Quick Ramblings on Amazon, Baseball, and 3 Interesting Books

OK, Sportfans, quick ramblings on a chilly Monday morning in Boston:

    1. Amazon: My curious 4 year old twins are truly denizens of the digital age. They were able to spend $23.99 on their favorite TV show on our Kindle Fire (which, btw, for $139 is an awesome deal – great media consumption tablet). It was a show that we already own. I contacted Amazon and they processed a refund with no issues, despite the fact that their return policy for video is final sale. I was geared up for a fight, and Amazon made it easy. This is why their revenue is growing dramatically. Fantastic pricing and fantastic service. Every retailer should be this facile.
    2. Baseball: The Red Sox are keeping me up late at night. The Detroit Tigers series was amazing and thrilling. The current World Series against the Cardinals is whacky, but equally engaging. There is something so compelling about the long-form playoff, with evolving story lines and characters that doesn’t happen in short form playoffs, like the NFL. The drama around match ups and reflections upon last night’s performance makes this drama of the highest order. With the Cards running out amazingly young, amazingly talented big-armed pitcher after pitcher, and the rag-tag Red Sox shuffling lineups to work some kind of arcane statistical advantage, the umpiring crew taking on an out-sized position in determining the outcome and nearly every game running to a fevered pitch in the late innings, this is what makes sports, and specifically baseball, so compelling. And for hero worship, there is no sport better. Almost every play lends itself to the opportunity to do something extraordinary, and this series has given us heroes and goats. Heros, villains, flaws and gods – this out of the Iliad.
    3. Books: OK – back to more books. After my last recap of baseball books, I wanted to give you three more books that have captured my interest:
      • We Are Water, by Wally Lamb, while trendy of topic (same sex marriage), is something is on my short read list because I have missed Wally Lamb’s voice. (If you never read it,  please give She’s Come Undone a chance to witness the emergence of a unique voice in American letters.)
      • Jim Henson – A new biography of Jim Henson. Despite his impact on millions (billions?) of children worldwide, I know next to nothing about the creative genius that created the Muppets. I heard the author on NPR, and I want to dive in.
      • David & Goliath: I am a sucker for Malcolm Gladwell. He has that kind of wild-haired genius and insight that those of us who have neither wild-hair nor any discoverable genius can only imagine. But better than just insight, they guy is a phenomenal story teller. He makes his insight come alive, and his subjects aren’t examples, but rather characters. There is a Tom Wolfe/Michael Lewis ability to make real people into wonderfully exciting characters. It is a gift and I look forward to cracking open the digital cover of his latest.

That’s it for today, I have to save my energy to be able to watch tonight’s baseball game!

Baseball Books

So, I read an article on Bookish.com the other day from a Sports Illustrated writer about his favorite baseball books. So, I thought I would throw (ha – see what I did there? Throw – baseball – HA!) together my own list:

  1. Ball Four: Great, funny scandalous work about the real life of a baseball player. Written by the very funny Jim Bouton, who in addition to being a knuckleballer, helped invent Big League Chew. This takes you through baseball in the 1960s and 1970s – different than today, but fun, engaging and timeless.
  2. The Art of Fielding: College baseball, May-December secret romances, depression, and a scruffily bearded friend and an untimely death. What else do you need?
  3. Catcher with a Glass Arm: OK, so anything by Matt Christopher had me riveted when I was 8, but this book has stayed with me for decades. (And I was a little crushed when my baseball obsessed son didn’t love it as much as I did, but when I read it, it is a little dated. But whatever. It still makes the list.
  4. The Catcher Was a Spy: Baseball and spies?!? Yeah, the story of Moe Berg, a journeyman catcher who just happened to work for the OSS. Awesome stuff. Read it. Seriously.
  5. Shoeless Joe: I will admit that the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams was actually better than the book, but totally read it. There is magic here..
  6. A Pitcher’s Story: Anything that Roger Angell writes about baseball is worth reading. And when he writes about thoughtful and passionate people like David Cone, only good things can happen.
  7. Moneyball: Baseball is a business. And I dare anyone to find a better business writer than Michael Lewis. He makes dull things like WAR (wins above replacement value) come alive, and makes drama from the data that is the business of baseball. Skip the Brad Pitt version and read the book. It is great.
  8. Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion: So, Roger Angell makes it twice. His look at baseball is just the right mix of cerebral and emotional. He is enthralled with the boyhood hero-worship of the men that roam the green grass of the diamond. But he knows that they are flawed and imperfect heroes. This kind of tension haunts Angell’s writing to make him the finest long-form baseball writer ever. (I would posit that Peter Gammons is the finest short-form writer.)
  9. The Wrong Stuff: So, it ISN’T a great book. Bill “Spaceman” Lee is completely insane, and his editorial voice wanders. But this is reminiscent of Bouton. Bill Lee was (and is, still) an original voice in baseball. For any Red Sox fan, this is worth reading.
  10. Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball : You either like George Will or you hate him. I dislike his conservatism immensely. However, he has a romance with baseball that is true and real. Like Angell, he wonders at the majesty of the players – their athleticism, their grace. But he sees them for who they are, and it is this flawed hero worship that I am drawn to again and again.

