Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler was a follow up to their 2010 book Abundance (which I wrote about last year) and it's noted early on in Bold that the book written as a sort of a playbook for accomplishing the things that can solve some of the world's biggest problems and bring about abundance. Bold is divided into three sections with the first on bold / exponential technologies, the second on the psychology of the book as well as current innovators and third on detailed how-to steps that Diamandis and Kotler lay out as recipes towards business success.

The first section was the most compelling to me and the idea of exponential technologies relates to technology advances multiplying again and again (in the same fashion of the Moore's Law concept that the number of integrated circuits on a transistor will double every twelve to twenty-four months) and that exponential technologies means that advances or entirely new business areas create the potential for additional advances and other areas to build on top of them.

Some the examples of industries and companies that Diamandis and Kotler note in the exponential technologies section include: 3-D printing (which enables industries and companies like Made in Space), self-driving cars (it didn't seem to be spelled out in the book, but this would create the ability for an entire ecosystem around providing services, likely through apps, to people who no longer need to pay attention driving while in their car), networks and sensors (what the Internet of Things is about), artificial intelligence (with one usage for AI being the analyzing of data from all the networks and sensors), robotics (including drones), and entirely new developments in the medical field (synthetic biology and personalizing medicine, which brings to mind the scientist Eric Schadt who I've several times linked to articles about). Additionally Diamandis and Kotler give as examples of exponential technologies that operate at a platform level Kickstarter, Airbnb and Uber.

The second part of the book about the bold mindset includes mention of companies and organizations that have successfully employed skunk works (a group apart from the rest of the business) to bring about innovation, the Google X group led by Astro Teller that aims for 10x or 1,000 increases in performance, and the company Planetary Resources that Diamandis and others created to mine asteroids for materials. Additionally included in this section were profiles on Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Larry Page. The third section was titled the bold crowd and included pretty in-depth details and instructions for people in the areas of crowdsourcing, crowd funding, building communities, and incentive competitions.

Overall it was a solid read and details about Bold were posted by Diamandis with "11 Steps for being Bold" to his tumblr blog.

Interesting business writing - on Ive from Apple, Hoover from Product Hunt & solid business advice

Some recent interesting business writing ran the gamut in terms of types of writing with the three pieces to note here being a blog post, a magazine piece on a startup founder, and brilliantly done 17,000 word profile on perhaps the most influential product design guru in the world.

The long profile was for The New Yorker by Ian Parker who wrote "The Shape of Things to Come" on Apple SVP Design Jonathan Ive. Really a remarkably detailed and fascinating to read piece on someone whose tastes help set the technology used by so many.

The other profile was by Adam Satariano and Eric Newcomer for Businessweek with "Why Startups Want This 28-Year-Old to Really Like Them" about Ryan Hoover, founder and CEO of the very cool and easy to digest (via once daily emails) tech curation site Product Hunt.

The blog post was by entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis who in January posted "How to go from a nobody to a somebody" to his blog. The post contains a lot of solid advice about how someone can work their way into being known in business today, and notes the aforementioned Ryan Hoover. Calacanis is a guy who I came across from him interviewing venture capitalist Chris Sacca (which I wrote about here), puts on the annual startup event Launch Festival (with this year's iteration March 2-4 in San Francisco), and had a quote of his pretty prominently featured in the book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler (with below about Google CEO Larry Page... and taken from Google Books):

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Writers on writing & pieces about New York Times writer David Carr

There's been a number of great things I've seen recently on writers and writing, with a majority of them related to New York Times writer David Carr who died on Feb 12th.

Three really profound remembrances were "David Carr, friend of journalism" by Erik Wemple for the Washington Post, "King David" by Ta-Nehisi Coates for the Atlantic, and (with this last one the shortest) "David Carr was one of my dearest friends" by Andrew Rossi for CNN. Related to Rossi, he directed the movie Page One: Inside the New York Times, an awesome film for anyone interested in writing.

Written in the New York Times as a final "Media Equation" column of Carr's (the byline was "with David Carr") was "David Carr's Last Word on Journalism, Aimed at Students," a piece that included the link to Carr's syllabus to his Boston University Journalism class, a pretty fascinating document about writing that Carr posted to Medium. The last thing to note about Carr in this post was something published by Longform with "David Carr, 1956-2015" containing five pieces by Carr and one interview done of him.

