One Last Time, With Feeling
Before we dive right into the subject of the month, I’d like to take a moment and reflect on the really great eight years I’ve spent writing for ATPM. When the first Bloggable came out back in ATPM 10.01 (January 2004), I’d never written anything professionally—I was just a college student passionate about the subject—and the wonderful editors took a chance. At times, my writing has run the gamut from “boring” to “just stop already,” and your engagement level has always far-exceeded my expectations.
When I offered to eat my hat back in 2006, you even sent me suggestions of hat-shaped cake so I didn’t have to choke down any fabric. (By the way, although I did slice off a bite and attempt to eat it, it didn’t work.)
I’ve been wrong more times than I can count. Actually, I stopped counting. I’ve probably only been right a handful of times, and I’m not going to list them off here because that’s poor form.
We haven’t had much contact, you and I, lately. Things get busy in people’s lives, especially when you graduate from college and get a Real Job.
But I have to say that this has always been one of the best gigs in the tech industry. I had the catbird seat to some of the most exciting developments, like the iPhone, and some of the most sorrowful moments, like Steve Jobs’s passing. And you were there all along.
You: But what about us?
Me: We’ll always have the blogosphere.
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Mike Daisey
NPR Correspondent Discovers Mike Daisey Fabricated His Story
Mike Daisey has made a lot of money and a lot of noise with his one-man monologue show, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he describes a trip to Shenzhen to visit the Foxconn factories where products are built for Apple and a lot of other companies. In the show, he tells of the workers’ rights (and human rights) abuses he observed, and says that Apple knew it. Rob Schmitz, the Shanghai correspondent for NPR’s “Marketplace,” dug into the story behind Daisey’s show and the “This American Life” episode because he didn’t think the details passed the smell test. Turns out Schmitz was right. He interviewed Daisey’s interpreter in Shenzhen, Cathy Lee, and she flatly denied very nearly all of what Daisey says happened during his six-day trip. When confronted with the facts by Schmitz and Ira Glass, he admits that he didn’t actually observe the things he said he did, and said:
Look. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work…My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism. And it’s not journalism. It’s theater.
Schmitz says that part of the problem is that these are all things that have happened: the workers poisoned with n-hexane, the teenage factory workers, etc. So it’s not that it’s false, although Daisey’s accusation that Apple has done nothing about it stands in contrast to the company’s actual, reality-based actions. The issue for Schmitz, Glass, and a lot of other people, is that Daisey billed the show as things he, a “large American…in a Hawaiian shirt,” actually observed firsthand. And that is untrue.
Mike Daisey Responds to Allegations That He Fabricated Evidence
The creator of the show responds to Ira Glass’s allegations on “This American Life” that he fabricated evidence. He defends himself by saying that none of the evidence the intrepid Wall Street Journal reporter uncovered—that he, Mike Daisey, was not there and could not have witnessed most of the events he describes in the show—contradicts “the facts in my work about the nature of Chinese manufacturing.” To a journalist’s ear, that’s called “fabrication.” He describes the events in the show as though he witnessed them himself, firsthand, and describes it as a work of journalism. His defense seems to be that a less literal interpretation of what is “true” will prove him right. That’s a fabulist’s version of events. But you should read the piece for yourself.
“This American Life” Retracts the Radio Version of Mike Daisey’s Show
I can’t recall if I’ve ever linked to coverage of Mike Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in previous columns. But after Steve’s death, the show took on new resonance and seems to have attracted a lot of attention. Then, “This American Life” did a condensed, radio-friendly version of the show as an episode. Some of the details rung untrue to the China correspondent for NPR’s “Marketplace,” Rob Schmitz, and he dug into the story and discovered that much of it was untrue or impossible. In the journalism world—unlike showbiz—when portions of a story turn out to be untrue, it’s not just part of the “plot,” like when we discover that “Les Mis” is probably impossible or that “Newsies” isn’t the happy story the theater tells us. So Ira Glass retracted the episode, fully and completely. This is the story of the retraction.
Daisey, the Free Flow of Information, and the Meaning of Truth
At my very favorite non-tech blog, 3quarksdaily, Jen Paton writes a really interesting apologia on what the Mike Daisey story says about the nature of free-flowing information in the Internet age and the nature of truth. She makes a really interesting analogy to “Kony 2012” and to kids using Wikipedia to do their research papers. The Internet gives a voice to information from sources that are biased or potentially biased at the same volume level as neutral sources of information. Mike Daisey is just another example. Paton has an extremely eloquent defense of the truth:
What will ruin everything is if we succumb to the belief that the emotional resonance of a story always trumps its accuracy, and that the only way to encourage ourselves to “care” about politics/the rest of the world/our neighbor is to accept being lied to.
