Apr 072013

On April 3, E!’s Talk Soup handed out its prestigious 2013 Soup Awards, celebrating the best of the worst talk show clips from the past year. Now you’d suspect the group consisting of people “analyzing Apple” and the candidates for this award, who stand out by making jackasses out of themselves, would have some degree of overlap, but until this year that hasn’t been the case. Ladies and gentlemen: it is my distinct honor to introduce The Soup Award winner for 2013, in the category of “I Had No Idea We Were Going to Talk About Fraud Allegations”, Henry Blodget.

I’m sure this was more about Henry wanting to come off as a lovable, smiling on-air personality when the camera light went on, but having to switch to “contrition mode” after Matt Lauer exposed Blodget as a blacklisted market manipulator. Another more fantastic possibility is that he legitimately didn’t see the intro coming and that Lauer’s words smashed into his ego with the force of a Mack truck.

“Watch this Lis: you can actually pinpoint the second where his heart rips in half.”

You can probably tell which one I’m going with. It doesn’t matter: one of the largest Douchebags in the Row just got a parody award for getting his beanbag stomped on the nation’s 2nd rated TV morning show. I guess this humiliation is going to have to serve in lieu of the fact that Blodget gets to keep fomenting as editor of a site called Business Insider – after the SEC supposedly banned him from the sector as the part of his settlement that didn’t involve millions of dollars. The Soup’s bit that follows Blodget’s Nazi face melt footage is just delicious icing on the cake. There’s one other nugget of bonus hilarity: The Soup couldn’t even be bothered to spell his name right on the award.

Insult, Meet Injury

Insult, Meet Injury

Someone once told me there’s no such thing as bad press. I think we’ve just found the exception.

Mar 262013

I’m late to the party on this one, I know. After 5 months slinging fecal hash for ReadWriteRithmatic Web – or whatever the fuck they’re calling it today – visionary Dan Lyons has left for some marketing firm. One more bowl rotation closer to the sewer pipe. As I said last September, while panning a piece he wrote for Shitshowdo:

For what it’s worth, Dan Lyons is a pathetic human being who sifts through the ashes of controversy for a living while regretting every second of his career since the FSJ salad years, aware that every piece of excrement he throws up for public viewing is another point closer to the origin on the graph of his career trajectory, which can be plotted thusly: r = aθ, where a is a real-number constant greater than 0.

Bon voyage, Daniel!

Apr 132012

Growing up in a 10-person household, the most fearsome words my saint of a mother would wield were “Wait until your father gets home.” It transformed in-progress shenanigans into a deafening silence. The waiting was always the worst part.

Apple uttered these words to patent trolling scum Lodsys last year. As you’ll recall, Lodsys was threatening individual iOS developers with lawsuits related to their so-called intellectual property, ostensibly so they could scare smaller entities into settling instead of entering costly litigation. Apple filed a motion to intervene in June, signaling their intent to defend their iOS ecosystem from bullshit scare tactics. Yesterday, their motion was granted.

If you’re ever lived in New York and had to deal with roaches, you know that they’re mostly silent when they scurry. If you listen closely, you can hear their tiny feet scraping the tile as they make for the nearest crack when you turn on the lights.

The lights are on, Lodsys. Daddy’s home.

Feb 082012

The reason I object to causes that aim to improve working conditions in Chinese tech mills by protesting and/or boycotting Apple isn’t because I don’t think people deserve a humane employment environment. It’s because the rationale that makes up this pressure is half-assed, if it exists at all. Because Apple makes the biggest margins on its smartphones and tablets, Apple should empty its pockets into some kind of the rainbow puppy fund which magically improves the lives of workers. How that transaction gets created, funded and administered is usually met with some kind of dismissive hand motion on the part of the people who already signed up at SumOfUs.org, and have therefore fully registered their indignation.

I hate to break it to all the armchair philanthropists out there, but the reason Apple makes upward of a 45% margin on their products is because what people are willing to pay – and in some cases how much wireless carriers subsidize – is far in excess of what these products cost now. The reason the iPhone can leverage large subsidies out of carriers started because Apple spent an enormous amount of effort and several years to build a non-shit mobile phone. Once it was designed, they shopped their product around confidently, and got Heismanned by Verizon before falling into the arms of AT&T, who signed them into an exclusive agreement. This exclusivity came at the expense of Apple’s ability to market its device to other carriers, something that led directly to the army of shitpile Android knock-offs busting down Verizon’s and other carriers’ doors. If you recall, the first iPhone wasn’t even subsidized by AT&T. Enough people paid full price for it that Apple was able to parley its success into a subsidy. Apple commands its margins because it built a superior, minimalist piece of consumer electronics kit vacuum-packed into Apple incredible App Store ecosystem, sold in the most pristine retail environments and supported in a way that earns the company best-in-class customer satisfaction awards every year. In other words, they didn’t trip and fall into their current success – they earned it.

