Thursday, February 27, 2014

My new book compilation - More Words Written Down

Well, I wrote another book. After in March 2012 self-publishing a compilation culled from of 3 1/2 years of blog posts and then in October 2012 a compilation of book review blog posts, I've now written and have available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions my new book More Words Written Down taken from blog posts since the prior two books.


More Words Written Down is a follow-up effort to the compilation book projects Words Written Down and 111 Books Reviewed with all three coming out of this blog and each an appreciation of words put down on a page in a meaningful order.

The blog itself was begun 5 ½ years ago and my approach to it has been to read things of interest and then attempt to describe those pieces well and make connections between them.

The result of this is hopefully both a repository of great writing and body of work with my thoughts on the pieces. As part of this body of work idea, the blog and book compilations out of it are also intended to serve as a tangible record for my two boys of what things I found interesting or important early in their lives.

Links noted throughout the print version of the book can be found at the referenced blog post and have as their criterion for inclusion the concept of Interesting. If writing was deemed interesting, it’s noted along with my ruminations on the topic and view of what makes that particular set of words grouped together into a book or story so good that they acquire permanence.

The goal of Words Written Down is to highlight and pay homage to this permanence of words. Everybody's gotta have a thing, and for me, one of my big things is words. Here's to hoping that as my boys get older they find the things that have importance for them and get to spend their time pursuing and working on those.


More Words Written Down (like my prior two books) is a cleaned up compilation of blog posts I've done, with those posts separated into the below categories:

Book Reviews
My Writing About My Writing
Outdoor Adventure
Family / Parenting
Everything Else

The idea behind putting it into a book (or three books) relates to both the aforementioned permanence of words idea and I've found interesting the process of editing the posts into book form, both a print version and Kindle book that has embedded links to the stories I wrote about.

Assembling the book

The creation of the print version of the book was done via CreateSpace by Amazon and the eBook version via Kindle Direct Publishing by Amazon.

From a process perspective, I first copied over posts from my blog into a Word document and then cleaned each with taking out any html formatting and organizing into the categories above. From that point, the work was around formatting with getting the post spacing and usage of bold consistent as well margins correct for a CreateSpace book (involving left and right as well as book gutter margins). Additionally, headers were inserted, with it seeming to take an excessive amount of time to create in Word new headers for each of the post category sections.

The steps of then uploading a .pdf file on CreateSpace were easy, but then reviewing the submitted file resulted in my time after time having to go back to the Word document to correct something. In many cases these corrections were to line spacing that worked fine in just a Word document, but had to be changed for the purpose of a book so that I wouldn't have for instance the first line of a new post on one book page and then everything else on the next page. The cover creation via CreateSpace was also a fairly simple process, the only thing I really had to figure out was how to create my "Beckam Callum Book Company" publisher logo via first Word and then the Snipping Tool and saving it as a .jpg file.

The creation of the eBook version via Kindle Direct Publishing was fairly easy in comparison, especially since most of the time I spent editing the print version was around headers and new page line spacing, neither of which exists in eBooks. The only real step required was to create an eBook table of contents and that was a simple process to do on the Word document I then uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing.

Having the book(s) completed

I'm not going to make any broad declarative statements about this absolutely being my last blog post book compilation lest I change my mind, but this third one likely was it as while I still expect to continue reading a lot and keeping track of great writing I've come across, I'd like to find new ways to spend my writing time and energies than simply writing about excellent work from others.

That said, the time spent on the blog (and books resulting from the blog) has been enjoyable and resulted in tangible outputs that I think have permanence to them (there's permanence word again) and I'm happy with that.

"Trapped Under the Sea" by Neil Swidey

Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey was a highly entertaining read that combined a disaster tale with a fascinating story of engineering feats and organizational dynamics, with this all told well through the lives of people who 15 years ago found themselves facing disaster at the end of a 9 1/2 mile tunnel below the sea in the Boston Harbor.

