Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My new book - Business Writing to Remember

This blog has always served dual purposes through the time I've written it, to be both a compilation of links to great writing and body of work with my grouping together the links under subjects, summarizing them and noting why particular pieces of writing so good and resonated with me. The books I've written from the blog, with my prior one detailed in this post, have been a continuation of this body of work idea, with my wanting to put a bit more permanence behind the effort in the form of you know... books.

To that same end, I've compiled another book with Business Writing to Remember, something that pulls out the very best of the business writing I've read and posted on while writing this this blog, with the further inclusion criteria that the pieces still timely even if aged a bit and currently available for reading without a subscription. The book is currently available as a Kindle eBook through Amazon and as a download through Scribd and as I started compiling it by looking back at past stories read, linked to and written about, categories of business writing began to emerge and are separated out in Business Writing to Remember:

Business segments - best pieces on each:
Health care
Venture capital
Manufacturing & resource utilization
Power generation & management

Companies - best pieces on each:
Tesla Motors

Companies - single best piece on each:

My reviews of great business books

There’s been a lot of reading done to suss out the writing found to be interesting enough (usually a combination of great writing on a fascinating topic) to include in the blog and I've enjoyed the process of the reading, then writing on and making connections between the various pieces. Hopefully the result of the effort is something with a bit of permanence (there's that word I love to use in relation to writing), both in the form of links to great business writing by others and my own body of work about the writing.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was an amazing biography of sorts from the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama and professor at NYU Law School. Stevenson has argued multiple times before the Supreme Court and won the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and his work initially focused on representing death row prisoners and since has included the cause of helping youth imprisoned as adults and serving life sentences.

Stevenson in 1983 was a Harvard Law student working in Georgia on an internship and he notes in the book visiting a death row inmate and how many of those on death row didn't have anyone that would represent them in appeals, and in some cases they wound up there after convictions that included uninterested defense council. In 1989, Stevenson opened a law center dedicated to providing free legal service to those on death row in Alabama and a quote of his at the end of the introduction was "the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."

Much of the story is around the case of Walter McMillian, a black man in Alabama sent to death row after being convicted of the 1986 murder of an 18 year old woman, even though he was at a family gathering of dozens during the time of the murder. McMillian was arrested based on the testimony of someone implicated in another murder and who agreed to testify against McMillian in exchange for a reduced sentence. When that person recanted his story prior to trial, he was sent to death row, again, prior to any conviction, and then moved back to a more standard prison once he again agreed to testify against McMillian. Stevenson began representing McMillian after his conviction and sentence of death and the first effort Stevenson made to get him freed came when someone came forward with evidence that made the states corroborating accomplice witness testimony impossible, and that person was immediately arrested for perjury in an attempt to intimidate them. Eventually, McMillian was completely exonerated in 1993, five years after being sentenced to die in prison.

Stevenson later in the book wrote of death sentences being handed down to the mentally ill and mothers wrongly convicted of murder after having a stillborn baby, along with children being tried as adults and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Covered towards the end was how Stevenson argued before the Supreme Court on this question of children serving life sentences, especially as a result of crimes committed at 13-14 years old or non-homicide crimes, and in May 2010 the Court ruled that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children convicted of non-homicide crimes is cruel and unusual and not permitted.

It was a well-written book from Stevenson and really a sobering read on cases of extremely unjust punishment.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Declara & Tankchair

With this the final post I've got planned around my favorite business writing linked to so far, organized by category into various posts with the last on great writing about security, I wanted to cover a bit of a grab bag of great writing I've seen on fascinating companies that I haven't written about yet as part of this project... Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Declara and Tankchair (absolutely worth reading the piece to learn about the company):

"The Incredible Stair-Climbing, Self-Parking, Amphibious Wheelchair" by Joshua Green for Businessweek in June 2014 – on the company Tankchair LLC. Really a great story about Brad Soden and the company that came out of his desire to improve quality of life for his paralyzed wife and now helps many seriously injured veterans.

"The Hidden Technology That Makes Twitter Huge" by Paul Ford for Businessweek in Nov 2013 – on the amount of detail that each and every tweet contains, and how that detail can then be sliced, diced, categorized and segmented.

"Declara Co-Founder Ramona Pierson's Comeback Odyssey" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2013 – on an absolutely remarkable person and as Vance wrote, Pierson out of college was in the U.S. Marines (who paid for her final years at U.C. Berkeley) and "worked with algorithms to help calculate the position of Russia’s nuclear silos and guide F-18 fighter missions" until she in 1984 was hit by a drunk driver and spent 18 months in a coma. About this cataclysmic injury, Vance wrote "Passersby saved her life. One massaged her heart to keep it beating; another used pens to open her windpipe and vent her collapsed lung so she could breathe. The crude handiwork kept Pierson alive long enough to get her to a hospital." Next in the story Vance wrote of Pierson's rehabilitation, including the equally fascinating time she spent in a senior citizens center with the residents helping her get better. Vance then covered how Pierson became an accomplished blind rock climber, cross-country skier, and cyclist. Additionally, she after leaving the senior citizens center studied psychology and received a master’s degree in education and then PhD in neuroscience. In terms of her Pierson's work efforts, Vance covered in the piece how she served as CTO of Seattle public schools and developed database software around the students and their learning. Still utilized today, this software led Pierson to forming and then selling the educational company SynapticMash prior to starting last year in Palo Alto, CA her current company, Declara. Geared towards both education and businesses, Vance notes how Declara "a type of social network that links everyone in a company or an organization. With the help of algorithms developed by Pierson and others, Declara’s system learns how people interact, what types of questions they’re looking to answer, and who can best answer them." 

"Netflix, Reed Hastings Survive Missteps to Join Silicon Valley's Elite" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in May 2013 – a 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." 

"Facebook: The Making of 1 Billion Users" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Oct 2012 – on engineering at the company and how it basically launches a new site version with tweaks each and every day.

Favorite business writing linked to - on security

While the last few posts to my series of favorite business writing I've seen have been on technology companies (with the most recent about great writing on Apple), this post on the subject of security, both cyber and physical security, hearkens back to those I wrote a few weeks ago with links grouped under the subjects of writing on health care, venture capital, manufacturing and/or resource utilization & power generation and management:

"Now at the Sands Casino: An Iranian Hacker in Every Server" by Ben Elgin and Michael Riley for Businessweek in Dec 2014 – on an almost certainly government sponsored cyber-attack on the casinos of vocal Israeli supporter and Iranian critic Sheldon Adelson.

"This Stealth Attack Boat May Be Too Innovative for the Pentagon" by Caroline Winter for Businessweek in Aug 2014 – on entrepreneur Gregory Sancoff and his company Juliet Marine, maker of the invisible to radar small winged boat, Ghost.

"How Russian Hackers Stole the Nasdaq" by Michael Riley for Businessweek in July 2014 – on what appears to be a government-sponsored break-in to NASDAQ, done for reasons unknown.

"Somali Pirates' Rich Returns" by Robert Young Pelton for Businessweek in May 2011 – 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, an excellent book that I read years ago.

"Hacker vs. Hacker" by Brad Stone and Michael Riley for Businessweek in Mar 2011 – about the shenanigans at and against a top exec of Computing Security firm HBGary Federal. The hubris of this guy Aaron Barr is pretty remarkable, just as is the zeal on the part of the Anonymous hackers taking him down piece by piece. Quite the entertaining read.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Apple

Following up on my most recent post in my "favorite business writing" series, that one about writing on Amazon, below are the best pieces of writing I've come across in recent years (and can be read without a subscription) about Apple:

"Tim Cook Speaks Up" by Tim Cook for Businessweek in Oct 2014.

