Friday, November 03, 2006


Tony was an earlier enthusiast for Apple Macs and began writing a regular column for MacUser magazine. His first column appeared in Issue 2 and he was still at it 22 years later. His last column, written for the magazine's October 2006 issue is reproduced below with the kind permisson of the publishers.

Shutdown: Talking shock

Forget bugged employees and exploding laptops - the real shocker is Woz giving a talk to business students. Or is it?

Which of the following recent news items concerning the IT world do you find the most disturbing?

HP chairman Patricia Dunn gets caught bugging her fellow directors in order to find out which of them is leaking to the IT press. Makes usual statement of semi-contrition and resigns.

Across the world, laptop batteries are catching fire, with consequently huge crash programme recall operations by major manufacturers.

A recent report (by think-tank Reform) claims that the 'iPod Generation' - 20- to 35-year-olds - will be caught in a fiscal trap composed of huge tuition fees and ever-higher income tax and as a result will never, ever get rich.

On 23 October at the Saïd Biz Centre at Oxford University, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, will give a short talk on the company's history.

Let's take these shock-horrors in order. In my opinion, Ms Dunn is a cruelly wronged woman. What could be more natural, if you fear one of your colleagues is sabotaging your company, than to slip a little something extra into his mobile phone? It might even be said to be caring in the best sense. There's no suggestion she did it for her own profit. J Edgar Hoover, that great American icon, bugged President Roosevelt. President Nixon bugged himself. We are, therefore, dealing with a fine old US tradition. Ms Dunn should be reinstated forthwith.

The brouhaha about exploding laptop batteries has also been overstated. Everything in the modern world catches fire from time to time - planes, cars, houses - and the procedures for dealing with conflagrations are well established. In any case, it's not claimed the things go off like hand grenades. Apparently, they smoulder gently, giving off an acrid smoke until some joker says, 'Hey, your computer's on fire!' whereupon it's simplicity itself to park the laptop in the nearest sinkful of water and wait for the fumes to disperse. The only real danger I can see is if the phenomenon takes place, say, on a tube train. It only takes one person to yell: 'Watch out! Suicide Photoshopper!' and within a few seconds, you may find yourself riddled with bullets, courtesy of a Metropolitan Police hit squad.

The fiscal nightmare awaiting the iPod Generation is only a nightmare if you happen to be in that age group and just starting university. I'm neither and, according to the MacUser Readership Profile, neither are you. So we can afford to laugh lightly and uncaringly at this one, especially as we're the ones who benefit. The reason these callow freshmen are to be taxed and fee'd until their eyes water is to pay for our pensions. The reason the Government desperately wants to pay us our pensions is that we are the largest voting group. The fact that there's no money for this is why the iPod Generation are going to be smitten hip and thigh. Seems all right to me.

Last, we come to Steve Wozniak among the dreaming spires. At the beginning, I thought this was a cruel joke. The only time I ever heard Woz speak it was something on the lines of 'Wow, that's, like, really far out, man. Totally outasite, you know?' However, I gather he must have improved since then, as his website says he's available for 'selected keynote presentation, panel and open Q&A appearances'. He also has a book out (iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon). He no longer lives in the desert changing his shirt once a fortnight, but is a big wheel in the Southern California charity circuit. He has also, according to his website, 'given away 14 laptops and never asked for one of them back.'

But how does this gifted, saintly person get to be a breadhead's ideal after-dinner speaker? From their point of view (not mine), he's done just about everything wrong. Left Apple at the wrong moment and for the wrong reasons. Gives stuff away...

Personally I think that this is an exceptionally cunning booking. If, at vast cost, the SBC procured the Other Steve to lecture the boys and girls, they would learn absolutely nothing about how he did it. But by engaging Woz, the schedulers are employing a man whose business autobiography could fairly be entitled 'How I Blew It'. Blowing It is the big fear among suits. As such, they'll learn more, in an inverse sense, from Woz, than from all the raging success stories on the planet. They'll deduce that genius and loyalty aren't enough: you have to be a dedicated a**hole to get really rich.

Since this is what they think already, I predict he'll get a big hand. Now, that I find depressing.

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