Tag Archives: Whoops

When You Don’t Know The Score Of The Football Game.

“The things we create tower over us.” — Matt Dopkiss

 
I was watching an old college football game on ESPN Classic the other day. It was from the 80s.

My mom walked into the room.

“What’s the score?” she asked.

Not sure, I told her.

“How much time is left?” she asked.

No idea, I confessed.

“How many yards do they need for a first down?” she asked.

Uhhhhhh, I said.

There was no on-screen scoreboard. There was no clock. There was no yellow first-and-10 line.

I’d been watching this game for 15 minutes, and I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was looking at. I had a football game in front of me, that much I knew, but I didn’t have any context to understand it.

Early football games — and when I say early, I mean “as recently as 20 years ago” — didn’t give viewers even the most basic information on screen. And as a result, viewers like me often got left in the dark.

If you’re trying to tell a great story, the same holds true. Ask yourself: Am I giving my listeners/readers/viewers/customers the necessary context to understand my story? Do they know what’s happening? And where? And why?

Drama is great, but if your audience doesn’t know the score, they’ll be left wondering what the hell they just saw.

Give them context, and then give them a story to match.

I Can’t Fucking Believe I Left My Windows Open Again.

yours truly, the idiot

I took my team up to Ha Ha Tonka last weekend. Ha Ha Tonka is a mid-Missouri park, and I could tell you about its rolling hills, or its castles, or its sinkholes, but all you’re going to remember is its name:

Ha Ha Tonka.

It has a funny name.

But I digress: I took the team hiking there last weekend. And in the Devil’s Kitchen, a giant sinkhole on the southern side of the park, in this majestic ampitheather, I gathered the Stry.us team and laid out the rules for the summer:

Let’s be builders.

Let’s be patient, but let’s also be persistent.

And of course: Let’s make mistakes. They’ll be mistakes, but they’ll be our mistakes, and we’ll learn from them.

At least, I hope we will.

See, here’s the thing: It’s 2:47 a.m. right now, and I’m typing this. Which means that something’s gone wrong.

Again.(1)

It happened once in Biloxi, when I couldn’t afford to make a mistake.(2) Biloxi was hot — there’s a photo on the Stry.us Facebook page of Weather.com showing a “real feel” of 119 degrees, to give you an idea of what July was like — and my car tended to heat up like a toaster oven most afternoons. I kept my windows open a lot.

I kept my windows open until that one night where it rained like all hell, and then I walked downstairs and found a small monsoon on my driver’s side floormat. The control panel on the left side of the car shorted out. Every other window I could make go up — but not that driver’s side window.

I took it to my mechanic there — the heat had made my engine fan go kaput, so I’d already found a mechanic — and Big Joe had to call up a dealer in Alabama to find the part. It cost me a few hundred dollars, and when I called my parents, my dad told me the thing that dads say:

It happens once, alright. It happens twice….

And he didn’t need to finish the sentence.

Which is where tonight comes in. There was a thunderstorm, and I knew it was coming — my laptop had forewarned me of it. But it was hot again, and I kept the windows open a crack. I’d expected to go out again at night for groceries. I came in, did some work, passed on groceries and went to sleep at the start of the first OT between Boston and Miami.

I woke up to thunder. And it woke me up, straight up, and I knew already. I went to my window and looked out.

I thought I saw a crack in the window.

I grabbed my raincoat and a small towel. The rain was blowing more in a sideways/upwards direction than down. The thunder hit every couple of seconds. The lightning looked like a strobe on full blast, or a lighthouse light spinning at triple time.

I looked at my car, and I fully realized what I’d already suspected: I’d left every window open an inch.

I ran. I hit the remote entry, and the lights came on. I went to the driver’s side door.

Nothing.

I tried again.

Nope.

And then, the ah-ha moment — the panel’s already busted. This door won’t open automatically.

Fuck.

The driver’s side rear door opened. The inside of my car was soaked.

I managed to get every window up — every window except the driver’s side.

So now I started running back into the house — more towels, all that I can find — and then back out into the storm. I started stuffing them into the cracks. I started toweling off the inside of the car.

It is 3:13 a.m. now, and there are several hours of thunderstorms left tonight.(3) My driver’s side door is being guarded by five hand towels stuffed into a one-inch window opening. This window will not go up, and it cannot be fixed tonight. The nearest garage — or covered parking area — is 20 minutes away.

We’ll make mistakes, I keep hearing myself say, looking out at my team at Ha Ha Tonka. But they’ll be our mistakes, and we’ll learn from them.

