Nicolas Magand on the internet

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.

The worst possible way to get caught forging documents

Tu Thanh Ha, writing for The Globe and the Mail:

Friday's ouster of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wasn't just a momentous event in the Asian country but also big news for fans of typography.

A key part of the corruption case that led to Mr. Sharif's removal from power hinged on the typeface used in a financial document.

The controversy was therefore dubbed Fontgate and on Friday, headline writers and wags on Twitter were saying that Pakistan was now "Sans Sharif."

In a nutshell: They used Calibri to create a fake document supposed to have been written in 2006, a year before the font was available to the public.

I'm sure a lot of graphic designers and people at Microsoft had a good laugh about this; going to the trouble of forging a document and not thinking of not using the — infamously bland — Microsoft Word's default font.

Have it in French « Je supporte la France, mais la France m’insupporte »

Grégory Pierrot, talking about his French identity, and what it can mean to be French, on Africa is a Country:

France’s history of slavery and colonialism is long and vile, and France has a long record of silencing it. But it lives in these bodies on Russian soccer fields and in those we only catch glimpses of when cameras cut to crowd scenes in those Parisian suburbs most of the players grew up in. And we know in moments like these, on the greatest stage in the world, we can make France look better than it is, we can make it look like it actually delivers on promises it tramples under feet on the daily. No one knows France like we do. No one is France like we are.

Such a great read.

This would go very well with the lyrics of the French singer Bernard Lavillier, when he mentions his city of Saint-Étienne (the city I was born in) – lyrics that always sounded very accurate to me:

On n'est pas d'un pays, mais on est d'une ville — One is not from a country, one is from a city.

Crappy behavior over unicorn poop

Sam Levin for the Guardian, writing about the dispute between a potter and Tesla, regarding the unlicensed use of a drawing:

Musk, however, seems uninterested in compensating or crediting the artist. Instead, he tweeted at Edwards’ daughter this week that it would be “lame” to sue and that the potter should be grateful for the “attention”.

The dispute may seem low-stakes relative to the litany of scandals plaguing the electric car company – workplace safety complaints, major layoffs; high-profile “autopilot” car crashes, an exodus of executives, a suit against a whistleblower, and intense pressure to reach mass production of a new model.

But the use of Edwards’ work without compensation highlights what artists say is the kind of corporate theft and copyright infringement that has become rampant – forcing independent artists to engage in expensive legal battles to get credited and paid.

I already wrote about Musk's shitty behavior on this blog, but this is an unexpected new chapter. A company like Tesla using the drawing of a guy who asks nicely to solve the issue should have settled this quietly before the press gets its hands on it. You would think Musk would know better, especially in these perceived trouble times for Tesla, but apparently that is not the case.

Whenever Musk or one of his company is critized, he just complains on Twitter. Musk is a very smart guy, and he knows the blind loyalty of his community of fans will just give him a pass, and he is using this power very efficiently, even if it involves discrediting the press. Sadly, a "populist" tactic that is far too popular these days.

Read-later service Instapaper has been shut down for a month, will explain later

Instapaper's website, a month ago, the day the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented in Europe:

Instapaper is temporarily unavailable for residents in Europe as we continue to make changes in light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect May 25, 2018. We apologize for any inconvenience, and we intend to restore access as soon as possible.

Not only did they give barely any notice to their users, but there is no real explanation whatsoever for this delay. Being owned by Pinterest, I would think that Instapaper would be "better resourced" when it comes to data and user privacy. Same story goes for the Los Angeles Times, still unavailble in Europe.

Using Instapaper a lot myself, I recently sent them an email asking for an update, to know if I should just switch back to Pocket or wait a few extra days before being able to use again my favorite read-later service. They wrote back:

Our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience. I can't give an exact resolution time, but I can say that we're actively working on it, have made good progress, and this continues to be our main focus. We feel we're getting closer and we'll be sharing as much documentation as we can when we're back to clear things up. […]

Again, we're really sorry that we're not able to provide service to EU IPs right now. We are doing everything we can to sort this out as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience and for using Instapaper.

The GDPR regulation was adopted on 14 April 2016 by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, meaning Instapaper had more than two years to prepare for that day.

What are they doing with user data that requires so much time to comply with the regulation? Hopefully we will have an answer one day, and that the service is not on its final hours. As Pinboard's Maciej Ceglowski tweeted when Instapaper became part of Pinterest:

The “we sold to Pinterest but nothing is changing” email is Instapaper’s equivalent of reassuring grandma about her move to a nursing home.

When it comes to data privacy or product longevity, it is never a good sign when a service becomes free for unclear reasons.