"Tim Cook Interview: The iPhone 6, the Apple Watch, and Remaking a Company's Culture" by Brad Stone and Adam Satariano for Businessweek in Sept 2014.

"As Software and Hardware Advance Together, the Next Innovation Wave Rises" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2014 – on the great advantage held by companies like Apple, Tesla Motors and Nest (now part of Google).

"Runner-Up: Tim Cook, the Technologist" by Lev Grossman for Time Magazine in Dec 2012 – from the Person of the Year edition of Time and on the Apple CEO. While the entire piece an interesting one, what stood out to me was mention of the hours put into his job. Remarkable anecdote from Grossman on Cook with "He wakes up at 3:45 every morning (‘Yes, every morning’), does e-mail for an hour, stealing a march on those lazy East Coasters three time zones ahead of him, then goes to the gym, then Starbucks (for more e-mail), then work."

"iPad: The PC Killer" by Peter Burrows and Jim Aley for Businessweek in Mar 2012 – covers Apple's dominance with the iPad and Burrows and Aley offered up some ideas that seem to make a lot of sense... with the first two being around why the iPad has done so well and third around business conditions it created. In terms of product success, the authors note both how Apple able to take a longer view approach to a market given fewer product offerings and that the iPad helped by being a follow-on product to the iPhone (a positive both in terms of consumer familiarity with the concept and Apple utilization of the iOS software and App Store). Most interesting to me from the piece was the idea put forth by Burrows and Aley that the iPad so dominates the market that competitors can't expect to simply offer up a comparable alternative and expect it to sell. If a product offering in the same pricing or performance ballpark as the iPad, customers will simply pick what they already know to be good. There is still success that can be had by other companies, but it either through breakthrough competing technology (which nobody has brought yet) or slicing off a piece of the market and going after that.

"Apple's Supply-Chain Secret? Hoard Lasers" by Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows for Businessweek in Nov 2011 – on Apple combining great consumer experience with supply-chain competitive advantage.

"Apple, with or Without Steve Jobs" by Brad Stone and Peter Burrows for Businessweek Jan 2011.

"Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere" by Farhad Manjoo for Fast Company in July 2010 – lots of interesting things in list format from the company Manjoo notes as being now the largest technology company in the world.

"Commencement Address to Stanford University" by Steve Jobs in June 2005.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Amazon (including Zappos)

With my having done half a dozen posts over the past few weeks on favorite business writing I've linked to, with each post containing links grouped under the subjects of writing on health care, venture capitalmanufacturing and/or resource utilizationpower generation and managementTesla Motors / electric carsGoogle (including Nest), this post is on great writing come across about another influential company in Amazon (including Zappos, which Amazon acquired in 2009):

"The Everything Book: Reading in the Age of Amazon" by Casey Newton for The Verge in Dec 2014 – on the company, it’s Lab126 in Northern California, the Kindle and Amazon’s influence on reading and books. Really a fascinating story that echoed points from the 2013 Brad Stone book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, in particular that Amazon still begins meetings by having someone read a six-page narrative of what the meeting to discuss. Just such an interesting concept utilized at Amazon.

"Amazon's Drone Fleet Delivers What Bezos Wants: An Image of Ingenuity" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Dec 2013.

"The Secrets of Bezos: How Amazon Became the Everything Store" by Brad Stone by Businessweek in Oct 2013 – excerpted from his book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

"Amazonfresh is Jeff Bezos' Last Mile Quest for Total Retail Domination" by J.J. McCorvey for Fast Company in Aug 2013 – on the company and its efforts around the connected areas of same-day delivery and groceries. As McCorvey wrote in the piece, "it's the so-called last-mile problem--you can ship trucks' worth of packages from a warehouse easily enough, but getting an individual package to wind its way through a single neighborhood and arrive at a single consumer's door isn't easy. The volume of freight and frequency of delivery must outweigh the costs of fuel and time, or else this last mile is wildly expensive." Amazon has already been moving forward in this effort, with huge investments in warehouses (and willingness to no longer fight state sales taxes that typically get incurred with warehouse presence a state) as well as local delivery options that complete with existing carriers. As I read the piece by McCorvey, it looks as if Amazon building a hyper-efficient network around fulfillment of goods, just as they built networks around the cloud and running the websites of other companies with Amazon Web Services and networks around self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing.

"Why the Amazon Naysayers Should Be Scared" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Apr 2012 – looks at the recent excellent financial results from the retailer, with improving margins while at the same time making large investments in infrastructure (facilities and people). Pretty interesting stuff from Stone that also makes reference to Amazon focusing efforts on publishing and the Kindle with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently saying that "16 of our top 100 bestselling titles are exclusive to our store."

"Amazon vs. Publishers: The Book Battle Continues" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Apr 2012 – on Amazon wanting to move towards print-on-demand publishing and the traditional publishing houses fighting them.

"Las Vegas: Startup City" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Feb 2012 – on Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and his backing of development efforts in the area around headquarters for the Amazon division. It’s an interesting look at personal for-profit efforts that also have an altruistic bent.

"Amazon's Hit Man" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Jan 2012 – details the new in-house publishing imprint at the web retail giant, with the concept having Amazon hold tighter control over book pricing and distribution by cutting out traditional publishing houses and signing agreements with the authors themselves. It’s an interesting approach led within Amazon by Larry Kirshbaum, the former head of Time Warner Book Group and has already resulted in agreements with Tim Ferriss, James Franco and Penny Marshall.

"Amazon, the Company That Ate the World" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in Sept 2011 – on the company's tablet entry, the Kindle Fire. The company as a whole has done a lot right over the years and early indications are that they've created a compelling offering.

"Why I Sold Zappos" by Tony Hsieh for Inc. in June 2010 – excerpted from his book Delivering Happiness and contains some fascinating info about the requirements of investors. This idea of running a company for shareholders brought to mind two different posts that I wrote which were less about stories I came across and more about my views, one I wrote in 2010 about running a public company (and which links to this piece by Hsieh) and one I wrote in 2012 about stock valuation.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on Google (including Nest)

With the last post made in this series on my favorite business writing linked to having been on Tesla Motors, below is a listing of my favorite business writing come across about another hugely influential company, Google, with several of the stories on the company Nest, which Google acquired in Jan 2014:

"Google's Larry Page: The Most Ambitious CEO in the Universe" by Miguel Helft for Fortune in Nov 2014.

"The $3.2 Billion Man: Can Google's Newest Star Outsmart Apple?" by Austin Carr for Fast Company in Sept 2014 – on Tony Fadell and the company Nest.

"As Software and Hardware Advance Together, the Next Innovation Wave Rises" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2014 – on the great advantage held by companies like Apple, Tesla Motors and Nest (now part of Google).

"The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind the Secretive Lab's Closed Doors" by Jon Gertner for Fast Company in Apr 2014.

"Google: The Celebrity Profile" by Tom Junod for Esquire in Sept 2013 – on the company, its power, and the potential for abuse of that power. Junod also wrote in the piece about Google X and offerings like Google Glass and not current, but also not out of the question, things like storing of biological data.

"Inside Google's Secret Lab" by Brad Stone for Businessweek in May 2013. 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."

