Why We Blame Bikes

A cyclist friend posted a link to a nice analysis of the ways people tend to blame bikes disproportionately for pedestrian problems (pun intended).

I did a lot of bike-commuting in college but moved afterwards to a city that, at the time, was far less amenable to such activities than either place is today. I fell completely out of the habit, and a large part of that was about feeling blamed—sometimes with dangerous backlash—for what we should see as reasonable and even desirable changes to the urban environment.

As I read the Alviani piece, what I really wanted to ask was, “But why?” Why, ultimately on psychological terms, do people heap all this blame on the humble cyclist?

I have two hypotheses, one for pedestrians and one for drivers. I’m sure the real situation has a multivalence that I’m not accounting for here, but:

I think what makes bikes disproportionately scary for pedestrians is that we can’t really hear them coming. We use sound to take in our surroundings broadly and alert ourselves of potential danger that our narrow field of vision might miss. We can’t do that reliably with bikes, so we worry and blame cyclists irrationally. (Not that their aren’t some crazy ones, but again, the backlash is out of proportion as compared to pedestrian fear of crazy drivers.)

And when we’re driving, I think bikes force us to confront the fact that we’re not the rational creatures we like to believe we are. We know that the law is the law, but we resent the minor hassle of having to share the road and so make up all kinds of rationalizations about why the biker is in the wrong. But those break down in a way our similar thoughts about other cars do not, because with bikes and their fragile, unprotected human riders, we are so much more directly confronted with the fact that our desire for convenience could so easily cost somebody else’s life if we’re not careful.

TL;DR: We’re only human! Pure rationality evades us always.

Exercises for New Parents

  • kidlifting (all muscle groups)
  • swaying/bouncing (quads, patience)
  • sex (imagination)
  • rageful clenching (jaw, glutes, adrenal glands)
  • spouse-shouting (abs, rectum [if neurotic])
  • door-slamming (anterior delts, lats, eardrums)
  • house-fleeing (right lower leg, right wrist and forearm [if manual transmission], teeth / inventiveness [when pulled over])
  • divorce paperwork (small muscles of the dominant hand)
  • loneliness (small muscles of the dominant hand)

Why I’m Buying a Case for My iPhone 5

As documented by Geoff Barnes, I waited a long, long time to upgrade from my iPhone 3GS, skipping directly to the 5.

Besides my sharing Barnes’ experience of the near-impossibility of one-handed operation of the iPhone 5, I also continue to lament the squared-off form factor of the backside of the device.

Yes, the diamond-bit chamfer on the edges makes the phone feel better in the hand than the 4/4S did to me—or else I wouldn’t have bought the 5 any more than I did the 4 or 4S. I do feel those edges digging into me, but not as much as the 4S did when I auditioned it at the Apple Store.

What my 3GS provided that none of the newer models do, though, is some kind of safeguard against dropping the phone. The rounded back put more surface area of the phone in contact with my skin, making sliding toucher. The composite material, much tackier than the aluminum, doubled down on that friction. All told, I’ve probably lost control of the 5 more in a couple months than I did in more than three years.

The light weight of the 5 also means trouble, combined with the slipperiness of the aluminum. With a new baby at home, I spend lots of time in pajamas and gym shorts, and the svelte, smooth iPhone 5 is so susceptible to jostling and shifting that it falls out of my pocket literally every time I sit down on my couch or in our glider (when I’m wearing those clothes). It’s hit our hardwood floor more than once, and I feel sure a cracked screen is in my future. The 3GS, of course, never fell out of any of my pockets. It was just too heavy, which again I preferred.

The sad bottom line is this: When I find one, I will buy a case for the phone that makes the back rounder and the device heavier. Like Farhad Manjoo, I’ve been derisive about cases in the past, but the fact is that having a case on this phone would make it a better phone, for my purposes. I’m glad it looks so pretty, but it just feels a mess.

Google+ & Content Ownership: A Non-Issue?

My Stream is filled with articles on whether Google+ takes a weird kind of ownership of your content—especially your photographs. I’m no intellectual property lawyer, but I’ve done some amateur sleuthing and think everything’s going to be OK. Here’s why.

First, the offending Term of Service. Mostly, the articles take issue with the following sentence from the main Google TOS:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.

That does seem pretty rough, but it’s not the whole story. None of the articles I’ve seen mention the second and final sentence of the dreaded Paragraph 11.1, which reads:

This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

So, individual services can override the clause giving Google the right to do whatever with your content.

Two other documents seem to take advantage of that override capability by giving rights back to the user. First, all photos are uploaded to Google+ via Picasa. The following, quoted in its entirety, appears in the Picasa Terms of Service:

Your Intellectual Property Rights: Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload, transmit or store in your Picasa account. We will not use any of your content for any purpose except to provide you with the Service.