Finding old photographs in the attic, USSR edition

Lev Feigin, on Mother Jones:

This is a story about a woman whose photographic obsession left a rare historical look into the USSR and whose secrets are now being discovered by her daughter. Ivashintsova’s archive offers a glimpse into the world beyond the Iron Curtain through the aperture of her life. The photographer used her camera to create a day-to-day record of loves big and small. She identified with what she saw–a lover, a dog in a muzzle, a child on the street–and imprinted upon it her aura.

Such a fantastic discovery. The pictures included in the Mother Jones article are acting as time machines: you can really feel like being part of those lost moments captured by the photographer.

Incredible depiction of the asteroid that wiped off more than 75% of Earth species

Jason Kottke shared some hard-to-wrap-your-head-around facts, extracted from the book The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen:

A rock larger than Mount Everest hit planet Earth traveling twenty times faster than a bullet. This is so fast that it would have traversed the distance from the cruising altitude of a 747 to the ground in 0.3 seconds. The asteroid itself was so large that, even at the moment of impact, the top of it might have still towered more than a mile above the cruising altitude of a 747. In its nearly instantaneous descent, it compressed the air below it so violently that it briefly became several times hotter than the surface of the Sun.

And this one:

[…] in the Yucatan it would have been a pleasant day one second and the world was already over by the next.

Stronger chance of me buying the book than to go to the theater watch yet another movie with featherless dinosaurs.

Onion Social

It is no secret that The Onion is hands down my favorite website. I was wondering why last week they have been particularly hard on Facebook, and now we know why: Onion Social.

On the FAQ of this "new social platform":

Q: What does Onion Social do with my data? A: At Onion Social, we believe that consumer trust is crucial to our mission, and maintaining full transparency is an incredibly important part of that.

Q: Can I link my credit cards to Onion Social? A: Yes! While e-commerce options are not currently available, Onion Social works best when given full access to your financial records.

There is a lot of hilarious bits to read around this "launch", but the sign-up form is just glorious.

I wish there was a way to give The Onion some of my money: If there is one website I don't want to see disappear, it's The Onion.

1. Update: Apparently the reason behind the recent surge of article ridiculing Facebook is "because Facebook is choking off traffic to The Onion’s website", according to the Onion’s editor-in-chief Chad Nackers. ↩︎ 

Chilling facts about air conditioning

Lily Strelich, on the June 14th Quartz Obsession newsletter, on the theme of air conditioning:

Most A/C units rely on refrigerants like hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gasses. Carbon emissions from cooling have tripled since 1990, contributing to the warming climate, which in turns requires more air conditioning. Cool the room, warm the globe, repeat.

This points me to the fact that there has been a lot of – deserved – coverage on the impacts of cars and transportation on climate change, but I've found many people pretty clueless when it comes to energy consumption in general. Filling up the whole kettle for a single cup of tea, or turning the heater up before wearing a sweater are somehow less criticised behaviors than leaving the car engine run while waiting for a friend to come down.

If you are not a subscriber of the Quartz Obsession newsletter, you're missing out on a great source of daily facts; a good game to play with your colleagues is guessing the topics every day before the newsletter arrives.

Elon Musk, closer than ever to become a typical Bond villain

An interesting – to say the least – article about Elon Musk by Erin Biba, following his dumb tweets from last week, and him calling "BS" the work of a nanotechnology researcher named Upulie Divisekera (because he is now a nanotech expert apparently):

I was concerned that Musk doesn’t realize the broader impact of his lashing out. With every criticism lobbed at a journalist, (or a scientist), Musk reinforces the growing public mistrust of essential institutions seeded by the Donald Trump wing of the GOP. And, though the Tesla co-founder later clarified that he believes some nanoscience is legitimate, the downstream result of his original tweet is that Divisekera has spent days defending her science and explaining why it’s legitimate.

I could not agree more and I'm glad Biba points it out. I told before that I believe Musk knows what he is doing: delegitimizing voices of authority for his own benefits. Journalists' voices when it comes to the coverage of Tesla's workers wishes of unionization, and maybe now scientists' work because it gives him some extra science cred among his fans?

Biba adds:

We need to make these men look at themselves and recognize the true scope of their power and the RESPONSIBILITY TO HUMANITY that comes with it.

Indeed, Musk's recent tweets are either irresponsible, dumb, or malevolent.

By the end of this year, Bitcoin could be using 0.5% of the world's total consumption of electricity

Some worrisome numbers about Bitcoin on Eurekalert! Science News:

A single transaction uses as much electricity as an average household in the Netherlands uses in a month. By the end of this year, he predicts the network could be using as much as 7.7 gigawatts--as much as Austria and half of a percent of the world's total consumption. "To me, half a percent is already quite shocking. It's an extreme difference compared to the regular financial system, and this increasing electricity demand is definitely not going to help us reach our climate goals," he says. If the price of Bitcoin continues to increase the way some experts have predicted, de Vries believes the network could someday consume 5% of the world's electricity. "That would be quite bad."

