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!

Feb 142012

Disclaimer: I love MG Siegler. I think he’s one of the best writers on the Apple beat today. He’s smart, has access, quotes popular movies to make his points and uses foul language. He’s the complete package. That said, I have a beef, which started taking shape a couple of weeks ago.

When the Times ran its hit-pieces on Apple’s China manufacturing, I was plenty pissed. I waited for other tech writers I respected to vent their speen, but the outcry from people I expected to go after the Times didn’t happen. Gruber’s response didn’t really shock me. He linked to some stuff by Krugman about how people who criticized Apple didn’t understand how global manufacturing worked. I guess for him to step out against a news source largely identified as “left-leaning” would have resulted in some kind of Directive 4 shutdown. I also looked to Siegler and got something, but it was not the profane, knife-twisting that would provide my point of view with vindication. It was decidedly weak tea. After some delay, I began banging out some screed, but I was largely disappointed that the big names covering Apple had apparently phoned it in.

Fast forward to the recent Path fiasco. Straight up: I don’t give a shit about Path’s purported jacking of my address book. There’s a lot more profitable companies with some pretty mediocre products jacking my personal information. I think the practice in general is shitty, but I’ve been conditioned to the point where unless the jacking is balls-to-the-nose obnoxious or done by an app that exchanges it for no value, my sentiment is anecdotal and mostly based on how well it’s executed. Path didn’t execute its jacking very well. It didn’t allow users to opt-in and it got outed by a geek Carrier IQ-style. Path double-clutched, people got mad, Path relented and did the right thing. Case closed, right?

That’s where things break down a little for Siegler. For context: MG moved from mostly-writing to sometimes-writing and mostly VCing, which is great for him. I thought his talents were largely wasted by pointing out the obvious to Apple naysayers.


Anyway, he now spends a lot of his time with Michael Arrington managing CrunchFund, which is a VC fund started when Arrington still headed TechCrunch, but is now autonomous. I thought the fact that TC created a vehicle funded by and sponsors of businesses in the sector about which TC writes was stinky cheese, but I threw my feelings in the big bucket labeled “Michael Arrington”, shrugged and moved on. Until Path, that is.

You see, in the course of all the gang-stomping Path was bound to take, most of it warranted, Arrington called out the Times’s Nick Bilton for drawing out Path’s transgressions in all of the comically one-sided and selectively factual style that I’ve come to expect from them (minus the dozen anonymous sources leaned on in the Apple-Foxconn articles). The fact that CrunchFund is an investor in Path made it a little inappropriate. Then MG piled on, and in that bless-his-soul writing style I’ve come to know and love began a piece that ripped Bilton a new one, then proceeded to rip the tech writing practice in general a new one, in summary: “Most of what is written about the tech world — both in blog form and old school media form — is bullshit”. As someone similarly sick of the phenomenon, the words were directed straight at the choir, but in the context of his new role, belied an obvious conflict of interest. It got worse. He went after a Gawker’s Ryan Tate, something I’d normally celebrate naked, but did it in defense of Path. A perfect opportunity to char-broil the blog network guilty of the most legendary mishandling of user information in recent memory (which cost me money just last week –  #fuckyouNickDenton) was squandered. Meanwhile, the people who might take exception to Siegler’s screed – and that boy had compiled quite the list – now had a 50′ strawman to light up. While numerous writers nibbled around the juicy center, the writer who ended up wielding the torch was none other than Dan Lyons. He got ahold of the issue and – strike me dead for saying this – wrought a piece of damning firebrand that had me nodding my head with respect and self-loathing in equal parts. MG, who is the only person I’ve read who possibly hates Lyons more than I do, retaliated. Arrington tried to high-road him, which is just about as funny to actually read as it is to envision reading. To channel Siegler, this was about the time in Animal House when Belushi yells “Food fight!” and the cafeteria explodes into a cloud of flying lunchgoods.

To me, MG Siegler represented one side of Apple’s coverage: informed, aligned with reality, speaking truth to stupid. Lyons was firmly entrenched on the other side: almost always contrarian (where the establishment is represented by “logic” and “facts”) and one of the most articulate pure click-baiters in the blogosphere.  I’ll continue to read Siegler, but I’m a little disappointed that he’s letting his current involvement with Arrington and CrunchFund compromise his attempts to righteously crucify idiots like Lyons. By definition, he can never be right about Path. Every word used to take down those who want to pile on will be another squirt of gasoline on the fire, no matter how smart, astute or funny they are. The smartest thing he can do at this point is to stop writing about it. I hope it’s a lesson he carries with him in his future VC endeavors. Let Arrington wave his hand dismissively at those pointing out the inappropriateness of mixing self-interest and content – no one expects more from him. Let other hacks walk into punches like this.

