Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Steve Jobs: A Bad Role Model

Posted in Apple by Elliott Back on November 22nd, 2011.

Steve Jobs, former Apple & Pixard CEO, died on October 5th, 2011, at the age of 56 after a fight with cancer. His life and career was inspiring enough to Apple for them to put up a permanent online memorial of wishes shared by millions around the globe.

Among them:

  • “One of my heros died today. Thank you Steve for changing my world in so many unbelievable and wonderful ways! The world lost so much today.”
  • “Thank you for your life well lived. You was able to transform materials into masterpieces of design that help people to be more human.”
  • “Dear Mr. Steve: You are the greatest man I never knew…”
  • etc…

I want to challenge this post-mortal view of Steve Jobs as a saint. Jobs’ entire life is a relentess story of episode after episode where his immorality, crass capitalism, and greed shine through every moment. I debated writing a post titled “Steve Jobs: The Embodiment of the 7 Deadly Sins,” but felt that it would be better to simplify Jobs’ personal flaws into more simple categories. You all know what he did well, the companies that prospered under his unforgiving hand; now, perhaps after reading this article you can bring some balance to the other side of the scale of Steve Jobs’ life.

Selfish & Above the Law

Credit to Flickr user Acaben for the photo

Liver Transplant

Do you remember the liver transplant Steve Jobs received in April 2009? He flew 2,000 miles from Northern California to the Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, where the waitlist of organs is about 80% shorter. How did he get in line for a transplant organ in another state? He multiple-listed by buying homes to meet the residents requirements of the foreign states. The shady process has since been stopped, but was, at the time, legal:

Transplant centers cannot stop anyone from registering as a potential recipient at multiple locations, said UNOS’ Dr. Higgins. So long as patients meet the clinical evaluation criteria, can afford to pay and have access to follow-up care there is nothing in theory to stop the rich from listing themselves at many different centers.

Someomewhere in Tennessee, there’s was a sick/dying patient who had to wait longer for his new liver, because Steve Jobs bought his way to the top of the list. Topping it off, as he had terminal cancer, he should have been consider ineligible. However, due to different admission criteria in different states, Jobs could throw out money to find the state with lax enough criteria to put him on the list. And because he was terminally ill, of course, he found himself at the top of the list:

Transplant chief, Dr. James Eason said “He received a liver transplant because he was … the sickest patient on the waiting list at the time a donor organ became available.”

Car Plates

Another great example of Steve Jobs’ willful contravention of the spirit of the law is with his “no-plates” Mercedes car, which he drove without license plates, legally under the rule of law which required plates to be affixed after the car was 6 months old. Jobs, of course, “made an arrangement with his Mercedes leasing company in which he would exchange cars every six months; trading for an identical Mercedes each time. As iTWire puts it: “At no time would he ever be in a car as old as six months; and thus there was no legal requirement to have the number plates fitted.”

Such an arrangement would be unlikely to be offered or accepted from mere mortals like you or me, but Jobs could flaunt his wealth and status to secure the means to pursue an arbitrary loophole in the law to stroke his massive ego.

Poor Personal Judgement


When Apple came out with the LISA computer system in 1976, Steve Jobs claimed it was named after the acronym “Local Integrated Software Architecture.” Years later, he recanted, saying “Obviously, it was named for my daughter.” But in her childhood years, fighting in courts to avoid paternity, Jobs claimed he was “sterile and infertile, and as a result thereof, did not have the physical capacity to procreate a child.” Does this make Jobs a psycopathic liar? Or does their subsequent reconciliation show his human side?

Alternative treatments

If you had treatable cancer, would you go to a doctor and have it cut out? Or would you complain, as Jobs did, “‘I really didn’t want them to open up my body” and wait 9 months. Steve Job’s insane decision to resort to alternative medicine to treat his pancreatic tumor because he “believed in alternative herbal treatments” shows absurd personal judgement. Among the “alternative treatments” he tried were “a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments he found online, and even a psychic.”


SJ is god, right?

Apple’s censorship

I’ve written before about Apple’s arbitrary app censorship and once sent Steve Jobs the following email:

Reading your interchange with Gawker writer Ryan Tate, I have to comment on the closed-off app store approach, and the idea that some content/applications are inappropriate for public consumption. I appreciate fully the technical beauty of the iPhone/iPad approval process, vetting apps to make sure of their quality and trustworthiness. Better battery life, no malware, and an overall positive experience have made the iPhone/iPad platform what it is.