"Tony Fadell’s Newest Invention is the iPod of Thermostats" for Fast Company in Nov 2011 – on a fascinating product designed with user experience in mind from former Apple exec Tony Fadell.

"And Google Begat..." by Kimberly Weisul and Spencer E. Ante for Businessweek in Feb 2010 – on the angel investing done by current and former Google employees. Pretty interesting stuff about the next generation impact Google wealth is having by helping fund tech startups such as Twitter, Tesla Motors and a host of smaller unknown (but, probably not always) ventures.

Favorite business writing linked to - on Tesla Motors / electric cars

With the last post made in this series on my favorite business writing linked to having been on solid writing about power generation and management, it's a natural segue to now write on my favorite business writing come across about Tesla Motors and electric cars:

“Tesla’s Electric Man” for The Economist in Dec 2014 – an interesting piece I hadn't previously written about on production of battery packs at the forthcoming Reno gigafactory along with corresponding technological improvements in energy storage. Really interesting piece that features the following from Tesla Motors co-founder and CTO JB Straubel, “I see us more as an energy-innovation company. If we can reduce energy-storage prices, it’s the most important thing we can do to make electric vehicles more prevalent. Add in renewable power and I have a direct line of sight towards an entire economy that doesn't need fossil fuels and doesn't need to pay more to do it.” Reference is also made in the story to home energy storage options from the company SolarCity and information from the piece is echoed in and reinforced by the Dec 2014 Bloomberg story “Why Elon Musk's Batteries Scare the Hell Out of the Electric Company,” which notes how the gigafactory along with batteries for Tesla cars will “also churn out stationary battery packs that can be paired with rooftop solar panels to store power.”

"Inside Elon Musk's $1.4 Billion Score" by Peter Elkind for Fortune in Nov 2014 – on how Tesla Motors went about deciding on Reno as the location for the forthcoming electric car battery gigafactory.

"Tesla Grabs a New (Old) Spokesman From Square" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Nov 2014 – on Ricardo Reyes returning to head Communications at Tesla. The background that Reyes has is fascinating, particularly in relation to the idea of narrative and storytelling within business communication.

"As Software and Hardware Advance Together, the Next Innovation Wave Rises" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2014 – on the great advantage held by companies like Apple, Tesla Motors and Nest (now part of Google).

"Why Everybody Loves Tesla" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in July 2013.

"Triumph of His Will" by Tom Junod for Esquire in Nov 2012 – on Elon Must and really well done writing about a fascinating individual. Junod starts off the profile with a great hook alluding to Musk's audaciousness and then in the piece shows his drive in looking forward, and often past what others want from him, and having a remarkable willingness to place huge bets.

"Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Sept 2012.

"Why Tesla Motors Is Betting On The Model S" by Jon Gertner for Fast Company in Mar 2012 – on the much anticipated and planned for July 2012 launch of its sedan. Tesla’s CEO Musk is a fascinating guy and the thing that stood out from this piece was his mention of needing iterations (three progressive car models) to reach his ultimate goal of a low priced mass market vehicle. This translates to the Model S sedan as the mid-point between the high priced roadster and the planned for the future third model.

"Electric Cars Get Charged for Battle" by Eric Pooley for Businessweek Dec 2010 – focuses on entries to the field from Nissan and General Motors. The Leaf from Nissan has a higher green credential being all electric, but the electric/gasoline hybrid Volt from GM follows in the already proven to be successful footprints of the Toyota Prius. Reading the piece, it seemed to me that Nissan will have a tougher road to success (pardon the pun) with its higher reliance on the availability of public charging stations. Even if the places to charge are available, consumers have to feel comfortable enough that they won't get stuck or the car purchase will never happen.

Favorite business writing linked to - on power generation and management

As the follow-on to my prior post "Favorite business writing linked to - on manufacturing and/or resource utilization," which had preceding posts on favorite business writing linked to about other topics, below are the stories that struck me over the past few years (and are available for reading without subscription) on power generation and management:

"Meet the Radical Berkeley Artist Whose Company is Turning Trash into Electricity" by Josh Dean for Fast Company in Mar 2014 – on Jim Mason whose company All Power Labs makes the Power Pallet that works through a process called gasification.

"Why the U.S. Power Grid's Days Are Numbered" by Chris Martin, Mark Chediak, and Ken Wells for Businessweek in Aug 2013 – on the increased usage by individuals and companies of power generated outside the grid. This usage of power is known as distributed generation and most commonly includes solar and wind power. Also cited in the piece is how one of the technological advances moving forward distributed generation is an advance in microgrids, the systems that enable switching between different power sources, both generated within and outside the utility company run grid.

"The Plutonium Gang: CH2M Hill Dismantles the Hanford Nuclear Site" by Steve Featherstone for Businessweek in Aug 2013. One really interesting 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 (accidental or intentional) than we've seen.

"Beyond the Grid" by Anya Kamenetz for Fast Company in Jul 2009 – looks in great detail at the concept of small-scale household or business power generation and its potential. Not surprisingly, this idea of a "micro-grid" is being fought by large power utilities looking to prevent competition by either installing and controlling it themselves or by simply making it go away.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on manufacturing and/or resource utilization

As part of the aggregation project I've been working on around my favorite and most impactful business writing, including past posts done in the areas of writing about health care and writing about venture capital, below are the stories that struck me (and are available for reading without subscription) on manufacturing and/or resource utilization:

"Materials That Will Change the World: Graphene" by Peter Diamandis for Medium in Oct 2014 – Diamandis is founder of the X Prize awarded for private spacecraft development and author of the book Abundance: The Future is Brighter Than You Think. In this story, he did a fascinating piece on Graphene as a material noted as having potential applications in the many areas of energy storage, flexible screens, desalinization and filtration of water, medical applications and sensors, photovoltaics and solar cells, computing and electronics and material composites.

"The Road to Resilience: How Unscientific Innovation Saved Marlin Steel" by Charles Fishman for Fast Company in June 2013 – on 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."

"Is Origami the Future of Tech?" by Drake Bennett for Businessweek in May 2012 – on the topic of DNA fold origami manufacturing. It's an amazing idea that departs completely from manufacturing paradigms based on sculpture (take a block and chisel away what's not needed) or piece-together assembly. Instead, Bennett describes a process of manufacturing for objects (both large and nano-sized) based at least in part on the work of mathematician and computer scientist Erik Demaine. "Fold-and-cut allowed you to make any shape in the world, any collection of shapes, even, as long as they had straight sides. One could, in an angular font, create the entire text of this page with the right folds and the right cut. In a paper published two years later, Demaine expanded on this idea, extending it into three dimensions: Any faceted solid, he showed, no matter how complex or irregular, could be folded from a single uncut sheet of paper. Start with a piece of paper big enough, and you could model Notre Dame down to the last gargoyle." The idea seems outlandish, but is actually based on objects in the natural world like flowers or snowflakes (with the idea of folding illustrated by paper snowflakes usually made in school). It was a remarkable concept that seems to me likely the type of innovation Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Perlman had in mind when he said the following from an April 2011 Businessweek story "Facebook is not the kind of technology that will stop us from having dropped cell phone calls, and neither is Groupon or any of these advertising things," he says. "We need them. O.K., great. But they are building on top of old technology, and at some point you exhaust the fuel of the underpinnings." It's not to find fault with communication platforms like Facebook or Twitter, but rather to highlight this case of what could be real true breakthrough innovation in the field of manufacturing.

