TV-PGAugust 14, 2000: In an uncharacteristic moment of sloppiness, Steve lets word get out that he has been trying to suppress the publication of his new unauthorized biography. Meanwhile, until Steve throws his hat in the ring, we look at which political party uses more Macs, and Microsoft ditches its 90-day free support structure-- will Apple follow suit?...
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Steve Makes Some Calls (8/14/00)

Just what you needed on a Monday: further proof that you can never be too rich or too paranoid. Originally we thought author Alan Deutschman was just freely expressing his endearing delusions of persecution and/or trying to drum up some free press when he publicly claimed that his upcoming biography, The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, was the target of an elaborate and sinister dirty-tricks campaign by the iCEO himself. After all, as conspiracy-minded as we are, we had a hard time seeing how Steve could have engineered the flap about Random House not having secured the rights to use the book's cover photo.

Since then, though, further information has come to light that may explain how he could have pulled it off. Several faithful viewers pointed out that the company from whom Random House claims to have licensed the image, Corbis Sygma, is owned by none other than-- (dramatic chord) Bill Gates. Coincidence? Possibly-- considering that Bill owns three-quarters of the western hemisphere at this point. But try this on for size: early on in the book's production, Steve blackmails Bill into having Corbis sell Random House an unlicensed photo on purpose. He then anonymously tips off the original photographer after the photo's already been plastered on a zillion dust jackets and promotional materials, just in time to kick up a costly and messy legal fuss. How could Steve blackmail Bill, you ask? Come on-- the guy's the richest man on the planet. You don't amass that kind of personal wealth without stacking a few hundred thousand skeletons in the closet. (Remember, kiddies, the earmark of the true conspiracy connoisseur is the ability to appreciate intricate and unlikely theories about how something could have happened; whether or not it's true is purely academic.)

As for Vanity Fair suddenly cancelling its plans to publish excerpts of the book in its October issue, even perfectly rational people (as boring as they are) could imagine that the iCEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation might have some sway with people who could influence editorial decisions at a major magazine. All it would take is a phone call or two. And if you don't believe that Steve would make a few phone calls to delay the publication of this book, consider what The Register has to say on the subject. Reportedly the Wall Street Journal managed to persuade a Random House spokeswoman to admit that her company's head honcho, Peter Olson, "was contacted by Jobs last week," though she wouldn't say what was discussed. Now, if you're so incredibly skeptical that you still think Steve might have called Olson for a completely unrelated reason, say, to borrow a hedge-trimmer or something, then follow faithful viewer Doug Alexander's advice and take a peek at the New York Times, who talked to another spokesman at Random House. This one freely admits that Steve called to "complain" about the biography. Whether or not he had any impact on the phone with Random House remains to be seen-- but if he made a similar call to Vanity Fair, apparently he was quite persuasive.

Personally, we're a little surprised that Steve was so sloppy about covering his tracks. Driving a campaign to stifle the publication of a biography is one thing-- done covertly, it could be quite effective. But to let not one, but two Random House spokespeople tell the press that he called the publisher's boss, well... that's just laziness on the clean-up work. With two major newspapers reporting that Steve is actively campaigning for the book's shutdown, all Steve's managed to accomplish is giving the very "hatchet job" he despises a massive boost of publicity; after all, the only tell-all bios worth reading are the ones whose subjects don't want you to see. Place those pre-orders now!

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In Lieu Of An iPresident (8/14/00)

Well, until Steve Jobs announces his last-minute candidacy for the U.S. Presidency, we suppose we should be shopping around for a back-up candidate to support in the extremely unlikely event that Steve decides not to run. Like any respectable Mac freaks who also just happen to harbor an ingrained aversion to all forms of political television programming (we figure it's because those impeachment hearings kept interrupting our Saturday morning cartoons), if denied the opportunity to vote for Steve, the AtAT staff is strongly considering voting for whichever party uses the most Macs. Hey, what better way to pick the country's leader? Issues, shmissues-- we want to see translucent plastic, and we want it now.

