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.

Filtering by Category: Link post

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.

The imminent climate change catastrophe, if not already started

Fiona Harvey, writing on The Guardian, about a newly published provisional statement on climate change, from the World Meteorological Organisation:

Global temperatures have continued to rise in the past 10 months, with 2018 expected to be the fourth warmest year on record.

Average temperatures around the world so far this year were nearly 1 ℃ above pre-industrial levels. Extreme weather has affected all continents, while the melting of sea ice and glaciers and rises in sea levels continue. The past four years have been the hottest on record, and the 20 warmest have occurred in the past 22 years.

The warming trend is unmistakeable and shows we are running out of time to tackle climate change […] On current trends, warming could reach 3 ℃ to 5 ℃ by the end of this century.

Another day, another worrisome report about climate. I'm afraid the great K.C. Green's Gunshow drawing – the origin of one of the strongest meme – will stay trendy for a while.

Social media is not all that bad if you listen to teenagers

Katie Notopoulos, writing on BuzzFeed News, on a new Pew Research Center report on social media and generation Z.

Much research has focused on social media being a huge waste of time at best, a facilitator of ideological bubbles, and a dangerous, hostile experience for young people at worst. But the 743 teens Pew surveyed say it’s actually, well, good. Millennials were the first to make social media mainstream, but might their Gen Z successors have figured out a better relationship with their smartphones? Growing up among devices and platforms could just make today’s teens better at incorporating technology into their lives than even the millennials before them, with greater awareness of the hazards. The internet clearly can be a dangerous place, but teens now have the self-awareness to know when it's time to unplug.

The study is a lot more nuanced than this, but Notopoulos explains it well. Anyway, this is, I think, a good reminder for us – older generations, including millenials like myself – to be more willing to learn from the youngests, and to be more careful on not ending up sounding like our own parents.

When you think of a pencil, you probably picture it yellow: This is why

Another gem of a link that I discovred through Daniel Benneworth-Gray's newsletter Meanwhile. Gabrielle Hick, on Artsy, tells the origin story behind the colour yellow and pencils:

A number of pencil manufacturers, including Hardtmuth, now sourced their graphite from Siberia—the vast Russian province which shares borderland with China. That geographic proximity was key for Hardtmuth as it devised its marketing scheme.

In China, yellow had long been tied to royalty. The legendary ruler considered the progenitor of Chinese civilization was known as the Yellow Emperor; thus, centuries later in Imperial China only the royal family was allowed to wear yellow. Eventually, the shade came to represent happiness, glory, and wisdom.

Great story. I would love to see a list of products and the stories behind a particular colour or a specific shape; I can only think of blue jeans, white earbuds, and possibly the Laguiole knife. If you think of something, hit me up on Twitter.

Michel Gondry: "I don't believe in superheroes. I think it's a worse way of being a nerd."

Amy Liprot, on The Guardian, introducing the set-up for this very interesting Michel Gondry's interview, focusing in his new show, Kidding, starring Jim Carrey.

On an ordinary morning in Los Angeles, where the 55-year-old French film-maker recently finished work on the dark comedy series Kidding, which starts on Sky Atlantic on 29 November, Gondry just wants a simple coffee and croissant. But his sugar packet won’t open and neither will the strawberry jam. After much ripping and stabbing, his side of the table is coated in sticky crystals and his butter knife looks like a murder weapon. Gondry waves away the chaos. His sticky, human fingerprints are on everything he touches – why not his breakfast, too?

What a brilliant intro.

The definitive minimalist ressource on minimalism

Carl MH Barenburg, writing on his blog about the concept and ideas behind mnmllist, a new curated collection of links and minimalism-inpired products, books, fashion items, &c.:

I decided to create the ultimate bookmark for minimalism enthusiasts, including everything from books, bikes, clothing, furniture, to technology. All presented in a clear, well-structured, and unobtrusive categorised list of text links. Created in collaboration with web developer Manu Moreale, we launched Mnmllist.

It lists only 3 items per category, but each category can be expanded to display more links if we’ve got round to adding them.

Wonderfully designed, exquisitely curated, perfectly named. Definitely one of my favourite websites, and also one of the smartest URLs out there.

