The Best Prep is Reading Someone Else’s Journey

In my 15 years of preparation to hike this trail, I have consumed dozens of books, YouTube channels, and blogs sharing the personal journey to be found on the AT.  Some were great, some not so much (hint, avoid Morris the Cat’s trilogy).  But for anyone interested in this adventure (whether to hike or understand why others like me do), I would recommend the below 3 books as early must-reads.

  1. Take a Thru-Hike by Jessica “Dixie” Mills.  Dixie’s book is the best I’ve come across to prepare a novice hiker for the AT, though it is also nice for those more experienced as well.  She keeps it short and sweet to walk through every preparation stage before getting on the trail – what to bring, why to bring it, how to prepare physically/emotionally/financially, what worked for her and didn’t, etc. The eBook also includes links to her YouTube channel with videos supporting each chapter for additional visual support as well.  It’s a short read (and cheap), and should be the first book any hiker reads when they sit down to begin prep.
  2. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David “AWOL” Miller.  Not to be confused with his AT Guide, which is now the most popular guide for on-the-trail navigation, this book was AWOL’s first publication chronicling his trip.  I recommend it because it is a no-nonsense, no-drama, detailed daily account of all 2,190 miles.  AWOL does a great job of walking you through each section of the trail, culture, people, and towns that will give you the best understanding of what to expect along the way.  It does not focus much preparation (though does do some), nor his personal emotional state throughout (but again, some) – and instead provides realistic expectations for a hiker to anticipate as they progress North each day. 
  3. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.  Everyone is probably familiar with Bryson’s book, but it’s an important read for a few reasons.  First, it’s the opposite of AWOL’s book … highly emotional, dramatic, and focused on telling an entertaining story.  Since this hike is about so many things, it’s great to also read a fun and popular version (which may also represent the only reference your family and friends know).  It is relatable, comical, and a page-turner to the end.  Second … spoiler alert… Bryson doesn’t finish.  All the build up, anticipation, and excitement fizzles out just like it will for 75% of thru-hikers each year. It’s important to know why even the best-prepared hikers leave the trail early, and this is a good reminder.  The Robert Redford movie was also decent.

There are hundreds of other stories out there and no way to read them all, but the goal of this blog is simply to synthesize my years of prep into short and succinct bits of knowledge to help explain how I got here – so those are my 3 recommendations.

Now, I also subscribe to many venues for new information and am always asking for more recommendations – personally, I could read a thousand more stories and still be intrigued by each one because of the unique personal journey each hiker goes through. And I have a few youtube channels and blogs I like in my Links page worth checking out as well, but the most important advice I can share is to encourage you to find biographies of people similar to you in personality/experience/emotional state/etc. which will share a story you can most closely relate to.  A longer list of recommended reads with detailed descriptions can be found here from The Trek – and below may be a few reasons to read what they suggest:

Lastly, I’m always open to other people’s recommendations, so feel free to leave any additional suggestions in the comments below.  Hello Neiman!

The Pixar Theory

If you already know what I’m talking about, you are more hip than me. This Pixar Conspiracy Theory idea was foreign to me, though not surprising, given Disney’s history of Easter Eggs in their films. Remember when Easter eggs were simple? As a child, we paused/rewound/played over and over again to giggles and cackles whenever one of these hidden gems was uncovered. Admittingly, I miss the days of this simplistic Disney secrecy … So first, let’s take a trip down memory lane….

Underwater phallic castles…

Erotic Arabian princes…

 

And derogatorily dispersed flora…

Well, apparently Pixar took animation shenanigans to a WHOLE. NEW. LEVEL.

