Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

Predicting Rogue Waves

Saturday, May 7th, 2016
Going Rogue

Going Rogue

This morning’s Providence Journal ran an excellent article, courtesy of the Cape Cod Times,  describing how the work of MIT researchers may predict when rogue waves will strike. A rogue wave forms when one wave passes through another and combines forces, with an exponential increase in power. When the height of a wave doubles, its power per square foot quadruples, producing deadly force. The accompanying article describes specific local losses arising from rogue waves, such as the experience of an emergency room physician being struck face down in the ocean by a rogue wave that left him a quadriplegic.

For the shipping industry, the economic losses can be substantial. While tankers and container ships are designed for heavy seas, the power of rogue waves exceeds the design criteria by ten-fold. In June 2013, the MOL Comfort, a modern container ship, split in half, burned and sank after meeting a rogue wave. The resulting losses are estimated at $500 million. Allianz, a German insurer of global cargo vessels, predicts that there will be a loss in excess of $1 billion from the sinking of a single ship.

A rogue wave differs from a tsunami in several respects: tsunamis are triggered by land events, such as earthquakes, and can travel long distances. A rogue wave arises spontaneously from water movements and may last for seconds or minutes. The work of the MIT team may give two to three minutes’ warning of the formation of a rogue wave, possibly saving lives and property. The team developed an algorithm that looks for clusters of waves meeting certain criteria. MIT’s news office has produced an excellent, short video for additional information about rogue waves.

After reading this morning’s newspaper, I added another title to my “To Read” list (which is much longer than my “To Do” list): The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves and Our Quest to Predict Disasters. The author, Bruce Parker, served as chief scientist for the National Ocean Service, and was quoted in this newspaper article about the physics of the ocean. I never appreciated that fluid mechanics could be so engaging, but now I want to learn more.

National Pet Day 2016

Monday, April 11th, 2016
Registered Trademark

Registered Trademark

Today is National Pet Day and as I read the lifestyle section of this morning’s newspaper, I came across  several articles quoting James Herriot as having said that “if having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” Reading those words brought back fond memories of reading Herriot’s books, including All Creatures Great and Small. James Herriot is the pen name of British veterinary surgeon Alf Wight, whose stories of caring for his animal patients exude joy in the everyday work of caring for his patients.

In caring for Coco and Henry, I am updating my mobile and cloud-based files for their most recent physical examinations and vaccinations. In the event a disaster caused us to leave home temporarily, I might be required to produce proof that the dogs’ vaccinations are up to date in order to bring them to a hotel with me. I keep all of that information on a mobile app, accessible on my smart phone. If your records are not up-to-date, National Pet Day is a timely reminder to attend to this task before the 2016 storm season begins. (And I include the graphic image in this blog post to announce the happy news that the Coco and Henry trademark is registered to Prisere LLC – perfect timing!)

Prescient Words

Sunday, April 10th, 2016
Mega Disasters

Mega Disasters

I had blogged about Mega Disasters: The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe, an engaging book by mathematician Florin Diacu. I was organizing my notes of the book before returning it to the library, when I came across the following passage (pages 84-85):

“It was New Orleans that was hit in 2005. It might be New York the next time. Nobody understands this danger better than the experts in hurricane prediction.” And then the author quotes a passage from hurricane forecasters that described what became known as Super Storm Sandy in all but name. The book was published in February 2010. The words resonated with me as I am working on a project to help small businesses that sustained significant losses as a result of Sandy. This passage was presented in the context of the difficult decisions emergency personnel have to make when deciding whether or not to order an evacuation. Given the time and logistical complexity required to evacuate a densely-populated city, prudence argues for ordering the evacuation. But should the storm veer off into the Atlantic, the evacuation, which is a major undertaking, would prove unnecessary. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough; the author’s writing style is engaging and the material remains timely.

Deadly Floods in Pakistan

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Torrential rains and flash floods have killed nearly fifty people in Pakistan and injured many more. The country’s prime minister directed the National Disaster Management Authority to provide timely aid to victims. Family members of those killed in the floods will be compensated with $3,000, owners of destroyed homes will receive $1,000, those with partially damaged homes and those who sustained injuries will receive $500. Reading the news of this terrible tragedy reminded me of what I had read in Mega-Disasters: the Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe (page 64).

In 1970, a powerful cyclone struck East Pakistan, killing almost 500,000 people. The government, based in West Pakistan, failed to attend to the victims. The disaster occurred in the context of political factions favoring a separatist movement. Enraged by the inept response to the disaster, the population was soon engulfed in civil war. East Pakistan declared its independence in 1971 and changed its name to Bangladesh.  U.S. policymakers believe such responses to weather-related disasters may become more common.

The U.S. Naval War College is undertaking research to consider how climate change can impact global political stability. It is sobering to consider the issues of access to water or food security arising from a warmer world.