From an organizational dynamics perspective, Swidey recounted the huge number of poor decisions that came as a result of different agencies, contractors and sub-contractors all seeking to further their own ends and the result at the expense of the big picture goal of workplace safety. Along with this was how the various parties would agree to risky plans, but in an arm’s length manner because to get too involved would have been to invite culpability.

Also noted in the book was how things became much worse as a result of occurring late in an overdue project when everyone wanted it done. Additionally, the story was about hubris and the guy most in charge of worker safety coming up with an untested and dangerous plan and not listening to concerns from others. In terms of worker safety, Swidey notes that a poorly thought out safety measure can be worse than no measure at all as it provides the illusion of safety.

Overall, it was a compelling read on extreme danger, modern engineering and institutional failures and Swidey did an excellent job covering all this while still having the book focused on and told through the stories of the men (and one worker in particular) at the center of the story. With this combining together really well story and character, the book reminded me of the Brendan Koerner book The Skies Belong to Us that I read and reviewed last summer.

Back to Trapped Under the Sea... was an excellent book and also the subject of a short review by Chris Jones for Esquire.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Great sports writing - by Passan, Jenkins & Schlereth

There's been a few pieces of really good sports writing over the past few weeks that I haven't linked to previously.

for Yahoo Sports, Jeff Passan wrote "Lockerbie: A story beyond tragedy, a story of curling and Olympic pride," a very cool story about a town, it's painful past, current Olympic heroes and a writer wanting to tell it's story.

For Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins wrote "How Pacers' Hibbert emerged to anchor NBA's best defense" and what struck me about the piece was how Jenkins described the style of defense employed by Roy Hibbert as different than most if not actually revolutionary.

For ESPN, Mark Schlereth wrote the excellent "Don't lose crucial parts of 'the code'" on Richie Incognito and the NFL workplace harassment of Jonathan Martin and also from ESPN was the great 30 for 30 video "Judging Jewell" on Richard Jewell and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bombing.

Really solid work in all of these.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Outside Magazine feature on Zina Lahr by Grayson Schaffer

A great story posted recently to the Outside Magazine website was "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Zina Lahr" written by Grayson Schaffer.

It's one of the pieces that just sticks with you as a reader, in part because of what the family has had to go through with Zina's seven-months pregnant sister dying in a 2010 car accident and also just because of the description of Zina herself.

Really just captivating writing on someone that most people would never have known of if not for this story.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Favorite Winter Olympics writing so far - by Farber, Wetzel & Drehs

There's of course been a lot written about the Sochi Olympics and my three favorite stories to date are by Michael Farber, Dan Wetzel and Wayne Drehs.

The first two stories were both about US Men's Hockey with "T.J. Oshie: The new American hero" by Wetzel for Yahoo Sports after the preliminary round shootout defeat of the Russians and then Farber for Sports Illustrated wrote "Uncommonly introspective, Bylsma leads USA hockey into the spotlight," an in-depth profile of head coach Dan Bylsma.

The third story I found interesting in large part because the people it covered in US skeleton competitors Katie Uhlaender and Noelle Pikus-Pace were so captivating. "Smallest Margin Between Victory, Defeat" was by Drehs for ESPN and showed both the great highs and rough lows that can come from the Olympics.

It was really excellent writing in all three pieces and there's I'm sure going to be much more great work published in the next week.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" by Brad Stone

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone was a thoroughly reported and well written look at Bezos and what the company he founded has done so far.

Amazon is described in the book as a hugely challenging place to work at and Bezos someone who can be difficult to work for. That said, it was interesting to read of how Bezos would hire really smart people into the company and then find something for them to work on. Also fascinating to me about working at Amazon is per direction from Bezos, PowerPoint presentations are never done within the company. Instead six page narratives are written, with meetings beginning by everyone reading the narrative. The idea behind the narrative documents is both keep the focus on customers by having them be like a press release and to encourage employees to critically think through an idea.

