Archive | April, 2010

Apple’s Darkening Soul

30 Apr

I spent three years in the mid-1990s as editor in chief of MacWeek, the now defunct trade newspaper. These were not Apple’s best years. The company struggled under the likes of mediocre CEOs Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio. Back then, it was still a tight-lipped company, one that guarded its secrets as if Dick Cheney was the boss instead of these other also-rans. It’s ingrained in the company’s culture.

Trust no one, fear everyone could be its corporate motto.

For those of you who don’t remember MacWeek, unless you were an Apple employee, it was one of the few accurate and up-to-date sources of information about the company and its technology. Reporters like Henry Norr, Carolyn Said, Jon Swartz, Matthew Rothenberg, Andrew Gore, and the late, great Robert Hess among others continuously uncovered and wrote impressive scoops about Apple’s product and business plans before the company announced them. It was our raison d’etre.

As EiC, that meant I spent countless hours listening to Apple public relations staffers complain about how we got our information and to deride our ethics. That is, they objected to our publishing stories about everything from operating system upgrades and upcoming Macintosh computers to gadgets like the Newton and online communities like eWorld before the company issued the official news releases. These PR pros smoothed-talked me. They threatened me. They insulted me. They even introduced me to Apple’s hard-nosed lawyers. God, it was fun.

But they never sent the police to bust into MacWeek’s office nor did they barge into a reporter’s home seeking criminal evidence as they have done against the Gizmodo gang that couldn’t shoot straight. At some level, the company accepted that at MacWeek we were doing our job, as despicable and discomfiting as it was to them. The poor fools at Gizmodo find themselves up against an entirely different and seemingly deranged organization.

With the return of Steve Jobs, that lack of trust embedded in Apple’s DNA has evolved into something darker, something soulless. It’s a far more successful company, yes, but it’s become hard and heartless. If it were to be portrayed in some Hollywood thriller, let’s just say, it would not be the good guy.

Truth be told, had Steve Jobs not returned to Apple, the Silicon Valley icon would probably be a footnote of high-tech history and today I would not be typing this piece on my Intel-based iMac nor receiving calls on my nifty iPhone. But his personal paranoia has been layered atop an already untrusting organization so that the natural reaction to a product scoop is no longer considered an irritating inconvenience in business, but a personal affront that must be avenged.

It’s ironic that this month Steve Jobs penned an essay outlining why his company has eschewed the proprietary Flash technology from Adobe. His argument makes sense. But it can also be applied by those who object to Apple’s high-handed actions, such as limiting what tools its third-party developers can use. Apple’s proprietary stuff is not the only game in town. And it may not even be the best game.

Open source personal computers and mobile systems from Google, Ubuntu, Red Hat, and other companies give us alternatives to Apple’s goodies. Granted, it’s not easy moving from one platform to another. But it is much easier than it was in the 1990s to switch from Macintosh to Windows, which people did in droves as the company misfired on all cylinders.

Today the company is not necessarily misfiring technically. Rather, it is spewing nasty smoke ethically, something that once bothered Mac users who complained about the actions of Microsoft on similar grounds. (Anyone who ever typed the word “Micro$soft” in those heady monopolistic days cannot come to Apple’s defense today with a clear conscience.)

I began using Apple products for my personal use in 1987. It would be a pain for me to move more than two decades of my work and pleasure to another platform. But for the first time since then, I am seriously considering it as I watch the Gizmodo fiasco play out. And I do not think I am the only one.

Before Twitter: Epigrams

29 Apr

Even before I became a Twitter junkie, I jotted down some pithy observations in a small notebook as they occurred to me. Most of these bon mots have fewer than 140 characters, so, if I do say so myself, I was thinking like a Twitter user before it was even invented. Here are some of my favorite epigrams with the month and year that I wrote them tacked on the end.

—-

The difference between witty and witless is a mere suffix. 1/02

Some men shout because they believe ignorance at full volume is wisdom. 1/02

The certitude of uncertainty is satisfying. 5/02

In a religious war, God is the first casualty. 10/03

A good boss lets others do the talking; a bad one thinks he talks for everyone. 4/01

Most problems solved by computers were started by them in the first place. 8/03

Fame is not merely fleeting, it’s fatuous, too. 11/01

Never try to explain your actions. Just hope for mercy. 1/02

Eloquent Nature need never explain itself. 1/02

A wedding band is a ‘No Trespassing’ sign for the heart. 2/02

The geography of sex takes more than a map and a compass to explore. 2/02

Religion is not the opiate of the masses. It is the rationalization for the rich. 3/04

The first thing you know about a man who says he knows what God thinks is that he is a liar. 7/04

The triumph of evil is always masked as a victory for morality. 11/04

Being a good listener demands a discreet application of inattention. 2/02

It is wise to refrain from giving advice, but equally wise to consider it when it is given. 11/03

The depths of despair can be shallow waters for some. 4/02

Patriotism is a brittle crutch for society to lean on. 9/02

Waving the red, white, and blue before our eyes can hide a lot of truth. 9/02

Patriotism poisons peace. 9/02

In a world perpetually at war, it seems peace is only declared when everyone is simply loading their weapons. 10/02

The end of the world comes for each and every one of us, just once. 11/02

The first step toward war is to deny the humanity of your neighbor. The last step is to deny the humanity in yourself. 2/03

The dull, daily routine of the living is nothing compared to the monotony of the dead. 7/03

Reading is breathing for the eyes. 11/02

Sickness eliminates all context. There is only you and your body. 12/02

A computer is a tool as a child is a blessing; neither performs as expected. 12/02

Weather ignores politics and religion. It is a dictatorship, a god. 12/02

Nothingness is akin to somethingness only with more or less of the thingness. 12/02

Never say grace with an atheist. He may clean your plate while you are mumbling. 3/01

When you kill in the name of religion, you are a hypocrite as well as a murderer. 9/01

Lies are the oxygen of politicians. 3/03

The problem for the American political Left is the moral weight of associating with those who would burden the rich with taxes. The problem for the American political Right is the moral weight of associating with those who would exterminate Jews and lynch black men. 2/02

A liberal wants to save the world. A conservative wants to save himself. 3/04

Wherever the dying live, it is a lonely place. 6/03

An alcoholic knows what he is, but hopes no one else does; a drunk doesn’t know, doesn’t care. 7/03

When friends visit, treat them like family. When family visits, treat them like friends. 4/01

The perfect home is the perfect illusion. 6/01

Old friends getting older are the candles on the cake of life. 6/01

Family gatherings are curious combinations of food and nostalgia. 11/01

Memory is an unreliable friend and an accurate enemy. 8/03

Make no mistake about it, there are many mistakes to be made. 10/03

The real value of a cold, hard fact is the many ways to interpret it. 11/03

No one owns property. People merely prevail at a place for a moment until time forecloses on the deal. 5/04

Hard news is hard to come by in hard times. 6/04

Technology interrupts the imagination more than it inspires it. 12/04

Traveling should be as bewildering as it is edifying for it to be worthwhile. 5/05

Doing nothing excels in a comfortable place. 6/05

Hope is not the opposite of despair; it is the beginning of disappointment. 8/05

When push comes to shove, it’s best to yank. 2/02