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

Lisa

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.”

Hubris


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.

Anti-environmentalist

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!

Greed

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.

Convert your Best Buy gift card to Amazon

Posted in Amazon,Best Buy by Elliott Back on August 7th, 2011.

If you have a Best Buy giftcard, you might be wondering what to do with it. You could spend it at Best Buy, where they frisk you like a thief as you exit with your purchase, sell you overpriced goods, or force their “optimization” service on you when you try to buy a laptop. Or, you could try to convert your near-useless Best Buy giftcard into another currency. While cash is ideal, Amazon.com giftcards are almost as good. One way to do this is to sell your card to Cardpool, which take a 10% cut for the service:

cardpool bb to amazon card

Yeah, don’t do that, you’re literally throwing away your money. (OK–if there’s no Best Buy near you, maybe you have no choice…)

Did you know Best Buy sells Amazon Kindle gift cards? They do! Look for them in the accessories for e-readers section, near the Nooks, Kindles, Sony readers, and Kobos. At the Best Buy I tried out, they had both $25 and $50 denominations, making converting my $150 gift card a cinch. Even better, at least in NYC, there’s no sales tax charged on gift card sales–they’re treated as cash equivalents, I suppose.

kindle gift card

So don’t trade your BestBuy.com giftcards in online for a 10% discount or sell them on eBay, etc. You can convert them to Amazon credit by simply going into the store and buying Kindle giftcards. The credit doesn’t appear to be specific to Kindle books–you can use it for anything sold on Amazon.

Obama Murders Osama: The Illegal Assassination of America’s #1 Enemy

Posted in Homeland Security,Law,Politics,President by Elliott Back on May 6th, 2011.

What gave President Obama the right to order Navy Seals to invade the foreign sovereign nation of Pakistan, fly inland 50 kilometers from the Capital, and murder an unarmed foreign citizen? According to Reuters, “‘this was a kill operation,’ U.S. national security official [said], clarifying no desire to capture Osama bin Laden alive.” In the NY Times article New U.S. Account Says Bin Laden Was Unarmed During Raid, they clarify:

Bin Laden’s wife, who was with him in the room, “rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, reading from the brief account, which was provided by the Defense Department. “Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”

Despite expecting Bin Laden to put up a fight, Mr. Brennan said the assault team had made contingency plans for capturing, rather than killing him. “If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that,” he said.

After the atrocities of World War II, there were held a series of military tribunals called the Nuremberg Trials, where German leadership was tried under doctrine drawn up by the occupying powers. By attempting to create and follow a criminal war-crimes procedure rooted in justice, the trials dispelled notions of “victor’s justice” and “murder by court.”

So why couldn’t we do the same with Osama? Here are two reasons why we should:

Executive Order 12333

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed into law this order which stated that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This restated Gerald Ford’s ban on political assassinations, and Jimmy Carter’s ban on indirect assassination. Of course, this does not apply to enemy combatants…

“Grave Breaches” of the Geneva Convention

We haven’t seen any evidence that Osama was actively engaged against the United States; when he was confronted by Navy Seals, he was unarmed. He should therefore have been accorded protection as a prisoner of war, fairly treated, and granted a fair trial. Instead he was assassinated.

I’d like to leave you with this quote from Reason’s Did the killing of Osama bin Laden violate U.S. law?:

“We’re violating our basic values and our basic principles, which is that we accord everybody due process and we don’t engage in summary executions,” argued libertarian Fox Business Channel host Judge Andrew Napolitano. “Justice is not a summary execution by a Navy SEAL in your bedroom.”

The Economist’s obituary of Osama bin Ladin is also worth reading.

Update: In the LA Times article “Osama bin Laden’s son says U.S. broke international law ‘if’ his father is dead”, Omar bin Ladin says “We are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead.” Omar also accuses the US of “breaking international law by killing the unarmed terrorist leader without a trial.”

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