An attempt at defining content

On the Financial Times, Lou Stoppard searches for a meaning of the word content and talks with a number of content professionals, including one of them, Raven Smith:

Content is the stuff that fills the feeds we’ve created. It’s meant to make us feel content. The idea of contentedness is now in question. The key is arresting people, keeping them watching, and ensuring they take something away from the watch (the takeaway could be anything from ‘the world is going to be OK’ to ‘I want that dress’). Tone and aesthetics vary greatly, but the ‘arrest, engage, activate’ process is the same.

A fascinating read. I have never quite liked that word myself, especially in French — contenu — which sounds off. The word content is so vague — from a single tweet to a whole TV show — and yet so useful for those numerous times when you cannot really say anything else without over-simplifying it, or for those times when you really cannot list all the different formats featured in one project.

The vagueness of the word is what makes it so appealing, and so empty at the same time. Sounds a lot like the nature of the content itself we generally consume in our feeds.

What happens to web traffic patterns when Facebook goes down

Chartbeat's Josh Schwartz, on the Nieman Journalism Lab, sharing what the web analytics company found when Facebook went down for 45 minutes in August 2018:

What did people do? According to our data, they went directly to publishers’ mobile apps and sites (as well as to search engines) to get their information fix.

Publishers must be happy about this : it means most users did not — after all — forget about them. It simply means they prefer to wait for their Facebook feeds to show them some news rather than visiting websites individually.

The users' blind trust or naïveté in the news feed is what has been problematic in the last couple of years: How accountable must algorithms be when it comes to news and informing the public, especially when we know that is how most people get their news?

This is a whole other debate, but then :

Google Chrome Suggestions, a personalized news feed built into Chrome’s mobile browser, is up 20×.

Facebook is the biggest fish in this pond and it — understandably — gets most of the attention but Google is right there, and this Chrome "personalized news feed" should also be questioned, along with YouTube, Google search results, and Google News.

Another interesting part:

Mobile traffic has seen double-digit growth and surpassed desktop, which saw double-digit declines.

Smartphones have definitely replaced PCs as the main — and sometimes only — computing device.

A few climate change realities

In a perplexing, worthwhile, but quite long, article on The New Yorker, Bill McKibben describes the reality of the world's situation towards climate change. If the second half tends to go nowhere as interesting as the title promises, they are some good bits to be shared here. A quick selection:

Late in 2017, a United Nations agency announced that the number of chronically malnourished people in the world, after a decade of decline, had started to grow again—by thirty-eight million, to a total of eight hundred and fifteen million," largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks."

Then this one:

Two centuries ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was two hundred and seventy-five parts per million; it has now topped four hundred parts per million and is rising more than two parts per million each year. The extra heat that we trap near the planet every day is equivalent to the heat from four hundred thousand bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.

An old classic:

Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000.

This:

By 2070, tropical regions that now get one day of truly oppressive humid heat a year can expect between a hundred and two hundred and fifty days, if the current levels of greenhouse-gas emissions continue.

And this:

By 2050, if temperatures rise by two degrees a quarter of the earth will experience serious drought and desertification. The early signs are clear: São Paulo came within days of running out of water last year, as did Cape Town this spring. In the fall, a record drought in Germany lowered the level of the Elbe to below twenty inches and reduced the corn harvest by forty per cent.

My favourite:

Alex Steffen, an environmental writer, coined the term “predatory delay” to describe “the blocking or slowing of needed change, in order to make money off unsustainable, unjust systems in the meantime.” The behavior of the oil companies, which have pulled off perhaps the most consequential deception in mankind’s history, is a prime example.

And the kicker:

This past May, a team of scientists from the University of Illinois reported that there was a thirty-five-per-cent chance that, because of unexpectedly high economic growth rates, the U.N.’s “worst-case scenario” for global warming was too optimistic. “We are now truly in uncharted territory.

Worrisome to say the least.

Reporters covering environmental issues are becoming more and more vulnerable

Eric Freedman, on the Nieman Journalism Lab, on the growing pressure surrounding environmental journalists:

Covering the environment is one of the most hazardous beats in journalism. According to one estimate, 40 reporters around the world died between 2005 and September 2016 because of their environmental reporting — more than were killed covering the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Environmental controversies often involve influential business and economic interests, political battles, criminal activities, anti-government insurgents or corruption. […] In both wealthy and developing countries, journalists covering these issues find themselves in the cross-hairs. Most survive, but many undergo severe trauma, with profound effects on their careers.

Sadly, not a surprise.

