Current Events

Baseball Opening Day

It’s the first day of the Japanese baseball season today which gives me occasion to share this excellent commercial from last year.

Current Events

Dancing Heart Guy Unveiled

Have you ever wondered about that joyous dude dancing on the bridge right near Potrero Hill, greeting everyone stuck in traffic driving North into the city via the 101?

Thank you KQED and #‎BayCurious‬ team for finding out. It’s people like this that make this city what it is. Hat tip to Dav for sharing the video.

Current Events

“I think that’s the bigger story”

I missed the keynote at ONA 15 last year so I didn’t get a chance to see Josh Singer, the screen writer of Spotlight, on stage interviewing the original members of the Boston Globe Spotlight team (Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Rezendes, and Walter Robinson) that were the subject of the now Oscar-winning film.

Having just seen the movie last weekend, I can now put this talk into context and it’s fascinating. We get an inside look into early efforts in data journalism and a behind the scenes look at what it was like for the team that uncovered the scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the Boston Catholic Archdiocese.

While challenging, there is real value in holding back a story until you have the full picture, when you have irrefutable evidence to state your case. This may be difficult in 2016 and the Spotlight team is conscious of the rare moment in time where the masses did not have the benefit of an internet to cross-link scandals from one parish to the next but the newspaper was able leverage email and the Boston Globe website once they published to maximize distribution and impact of their story.

Twitter, Facebook, and the overall interconnectedness of everyone in 2016 would make it almost impossible to keep something this big under wraps for so long. The temptation and business pressure to publish first would be too great.

The first Spotlight stories had the team spent months putting the pieces together. That’s an expense that most journalistic institutions cannot spare to chase down a hunch, especially for a metro story. This movie comes at a time when many of the local news desks are being hollowed out and one would hope that the movie and it’s success helps underscore the importance of a strong, independent local press that is uniquely positioned to uncover these stories which hit closest to home.

For more reading, The Boston Globe has a special section where you can dive into all the original material including the original documents that were put online and the story that revealed the scandal in 2002.

Oh, the headline of this post comes from the lead into Marty Baron’s speech in the film about why they shouldn’t rush to publish what they initially uncovered, proof that almost 50 priests had been involved.

I think that’s the bigger story. We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy; show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges, show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top, down.

Here’s Marty’s take on the film and the process by which it came together. I’m in ‘Spotlight’, but it’s not really about me. It’s about the power of journalism.

And here’s a screenshot of the email from Marty to Walter Robinson that was in the presentation from ONA (sorry that it’s blurry, it’s a screen capture from the video).

marty baron email

Current Events

Heineken Champions League

Heineken has long-running relationship with the UEFA Champions League tournament in Europe. Each year they run a series of advertisements running up to the contest that feature the fans and get everyone excited about the game.

This year’s installment is brilliant. The Dilemma pits an Italian fan’s love of the game against his faithfulness to his mates who get together to watch every game together on the couch.

Last year’s The Match illustrates what a ship of football freak sailors will do to get a TV signal of their favorite game.

Heineken USA reached out to expats in NYC with it’s own campaign. Work or Watch the game?

Heineken Spain gets in on the game in 2014. Will you run out on your girlfriend?

2013 featured The Negotiation where the guys have to convince their wife or girlfriends to spend almost $2000 for a pair of stadium seats, “you don’t even have to worry about the dogs chewing on them.”

There’s more where these came from. Follow Heineken on YouTube for more.

Current Events

How to make an audio birthday card

A couple people asked how I created the audio birthday greeting card for my wife’s birthday. It was super-easy to do and shows off the power of open platforms. Here’s the recipe.


  1. Phone number from Burner
  2. Account on SoundCloud
  3. A webpage to host the SoundCloud files

What you do

Create your account on Burner. There are a number of different plans and you need to buy credits to set up an account. I bought 8 credits for $4.99 which let me buy an Unlimited Burner number which gave me unlimited texts & minutes before it self-destructs after 30 days.

You’ll need an iOS or Android device from which to set up the account. Once you set up the account, you’ll get your temporary phone number. This is the number that you’ll give out to your friends to leave their birthday message. Messages show up in the Burner app like this.

Set up an account on SoundCloud. You’ll want to create an account in your friend’s name so you can transfer the account over to your friend on their birthday so they can login and manage it after their birthday.

Once you have both a Burner and SoundCloud account, you need to connect the two together. On the Burner app Details screen (image below) you will see a prompt to connect your SoundCloud account to your Burner app.

Once you’ve connected the two, use someone’s phone to call the Burner number and leave a message. Login to your SoundCloud account to confirm the message is saved to the SoundCloud account. Don’t worry, you can go back and delete this test message later from SoundCloud. The messages will get stored in SoundCloud and look like this.


Once you’ve confirmed everything is working, you’ll want to use the Burner App to record a greeting with instructions for your friends that call the number. Explain what you’re doing and to leave a message. Have them gather their family together to leave a group message, sing a song or record other audio snippets from their life (greeting from their local barrista, bus driver calling out their stop, etc).

You’ll want to set it up so that your phone doesn’t ring and calls get routed straight to voicemail. Burner leaves three notification for each incoming call (missed call, new voicemail, message saved to SoundCloud) so you’ll want to manage notifications so they don’t bother you.