"TechShop: Paradise for Tinkerers" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in May 2012 – on the facility chain where members have access to expensive equipment to build things from plastic, wood, metal or other materials for a $100/month membership cost.

"MakerBot's 3-D Printers Let Consumers Dream up Prototypes of Pretty Much Anything. But Do We Need More Plastic?" by Rob Walker for Fast Company in Jan 2012.

"Alaska’s Billion Dollar Mountain" by Daniel Grushkin for Businessweek in Oct 2011 – on entrepreneur Jim McKenzie and his mining company, UCore. Focus is on Bokan Mountain near Ketchikan, Alaska and the large support of valuable rare earth metals held deep underground. It's an interesting story in the efforts of McKenzie to gain mining access and in how the land reached its current valuation. Previous attempts to mine Bokan were unsuccessful at trying to find and extract uranium and this is exactly what McKenzie was initially interested in and hoping to convince the old prospector (Bob Dotson) who owned the mineral rights to allow him access to. Through spending time with Dotson, McKenzie learned of the rare earth metal potential in the mine and then brokered a deal with Dotson and his estranged children (to whom who he had granted shared rights) to be able to mine Bokan. In 2010, China as the world's largest producer of rare earth metals then made the decision to dramatically cut its exports of these minerals (that go into complicated electronics, jet engines and missiles) and as a result made prices skyrocket and dramatically increased the value of Bokan. It still remains to be seen whether the cost of deep underground extraction will make the investment pay off, but the potential is very much there.

"The Siberian Energy Rush" by Joshua Hammer for Fast Company in Nov 2010 – about Russia pushing natural gas exploration further and further into the Arctic Circle. Written by Joshua Hammer it's a pretty amazing look at a country staking a claim to new territory.

"I Have Just One Word for You: Bioplastics" by Mar Der Hovanesian for Businessweek in Aug 2008 – on biodegradable plastics and the biotech company Metabolix.

"China Invades Africa" by Richard Behar for Fast Company in June 2008 – a special report on the ongoing private / public efforts of China to stake claim to needed resources that are and will be taken out of the continent of Africa.

Favorite business writing linked to - on venture capital

I made reference to the concept in a post just done on great business-related health care writing and the second category of great business writing I've come across and posted on in the past is venture capital... with the following being those stories (or in one case my notes on a video interview) that struck me as excellent:

"The Zen Master of Silicon Valley Chatter" by Max Chafkin for Fast Company in Jan 2013 – on Kevin Rose, the Digg founder and now internet investor as part of Google Ventures.

"Social+Capital, the League of Extraordinarily Rich Gentlemen" by Drake Bennett for Businessweek in July 2012 – profiles the Venture Capital Fund led by former Facebook employee Chamath Palihapitiya and backed in part by Silicon Valley heavyweights Kevin Rose and Peter Thiel. Solid piece on an interesting fund build on the idea of backing companies trying to accomplishing something good.

"8 Visionaries on How They Spot the Future" by Joanna Pearlstein for Wired in Apr 2012 – written as a wisdom compilation story and the following are the people and their insights that struck me the most. Paul Saffo (Technology Forecaster) - looks for things that seem out of place as an indicator of events to come. Chris Sacca (Venture Capital investor) - you don't need to be a seer, prophet, soothsayer, diviner, or clairvoyant to spot and potentially invest in the companies that could be poised for success. Barriers to entry are low enough in many technology realms that evaluation decisions can be made based on the actual product or service experience (or at least an early stage iteration of it).

"How to Get Started as a Business Leader" by Mitch Joel for the Twist Image blog in Feb 2012 – contains an embedded video interview with investor Chris Sacca, head of the venture capital fund Lowercase Capital. I first heard of Sacca from a Feb 2010 Businessweek piece "And Google Begat..." on investing by Google alums and have since come across a number of interesting things noted and linked to by Sacca on his Twitter feed. The recent interview, though, particularly stood out as it's an hour-long conversation between Sacca and Kevin Rose (who founded Digg and hosts for another of his companies, Revision3, an interview series with business leaders). The interview with Sacca has a short introduction by Twist Image President Mitch Joel and my notes (which of course may differ from what someone else gleams) from the actual Rose-Sacca interview are as follows.


Sacca went to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown and then started down the road of graduate school. However, rather than completing grad school at the time, he received the school loan checks and used the money to start a business with the intention of aggregating class action lawsuit information. The business didn’t do much, but the story probably serves as an early indicator of his entrepreneurial bent. He then began day trading online and during this heyday period went to being up $12M, but then found himself down $4M in the market crash around 2000. With this roller coaster ride in his background, he proceeded to get his law degree and came to Silicon Valley. While having a day job as a lawyer, Sacca did lots of outside of work business hustling and attended all the networking events and worked hard to build a network. He was at the law firm for 13 months before getting laid off and then created a company that didn’t do a heck of a lot, but having that company helped him land a job at Spedera and from there got hired into Google. Sacca was brought into Google to buy data centers for server housing and negotiated with local officials on the space Google was looking to take. This role was part of the core engineering function at the company and exposed him to some of the brilliant people working there. He then became Head of Special Projects and worked on initiatives such as free WIFI for Mountain View and the $4.7B bid by Google for wireless spectrum. Sacca came to Google too late to get insanely wealthy, but did do well enough to pay off his day trading debt and return to even by Feb 2005. He then saw Google becoming more territorial and a harder place to get into new areas so left the company in 2007.

Twitter investment

He then started writing small angel investor checks to startups with Photobucket his first investment and Twitter his second. This initial investment in Twitter was done with founder Evan Williams while Sacca still at Google and his relationships there run deep and included other key leaders Jack Dorsey and Dick Costello. While out on his own after Google, Sacca started accumulating additional stake in Twitter (speculated, but not confirmed to now be around 10% of the company). This obviously makes the guy look brilliant in hindsight, but the important thing is the reasons Sacca notes for believing in Twitter as a business. Along with his firm belief in the brilliance of Evan Williams is the appreciation of how things there monetize with ads able to be sold based on actual math and ad conversion rates rather than conjecture of what the ad buy is worth. Additional value offerings noted were the component of mobile that Twitter provides and ability to work within Social Networks and promoted tweets / promoted trends.

Other investments

Sacca put together his Lowercase Capital LLC fund and other investments have included FanBridge (which he found from sending out a tweet asking about entrepreneurs working late on a Friday night), Instagram, turntable and Kickstarter. He notes doing less startup investing now due to the high valuations and focuses on companies and areas where he can be helpful. It’s also noted that VC investing not an exact science and there being a number of now successful companies that he could have invested in, but didn’t due to a lack of familiarity with the space in which they operated. Also brought up in the interview is how VCs make their money when they reinvest in companies already involved with.


Sacca describes himself as someone who grew up tenacious and determined, but along with that notes the import of building yourself through being helpful to others. To this point, he brings up that you often don't know where you're going to be able to contribute the most until you get in there doing things. The phrase used by Sacca was “create value before you ask for value back” and at this point, his interviewer, Kevin Rose, related his own story of wanting into Square so producing a demo video of how the product works and Sacca told of Ryan Graves, current GM at Uber who hustled and demonstrated helpfulness to get himself into foursquare. In terms of people he looks to work with, these ideas of contribution and hustling definitely come up as valued traits. Additionally, Sacca extols the idea of people who have had crappy jobs they had to grind at as well as those who are rounded enough that they have things outside of work. This last point being about working with people that he wants to spend time around as well as invest with.

