Hydraulic Road Disc Brakes: WHITE(!) Volagi Di2 Edition

Volagi

Yowza – two of BB’s favorite obsessions, wrapped into big tasty package! Bike Rumor has some shots of this white Volagi, built up with Ultegra Di2 and a white TRP Parabox (more links to the Parabox to come, btw) with hydraulic discs. Can’t wait to see the ride reports on these Volagis (built with hydro discs and the Parabox) to start popping up – clearly there are a number of them out there being tested.

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via Bike Rumor.

“App-ocalypse”

Recently came across an interesting article, reporting on some actual empirical data about “app” purchasing and actual usage in the real world. On the one hand, the piece reported a huge number of app purchases/downloads by the average user (like dozens and dozens). This is definitely not how I have used my iPhone(s) for the past few years.But, then they discussed actual usage of those purchases/downloaded apps:

But how many apps do people actually use? According to Flurry, the average consumer uses only 15 apps per week.

Now, this is much more in the realm of how I use the iPhone….and brings up a question I’ve had in the back of my mind for some time now: apart from games, how do developers break out in the iPhone app market, now that all of the most obvious utilities and applications have already been written? For someone like me, I barely even bother thinking about apps any longer; I’ve got what I need, it works, and I don’t need to waste more time/screen space looking for something I don’t need. What is funny from this article, though, is that the whole thing is motivated by their advocacy for smarter search functions that would put people in contact with more relevant, but undiscovered, apps. In my view (really, my “experience” is more like it), though, people aren’t using only 15 apps in a week because they can’t find any better ones. Rather, they are using 15 apps or under a week because they don’t have any need for anything else! No real point here, just some thoughts off the top of my head.

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via App-ocalypse | TechCrunch.

How I Read

About two years ago, I came across this passage on Merlin Mann’s blog (this entry being an ode to Instapaper creator Marco Arment):

Are you getting this? I hit one button, and magical and interesting things just…happen.

Things I want to read magically appear on the Instapaper web site.

They also magically appear on my Instapaper iPhone app.

And, because my bookmarked Instapaper items are also available as an RSS feed, they magically appear in Google Reader…

Which now also magically syncs with NetNewsWire on my desktop and…

My preferred iPhone reader, Byline.

And — this one’s the killer — because I’m one of those nerds who bought (and adores) the Kindle, once a week, Instapaper dutifully, magically, shuttles a single file with all of the week’s bookmarked stories directly to my reader.

Boom.

All of this happens with zero intervention from me. Which means substantial, challenging prose that used to get skipped in the rush of the day now becomes available anyplace it suits me. In the line at the ATM. On a plane. Wherever.

And, that all happened because I clicked one button. If that’s not blowing your mind right now, go read all that again. Because that shit is sick.

via kung fu grippe • Three things about Marco Arment.

This was pretty compelling, and definitely pushed me over the edge with respect to the “can I justify getting an iPhone?” debate. And, almost to the detail, this is still the exact same “workflow” for reading I follow every single day (at least every single day in which I’ve got internet connectivity). I have found myself describing parts of this workflow to a few different people over the past few weeks. So, might was well write it down in one place and tell future people who are subjected to my opinions/advice to come right here and have a look.

It doesn’t take too long to explain “how I read” because, for all intents and purposes, it’s the same flow outlined by Mann. Although I never actually “see” Google, the whole thing centers on Google Reader. Reader is, of course, an RSS syncing and management system. You find internet sources with “content” you like, you subscribe to their RSS syndication feed. This drops the content into your feed reader, notifying you when something new has been published, and (usually) delivering the content directly to your reader.

The key with Google Reader is that it also syncs these feeds from multiple devices. In simple terms, this means you can check your aggregated content from anywhere on the web (a browser, a feed-reading program on your computer, your iPhone, your iPad, whatever) and things that you mark as starred, as read, as unread will show up as such on other devices. While plenty of people just use Google Reader directly through a browser, I use one of the many options for feed reading on both my Macs and my iPhone: an app called Reeder. Reeder grabs your content being synced by Google Reader and displays it for you in a nice, simple and clean interface on both the Mac and the iPhone (or iPad). Reeder isn’t actually doing the syncing of the feeds, for you – it’s just the way that you interface with the Google “guts”/engine underneath. The nice thing with Reeder (like many other apps, I should add) is that it interfaces with the next step in the reading process: Instapaper.

What is Instapaper? You should check out the site. Instapaper is a service that “harvests” (my way of understanding it) content for later reading, keeping it synced and organized. One way of using Instapaper is to use an RSS reader (like Reeder) that integrates with your Instapaper account; if you find entries from your RSS feeds that you think you’ll read later you just hit the Instapaper button and the full text is sent to Instapaper. Additionally, you can install a little “bookmarklet” for Instapaper in any browser so that, once you navigate to some content you want to harvest (e.g. an NY Times article, as is most often the case for me) you can grab it simply by clicking the bookmarklet.

Once your content is in Instapaper, it can be read any number of ways: on the iPhone/iPad through the Instapaper app, through the Instapaper website on any browser, or, more recently, through a Mac app that downloads the Instapaper files so you’ve got them even without internet access. This last option became much more appealing with the recent (massive) revision to the excellent Read Now application.

So, this gets you to Mann’s basic point from above: you now have easily harvested, completely synced, ad-free and stripped down reading material that you can access just about anywhere, any time. You can fairly easily manage the flow of massive amounts of information from many, many sources (via RSS), shunt it into Instapaper, read it, discard it or save it. This is the core of my reading workflow.