And screw you for making me concede anything to Dan Lyons.

Jan 192011

Out of respect for Steve Jobs’ announced leave of absence, Fake Steve Jobs pen and honored denizen of Douchbag’s Row Dan Lyons has announced that he will no longer be writing in FSJ. He goes on to deride the inevitable flood of scumbag journalists who will ignore SJ’s request for privacy as people who “hunger for unique visitors and pageviews ahead of a man’s right to privacy”. This is clearly not the same kind of scourge as “letting hunger for unique visitors and pageviews” come before “facts”, something you can witness clearly by searching for “Newsweek”, “Lyons” and “Apple”.

The more successful parasites go out of their way not to permanently harm their hosts. Looks like someone knows where his dinner hangs.

Jan 042011

Happy New Year to the TMA readership. My resolution: 2560 x 1440.

/boom-tish. Try the Salisbury steak.

With a new year, writers across the land feel compelled to make a bunch of baseless predictions and tech is no exception. I came across some from Google employee Tim Bray in his “ongoing” blog. I didn’t find any of the prognostications in “Year-end View of the Mobile Market” particularly insightful or interesting, but they do speak volumes about how Google thinks. Mercifully, Bray does prepare readers for how patently obvious many of his predictions are. I’ve taken up the challenge of summarizing each of his “things that seem obvious” in 5 words or less. You can click through to see how I did.

In 2011, the smartphone market will/be/continue to (OK, I cheated a bit):

  • Sell a lot of phones
  • Further squeeze “dumb” phone sales
  • Apple, Android > RIM, Nokia, Microsoft
  • Windows 7 Phones: Verdict Unclear

Then he says something about a $500 contract free phone being less than a $199 phone with a contract and wonders when someone will offer financing. Like they have for appliances. Really.

So what are Bray’s not-so-obvious things?

  • The major barrier for tablets replacing laptops? “High-speed low-friction text input”. Translation: the opposite of Android’s touchscreen input.
  • “I’m increasingly coming to think that people buy phones based on the quality and volume of old-fashioned advertising put behind the products. Not coincidentally, not only are the iPhones and iPad excellent devices, they have what is to my eye probably the best advertising in the mobile industry.” Ladies and gentlemen: our first moneyball. The difference between Apple’s and Android’s relative success is marketing. You can see this theory expanded on over at Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite.
  • Apple is going to do a 7″ device. That’s certainly not so obvious. In fact, that’s about 3 colors of the rainbow into Fantasyland. Why will Apple do a 7″ device? “(It) still fits in one hand and you can use for four hours in a row sitting up.” Does Bray mean you can’t use an iPad sitting up for 4 hours? I certainly can. Does he mean having a device that can be extended at arm’s length for 4 hours? Try doing that holding nothing. He concludes emphatically with “This argument is over“, and by the italics you can tell he means it. They should bring Bray in for closing arguments. He could be a Mariano Rivera-esque consultant to defense attorneys. James Spader’s character in Boston Legal just peed his pants a little.

But Bray is at his most compelling in the section titled “Apple vs. Android”, where he pits the advertising powerhouse in Cupertino against the Open Source champions in Mountain View. Who wins?

“I think Apple will sell a ton of devices because they’re good, and superbly marketed. I think a bunch of people will sell a ton of Android devices because they’re good and there are so many options for different needs and networks and price-points.” Emphasis mine

Both are good devices, but that goddamn marketing – those fucking unicorn tears – that’s what lands Apple those insanely high margins EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE ON ONE CARRIER IN THE U.S.!

Let me break it down for you, Tim. The difference – that most obvious of obvious factors you allude to but don’t quite concede – is Verizon. Here’s an illustration of Verizon’s current smartphone unit sales, a period of time I like to call “Before iOS” or “BiOS”, or as you’ll come to remember them: the Salad Years.

This is what will happen at “Zero Hour”, which is immediately after the iPhone becomes available on Verizon. This is also the beginning of “In the year of our Jobs” or “AiOS”.

Finally, once most people are able to rid themselves of their existing contracts and avoid cancellation fees, the landscape should be pretty-well stabilized. Until the iPhone 5…

To wrap up the piece, Bray waxes optimistic about future of the Android platform”

“And there’s nothing fundamental in Android that would get in the way of a industrial-design and user-experience rock-star team, whether at Google or one of the handset makers…”,

And there’s nothing fundamental in the way of my becoming the next Justin Bieber. I can inflect my speaking voice in a way that qualifies as singing, even though I’m not something you’d pay to listen to – or stick around for long if it were free. I have a blog, so there’s really minimal distance between, say, an entry in Douchebag’s Row and some hit single that makes sane people claw at their eyes. I can play chopsticks on the piano, so I am musically inclined – fundamentally. Everything between here and the Top 10 is details.