Overall, it was a terribly interesting interview with someone who seems to have combined together the elements of skill/intelligence, hard work and good fortune. I say good fortune because the concept of "in the right place at the right time" often part of many success stories... but, Sacca's story from the interview shows effort getting him to the places where good decisions and solid work would pay off. In short, you gotta make your own luck.

"The Logged Out User (continued)" by Fred Wilson for his venture capital focused site AVC in Sept 2011 – on Twitter usage and how the service is used in different ways by different people, and what a great thing that is for the company.

"Ten Rules for Web Startups" from Twitter founder Evan Williams on his blog in Nov 2005. Williams’ track record is remarkable in that he co-founded both Pyra Labs (parent company that created Blogger) and Twitter. The rules as laid out in the blog post from Williams were all interesting, but what really stood out to me was number one... "Be Narrow" with the first few sentences "Focus on the smallest possible problem you could solve that would potentially be useful. Most companies start out trying to do too many things, which makes life difficult and turns you into a me-too. Focusing on a small niche has so many advantages: With much less work, you can be the best at what you do." This brought to mind the excellent Ken Jennings book Maphead, in which a collector was quoted saying "if you're going to specialize, specialize as much as possible." It's a tremendously interesting (and logical) concept that applies to map collecting, business creating and I'm sure many other ventures.

Favorite business writing linked to - on health care

One thing I've been thinking about lately in relation to my writing here has been how to best aggregate what I've written... with that output very much including the great writing from others that I've linked to. I've been happy with the consistent work I've done on this site over the past six plus years and to this point the aggregation has been in the form of books I've compiled and published via Amazon for both the Kindle and in print. Those books have been by category (business, sports, writing on writing, book reviews, etc.) and what I decided recently to take a stab at was going back through my past posts to this site and do new writing on a few particular categories of stories.

The area I've started with is business and over the past week or so I've gone through all of my business-related writing to this site and pulled out particular story links that resonated with me. In looking at the best business writing I've posted on, there's been a handful of topics I've found both to be of import as a subject and to have great writing on that subject I've written about previously. The first to post on here is health care (with at least somewhat a business-leaning angle to the story) and below are the health care stories I've seen that resonated the most with me and which are available online without a subscription:

"Illumina's new low-cost genome machine will change health care forever" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in Jan 2014 – on people gaining affordable access to information about the genetic traits that they carry.

"Patient Zero" by Tom Junod and Mark Warren for Esquire in Dec 2013 – on cancer patient Stephanie Lee and noted scientist and researcher Eric Schadt.

"States of Health" by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker in Oct 2013 – on the Affordable Care Act by the noted physician and excellent writer.

"Has Carl June Found a Key to Fighting Cancer?" by Jason Fagone for Philadelphia Magazine in July 2013.

"Is Concierge Medicine the Future of Health Care?" by Devin Leonard for Businessweek in Nov 2012 – on doctors taking on patients on a monthly fee basis rather than billing insurance carriers for exams and basic services. It’s an interesting notion with lots of different service derivations and costs ranging from extremely high to quite affordable.

"Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World" by Wil Hylton for the New York Times in May 2012.

"Adventures in Extreme Science" by Tom Junod for Esquire in Mar 2011 – on scientist Eric Schadt and his "emperor has no clothes" approach to conventional wisdom in the field of molecular biology. Schadt makes for an interesting topic with his proselytizing about the vast networks and cause-effect relationships within the body... and how that runs counter to the previous belief that things within ran independently enough that successful mapping of human DNA would start us on the road to disease cure. In terms of this new viewpoint, the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is cited as one of Schadt's early influences and which led to him breaking away from conventional belief. Junod details not just the intelligence and contrarian viewpoint of Schadt, but also his propensity to get out in front of his ideas and advocate loudly for him. Lest that statement make him appear a simple self-promoter, also noted in the profile is Schadt's collaborative approach to solving problems and curing disease... regardless of whether it's he or his company getting the credit and subsequent revenue. It was really interesting reading on Schadt and also striking to me from the piece was an anecdote about how he "likes to do his supercomputing on planes" via Amazon servers.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Well done stories of deception - by Ronson, Tower & Moore

Three really well written stories of great deception from the past month included pieces from The Guardian, GQ and the BBC.

Written for The Guardian was "The Big-Eyed Children: The Extraordinary Story of an Epic Art Fraud" by Jon Ronson on the painter Margaret Keane, who used to be held in virtual captivity by her husband with him saying he did work actually painted by her. It's a remarkable story that's been made into the upcoming feature film, Big Eyes directed by Tim Burton and starring Amy Adams as Margaret.

The GQ piece was "The Great Paper Caper" by Wells Tower on Canadian counterfeiter Frank Bourassa and the last piece to note here was for the BBC website with Melissa Moore writing "My Evil Dad: Life as a Serial Killer’s Daughter" on her life and that of her father, Keith Jesperson.

All three pieces were excellent writing and the one from Moore... just an absolutely crazy story.

Interesting business writing - on Tesla & Google related topics

Some interesting business writing I've seen lately included two large features from Fortune along with several short pieces of note published elsewhere.

The Fortune stories were "Inside Elon Musk's $1.4 Billion Score" by Peter Elkind and "Google's Larry Page: The Most Ambitious CEO in the Universe" by  Miguel Helft. Both were interesting pieces of writing with the Elkind story having the particularly intriguing tale of how Tesla Motors went about deciding on Reno as the location for the forthcoming electric car battery gigafactory.

The first of the smaller pieces to mention here was also Tesla related with Ashlee Vance for the Businessweek site last week posting "Tesla Grabs a New (Old) Spokesman From Square" about Ricardo Reyes returning to head Communications at Tesla. The background that Reyes has is fascinating, particularly in relation to the idea of narrative and storytelling within business communication.

The last two pieces to cover are very much connected to one another with Jordan Shapiro for Forbes writing "Is Everything Good About 'Minecraft' Gone?" about "active vs. passive computer time" in relation to viewing Minecraft videos on YouTube and then James Hong posting "Introducing Cakey: A better way for your kids to watch YouTube" to the site Medium.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain was a bestselling autobiography from 2000 that covered a lot of ground, including: Bourdain's path to becoming a chef and then experience in the industry, what the kitchens he worked in and the people he worked with were like, how difficult the business can be, what's required to do well and how for Bourdain and many others who succeed against long odds, it really is about the food.

There's a lot of fascinating and at times salacious stories of the restaurant business and people in it, but the chapter that resonated the most with me was on his former boss who he referred to as Bigfoot. As a manager of Bourdain and many others, he was extremely demanding and on top of all aspects of his business and in working with employees, what mattered to him was character, people showing up early, doing what they say they will and being willing to do whatever's needed. Bourdain wrote of the impression that Bigfoot and his approach made on him and wrote multiple times throughout the book of how he could train people to cook, or do any aspect of the business, so what he valued the most in employees was dependability, people who were always there, would listen and do what was asked.

All in all, it was a good book and it's understandable that Bourdain has succeeded with the work he's put in.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Writing on space travel - by Chris Jones and others

After growing tired of waiting for the print edition of Esquire to arrive in the mail, I purchased for $2.99 the story "Away" written by Chris Jones and found it to be a great piece with the below opening...

