Masterful podcasting: On the Edge

At the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, one athlete pulled a move that, so far as we know, no one else had ever done in all of human history.

This piece of podcasting is an object lesson in how to make audio that engages. This is how you tell a story.

The episode has everything: the bizarre marketing stunts of the coach of a black ice skater, the nearly inevitable paranoia of a black person when it comes to racism, the sound of ice skating, the difference between esthetics and (heroic) athleticism. All topped off by someone taking a stand.

Do yourself a favour and listen to it.

Source: On the Edge – Radiolab

Surya Bonaly

This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones

I don’t think there has been a news story in the last few weeks that has made me more irate than this one.

Malik Jalal describes four drone strike attacks trying to kill him (and the collateral damage of those attacks).

I need to understand this better and will read these Drone papers very soon.

I soon began to park any vehicle far from my destination, to avoid making it a target. My friends began to decline my invitations, afraid that dinner might be interrupted by a missile.

I took to the habit of sleeping under the trees, well above my home, to avoid acting as a magnet of death for my whole family. But one night my youngest son, Hilal (then aged six), followed me out to the mountainside. He said that he, too, feared the droning engines at night. I tried to comfort him. I said that drones wouldn’t target children, but Hilal refused to believe me. He said that missiles had often killed children. It was then that I knew that I could not let them go on living like this.

Source: I’m on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones | Voices | The Independent

Artists in Pakistan target drones with giant posters of child victims.
Artists in Pakistan target drones with giant posters of child victims.

Tips for traveling through Japan

In september 2013 I traveled for a full month through Japan. Just me and my backpack. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. When a friend decided to go there I wrote up some of the things I particularly enjoyed. I guess others might find this advice useful too. So here is my (highly personal) travel guide to Japan…

General advice

First of all make sure you buy one of those all-access railpasses in advance. It might be harder to get that done once you are in Japan. The high-speed trains are insanely efficient and traveling those long distances through (as one of my friends call it) “the most beautiful and the most ugly country in the world” using other means of transportation is a waste of your time.

I did the following route in four weeks and absolutely loved it: Tokyo → Kawaguchiko → Mount Fuji → Kyoto → Hiroshima → Kagoshima → Yokushima → Nagasaki → Osaka → Naoshima → Kobe → Kyoto → Nara → Ise → Matsumoto → Tsumago & Magome → Kanazawa → Tokyo.

Japan is mostly a cash-based society and it can be hard to find ATMs that work for you. If you have a VISA card then you can get money at any of the abundant Seven/Elevens. If you you only have a Mastercard then you have to find the larger post offices to get money out. Update: Apparently Maestro now works at Seven/Eleven too, so no more ATM issues then.

Make sure to visit the different types of onsen. Occasionally you have them outside in nature and they can be wonderful.

These were my highlights per location:


The first thing you should check is whether the Sumo tournament happens to be in Tokyo while you are there. If so, get tickets and go there for an afternoon. If you visit the fish market early morning, you shouldn’t go and stand in line at the sushi place that everybody seems to want to go to, go to ‘Ryu Sushi’ instead. They had the best sushi I’ve had in all of Japan. I thought that Akibahara (including the bizarre ‘French maid’-cafes) was a must-see and the tiny bars in Golden Gai were very interesting too. My best memories are of climbing Mount Fuji. I started around 13:00 all the way down at the first station and walked up to the top till 01:00 at night (with a small rest), in time to see the sun come up. It was far and cold, but worth it. I was very lucky to have one of the clearest nights of the season, and I am sure it can be horrible and disappointing too. I haven’t bought much stuff in Japan (I try to buy as little as I can in general), but I did buy a great kitchen knife (for the left-handed) at the kitchen-area in Tokyo and beautiful asymmetric earthenware for a few euros a piece (I should have bought more as they are my favourite things in my house now). I am still disappointed that I couldn’t get a ticket for the Ghibli museum. These seem to sell out weeks in advance.


Everything is beautiful here and nothing disappoints. Two pieces of advice: Rent a bike, it is the ideal place to cycle around because everything is so close to each other; and go to the top floors of the ridiculously massive train station, you have wonderful views from there. Otherwise just go on a hunt for the small Zen temples. I thought that Koto-in was amazing and was hugely impressed by the Zen rock garden at Ryoanji. The manga museum did very little for me, but I am in no way a manga fan anyway. If I ever go back to Kyoto then I would try to go see the ‘Ninja house‘, as I didn’t manage that the first time around.