But, banning applications that challenge your particular sense of morality is wrong. Whether it’s political satire, crude tasteless humour, or porn, consumer and individuals deserve an open platform and the freedom of choice to determine what to watch, read, and play. Mark these apps as objectionable (like you mark “explicit” music in iTunes) and force users to prove they’re adults if you must.

Steve Jobs wanted to control the entire Apple user experience, so he mandated that the iPhone platform would be a walled garden–only his preferred applications would be allowed. In the classic greek definition of hubris, Jobs decided to play god of the playground, a petty move that artificially restricts the richness of the iOS platform.

Apple’s stolen apps

It’s well known that Jobs’ hubris extends to the level where he believes that no original idea can be conceived outside of the Apple ecosystem. As evidence, take a look at the long list of iPhone applications that Apple has ripped-off wholesale:

I’m sure there’s a clause in the Apple/iPhone development agreement that says “If you develop for the iPhone platform and have a great idea that we like, Apple reserves exclusive rights to the intellectual property and to develop it in the future. In Steve Jobs’ mind, no true iOS/iPhone innovation can come from outside Apple–therefore, any applications developed in the iOS ecosystem whose features are subsequently ripped off and made iPhone/iOS features are merely the cobblestones paving the road to greatness.


Environmental waste

Apple came in nearly last place in the inaugural edition of Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics in 2006, scoring just 2.7/10:

For a company that claims to lead on product design, Apple scores badly on almost all criteria. The company fails to embrace the precautionary principle, withholds its full list of regulated substances and provides no timelines for eliminating toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and no commitment to phasing out all uses of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Apple performs poorly on product take back and recycling, with the exception of reporting on the amounts of its electronic waste recycled.

Apple’s products, manufactured in China, have been criticized for using polluting supplies and plants. Some years later, Apple has improved their processes and now ranks 4.6/10 on the scale. Apple, prodded into compliance by public scrutiny and Greenpeace, has reduced the toxic chemicals used in their products, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. Despite this, note that under Jobs, Apple got their start peddling products contaminated with toxic chemicals, doing an intense amount of damage to the environment.

Foxconn suicides

Apple’s assembler Foxconn is one of the world’s leading exploiters of human capital. Based in China, they work their employees so hard that one of them, Chen Long, died at the ripe old age of 23, having worked continuously for weeks under long hours and harsh conditions. Workers earn a few hundred dollars a month assembling iPhones and other Apple devices, but the conditions are so bleak that between January and November 2010, eighteen Foxconn employees committed suicide.

After getting poor press, Foxconn has improved their wages, invested in robotics, installed netting to prevent jumpers, and asked employees to sign “no suicide” pledges. Now they’re a right jolly place of employment!


Woz Programming

From the earliest, pre-Apple days, Steve Jobs was looking for an edge over his partners and associates. This story, courtesy of Wikipedia, sets the stage perfectly. Jobs was hired by Atari to produce a circuit-board layout for their arcade game Breakout:

Jobs noticed his friend Steve Wozniak was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips, and invited him to work on the hardware design with the prospect of splitting the $750 wage. Wozniak had no sketches and instead interpreted the game from its description. To save parts, he had “tricky little designs” difficult to understand for most engineers. In the end 50 chips were removed from Jobs’ original design. This equated to a US$5,000 bonus, which Jobs kept secret from Wozniak, instead only paying him $375.

“Backdated” stock Options

Have you heard of options backdating? Basically, bigwigs wanted to grant their employees lucrative compensation while avoiding complicated tax issues–ie paying more corporate tax for the “in the money” options classification. So they backdated them to cherry-picked dates, taking advantage of vague wording in the compensation clauses to “spring load” their option grants. Under the newer SarbOX rules, companies have to declare such options grants within two days, vastly narrowing the window. According to the New York Times, “Apple has acknowledged that Mr. Jobs was aware of backdating but said he did not benefit financially from it and did not understand the accounting implications.”

Apple’s Charitable Giving

Steve Jobs’ attitude towards charity is unbelievable in an age where America’s leading CEOs and technologists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have pledged to give their fortunes to improving the world. Walter Isaacson, Steve’s official biographer, refused to speak about his attitude to philanthropy, except to deflect that it was “unspeakable.” When he took over the helm of Apple as CEO, all charitable giving by the company ceased. Apple did not have a corporate donation-matching program until September, 2011. For an interesting look into the world’s most famous misanthrope, give Andrew Ross Sorkin’s The Mystery of Steve Jobs’s Public Giving a read.

As Richard Stallman said about Steve Jobs, “I’m glad he’s gone. [W]e all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.” On the other hand, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs just came out; you can read the other side of the story for yourself. Malcolm Gladwell has also written a hilarious troll THE TWEAKER: The real genius of Steve Jobs for the New Yorker.