What are your favorites?

Rob May Is Wrong

I read Rob May’s post on Venture Beat over the weekend. The general thrust is this – the internet kills innovation because everyone in tech is part of a self-selecting club. We wear the same pants, all have the same phone, like the same stuff, therefore the culture and viewpoint of the tech community is fixed and unchanging.

There is an argument to be made around insular communities driving self-reinforcing beliefs. Political parties, religions, and cults all require some agreement on fundamental values and world-views before you join. They then give you a world-view that reinforces their premise. So, sure, they can be limiting because they force you to think about things from a particular viewpoint. Tech can be insular, too. Check out Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble (and I wrote about this book here). Basically, Google watches what you click on and feeds you more stuff like it, so if you are liberal, you see more liberal leaning content, etc. That can be insular, too.

But Rob, to say that the internet is killing innovation is just this side of silly. The internet has made our world more connected. And you are right, connectedness breeds cultural cross-contamination. But that is the nature of human interaction. It has happened for hundreds of thousands of years. Languages, religions, fashions and political beliefs have spread over the world and given different cultures a common place to engage. When ideas and beliefs spread, they change both the converted and the evangelist.

You say that we’ve homogenized the startup culture – you may be right in a superficial way. Homogenization doesn’t mean that innovation is dead, it just means that you have to look a little more closely to see the variations in community and culture that rest beneath the obvious surface similarities. Because we all speak English (language is a very homogenizing force) US/UK/AUS aren’t the same – and Spain and Mexico could hardly be more different.

What you call homogenized, I call connected. So, yeah, tech folks may all have iPhones and think about artisanal foods, but we are connected in those commonalities. Those commonalities allow us to discuss those things that are dissimilar in our approach – and that is where innovation comes from. You and I both wear glasses and have facial hair – and you are in Cambridge, MA and I am in Arlington, MA. It seems like we would be the same, then. Homogeneous, even. I bet we aren’t.

So, forget about dismissing the internet as a force that kills innovation. Forget about surface homogenization as a crushing blow to ingenuity. Forget haircuts, forget phones and focus on the particular set of experiences and emotional influences that you brought to this very moment. They are the fuel that powers disruptive thinking – not what kind of restaurants you frequent. You have confused social trends and proclivities for thinking.

Let’s have lunch sometime – somewhere outside of Kendall Sq – you know – in the real world 😉

PLAs are Becoming Beautiful

PLAJust today, I was doing some client work and wanted to check out the competition for a search – so I typed in a search “canon sx30 is“. And I was expecting a typical set of PLAs – 8 or 16 all from merchants I never heard of…but I have never seen a single pane PLA. (If this is old news, then please forgive me.) But this was one of the most high-impact presentations for a search result that I have seen. Google’s foray into Schema.org data to identify products and then mixing that with the power of PLAs is great. I feel sorry for all CSEs out there. This just kills your business.

The Knowledge graph explosion has been pretty incredible too – especially in the world of books. Title and author searches lead you into the world of Google books – do a search for “italo calvino” and see what you would rather click on – 10 blue links or the gorgeous Knowledge graph entry?