The atomic bombs: Hiroshima and Nagasaki

If seeing this part of history is something that interests you, then Hiroshima is the place that has the most to offer. I was incredibly touched by the videos of the survivors telling their stories in the museum there. From Hiroshima it is a short trip to Miyajima (see the picture above) which is well worth the effort. Nagasaki is cool too: it has a small piece of Dutch history and has a very interesting fusion kitchen. If you go there, make sure to take the boat to the absurdly weird Gunkanjima.


I thought this island all the way South was super. Apparently it always rains there, but I was lucky and must have caught the two days that it didn’t. The walk to the oldest tree in Japan through nature (following an old train track) was gorgeous. I slept at Lodge Yaedake Sanso which comes highly recommended.


Can be skipped. I was there to go and see a yearly festival in one of the neighbouring towns. My best experience there was sleeping in a capsule hotel (Capsule Hotel Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi, men and women separate). If you like okonomiyaki then Osaka is the place to go.


For me this truly is a must-see. Try and sleep in one of the Mongolian yurts next to the water (Tsutsuji-so) and make sure you have enough time to see all the museums and art pieces. The architecture of the Chi Chu Art Museum literally made me cry (this Tadao Ando is brilliant). Make sure to take the ferry to Teshima, rent a bike with an electric motor and cycle to the Teshima Art Museum (which was missing from my edition of the Lonely Planet), it is utter genius, really. Naoshima was the one place where it was a bit hard to find decent food. Also you can skip the artsy public bath with the elephant.

Nara and Ise

The giant wooden temple at Nara is impressive, but I could have done without it too. So if you are short of time, skip Nara. The story behind Ise is incredible. When I was there was just the time when they were rebuilding everything, but it is a far way out and there is little to see as an outsider.

Magome and Tsumago

I thoroughly enjoyed walking for about half a day from one town to the other using this old Nakasendo postal route. It would have been nice to have been able to spend a bit more time camping along the same road that Musashi traveled. I had a superb meal and slept very well at the Fujioto Ryokan in Tsumago.

Enjoy your trip (the food, the food!), I am very jealous you get to go there…

Is group chat making you sweat? — Signal v. Noise

Jason Fried has writen an incredible post about the benefits and the pitfalls (mostly the latter) of group chat after ten years of experience at 37signals and Basecamp.

I think he is fundamentally right in giving ‘attention’ so much importance as a precious resource. I’ve come to realise that the ability to singletask is the one skill that most people are lacking in their working lives. It is certainly the thing that I would like to get better at.

At my place of work we have been experimenting with Mattermost over the last few weeks and are on the cusp of implementing it for the whole team. I look forward to implementing Fried’s recommendations on how to make that a success.

I believe attention is one of your most precious resources. If something else controls my attention, that something else controls what I’m capable of. I also believe your full attention is required to do great work. So when something like a pile of group chats, and the expectations that come along with them, systematically steals that resource from me, I consider it a potential enemy. “Right now” is a resource worth conserving, not wasting.

Group chatSource: Is group chat making you sweat? — Signal v. Noise — Medium

The Dunk’s Yin to the 3-pointer’s Yang

A wonderful 99% Invisible episode on the height of the basket, how this led to an inbalance in the game through the invention of the dunk (and to some clearly racist reactions) and how the 3-pointer came from the ABA to save the day and open up the game.

This episode is part of a podcast series by ESPN. I am off to listen to more of the ‘Dunkumentaries‘…

There was a political dimension to all of this as well. The dunk was becoming popular at a turbulent time in the country. The Black Panthers were organizing and arming themselves in Oakland and some white Americans were worried a revolution was about to take place. The rise of dunking was seen by some racist critics as a literal manifestation of “Black Power,” embodied in masters of the dunk like Lew Alcindor, who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Under pressure from critics of the dunk, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) made a decision to ban the dunk in 1967. The NBA (National Basketball Association) did not ban the dunk, but still faced criticism about the slowness of play in the league.

Source: The Yin and Yang of Basketball – 99% Invisible