Two other pieces about writing were compelling works starting off with "I never intended to write a Starbucks story" posted to Nieman Storyboard and on an interview with New York Times writer Jodi Kantor done by Lisa Pollack. It's interesting content from Kantor about writing a story that's incredibly fascinating to me in that it appears to have quickly brought about a large change for the better from Starbucks in how they schedule employees' work shifts.

The final piece to mention here was a sort of oldie, but goodie with "Stephen King's Top 20 Rules for Writers" taken from his brilliant book On Writing, originally published in 2000.

The Night of the Gun by David Carr

The Night of the Gun by David Carr in 2008 was a remarkable memoir of addiction, single parenting and a career in journalism from the New York Times writer who died recently at the age of 58. The book is a sort of going back in time for Carr, with him researching and conducting interviews about his past and he writes of how our memories can selective, and not actual representations of what occurred. Carr provides an incredibly honest account of his life, with details about the depths of his addiction to crack cocaine, horrendous parenting decisions prior to rehab, and events after his successful six-month stint in drug rehab, including the difficulties that can come with a blended family and then Carr's trouble with alcohol years after kicking drugs.

At the beginning of the book, Carr wrote of how he grew up in a Minneapolis suburb and while in high school drank, smoked pot every day along with doing other drugs, and then did cocaine for the first time on his 21st birthday. He went to drug treatment for the first time in 1984 and was a successful journalist by the mid-1980s, then freebased cocaine for the first time in early 1986 at 29 years old and after that started smoking crack cocaine. Crack took things to a whole new level, both in how great the experience was and in its negative ramifications. In terms of the dangerous situations that alcohol and drugs got him into, it's amazing that he made it through and a dominant thing that comes out about the wild times is how the life really was exciting, until it wasn't anymore.

In April 1988, Carr became a father when fellow junkie Anna gave birth two months prematurely to twin girls, Erin and Meagan, and Carr on November 18th of that year gave them to his parents to watch (after he left the girls in a cold car to go and get high) and a week later entered Eden House, a state of Minnesota-funded six month treatment program. During a fair amount of this time the twins were with excellent temporary foster care and Carr's parents would bring them by Eden House every weekend to visit. When Carr got out, he lived in a house for recovering addicts and the girls were living with Anna at the time after she did a rehab stint. However, while Carr was able to throw his energies into rebuilding his journalism career, Anna fell back into the drug dealing life and Carr in May 1990 successfully filed for full custody. At that point, so many people, especially family, helped Carr raise the girls with he as a single parent and increasingly more successful journalist. Related to his career, Carr at one point in the book notes how his goal was to have enough juice that he would not get pushed around by lesser men or women who were his superiors.

In December 1991, Carr got cancer, a disease that at the time resulted in the removal of his spleen and difficult rounds of chemotherapy. This is the disease that eventually killed him some 23 years later and it's sad reading what Carr in his book wrote about how cancer becomes a part of you that keeps it's own schedule, with your body as the host. In 1993, Carr met Jill, who would become his second wife when the twins were six years old and the family moved to Washington D.C. in 1995 when Carr got the job as editor of the Washington City Paper. Their daughter Madeline was born in December 1996 and in 2000 Carr moved to New York to write for The site ran out of money after a year and he did contract writing for New York Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly and then got a call from the New York Times about working there and became a staff writer.

Carr had a drink again in November 2002, later realizing that he had stopped thinking of himself as an alcoholic and figured drinking not a big deal, and in 2005 he could have killed his daughters while driving drunk and then was arrested for a DWI while driving solo to college night at the twins' high school. He then went to detox for a few days, came out and went back to regular meetings and there's no mention in the book of drinking again. It was a great book from Carr and sad that cancer took him when it did, regardless of how lucky he may have been to have made it past his drug and alcohol abuse unscathed.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fast Company & Businessweek writing

Some particularly interesting recent business writing included pieces from Fast Company Magazine as well as Businessweek. 