Part of the reason – a minor part, mind you – that Apple is able to offer its unicorn tears at a reasonable price is because Apple, like every consumer electronics maker on the planet, assembles their products in other countries, China chief among them. The part of the January 21 New York Times article that wasn’t unsubstantiated former Apple employee heresy highlights why: it’s less about the economics and more about the logistics. Apple makes wildly successful products that requires wildly massive outlays of human capital on demand. I have no doubt that some variation of the overtime abuse claimed in these pieces happens when Apple shifts into balls-out production mode. The speed at which the products are assembled is actually the biggest bottleneck Apple currently faces, something that’s been mentioned by Tim Cook on more than one occasion. That’s why Apple’s building factories in other countries – to address the throughput issue in a way that’s less taxing on existing resources. But that’s in the future, and it may not be a complete solution. So how does Apple, who has been causing some stress to the channel used by others to assemble its wares, improve the conditions of workers fairly? Of course I have some ideas, the listing of which represents more effort than I’ve seen applied to the issue to date.

  • Contact all the manufacturers of devices that use foreign labor to assemble their wares. Here’s a partial list, from our friends at Wikipedia:

Acer Inc.
Barnes & Noble
EVGA Corporation
Sony Ericsson

  • Announce that you’re spearheading an initiative to improve working conditions in factories that their products are assembled and invite them to contribute. The fairest contribution methodology I can come up with is that it be a “tax” derived as percentage of the value of the components making up the device multiplied by the number of devices. Apple doesn’t pay more per device because it makes more money, but it does pay more into the kitty because of its insane volume. Proceeds from Galaxy Tab assembly can be used for a “coffee of the month” subscription. Don’t want to be a part of the Apple solution to the industry’s problem? No sweat. Apple will make sure a list of contributors and non-contributors is publicly available so every crackpot .org can scream about boycotting your ass.
  • Have Mike Daisey contribute $5/ticket from net proceeds of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” to the same fund. As long as we’re punishing Apple for making money off of its name, we may as well be thorough. I’m sure he’d agree. I’m kidding. Sort of.
  • Have one of these watchdog groups administer the fund with input from representatives of the workforce. If it were me, I’d throw down a raise across the board and some extra incentive for overtime, but I don’t know what floats the average factory laborer’s boat. The point is that the spending decisions gets made based on worker input.
  • Have the watchdog group also monitor the factories so they don’t pull any bullshit like yanking down worker’s salaries to account for the extra money they get from the Collective. They would also keep an eye on all the usual stuff like consecutive hours worked, total hours worked and appropriately-aged laborers. I assume that’s the kind of stuff you pay these people for.

If the people caterwauling about Apple are interested in bettering the conditions of the people that assemble their consumer electronics, something like this represents a rational starting point. Singling out Apple, while probably more cathartic than indicting all manufacturers, is disingenuous and lazy. Real world problems spawned by globalization require solutions that go beyond shaking your fist and blindly boycotting. Real solutions don’t penalize some companies more than others because some of them worked harder to enjoy their current level of success. They distribute the responsibility to all the parties involved. I hope Apple’s response to its critics resembles a real, sustainable solution.

Feb 032012

I admit, when I peruse TechCrunch’s articles about Apple, I don’t expect to agree with what’s written (unless its penned by every TC commenter’s least favorite fanboy, MG Siegler). John Biggs submitted a short piece today, however, that outlines something in between the screed of bombastic Michael Moore wannabes and the see-no-evil rationalizations of robot fanboys:

To go into the Foxconn factory is to see a place staffed by college-age kids and engineers who work 10 or so hours a day building electronics. There is no great Dickensian work house nor are there sad-eyed madonnas of the assembly line chained to the soldering irons. This isn’t the mundanity of evil – this is just mundanity.

Tim Cook is a supply chain guru. You don’t get to be exceptional at it without knowing what’s going on inside the companies that assemble your kit. Apple has – and will continue to – improve the conditions of the people who work on its products. And God have mercy, I think the Gawker commenter quoted in the article sums it up well: ““I believe Tim Cook will do more good for those employees (and already has, in point of fact) than Mike Daisey ever will.”

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