Evan Osnos, the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, takes a look at Mike Daisey’s story. Some of it is wistfulness that he didn’t catch the fabulism, that it was left to Rob Schmitz, the China correspondent for NPR’s “Marketplace,” but a lot of it is a serious consideration of what constitutes the truth and stories about China in the West. Osnos writes:
He thought that China was so exotic and far away that it was uncheckable; that it was okay to take “a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” as he put it in his follow-up interview.
That’s as eloquent a description of what went wrong here. China is not unknowable, not a Myanmar or North Korea, and to a seasoned China correspondent like Osnos or Schmitz, a lot of it smelled fishy. Daisey was so passionate about the headline-grabbing story that it’s impossible to know where the essential kernel of truth at the center ends and the semi-fabricated bran begins.
Fleishman: Daisey Revelations Sad, But Not Surprising
Writing in Macworld, Glenn Fleishman provides some interesting historical context on the Daisey controversy. Fleishman points out that he knew from Daisey’s earlier work, “21 Dog Years,” that Daisey “doesn’t speak literal truth in his performances…The Amazon story (both play and book) was full of elements that I either know for a fact, learned from friends and colleagues, or could intuit were not factually precise or were fabricated.” This isn’t new in the world of literature—Fleishman points to a piece I’d forgotten from 2007, fact-checking David Sedaris—but Daisey went to such great pains to point out that his work was a piece of literal, factual truth that it’s all the more painful when it turns out that it wasn’t.
Tao Jones: I Knew Mike Daisey, and Something Was Off
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jones says that he had crossed paths with Daisey many years before, during his show “21 Dog Years,” back in 2001, and had kept up with him variously over the last decade. Because he knew that there were elements of untruths in the earlier shows, he writes, and because he has some familiarity with China, something smelled fishy about the Foxconn stories that Daisey told in “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” Jones says, in wishing he had dug into the story more and told someone what he knew:
People want to believe in Daisey’s stories, because they want to have faith in the ability of individuals to change the path of history with their actions. They want to believe they can think different, act different, and—as crazy as it sounds—make the world a better place. It is, again quite ironically, exactly the same enchantment Steve Jobs always depended on to sell his magical devices—you may not believe me, but you want to believe in me, and what I’m saying is that this is changing the game, changing the industry, changing the world.
When Jobs did it, they called it his “Reality Distortion Field.”
Felix Salmon: Daisey’s Defense Is: The End Justifies the Means
Reuters’s financial journalist extraordinaire is also a terrific writer. He has what I think may be the most cutting indictment of Daisey’s fabulism yet, and I’ll let his words stand on their own:
It’s a lot easier to tell a great story if you don’t also need to be factual about things. Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are fiction; Richard III and Henry V are mostly fiction, albeit based on historical events. And it’s precisely because they’re fictional—because Shakespeare was always storyteller first and foremost—that they’re still performed so regularly, all over the world, and that they have had such powerful emotional resonance with billions of people over the centuries since they were written.
But here’s the thing: Shakespeare never lied.
Daisey’s m.o., it’s now clear, was to go to China, talk to some people, and then write a monologue in which he felt free to incorporate anything he’d read about the plight of workers anywhere in the country, presented as a direct piece of first-person reportage. And there’s a good reason why that’s an underhanded and unethical thing to do, which is that even if Apple did everything Daisey’s asking of them, he could still go to China and return with the exact same monologue. With hindsight, Apple was absolutely right not to engage with Daisey directly, because he created a game they could never win. The only winning move, for them, was not to play.
Time to Clean the Windows 8
Views on Windows 8: Too Many Steps Forward, Not Enough Back
Christian Cantrell, a product manager for Adobe, is not a fan of Windows 8 and its two user interfaces. He identifies a few major problems:
- Nearly everything that is in Metro, the new, forward-looking is consumer-focused—too consumer-focused, Cantrell says. Microsoft’s bread and butter isn’t Billy sending photos to Grandma, it’s major corporations and big, important software suites (Office, Adobe CS, enterprise suites). Metro leaves these behind, and they stay in their Windows 7 UI, it appears.
- It takes away too many familiar places and gestures and doesn’t replace them effectively. Take the Taskbar: it’s the ordinary user’s primary way of switching applications. In Metro, Microsoft replaces it with a kind of OS X–style Dock, but with thumbnails. Imagine finding anything in that.
- Metro doesn’t effectively take advantage of desktop size and available real estate. Most of us don’t use 1024×768 like a tablet, not even Grandma anymore!
The Guardian’s Charles Arthur, one of my favorite tech writers and one who is totally unafraid to pull his punches, writes that he absolutely hated Windows 8. It seems that what a lot of writers and observers feared is true: you spend a lot of time getting dumped from Metro back into the old-fashioned Windows interface, and that the two interfaces are weirdly conjoined in ways that are really confusing. The more I read, the more I wonder why Microsoft didn’t just make a clean break. But that’s very un-Microsoftian: think of how long you could run DOS applications in Windows, or how long they supported 16-bit applications.
