My Brief Chat with Pat Conroy in 1995

 

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Novelist and long-time South Carolina resident Pat Conroy, pictured above, died Friday. From the Charleston, SC Post and Courier obit:

Pat Conroy, the best-selling novelist and proud adoptive son of the Lowcountry who wrote lyrically about Charleston and unflinchingly about The Citadel, died Friday. He was 70.

The author of “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline” and “The Prince of Tides” and eight other books passed away shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died at 7:43 p.m., surrounded by loved ones and family.

I wanted to expand on these Tweets I posted not long after the news broke:

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I enjoyed Conroy’s books for their lyricism and their setting: Like Conroy, I moved to South Carolina’s Lowcountry as a teenager, first landing in Hilton Head and then moving up the coast to Beaufort. And I appreciated that he so vividly portrayed what is so compelling about the South — namely, its many warm people and its haunting geography, especially along the coastline, which is dotted with marshes and trees that drip Spanish moss.

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At the same time, though, Conroy did not shy away from illuminating the region’s many flaws, such as its horrendous legacy of racism and the fact that bigoted attitudes are still a fact of life for many even today.

In 1995, it must have been, when Beach Music came out, Conroy appeared at a bookstore on the Emory University campus in Atlanta, where I was a junior and studying English.

Like many college students, I was short on cash, and wasn’t able to spring for the hardcover of the new book. But I brought an old, battered mass market paperback copy of The Prince of Tides, his previous novel, that I’d brought to school and had recently read.

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He was there with this father — an abusive figure he’d written about; he stood by silently — and when the event ended I approached the younger Conroy. When I told him I was “from” Beaufort, he broke into a big grin, shook my hand, and said he was delighted to meet me.

He asked me a few questions about what I studying, and said I should “give him a holler” if I ever saw him out and about back at home.

I never saw him again, but that brief interaction has remained with me all these years.

I’ll have to search out that copy of The Prince of Tides I gave him to sign — appropriately, it remains at the family home in SC — but if memory serves, the inscription reads, “To Newley, for the love of South Carolina and the Lowcountry.”

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By Me Today: 500 Startups Invests in Vietnam

The story begins:

Silicon Valley’s 500 Startups is starting a fund to pump money into Vietnam, a sign that some foreign investors believe the communist state’s technology scene is set to blossom.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based seed investor and startup incubator said Tuesday that it aims to invest $10 million in some 100 to 150 startups in the fast-growing country.

“I’ve been watching the tech scene here since 2010, and back then it was way too early” to invest, Eddie Thai, a 500 Startups venture partner, told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday at an event to launch the fund in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Over that period of time, the macros [macroeconomic conditions] improved,” said Mr. Thai. “Internet access improved, smartphones became ubiquitous,” and the teams running startups in Vietnam have gotten “stronger and stronger every year,” he said. “This is our call to everybody to say we’re investing, come to us.”

U.K.-based consultancy We Are Social says smartphone ownership is growing quickly in Vietnam, and that 55% of adults in the country now use the devices. The country is also young: Some 41% of the country’s more than 94 million people are below the age of 24, according to CIA World Factbook data. That means there is a huge potential for companies to tap into a growing base of users.

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By Me Last Week: Tech Talent is Returning to India

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I had a story Wednesday on the front page of our Business & Tech section. You can see it in this image, under the headline “India Welcomes Home Tech Talent.”

It’s about Indian-born entreprenuers who are increasingly returning to their home country to build startups.

The piece, available online here, begins:

BANGALORE, India—Last year, Abhinandan Balasubramanian quit his job at a London-based financial-technology company. The startup scene in his native India was booming, and he wanted in.

The 25-year-old Mr. Balasubramanian moved to Mumbai and in December launched his own business there: Altflo, a global online marketplace for assets such as real estate and shares in investment funds.

Basing Altflo in India was an easy decision, Mr. Balasubramanian said. “The cost of scaling the company is much lower in India,” he said. Office space and talent are “multiples cheaper than in the U.K.”

Lured by a flood of venture-capital funding, relatively inexpensive labor and the size of the potential market in the world’s second-most-populous country, entrepreneurs and technology workers with Indian roots have been coming home in increasing numbers.

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In This Week’s Newsletter: Oatmeal-Centric Restaurants, Nate Silver, Why Chocolate May be Good for Your Noggin

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe!


Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

Uber Rolls Out Motorcycle-Booking Service in Bangkok — The world’s most valuable startup picked Thailand for its first service allowing users to book motorbikes through its app.

(Those who have visited the Kingdom or other parts of Southeast Asia know that motorcycle taxis are popular in the region because they allow a cheap, easy way to cut through traffic-clogged metropolises. I was reminded how strange they might seem to outsiders, however, by someone who left a one-word comment on the story: #deathwish.”)

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1. There exists in America a restaurant that serves 30 different kinds of oatmeal. Amazingly, it is in New York’s Greenwich Village, not Portland, Oregon. (Thanks, Anasuya!)

2. Worth a listen if you’re interested in economics, politics, sports, forecasting, and/or statistics: Nate Silver talks to Tyler Cowen about just about everything you can imagine.