At a team lunch yesterday, conversation took a turn for the crazy. What started out as “Arby’s is cool because it was the royalty of fast food growing up” somehow became “big corporation is out to get us all”. I don’t recall the exact details that moved us from A to B, but it probably went something like this…

  • Me: I love Arby’s
  • Tennille: Duh, everyone loves Arby’s!
  • Jeff: Arby’s is the greatest restaurant in the world.
  • Sean: Arby’s could totally rule the world.
  • Laura: What if Arby’s really did rule the world?
  • Sean: I’d eat myself to death
  • Michelle: Wasn’t that the storyline of WALL-E?
  • Me: Wait, what?
  • Jeff: Oh yeah, Pixar has predicted our apocalypse for over a decade.
  • Me: … (fork drop)

And with that, the Pixar Theory was introduced. A world of crazy that links all 13 Pixar movies into a chronological order for apocalyptic chaos. The website above is the simple version, but for a more complex telling, you can always check out this cracked.com video. I admit the theory gets a bit far-fetched at times, but I do like the science fiction twist of time travel, wood=magic and interwoven universe. So, if you have not seen this yet, go check out the website and have some fun. I definitely want to introduce Pixar to my kids for the first time in true chronological order, future Neiman children beware prepare…

 

Mind. Blown.

 

Hello Neiman Review: Captain Phillips

4 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

Fast paced from the start.
Still edge of seat by credits.
Tom good, Abdi great.

Movie Review Detail:

Not sure why I skipped this in the theaters, but an Oscar run gave me the chance to catch up now like the rest of you. A lot of hype about this movie, and if I could sum it up in one word … it would be INTENSE. From within 10 minutes, you are watching the aggression unfold, and halfway through it really kicks into high gear. Up until the very ending, your heart beat will race and your eyes will be locked. No spoiler here, but everything within the lifeboat must have been tough to film, but was great to watch.

The best. The emotional relationship between the 4 pirates was astounding. First with the other pirates, then with Captain Phillips and crew, and finally with each other. Barkhad Abdi (limo driver from Minneapolis!) was absolutely spot on. For a first time acting gig, him and his cohorts were exactly what you fear when you hear the term “Somali Pirates”. He has some tough competition (Jonah is my vote, followed closely by Fessbender), but it was no doubt an Oscar nomination-worthy performance.

The Worst. There wasn’t really a “worst”, except that the script for Phillips and crew tried a bit too hard. I don’t know the real Captain (sorry Avi Olitzky, I missed my chance), but it all seemed to work out a little too easily for the first half. Hinting at broken glass, suggesting they stop for water, etc. Maybe pirates are that naive, but I was both on the edge of my seat and offering sighs of “seriously? come on!” for the first half. They definitely made up for it in the second half though, once the crew was out of the picture, the whole movie took an intense turn for the better.

The Verdict: Worth seeing for sure, but maybe while working out. Take your aggression and intensity out on the treadmill while watching the turmoil erupt within. You’ll get a good flick, a good shvitz, and a good story.

The Executive Summary Challenge

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice” – T.S. Eliot

One of the perks of working for a Fortune 100 company is that it typically comes with a wealth of training and knowledge at your fingertips. I’ve always enjoyed the video tutorials and online database of content via Lynda.com and Microsoft, but another equally impressive resource is Books 24×7 by Skillsoft. Introduced to me originally by Accenture, I was pleasantly surprised to see Big Red have this available to employees as well.

And with that introduces the Executive Summary Challenge. Books 24×7 sends me an email every couple weeks with new Executive Summary reports of popular business books. These ES reports are basically a shortened (5-10 pages) outline of the full text in a very easy to digest and understand level. I’ve always wanted to read the best business books on the market, but hated how these books completely contradict one of the concepts of business that I define as success: be direct, be succinct, and be brief. Unfortunately though, you can’t sell a book that is only 5-10 pages long, so most authors add hundreds of pages of fluff to fill the unnecessary void. Enter the beauty of the Executive Summaries – all the meat, sans pointless fluff. Its a fast-paced business leader’s dream come true.