Tablet Fever Is Still With Us
Slate on Why the iPad’s Position Is Basically Unassailable
Farhad Manjoo takes a very provocative stand, but one which seems to comport with the evidence: the iPad is not taking the path of the iPhone, in which it is just the most profitable and most visible of many devices. Instead, he argues, it’s following the path of the iPod. Quick, name the last time you saw a standalone MP3 player that wasn’t an iPod. He writes:
Apple begins by releasing a novel, category-defining product. Then, as rivals scramble for some way to respond, Apple relentlessly puts out slightly better versions every year, each time remaining just out of reach of the competition. Meanwhile it lowers its prices and expands its product lineup, making its devices more accessible to a wider audience. Then, to finish the game, it finds a way to boost its position through network effects and customer lock-in. (In the iPod’s case, it accomplished this through the iTunes software and built-in music store.) Put it all together and you have a device that’s unbeatable. In 2011, 10 years after its release, the iPod still represented a whopping 78 percent of the market share in music players.
Because Apple has cornered the market on a lot of the components you need to make a tablet, you can’t beat them on price. And even if you could, you can’t even match them on the OS and overall ecosystem, to date. He says that Apple’s rivals in the space should be very afraid. And, I would add, working very hard to come up with whatever the Next Big Thing is, to avoid being decimated by the current one.
To continue on the theme, PC Mag’s Sascha Segan compares the iPad ecosystem as a whole to Android tablet apps and concludes that the reason that the iPad is better is because “Android tablet apps suck.” His words, not mine. He continues:
Most Android apps have always been resolution-independent [unlike iPhone-only apps] so developers and publishers could fool themselves into thinking their apps run Just Fine. They run, of course, in the sense that the code executes and they (mostly) fill the screen. So the developers stop there, able to check their “we have an Android tablet app” box. But the apps suck.
This is a problem, and one that Google can’t solve on their own. As much fragmentation as there is among a small base of devices—different form factors, different software versions, etc.—it’s hard to see your way to a solution.
Ars Technica puts E-ink and the new iPad’s Retina display to the test and under the microscope to ask the question, does Retina measure up? One must consider the habits of the user, of course. I love my iPad, but if I’m going to be on an airplane or at the beach reading a book for hours on end, I want a non-light-emitting, glare-free screen like the Kindle. Ars’ verdict is that the pixel density of the Retina display is far superior, leading to a display that is nearly as sharp as printed paper, long the promise of E-ink. And the contrast is higher on the iPad because a light-emitting display can produce a nearly pure white color and nearly pure black text. But they also quote plenty of experts saying that backlit displays just aren’t always the right choice.
Mobile Odds and Ends
Jean-Louis Gassée: Carriers’ Complaints About iPhone So Much Hot Air
The man who knows more than almost anyone else about Apple, JLG, digs into the claims in a WSJ article that somehow Apple has stolen the carriers’ profits by free-riding on their networks. JLG makes a really interesting point. The carriers are basically in the same position that ISPs were a decade ago: as the AOL model faded away, ISPs became nothing but faceless owners of pipes that carry data from other people’s applications. How do they break out of this? Among ISPs, the solution was mega-consolidation; the carriers appear to be trying the same. It’s worth considering what other strategies might be out there (nationalization, either public or private; turning into content providers, like AOL did; or a standard-and-premium strategy). But JLG follows up with the numbers: the iPhone is propping up the carriers! Their non-iPhone numbers are horrible.
Horace Dediu digs into court filings to identify some financial trends in Google’s Android OS. The picture isn’t pretty: if his analysis is correct, Google is making about $1.70 per year per device on Android. If you throw in non-OS-related revenues like mobile advertising, you can tease out what Google makes for Android versus iOS. And in that analysis, it becomes clear that Google is actually making a lot more money on iOS than on Android, to the tune of 4-to-1. When you take into account that Apple keeps the hardware part of iOS device revenue as well as the software, Apple is basically cleaning Google’s clock. At the rate Dediu describes, the question becomes, is Google going to keep footing the bill? Or might they, say, hand over the code to the Apache Foundation or an OEM or carrier and move on?