"In March, astronaut Scott Kelly will undertake the longest space mission in American history. He and a cosmonaut will begin an uninterrupted year aboard the International Space Station—a year exposed to the strange and deep effects of weightlessness, acute stress, isolation, and cosmic radiation. It is the most ambitious manned space mission in years. And it will also be the first step in a human expedition to Mars."

Reading the name Scott Kelly brought to mind a past story from Jones on an astronaut with the same last name and finding that piece gave me the thought of linking here to other great space related writing I've posted on...

- "Mark Kelly, American" by Jones for Esquire in Nov 2011... about the husband of Gibby Giffords & brother of Scott Kelly.

- "Go" by Jones for Esquire in Jan 2009... about the importance of the U.S. manned space program.

Too Far From Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space, a 2007 book by Jones... about the astronauts on the International Space Station at the time of the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, a 2013 book by Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut, known by many for his rendition of David Bowie's Space Oddity song, a video now with 24M and counting views on YouTube.

"Welcome to the Real Space Age" by Dan P. Lee for New York Magazine in May 2013... on private space travel.

"The Hardest Thing to Do in Space" by Mike Sager for Esquire in Dec 2012... on NASA Mars Curiosity rover engineer Tom Rivellini.

"Triumph of His Will" by Tom Junod for Esquire in Nov 2012... on Elon Musk, founder of Space X.

- "Astronauts Ready for Rescue Mission They Hope Never Happens" by John Zarrella for CNN in May 2009... about space shuttle Endeavour and its crew on standby during a mission of shuttle Atlantis.

Writing on actions in the face of danger - by Brooke Jarvis & William Langewiesche

Two great pieces of recent writing very much dealt in the areas of danger and actions taken in the face of danger, with one about people forced to act heroically and one about a guy whose career about stepping into difficult situations.

The story on danger forced upon people through tragic circumstances was "Collapse: The Oso Mudslide and the Community That Survived It" by Brooke Jarvis for Seattle Met. Really compelling writing on the mudslide that earlier this year killed 43 people north of Seattle.

The other piece to note here was for Vanity Fair with "Salvage Beast" by William Langewiesche.  It's a remarkable tale written about Nick Sloane, a salvage master ship captain who comes in when vessels are in distress and works to either save them, recover goods aboard or reduce the environmental impact of a wreck. Langewiesche is a writer who I first came across with his amazing October 2014 Vanity Fair story "The Human Factor" about what led to the crash of Air France Flight 447 and a listing of features he's written was recently posted on Longform. The Sloane story also struck me as particularly interesting in that it brought to mind Susan Casey's great book The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Great sports writing - by Mooney, Price & Ballard

Three recent great pieces of sports writing included work by some of my favorite sports writers in Michael MooneyS.L. Price Chris Ballard.

For ESPN, Mooney wrote "Is J.J. Watt the next Texas legend?" on the Houston Texans star defensive end and two powerful Sports Illustrated pieces were "Max Lenox's amazing journey to much-admired Army hoops captain" from Price and "Ryan Anderson tries to move forward after girlfriend Gia Allemand's suicide" written by Ballard. This piece on Anderson was particularly moving and just really poignant and important.

Interesting business writing - on Keyssa, Anthony Bourdain & income equality

Three different pieces of interesting business writing I've seen included stories from Fast Company, New Republic and Businessweek.

The Fast Company piece was "Anthony Bourdain Has Become the Future of Cable News, and He Couldn't Care Less" by Rob Brunner. It's an interesting look at Bourdain, the chef, author and television host of the Sunday night CNN show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

From Businessweek was "Keyssa Promises to Let You 'Kiss' Your Cords Goodbye" by Brad Stone on Keyssa, with Nest CEO Tony Fadell as Chairman of the Board, working on extremely fast wireless data transfer.

The last piece to note here was by Michael Lewis for New Republic with "Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone—Especially the Wealthy" on the book Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust by Darrell M. West. It's great writing from Lewis on an important subject.

Skink - No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

Skink - No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen was an easy and entertaining read from the humorist that I've now read close to a dozen books from over the years.

This latest one is his first written for teens, explaining perhaps why though it's still a good book, it did seem a bit more tame than past efforts from Hiaasen I've read.

Hiaasen books I've read so far: Skink - No Surrender, Bad Monkey, Star Island, Nature Girl, Skinny Dip, Basket Case, Sick Puppy, Lucky You, Native Tongue, Stormy Weather

The ones from this genre I don't believe I've read yet are the oldest: Skin Tight, Double Whammy (where the character of Skink introduced), Bass Season

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande was a remarkable book with the subtitle “Medicine and What Matters in the End” from a doctor and author I've posted on a number of times in the past. The book covers a lot of ground on the subject of health choices for people aging or with catastrophic medical conditions and seems it can be broken down into three related categories of (1) doctors who treat the elderly, (2) where those in need live and (3) the decisions that are made around care.

Doctors who treat the elderly

Gawande fairly early in the book writes of how when people in the past died of illness it was more frequently a sudden death, but now illness leading to death is often a case of peaks and valleys until there then becomes one calamity after another as the body stops working. With there now being more ways to prevent death, the doctor-patient relationship becomes more important and Gawande notes how the approach of a given doctor to their patient can either be paternalistic, informative or in the best scenario, interpretive based on someone's desires about their care. This is especially the case with the elderly, but the branch of medicine that deals with aging, geriatrics, doesn't get enough attention and doesn't have enough doctors. People are less interested in going into geriatric care in part because patients don't have one discrete and interesting problem to try and fix, rather they have fifteen that are being pushed forward by the aging process. Additionally, care for the elderly is typically not really about the devices or expensive procedures that would be covered by Medicare. Rather it’s about looking for common problems and attempting to head them off in a quest to preserve quality of life for as long as possible. It’s noted in the book that the biggest danger facing many elderly is falling and risk factors for falling are poor balance, taking more than four prescription medications and muscle weakness.

Where those in need live 

Gawande also writes extensively about how and where the elderly live, often in their homes for as long as they can, then with younger family members, in assisted living facilities or communities and nursing homes. In relation to assisted living facilities and nursing homes, Gawande notes how many hate living there as in the quest to provide a safe environment, caregivers can take away from the elderly their basic rights to privacy and making their own decisions, even if those decisions not always the healthiest. The result can be a dehumanizing with the elderly finding themselves in situations they simply don't want to live, safe or not. Gawande does note there’s another path that can be sought out and gives examples. There’s services like Athens Village in Ohio that people can join and which help them stay in their homes, "living centers with assistance" that were started by Keren Brown Wilson who then created the Jessie F. Richardson Foundation, New Bridge on the Charles in Boston, Peter Sanborn Place and the Green House concept, with one of its facilities the Leonard Florence Center for Living that all about not forcing the elderly to sacrifice autonomy to live in some form of assisted living facility. In some cases the facility will also include pets and frequent visitors, something to help the people living there both feel empowered and have a purpose. There might be a slight drop off in safety from more regimented facilities, but studies have shown that people are happier, require less emergency care and tend to live longer.