Foursquare isn’t creepy, you are

Posted in Facebook,Search,Twitter by Elliott Back on May 13th, 2010.

It takes a lot to pull me from apathy and back to writing blog entries, but reading Jim Louderback’s article How Location-Based Social Networking Gets Creepy in AdvertisingAge was the 10,000 volt cattle-prod that got my fingers racing.

Subtitled “It’s 9 a.m., Do You Know Who the ‘Mayor’ of Your Kid’s School Is?”, the article’s basic premise is that new social networks can reveal how creepy the people around you are. In the new age of social connectivity and information sharing, you might encounter new information about your neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Quoting from the end of the article:

This tale is, in part, yet another log thrown on the privacy bonfire. But in this case it’s not about Facebook. It’s about locations, kids, parents, safety, and what your combined online persona says about you.

I’m convinced that our school’s “mayor” is a nice, warm and loving father. But from everything I saw that day, he seemed to be a shifty, creepy Texan with an unhealthy obsession with a small-town school on the coast of California.

What happened, according to the article, was that Jim Louderback was dethroned as Foursquare Mayor of the local California “small town” (what does this mean? which town?) school by a stranger. Wondering who might be checking into the same school in the same town, Jim decided to check out his usurper/neighbor. He found out the following things. I feel they are innocuous, but Jim thinks “what we found was concerning:”

  • The new mayor a Foursquare pro, more than 40 badges, including Crunked (4+ stops in one night), Player Please (checking in with 3 members of the opposite sex), Animal House (Off the Wagon Appreciates Your Business, COLLEGE), Douchebag (Doublepop that collar son), Hookup (Two different hotels?), and the Super Mayor badge (holding down 10+ mayorships simultaneously)
  • “His profile picture was not one to inspire confidence”
  • (later) He was actually a parent at our school, and his stepson was in my son’s class.

It’s unreasonable to assume much from the profile of a prolific foursquare user. Drinking, partying, and travel are all acceptable ways to relax in America. We’re a modern jet-setting crowd, and while “work hard, play hard” is a bit tired, it is the millenials’ standard. Nearly anyone older than 16 could have the same lifestyle and carefree attitude that describes a large portion of young America. However, our shoot-first-ask-questions-later author became enraged that a monster like Mr. Foursquare might live/work around his family:

They all painted a plausible impression of someone that I really didn’t want within 500 yards of my son. So I found him on Twitter and sent out a tweet with his handle embedded, wondering publicly if he was a pedophile.

Here’s the exchange between Jim Louderback and cloudwrangler, as it went down on Twitter:

jlouderb: @cloudwrangler, how can you be mayor of my son’s school in Pacifica CA when you live in Austin TX. Are you a pedophile, or is #4sqfu
9:31 PM May 1st via Seesmic

cloudwrangler: @jlouderb I live in SF, my stepdaughter is in class with your son, and I would appreciate you removing this unfounded public accusation.
11:06 PM May 1st via web in reply to jlouderb

cloudwrangler: @jlouderb Also, I know we’ve not had a chance to meet yet, and I would be more than happy to do so soon, perhaps at the open house in May.
11:09 PM May 1st via web in reply to jlouderb

jlouderb: @cloudwrangler Definitely! Was with a friend today and we were wondering who is this weird TX guy, mayor of Ocean Shore. I thought 4sq bug!
3:40 AM May 2nd via Seesmic

Does this seem like an appropriate way to approach a stranger? Would you walk up to someone on the street, and noticing their handlebar mustache, ask them, “With that mustache, I don’t want you hanging around any kids! Get out of here! Are you a pedophile?” Well, you might. But then you’re a conservetard asshole.

There’s a number of troubling fallacies in the reasoning:

  • Why does social networking only get creepy/personal/ugly when your children are involved? (the “think of the kids” fallacy)
  • Why are strangers to be feared instead of offered hospitality? (the “stranger danger” fallacy)
  • Why do you interact with things outside your understanding/comfort zone/personal network with defensiveness/hate/anger? (the “you’re not one of us” fallacy)

This could have gone over much better with this tweet: @Mr. Foursquare Hi, I see you go to the same school as my son! Live around here? We should grab cold ones sometime. Jim, you had a chance to make a friend.

Why Sarah Palin Sucks for VP

Posted in Politics,President,Religion,Science by Elliott Back on September 7th, 2008.