So far, the Democrats seem squarely in the lead, here. Faithful viewer Tony wrote in to note that during the Democratic National Convention, the Staples Center in L.A. was rife with Macs. Each state had a computer kiosk conspicuously boasting a Graphite iMac DV Special Edition, and apparently there were even a couple of Apple Cinema Displays visible in the TV coverage of the event. And a report over at Go2Mac adds that the press room was stuffed full of Ruby and Indigo iMac DVs, as well as Power Mac G4s. Photos of all this Mactivity are available via a Go2Mac reader's iTools HomePage.

In contrast, while reporters used plenty of Mac equipment to cover the event (Apple's got a nice little fluff piece about AirPort's contribution to the media coverage), the Republican National Convention was notably Mac-free. Things get a little complicated, though, when you consider that while Gore ditched his Macs for PCs back in 1997, Bush reportedly totes a PowerBook for personal use. (What would Mike Dell say?!) First one to slap a Cube on his desk gets our vote!

Note: AtAT does not actually advocate the choosing of a President by the number of Macs his or her party uses. To do such a thing would be frivolous and irresponsible. In this country, with our strong two-party democratic tradition encouraging broad diversity in the available candidates, and with a write-in vote being worth only slightly less than the paper on which it's written, there's only one proven way to pick an effective leader: heads or tails? Call it in the air... (If it lands on its edge, vote third-party.)

Oh yeah, don't forget: Nader went after Microsoft. But why are we even mentioning all this? Steve will run. He will. It's just a matter of time...

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S.O.S. (Save Our Support) (8/14/00)

Houston, we have a problem: the quality and availability of technical support continues to dwindle in the world of high-tech, while its cost to end-users keeps going up. Apple customers in particular have felt the pinch in recent years, as the company moved from "unlimited lifetime toll-free support" to a more "Microsoft-like" (Apple's words, not ours) pay-per-incident plan after the first ninety days of ownership. But of course we're not the only ones getting shafted on support charges: Microsoft, the company that Apple apparently looks to as its Shining Example when it comes to support, has just tightened the screws still further. According to ZDNet News, in September the Redmond Giant will be eliminating its policy of ninety days of free phone support for Windows and Office customers.

Instead, Microsoft is giving its customers two free phone calls. (That's only one more than you get if you're hauled downtown for carjacking.) After those two freebies, the next time your Registry spontaneously scrambles itself, or Excel suddenly starts printing the number "6" as a lowercase "q," you'll be charged $35 a call. Our concern is that, since Apple's chosen to copy Microsoft's support structure in the past, soon Mac buyers will get the same deal: two calls instead of ninety days. For some people that might be an improvement, because their first problems may not arise until after those first three months are up; but for most newbies, those two calls might vanish awfully quickly. Luckily, Macs are probably going to inspire fewer tech support calls by nature of being easier to use, but still-- it's a disturbing trend to watch.

In fact, AtAT's elite staff of statistical projectionists estimate that if this trend continues, by the year 2002, baseline technical support in the high-tech industry will consist entirely of unmanned automated "hold" lines; you'll dial the number, a friendly recording will announce that there are no technicians currently available to take your call (which is true), and you'll be instructed to "stay on the line, because your call is important to us." You'll then be subjected to audio ads of the company's other bug-ridden products interspersed with Muzak renditions of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs until you hang up in frustration and fix the problem yourself.

By 2004, calling the technical support number provided with your computer or software will send a taser-style electrical charge through your telephone handset, rendering you immobile and twitching for several minutes, thus conditioning you never to dial that number again.

By 2006, the "negative conditioned response" shock lines will have fallen out of favor for being too expensive to maintain. Artificial intelligence and voice synthesis will have progressed to the point where cheap "virtual technicians" will man the phones, programmed to interact with customers by suggesting as many actions as possible that absolutely will not fix the stated problem. The idea is to keep the caller on the phone as long as possible-- because technical support lines will be $6.95-a-minute 900 numbers, and will account for 70-80% of most high-tech companies' total revenue. (Product developers will be paid top dollar to introduce as many creative yet plausible bugs as possible.)

The only way to avoid this terrifying future is for some industry-leading company to recognize that technical support is a priority instead of an afterthought-- that terrific technical support, implemented properly, could be a big word-of-mouth and press-attracting marketing asset, a differentiating factor amid a swarming flood of competitors, instead of a big write-off on the balance sheet. It's a radical concept, to be sure, but we can think of one or two companies that have taken crazy gambles in the past. All we need is someone to step in and think different. Ly. Whatever.

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