And now I am sitting here writing this note to myself, hoping that this time — the second time around — I actually do.

  1. See: Self-pic, at top, for proof.
  2. I mean that literally — I didn’t have any money.
  3. Again: My computer is telling me this.

We May Look Silly For Trying To Predict The Future. But We’ll Look Like Morons If We Don’t Try To Build It Anyway.

I just finished Michael Eisner’s autobiography, “Work in Progress.” It’s an excellent read, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the final chapter. It’s 1997, and Eisner — CEO of Disney — starts predicting the future of his corporation.

Hindsight makes a book that’s only 15 years old seem like an absolute relic. Eisner offers his predictions for the future, but the stuff that matters most in today’s media — the Internet, Google, streaming video, HDTV — is barely touched upon. He mentions that Disney is expanding on the web, but only by mentioning Go.com.

And if you go to Go.com right now, you’ll see… a web portal that hasn’t been updated in five years.

The point is: We cannot see very far into the future. We are going forward, semi-cluelessly. We have ideas. We have dreams. We have leaders.

We have no idea what happens next. And we have no idea how the things that come next will affect the things we believe in now.

To quote a Florence & the Machine song that’s been in my head for a few weeks now:

A revelation in the light of day
You can’t choose what stays and what fades away

We do not know what is next. We are all out here making it up as we go along.

But future is ours, and we’re the ones who’ll be shaping it, in our own haphazard way. We may look silly for trying to predict the future, but we’ll look like morons if we don’t try to build it anyway — each of us — today.

Thanks to Instagram user @jpcherry for the excellent photo of Tomorrowland.

Why I’ve Decided to Shut Down Smartphoneless.com.

Four months ago, I launched a blog that I had a lot of promise: Smartphoneless.com. I wanted it to be the hub for discussion and thought among my fellow smartphoneless Americans.

And I got some amazing feedback in the time since launch, especially from students here at Mizzou. They’d see my phone or hear about my blog, and then they’d quietly reach into their back pockets and pull out a flip phone. And they’d tell me: My friends make fun of me for this, but thanks for making feel better about my choice of phone. It’s nice to know somebody else has a phone as crappy as mine.

The truth is, not everyone needs a smartphone. Not everyone needs a device that does a billion things and runs through power like Kobayashi going through a pile of hot dogs at Nathan’s.

But right now — as I explain in my final post over at Smartphoneless — I need a device that’s slightly more powerful than the flip phone I have now. So I gave in.

A few weeks ago, it started to feel inevitable that I’d get a smartphone. As I promised a few months back: If I ever felt that having a smartphone would actually help my business, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one. And I finally conceded that, yes, this phone would help Stry.us.

So here I am, holding my new phone. Compared to my dumbphone, it feels absolutely enormous.

My friends are celebrating this the way New York City celebrates a Yankees World Series win. A former boss, who’s spent the past five years preaching the virtues of “the mobile revolution,” will be giddy.(1)

I don’t really understand why they’re all so excited. It’s just a phone.

I will not be playing Words With Friends with these friends. I will do my best to stay away from the addictive qualities of smartphones. I’m looking into ways to protect this thing from thieves/hackers.

And no, I will not be checking my email on this new phone. That rule still applies.

But yes, I am very much looking forward to becoming one of those people who tweets about how shitty their smartphone is.

As for my old flip phone, it’ll soon go to a recycling bin near me. I’m going to miss it. It was dorky and barely useful. But it did what I wanted it to.

I’ll miss you, old friend.

  1. She already printed out my email that told her that Stry.us was mobile-friendly and stuck it on her fridge.

When You’re Lost, Don’t Be Afraid to Ask. And Definitely Don’t Be Afraid to Listen.

Let me take you back to 2009. Newspapers were slashing staff daily. Jobs weren’t plentiful. A young, wide-eyed Dan Oshinsky was about to graduate from college.

And in the midst of all this, a strange thing happened: A big newspaper chain decided that they really liked me. They liked my attitude and my skills. They told me, straight up: We want to hire you. We don’t know what for yet, but we want you.

Over the next few weeks, I had a number of phone conversations with one of the chain’s executives. The chain had just launched a big blog project at one of their papers, and they seemed really excited about the numbers. They had an idea for me: Start a blog for our papers devoted to young people and business. We’ll give you $100k and a small team to start. Give it a few days and come up with some potential topics for us.