Two final points:

1. What about managing items that I’ve read in Instapaper, but want to save for later reference? I’ve got a shit ton of these; after all, most of what I’m reading connects to various lines of scholarly research/writing/thinking or to issues raised by my teaching. Bookmarking and tagging are imperative – the only way to get back to these needles in an ever-growing haystack. For bookmarking, I use the absolutely excellent service, Pinboard. Like Delicious  (and Diigo, which I used before and which has some compelling features) and any number of other services that have come and, too often, gone over the years, Pinboard is a bookmarking service. However, the model is totally transparent and minimal – you own your data, you pay (minimally) for the service and your information/attention is not sold back to you. Another great plus for Pinboard is that these other apps/services all tie in directly, in the background via password. So, read in Reeder, Instapaper or Read Now, like an article and want to save it….now you just hit the Pinboard button, enter your keyword tags and the link is saved. Or, you can pay Pinboard an additional $20 or less each year and they save the full text of each article! Your own personal archive, in case the link breaks, the website dies, whatever.

2. The most exciting thing about How I Read currently is the possible integration of an e-reader – in my case, the cheapest (and, non-“touch”) Kindle. All this reading and access is great…except for doing all this reading on a little 4″ (or whatever it is) screen on my iPhone. It’s killing my shoulders, neck and elbows. Really, it is. The laptop is a bit better, but still far from ideal for reading. I actually own a Nook Touch and really like the e-ink display. But, what I realize these days is that most of what I read is content that first appeared on the web in some fashion and has now ended up in my Instapaper “files”. Instapaper has some options here: with a single click, you can tell Instapaper to take your most recent 10 (maybe it’s 20, I can’t remember off the top of my head) articles, format and download them as an e-pub file (essentially a little book/magazine file, as far as your reader is concerned). You can then manually transfer this to any e-reader. But that right there is the problem: you must manually transfer the file. Yes, that means, plugging it in to your machine, moving the new e-pub over (and possibly deleting an older one, to keep things clean), ejecting the e-reader and then reading it on the e-reader. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it’s not the sort of thing I find myself wanting to do any more often than once a day. In truth, I barely do it at all.

This is where the Kindle advantage comes in: any Kindle you register gets its own dedicated email address. If you have a non-3G Kindle, this email will be delivered, free of charge, when the Kindle is on wi-fi (like, at home). So, you can set Instapaper up to send this e-pub file to your Kindle’s email address. And then you can read your Instapaper content on a proper e-ink screen, from a super simple, super cheap device. The non-touch Kindle, with ads, is now only $79. As a dedicated reading device this seems like a crazy deal. Of course, I don’t own one yet, but I’m really looking forward to getting one and giving it a try.

A last random bit here: you might be wondering why I’m not interested in the Kindle Touch. What I’ve realized with the Nook Touch is that I really dig having an e-reader that I can treat like a book. I want to be able to wrap my hands around the thing, move around with it, etc. without worrying about whether I touch the screen or not. The “advantages” of the touch screen are pretty much moot for me – I don’t mind using small side buttons to advance pages, and the menu system on these readers is simple enough that using a little directional arrow/tiny joystick/whatever input device to control the thing is perfectly fine by me. Plus, the cheaper the better, as far as I am concerned. I want, in essence, a “dumb screen” for reading – I want to dump content onto a small, cheap device with a good screen. If it breaks I will be sad, but I won’t be bankrupt – which is the problem with using an iPad primarily as a reading device (e.g. it starts at $500…which is a lot of money for something my kids might pick up, or I might leave on the couch).

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PS – If you want a great review of various e-ink readers, from this particular reading perspective, check out Marco Arment’s detailed comparison. You could even click through on his links, if you choose to buy one, so Instapaper gets a little bit of affiliate credit.

Road Bike Disc Brakes: Latest Roundup

The whole “hydraulic disc brakes on a road bikes are inevitable” thing that we have been bumping here on BB for some time now has, it seems, crossed some sort of critical threshold in the past couple of months. As well it should. The tone is shifting from, “here is a crazy idea that might work” to, “this is going to happen, but when will SRAM or Shimano get off their asses and make a hydraulic road lever?!” This was most recently illustrated by Velonews’ general article on road discs, by Caley Fretz. His conclusion:

Without the availability of a hydraulic road disc, this is all conjecture. There are far more hurdles to be overcome, too many for this space.

That said, with every innovation comes the inevitable “my gear is just fine” argument. Friction shifting was satisfactory, as were six-speed indexed downtube shifters. Single-pivot brakes were great in their time. Eight-speed Shimano STI was phenomenal.

We never realize what we have is inferior until its (superior) replacement becomes commonplace. Mountain bikers will never go back to rim brakes, roadies will never go back to downtube shifters. Ten years from now, perhaps we’ll be wondering how anyone rode with those old dual-pivot rim brakes.

Yup, pretty much the BB party line.

Here is a little bit of a link roundup, highlighting a few of the fairly recent contributions to the ongoing discussion:

  • CX Magazine just now put up a little piece on Tim Johnson’s disc-ready Cannondale cross bike. The Cannondale fork is quite nice as well:

  • Last, but most intriguing, is this update to the Volagi from Procyclingnews’ Interbike coverage. I mentioned Volagi quite a while ago as I somewhat randomly came across their site very early on (in the life of the company) – you may recall that they are building a brand entirely around a platform of disc-only, full carbon sportive/gran fondo/”comfort” frames with all mod cons (BB30, tapered steerer maybe?). If anyone had incentive to grab one of these Macgyver-ish cable-to-hydraulic converters (that we’ve linked to here on BB in the past), string it together with some high-end gear and roll out a pro-style hydraulic disc’d road bike, it was Volagi. Looks like they’ve done so, and looks like Pezcyclingnews has it on test. I’ll keep an eye out for the review. In the meantime, here is a pic:

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