This week, I received an email of the 10 most popular Executive Summaries available and will take on the challenge of reading and reviewing them all on my blog in 2014. I am graduated with my MBA in May, and no doubt will miss the fun-filled nights of reading boring business cases and texts, so this will be a nice way to maintain my educational learning. These will be short reviews in honor of the short summaries … because brevity deserves brevity! Below are the list of book summaries scheduled for this challenge, many of which you have probably read or heard of. Hopefully they prove to be a valuable addition to my learning and career aspirations.

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do what we Do in Life and Business
  • 52 Essential Habits for Success
  • Working with Emotional Intelligence
  • How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
  • Well Said! Presentations and Conversations that Get Results
  • Extreme Productivity: Boost your Results. Reduce Your Hours
  • True North (done, I read it for my leadership class last fall)
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (done, read for Management class last summer)

About Exec Summaries (from Skillsoft):
Quick insight into the thinking and best practices of today’s thought leaders and business gurus. ExecSummaries supports the multi-tasking lifestyle of busy professionals by providing concise content online, in downloadable text formats, and MP3 – all easily accessible from a PC or mobile device.

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

5 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

Boiler Room Part 2.
Bigger, Better, Druggier.
You will drink it up.

Movie Review in Detail:

Having perhaps the biggest hype of award movies this season, The Wolf of Wall Street did not disappoint. A three hour epic tale of the rise and fall of wall street stardom, I wanted more after the credits rolled. The film is an exciting drug-induced high of cinematic excellence, and every minute of the story twisted your love or hate of the characters portrayed. This movie is yet another telling of the rich and infamous life of Jordan Belfort, but I’d watch 100 films of his life if they are all like these two. And, I don’t mind giving money to this deadbeat of a man, because every penny he makes is now going back to restitution of the victims he swindled. So, let’s make a sequel already Marty!

The Best: Uhh… everything? So far this is movie is neck and neck with Book Thief for my Best Picture vote. And for similar reasons. The story is simply amazing from start to finish and leaves you on the edge of your seat eager for more. Honestly, this film is as much a drug as the Quaaludes oft-swallowed. I want more more more! In addition, this has got to be Jonah Hill’s best performance. He showed us what he can do last year with Moneyball, and this time he goes for the jugular. He is absolutely my shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor (hilarious fake teeth and all). Be on the lookout for the awesome scene in a mini-mall parking lot between him and Shane from Walking Dead. Beyond Hill, were a ton of other great performances by McConaughey, Reiner, Bernthal and ESPECIALLY Margo Robbie. Who the hell is this girl and why has she gone this long without doing a nude sex scene? Thanks Marty for that one as well, as if you didn’t have enough to sell this to money-and-power hungry men…

The Worst: [SPOILER ALERT] Not really much to bad mouth here, it was an awesome story, incredible casting, great acting all around, and just a great fun movie. Possibly the only areas of improvement are the ending. There is a lot of chatter about whether Scorsese was too easy on Belfort at the end, but that is not my critique here. I did struggle with the last 10 minutes though because he did not really explain what happened completely. I had to go back and re-read the synopsis on Wikipedia to see what happened with the on-again-off-again deal with the Feds. I thought perhaps Donny had ratted everyone instead of Jordan, because he was watching the bust occur without actually being taken himself. From that sequence on, it felt like Scorsese was trying to wrap things up too quickly and off-speed from the rest of the detailed storyline.

The Verdict: Call in sick to work, you need a day to yourself immediately. And after watching this instead, you’ll come back to the office tomorrow with a new found passion and excitement to “sell me this pen”.

Movie Review: Blackfish

4 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

All critics are right,
Seaworld is evil empire.
…Yet you all have gone.

 

Movie Review in Detail:

This was a very well made film, the music fit very well with the different themes of the events, the actors were appropriately emotional when needed, and the message is very clearly received by this critic and all others. As a documentary, I truly appreciated the film and like all of you, believe it will standout as one of the great documentary’s of our generation.

