In Google we trust…

Marco Arment writes about why he’s reducing his use of Google products:

…the reason I choose to minimize Google’s access to me is that my balance of utility versus ethical comfort is different. Both companies do have flaws, but they’re different flaws, and I tolerate them differently:

  • Apple is always arrogant, controlling, and inflexible, and sometimes stingy.
  • Google is always creepy, entitled, and overreaching, and sometimes oblivious.

How you feel about these companies depends on how much utility you get out of their respective products and how much you care about their flaws.

Simply put, Apple’s benefits are usually worth their flaws to me, and Google’s usually aren’t.

I’m a fan of both companies, though if I had to choose between them for some reason, I too would pick Apple, both for the quality of the product and the cleanliness of the business plan. (My favourite Google product, though, which nobody else can yet match, is Street View.)

Back when Gmail was the hot new thing, and because it was free(!), I started using it as a backup for my email. I never actually use the web interface, but my other accounts forward incoming messages there, where they get filed immediately into the archive. This guards against losing too much in the event of the complete annihilation of whatever other email provider I’m actually using at the time. (Like Marco, I’m a very happy user of Fastmail.) I set up this system 11 years ago, and really haven’t had to think about it since: it’s probably the most painless backup solution available!

It does mean that Google have over 100,000 of my recent messages with which to analyse everything about me, though, and I wonder whether that trade-off is worthwhile now that my entire email archive – of which they only have half – would fit happily on a small USB stick….

My first Apple Watch accessory


The standard Apple charger clips into this Spigen charging stand. Works nicely for me.

Is your technology getting underfoot?


I think this is great. Not long ago we would have thought internet-connected cars somewhat futuristic. Internet-connected bicycles would surely be next. But how far can you push that idea? Well, how about instrumenting your cycling using a pedal which has its own 3G connection and is self-powered?

More information about Connected Cycle here and on their web site.

A quiet sea voyage

Pretty amazing footage of the French frigate Latouche-Treville tackling some high seas.

It’s easy to watch it, be impressed, and forget what the film crew must also have been going through! The footage was apparently shot for the film “Oceans”, released in 2009.

Following a Parisian trail

Yesterday my parents gave me something they had found in a local shop: a copy of Fodor’s guide to France, dating from 1958. It has some nice turns of phrase, ranging from this comment in the section on dining out:

Wine-labeling was established by law at the end of the 19th century and is one of the few laws that Frenchmen take very much to heart.

to this piece from the chapter on shopping:


Then I came across a throwaway line in a paragraph about post offices:

There is a special fast letter service within Paris by pneumatic tube, delivery guaranteed within three hours of mailing. Ask for a ‘pneu’ form, costing 100 francs, or use one sheet of ordinary airmail stationery and an airmail envelope.

This intrigued me. As a child I had seen pneumatic tube systems in banks and building societies, and even in the occasional large shop; they allowed excess cash to be moved safely from the tills to the back office, in the days before credit cards and the invention of the ‘cashback’ concept enabled your customers to take the excess cash away for you.

But I hadn’t realised that pneumatic systems operated on such a scale in quite a few cities. The Paris network was the largest, incorporating, at its peak, over 400km of tubes. It featured in Truffaut’s 1969 film Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses):

It operated for more than a century until it finally closed down in 1984, as reported here by the New York Times. To give some historical context, that was also the year in which Apple introduced the Macintosh.

Prague’s pneumatic post system wasn’t as large as the one in Paris, but continued operating (just) into the 21st century. And didn’t it have some beautiful control panels?


Molly Wright Steenson’s 5-minute Ignite talk is a good way to find out more.

Even though pneumatic tubes are now little used for the delivery of messages, they still exist in many locations for garbage collection – most famously on Roosevelt Island – and some companies, like Envac in Sweden are promoting them as the rubbish-collection model of the future. Our system in the UK does seem a bit primitive in comparison…

But, gosh! How did I arrive here from the haute-couture catwalks of Paris in the 50s?

I guess I just got sucked into it.

Pinpointing things on Google Maps

How to add a marker to a Google Map so that you can tell people, “It’s here!”

Welsh culture

My friend Jo, who hails from those parts, sent me a link to this wonderful collection of Welsh cards.

Wrist recursion

My new watch can be used as the viewfinder for my iPhone camera. So, of course, the first thing it wanted to do was take a selfie.


There’s a slight delay in the image, and in the shutter release, which means that the shot the camera actually took was after my finger had moved off the screen, but the image on the watch, from a second before, still shows it in place. If you click to see the full-size image, you can see a few levels of recursion (which says something about the resolution of this 1.5″ display!).

Beware of archiving on SSDs

Solid-state disks are wonderful things: quick, power-efficient, and mechanically robust.

But it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t use them for archiving data on a shelf, unless you keep them provided with power.

This KoreLogic blog post discusses the problem in terms of preserving legal evidence, and notes:

For client application SSDs, the powered-off retention period standard is one year while enterprise application SSDs have a powered-off retention period of three months. These retention periods can vary greatly depending on the temperature of the storage area that houses SSDs.

Now, I haven’t had a very good track record from my spinning drives in general, and I assume that any data on them is probably ephemeral unless they are in a RAID array. All of my computers use SSDs internally now.

But for offline archiving purposes, old-fashioned hard drives are definitely better.

Thanks to Charles Arthur for the link.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser