AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

mattgemmell.com turns 10 →

September 05, 2014 |

Today marks a decade since I started writing here at mattgemmell.com. I’d like to thank you for reading my words throughout the years.

Huge congratulations to Matt. I’m sure the next ten years will be even better.

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The impracticality of nice

September 04, 2014

I love bicycles.

I believe it’s one of the most remarkable inventions in human history and if I can, I ride one every day. I don’t mean in a sporty, lycra-clad kind of way, but as a normal person wearing everyday clothes. The bicycle is my usual means of transportation in Madrid.

Bicycles thrive in the city, where the average trip is often just a couple km long. In that scenario it is usually, by far, the most convenient way to move from point A to point B,1 without having to worry about things like finding a parking spot. It also happens to be really good for your health.

Up until 2011 I had been using the same bicycle since I was 15 years old: an old Kona Lava Dome from 1998. I love it. I’ve used the heck out of it for over 10 years and it’s never let me down. It’s still in pretty good shape, considering the abuse it has endured over the years. However, riding a mountain bike in the city, especially one like Madrid, is not ideal, so after a couple years of daily use I decided it was time for a change.2

I also appreciate nice things. That’s why I’m a Mac and iOS user, among other things. I value attention to detail and I recognize great design when I see it. When someone sweats the details, it shows. And I like that.

When it comes to sweating the details in the bicycle world, there’s a name that’s in a class of its own: Bianchi. They’re the oldest bicycle manufacturer in the world. They’ve been making bicycles since 1885, almost 130 years ago, and they’re a fundamental part of the history of the bicycle.

It should then come as no surprise that when I decided to buy my first nice bicycle, I chose a Bianchi:

It’s a beautiful Bianchi Pista Steel from 2011, and it was the first bicycle I ever bought for myself. Today I own four different bicycles, but the Bianchi remains the only one I have purchased new from a local bike store. It’s gorgeous.3

The craftsmanship and attention to detail are evident anywhere you look. In the time that I’ve had it, I’ve replaced and upgraded many of its components, but its essence remains intact: that beautiful piece of chrome-finished steel with Bianchi decals on it. The frame is the true soul of a bicycle, and mine’s is a stunner.

Riding it is also one hell of an experience. Fixed-gear bicycles are so much fun. I hadn’t enjoyed myself so much on a bike since I was 10 years old. I feel very fortunate to own this bicycle, because it is exactly the one I wanted.

However, in the past 12 months, I have barely touched it. It’s been mostly sitting on its rack at home, begging to be used. And it makes me sad.

Why?

The problem with nice things is that they tend to get noticed more than we’d like, and my Bianchi is not an exception. It gets looks and comments from strangers on a regular basis. Most of them are compliments, with the occasional bit of skepticism thrown in for good measure.4 I like it when a stranger feels curious about my bike, but all that attention means the idea of leaving it locked on the streets makes me extremely uneasy.

For a while, I managed. I resorted to pretty much the only thing I could do: I would take the bike with me anywhere I went, even if it was a place were bicycles are normally not allowed. I have taken it inside clothing stores, banks… you name it. Even restaurants. It certainly made for some interesting conversations with the security personnel sometimes.

After a while though, I got tired of arguing. Laziness started to creep in, and I realized it wasn’t worth it to keep fighting about the bike all the time, instead of doing whatever I was supposed to be doing. I just wanted to get my stuff done with as little fuss as possible, and in that regard, my bike wasn’t helping.

And so, last year I decided to try a different approach and I bought another bicycle. A beater bike, as they say. They’re the polar opposite of nice bikes: the kind of bikes no one would bother to steal, but even if someone did, you wouldn’t really care that much.

If you take your time, it’s pretty easy to find an old bicycle in reasonably good condition for very little money. After a few weeks looking I eventually found a great candidate: a classic hybrid Peugeot Eton 21 from 1990. It was in pretty good shape and I bought it for about $80.5 That’s almost 20 times cheaper than my Bianchi. And you know what? It may be the best purchase I’ve ever made.

