Eastern seaboard

I’ve always loved the phrase “Eastern seaboard.” It sounds so official… so military… yet, so nuclear attack.

You only really ever hear the phrase in movies or television shows, and when you do, it’s usually because something big is going down on the Eastern seaboard.

But I can’t help but wonder why nothing ever happens on the Western seaboard. You never hear anything at all about the Western seaboard. It’s like our country’s overlooked seaboard. I know there are always earthquake threats, along with the occasional tsunami.

I thought of this today because as I was sitting in the airport awaiting my flight to San Francisco, a guy on the phone across from me – clearly a very important player in the global scheme of things – told a colleague on the phone that he was recruiting a team to build a very important prototype (it almost sounded like he was putting together some sort of SHIELD team), and he was going to locate them on the Eastern seaboard.

WOW! This isn’t fiction. This is brass tacks. A real team assembling on the Eastern seaboard to build a very important prototype that will change the way society functions for generations to come.

I’m just glad I got to be a part of this piece of Eastern seaboard history.

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Remembering Pat McGovern (or, The McGovernor)

Earlier this week, I happened to notice in Forbes that Founder of the International Data Group (IDG), Pat McGovern, passed away.

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IDG owned and ran a few hundred magazines over the years – most notably PC World Magazine, where I worked from 1993 – 1997.

There were several things about Pat McGovern (or, the McGovernor, as I called him) that really impressed me.

Every year at Christmas time, he would visit every single one of his offices across the entire globe and visit with every single employee. And when he stopped by your desk, he’d do three things. First, he’d shake your hand. Then, he’d ask you what you thought your group (PC World, in my case) or IDG could be doing different or better. Finally, he’d hand you a bonus check for $500 and thank you for all you did that year.

IDG was privately owned, so we weren’t beholden to any investors or board. And that’s the second big impression he made on me and why I’m partial to working at private companies over public ones.

Instead of the misguided, short-term runs at profit that many public companies make just to make month or quarter-end, Pat always invested our profits back into the product.

At PC World, we did user research on every single article in every single issue to see if it was useful to people and how we might have done it better. My first research experience was at PC World, and I was able to involve myself in some world class research projects because of the infrastructure he believed in so much.

IDG and PC World, in particular, were very well run companies when I was there. And that was due, in large part, to Pat and the people he put in there to run them.

He’d never know it, but Pat McGovern made a very positive and lasting impression to me. He was consistent and smart, and I’m sure he’ll be missed by the entire IDG family – past and present.

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Imagine if our news sources were creative with their investigative reporting

I was just reading a story that pointed out that all but two public shootings involving more than two killings since 1950 took place in areas where guns weren’t allowed.

The point being that if a person is set on shooting innocent victims, he’s most likely to go where there won’t be others around with guns who could defend themselves.

But this was the paragraph I found most interesting:

“You look at the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012. There you had seven movie theaters within a twenty-minute drive of the killer’s apartment; only one of them banned permit to conceal handguns with posted signs. The killer [James Holmes] didn’t go to the movie theater that was closest to his home. ┬áHe didn’t go to the movie theater that advertised itself as having the largest auditoriums in the state of Colorado. He went to the single place where permit to conceal handgun holders weren’t able to go and defend themselves.”

That’s the kind of information that I wish we would get more of from our news. Sure, unless he said that’s why he chose that theater, there’s some speculation there. But there are a number of facts in there that make perfect sense.

It also points out that those “This is a gun free zone” signs aren’t really doing the trick, either.

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100mph

I was in Atlanta this past week with two co-workers. On our way to the hotel after our meetings, I took a quick detour for a donut run (this really shouldn’t be surprising to anyone).

Unfortunately, I missed the left I was supposed to take and kept on going straight. It wasn’t long before we were awash in strip clubs. Obviously, we were in a different part of town.

Me and one of the people in our group were having a great time with it, laughing at all of the creative strip club names and just enjoying driving around strange parts of Atlanta.

But the other one in our party was really getting angry. Angry I missed the turn. Angry we weren’t taking the most efficient and exact route possible to our hotel. He was unable to loosen up and enjoy the meandering for what it is.

He would later accuse me of moving at 100mph, regardless of any signage or directions. He was unhappy how to propel forward headlong into whatever it is I’m doing with little caution.

Ironically, I had given him advice just a week earlier to not be tentative and make his mistakes going 100mph. Best to work hard, fail definitively, learn quickly, and change course immediately, in my opinion. When we’re tentative, we tend to make different kinds of mistakes that aren’t indicative of the merits of what we were trying to do.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of interesting, bazaar or different experiences in my life by creating opportunities for myself, and others, at 100mph, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything.