Decisions about care

Related to this idea of people being empowered to make decisions about their lives is the notion of people having frank discussions with doctors and especially family members about what choices they want made on their behalf, including what level of risk they want taken and what amount of pain and infirmity they're willing to suffer in order to have a shot at getting better. For some people they’re willing to take huge risks to have better health, but for others, they’d rather not take as large of a chance that they could get worse as the result of treatment, especially if that treatment may not buy that much more healthy time. The choice is all about one’s life and what it could potentially be like, for better or worse, and having the patient set the direction based on guidance from the doctor, with the alternative medical professionals or family members having to make the decisions on behalf of someone incapacitated. If left to doctors and family members, the natural inclination is going to be to press forward for a cure, but too often this may be bullheadedly pursuing a medical fix to a problem that's simply going to result in death. At the same time, it could well be that a patient has given direction that they’re willing to proceed with risky procedures that could make them worse, but as long as they understand, it’s the choice they’re making. This is where the idea of the doctor as someone who provides guidance based on a patient’s wishes, things that matter to them and risk tolerance, becomes so important. The role of medicine is to heal, but also to provide council based on the wishes of patients.

A key part of this discussion and patient decision around their care has to do with hospice care, which is often provided in the home. Covered by Gawande is how hospice care not something that’s simply the last step before death, but something that’s designed to have people feel as good and fulfilled as possible for each day they’re still alive, a concept of living for the best possible day. Additionally, hospice care doesn't have to mean giving up curative treatment as it could be done concurrently with treatment for the illness at the same time there’s palliative care designed to make someone as comfortable, fulfilled and happy as possible. Studies have shown many cases of patients receiving hospice care actually living longer than those without it.

The big take-away from this discussion of hospice care is that patients should hopefully be making the decisions themselves on their care after discussions with medical professionals willing to advise on the best options based on people’s wishes for how they want to pursue treatment. People need medical help, they need council and they need to live their lives in a way that they've got as much control as possible over what happens in it. It’s fascinating reading from Gawande that definitely goes way beyond the idea of a doctor and the medical community as simply being there to try to fix a health problem. Great book, highly recommended.

Boy On Ice by John Branch

Boy On Ice by John Branch is a solid book that was written out of a lengthy three-part series on the late NHL player Derek Boogaard that Branch wrote for the New York Times.

The magazine series and then book show how the pressure is bad enough in someone trying to become a professional player, but seems to take it to a whole new level when they're early on put onto the track of being a hockey enforcer. They've got one role as a fighter all the time, don't know when they’re going to do it, aren't directly getting points that lead to winning and losing and can suffer repeated concussion head trauma through the process of it, along with normal injury risk that other skaters take. Related to this idea of the hockey enforcer as a specific subset of players different than the rest, I found interesting how in reading of Derek’s minor hockey career, the same names of fighters kept popping back up, and they were often people who I recall then going on to play in the NHL as he did.

Branch split the book into thirds, with the first part about Derek growing up and then playing minor hockey, the second on his time as an NHL player in Minnesota and third his brief time as a New York Ranger prior to his death. Derek grew up in Saskatchewan and it’s covered in the book how it was challenging growing up the son of the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police representative, never staying one place long, as well as being a bigger hockey player than others. Derek played top level youth hockey due to his size, 6'4" and 210 pounds at 15, but wasn't a great skater or player and other parents would complain about him. At the age of 15, Derek had an incident playing youth hockey where he fought someone, then went into the penalty box of the opposing team and sent them scattering. From this, he was invited to the training camp of the Regina Pats Western Hockey League team and then at 17 was traded to a team in Prince George, British Columbia. Again, it’s got to be tough for any kid to make that kind of move away from family at such a young age and seems particularly hard for someone like Derek who was playing in the leagues he was simply for his ability to be the team enforcer. When Derek was 19, he was drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Wild, went to training camp with the Wild in 2001, then was sent back to Prince George and subsequently traded to a team in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Twenty year old Derek then wound up playing with the Louisiana Ice Gators, an East Coast Hockey league affiliate of the Wild and at 21, Derek was sent to the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate Houston Aeros, with the Wild sending instructions to Aeros coaches Todd McLellan and Matt Shaw that Derek was to be groomed as the future enforcer for the Wild. In Houston, Derek began to get injuries and was first prescribed pain relievers, then after two seasons in Houston made the Wild roster out of training camp in 2005.

Derek instantly became a popular player in Minnesota, both because of his fighting and how he was a mild-mannered and nice kid. At the same time that he was having success on the ice, again as an enforcer who played little and fought regularly taking and receiving blows, his body started to betray him and he began being prescribed by Wild team doctors lots of drugs, ranging from Ambien for sleep and Toradol, Oxycodone and Hydrocodone pills for pain. Additionally, Derek supplemented his readily available supply of drugs he was getting from team doctors with illegal sources for pain medications. People began to see changes in Derek’s personality with him becoming more sullen and withdrawn and an additional interesting note that Branch made about Derek’s time with the Wild was how even as he was loved in the community, he as an enforcer was treated differently than other players, he was the one fans wanted to have a picture taken where he pretended to punch them. Derek in 2009 was put in the NHL/NHLPA substance abuse program and after that he didn't get team doctor prescriptions for some painkillers, but still got prescribed lots of other drugs. Really, the amount of drugs that team doctors would prescribe him in the NHL, both before and then while he was actually in the NHL/NHLPA drug treatment program, was astounding.

After the 2009-2010 season Derek was a free agent and signed with the New York Rangers. Following an injury he suffered from a December 9, 2010 fight with Matt Carkner, Derek poured himself into his use of Ambien and pain medications, now heavily supplemented by a local illegal source for OxyContin. Derek for the rest of the 2010-2011 season was injured, not part of the team, lonely, depressed and addicted to painkillers. Additionally, his behavior was becoming increasingly erratic, likely exacerbated by the mix of toxins going into his body and the abuse it had taken over the years. The Rangers sent Derek back to rehab in April 2011, but he appeared to have different rules than everyone else, coming and going as he pleased and was back in Minneapolis in May with team approval to go there for physical therapy. During that trip he overdosed on painkillers and alcohol, double the legal alcohol limit for driving, and died.

After his death, Derek’s parents gave permission to have his brain examined for CTE, a degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed posthumously and is caused by repeated blows to the head. Examination of his brain showed stage two (of four) CTE, more severe than the doctor looking at his brain had ever seen in a 28 year old. While doctors couldn't say for sure what led to Derek's behavior, manifestations of the disease are memory loss, impulsiveness, mood swings, disorientation and addiction and Branch notes that Derek may well have had dementia in his 30's had he lived. The idea of the hockey enforcer could be seen as culpable, but more specifically, the role of team doctors and the NHL/NHLPA drug treatment program seems to bear examining. The amount of drugs Derek was prescribed was astounding, as was how he abused legally and illegally obtained drugs throughout his time in the treatment program. As a result of this Derek’s family in 2013 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NHL.

His story is a sad one on many levels and in both the book and shorter New York Times series, Branch tells it very well.

Great sports pieces by Powell, Saslow & Parrish along with ESPN video segment on Lauren Hill

Three recent pieces of great sports writing were from the New York Times, CBS Sports and ESPN, with an additional powerful ESPN video segment.

The ESPN article was "The Long Way Home" by Eli Saslow on Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. It was the same type of brilliant and detailed storytelling that Saslow regularly provides for ESPN and the Washington Post and this particular piece began with an 11-year-old Thomas being woken up by police bursting into the house and arresting his mother and grandmother for manufacturing and distributing crack cocaine.

The Times piece was an interesting one in that it came from an approach so different than traditional sports writing. "‘OMG. You’re So Much More Than Awesome.’" was done by Michael Powell out of time he spent in rural North Carolina with Kevin Bumgarner who was proudly watching his son Madison Bumgarner make history with his World Series pitching performance against the Royals.