Sure, it’s no head-turner: it’s old, the frame is rusty in places and it has a certain utilitarian look to it, but that’s precisely the point. It blends right in. So much so, in fact, that last week I forgot to remove my LED lights and left them on the bike over the weekend and when I came back, after a full 72 hours on the street, the lights were still there. Nobody had even looked at the bike twice. That’s peace of mind that money can’t buy.

Thanks to this bike, I have discovered the pleasures of stress-free riding. I don’t care if it gets chipped, or stolen. I even leave it out on the street at night. Not having to carry a bike on the elevator every time I leave the house is another huge plus. Anytime I want to use it, it’s right there, waiting for me. It’s truly become the most convenient means of urban transportation I’ve ever used.

Besides, since I don’t need to worry about aesthetics, I can put big, fat tires on it, fenders and a huge rack to help me carry my bags. Now it’s the bike that carries the heavy weight instead of my back, and it’s awesome. I get wherever I’m going without breaking a sweat, lock it up in 15 seconds and off I go. As far as convenience goes, it’s pretty hard to beat.

The more I keep using it, the more I realize that this is exactly what an urban bicycle should be. Functional, discrete. Bombproof. I love it.

But then I look back at the Bianchi and, once again, I feel sad. Sad because even though I love nice things, I realize that sometimes, nice is not the best choice. Sometimes ugly is the answer.

It’s a lesson I’m still struggling to assimilate, but I’m making progress. I don’t think I’m quite ready to sell the Bianchi though. I still ride it occasionally, and enjoy it immensely. It is a wonderful piece of engineering and craftsmanship and, as someone who loves bicycles, it represents an ideal; the embodiment of my passion for these mechanical marvels.

We all have some guilty pleasures, and this is mine. Owning a nice bicycle makes me happy, even if it’s not particularly useful, or practical.

Ugly certainly has its moments, but that doesn’t mean that we have to forever let go of nice.

Fortunately, as far as bicycles are concerned, there’s always Rule No. 12.


  1. This is what worldwide bicycle ambassador Michael Colville-Andersen very logically calls “A-to-B-ism”.

  2. For obvious sentimental reasons, I hesitate to call it an upgrade.

  3. There’s something special about restoring an old object and giving it new life. That’s why I always prefer restoring old bicycles as opposed to buying new ones, with the Bianchi as the sole exception.

  4. “How can you ride a bike without gears?”, is a frequent favorite of mine.

  5. You should always ask for proof of ownership when dealing with used items on the Internet. Otherwise you risk ending up with a stolen bike. If no proof of ownership exists, my advice is to pass on it. Or at the very least, use this sample contract. It’s a good way to protect yourself against any possible theft claims that could come your way in the future.

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Olympus Drops Worldwide Warranty Policy for its New Camera and Accessories | The Phoblographer →

September 04, 2014 |

Speaking of Olympus:

Don’t go doing anything too dangerous with that new Pen E-PL7 as the company has just announced it will stop adding worldwide warranty support for its new digital cameras and accessories. While every piece of Olympus camera equipment has come with a worldwide warranty card since April 2014, now these globetrotting service packages will be reserved for a smaller set of products.

If you were thinking of buying a new Olympus camera or lens overseas to save money, you may want to reconsider.

At least worldwide warranties for equipment purchased before September 2014 will still be honored.

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Shawn Blanc on the new Olympus E-PL7 mirrorless camera →

September 04, 2014 |

As awesome as the E-PL7 looks when compared to its younger sibling, I don’t know that it’s a no-brainer of a purchase. It’s terribly close in price to the E-M10, and the slight savings of $100 means you’re not getting things I think are easily worth that $100 (especially once you’re up in that price range already).

I agree with his assessment. The E-PL7 looks like a nice camera, but it’s just too close to the E-M10 in price to justify its purchase.