As a consumer, I love this – Google is aggregating information and giving it to me so I can make an informed click. As a marketer, it feels, a little bit, like Google is trying to keep my traffic rather than refer it to me. Wasn’t that the point? That Google finds everything and tells you where to go? Know, they are telling you what you want to know without you having to experience the site that has given them the information that they are serving you.

I am loving and hating this. You?

It Sucks Being a Solo Founder

Here is a snippet of an article I wrote for FounderDating:

“Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” -Nolan Bushnell

I have started a small handful of companies–some successful (SpinShark – sold to PM Digital), some not (The Kilroy Group crashed and burned so hard they brought in FEMA). And the start is always exciting. You are full of ideas, opportunity, visions and dreams.  But then the work

Adchemix, my current company, started innocently enough in the shower. I was in the midst of one of those deep-thought reveries, chewing through problems that I wanted to solve, enshrouded in steam and hot water. And then the solution hit me. It was electric. I ran out of the shower, soaking wet, and started writing down my explosion of insight. For some other founder, that might be the start of an amazing overnight success story. But, truth be told, that shower was nearly 3 years ago. (And  I have taken other showers since, but few have been as exhilarating)… Read the Rest at Founder Dating

It Has Been a Busy Summer

I have been crazed this summer. Adchemix, my new company, has started down a fun path, and it has taken up all of my mental energy. But, there is stuff on my mind as the first chilly day of fall arrives, in no particular order:

  1. The Red Sox: In December, I pegged them for 5th place in the AL East. Who woulda thunk that they’d be at the top of the AL East? I guess this why I always get crushed in fantasy baseball.

     

  2. Syria: The New Yorker nailed the complexity of my feelings about Syria. WaPo totally put the morass in context. And speaking of ass – Ed Markey voting “present” makes him seem like an ass. And the Repulicans continue their assery – Obama can’t do anything without congressional approval, but Congress stays on their summer break. And then complain he isn’t moving fast enough. Seriously, WTF?
  3. Congress: I simply can’t get over how broken congress is. The partisan BS is just killing the progress this country is trying to make. Syria sucks and it is hard, but we have got to decide what we are doing. The president can’t be right and wrong, and Congress shouldn’t demand to be involved, agree to what the President has suggested and kill him for it. This is passive aggressive behavior at its best (or worst).
  4. Congress 2: The debt ceiling is here again. This is such a simple issue. We can’t spend and save at the same time. The sequestration was supposed to be the poison pill that stopped this nonsense. Great. We’ve had the sequester and nothing happened. Get off your asses and compromise. Find a way. Stop grandstanding and get to the work that you were elected to do. The debt ceiling is NOT a zero sum game. Everybody can win (from a political standpoint.) Inaction that grinds the country to a halt makes it more difficult for us to move forward because our credit rating is dinged, and makes it difficult for us to have the international authority that we want. Our credibility is compromised because we can’t agree on our checkbook. That is really cutting off your nose to spite your face.
  5. Books: Salinger looks salacious. Zealot looks interesting, too. And for fun, I am reading Rob Sheffield‘s Turn Around Bright Eyes – a fun ditty about mourning, love and karaoke. Totally worth the time. (By the way, all of the book links point at Bookish.com. They are a client. They are doing awesome stuff in the world of books. They are, in all the right ways, the anti-Amazon for books. They aren’t selling books because they think they can disrupt something. They sell books because they LOVE them. It’s different.)
  6. Retail: My company spends a lot of time thinking about large-scale search for retailers. So we have a good look at what is happening in the economy as represented by retail sales. Here is what we are seeing: a) Online sales are up double digits, store sales flat to up a few percentage points b) Online budgets are taking away from print in a big way – more bad news for newspapers and magazines c) People are spending more – in our look at things, average order values are up 10-12% – significantly more that the rate of inflation
  7. Music: I had some small part in helping birth OMusic, an upstart Indian music service that allows for streaming or local playback. If you have an Android device, check out the OMusic application. Some of the music is just awesome. Congratulations to Parijat Shah and his team. They have worked incredibly hard and done amazing things on a shoestring budget. I wish you every success! On other musical notes, I have spent a crazy amount of time listening to X – See How We Are and I miss my cassette of “Introducing John Doe” that I listened to incessantly in 1990 and I can’t find a digital version anywhere – any ideas?

Great Deck on the Future of SEO by Rand Fishkin @moz

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