Also, I reminded him that if we hadn’t gotten lost, we would have never found this place, the greatest strip club name ever:

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“Inserection”… Get it? InsERECTION? Love it…

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It’s not a good user experience if you have to tell me how to use it

I recently received this pop up when I visited the US Bank website:

Screen shot 2013-12-13 at 9.47.41 PMThis reminded me of a request we received once while doing marketing for the Wisconsin State Journal. They redesigned the newspaper (print edition), and they wanted us to create a guide for users to tell them how to use it.

Now I could possibly see making a guide with the purpose of promoting that there were changes and why they make the experience better. But they wanted a real user guide that people could use to figure out the new layout.

I said to them then what I’m saying now to US Bank… It’s not a good redesign if you have to tell people how to use it.

The purpose of user experience development is to make an easy and intuitive experience that is seamless and unintrusive to the user.

Fortunately, I can say, having not really paid attention to the above user guide, that the US Bank changes were pretty straightforward and simple to use – making the above notice unnecessary.

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All you need is a little determination mixed with some creativity

On May 22, 2001, I left work around 1pm to venture solo from Madison, WI, to Minneapolis, MN to see David Byrne at the First Avenue club (made famous by Prince in the film “Purple Rain”).

I figured the drive would take about 3 or so hours, and I wanted to make sure I got there in time to get a good spot, since it would be standing room only. Unfortunately, the weather turned pretty horrible, and it took just over 4 hours to get there. But I was still pretty early.

After I finally got parked and fed, I headed over to First Avenue where I was met with a sign on the door that said the start time of the show would be pushed back two hours. There were a lot of roadies and tour people around, so I asked a few of them to see what I could learn.

It turned out that due to the weather, they were really late getting in, too. The doors were now going to open at 8:30. There would still be an opening band, and David Byrne wouldn’t go on until around 10:30. This change meant the show wouldn’t be done until 12:30, and I wouldn’t get back to Madison until 4am, at the earliest, with an expectation to be at work the next morning.

The delay was complicated by the fact that, on this tour, Byrne was hiring members of the local symphony in each city to play the strings – which were a heavy part of the “Look Into The Eyeball” album that he was promoting on this tour. What I learned from asking around was that he had to play the entire show with the local string players, in each city, before he would then do the concert to the public. He wanted to make sure they knew their parts, so he would rehearse the entire show.

Faced with either getting home at 4am or just leaving and missing the show, I got creative and opted for the third option. Not being one to ever give up or settle for the obvious options, I started chatting up the staff at the club. After building a rapport, I started to tell my story. I had traveled 4 hours in the wind and rain to see this show, and I just couldn’t stay.

Was there any way I could go in and watch the rehearsal?

After a few false starts, I found someone who said yes, so long as I don’t stand out or make any noise – two very easy asks for the trade off.

So I walked in and tried to stay in the shadows. Turned out I got in just to see the beginning of the rehearsal. At this point in my life, I was recording every show I would go to, but I was so conspicuous that I didn’t feel comfortable trying to get my equipment sorted.

But it was a great trade off. Not only did I get to see the entire show, but I also got to see him train the new players on the nuances of each song and how he wanted them performed. The amount of detail he was sharing on where their part fit in, the cues they could pick up from his choreography and the explanations of the songs themselves were priceless. Plus, I got to see it without a crowd full of people talking and spilling drinks on me.

It was just me, David Byrne, and his band. And they were playing for me.

When the finished the rehearsal, I snuck out the back, hopped in my car and headed off. I would see him again later on that tour, so I was able to experience the show in two very different ways. It was a great tour, with a great setlist:

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(setlist courtesy of setlist.fm)

Taking “no” for an answer has never really been in my nature. Whenever I can, I seek to make opportunities for myself – especially unusual ones. I recently wrote about Pamela Alexander and her influence on me when it comes to making things happen, and that definitely applied, in this case. While everyone else was content to wait for the late show, I was able to create one of my most memorable concert experiences.

And I couldn’t have done it alone. Again, people want to help. And fortunately, there was someone at First Avenue who didn’t want me to have to drive back to Madison empty-handed.

The show was amazing, and while this isn’t footage from my experience, here’s a clip of “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” from that tour…

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The best spring training trip ever

After years of thinking about it, I decided to take my daughter and head down to Phoenix, AZ to experience some of the Milwaukee Brewers spring training camp. And after the experience we had, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

It was so amazing, I don’t think we could ever have as great of an experience as we did.

To really tell this story, I have to go back to Friday, August 9, 2013. The Brewers had just beaten the Seattle Mariners in Seattle, and my daughter and I were sitting behind the Brewers dugout.

