Oct 7, 2011

Marketing = Engineering/Invention?

This sort of off-topic, but . . . live with it. It's my blog.

All the media hand-wringing about Steve Jobs, "the 21st Century's Thomas Edison," is going a long way toward explaining to me why the country is going down the tubes. To be sure, it's a sad thing when a relatively young (55) man dies of a terrible disease (pancreatic cancer). However, I can't help but get a little cranky when a marketing guy whose claim to fame is based on his response to colors and rounded corners is regarded as a brilliant inventor. Even worse, when that marketing guy is getting credit for "inventing the personal computer" (not even close), being first to produce a portable digital audio device (not even in the running), and for creating a whole new market for "smartphones" (again, Apple was practically last to the market). This is a guy who lied to his partner about the payment for an early product design assignment with Atari, took credit for doing the design work when he was only the delivery boy, and cheated his partner (Steve Wozniak, the real founder of Apple and the only genius of the two Apple founders) out of $2,250 of the $5,000 contract.

Really? This is what passes for a great man in what's left of the United States of America?

"The Woz," as always was exceptionally generous about his memories of his "friend" when interviewed yesterday. I met Steve Wozniak in the 80's and thought he was one of the coolest, nicest, most humble brilliant and rich guys I've ever met. Another corporate CEO I knew pretty well at the time was a Jobs-worshiper, which was all I needed to know at the time about Steve Jobs. This guy was a lazy, credit-absorbing, blame-shifting shark and anything he liked I was probably not going to want to be near. Later, I got to know a few design engineers who had worked for Apple and they had been trashed and burned by Jobs at Apple and had nothing but bad things to say about the guy and nothing but hero worship for Wozniak.  Wozniak's analysis of Jobs was that he "was a good marketer and understood the benefits of technology." I think that's a near-perfect analysis of Jobs' contribution.

But that's not my point. The point is the boys and girls (none competent enough to described in adult terms) of our mass media no longer know the difference between inventors, engineers, scientists, and the people who take advantage of those skills. If perception has become that knowing how to sell crap is the same as knowing how to make it, what's the point in going through the effort to learn how to do actual productive work? Obviously, this is the conclusion young people make when they blow off science, engineering, and technology and take the easy route to business and finance degrees.

When a character like Keith Wandell, who can barely be described as a rider let alone a motorcycle engineer,  can be put in charge of a genius like Eric Buell and can conjure up the gall to shut down the only progressive division of an otherwise backwards, failing, obsolete product line, we are heading for membership in the long list of failed empires. Wandell isn't fit to take on the task of being Buell's secretary, but that's not the way business works in the declining US of A. Secretaries are running the asylum and inventors are sidelined as an unnecessary evil in a country that imagines product invention, R&D, design, and manufacturing can be farmed overseas and the easy part, marketing, will remain a US-only task.

In my experience, if you can do the hard parts you can do the easy parts. IBM discovered that when they shipped PC production to Japan and, suddenly, produced a truckload of competitors for themselves. Apple doesn't build anything these days. If you can find a "Made in the USA" sticker on anything with an Apple logo, I'd like to see it. If you can't make it, you can't design it. If you didn't design it, you're just a salesman and salesmen are a dime a dozen.


  1. I worked for Apple from 84-93 and your take on Jobs is correct. He was picky about the things he understood and completely unaware about any issues deeper than the case of the system.

  2. I think you're wrong on this one Geezer. Woz may have been the technical genius, but Apple would've never went anywhere has it not been for Jobs. Plus Jobs is/was more technical that people give him credit for. He designed frequency counters for HP after all. But I admit at the same time he gets more credit than he often deserves. I also think nobody would ever call Jobs the model of being a caring and compassionate human being.

    I think this post by well known Windows author/fanboy sums it up best:

    "Apple's visionary leader Steve Jobs stepped down from his CEO post this week suddenly and unexpectedly, leading many (myself included) to guess that his ongoing health issues have taken a turn for the worse. I've certainly had my issues with Jobs and with Jobs' Apple over the years--he's a charlatan in many ways, and not above outright lying if that's what it takes to make a pitch--but, come on. He's the man. And when I say he's the man, I mean, there's Steve Jobs and then there's the rest of humanity. And what's amazing is that while some people do get it, almost every reaction I've seen on Twitter and elsewhere online has completely misrepresented the man. And it cuts both ways. Some reviewers credit Jobs with inventing the Apple II or even the web and cloud computing, overstating his accomplishments. Many claim his accomplishments amount to nothing more than eye candy and design, as if those very vital components of product design are somehow less important than other aspects. I'll say this: Whatever PC you're using today--a sleek ThinkPad laptop, a touch-screen desktop, a portable tablet, or whatever--that thing would not exist if it wasn't for Steve Jobs. And I don't mean just the hardware, or just the software, or any one piece. I mean it literally wouldn't exist. Love him or hate him, you need to understand that his contributions to society cannot be overstated. And that as a human being, I want him to be well. We have lived in a time of wonder, and in the shadow of greatness. And you can choose to be snippy and petty about that all you want, but it doesn't make you right. Steve Jobs is the best thing that ever happened to technology. Ever. And if you don't get that, it's time to wake up." - Paul Thurott from winsupersite.com

    Jobs didn't invent personal computers, portable music players, online music services, computer animated movies, and cell phones. But we are certainly living his vision of what those devices and services should be. I just don't see how anybody can deny that.