At ZDNet, Perlow explains why he’s ready to leave Android and the whole ecosystem behind. It describes why I always thought the long-rumored Motorola-iTunes phone (which actually did come to pass!) was a bad idea. Basically, what Perlow describes—fragmentation and carrier and handset manufacturer unwillingness to update devices to the newest version of the OS—is basically my fears about the ol’ MotoPhone back in 2004. Or what I remember from the Microsoft era. There are a lot of things that are a pain about dealing with Apple. I am not wild about hearing about good apps that are rejected because they don’t meet arbitrary guidelines; and it can be frustrating when arbitrary changes break workflows we power users are familiar with. But you can run the latest version of OS X on a five-year-old polycarbonate MacBook, and the latest iOS on a three-year-old iPhone 3GS. Say what you will about Apple, but they would never allow the Android situation.
Lex Friedman gives a really detailed analysis of why developers prefer iOS to Android, viewed through the prism of the very, very long wait for Instagram to release an Android app. There are a couple of basic reasons. One of the most obvious ones is that the iPhone is just one of three categories an iOS app reaches, and the only one where Android has decent market share. The other two (iPad and iPod touch) are also big sellers. All you get when you release an Android app is phone users. Another is money. If analysts are right, nearly all of the money spent on mobile devices is spent on Apple devices. Is it because Android users are misers—or, more simply, that more of them are people who upgraded from an old-fashioned phone to a smartphone just because it was there, and not because they wanted to buy apps (or music or movies)? Lastly, fragmentation is a real problem for devs. They have an array of devices, physical formats, and OS versions to worry about. With iOS, it’s two form factors and at worst two versions of the OS. Food for thought.
Jason Snell Argues That the Behemoth iTunes Needs to Be Broken Up
Writing in Macworld, Jason Snell argues that iTunes is an unwieldy behemoth of an application with too many unrelated things glued together. The genesis of iTunes as the Grand High Synchronization Application for your i-devices is, for those of us who remember, the original iPod. When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, it was logical enough to fit it into iTunes. And when they started selling apps, iTunes had all the right plumbing already in place. But—enough, already! I’ve been syncing devices with my computers for almost 15 years, and the best sync experience was always my Sony Ericsson T-series phones and iSync. Like Jason, I’m ready to have these components broken up. Are you?
You've been great! That's all, folks
If you’re a Mac programmer or amateur hacker working in a certain subset of languages, it’s possible that you’ve never written a line of code that wasn’t in BBEdit. (Since I don’t work in Xcode, that includes me, except for a six-month stint when I tried TextMate, when my ancient copy of BBEdit that I got for free with a Mac in 2002 stopped working in OS X 10.6.) So it’s amazing to read Jason Snell’s article celebrating that no-longer-even-adolescent Mac text editor. The company that it spawned, Bare Bones, has some other software (Yojimbo, the deceased Super Get Info, and Mailsmith, which they sold) but nothing has the longevity or cultural grip as BBEdit. Many of you, especially the non-technical, probably think that this is a complicated feedback loop where tech writers work in BBEdit and so therefore we naturally assume that it’s The Best Editor Evar!!!! and write about it at every chance we get. And to a certain extent, that’s true. But let me put it this way. The only other product so long-lived I can think of from a small firm is OmniWeb, for 18 years, albeit for the first six as a NEXTSTEP product. Next up on the list are DragThing (17 years), OmniOutliner (at least 10), NetNewsWire (9). These are the products that made the Mac more than just the sum of Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft. There’s something to celebrate in that. Happy birthday, BBEdit. I’ll bet you can’t wait until you’re old enough to drink!
Developers to Apple: We Want Paid Upgrades in the Mac App Store
Wil Shipley describes a common problem, and complaint, of the Mac App Store: the lack of paid upgrades between major versions. (Actually this is also a common complaint with the iOS App Store, but I digress.) Here’s the problem, as Shipley encapsulates it. Without upgrade pricing, developers have a set of perverse, bad choices:
- Stop developing the app, except for bug fixes, and hope people keep buying it.
- Release the next version of the app as a new paid app, with a new or adjusted name. Bad experience for users, plus they have to pay the same amount of as existing users, or you undercharge new users.
- Give the app away for free. No matter which course of action you choose, everyone gets the wrong experience. This is one reason I almost never buy from the Mac App Store, unless an app is only available there.
We haven’t mentioned the Flashback virus yet—if you haven’t already downloaded the fix, run Software Update!—because it appeared to be running its course. But on the heels of news that it might not be, Computerworld is here with the takeaways for Apple and the IT industry in the aftermath.
Used Software Update so that nearly everyone got exposed to the update quickly.
Didn’t respond quickly enough, didn’t communicate enough.
- Security companies
Beat the drum loudly enough that Apple noticed.
All of these companies who specialize in security barely beat out Apple in delivering fixes. Seriously? What are we paying you for?
Not nearly enough Mac expertise in IT departments. All in all, this is a great reminder that we all need to be more vigilant about security. This may have been the first actual, non-proof-of-concept virus in forever (who remembers the so-called Hong Kong virus?) but that’s no excuse.