Nicolas Magand on the internet

Comments about tech, media, nature, &c.

My name is Nicolas Magand and I live in Paris, France. I work as a social media and engagement editor at the Global Editors Network, a non-profit aimed at promoting innovation and sustainability in the news industry. Here I blog mostly about tech and media, but many other topics can face my enthusiasm.

In the Mojave Desert, the dream city that was never built

Diana Budds, on Curbed, telling the story of California City, a small town which was originally planned to be the pinnacle of urbanism in the seventies, now a strange, arid, and hollow place:

Mendelsohn—a Czech emigre, a sociologist who studied the structure of towns and villages, and a Columbia University professor—was eager to get in on the postwar development boom. In 1958, he bought 82,000 acres of land—about 125 square miles—in the Mojave Desert and dreamed of transforming it into a thriving city composed of neighborhoods for medicine, commerce, industry, and academia.

And it was meant to be a place where families could thrive: A three-bedroom house, purchased on spec, started at $8,700 and Mendelsohn built amenities to sweeten the deal, like a golf course, a 20-acre lake, a swimming pool, and recreation fields. He also carved out a street grid and installed water and power infrastructure, readying the land for buildings that never came.

This article reads like the pitch for a new TV show, I just wish it featured a lot more pictures of the town. 1 

Like Budds writes, the city "speaks to an enduring and elusive ambition: the search for a perfect place."


  1. Beautiful photographs from Chang Kim, who has more on a dedicated website.↩︎

When politicians try to sell you congestion and traffic as part of your identity

Arthur Neslen, on The Guardian:

Madrid may be about to become the first European city to scrap a major urban low-emissions zone after regional polls left a rightwing politician who views 3am traffic jams as part of the city’s cultural identity on the cusp of power.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who is expected to become the new Popular party (PP) president of the Madrid region, believes night-time congestion makes the city special and has pledged to reverse a project known as Madrid Central, which has dramatically cut urban pollution.

This has to be one of the most ridiculous excuses ever given by a politician, and that's a pretty high bar to reach.

Saying a problem is part of your city's identity as a way to earn votes from unhappy car drivers is not only hypocritical, but imagine if the same reasoning was applied to the London situation in the 20th century : "The London fog is part of our identity. Yes, it is mostly toxic smokes and poisonous gas causing thousands of deaths but is also part of our identity so we shall keep using coal and save the Smog."

Sidenote, still from the same article:

An estimated 30,000 Spaniards die each year due to air pollution, according to the European Environment Agency.

Whatever you think about low-emissions zone, I would think that politicians in favour of scrapping them can find better ways to justify it, like "We want to put all the money possible into social services, " or even "Traffic is the best way to convince the new generations not to buy a car in Madrid."

Time, thoughts, tools: pick two

The last few days, I discovered a few new tools or platforms from which you can publish blog entries (hat tip to Dense Discovery for most of them). Small Victories, Listed, Blot… All three platforms aim to make blogging easier than ever: by pluging themselves on top of the tools you already use. Whether it is through Dropbox folders or the Simple Notes app, they all seem Template-based and hassle-free. If you are on the newsletter bandwagon, your Substack archive can also be used as a blog.

All of this is probably a good sign that blogging is thriving, or needs to thrive again in the age of platforms (looking at you, Medium.)

Along with the magnificent Squarespace (or Kirby, or even Svbtle which I used before), it probably has never been easier to publish on your own blog. The days of setting up a WordPress just for a personal blog seem over, and I have not seen anyone using MarsEdit for ages.

If this is a golden age for blogs, then why has this one not been updated since February ? As Carl Barenbrug says, well, on his own blog, Twitter may be the culprit :

Although we are starting to see a new wave of blogging, many people use Twitter as a means to express themselves. I still use Twitter, so I can see some value in this platform, particularly to make personal and professional connections through common interests, or to simply share something I like. However, Twitter is also a tool that encourages negative, impulsive, and ill-considered behaviour. It doesn’t really keep our minds healthy—much like all social media—in the sense that we are constantly looking to see who has responded or engaged with what we have published.

When I see something interesting, rather than saving it, digesting it, deciding whether it should appear on the blog or Twitter, I tend to just tweet or retweet right away. Maybe it is lazyness, maybe it is the need to be among the firsts, but time management has become the hardest part of blogging.

Should you cover your PC's webcam? No, unless you still use software from ten years ago

Everybody reading this blog knows I'm a big fan of John Gruber's Daring Fireball. And while I don't always fully agree with him, I am 100% with him on the whole "cover your webcam shennanigans", and I could not have said it better :

I have never understood the mass paranoia over laptop webcams — which have in-use indicator lights, which I’ve seen no evidence can be circumvented on Macs from the last decade — and the complete lack of similar paranoia over microphones, which cannot be blocked by a piece of tape and which have no in-use indicator lights. And I don’t see anyone taping over the cameras on their phones.

Gruber commented on Joanna Stern's column for the Wall Street Journal; a very good article, which has the merits of existing and giving precise, documented answers to this question. But indeed, the whole piece is feeding the paranoia over laptop webcams.

If I had to chose a way to be hacked, between what my open laptop webcam sees, what is displayed on my screen, what the microphone can hear, what words (and passwords) I type on the keyboard, and what websites I visit, I would chose the laptop webcam.

I see more people with a piece of tape on their webcam than using a password manager. I see more people using fishy Chrome extensions with too much access than I see people using a proper 2-factor authentication or keep their devices updated.

In the end it is about feeling safer, and hardware's sense of security (locks on the door, blinds on the windows, piece of tape on the webcam) is much easier to control than software's (a complex and unique password for each app, encrypted messaging, 2-factor authentication, etc.) Why those basic things are not more often taught in schools is beyond me.

Moving a whole city a few kilometres away in order to keep it alive

A fascinating story by Chris Michael, on the fate of the northern Swedish city of Kiruna, which is threatened by the collapse of the iron ore mines underneath it. By law, the mining company has to keep the city from being swallowed into the ground, since it is responsible for this unusual situation. In that case, it means moving the city a few kilometres away.

The scale of the project is unprecedented. Several dozen buildings will be moved by a specially assembled team of experts who have become so good at their jobs that Cars claims it’s now usually cheaper to move a home than to demolish and rebuild. The huge wooden church will be hoisted and moved; other buildings, such as the current city hall and the railway station, will be stripped of aesthetic elements, including lampposts and iron railings, to be incorporated into new structures.

Piece of cake.