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.

Recruiting via Facebook Ads

Posted in Facebook,Jobs by Elliott Back on March 15th, 2011.

I was surprised today to see this Facebook Ad from a recent MBA graduate looking for a job. You can target very specific companies in Facebook advertising, so theoretically any candidate could bombard any one or more company’s employees with their pitch:

Hi. I am Shweta. I graduated with a MBA Degree . My dream is to work for Goldman Sachs. Can you help make that happen? Click 4 resume.

While an unconventional approach, the ad linked to a resume hosted on Adobe’s cloud. I won’t link to it here because it contains personal information, but it reminds me of the Google Please Hire Me websites that popped up a few years ago. These were mostly gimmicks which attracted some attention, and typically led to nothing.

On the other hand, Youtube Instant generated a spontaneous job application. Perhaps the better approach is to build something awesome and let the job offers pour in?

Americans: “If I can’t have it, neither can you.”

Posted in Holiday,Jobs,Law by Elliott Back on December 15th, 2010.

I was reading the news today and came across this article, US sues school over denial of Muslim pilgrimage, which details an interesting case of law:

The federal government sued a suburban Chicago school district Monday for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that is a central part of her religion. […]

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year. […]

Berkeley School District compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, the lawsuit said.

Interesting stuff. As an employer, I believe that you should make every possible effort to strike reasonable work-life balance for your employees. Unpaid time away to get married, look after family, and fulfilling religious obligations are all the sorts of things that you would reasonably expect accommodation for. In more civilized countries, you would be accorded sufficient paid holidays to do much of this. Unfortunately, in the United States, by law, there is no requirement to offer any holidays at all!

Ignoring the religious and racial overtones in this news article, what I found interesting was the comments thread. Check these high-rated gems out:

  • “they want, want, want but don’t want to give. Special treatment! Whatever happened to the (former) American work ethic?”
  • “Contract, obey the rules and live with them or dont sign up”
  • “Whoever hired her should be fired.”
  • “This is a sham on the american way of life”
  • “Seperation of Church and State. Take a Religous Holiday when everyone else does.”
  • ” She signed a contract, then did not like it. Tough. Think I like paying my credit cards? No, but I have a contractual relationship to pay .”
  • “What a bunch of bull. This should not even go to court. She should be denied time off for this. Try this at a real job and they will tell you “no”! Here is why, if you want the time off then use your vacation time. That is what it is for. Your employer is not obligated to give you any more time off then what you have accrued.”

It’s an interesting fact that Americans have the least paid vacation days in the world (0 by law), some of the most mediocre students in the world, the largest wealth-gap between the rich and poor, etc. Yet when confronted by an individual who is trying to improve the American standard of living (by advocating for improved time-off rules), American internet commenters essentially say, “I don’t have this right; why should you?”

I don’t understand this.

Do you want America to suck? You should be cheering this woman and the ALCU on, because they are fighting for your rights. (If you feel like commenting that I’m an elitist foreigner who should shut up and work harder, please don’t even bother to leave a comment.)

Update: It’s nice to see Netflix lets its staff take as much holiday as they want, whenever they want – and it works come out today.

Next Page »