Tag Archives: books

The Cubs Way, Music, and Management

“Is that Tom Waits?”

“Yeah. Do you like Tom Waits?”

“I love Tom Waits.”


I am haunted by a childhood memory. Around age 13, my Little League coach and assistant coach had a falling out. Team practices were put on hold. For a kid unenthused about sports, you’d think this was a blessing. But the team was working well together and… winning!

We had a fantastic cast of characters resembling The Sandlot. There were Bennys, Hams, and Yeah-Yeahs. Maybe a Squints here and there. I myself felt like Smalls. We were a mixed bag, some with little to no skill, but we bonded. We helped each other. The loss of practice was arresting. Devastating.

Mike called me up. He was one of the leaders — very much a Benny type. He was organizing a practice and called me up to summon others. After we got off the phone, I had a thought: we should bring music. I loved doing any activity to music. I called Mike back.

He didn’t call it a stupid idea, but he suggest that we didn’t need it. I hung up and felt silly for the idea. I’ve never forgotten how embarrassed I felt for suggesting the idea.

In his fantastic book “The Cubs Way”, author Tom Verducci notes an immediate tactic new Chicago Cubs coach Joe Maddon took with his team at the opening of the 2015 spring training — his first spring training with the team:

After Maddon’s opening speech as Chicago manager, the Cubs took the field—actually, a wide swath of grass out in back of their training center—looking like a different team. The best way to measure the immediate change in the Cubs under Maddon was in decibels. As the team began its morning stretch, a huge speaker blasted “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix. What followed were more tunes from among Maddon’s rock-and-roll favorites, including “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones, “Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Tom Sawyer” by Rush.

“I’m a product of the ’60s and ’70s,” he told his new team. “You’ll have to put up with that.”

After reading this passage, I felt vindicated. My 13-year-old self’s idea was not stupid. Joe Maddon plays music. It’s not that big of a deal. Scaling back a bit of focus for a bit of fun encourages free thinking and flow. (A big reminder that my 13-year-old self had shit for brains.)

I’ve recently taken on a new management role. It is challenging beyond belief. With these challenges, I’ve put lots of attention into how my manager runs his team. One of the simplest and subtlest tricks he uses is playing music during one-on-ones and meetings. At times, it can feel distracting, but more often than not, it lightens the mood and opens up conversations outside of work. In a recent case, we hit on our shared love of Tom Waits. (What’s he building in there? A team. I’ll stop.)

I’ve now applied music to my one-on-ones. Nothing too distracting. No early-’00s post-hardcore, ’80s pop, or ’70s prog rock. Mellow electronic, jazz, or my Apple Music Chill Mix do the trick. I think it’s helping. It’s lightened the mood. And — for me at least — makes me feel a bit more connected to my team.

Music can be an equalizer. Embrace it. There shouldn’t be rules to how you manage or run your team meetings. Find energy. Find flow. Find commonality. And while you’re at it, find a copy of “The Cubs Way”.

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The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

God, you little devil.

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Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself is a primer for the state of science today. But at the heart of book lies a core belief and explanation for poetic naturalism. Just what is poetic naturalism? Here’s Carroll in an interview with WIRED’s Eric Niiler:

Atheism is a reaction against theism. It is purely a rejection of an idea. It’s not a positive substantive idea about how the world is. Naturalism is a counterpart to theism. Theism says there’s the physical world and god. Naturalism says there’s only the natural world. There are no spirits, no deities, or anything else. Poetic naturalism emphasizes that there are many ways of talking about the natural world. The fact that the underlying laws of physics are deterministic and impersonal does not mean that at the human level we can’t talk about ideas about reasons and goals and purposes and free will. So poetic naturalism is one way of reconciling what we are sure about the world at an intuitive level. A world that has children. Reconciling that with all the wonderful counterintuitive things about modern science.

For a layman, Carroll breaks down today’s fundamentals of science to painstaking detail (outside of the use of equations) and builds them back up to something simpler that speak to the justification for poetic naturalism. He dives into physics, philosophy, quantum mechanics, biology, and many other fields. He tackles many questions that are asked from casual daydreamers and the depths of Sci-Fi alike. And it all comes wrapped in an idea that there lies something between atheism and theism.

Carroll strives to pit Science against Theism on an even playing field, or one that’s as level as possible; Modern science challenging the ever shrinking God of the gaps. But for all of Carroll’s scientific professing, he is careful never to discount just how vast the gaps remain. By sheer virtue of his lessons on Bayesian credences, he never shuts out theism entirely, always leaving the door unlocked and possibly cracked open.

We’ll see that the existence of life provides, at best, a small boost to the probability that theism is true—while related features of the universe provide an extremely large boost for naturalism.

Chapters and sections read like deep troughs with a steep decline. As soon as the reader is introduced to a concept, Carroll has them barreling down a chasm at breakneck speed, only to bring them up for air in the last few paragraphs. I understood hardly a lick of the depths, but that’s okay. The meat lies in the simplified 30-percent of the pages. I took the rest as hard scientific justification, in the event the reader has any doubts as where Carroll comes up with these notions.