There’s something else I find curious. Olympus is widely expected to introduce new camera models in the upcoming Photokina. The fact that they chose to reveal the E-PL7 barely a month before the fair, as opposed to waiting for it may suggest that they have something big up their sleeve, and they don’t want whatever they’re planning to announce to share the spotlight with any other camera.

Now I’m intrigued.

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Ben Brooks on the leaked pictures scandal →

September 04, 2014 |

Speaking of the leaked celebrity pictures:

It doesn’t matter if the stolen pictures were of landscapes or boobs, it was still theft and the only person to blame is the person who did the theft. Not the victim.

If your house is broken into you, don’t call Schlage and get pissed at them because the lock on your door was bypassed — you call the cops and they go after the person who broke in (not you, not Schlage).

That’s precisely what most people seem to forget with this whole thing. There is not a system in the world that is 100% impervious to malicious attacks. However secure a system may be, there is always some risk that your data may be accessed.

Instead of obsessing over who’s to blame, perhaps we should all be focusing more on finding the people responsible.

PS: At the time of publication (September 3, 2014), this article was only accessible to members of The Brooks Review. If you enjoy it, you should consider becoming a member and supporting Ben’s work.

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Security Trade-Offs | Daring Fireball →

September 04, 2014 |

John Gruber on the intrinsic risks associated with cloud-based backups:

It is thus, in my opinion, terribly irresponsible to advise people to blindly not trust Apple (or Google, or Dropbox, or Microsoft, etc.) with “any of your data” without emphasizing, clearly and adamantly, that by only storing their data on-device, they greatly increase the risk of losing everything.

Well said. “Just don’t put your stuff in the cloud” is about the worst advice you can give.

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Neonsamurai's reviews on IMDb →

September 03, 2014 |

Tonight Deep Rising was on TV. It didn’t ring a bell, so I went to IMDb to check out a few reviews. Sure enough, Neonsamurai’s was the first one, with the title: “It’s officially the best film ever made”:

The sad thing is that if the Colour Purple had included a raid on a sinking cruise liner, infested with sub aqua monsters as part of the film, then it too would have climbed to the top of my favourite movie list. But as with most films the director took the easy way out and chose to ignore this very overlooked area of filmmaking.

I honestly don’t know how it’s taken me this long to run into his reviews (Deep Rising’s is from 2002). After that, I obviously had to take a look at the rest of them.

Great, great stuff.

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A war on privacy

September 03, 2014

Today I read a great piece by Richard J. Anderson about Facebook, where he makes an interesting point:

I tried giving up Facebook once before only to end up sucked back in. Why? It’s simple: Facebook is where all my friends are. If I want to keep in touch with them, in any way, I’ll have to be on Facebook.

I just don’t have to do it on Facebook’s terms.

He goes on to explain his way to deal with Facebook’s privacy-invading tactics,1 and he gives some solid advice if you’re interested in doing the same. At the end of the day, though, I’m not sure fighting the way Facebook works is the best approach.

Let me start by saying, I’m no Facebook fan. Far from it. I use it very much like Anderson does, mainly to stay in touch with people I’ve met over the years and for whom I have no other contact information. Facebook works really well for that, and so I use it. That’s pretty much it.

It is in part because I have no love for Facebook that I understand where Anderson is coming from. The idea of a shady corporation tracking our every move with obscure intentions is certainly unsettling. And yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize Facebook doesn’t make for a great villain.

What is it that Facebook wants? It’s simple: they want to know everything there is to know about you so that they can show you ads you’re more likely to click on.

Ads. That’s all there is to Facebook’s evil plan. It is, of course, understandable: companies like Facebook are, after all, businesses, and they need to make money to survive. Running a social network, especially one as huge as Facebook, is crazy expensive.

Here’s a big problem that plagues every social network:

  • Everybody wants to use them because they add value to their lives and/or personal relationships.

  • Everybody wants them to be free.

  • Nobody wants to see ads.