For CBS Sports was a story by Gary Parrish with "More Than a Game" on John Redman and Brittany Huber. Redman is a 24-year-old assistant basketball coach at Dalton State near the Georgia-Tennessee border and he last May barely survived a car accident, caused by a blown tire, that took the life of Huber five days prior to their wedding. Just really well done and solemn writing from Parrish.

Also very much worth noting here was the ESPN video segment "Lauren Hill: One More Game." Filmed leading up to and including her first collegiate basketball game, moved up by the NCAA so she could play prior to dying of cancer, it's a great story told well.

Friday, October 31, 2014

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick was an interesting nonfiction account of the last voyage of the whaleship Essex and the fight for survival of its crew after being rammed by a huge sperm whale, with this sinking the basis for Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick.

Philbrick’s story was an historical tale of danger, resiliency and horrible decisions and definitely compelling reading. He wrote of how the Essex in August 1819 sailed out of Nantucket, 24 miles of the coast of New England, and then was rammed by a sperm whale on November 20th, 1820 and subsequently sunk in the middle of the Pacific. Twenty men then boarded three small whaling crafts and the captain of the Essex, George Pollard, wanted to sail these crafts to the Marquesas Islands some 1,200 miles away or the Society Islands (home to Taihiti) roughly 2,000 miles away but first mate Owen Chase and second mate Matthew Joy convinced Pollard that the dangers of cannibals there too great and they should return to South America, some 4,500 miles away.

The sailors had limited food and water and likely would have all perished if not for hitting land December 19th, roughly a month after the whale attack. Their first concern upon reaching the shores of Henderson Island, only 400 miles northeast of Pitcairn Island where they would have been rescued, was being attacked by natives, of which there were none, and after a week of finding and consuming limited food and water on Henderson, the ships (minus three men who decided to stay on island) left with a target of Easter Island, about a third of the 3,000 miles to the coast of Chile. The boats were unable to hit Easter Island and continued towards South America, with this being the point that sailors began to die of starvation and dehydration. Eventually the cannibalism that the Chase and Joy cited as the reason to not head towards Tahiti came about, only now it was the men eating those who passed as way to survive.

First mate Owen Chase and two additional sailors were the remaining crew of one of the boats and rescued February 18th off the coast of South America by the ship Indian and captain Pollard and one remaining crew member on his craft rescued five days later, also close to South America, by the crew of The Dauphin. As a result of this, a ship then went to Dulcie Island where the three crew members were said to be on, found it uninhabited, and then correctly surmised that they may actually be on Henderson Island 70 miles away. With five crew rescued from the two small boats, this left the whereabouts of the third boat unknown, until five years later when it was found up washed ashore of Dulcie Island, with three skeletons in it.

The book wraps up with the eight men returning to Nantucket and the captain of the Essex, George Pollard, being so accepted upon his return from disaster that he was made captain for another voyage and three months after his return sailed out on the whaleship, the Two Brothers, which then sunk several hundred miles west of Hawaii after hitting coral reefs during heavy winds. While this sinking effectively ended Pollard’s career as a whaleboat captain, he returned to Nantucket and lived out of the remainder of a full life. The story of the Essex and its men is a remarkable one and told very well by Philbrick with both huge detail and a focus on entertaining the reader throughout, and will be told in film by Ron Howard with a March 2015 theatrical release of In the Heart of the Sea.

Interesting feature writing - by Bissinger, Poulsen & Sager

Three different recent magazine feature stories were on different topics, but all well written and interesting pieces.

The most recent of them to note here was from the November issue of Vanity Fair with "The Stradivarius Affair" by Buzz Bissinger. It's a fascinating sort-of high crime piece about a $6M Stradivarius violin stolen in Milwaukee.

The October edition of Wired Magazine also had an excellent story on an attempt to make money, but through much less nefarious means. "Finding a Video Poker Bug Made These Guys Rich—Then Vegas Made Them Pay" was written by Kevin Poulsen and compelling reading that both tells an entertaining story and delves into the questions of whether actions illegal vs. just crafty.

The last piece to mention was from the October issue of Esquire for which Mike Sager wrote "Are There Still Boy Scouts?" on the 104-year-old organization and it's new volunteer national president, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It's easy to find fault with positions taken by the national office of the Scouts, but the piece from Sager paints the portrait of an organization that appears to be doing a fair amount of good.

Stories of technology & the future - on Graphene and Space X

Two pieces of recent interesting writing very much dealt with future technology and also brought to mind some past stories of note.

Posted to Medium was "Materials That Will Change the World: Graphene" by Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize awarded for private spacecraft development and author of the book Abundance: The Future is Brighter Than You Think that I wrote about a few months ago. It's a fascinating piece on Graphene as a material that Diamandis notes as having potential applications in the following areas: energy storage, flexible screens, desalinization/filtration of water, medical applications/sensors, photovoltaics/solar cells, material composites and computing/electronics. Graphene is obviously written of as a material with breakthrough technological ramifications and it will be interesting to see what occurs with it.

The other story to note here was "What it took for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to disrupt Boeing, leapfrog NASA, and become a serious space company" by Tim Fernholz for the business news site Quartz. It's a pretty lengthy, but also solid piece on one of the efforts from a fascinating individual, with Musk someone that's at least in part the subject of multiple pieces I've linked to and written about.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Writers on writing - Gillian Flynn, Hunter S. Thompson & many on Gangrey

There's a few pieces on the subject of writing that I've seen over the past few weeks and found to be absolutely captivating. The most in-depth by far of the three was the post "Eating Jack Hooker's Cow" from the writing site Gangrey. About the 1997 Esquire story by Michael Paterniti, the Gangrey post really is a master class in writing with many great journalists giving their views on the piece and writing in general.

The other two pieces on writing to note here were much shorter ones with the much more recent being Joe Berkowitz for Fast Company Magazine writing on Gillian Flynn, author of both the book Gone Girl and screenplay of the excellent movie of the same name. Additionally, the site Boing Boing recently posted the highly entertaining "Hunter S. Thompson's 1958 cover letter for a newspaper job" from the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas among other well-known books.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Factory Man by Beth Macy

Factory Man by Beth Macy is an interesting book about offshoring, rural America and where income equality comes from.

The book tells the story of John Bassett III and his Vaughn-Bassett Furniture Company that employs more than 700 people in the South and manufactures entirely in America. While the book provides a largely positive view of both the man and company, which has a section about Macy's book on it's website, it's definitely not a puff piece, but rather an account of a family, company, industry and the costs of globalization on U.S. manufacturing and the works who used to do it.

The book was an excellent one and further information on it can be found in a New York Times review by Mimi Swartz and Businessweek Q&A with Macy.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Interesting sports pieces - by Wickersham, Anderson & Holmes

A couple of great pieces of recent sports writing included work from the Boston Globe, ESPN and Bleacher Report.

Two Bay Area-centric pieces were "Bill Russell, K.C. Jones treated like ‘Rock’ stars at Alcatraz" by Baxter Holmes, who is leaving the Globe to write for ESPN, and the Seth Wickersham story "Jim Harbaugh comfortable in chaos" for ESPN on the 49ers head coach.

Sticking with the football head coach theme (just in this case college and Ole Miss) was an excellent piece by Lars Anderson with "Good Guys Finish 1st: The Hugh Freeze Story" written for Bleacher Report.

Really excellent pieces all from Holmes, Wickersham and Anderson.