    I saw my first Apple IIe brochure back in 1983. In this brochure were images of people using their Apple II's in the kitchen and parents playing computer games with the kids with the Apple IIe set up on the bed. Seemed so completely silly at the time given the Apple II's huge CPU, disk drive, and CRT monitor. However that was Jobs's vision and we are living it now. Call it marketing, call it vision, call it inspiration, call it whatever.

  3. Yeaaaaaaaah . . . no.

    Jobs didn't work for HP, Wozniak did. Job's only claim to technological fame was a lie, Jobs did have a job with Atari, but he didn't accomplish anything technical the first time around. He went off to smoke dope and flit around EuroAsia for a while and came back a bonafide stoner. As Wikipedia correctly tells the story, "Jobs returned to Atari and was given the task of creating a circuit board for the game Breakout. According to Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, Atari offered $100 for each chip that was eliminated in the machine. Jobs had little interest in or knowledge of circuit board design and made a deal with Wozniak to split the bonus evenly between them if Wozniak could minimize the number of chips. Much to the amazement of Atari, Wozniak reduced the number of chips by 50, a design so tight that it was impossible to reproduce on an assembly line. According to Wozniak, Jobs told Wozniak that Atari gave them only $700 (instead of the offered $5,000) and that Wozniak's share was thus $350."

    The Apple II was a worthless hacker's toy, until Microsoft designed a CP/M card that allowed it to run business applications. I ran a manufacturing company on those things until we bought Osborne Execs for a pittance after that company bellied-up. The Mac was equally useless, until Microsoft ported Office apps to that unreliable platform. Obviously, Apple and Jobs snagged the Mac OS from Xerox's GEM OS, which did everything the Mac could do on an IBM platform, but the Xerox fools couldn't market an ice cube in Death Valley, so Apple took the credit for a "borrowed idea."

    There are too many kids writing history these days. They don't do research, ask anyone who was there, or do much more than buy into the marketing BS they've been fed their whole lives.

    Every piece of Apple technology was there before they branded it. Branding and packaging existing ideas is the company's claim to fame and there is no selling that short. They may be last to the party, but nobody sells tickets to the show better than Job's Apple. It remains to be seen if they can follow that act with any substance.

  4. Wozniak worked for HP's calculator division. Jobs at age twelve cold called Bill Hewlett asking for parts and got a summer internship in the test equipment side.

    Microsoft Word and Multiplan made the Mac popular? Sorry but Aldus Pagemaker and desktop publishing is what gave rise to the Mac.

    But hell I was a commodore 64 person back then so what do I know. I must be one of those kids rewriting history.

    I still stand by my post.

    I agree that Jobs i

  5. At "age 12," violating child labor laws in the 1970's? I'd like to see where you can cite that reference. "Work" does not mean attending seminars intended for ordinary school children. HP did that sort of thing all over the country, not just in CA.

    If desktop publishing was a major industry in 1984, somebody forgot to tell the world. My own business nitche, music, felt all powerful at that time using Macs for cobbly tasks such as MIDI sequencing. Apple marketed the Mac as the computer "for the rest of us" in 1984, which meant a computer for the computer illiterate to actual computer users of the day. In music, people who couldn't write a line of code or initiate a command line application could get their glitchy little Mac to boot up and display that godawful drawing program and feel proud of their "accomplishment" as computer users.

    Check out 1984 in this link:

    Apple was struggling to survive with the Mac before Microsoft introduced business applications for the little toy. Yeah, I'm bitter. All the marketing morons of the world fell in love with the Mac because, finally, they could send email, draw awful pictures, fuck up engineering manuals, and pretend to be doing something useful. The more I think of it the more I think the Mac is the fall of civilization as we knew it. Now you really made me cranky.


Disagree? Bring it on. Have more to add? Feel free to set me straight. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't do a great job of figuring out which Anonymous commenters are actually real people, not Russians or Chinese bots. I'm pretty ruthless about spam-labeling anonymous posts. If you have something worth saying, you shouldn't be afraid of using your ID.