Understand this: I was coming out of journalism school like most J-school students. I had great clips and great ambition. I was fully prepared to start working for a newspaper on a city desk or a political beat.

I thought I was totally unprepared to lead an ambitious, new journalism effort.

I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t read business blogs. I didn’t understand the market for business news.

The next week, I told the executive: I’m flattered, but sorry. I’m not your guy for this project.

Looking back, I’m stunned at how stupid I was. I can’t believe that I said no, and I can’t believe that I failed to even produce a single tangible idea for such a blog.

How could I have been so unresourceful?

Over the course of about 72 hours, I was given the opportunity to pitch something really impressive. I had everything I needed to start such a project: I was ambitious, I had blogging experience, and I had a good sense for how to create a voice that was readable.

Sure, I didn’t know anything about business news. But here’s the thing: I knew plenty of people who did.

I didn’t ask for their help.

I could’ve turned to my network — my friends, my former bosses — and asked for input on ideas. I could’ve generated a really impressive proposal for that blog.

And I didn’t even think to ask.

What I’ve learned since is the importance of a really good conversation. You need people who can advise you, guide you and — most importantly — ask the kind of questions that will help lead to you the right answers. When you have an opportunity, talk about it with smart people. It’s amazing how a good conversation can really open your eyes to your full potential.

I was reminded of that last week. I was down in Springfield, taking meetings for my upcoming reporting experiment with Stry.us. And in the course of a half dozen conversations, I started to notice some new themes popping up. I suppose I had been thinking about these changes for some time, but it wasn’t until I started really talking it through with others that I realized how big these changes were.

I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am to have smart people on my side, asking good questions and helping guide this project towards an even more awesome future. Stry.us will be be stronger because of their curiosity and wisdom.

When you’re starting something new, you have to keep your eyes open. You have to listen fully.

And for goodness sake: When you’re lost, don’t be afraid to ask. You don’t have to go it alone.

You shouldn’t.

Before You Sign, Read The Contract. Always Read The Contract.

Contracts
“People change. Circumstances change. Legal documents don’t change.” — Brent Beshore, CEO of AdVentures

At my first job out of college, I was told that I would get health care. Dental, medical — the usual. This sounded good to me, even though I didn’t know what a co-pay was, or a deductible, or anything else related to health care. My boss told me I got health care, so I got health care. That was that.

And about four or five months in, some co-workers were talking about their health care plan, so I decided to ask my boss about my plan. She sounded surprised — We haven’t taken care of this already? — and called in the company’s HR person. And that HR person called our parent company’s HR person.

And that HR person, on speakerphone, told me that I had declined health care.

What now?

The HR person said that an employee of my stature was eligible for health care benefits starting in the third month of employment. I had one month to sign up for health care, and then my window closed. They had sent me an email about it, the HR person said matter-of-factly. The company had a record of me opening the email, so since I had received it, that was as far as the company was legally obligated to go to notify me of my rights.

In fewer words: We did what we had to do. Case closed.

This was my first experience with contracts. I missed a single email, and I missed out on health care. This was not a pleasant first experience with contracts.(1)

I’ve learned even more about contracts in my time working on Stry. And if there’s only one takeaway from all of my experiences, it’s this: Before you sign your name to any document, read it, review it and understand it. If you have any questions or concerns, ask them before you sign.

I’ve signed contracts the way I agreed to the Terms of Service for iTunes — mindlessly, and as though the other party has my best interests in mind. This is an easy, easy way to get screwed.

When you fail to understand what you’re signing, you’re likely signing away your rights. Once the signature’s there, it’s too late to change anything.

Here’s a real-world example. Apple’s recently released a new platform for selling books electronically. But the iBooks contract isn’t author-friendly. For example:

“The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You create a great work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it.

“Under this license agreement, you are out of luck. They won’t sell it, and you can’t legally sell it elsewhere. You can give it away, but you can’t sell it.”

Somewhere out there, an author is going to agree to this contract, and they’re going to go through that nightmare scenario. They’re going to get totally screwed. It’s not because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re not careful enough to really dig into what they’re signing. That’s because nobody’s ever told them that they have to pay attention to what comes before that dotted line.

But now you know. Before you sign, read the contract. Always read the contract.

  1. This is a common experience. Mule Design’s Mike Monteiro has a great talk about working with contracts. It’s called, “Fuck You, Pay Me.” That should give you an idea of how badly things can go when contracts are involved.

Re-entering the Time Warp That Was the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Go!