"I’m a nomad who goes nowhere" – Portrait of a young shepherd in France

AFP's Jeff Pachoud, on The Guardian, portraying the daily solitary life of a 24 years-old shepherd in the Alps through a beautiful photo album. The captions tell more than there is on the pictures:

From the start of his first season, Meme [the shepherd's name] found himself face to face with a wolf and had to fight it off. 'He was there on the end of my staff every evening for a week,’ the shepherd recalls. ‘When my first sheep was killed I immediately felt that I had failed, that I had not carried out my duty.’

Absolutely wonderful read, and gorgeous photographs by Pachoud. I wish there was more immersive storytelling like this.

European nations and their wish of not becoming "digital colonies"

Clothilde Goujard, writing for WIRED:

Although relatively novel, the concept of “digital sovereignty” can be roughly summarised as a country’s push to regain control over their own and their citizens’ data. On the military side, it includes the ability for a state to develop cybersecurity offensive and defensive capabilities without relying on foreign-made technology; on the economic side, it encompasses issues spanning from taxation of big tech to the creation of homegrown startups.

Seems a bit late for our governments to care about "digital sovereignty" when you look at the worlds of Google, Facebook, WeChat, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and how Europe has been lagging behind for years. How many of the big tech companies are European today? How many European companies will be part of that group in the next 10, 20 years?

Refusing to become a "digital colony" is one thing – and a totally reasonable thing to be concerned about – but switching the governent's default search engine from Google to Qwant is the digital equivalent of switching from semi-skimmed milk to skimmed milk for your morning coffee in your overall diet: It may make you feel better at the start of a new day, and… that's pretty much it.

The year 2000, imagined by an illustrator in the year 1899

Terrifying, weird, yet somehow cute and completely nuts. The illustrations by French artist Jean-Marc Côté are very intriguing to say the least. Originally painted for cigar boxes or postcards, the En l'an 2000 pictures were never distributed. The story of these illustrations gets even more interesting when you know that they were only made famous 86 years later when a writer bought the postcards and used the drawings to accompany his words. The name of this writer: Isaac Asimov.

That whale-bus though.

"What if viral content is not the best content?"

Interesting take from The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal, published a few months ago:

But what if viral content isn’t the best content? Two Wharton professors have found that anger tops the list of shareable emotions in the social-media world, and a study of the Chinese internet service Weibo found that rage spreads faster than joy, sadness, and disgust. In general, emotional appeals work well, as everyone in media has come to discover.

Of course popular, viral content is rarely the best content. Just like the most popular show on TV is rarely the best show.

I like Madrigal's take on retweets: turning them off to avoid these viral, spontaneous shares of content not worthy of your precious time. But it seems a bit too much: Not all retweets can be simply reduced to low-quality content.

I prefer my way of turning the noise down: Follow a limited number of people (100 in my case), and turn off retweets for about half of them, from time to time. I find it to be a good compromise.

Spain wants to fully switch to renewable energy by 2050: Which countries will follow?

Arthur Nelsen, on Mother Jones:

Spain has launched an ambitious plan to switch its electricity system entirely to renewable sources by 2050 and completely decarbonize its economy soon after.

By mid-century greenhouse gas emissions would be slashed by 90 percent from 1990 levels under Spain’s draft climate change and energy transition law.

To do this, the country’s social democratic government is committing to installing at least 3,000 MW of wind and solar power capacity every year in the next 10 years ahead.

2050 feels very far away – and this Spanish plan is still a draft law proposal – but if it means they will be out of this terrible equation, and if it means other countries will follow, then good job Spain.

What will come first? USB-C iPhone or no-port iPhone? Either way, Lightning seems here to stay

John Gruber, explaining one of the reasons why he thinks Apple will not switch to USB-C anytime soon on iPhone:

[…] the nerd world may clamor for one universal connector that charges everything from iPhones to iPads to MacBooks, but the normal world just wants their existing cables to keep working when they buy a new iPhone. Lightning is obviously better than the old 30-pin adapter — the old 30-pin connectors look ridiculous in hindsight. But people upgrading from older iPhones were outraged when Apple introduced Lightning with the iPhone 5 in 2012. They saw it as a money grab — a new port introduced so everyone would have to buy new cables. The fact that you wouldn’t have to buy USB-C cables from Apple wouldn’t change that perception if future iPhones switch to USB-C — nerds might rejoice but regular folks will object.