The March 2015 issue of Fast Company was its annual "50 Most Innovative Companies" edition, with a number of interesting companies featured. Three that stood out as particularly compelling and that I hadn't heard of before are: Fuhu, maker of the Nabi tablet for kids, American Giant, a US apparel (largely men's casual to this point) company, and Revolution Foods, a company providing healthy and affordable school lunches. From the same section on innovative companies was a "Sectors" area accessible from the top right with the "10 Most Innovative Companies" from each of 30+ different areas of business and one last interesting thing to note from this issue of Fast Company was "Medium's Secret Weapon: Design" by Om Malik on Ev Williams and his publishing company.

The shortest of the recent Businessweek pieces of particular interest was "Tesla Wants to Build a Battery for Your House" by Dana Hull and Mark Chediak on a coming offering around energy storage and recent issues of Businessweek magazine had two feature stories to note here. "Boom" by Nick Summers was an entertaining tale with the subtitle "No American ATM Has Even Been Robbed With Explosive Gas. The Same was True in Britain - Until 2013. Now There Have Been More than 90. Inside the Birth of a Bomb Spree" and "The Semiconductor Revolutionary" by Ashlee Vance was on the material gallium nitride, or GaN, a faster and cheaper potential replacement for Silicon in transistors.

Great sports writing - by Rosenberg, Drehs, Tomlinson & O'Neil

Four great recent pieces of sports writing included a feature for Sports Illustrated and three for ESPN.

The story for SI was "A woman fell from a stadium, a man saved her; here's what happened next" by Michael Rosenberg. It tells the story of Brittany Bryan, who fell 45 feet from the top of the Coliseum after a Raiders game and Donnie Navidad who attempting to catch her. It's a great piece by Rosenberg about a stranger saving someone's life and the situations an excess of alcohol can potentially lead to.

The first ESPN story to note here was for ESPN The Magazine with "From the Grounds Up" by Wayne Drehs. About the New Zealand city of Christchurch and rebuilding from a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 and caused widespread damage, it's a compelling story of how sports (in this case, hosting matches from the Cricket World Cup 2015) can help bring people together.

The other two great pieces of writing for ESPN had related Sportscenter video segments and the first story was "And He Shall Lead Them" by Tommy Tomlinson. So many of Tomlinson's features seem to have such heart to them and in this piece he tells the story of Lester Cotton, current Central High School football player and future lineman for his hometown University of Alabama. It was a really cool look at someone doing well out of a difficult environment and a 14-minute video segment provided a view into the poverty level that many Central students are raised in and efforts from head football coach Dennis Conner.

The other excellent piece of writing for ESPN was by Dana O'Neil with "Austin Hatch is an Uncommon Man" on the University of Michigan freshman basketball player who survived two small plane crashes, each of which killed members of his family. Hatch's is an amazing story that's well told in writing by O'Neil and for Sportscenter in a 16-minute video segment.

Also, there's not a written piece to note here, but the 12-minute ESPN video "Catching Kayla" on high school distance runner Kayla Montgomery competing while afflicted with multiple sclerosis is really really good.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey was an interesting book that he compiled on the creative process, or daily routine of creative work, employed by 161 writers, artists, composers, and other creative types. Currey in 2007 began writing a blog devoted to writing up the daily rituals of creative people and he later was contacted by a literary agent who thought it could be a book and in the introduction Currey describes the book as a greatly expanded and better researched collection.

Currey in the beginning notes that the people featured in the book (sometimes in their own words, sometimes not) ran the gamut in terms of daily routine around creative production, with some free from angst about their work, some tortured, and most somewhere in the middle. A definite common theme throughout is of people being the most productive in the morning, with an idea that comes up from a few of the people being to wake up with the sun. Many of those featured would be done by noon with creative work and some worked at night, but they seemed the exception.

Additionally, I found of interest the concept of triggers to starting creativity, whether the aforementioned concept of starting work with the sun in the early morning or the story of Twyla Tharp, dancer and writer of The Creative Habit, whose ritual is hailing a cab to go to the gym after waking at 5:30 each morning.

To aid in getting going each time, Earnest Hemingway wrote of stopping at a point that he knew what would happen next so he could pick it up easily the next day. Related to this idea of steps towards creativity was the section on author Jonathan Franzen as even then it wasn't noted in the book, it reminded me of reading in Time Magazine how Franzen would write on a computer without Internet access to avoid the temptation of distraction.