When the game ended, Jerry Narron, the Brewers bench coach, came out of the dugout with this lineup card and asked the usher to hand it to my daughter:

IMG_2922It turns out that Narron’s lineup cards are pretty famous. Narron writes in freehand caligraphy and writes out everyone’s names in their native language (as you can see for Nori Aoki in the number one spot of this particular lineup).

My daugher was ecstatic to receive such an unusual souvenir from the game, and I had no idea Narron wrote these the way he did. It was a night we’d never forget.

So on Sunday, August 11, my daughter and I attended the afternoon series finale. She had brought a thank you card to give to Jerry, and when we saw Bill Schroeder, we asked him if he could find Jerry so we could give it to him. When we found Jerry, he said it was actually his brother, Johnny, the hitting coach, and that he’d see if he could find him. He never did, and we had to assume he passed the card on to his brother.

Fast forward to early March of 2014. I was trying to do some research before we got to Arizona so I knew what to expect and could ensure we had the most fun possible.

Yesterday, I wrote about how when you want something, you should ask for it
. And that’s what I intended to do. When I worked for the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Club in 1992, I was a PR intern. I’d spend a good portion of the day fielding call from fans who were visiting the park from out of town or just taking their kids for the first time. They wanted to see what we could do to make it memorable. Often, depending on the situation, we’d hook them up with great seats (behind home plate) or see if we could arrange a player to visit with them for a minute.

With this in mind, I attempted to contact the Brewers PR and marketing departments. Neither answered or returned my messages. And when I finally called the folks at the Maryvale baseball park, they weren’t really able to help me with any useful information.

Not to be denied, I wrote an email to Todd Rosiak, who covers the Brewers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Though it wasn’t his job, he decided to take on the task of giving me some great tips about spring training. He told me when they start practice, when they leave for away games, what their schedule is like for home game days and the best way to meet or interact with some of the players. Unlike the Brewers club, Todd’s advice was invaluable and spot on. It made a huge difference.

On Thursday, March 20, we arrived and headed to our hotel. I tried to find something near the park and ended up at the Red Roof Inn. It was inexpensive and about two minutes away, by car. But it was a bit nasty.

At 3am the first night, I was awakened by the squeaking bed of the couple next door. (They clocked in at just under 45 minutes.) In general, our room was like a prison cell with a king size bed. Outside was a yard light pointing directly into our room. Even with the heavy curtain, it lit up the room.

The next morning, I started to make a negative comment about the room when my daughter jumped in enthusiastically to tell me how great it was. Her excitement contrasted with my realistic unhappiness reminded me quite a bit of this scene from Ghostbusters:

But, as long as she was happy. One of my past co-workers once told me that having a kid is great because it makes all of the otherwise mundane things in your life seem all exciting and new again. This trip would remind me of that idea many times.

On Friday morning, we headed out to Maryvale to watch practice. We got there somewhat early to check out the grounds. While there, we ran into a security guard named Vivian. She was fantastic. She’d been doing this for 11 years and was able to answer all of my questions about how it works and what kinds of opportunities there will be during the day.

I asked her if we were allowed in the outfield grass to try and catch homeruns during batting practice. She said no, but what she does is pick two kids to go out there and shag balls and throw them back to the players. Each kid is allowed to keep one of the balls. (She said this was a Brewers cost saving move… funny, even professional sports teams go through cost-cutting.)

After she explained this, I looked at my daughter trying to help her see that this was her cue to ask. But she didn’t, and we walked away.

When we got some feet away, I asked her if she wanted to do that. She got all excited and asked, “Can I?” I said, “of course, but you have to ask Vivian if you can.”

So we turned around, and she walked up to Vivian alone to ask if she could. When she came back, she was all smiles and said that she would get to be one of the two.

While we waited for batting practice to start, we went down to the right field stand and watched the players warm up.

IMG_1103We were particularly engaged in watching Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez throw. Braun is very deliberate in his form when warming up. He never threw anything other than picture perfect. And Carlos Gomez, my daughter’s favorite player, is obviously a natural athlete. After throwing, he spent most of the morning playing shortstop and fielding grounders. It looked like his natural position.

After watching warm ups, we walked down, and sought out Jerry Narron. We introduced ourselves and told him about the lineup card in Seattle and how amazing the writing is. Talking directly to my daughter, he explained how anything you do in life, no matter how small, is worth doing to the best of your ability. It was kind of like being in a high school assembly, but I was happy he spent the time to impress that on her.

We told him that we wanted to thank his brother, Johnny, so he called him over. We introduced ourselves and talked for a bit. After we mentioned how unusual the lineup card is, he gave my daughter the exact same speech. It was obvious they were brought up by the same parents.