Of course, that’s impossible. Something has to give. And if we’ve learned anything from App.net it is that premium, paid social networks very rarely ever work, even if the product is good. The problem is, once you start out with a free service, it’s much more difficult to get people to pay.

So, that leaves ads.

However, it’s not enough to show ads, you must actually get users to click on them, and for that you must know as much about them as you possibly can. It’s only logical, then, that all social networks would use the information they have on their users in order to target them with “better” ads.2

Even so, you may argue that there should be limits on what type of information these companies are allowed to collect, and I absolutely agree. To me, tracking users once they leave your site is going a step too far, and yet both Google and Facebook do it with impunity. In that regard, the Do Not Track Me extension that Anderson mentions in his article may be a good solution. Browser vendors should also provide some form of built-in protection against that. Or perhaps we should simply remember to log out of Facebook before closing the tab. And if we forget to do that then, let’s face it, it might be because deep down, it doesn’t really bother us as much as we thought.

There’s this notion in the tech community about the evils of social networks and other ad-based services like Google’s. “If you’re not buying anything then you’re the product being sold”. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.

But what is it that bothers us so much about being shown ads?

I believe this is an issue that gets blown way out of proportion within the aforementioned tech community. The rest of the world doesn’t care. They really don’t. Ask any of your friends whether they prefer to see ads or pay $10 a month to use Facebook. See what they tell you.

Sadly, regular people don’t value their privacy nearly as much as we do.

For example, my personal rules for interacting on social networks (actually, on all of the Internet) are simple:

  1. If I’m not comfortable with everybody on the Internet knowing about it, I do not share it.

  2. There’s no step 2.

To me it really is that simple. Anything I willingly share is fair game, and I’m OK with that. And if they use it to show me ads, then so be it. It’s still a small price to pay for the convenience we get out of these tools.

What doesn’t make sense to me is trying to keep using these networks without disclosing any personal information for the sole purpose of avoiding being tracked or being shown ads. I suppose it’s technically possible, but it’s just too exhausting. I know it because I, too, have tried. It’s like going to a restaurant and only ordering side dishes to avoid paying for your meal. You can do it, but it’s kind of missing the point.

Whether we like it or not, social networks need our information to survive. And so, they will show us ads, and they will try to know more about us. If we’re going to use them at all, we should be OK with that. This will be true until the day we’re willing to start paying money for them. But let’s be honest, the odds of enough people suddenly deciding they want to start paying to use Facebook are pretty slim.

We can try to keep them at bay, and I’d go so far as to say that it’s our responsibility to ensure they don’t cross the line into creepy territory, but that’s no small task. If we absolutely don’t want to grant them access to our personal information then the only sensible choice is not to use them at all. But as Anderson says, that’s not a realistic approach because well, everyone else is still using them.

For all the bad press Facebook gets about their privacy issues, their real power lies elsewhere. Paraphrasing the great Verbal Kint:

The greatest trick Facebook ever pulled was convincing the world they needed to use it.

And like that… we’re all screwed.


  1. Of which there are many.

  2. Better from the advertiser’s point of view, of course.

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Apple's two factor authentication doesn't protect iCloud backups or Photo Streams | TechCrunch →

September 03, 2014 |

Great reporting by Matthew Panzarino:

[Apple’s two-factor authentication] does not, however, make you enter a verification code if you restore a new device from an iCloud backup. And that’s the design ‘feature’ that hackers are taking advantage of here.

(…)

Even if the hackers do not actually download the entire backup — or if there is no backup on the account — they still have access to a user’s Photo Stream at this point, which is also not protected by two-factor authentication.

So, even if all of the people who have had their photos compromised had two-factor enabled, their iCloud backups and Photo Streams would still be accessible.

It seems like a pretty big omission on Apple’s part.

However, even though Apple’s two-factor authentication probably wouldn’t have stopped these photos from leaking, it can still protect your account against many other forms of unintended access, so you should always have it enabled for your Apple ID.

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