After 433 pages, Core Theory and quantum mechanics and multiverses and up quarks and down quarks are still a mystery to me. But what I did learn — what I can say without a shadow of a doubt — is with as much as we’ve discovered of the Universe, we still know very little. Maybe that will always be the case. Maybe there will always exist the God of the gaps with those gaps shrinking exponentially, but never quite stamped out.

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‘Nobody ever says “I don’t care if the music sounds bad.”‘

John Gruber, The Talk Show:

In general, I would rather read an interesting, well-written novel that’s poorly typeset than read a terrible novel that is beautifully typeset. Of course. That’s the difference. Even me as somebody obsessed with typography would agree with that. Whereas with music, nobody ever says “I don’t care if the music sounds bad,” like at a technical level. It’s fundamental to listening to music. But as the person making the device, that should be the obsession.

Relinking similar thoughts about broken video games from Luke Plunkett of Kotaku and myself.

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Official Elder Scrolls Books Coming March 2015

Official Bethesda Blog:

Not since Encyclopedia Britannica’s heyday have volumes of books looked this cool and demanded to be on your bookshelf. With The Elder Scrolls Online, two volumes covering “The Land” and “The Lore” feature never-before-seen art and extensive lore surrounding the game. Meanwhile, by popular demand, the Skyrim series offers the first opportunity to get all of the game’s in-game text across three volumes.

I always thought it would be great to read written versions of heavy-narrative games. Even with multiple “choose-your-own-adventure” storylines, the writers could choose a plot line to get the point across.

There are plenty of game universes I want to explore (Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, and World of Warcraft to name a few), but don’t have 60+ hours to spare on side-quests, menu navigation, and controller mechanics. Don’t even get me started on the time dolled out to obsessive character creation.

While these Elder Scrolls “lore” books may not be my ideal solution, they are certainly a better intro to the universes than spin-off, expanded, and/or non-canon storylines.

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Digital Amnesia

A must see 50 minute documentary on digital record keeping and our history.

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, Digital Amnesia:

We’re going to want archives of every form, of all of the different generations: Physical form, the micro-film form, when they lived on CD-ROMs, when they’re on hard drives, when they’re on the next optical polygraphic whatever. We’re going to want to keep each one of these generations to make sure that we have a way of knowing what really happened and not make it so that people can go and change the past.

I am all for digital goods and less physical clutter, but there is something so fleeting about it. I recently wrote about my theory of technological rubber-banding; a craving for analog technologies in an increasingly digital world.

I’m not sure if I’ve brought up my practice of buying physical (preferably hardback) books once I complete the ePub version. Why not start with the physical version? Reading books has always been a personal challenge. I find it less daunting to visualize and feel one page at a time on a static tablet rather than see exactly how much more I have to read in physical space. Then why the physical version? I use it as a trophy and physical memento of the book. Too quickly do I forget the contents of books. Seeing one that I have completed on my shelf is a positive reminder that I have not only finished reading the book but that I had actually read it at all.

Over the past few years, I have grown deeply concerned over the preservation of digital history, beginning with early software including video games and code printed in the backs of magazines. It became even more alarming when I heard the following quote from Blake J. Harris, author of Console Wars, on the HarperAudio Presents podcast:

When you’re a kid, you’re not always conscience of how you choose your interests. I always felt like it wasn’t a choice to play video games. It was part of your lifestyle.

Getting a Genesis for my birthday a few years ago reminded me of all of that. I hooked it up, thinking it would be sort of nice and nostalgic to play these games again, but I found that not only was it that, but these games were still very enjoyable and very challenging.

Knowing that this was such a big part of my life and that there were so many hours spent and so many entertaining games and aspects to the culture, I went to Barnes & Noble on 86th Street. It’s an enormous Barnes & Noble. I asked where the video game history section was, assuming it would be near the film history or music history sections. The woman pretty much laughed at me. That it was pretty amazing. For an industry that’s bigger than music and film, there was not only a video game history section but when I asked for one of the books on Sega and Nintendo, the woman told me there was no such book that they could even order. The only thing they had on video games in the entire store was walkthrough guides.

That was kind of shocking to me. It wasn’t like a light went off and I thought, “I will fill this need!” But I did.

Even more shocking is the vanishing of historical online events in MMOs and the like; events that are completely digital yet full of human, communal interaction. This is one of the most re-listenable podcast episodes I have found. I still have a hard time not tearing up during the close:

Stanford University gaming curator Henry Lowood on the Library of Congress commissioned “Preserving Virtual Worlds” project, as heard in A Life Well Wasted: “Gotta Catch ’em All”:

In terms of practical projects, there are basically two things:

One is preservation of games. We have, for example, the Cabrinety Collection. We have roughly 25,000 games from before the early 1990’s.

Also, a lot of work that we are doing is on how the heck we’re going to be able to make sure people have access to games and especially the multiplayer networked games and things that happen in those games 50, 100, 200 years from now. How are we going to save that history knowing that for other media such early film much of that early history of was lost?