Sarah Palin, after winning John McCain’s VP nomination, has been in the news a lot these days. Photoshopped and real pictures showing her in her beauty pageant glory days have been flooding the web, while incriminating Youtube videos exploit her poor camera performance and public speaking ability. Everywhere I look, no one can take her as a serious contender for the Vice Presidency.

But that’s not why I think Sarah Palin sucks. I don’t care about her looks, her messy personal life, or her pregnant teenage daughter. I care about what she’s done, and what she’s willing to do, in office.

Sarah Palin: Eminent Domain

Sarah Palin, while mayor of Wasilla (1996-2002), decided to build a $15M multi-use sports facility as her legacy. However, when the city failed to close the $125k deal on the land where she wanted it built with the Alaska Nature Conservancy, they went ahead and began to build anyway. On someone else’s land. Sara Palin then invoked Eminent Domain law to sue the developer who held title to the land, Gary Lundgren, who eventually won the court case, and settled with the city to the tune of an additional $1.7M.

Sarah Palin sucks because she is willing to try to steal private property from its rightful owners for her own good.

Sarah Palin: Book Bans

According to Time, Sarah Palin, “asked the library how she could go about banning books” because some of her constituents believed they used “inappropriate” language. Sarah Palin also threatened to fire the librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Update: the following list of books Sarah Palin wanted banned, courtesy of Liveleak, looks similar to every other list I’ve seen of books the Christian right has wanted banned.

Update 2: The above list is a complete fabrication, a copy-paste job of an older list of books banned over time. Some fact checking shows that books late in the Harry Potter series are on the list, which came out after Sarah Palin’s inquiries into book-banning. The truth of the book-banning incident is apparently a rhetorical inquiry into how the librarians would react were she to issue the order… still scary…

Sarah Palin sucks because she is willing to censor anything that doesn’t fall into her narrow set of beliefs.

Sarah Palin: Creationist

According to The Lang Report, Sarah Palin in 2006 said in a gubernatorial debate, “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of education. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.” In spite of courts having (fortunately) ruled that teaching creationism is a violation of the separation of Church and State, electing someone with Sarah Palin’s beliefs will inevitable continue the Bush legacy of eroding America’s scientific prominence.

Note that the education arena is not the only area where Sarah Palin’s policy may have been shaped by her religious views. Her Pastor Kalnins believes in the “end times” or “last days,” and that Alaska may soon “be the refuge” for those fleeing the apocalypse of the world. These beliefs are absurd.

Sarah Palin sucks because she’s willing to compromise educational policy for her own personal religious beliefs.

Sarah Palin: Homophobe

I’ll submit the following quotation from The Bilerico Project, which lays out the facts fairly well:

Palin said she’s not out to judge anyone and has good friends who are gay, but that she supported the 1998 constitutional amendment. Elected officials can’t defy the court when it comes to how rights are applied, she said, but she would support a ballot question that would deny benefits to homosexual couples. “I believe that honoring the family structure is that important,” Palin said.

Sarah Palin sucks because she believes homosexual couples are inferior to heterosexual ones.

Sarah Palin: Racist

Sarah Palin’s attitude towards native populations living in Alaska, or black Barack Obama, indicates that skin color matters to her. The LA Progressive article Palin Is “Racist, Sexist, Vindictive, And Mean” sheds some light:

“Sambo beat the bitch” may be everyday language up in the bush. Whether it – and the outlook, politics and worldview Palin reflects when she says such things in public – should be part of a presidential campaign is another thing altogether. The comment says as much about McCain as it does about Palin, and it says a lot of things about Americans who overlook such statements (as well as her record) and vote anyway for McCain.

Sarah Palin sucks because she refuses to treat those she views as different as her equals in politics. America is a complex country, full of differing cultural groups and interest; only a president sensitive to the variety of man can successfully navigate the American melting pot.

Sarah Palin: Anti Sex Education

Sarah Palin oppose the “right to choose”, and advocates abstinence-only sex education. The Huffington Post quotes her saying, “The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.” This is a problem, because abstinence-only sex education is futile and ineffective, and has been thoroughly debunked. Reading statistics like “by age 18, about 71 percent of U.S. youth have had sexual intercourse” would lead one who cares about America’s youth to teach them safe-sex, not tell them a “no sex” message that will be ignored.

Update 3: For the other side of the story, you should read Newsweek’s great Sliming Palin: False Internet claims and rumors fly about McCain’s running mate story. Although I feel many of their anecdotes are just trying to muddy the waters, no issue in politics is black and white either, and this certainly deserves the “fair and balanced” treatment. Isn’t life just shades of gray?

Update 4: Check out what Matt Damon thinks of Sarah Palin:

Matt Damon Rips Sarah Palin –
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