Amtrak Train Crash Near Philadelphia

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

By a stroke of luck, I have twice missed being on Amtrak trains between New York City and Washington DC that crashed near Philadelphia. Early today, a southbound train operating at high speed struck a backhoe on the track, killing two track workers and injuring more than thirty passengers. Last year, a train en route to New York derailed, killing eight people and causing injury to more than two hundred. The tragedy of these disasters is that they are entirely avoidable and appear to arise from human error. This should prompt inquiry into Amtrak’s operating practices.

I took away some lessons about disaster communications after hearing the account of a passenger on the train, Steve Forbes. He was scheduled to be at the Washington DC studio of CSPAN to appear on the “Book TV” program to discuss his latest book, Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy and What You Can Do About It. Fate intervened as Forbes was a passenger on Amtrak Train 89 southbound from New York. Fortunately, he was not injured and returned home to do a shorter interview with CSPAN by telephone. CSPAN then filled the air time with a taped recording of a talk Forbes had given about his book at Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington DC.

I had scheduled the DVR to record the CSPAN program as I am a huge Steve Forbes fan.  The first time I met him was in the green room of Fox Business News when we were both guests on Alexis Glick’s show Money for Breakfast. Mr. Forbes was on an earlier segment of the program and when I met him I expressed regret that I had known he was scheduled to appear, I would have brought my copy of  Power Ambition Glory: The Stunning Parallels Between Great Leaders of the Ancient World and Today…and the Lessons You Can Learn for him to sign. Ever the gentleman, Forbes surprised me by sending over an inscribed copy of the book later in the day.

Over the course of his call-in CSPAN interview, Forbes addressed the issue of the condition of American infrastructure, calling for more private-public partnerships, and remarked on the disparity between the condition of our freight trains (which are among the best in the world) and our commuter trains; the former being in good shape as private owners are motivated to invest in maintenance, the latter being in poor condition for poor public management. He also addressed the issue of disaster communications; the passengers on Train 89 knew that it was too hazardous to exit the train and step onto electrified rail, but more than twenty minutes passed before any Amtrak crew informed them of what had happened. Forbes himself was on his cell phone to the CSPAN producer to arrange to phone in his interview given that he was not going to arrive in Washington DC that day.

Forbes touched on the themes of his book which addresses how abandoning the Bretton Woods system, in which the U.S. dollar was pegged to gold, completely undermined money as a store of value. I look forward to when his in-studio interview at CSPAN is re-scheduled as I am eager to hear his analysis of how our monetary policy has undermined small business access to credit. Meanwhile, Forbes’ experience on Amtrak provides a compelling lesson on disaster communications. Employees need to be trained to provide timely information to customers when service is disrupted and kudos to Forbes for his calm response in what must have been a frustrating situation.

Dreaming of Oscar Gold

Sunday, February 28th, 2016
Dreaming of Oscar Gold

Dreaming of Oscar Gold

Will you be among the tens of millions of viewers watching the live broadcast of the Academy Awards for Motion Pictures (the “Oscars”) tonight? Apparently, it is not just the actors, directors and film studios dreaming of Oscar gold. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, blogged about an Oscar award going to a movie depicting characters impacted by disasters. They titled the category “The Best Pictures of Resilience”.

I, too, had envisioned a scenario in which a highly entertaining movie could motivate its audience to prepare for disasters. I had blogged about San Andreas, The Movie which had effectively informed its large audience about the severity of earthquakes and the necessary safety measures. I had imagined a sequel to the movie in which the star attempts to rebuild his life, business and community in the aftermath of the disaster as the movie audience learns about the long-term consequences of disasters.

What can we do to make our information about disaster preparedness resonate with audiences in the way that the blockbuster movies do so effectively? I have invested some effort into examining more effective disaster communications. After reading the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, I enrolled in the accompanying course offered by Decker Communications. After being informed by more effective communication strategies, our messages may not be entertaining. But at least they will be memorable.

Book of the Week: Good Profit

Sunday, January 10th, 2016
Good Read

Good Read

My business (book) reading this week is Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles G. Koch. The author is the chairman and chief executive officer of Koch Industries, Inc., a $100 billion company. I have read other titles about the Market-Based Management®  system in use at Koch Industries which seeks to create internal markets to align incentives and actions within the company with the external marketplace in which the company must compete. I am trying to learn more about the MBM approach to aligning resources and opportunities.

This book picks up where Koch’s last book left off by addressing, in greater detail, how to create a company culture that brings forth the best contributions from all employees while ensuring that they are working on the right initiatives. Good Profit also advances a moral defense of capitalism which, despite the occasional market failure, is the best known system for creating wealth and improving human welfare. I highly recommend this book.