“…testing the hypothesis that these things are central to Apple’s success.”

Testing the hypothesis that something besides the snappy songs in those ads are what make Apple the most valuable brand in the technology sector. Because – you know – they’re engineers. They need to test all hypotheses, no matter how unlikely.

I’m picturing the Android team’s faces when smartphone unit sales are announced for the first and second quarter of 2011. The genuine looks of befuddlement will be the best part.

Jun 112010

Apple is a company that brings out the worst in some people.  Whether they be fanboy-bashers or CEOs of bloated software juggernauts, there’s something about Steve’s condescending little smirk that drives people absolutely batshit.  I get it.  I really do.  For most of these individuals, the knowledge that I work with a superior OS is satisfaction enough.  But for a select few, the magnitude of their assholery cannot be dismissed by that melodic C Major chord.  These are the members of Douchebag’s Row.  This series is designed to honor those who, through word and/or deed, have distinguished themselves as something more than mere assholes.

Once upon a time, a writer started a blog satirizing the life and business decisions of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs. In the early days of the blog, you could actually picture the opinionated and sometimes-vulgar head of Apple saying some of the things that the blog – Fake Steve Jobs – attributed to him. As Apple’s stock ascended, the mystery writer who penned the site’s entries gained quite a following.

But the laughs could not go on forever. The first blow came when a New York Times writer discovered that Fake Steve was actually some tech editor at Forbes named Dan Lyons. Then, after announcing that he was leaving the personna of FSJ behind because he was so distraught over Steve Jobs’s poor health, many of his snarky followers lamented their loss – for the 5 minutes it took Lyons to realize that he couldn’t produce anything that anyone gave a shit about but Fake Steve. Of course, Lyons spun Jobs’s return to Apple as the reason for his return to FSJ.

With this return, no doubt fueled by the certitude that aping someone else’s success was the only gig that was going to put food on his table, the darkness descended. Dan’s resentment of the role he chose for himself as Fake Steve began to boil. FSJ began manifesting his hatred of Jobs and Apple in less and less satirical ways. Lyons penned an unflattering recounting of the “backdating scandal” called iCon. Trying desperately to make something more of his career than jetwash recycler for Apple’s CEO, Lyons took a job at Newsweek as a writer on their tech beat, where he got several additional opportunities to snipe at Apple while continuing to bare his teeth as FSJ.  The infectious disease known as hitwhoria, which had plagued Lyons his entire career, became chronic. His entries for both Newsweek and FSJ, now devoid of facts, logic and humor, are now strictly a repository for the self-loathing he feels having dedicated his best years siphoning real accomplishments from someone else – like some tech laureate lamprey. Most recently, examples of Lyons’s shark jumping include “screw the iPhone, I’m with Android!” and “the Macintosh is dead”.

If you look at Fake Steve Jobs now, you’ll see some of the most bitter, contrived and vacant writing of his career, designed only to pull in eyeballs. Some of TMA’s favorites:

Mocking Jobs’s comment at D8 defending the work environment at Foxconn, which include restaurants and a movie theater, playing a role in a series of suicides there: “Obviously we feel terrible about this but it’s important to keep things like this in perspective. Foxconn has restaurants and swimming pools. It’s a pretty nice place.” Stay classy.

Trying to make fun of Jobs’s habit of responding to emails he receives directly by “responding” to a writer’s question about why Macs cost more than PCs (wasn’t that the theme of a couple of commercials a while back?): “The times they are a changing, and very soon the all-purpose computer, where you can buy and run any software you want, will be obsolete, replaced by the iPad, which costs more and does less and only runs software made by Apple or approved by Apple and sold through Apple’s store. This is the future and it will be way better than what we’ve had so far…” This hits the Lyons trifecta of “bash Apple’s closed ecosystem”, “bash Apple’s price premium” and “bash Apple’s limited functionality”. A drinking game based on spotting these themes from the last month on FSJ is guaranteed to send you to the emergency room.

I could continue citing Lyons for pages but frankly every other sentence is laced with this kind of venom, as unfunny as it is accuracy-free.

So at long last, TMA has added another bust to the 2 man menagerie that is Douchebag’s Row. Daniel Lyons. Once an occasional provider of crafted snark, he has joined the other red-faced tantrum throwers who envy success – especially because his meager spoils came exclusively from being the jizzmopper of an icon.

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