You would think the world would know better by now, 2018, about how we are destroying our planet, but sadly, nothing seems able to stop us if there is some extra money to be made.

Last week, I worked on trasncribing and editing an interview of the former editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, mostly about journalism and climate change. Rusbridger made so many great points, but this one resonated most with me:

If we believe that [climate change] is the biggest story of our lives — which it probably is — and then you look and see how that translates into how the media covers it, there’s a terrible mismatch between this immensely important story and the way the media deals with it now.

I'd be curious to see how many of the publications covering blockchain and cryptocurrencies news are carefully mentioning their monstrous electrical consumption, and how many actually talk about the following climate impacts.

My bet is most of them just don't.

To end this post on a lighter note, an old gem from the Onion.

The hottest fashion trend

Caroline Haskings, writing for The Outline, describing the dataviz of annual average temperatures:

Our entirely avoidable plunge into oblivion, as a nice poster.

Not sure about the avoidable part in 2018, but indeed this pattern looks very good. So good in fact, that I saw another great use for this kind of pattern, just this week on blankets.

According to climate scientist (and crocheter) Ellie Highwood, these blankets are a subset of “temperature blankets” made to represent, for example, daily temperatures over the course of a year in a particular location.

I can see this become a – sad, tragic – fashion trend for other things: phone cases, socks, window blinds, ties, &c. The pattern looks that good.

Fascinating trivia from John Carpenter's The Thing

Very often while I watch a movie, I check the Trivia part on IMDb. If it is hard to know if it is properly fact-checked or not, there are so many interesting little things listed on those pages.

As I watched one more time the briliant The Thing – one of my favourite movies – I found a few gems out of its trivia page:

There is a character name "Mac" and another named "Windows"; since the film was made in 1982, this is purely coincidental.

Nick Nolte turned down the role of MacReady, as did Jeff Bridges. Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood were both considered. On top of this, a relatively unknown Fred Ward campaigned for the role.

This movie has become part of the culture in Antarctica. It is a long standing tradition in all British Antarctic research stations to watch The Thing (1982) as part of their Midwinter feast and celebration held every June 21.

And the best IMHO:

Sound editor, Colin Mouat achieved the dogs cries in the film by rounding up all the neighborhood dogs, placing them in his house and furtively stalking round the house in a dark trench coat with the collar up whilst tapping on windows and rattling doors to frighten them.

And finally, and I like this one because it goes perfectly with what I wrote reviewing the movie for Letterboxd:

The Norwegian dog in the film was named Jed. He was a half wolf/half malamute breed. Jed was an excellent animal actor, never looking at the camera, the dolly or the crew members.

Excellent animal actor? Try excellent actor.

Elon Musk gets a pass for simply being ignorant

Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, answering Tesla's CEO Elon Musk stupid comments about the media industry and journalism:

Musk may be trying to ape Trump’s tactics, but his absurd charge — ask Exxon or Ford if they'd swap their press for Tesla’s — reveals something different: how little the tech barons shaping the new ways we live and consume information understand about journalism.

Smith makes an excellent point in this article: the lack of news literacy. Other journalists wrote about this, as they should. Here is Fast Company's Marcus Baram:

Musk’s accusations reveal how he and Trump fundamentally misunderstand journalism and its practitioners.

As much as I agree with the fact that leaders – and more specifically tech leaders – should know more about how journalism actually works, I think there is more to it.

Musk may not know very well how journalism works, but he definitely knows how easy it is to blame publicly "the media" when something you don't like gets published, or is about to get published. He knows how to exploit feelings over facts, he knows this is the post-truth era. Trump plays the same game to fuel his own agenda, and it is more advanced than it seems.

Another "tech baron" also ignorant about the news industry: Zuckerberg. His recent hearings showed he should obviously know more about journalism. Maybe he just doesn't care. But did you see Zuckerberg rambling publicly on how the media would be lying about Facebook, that they are paid by Google or whatever? I did not.

Ignorance is not an excuse for what Musk did.

Check also

Whenever I watch Columbo, as you should, I take some screenshots.

Making lists is something on which I love to waste time; my—ever-changing—favourite songs list was a real challenge.

On the great Letterboxd, I keep a log of the movies I watch, rate them, sometimes review them. 

If you speak French, I highly recommend my friend Nabil's podcast: Art Oriented.

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Copyright © 2013–2018 Nicolas Magand