Jason Scott, digital historian, Digital Amnesia:

The half-life of software is insane. The fact that we go from “this working” to “this not working” in not just the span of a lifetime but in the span of less than a generation. And I mean unreadable. Like unreadable, physically unreadable because the signal is gone. Or physically unreadable because there’s no device to read it or the documentation is gone.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine and I rounded up as much audio content from our time playing in bands in the early 2000s that we could find and launched the Altamont Archives. (Written article here.) While we were able to scrounge together a majority of the content, much of it was lost to bad CDs, no backups, no access to master recordings, and low-kbps audio rips. It’s gut wrenching to remember that there were songs you loved that you will never hear again. Complete memories lost.

I am less concerned about changing the past and more concerned about forgetting the story of the Information Age. I recently had a nostalgic back-and-forth with game designer Pete Vigeant about hearing our first MP3. Until then, we were convinced computers would only ever be capable of MIDI output and unable to deliver high-quality organic sound. It was a blip in time that will likely be forgotten or at the very least delivered as a footnote in a grade school history textbook. But to our generation, it was (to use Vigeant’s words) “sorcery.”

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Building Blocks

Martin Scorsese, as quoted by FirstShowing.net:

We have many names for what we do – cinema, movies, motion pictures. And…film. We’re called directors, but more often we’re called filmmakers. Filmmakers. I’m not suggesting that we ignore the obvious: HD isn’t coming, it’s here. The advantages are numerous: the cameras are lighter, it’s much easier to shoot at night, we have many more means at our disposal for altering and perfecting our images. And, the cameras are more affordable: films really can be made now for very little money. Even those of us still shooting on film finish in HD, and our movies are projected in HD. So, we could easily agree that the future is here, that film is cumbersome and imperfect and difficult to transport and prone to wear and decay, and that it’s time to forget the past and say goodbye – really, that could be easily done. Too easily.

It seems like we’re always being reminded that film is, after all, a business. But film is also an art form, and young people who are driven to make films should have access to the tools and materials that were the building blocks of that art form. Would anyone dream of telling young artists to throw away their paints and canvases because iPads are so much easier to carry? Of course not. In the history of motion pictures, only a minuscule percentage of the works comprising our art form was not shot on film. Everything we do in HD is an effort to recreate the look of film. Film, even now, offers a richer visual palette than HD. And, we have to remember that film is still the best and only time-proven way to preserve movies. We have no assurance that digital informaton will last, but we know that film will, if properly stored and cared for.

Our industry – our filmmakers – rallied behind Kodak because we knew that we couldn’t afford to lose them, the way we’ve lost so many other film stocks. This news is a positive step towards preserving film, the art form we love.

Earlier today, I vocalized a theory to a colleague that within the next two years we will experience a technological “rubber band effect.” It’s not to say that we will fall out of love with the magic that tech provides or that we are desensitized to the magic, more so a realization that there are places where magic is not needed. Music production is over bloated and uncomfortably tight, there is an eeriness that all eBooks are the same weight and thickness, and the reliance of post-weathering filters and blurs on digital photos are non-starters. All different approaches to “improve” on digital mediums or mock analog as novelty, now overly used splinters in the senses.

I also predict an increased interest in non-fiction books in lieu of race-to-the-bottom listicles and online publications full of obnoxiously placed online ads. I’m not sure if it fits into the same argument but it feels like there is some overlap here.

Digital is becoming tiring. Surely a great outlook for a blogger.

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Game of Games

Author Blake J. Harris on his new book, Console Wars, as quoted by Polygon:

My biggest influences on business writing are Ben Mezrich and and Michael Lewis. But the actual greatest influence on the narrative style has to be Game of Thrones. Because, really, that’s what this story is. It’s all these different families or corporations and entities competing for this one seat at the top of the table that they all think they deserve for a variety of different reasons. Or that they believe that they should inherit — because it’s their God-given right or because they have the right strategy, and they deserve it.

I’ve been extremely excited for this read. I might have to shelve Catmull and Swift in lieu of Console Wars, or Game of Games.

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Jordan Shapiro on the current reading habits of children

Jordan Shapiro writing for Forbes:

Of course, it is easier to frame the story as paper vs. digital. It gives us permission not to engage with our kids. We can blame the video games and apps rather than blaming ourselves. Parents need to take responsibility for raising thoughtful, empathic, open-minded adults. Books are a crucial part of the equation. But even if we eliminated every digital technology from our lives, our kids still won’t read books unless we tell them in no uncertain terms that books are an important part of being an adult.

Shamefully, at the age of 28, I have discovered that the substance contained in non-fiction books is unmatched by video games. I have never been much of a reader but have been challenging myself to read more and more each year.

This year, I have decided to do a majority of reading on my devices. Once I finish a book, I buy the print version as a trophy or achievement. Is buying a book twice crazy? Probably. But the author gets a small bonus and it has me yearning to read cover-to-cover. One step toward gamifying my reading experience.

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