As for the social agenda of the film … I don’t understand why this is news to anyone. Every college kid with too much time on his hands social media political activist/expert has been posting to Facebook about how powerful this movie is, how horrible “the man” of Seaworld is, and how we should never have let this happen. During the movie, there are countless interviews by people who “knew what they were doing was wrong, but they did it anyways”. Only now, years later when accidents have happened and society has requested change in trainer behavior, do people finally step up and speak out against Orca captivity. Now you speak up??

And, yet, we have all been to one of these aquatic parks as kids … and loved it.

This movie is taking advantage of some horrific situations, and feels like little more than OSHA’s attempt to bankrupt Seaworld as payback to the court cases referenced in the film. The political agenda is strong, the desired results are clear, and the media reaction is exactly as expected. But these horrific events should never have happened in the first place, and this movie will propel just as many people to visit Seaworld as those that boycott it. After seeing this, you know kids will line up to buy tickets at a “chance to see a whale attack”. That is as sad a fact as it is true.

I did like the movie, and I appreciated the attempt to make a social change from it, but I don’t like how it was done. You will likely watch it, be touched, and speak out against me … but deep down you know I am a little right.

Movie Review: 47 Ronin and Out of the Furnace

1 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

Tons of Great Movies
But these are not two of them
Don’t be fooled. Skip them.

Movie Reviews in Detail:

There is really not much to say except these are 2 very bad movies. I had high hopes for both going into the Christmas week, but would very much like the time and money back.

Out of the Furnace had high hopes, with a good cast and a very intriguing trailer. But it is slow, uneventful, and pointless up until and including the end. Two hours is a long time to give up for this, and you’ll find yourself looking at your watch constantly to see how much could possible be left.

47 Ronin had enough red flags going in to expect disaster. A horrible star actor in Keanu Reeves, a first-time director in Carl Rinsch, no secondary stars to backup the bad Keanu, and a story so historic and legendary that it was bound to let down expectations. Well it did … if you had any going in, which would have been a mistake. This is simply a bad movie, where you are constantly laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. My favorite part is that there is NO explanation why they let the Samurai out of his dungeon prison. If they simply left him there, then the movie would have ended after 10 minutes.

Verdict: Do yourself a favor, skip these and go see American Hustle or Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey instead. They aren’t great, but at least you get better performances out of the lead actors.

Movie Review: American Hustle

2.5 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

Tons of hype for this,
Fell short of expectations,
Boring, but for Bale.

 

Movie Review in Detail:

I know this movie is getting tons of hype, great press, and positive reviews across the net. Well, I’m here to contradict all those. American Hustle was a completely adequate movie. That is the best description I believe it deserves. Given the star studded cast … Bale, Lawrence, Adams, Renner, Cooper, CK and De Niro … you had to have expected more from basically the same cast as Silver Linings Playbook.

The Worst: Even with a great cast, this story with simply dull. There was never a part during this movie where I was excited, on the edge of my seat, or eager to see what happens next. I was simply bored throughout the whole thing, and don’t understand why so many people herald this as an Academy Award shoe-in. I don’t know how you can call this a “hustle” movie, as it had none of the surprise elements of the Ocean’s 11 trilogy or other conman-type dramas. There were no tricks, no gimmicks, and no reveals (save one extremely predictable ending). Again, I was bored.

The Best: No question, the best part was a quality performance by Christian Bale. In stark comparison to some of his other roles, Bale was great at playing the sleazy conman that can barely keep his life together. Good back story for him, good on-screen struggles, and a great element of reality to trying to live a double-life. I believe the internal torment he portrayed, and I loved the opening scene making up his hair that puts things instantly into perspective. Amy Adams had some shining moments as well, but I found both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence annoying, and the storyline was just weak all around.

Verdict: Skip it, rent The Sting, and have a much more enjoyable evening.

Movie Review: The Book Thief

5 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

One of the best books.
Can film meet expectations?
… above and beyond!

 

Movie Review Detail:

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, The Book Thief is one of my new favorite books. During the 2012 “year to get back into reading”, it easily became one of my favorite reads for the year. The book is so deeply emotional and gripping, that you truly feel a part of the story and history at play. Almost as if you too play the role of Death, waiting on the imminent passing of these in-depth characters. The book was powerful, epic, and life-changing … so obviously expectations for the film adaptation had to be placed low.