I am in the midst of reading this fantastic new book, Tom Scocca’s “Beijing Welcomes You.” It’s about China’s capital city during the years leading up to and during the 2008 Olympic Games.

I was there myself, covering the Games for the Rocky Mountain News, and reading Scocca’s account, I find myself experiencing some very unusual flashbacks. As I read along, I constantly find myself saying, “Hey, didn’t something like that happen to me?”

And then I start wondering, “Wait, was I there when this happened?”

The parallels between our experiences are eerie. I find myself reading Scocca’s stories and flashing back to events that I did not personally experience but that so closely mirror my personal experience that I can almost predict the upcoming dialogue as I read along.

It’s a “Twlight Zone”-style warp I find myself in, it seems.

Take these two selections. The first is from Scocca, as he attempts to get an official media credential from the Chinese:

I turned around again, to Window 38. To one side was an unattended stack of application forms. I took out a pen and began to fill one out. I was halfway through when the case officer reappeared, now inside Window 38, looking down at me. Did I have a residence registration form? he asked. I did not. Then the local police would have to issue me one, he said, and I would have to come back with it.

Also, he said, you can’t fill out the form with that pen. He pointed to the instructions at the top of the form, which said, in English, to use “blue or black ink pen.” My pen was black, a medium-point Paper-Mate, the pen I always carried. The ink was black; the plastic casing was black. I held it up. See, I said, it’s a black ink pen.

That’s not a black ink pen, the officer said.

I handed it over. He took it and made a few test scribbles, black marks on the paper. He handed the pen back dismissively.

This is not a black ink pen, he said. This is a ballpoint.

I was defeated.

And here’s what I wrote about my own press credential drama in July 2008:

Another American journalist came, too. His name is not important. What is important is that he owns media in several large countries, countries that you’d want to control when playing Risk. His passport was thicker than a Robert Caro LBJ volume. But the Chinese were also giving this CEO a hard time about his visa….

John [the bureaucrat handling the credentials] explained the letters needed for the visa application. He looked at the CEO. “The CEO of your company must sign this letter,” he said.

“I am the CEO,” the CEO responded.

“Well, the letter must be signed by the CEO,” John replied. “But the CEO’s signature cannot be from you.”

The CEO shot me a look. Welcome, I told him, to Dante’s innermost circle of hell: limbo.

So I read on in Scocca’s book, each page sucking me further into this weird state of déjà vu. His stories and my recollections are starting to blend together. Where his words end and my memories begin, I’m not really sure anymore.

Okay, So Maybe Facebook Commenting Isn’t The Answer For Internet Civility.

All Things D brings word today that Facebook will soon be loaning its commenting system to major media players. For those who believe that commentating systems that use real names — and therefore add some sort of accountability and transparency to the commenting process — are more likely to limit trolls, this seems like a big announcement.

But what I noticed was the note at the bottom of the article: People.com is already using Facebook Comments, says All Things D. So I clicked over there, tabbed over to news and clicked on the first article on the page. Here’s what I found in the comments:

So maybe we need to hold back praise on Facebook Comments for a little while longer. Or at least end this theory that people aren’t afraid to say nasty things even if their names are attached.

The Things I Found.

During the previous month, I’ve been cleaning out my childhood room, and I’ve made some unusual discoveries. Here is some of what I’ve found, presented without comment.

3 Maryland Terrapins posters from 1995, featuring an ad for Erol’s Internet

1 World Cup USA 94 bumper sticker

1 pack of ‘Moochas Gracias’ stationary, featuring a picture of a cow in a sombrero

1 letter from my father to me, expressing extreme joy at the Washington Capitals’ recent signing of Jaromir Jagr

Several tiny magnets, including one from an airline called US Air, and another from the NBA Team Store

2 fake elementary school awards, including one for ‘Outstanding Participation’ in chess club

1 nose piece from my original (and only) pair of Rec Specs

1 ‘Share the Dream: Washington-Baltimore 2012 Olympics’ bumper sticker

1 copy of the front page of the Washington Post on Sept. 9, 2002, featuring the headline “Spurrier Dazzles in Debut”

1 photo of me interviewing former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich

1 essay from my 7th grade English class, titled, “The Washington Capitals Have Just Given Up on this Season”

1 copy of a 50th anniversary magazine tribute to Bugs Bunny

1 photo of me, obviously taken at a bar mitzvah, in which I am strategically Photoshopped inside a toilet and looking out

