Seriously, Put Your Work Online: A Cautionary Tale

I recently had the privilege of teaching three days of workshops in Japan. I had a fantastic trip, and a great experience with the team at Osaka City University.

This story, however, is about the days before.

The Scenario

The workshops were full of new teaching material. Due partially to hesitation about putting very in-progress work online, and mostly to doing lots of work on planes and in other wifi-less situations, my Github commits were rare in the months leading up to my visit, but I took an uncharacteristically laissez-faire attitude toward the situation. I mean, I know bad things happen, but they’ve never happened to me

I knew, though. In the back of my head, I knew.

Fortunately no one did mug me that night in Seattle, but Miles McBain’s recent blog post (and other well known thoughts on the matter) were fresh in my mind, and I swore to do better. You know, just in case.

I finished the last workshop slides on my flight to Tokyo; because I am cheap frugal, I did not purchase the $20, probably slow, airplane wifi. No one was in the seat next to me (#blessed), so after finishing the slides I set my laptop there while I ate and watched yet another movie1. At some point, the laptop slid to the floor. “No big deal,” I thought. “It’s not that far a drop, and it didn’t hit that hard.” I had a brief series of heart palpitations when the machine took a few minutes to wake up before landing, but eventually it did, and I proceeded to forget about it. When I got to my hotel, I committed the last changes to Github… just in case.

Thirty-six hours passed, during which my traveling companions and I 1) ate plenty of raw seafood and 2) noticed no issues with the laptop. The next morning, as we were packing to head to Kyoto, I went to shut it down. I logged in, and then…

…the screen started flickering.


Then the screen went black.

The rest of the machine seemed to be okay, but no amount of hitting keys or trying to restart was bringing my screen back.

The Lessons

  1. Friends, the only thing saving me from panic at this point was knowing that, in a pinch, I had a minimum viable set of materials on Github that I could run from anyone’s computer, with no prep. They wouldn’t be perfect (I was planning some last-minute updates after conversations with the OCU team), and I might not be able to run the examples myself and or do any live coding, but they would do.

    Choose your own source - Dropbox, Google Drive, whichever - but for the love, put it online. In my case, Github worked perfectly: My slides were HTML (done with xaringan), and I had enabled Github Pages on those repos, so that I could walk up to any computer with internet access and immediately start the workshops.

    (A less dramatic situation happened last summer, when I gave a talk on missing data and bias. Everyone had sent slides prior to the conference, but mine didn’t make it onto the ballroom computer - which I didn’t realize until I went to the lectern to speak. I went to my Github repo, downloaded the PDF, and moved on with the talk in about a minute. Minor catastrophe and awkward conference technical difficulties averted, because the work was easily accessible online.)

  2. I had two friends traveling with me; they were amazingly chill about spending part of their Japanese vacation going to the Apple Store in Ginza2, and one even spent the next morning accompanying me to Osaka to troubleshoot. Select excellent travel companions, is what I’m saying.

So. Put your work online. The worst case scenario probably won’t happen… but it could.


I let the OCU team know the situation, and the next morning I went over to Osaka to figure out a solution that would allow me to make updates over the next few days, as I had just been given access to their EDC system. Upon arriving at OCU and plugging my laptop into an external monitor…

…the whole thing worked.

It’s like it never happened.

I type this post to you now on the very same laptop, looking at the very same screen.

I can’t explain this. Did the Universe want to teach me a lesson, and once I was sufficiently frightened, it generously gave me my laptop back? Is there some wire that got jolted loose and then back into place? ¯\(ツ)

I left OCU with a spare HDMI cable to use with the hotel TV should the need arise. But the need never did; I finished my updates on the Shinkansen (pushing those changes to Github via our pocket wifi, because I have learned my lesson), and the only technical difficulties during our workshops were the ones caused by actual code.

But this is a mystery, and one I wouldn’t count on repeating.

  1. The flight to Tokyo is very, very long.

  2. Header photo taken from the Apple Store elevator, after receiving a likely terminal diagnosis for the screen.