It was now time for my daughter to head to the outfield to shag flies. As I figured, this experience ended up being a once-in-a-lifetime event for her. She was cruising around collecting balls and throwing them back to the players. We could have gone home after that, and the trip would have been worth it.

IMG_1129That’s her throwing balls to Brandon Kintzler. The kid next to her left just before her. She had about 6 balls in her arms when suddenly, the Brewers all started to head to the locker room. In a panic, she started running across the outfield, not knowing what to do with all the balls.

IMG_1140The last one out, Jerry Narron, noticed her running with all the balls and told her to drop them in the bullpen. Then he told her to keep one for herself.

Two balls for one hour of home run shagging work. Not bad.

With all of the players gone, it was time to head toward Surprise to see the Brewers play at the Rangers’ spring training facility.

It was a fun game, and we sat right behind the Brewers dugout with a bunch of other Brewers fans. When I got the tickets, I figured behind the dugout would give us the best chance to interact with the players.

There wasn’t much interaction until the bottom of the fourth. Yovani Gallardo pitched one to Prince Fielder who grounded it to Scooter Gennett. Scooter threw it to Lyle Overbay at first who ran it in and threw it to my daughter before entering the dugout. We’re a few horus into spring training and my daughter now has received three more major league baseballs than I have in my entire life. (And believe me, I’ve been trying for about 30 years.)

After the game, we headed to Peoria to see the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres play. Unfortunately, Corey Hart wasn’t to be seen anywhere, so we left after a couple innings and prepared for the next day.

On Saturday, we woke up and headed to Maryvale to see the Anaheim Angels visit the Milwaukee Brewers. This time, I had gotten us seats right up against the Brewers bullpen down the right field line. With these seats, we could have reached out and touched all of the Brewers pitchers who warmed up that day. Kyle Lohse was the starter that day, and from what we could tell, he had great stuff…

IMG_1172It was really awesome (in the truest sense of the word) to see them pitch from this angle. You could see exactly what their pitches do, and I’m pretty confident, we’d never get that perspective again.

While Lohse was warming up, several Brewers were making their way down the right field line. We were in the third row, and the Brewers fans were all very friendly (as Wisconsin people tend to be), so we were all helping each other out.

My daughter was able to get her picture with Jonathan Lucroy…

IMG_1160Then Robin Yount, one of the all-time great shortstops, and probably the greatest Brewer player in history, came by and signed an autograph for us…

IMG_1179And then, the most exciting moment of the entire trip… for me! My all-time favorite Brewer – the one I most wanted to be growing up – came walking down the right field line. Brewers slugger and centerfielder Gorman Thomas walked up and was more than happy to talk and take a picture…

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After the parade of Brewers, we took some time to seek out Vivian, the security guard. My daughter had written a thank you note, and we wanted to make sure she got it. I believe that if someone enters your life and makes a difference you’ll never forget, it’s nice to let them know. She was amazed and gracious, and I’m sure she felt she had chosen well the day before.

Finally, the game got underway. Carlos Gomez led it off with a homerun, which was really exciting for my daughter. Then there was a fair amount of offense, but nothing special.

As I was watching the game, Zach Duke started to warm up in the bullpen. I took a few pictures, but then went back to watching the game.

IMG_1185I started to get into the game when my daughter tapped me on the shoulder to show me that Zach had given her the ball he was using to warm up. Not even two days, and she was on ball number four.

After Duke, Francisco Rodriguez started warming up. As he was throwing, one of the Angels hitters knocked a foul ball down the right field line. Lucas May, the bullpen catcher, had just thrown the ball back to Rodriguez and gotten back in his crouch when the ball arrived right in his glove. He never had to move. The foul ball was a perfect strike.

When I went back to watching the game, my daughter tapped me on the shoulder again to show me that she had been given another ball. This time, it was the one Rodriguez was throwing.

Five balls in two days. It was almost starting to get a little awkward. It was also really hot. I think the only thing we had more of than baseballs were shaved ices. It was my daughter’s diet for the weekend.

After the game, we took our car to the rental facility and exchanged it for a convertible so we could drive up to the Grand Canyon and look at the stars. The Canyon was excellent, and I’m sure we’ll return to hike down into it (something my daughter really wanted to do).

On our way back, we stopped in Flagstaff to visit an old high school friend who’s a firefighter there. We also took a short trip down classic Route 66. Since she’s singing that in her chorus group right now, she wanted to say she’d driven on it.

Finally, we got back to Phoenix and flew home. All in all, this was one of the greatest and most memorable weekends of my life. I don’t see how spring training could be any better. This trip was all about exposing my daughter to major league baseball, and she had the time of her life. Hopefully, she’ll always remember it.

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