1 photo of me in Montgomery County jail, taken during a 4th grade field trip

1 copy of the American Journalism Review, featuring the editor of the Los Angeles Times and the headline “Let the Good Times Roll”

2 Polaroids — 1 with Elroy from the Jetsons, and another with my father and sister at the Air & Space Museum

1 guide to napkin folding, as provided by the Holland America Cruise Line

1 trading card of Seattle SuperSonics center Olden Polynice

1 set of ‘moo’-themed stationary (separate from the ‘Moochas Gracias’ line of stationary)

1 copy of Sports Illustrated, featuring Mark McGwire and the headline “WHAT A SEASON”, and “AOL Keyword: Sports Illustrated” in the lower left hand corner

1 copy of the Washington Post, featuring the headline, “War Won’t Be Short, Bush Says”

1 telephone modem

1 baseball hat from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase youth baseball league

1 list of 70 potential careers, in which “writer,” “reporter” and “journalist” does not appear

Do Not Attend the Fourth of July in Biloxi, Miss., Unless You Have Very Good Health Insurance.

In the summer of 2009, having just accepted a job at a TV station in San Antonio, Texas, I attempted to convince my bosses to allow me to channel my inner Dave Barry and publish a daily blog, to be titled “The Evolution of Local Man.” The pitch, as I delivered to my bosses in an email:

Local Man finds himself in a constant, Sisyphusian struggle against success. He has attempted to scale buildings when drunk. He has acted in anger against drive-thru speaker boxes. He has found himself ornery, naked and, most often, confused.

And Local Man will not stop there. He will persevere; he will evolve. Local Man has not failed at all he can fail at.

The blog never happened, (1) but Local Man lived on that year in our news broadcasts. He crashed through windows, busted through police barriers and achieved all kinds of stupid. I was proud to just be there to read the police reports.

But I left South Texas last week, packed my life into a Chevy Trailblazer and moved east, to Biloxi, Miss. When I was arrived, Local Man was here waiting for me.

❡❡❡

Every year, from some tiny port of call you’ve never heard of comes a story so sordid, it’s tough to believe it only happens dozens of times every year. On the Fourth of July, Local Man drinks heavily, lights off fireworks and brings harm upon himself and others. This year, in Chicago, a firework blew up in a man’s face. Fireworks exploded in a teen’s face in Tennessee. Fireworks even blew a man’s arm clear off on Long Island.

And those are just the first three links I clicked on in Google News.

But what I’m really here to say is that any of those local men could have been me, Dan Oshinsky, a respectable, not-in-possession-of-exploding-substances American who just happened to be dangerously close to the path of a toddler with a lit Roman candle on Sunday.

On the Fourth, at about 9 p.m., I drove down to the Biloxi beach to enjoy the fireworks. I did not expect that this would be a life-threatening decision.

What I know now — and what I wish I known then — was that a Mississippi fireworks show should probably come with a surgeon general’s warning. Just in my walk down to the beach, I crossed paths with a handful of teens shooting off Roman candles into and over a crowd of thousands. I came about fifteen feet away from a ten-year-old who was lighting off some $20 fireworks with the range of a Soviet-era warhead.

To put it in perspective: I hadn’t see that much firepower in one place since my visit to Tiananmen Square.

But it’s tough to blame those kids for being stupid. At least they weren’t drunk at the time (2)

I will, however, point the finger at one Local Man (see above photo), who, for the purposes of this blog post, I will describe as Some Giant Drunk Asshole (SGDA, for short). SGDA was about six feet tall, with all the shapeliness of a small zeppelin. In tow, he had his son, who was maybe two or three years old. And there SGDA was, handing a lit match to his kid, who put it to the wick on a loaded firework and ran.

This happened, oh, about 20 feet away from me.

It was very, very loud.

And then SGDA lit another firework. And other one. And maybe five or seven more.

All while the actual fireworks display was going on.

Was there remorse from SGDA? An apology for nearly blowing off my ear when one of his miniature rockets turned into a sidewinder?

Of course not. Local Man cannot apologize for what he cannot comprehend.

When the actual fireworks display ended, the kids on the beach were down to a handful of Roman candles and bottle rockets. SGDA had lit off the last of his $100 or $150 worth of explosives.

I still tiptoed out of there like I was crossing a minefield near the DMZ.  I wanted, badly, to live. Besides, what good is seeing Local Man in the flesh if you’re not around to tell his story?

  1. I believe the word “total loss of credibility” was mentioned at one point in their argument against it.
  2. I think.