SoundCloud supports widgets that can be embedded into webpages. Create a hidden Birthday Web Page for your friend and embed the SoundCloud widget into the web page. You can write something, add photos, even some blink tags and MySpace glitter fonts to make it fancy (if that’s your style).

That’s it! Now that the tech pieces are in place, all you have to do is get the word out without letting your friend in on the secret. This was the hardest part but I found making a Facebook post with Custom privacy set so that everyone except your friend could see it was the most efficient. This way you could message back and forth with everyone and not be in danger of your friend seeing the conversation.

Have fun!

Other Use Cases: Reggae band uses Burner > SoundCloud connection learn which songs their fans like best and promote their tour – Iration: “Hotting Up” with Burner Connections & Soundcloud

Current Events

Google DeepMind Plays Go

There is a Challenge Match taking place in Seoul between Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo computer program vs. 9 dan professional Lee Sedol (9 dan is the highest rank). Most of the engineers at SmartNews have a background in machine learning and are following the matches closely on a dedicated internal Slack channel.

The YouTube coverage is very good with professional English commentary from Michael Redmond, the first Western Go player to reach 9 dan. Go is a fascinating game and Michael’s commentary is quite good and easy to understand even for beginners like me.

The first two matches went to Google and it looks like history is being made. I’ve embedded videos for the upcoming matches as well.

Update – AlphaGo wins in three.

Update – Lee Sedol wins match four!

Match Five


Do what you love. Love what you do.

SmartNews SF had over 50 Japanese university students visit the office to learn about doing business at a US startup and learn about how to start their career. This trip is part of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs-funded Kakehashi Project to promote greater understanding and opportunities between the US and Japan.

I’m always looking for a chance to practice my Japanese so I jumped at the chance. I tried to give as much of it in Japanese as I could but, as you can see, the slides are in English.

The main topics were:

  1. SmartNews, how it works, why it’s interesting and why it’s a cool company.
  2. My career, how I ended up at SmartNews, and what I learned along the way.
  3. How to get a job at a US company, what tools to use, and how to use them.

kakehashi group
Kakehashi visitors at SmartNews SF on March 9, 2016

Thank you Dennis, Jessica, Naoki, Chika, and Shunan for helping set up and handling the crowd and thank you Ken Funabashi from the Japan Consulate, Stacy Hughes, and Shimizu-san for giving SmartNews the opportunity.

Current Events


As the world around us transforms to the digital, we are increasingly drawn to the analog. Check out Swedish musician Martin Molin from the band Wintergatan make music from his marvelous, human-powered marble machine.

Current Events

San Francisco Bay on a clear day

Back in February, while everyone was watching the Super Bowl, DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 satellite took this photo from its vantage point about 800 miles to the West out over the Pacific.

Normally haze would cause such and image to blur out from such a distance but this satellite is special. From the Mapbox blog where I found this remarkable photo.

We don’t often see pictures like this one. The problem is haze: as a camera in space looks toward the horizon, it sees more water vapor, smog, and other stuff in the atmosphere that obscures the Earth. But our friends at DigitalGlobe built WorldView-3 with a sensor suite called CAVIS, which lets it quantify and subtract haze – making atmospheric effects virtually invisible. Only WorldView-3 can see so clearly at this angle.

Current Events

Paris Review on Steph Curry

We all saw Steph Curry’s game-winning basket to win against Oklahoma in overtime…in the last second…while running down the court…shooting from a few feet inside half-court…and swishing a three pointer…to tie the NBA record for most three-pointers in a single game.

So this morning we launched a Basketball channel on SmartNews. The stories that make it into this channel are driven by an algorithm that reads through millions of articles each day and “knows” if a story is about basketball and places it there. Part of the challenge of teaching this algorithm is that it takes a training set of articles to “teach” it what collection of words, phrases, and headlines make up a basketball story and uses that pattern when it looks for new stories to add to the collection.

The beauty of this once you get it right is that once it’s working, the discovery process is really almost like magic. As it happens, right when we turned it on, SmartNews immediately discovered a story about Steph Curry in the literary magazine, The Paris Review.


It is in this way, SmartNews discovers new content for it’s readers who may not know what the Paris Review thinks of basketball. And in turn, SmartNews brings a new audience of readers to the Paris Review magazine, an audience beyond their usual core audience. Discovery on both ends, that’s what makes SmartNews an engine for the curious.

Here’s an excerpt from Hoops and the Abstract Truth by Rowan Ricardo Phillips (who covers basketball for The Paris Review regularly).

So let’s look at that game-winning three-pointer as a work of art. Suffering—as Auden wrote in his study of Brueghel, “Musée des Beaux Arts”—is a “human position” to understand. You might find it at the center of the scene or at the periphery, but even if it’s not front and center, it’s there: “the dreadful martyrdom must run its course / Anyhow in a corner … ” Look to one corner of Curry’s canvas and you’ll spot Andre Roberson, a role player who earns his roster spot playing defense, doing exactly what the textbook tells you to do: he tried to hustle back to the three-point line in order to position himself to defend from there. But Curry’s frame of reference is neither the arc painted on the court, nor Roberson’s, nor the textbook’s. As Roberson backtracked, his body betrayed its doubt about what it should be doing. His are the motions of someone in a high-leverage situation who’s unsure whether to step back or step up, unsure if he’s defending the past or the future.

Poetry in Motion