Book of the Week: Katrina, After the Flood

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016
Catching Up Ten Years Later

Catching Up Ten Years Later

One of my favorite articles from Inc. magazine explored the decline of a Florida community ten years after it had been struck by Hurricane Andrew. As businesses lost revenues and had uninsured losses, they had to close, laying off employees, who no longer had discretionary income to spend at local businesses which sustained a loss of revenue….it was a vicious cycle and a number of residents were forced to relocate in search of jobs and other opportunities. I particularly appreciated the article, because typically disasters command attention when vivid images of physical damage can be broadcast. But when the news cycle has moved on to other stories, the people impacted by the disaster are left to rebuild without the sense of urgency conveyed by the initial media coverage. I know from my own experience of 9-11 that it is a long, long time before things return to normal – if they ever do. So I had Katrina, After the Flood on my list for some time and finally got around to reading it.

Gary Rivlin, a staff reporter for the New York Times, first went to New Orleans to assess the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina. He observed that 80 per cent of the houses in the city had been flooded, schools and businesses were ruined and the city’s water and sewer system were unusable. In this book, he traces what happens in the aftermath of a major disaster. Boarded-up businesses, some 21,0000 of the 22,000 businesses registered in New Orleans, were still shuttered six months after the storm. Six weeks after the storm, New Orleans laid off half of the municipal workforce. With so many formerly economically productive businesses and workers unable to contribute to the tax base, the community could not possibly finance its own recovery.  What we learn is that life doesn’t go back to “normal”; people re-build or they move on, but the community is permanently changed. It is a gripping read; I highly recommend it.

Blue Skies, Green Hell

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
Blue Skies Green Hell

Blue Skies Green Hell

In the first edition of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (then titled Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide), I wrote of the power of emotion in recovering from disaster. And that includes reliving your experience of a major disaster when other events trigger those memories. So for those of us who were in the World Trade Center or elsewhere in Lower Manhattan, the media coverage of the terrorist attacks in Paris can be quite stressful. There are too many similarities between our experiences; for example, you see psychologists on the television news advising parents as to what they should say to their children who are struggling to understand what happened.

So I decided to follow my own advice and take a break. Not long after 9-11, I visited an arboretum in New Jersey and found the respite afforded by the beauty of nature to help deal with the stress of my experience. This evening, I joined the ladies of “Read Read Wine” at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island to welcome author Marilyn Lazzari-Wing, author of Blue Skies, Green Hell.  We had an engaging conversation with the author over wine and dinner. “Read Read Wine” members describe the group as a “wine club with a reading problem”.

Blue Skies, Green Hell tells the story of a whirlwind romance that began when the author visited her sister in Venezuela where she received a marriage proposal from Frank Lazzari at their very first meeting. Lazzari was setting up a bush pilot service and so did not have time for a more conventional courtship. The author accepted the proposal; two weeks later, the couple was married. Together, they challenged the odds of flying single engine aircraft over Venezuela’s vast wilderness to deliver supplies to remote and otherwise inaccessible communities. The book is an account of their adventures in the air and on the ground.

But what I found even more engaging than the book was the author herself. Marilyn Lazzari-Wing is a force of nature. At 86 years young, she is eager to continue learning and even returned to flight school to refresh her pilot’s license. She has an infectious joy and zest for living. And I want to thank her and the ladies of “Read Read Wine” for a great evening of conversation and wine and a respite from what was an otherwise stressful week. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. And if you survived a disaster, you may find the news media reports of the events in Paris to be overwhelming at times, so take care of yourself. Everyone needs a break from time to time to recharge so we keep our stamina to help others.

Book of the Week: SheVenture

Saturday, November 14th, 2015


My week-end business reading is She Venture: Success Strategies for Female Entrepreneurs, a book for women entrepreneurs authored by Michele Markey. Michele is Vice President of FastTrac, a global provider of educational programs that equip aspiring and established entrepreneurs with the business skills and insights, tools, resources, and networks to start and grow successful businesses. Kauffman FastTrac was created by the Kauffman Foundation, the largest foundation whose mission is to advance entrepreneurship as a key to growing economies and expanding human welfare. I completed two programs of FastTrac: FastTrac New Venture (for start-ups) and FastTrac Growth Venture (for more established businesses eager to scale). I participated in FastTrac when it was offered by New York City’s Department of Small Business Services. I cannot say enough good things about Fast Trac; I found it to be a very effective program to provide a blueprint for capacity building and business growth. I often refer to my Fast Trac workbooks and my FastTrac classmates have become a network of trusted peer advisors.

And I cannot say enough good things about Michele. She is passionate about increasing women’s participation in the global economy and serves as a speaker for the U.S. State Department’s program on women’s entrepreneurship. I really enjoyed this book. It is chock-full of helpful information and motivational messages. I should also add, in the interest of full disclosure, that my business, Prisere LLC, is part of the GEW 50, the 50 start-up businesses deemed to be the world’s most innovative by the Kauffman Foundation and celebrated during Global Entrepreneurship Week. I have also been a featured speaker on FastTrac’s webinar series for small business authors. So I share the enthusiasm for entrepreneurship that defines the Kauffman Foundation and the FastTrac program. I encourage you to read this book. It is always helpful to step back from the business and invest in continuing education and learning. I try to read one business book each week as part of that effort.