The Dutch bicycle


The ‘traditional’ Dutch bicycle originates in British and French predecessors, Zahid Sardar argues in his new book The Dutch Bike. Still, manufacturers cultivated the image of a typically Dutch, utilitarian product that has remained basically the same because it didn’t need improvement. As Timo de Rijk notes in the preface to the book:

Whereas foreigners found the Dutch bike heavy and unwieldy, here it was considered solid and indestructible, and in return the light-weight aluminium bicycles from France were openly maligned as inferior and needlessly equiped with ostentatious and fragile derailleur gears.

In the early 20th century, there were 4,000 bicycle brands in the Netherlands. Sardar refers to well-known manufacturers like Gazelle and Batavus as well as local brands in cities like Utrecht. He discusses the origin of the omafiets and its connection with women’s emancipation, as well as many other cultural and design aspects of the history of the Dutch bicycle.

In addition to the text, there is a wealth of historical photographs, advertisements, a collection of great head badges and other material. Then, at about two-thirds of the book, Sardar turns to modern Dutch bicicycle design, which is a bit of an anticlimax: most of these bicycles look rather silly. Take for example the Van Moof (no match for the elegant Joep) or the OV-fiets (the highly practical bicycle for rent at railway stations and other locations) - not to mention e-bikes and wooden bicycles.

Against this background, it’s good to see that the hippest bicycles in Amsterdam are currently old (girl’s) road bikes. With derailleurs.

For some reason iPhones appear to be unable to show photos from the road bike set and instead show random photos from my photostream.

Clint Eastwood won the LAUGHTER contest

I’m not sure what this says about the audiences at US national party conventions, but among a sample of 16 speeches, Clint Eastwood’s was the one that elicited the most laughter (Rand Paul’s got most applause). Among the presidential candidates, Obama won the applause contest, while being about equally funny as Romney.

For the second lesson of Alberto Cairo’s online data visualisation course, we were asked to comment on and perhaps redesign this convention word count tool created by the NYT. I wouldn’t be able to do such a cool interactive thing myself (I got stuck in the jQuery part of Codeyear), so I decided to focus on differences between individual speeches instead.

First I needed the transcripts – preferably from one single source to make sure the transcription had been done in a uniform way. As far as I could find, Fox News has the largest collection of transcripts online. As a result, Republican speakers are overrepresented in my sample, but that’s ok because the key Democratic speakers are included as well.

I wrote a script to do the word count (I’m sure this could be done in a more elegant way). One problem with my script was that html-code got included in the total word count. I thought I could correct this by subtracting 1,000 from each word count, but this didn’t work so well, so I had to make some corrections.

This assignment was a bit of a rush job so I hope I didn’t make any stupid mistakes.

Data visualisation course assignment

As part of Alberto Cairo’s data visualisation course, we’ve been asked to take a look at this graphic of social media use in selected countries and see how it can be improved. What struck me most (although this probably would not surprise social media experts) is the high level of activity in emerging economies. Above is my reinterpretation of the data. As a general indicator of social media use, I calculated the average of the listed types of social media use (upload photos; upload videos; manage profile; blogging; microblogging). Note that the data are from 2009.


How did Tinkebell obtain all that personal information

Almost three years ago, artists Tinkebell and Coralie Vogelaar published the book Dearest Tinkebell, in which they revealed the identity, photos, addresses and all sorts of embarrassing personal information about people who had sent hate mail to ‘cat murderer’ Tinkebell. The book is again drawing attention because of an article in the Guardian.

How did Tinkebell go about investigating the people who had made threats against her? “By checking whether the email addresses were registered at other websites as well, she could easily discover the identity of many of the people who had made threats against her”, the Volkskrant wrote. In this way, she got access to ‘Facebook profiles, Amazon wish lists and Youtube accounts’.

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as the Volkskrant suggests. In a supplement to the book, Vogelaar describes five steps to find out the identity of a mailer. Step 1 simply consists in googling the email address. “Often this only resulted in comments on blogs and sometimes a small profile but rarely in a full name.”

Apparently, the interesting information didn’t usually surface until step 2, in which the email addresses were linked to the Rapleaf database (steps 3 to 5 are mainly about verifying the information). When Tinkebell and Vogelaar published their book, nobody had heard about that company. That changed in 2010, when the Wall Street Journal created a bit of a fuss with a series of articles on the trade in personal information, under the title ‘What they know’.

One of the main companies active on this market is Rapleaf, which at the time claimed it had one billion email addresses at its disposal. These addresses are linked with data on your social network activity, your purchases and other information. In this way, the company builds a detailed profile of you. A spokesperson said at the time that Rapleaf never reveals people’s names to clients, but Vogelaar and Tinkebell had already shown that you can easily obtain someone’s identity with the data provided by the company – and much more.


In 2010, the WSJ caused a bit of a stir by describing how companies like Rapleaf deal in very detailed personal information, gathered online. A year and a half earlier, artists Tinkebell and Vogelaar had already demonstrated how Rapleaf’s databases can be used to expose the identity, photos, addresses and embarrassing personal details of people who had sent threat mails to ‘cat murderer’ Tinkebell (see also the Guardian on their project).


Catch up on Codeyear

I got an email from Codeyear: “Still want to learn to code? We’ll help you catch up!”. Thank you kindly, but I’m pretty much on schedule. I think these people need your help more...