It is a very cable/connectors nerdy article 1 , but it actually says a lot about Apple and their need of control. I wish Apple would just switch everything to USB-C, but Gruber's reasons for why they are keeping the Lightning port are very compelling. One of them being that there are way more people in the world owning just an iPhone than people owning an iPhone and USB-C devices.

Besides, if you really want to go all USB-C with an iPhone, you can just buy a USB-C Qi wireless charger and work your way around Lightning. It obviously gets trickier when you add AirPods, an Apple trackpad, or even an Apple Watch to picture. 2 .

What I think Apple should do though: introduce a new cable design. The old shitty white-turns-grey-turns-crap cables look and feel great out of the box, but they wear off too fast and too easily, and they are not really practical or efficient when it comes to putting in a bag or in a pocket. Apple is very proud of its achievements in environmental policies: I am pretty sure those cables can be improved. They may be too busy on AirPower though.


  1. Yes, this is a good thing. ↩︎

  2. If you are in that situation, I am pretty sure you don't really care about ports anymore, and you just carry a bunch of cables everywhere you go anyway. ↩︎

What a typical afternoon spent working in a café looks like

Daniel Benneworth-Gray, detailing a typical working-in-a-café schedule:

14:15

Still going. No distractions. The uniform inauthenticity of this place is emphasised by the corporate art adorning the walls: canvas-printed stock images of beautiful Italian folk, drinking what appears to be far superior coffee in a proper café, somewhere sun-drenched and rustic. There are scooters, cobbles. Fresh fruit tumbles gaily from a punnet. It’s a Mediterranean coffee-drinking ideal so far removed from the one I’m actually experiencing, it’s as if I’m actively being mocked for my custom. When I do occasionally peer up from my screen, the immediate response of “well this is all slightly awful, I bet I should have some strong opinions about their tax arrangements” is enough to push my gaze back down again.

14:25

My unnamed buddies have left. I’m suddenly conscious that I look like a complete twerp, making dramatic swooshes on my screen.

If you have ever spent some time trying to do some work in a café, you will nod in agreement at every sentence of this piece.

One of the best Instagram accounts

Stefania Rousselle, a French-American journalist, came up with a brilliant idea: on an Instagram account, AMOUR, she collects stories from regular people, asking only one question : What is Love ?

Some of these stories will bring you to tears, some of them will make you smile and brighten your day. One of my favourites so far, from a man named Lucien, 81:

There are moments where I really get depressed, when I am really low. Oh la la, you can’t even imagine. I miss her. She was a good cook because she was from the Landes, where there are a lot of good cooks.

In the winter, we would watch television, then sit near the fire and fall asleep in our respective chairs. We were happy. I always hoped it would last forever. It didn’t.

Please forgive me if I cry.

Do yourself a favour and click on the follow button, you will not regret it.

MacBook or Mac Pro? Which will be the first Mac to fully run on Apple processors?

Dan Moren, writing for Macworld, and asking when Apple will start the switch from Intel processors in its Macs, and more specifically, whether the MacBook or the next Mac Pro would be the first to fully run on Apple processors:

So where in this mix does the Mac Pro fit? Well, it could represent a whole new way of Apple doing things, and isn’t that what you want out of one of your flagship machines? Especially one aimed at a segment of the market that tends to be envelope-pushers.

I admit, it may be a less likely scenario than the MacBook, especially from a standpoint of performance. While the recent benchmarks of the new iPad Pro’s A12X chip have put it in the neighborhood of Apple’s high-end Macs for certain tasks, there’s a question of whether it can deliver the kind of performance people expect from a machine that is all about performance. Then again, maybe Apple has a surprise up its sleeve there, too.

If Apple processors are not hold back by power-efficiency and the heat/size constraints of a mobile phone or a tablet, I wonder what level of performance they may be able to reach.

Last April I tweeted that the rumoured new Mac Pro's delay may be explained by Apple really wanting to unveil it equiped with its own in-house processors, at least as an option. I still hope I was right, but I have to agree with Moren: the MacBook looks way more plausible as the first Mac running on a A12 or A-something chip.

In hindsight, it is truly remarkable what Apple has achieved with its in-house chips in just a few years. The benchmarks of the new iPad Pro must have caused a lot of tremors inside Intel's headquarters. Kudos to Anil Dash who called it years ago.

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.

Click here if you want to go back to the contact page — Twitter me here / RSS me there.

Copyright © 2013–2018 Nicolas Magand