3. Research finding of the week: “Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study.” Yesssssss…

4. Good stuff from The Wirecutter: a detailed guide to improving your smartphone’s battery life

5. Here’s an interesting New Yorker profile of the legendarily frugal Peter Adeney, the Canadian man behind popular blogMr. Money Mustache.

Have a great week!

— @Newley

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My Recent A-hed on James McGowan, the Globe-Trotting McDonald’s Obsessive

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or subscribe to my email newsletter know that the week before last, my first A-hed* ran on the front page of The WSJ.

(In the image above, showing the paper, below the fold, it’s on the bottom right.)

The story — accessible to all online here — is about James McGowan, a guy in Bangkok whose passion is traveling the world, sampling and blogging about regional variations of McDonald’s items. It begins:

SINGAPORE—When James McGowan walked into a McDonald’s Corp. restaurant in downtown Singapore one recent evening, he wasn’t interested in a Big Mac. Instead, he placed an order for a limited-edition hamburger with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese, truffle-flavored french fries and a special red velvet McFlurry frozen drink.

On a scale of one to five, “I’ll probably give a 3 for the burger,” said Mr. McGowan, noting that it lacked sufficient onions. “The fries are better than I expected. They might be a 3.5 or 4.”

Mr. McGowan may well be the chain’s toughest customer. For the past four years, the 28-year-old has crisscrossed the globe to indulge his passion: Sampling and blogging about the various national iterations of McDonald’s dishes. Thus far, he says he has visited about 53 countries, penning 340 detailed reviews.

The story generated a lot of traffic on our site, which I expected. But I was not prepared, I must say, for McGowan to become a global sensation.

After our story ran, his quest was picked up by outlets as wide ranging as Business Insider, The Straits Times, the Toronto Sun, TODAY.com, and Slate in French.

Papers in the UK, especially, gobbled up the story: The Independent, The Mirror, and even The Daily Mail wrote about McGowan.

Other corporate and tech-focused stories I’ve written have been picked up far and wide before, but this was the first time a feature of this kind has received so much attention. Fun stuff, indeed.

*A-heds are WSJ the often humorous, off-beat stories that run at the bottom of our front pages. Here’s more on the history of A-heds; there’s even a book about them.

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Fun Friday: Parkour Fail

View post on imgur.com

Embedded above and on imgur here: “Free running fail.”

I feel like there’s a life lesson in here somewhere. Like, sometimes it’s more dangerous to stand on the sidelines than it is to get into the thick of things and mix it up. :-)

(Via.)

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By Me and a Colleague Wed.: Uber to Launch Motorbike Service in Bangkok

The story begins:

BANGKOK—Uber Technologies Inc. is breaking into motorcycle bookings, taking its battle to win over users in Southeast Asia to the traffic-clogged streets of Bangkok.

Beginning Wednesday, users in select parts of the Thai capital will be able to open the firm’s app and summon a motorcycle driver, who will pick them up and ferry them to their destinations. The service, dubbed UberMOTO, allows riders to pay with cash or credit cards, with fares beginning at 10 Thai baht (28 U.S. cents).

Motorcycle taxis are popular in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia because of their low cost and their ability to cut between lanes of traffic, making it easier to navigate through gridlock.

Uber’s offering comes amid growing popularity of rivals’ motorbike-booking services in Southeast Asia. The company’s main competitor in the region, Singapore-based ride-hailing app Grab, in 2014 launched a motorbike service in nearby Vietnam. It is also available in Thailand, the Philippines in Indonesia. Grab doesn’t disclose its number of users but says its app has been downloaded more than 11 million times, up from 4.8 million in June.

Click through to read the rest.

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By Me Last Week: Twitter Outshines Facebook — in Japan

The story begins:

Twitter Inc. is now bigger than its rival Facebook — in Japan, at least.

A week after quarterly earnings fueled investors’ concerns that Twitter’s user growth has stalled, the company for the first time Thursday broke out its user numbers for a country outside the U.S., saying it had 35 million monthly active users in the world’s third-largest economy as of the end of last year.

Facebook, a major competitor for advertising dollars, had 25 million monthly active users in Japan as of the end of 2015, a Facebook spokeswoman said Thursday.

Twitter’s user base has long been compared to Facebook’s, which is much larger globally. Twitter last week said 320 million users signed into the platform at least once a month in the fourth quarter, the same as in the previous three months. Facebook, by comparison, said it had 1.59 billion monthly active users as of the end of last year, up 3% from the previous three months.

It was the first time Twitter’s closely watched user growth flatlined from the previous three-month period. More troubling: the number of users in the U.S. fell to 65 million from 66 million.

Click through to read the rest.

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Fun Friday, Enormous Rabbit Edition

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Atlas, pictured above, is a continental giant rabbit currently living with the Scottish SPCA in Glasgow.

He is only seven months old, and is in search of a home.

Prospective owners should be aware that Atlas may grow up to four feet in length and weigh nearly 50 pounds.

Of course, while Atlas is big, he is not yet Darius-big.

Is there anything better in the world than huge, juvenile rabbits?

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