later in this post) wrote for Field & Stream on a Grizzly Bear attack.

The second piece from Outside to mention here was "Escaping the recession by boat" from Sarah Rose. Written for the August issue of Outside, the story from Rose is about three 20-somethings sailing the Pacific. It's an interesting and well done article on Nick and Alex Kleeman and their friend Dave Green in an adventure based not necessarily in foolhardiness, but at least relative inexperience and enthusiasm. In addition to the piece itself, I found myself interested in the "Between the Lines" page at the beginning of the issue where Rose briefly detailed her time in the South Pacific reporting the story. Waiting for four days, sleeping in coffin-like quarters, suffering from seasickness and food poisoning... sounds like quite the glamorous time she had.

The other outdoor piece I found of note was by the aforementioned C.J. Chivers with "Powerless at Sea: How a Spare Fuse Became a Lifesaver" for the July issue of Field & Stream. This story of time fishing with his family is a sort of follow up to his piece "Operation Thresher: Fishing for Monster Sharks off The Shores of Rhode Island" and writing from Chivers strikes me as just so authentic with his experience as a Marine Captain and conflict reporter as well as outdoorsman.