That’s pretty good: Seems like all pictures in the Picasa account are totally yours.

But what about content besides photographs? Google’s thought of that, too. (Of course.) The Google+ section of Google’s awesome Privacy Center (which I hadn’t known about) lays out how they use your content in great detail. It’s too long to reproduce here, but it’s very encouraging in that the only uses of your content they mention are basically the minimal stuff that they’d need to do to create and run a service like Google+: e.g., sharing your public profile information publicly. Real no-brainer stuff.

That document does refer to the main Google Privacy Policy as extending Google’s usage rights. The good news: That policy, in turn, has an “Information Sharing” section that sets pretty strict limits on when they share your personal information: (1) when you give consent, (2) when—under terms of confidentiality—they turn to third parties to process their data, and (3) when they’re required to by law.

Again: I’m no expert, but this stuff all seems pretty well locked-down in favor of the user to me.

Why I’m (Mostly) Leaving Twitter

Here’s what I’m going to do as soon as Google+ has an iPhone app:

  1. Use Facebook only for personal updates; for photos of me, friends, and family; and for private messaging in certain cases that don’t matter here. Unfriend (or severely privacy-limit) the many wonderful people with whom I do not consider myself to have strong personal relationships.
  2. Use Google+ for brief posts of substance—most of them exposed to the public (not just to my Circles).
  3. Use my blog for longer posts (as currently).
  4. Abandon Twitter (mostly; keep reading).

My rationale: Right now, Facebook provides me with a medium for incredibly interesting conversation about matters professional, academic, and intellectual. I keep my own status updates along these lines restricted to friends only because of the platform’s slightly arcane (or “clunky,” as Farhad Manjoo calls them) privacy interfaces. I’d prefer to have these conversations open to the public, as they are on Twitter.

Even if I were less lazy about the privacy kinks though, I don’t get the sense that any interesting strangers are out prowling Facebook for compelling public status updates. And Facebook just feels like the wrong platform for this kind of online behavior anyway. It’s too cluttered with games (some of which I play) and personal-life noise (which I love for its own sake) to be really conducive to the kind of “Come on, guys, let’s really talk through this” behavior that I want to encourage. It just doesn’t feel like conversation is what people want to do on Facebook. Good conversations do happen there, but I can’t help but wonder how much better they could be in a different context.

Twitter provides that context, actually, and though I would like to have moved this kind of content there, the UI barriers are just too high. Serious conversation sucks on Twitter; that’s just not what it’s built for. The lack of a good and usable visualization of conversations (even accounting for recent advances in the desktop client) makes following them a hopeless hassle. Worse, the 140-character limit absolutely forestalls any in-depth discussion—notwithstanding those seven-part, ellipsis-separated tweets that drive us all mad. And having to include @replies within that limit makes conversation among many Tweeters seem really, really stupid. As a result of these obstacles, I believe, I have simply been unable to transport the serious and rewarding discussion that happens on Facebook out to Twitter.

Google+ could compensate for these issues in a number of ways. The first is that most of my posts there will be public (as are my Tweets), allowing for greater exposure and diversity of viewpoints. I expect that Google+’s asymmetrical relationship-building mechanism, in which I can add you to a Circle without your having to confirm anything, will lead to users seeking out interesting content from strangers as they do 0n Twitter.

The second advantage of Google+ for my purposes is that in place of Facebook’s still-mysterious “Top News” feed, Google+ lets you view different segments of the stream—not unlike Twitter’s Lists but, again, with a far superior interface. Also, I have no doubt that Google+ will at some point provide topic-based segmentation as well. I’m expecting something like hashtags, but with a cleaner implementation. I should say I’ve yet to really figure out Sparks, or try.

Once I’ve made the changes I list at the beginning of this post, Twitter will remain in my online life only as the corporate and “corporo-human” PR platform it is has become. I will use it to share professional news and to keep up with the news of others. I will not use it for conversation. I will not use it as a feedreader, as some have suggested it has become (or supplanted), because it does not allow me actually to read feeds, merely to click links, which I find far less convenient in terms of my workflows as a user of both desktop and mobile devices.

I think that at first, the changes I list at the top are going to set me back in both professional and personal spheres of online interaction: People not yet on Google+ will no longer have the kinds of conversations with me that I’ve so been enjoying, and on the other hand, I will miss out on the sort of hybrid personal-professional chit-chat that currently seems to happen only on Twitter. I’m just hoping that my social universe eventually lines up with my tactics—not because of what I’m doing, but for the same reasons.