Even with these various habits and tricks, author Joyce Carol Oates wrote of how difficult it is to get a first draft of something done, which completely brought to mind writer Anne Lamott, who in her great book on writing, Bird by Bird (which I wrote about in 2012), wrote of the concept of starting out a writing project by producing "shitty first drafts" and being totally ok with that.

In terms of output from routine, I liked the story of writer Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) who rose early, was at his writing table daily at 5:30, and wrote for three hours daily. Trollope felt that three hours would produce what someone should in a day and took his routine to the level that if he would finish a novel in the middle of his three hour stretch, he would then start writing a new one. Another person featured with a set daily plan was Stephen King, who starts writing around 8:00 or 8:30 and has a daily quota to reach of 2,000 words, usually hit around 1:30.

I liked the book by Currey as it had a lot of interesting material on the creative process, but at times found myself wishing it had a fewer number of people (and perhaps more current ones) featured, with text that went deeper on them. Additionally, one thing that might have been nice would have been an organizing of the book into categories of creative work done by those featured as that would have made more apparent any commonalities between how those in different fields, such as writing, art, music, approached the creative process. All that said, it was an interesting read on a fascinating topic.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Acts of Creation by Walt Harrington

Acts of Creation by Walt Harrington was a cool book with the subtitle "America's Finest Hand Craftsmen at Work." The short work was published by the Sager Group and in the prologue, Harrington noted having spent two years working on it and how he never personally was a hand craftsman, but could happily "fiddle all day with five pages of writing."

The contents was made up of 14 different profiles of craftsmen and while a few of the subjects had become wealthy, most hadn't, and themes across the profiles include: a care for craft, the idea of human decency, and a higher purpose to the work, such as in teaching others to create.

Each subject has 8-10 pages written about them and their work and if someone wanted to go deeper on a subject, there's additional material to read out there, such as on woodworker Sam Maloof, someone who won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and house and workshop in Alta Loma, CA (Los Angeles area, by the San Gabriel Mountains) are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Overall, it was an interested short book to read and people featured along with Maloof are as follows:

Michael Seward - furniture
Charlie Keller - metal
Bob Dix - locks... chapter included mention of Dix thinking on locks to figure out how they worked.
Chuck Crispin - wood floors
Derek Ogden - watermills
Robert Reade - framing houses
Larry Stearns - copper
Jeff Gammelin - fireplaces
Lorna Kollmeyer - plaster
Peter Good - doors
Tedd Benson - timber frame houses
Manuel Palos - stone carvings & cement castings... SF based, built a dragon fireplace for Nicolas Cage.
Peter King - clay

Pieces by Chiarella on a bartender, Lukach on mental illness, and Junod on Stephanie Lee

Three stories to post on here included a profile of a longtime bartender at a Chicago landmark and two incredibly poignant and painful to read first-person pieces.

For Chicago Magazine was "Consider the Bartender" by Tom Chiarella, with the longtime Esquire writer providing a look at Jeff Magill, bartender at the Billy Goat Tavern. It was a really well-written and insightful piece that brought to mind another one from Chiarella, one pointed at himself with "Celebrity Profiler: Tom Chiarella, in His Own Words" for Indianapolis Monthly.

For Pacific Standard was "My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward" by Mark Lukach. Really powerful writing that just after that title has "We met at 18. We wed at 24. At 27, I checked my wife into a psych ward—for the first time. How mental illness reshapes a marriage."

The last piece to note here was an awful one to see that it was written with "The Death of a Friend: Stephanie Lee" by Tom Junod. Stephanie's story of terminal cancer and efforts at a groundbreaking treatment was written about the 2013 Esquire feature "Patient Zero" by Junod and Mark Warren and that same issue included the following from Esquire editor in chief, David Granger...

"October 18, 2013: We've never done anything like this before.

   I've been working at Esquire for more than 16 years. I've been doing magazine journalism for almost 30. I'ts not only that we-especially executive editor Mark Warren and writer-at-large Tom Junod-made a connection between two people. It's not only that a story we published two years ago, about an eccentric math-driven biologist, allowed us to introduce two people who needs each other very much. It's also that we, especially Mark and Tom, are all in on this one. We're involved. We saw an opportunity to arrange for a man in New York who is on the cutting edge of math and science and medicine and has endless resources to help a young mother of two girls from Mississippi whose husband was killed in the Iraq war and who was told earlier this year that her cancer is terminal... to maybe live.


We don't know how the story ends. We know Stephanie Lee has fought every way she knows, with the help of a military hospital in Mississippi, to stay alive for her daughters. And we know when we first talked to Eric Schadt, who runs the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai hospital, he told us there was virtually no chance he could help Stephanie. And we know that at each of the dozens of points at which hope and possibility could have been derailed, they were not. And now Stephanie is here, in New York, staying with Mark and his family, visiting the city for the first time, to hear what Eric and Several of the best minds in cancer treatment have to tell her about her cancer and about the course of treatment they developed for her through the application of a combination of techniques that she is one the first patients to receive, ever."

Friday, February 06, 2015

Pieces on writing - about a Justin Heckert story, thoughts from Wright Thompson & a speechwriter profile

Three different great pieces I've seen recently about the craft of writing included a story annotation with the author of the feature, a first-person piece on writing by a great sports writer, and a profile of the lead speechwriter for President Obama.

The annotation was done for the site Nieman Storyboard as part on an ongoing series and this edition "Annotation Tuesday: Justin Heckert and 'Lost in the Waves.'" The feature story that's discussed between Heckert and Matt Tullis is a long piece that ran in Men's Journal in 2009 and which I read just just a few weeks ago. The story itself was really interesting to me in that it was just so darn... memorable. This sticking power for me came out of how I found myself as a reader conflicted about one of the people written about. It would have been a great piece just as a heroic adventure yarn, but while the adventure part definitely there, one of the main characters was someone that was portrayed as complicated and conflicting in how he could be viewed. In this regard, I found fascinating that this idea of a complicated and conflicting narrative felt to also be very much in effect in a prior feature by Heckert, "Susan Cox" is No Longer Here," about which in Dec 2013 I wrote the following:

It's a fascinating piece that begins with details on someone dying and a wonderful hospital program that provides companionship for those who need it. The story then takes a sharp turn into events that makes one think about tidy narratives, what we expect to happen with things and what actually can occur instead. Heckert writes something that doesn't lend itself to a simple take-away for the reader, but that seems to be what makes it such a great and though-provoking story.

With this idea of being intrigued by the character depiction in "Lost in the Waves," it was really cool to see the recent annotation with Heckert's story of writing the feature story.

The first-person piece was "Wright his own words" as part of a project Still No Cheering in the Press Box done out of the University of Maryland Journalism School and which features a number of great sports writers dishing on writing. What I loved the most from Thompson was the following...

"I write about things that are interesting to me. Which are often very different. All of these stories, the thing they have in common is that they were somehow interesting. I feel like they’re all dispatches from a worldview."

Also of great interest to me from Thompson was his mention of one of the favorite stories he's written and it being one I hadn't seen, "The Last Days of Tony Harris" from Dec 2007 and which Thompson did a Q&A on.

The last excellent piece to note here was the fairly short New York Times profile "State of the Union Speechwriter for Obama Draws on Various Inspirations" by Michael Schmidt on Cody Keenan. Just interesting reading about someone in a pretty remarkable job.

Great sports writing - by Graff, Jenkins, Reiter & Wickersham

My favorite recent sports pieces covered a number of different subjects: a skydiver, NBA player that's improved both professionally and personally, NFL team chaplain, and players from the old USSR hockey team juggernaut.

By Michael Graff for the Feb 2015 issue of Charlotte Magazine was "Grounded," a fantastic story of competitive skydiver, and former Army Golden Knight, Cheryl Stearns and the accident she suffered just prior to her 20,000th skydive.

The first of two Sports Illustrated stories to note here was by Lee Jenkins with "Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jump shot, voice remain a work in progress," on the Charlotte Hornets player and his diligent efforts to overcome both a stutter that began in childhood and problem in his game.

The second SI piece was "Red Army: Spirited documentary about Soviet hockey goes deep" by Ben Reiter about the recently released in theaters Red Army. Just an awesome trip down memory lane for someone who remembers the great Soviet team of the 1980s.

Written for ESPN was "Love in the Time of Deflategate" by Seth Wickersham on New England Patriots team chaplain / character coach Jack Easterby. Very cool and heartwarming look at a different aspect of the NFL world that Wickersham has written well about so many times.