One interesting thing from the introduction to the book was a conversation between Bezos and Brad Stone with the author being asked how he'll handle the narrative fallacy, a concept written about by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a noted statistician and writer who has decried the propensity people have for seeking simple explanations for complex events, when in reality there's often many factors, including those of the random variety. The response Stone wrote into the introduction was one that seems a good idea in many pursuits, in putting the book together given this narrative fallacy idea he wanted to "acknowledge it's potential influence and plunge ahead anyways."

Another author that Stone referenced Bezos influenced by is Clayton Christensen who wrote The Innovator's Dilemma about how companies are afraid to threaten or cannibalize their existing markets, with The Everything Store referencing how brick and mortar companies like Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart fell into this trap, contributing in large part to the success of Amazon.

Also of note to me was how when Bezos would set low prices for products or services (as Amazon often manically does) it would be for a variety of reasons, ranging from simply providing the lowest customer price to putting pressure on a competitor and/or acquisition target to the fascinating to me idea of not pricing too high lest high margins bring in more competition.

Overall, it was a fast read and interesting business book from Stone.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Excellent sports writing - by Murphy, Magary and Arthur

Three different pieces of excellent sports writing I've seen recently ran the gauntlet of topics with them respectively covering topics of entertainment, sportsmanship and courage.

In terms of entertainment, Austin Murphy wrote about the Super Bowl halftime show for Sports Illustrated with "It's Halftime!", an interesting feature with lots of embedded videos of performances.

The other two pieces to note here were columns by Bruce Arthur and Drew Magary. For, Arthur wrote "Cross-country coach Justin Wadsworth makes Canadians proud with Olympic sportsmanship" and Magary for Deadspin did "Michael Sam Shouldn't Have To Do This Alone," a great piece on the Missouri graduate and NFL prospect who earlier this week publicly came out as gay.

ESPN writing - Saslow on Aroldis Chapman & Jones on Cuba and Hemingway

The latest issue of ESPN The Magazine had two excellent pieces of writing, a feature by Eli Saslow and column by Chris Jones. The column was titled "Idol Thoughts" and an interesting and introspective look at Cuba, Ernest Hemingway and believing in something. The Saslow feature was yet another great story from him with "A World of His Own" about Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. It was a fascinating view into the life of someone who seemingly has it all, but also misses the life he left behind in Cuba.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Ashlee Vance on Illumina and the $1,000 genome sequencing

There was a really interesting feature from a recent issue of Businessweek with Ashlee Vance writing "Illumina's new low-cost genome machine will change health care forever."

It's fascinating from the perspective of people gaining affordable access to information about the genetic traits that may eventually kill them and with it being in the medical realm, brings to mind other pieces I've linked to in "Has Carl June Found a Key to Fighting Cancer?" by Jason Fagone for Philadelphia Magazine, "Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World" by Wil Hylton for the New York Times Magazine and "Patient Zero" by Tom Junod and Mark Warren for Esquire.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Jeff Sharlet GQ piece on the hatred of gays in Russia

There's a tremendous feature from the latest issue of GQ with "Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia" by Jeff Sharlet.

It's a pretty terrifying story of the state-sponsored hate crimes and some of the background that Sharlet provides reminds me past writing I saw about how Putin's oppression of homosexuals stems from and the need to get his people to rally behind him even with the country no longer flush with oil money. While Jews as a group to hate might be considered, Putin's reason to not pick them stems in part from it bringing to mind the WWII enemy Nazi Germany and focusing hatred on homosexuals also gets the Russian Orthodox Church to support Putin.

Excellent writing from Sharlet on a horrible thing occurring in Russia.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

"Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a novel that swept across decades in it's scope and featured really well-formed and memorable characters.

It included Italian villagers in the 1960s, a fictional depiction of actor Richard Branson and a young American actress, modern day Hollywood producers and a wanna-be Hollywood writer, and an intersection of the various storylines. The title seemed very appropriate as it really was a beautifully written book that featured some very large life decisions made throughout.

Intention isn't to give away much of the plot in this post, but a review by Helen Schulman for the New York Times does provide many of the details of what transpires in the book.