That was a huge mistake. This film kept me at the edge of my seat, and even though I knew what to expect it still kept hold of me throughout. I was as passionately moved by the film now as I was by the book a year ago, and truly appreciate all the work that went into this story by Markus Zusak. Powerful dramas like this truly tug at my heartstrings, desperately pulling at my eyelids in a 2 hour battle to fight back tears. At 32, it takes a lot from a movie to bring me to tears, and although I managed to stay dry … let’s just say my sister Devorah would laugh at how close this got to our 1994 screening of Legends of the Fall.

What amazed me the most about this film adaptation, is how PERFECTLY cast it was, especially knowing they were mostly nobodies. I can not get over how much every character matched my internal image: Liesel, Rudy, Hans, Rosa, Frau Heinrich … each perfectly resembling the vision for each character in my head. Liesel and Rudy especially, who have done nothing but one-off German films to date … absolutely stole every scene. And the one star, Geoffrey Rush … another impressive role to put on his shelf next to Captain Barbossa and Lionel Logue.

I know the critics don’t match my sentiments, but I urge to you see and decide for yourself. If every actor isn’t nominated for a “Best” award this year, I will be significantly let down, but I know there is some stiff competition this year. And they don’t have to win, but Sophie Nelisse and Emily Watson certainly have my unregistered vote.

Hello Reviews! Unbroken

A WWII story of drowning, starving, beating, and cleaning latrines.

As the sub-title states, Unbroken is a World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption.  When I downloaded this book, all I knew about it was:

  1. My sister and father already read it (opinions I like)
  2. It was written by the same woman who did Seabiscuit (a movie I like)
  3. It took place during World War II (a literary genre I like)

My UofM Alumni eBook club wanted to read this last fall, but we had just finished The Book Thief (one of my new FAVORITE books) and wasn’t in the mood for another WWII story.  So I stuffed it in my Goodreads “to-read” shelf and moved on to more happy stories.  BIG MISTAKE!!

I finally decided to attach this 500 pager after New Years and I could not put it down.  It took me 3 weeks to read, which may sound long to my friend Kat, but is light speed for me in a Nonfiction novel.  Unbroken moves incredibly fast and keeps you dying to turn more pages and hear what will happen to Louis Zamperini next.  From the very beginning, you are plopped in the middle of his true story, where Louie and friends are stranded on a raft at sea fighting off sharks and Japanese fighter pilots.  Then you jump back to Louie’s childhood and follow his epic journey through school, running, the Olympics, Air Force training, combat bombardier-ing, planes going down, rafts coming up, life at sea, life in internment camps, life in POW camps, life after the war, depression, resilience, religion, recovery, and finally … today.

That is more than enough content for a DOZEN novels!  But Laura Hillenbrand does an amazing job of capturing it all as we readers effortlessly plow through the decades of his life.  I knew nothing of this book when I picked it up, and I feel like I know more about this man than most of my friends and family.  You literally feel all of Louie’s emotions right beside him as you read … quite the powerful impact.

Af for the downsides of this book … it is long (and at times definitely feels it).  One point of feedback for Hillenbrand is to tell us not only what happens to Louie, but more on how he feels about it.  At times it just seems like a punching bag taking hit after hit, but how is it that Louie got through all this?  Having a bit more depth into his mental resilience as well as physical would sell better.  At times, it even seems impossible to have occurred the way it did (fighting off sharks over and over with his bare hands? Oooooooooooooooook).  Lastly, I would have loved to know more about his late years in life.  I had to go online just to find out he was still alive at the time of publishing (and still is today).

Great book, great read.  Highly recommend it for anyone out there that enjoy a good nonfiction piece (that reads like fiction).  What has two digital thumbs pointed up for Unbroken?  Hello Neiman!