Giles Slade is an idiot

Warning. This post is a rant. An angry rant. An angry response to what in my opinion is a misleading and uninformed article by Giles Slade, a writer for Mother Jones.

…perhaps you’re still smarting from being burned again and again by audio obsolescence: Albums went to eight-tracks, and then to cassettes, before CDs were introduced. With each change, audiophiles repurchased the classics.

I also remember mangled or melted tapes (trapped in a car in the summer) destroying my tape player or waiting and waiting while the tape fast forwarded to the song I wanted to hear. With each new format the consumer got better sound quality and ease of use. I certainly don’t want to give up digital encoding and random access.

These days, the champion of audio obsolescence is Apple, which successfully combined its iPod with a unique digital format (aac). By embracing a non-MP3 format, Apple locked you into its world.

Advanced Audio Coding(AAC) is a standardized, lossy compression and encoding scheme for digital audio. It was not invented and is not owned by Apple. Many popular consumer products support the AAC fornat. Granted, AAC may not be as popular as MP3 but it is definitely not unique to Apple or iPods.  It provides better audio quality than MP3. Get the facts.

Now, when your iPod breaks, you have a library of music that you can’t use on other players. You have to buy another iPod. Enjoy your music for as long as your iPods lasts.

What a stupid argument! Music that has been ripped from the my own CD library is still available either from the hard drive or from the original CD. Music that the I purchased from the iTunes store is still on my hard drive. And yes, I have it backed up to DVD just in case the hard drive fails. A backup of hard drive data is a practice all computer users should follow. Just because my CD player died it does not mean I can no longer enjoy music from my CD collection.

But battery decline is only one way that Apple encourages speedy obsolescence. Another is by introducing spiffy new models shortly after you’ve acquired the latest thing.

Honda announced a very exciting and more powerful Accord shortly after I purchased my 2006 Accord. Does this mean Honda designed the Accord for “speedy obsolescence”? You argument is flawed and downright stupid. If you don’t want the latest then don’t buy. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to part with your money. Perhaps electronic companies should just slow the pace of innovation and only release new products and features every three years. That way early adopters can feel safe with a purchase. Of course, later adopters will still feel cheated when they purchase right before an upgrade cycle.

By 2009, 300 million analog TVs in the United States will also become obsolete when America’s broadcast signal format changes to digital.

It took over 20 years to come up with a replacement for the 65 year old NTSC standard definition format. Clearly you are happy watching your collection of beta-max tapes on your 30 year old 19inch TV. Stick with it.

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4 responses on “Giles Slade is an idiot”

  1. Well, Khurt!

    I read and liked your response. It took some integrity for you to post my reply and your response and I appreciate it. I hope your readers understand this. The web is full stuff…some good and some just angry, fast crap. Human beings with standards are becoming a rare commodity especially on the Internet. I’m now quite grateful for this exchange and, for my part, I apologize for being rude to you in an email message BEFORE I read your post…so sorry, Khurt.

    The point you make about companies separating people from their cash is valid, but they can still do two things: make less toxic products and make their products more amenable to recycling once they die.

    Actually, this saves them a lot of money. Caterpillar, Xerox, BMW and others now save up to 70% of their production costs by ‘remanufacturing’ (basically recycling and reusing) components from
    old, obsolete models. This is a remarkable economic advantage to going green… Trouble is not too many people know about it yet. Business Week wrote about it last September in a great article still available online here:

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_39/b4002074.htm

    Thanks again, Khurt.

    Giles Slade

  2. Giles,
    I regret the harsh title of my post. It was an angry rant ( I warned readers that it would be).

    My major disagreement was with the premise that the consumer electronic companies, and Apple, are to blame for the disposable culture we live in. My brother-in-law thinks my cell phone is crap because it is more than 2 years old. My sister-in-law thinks I should dump my tube TV for a shiny new LCD or plasma. The problem with “frequent and sexy model changes, and a proprietary music system that guarantees the quality of iTunes music over mp3 downloads” is the people who buy.

    I do not buy much music online. My wife on the other hand loves the fact that in just a few clicks she can be listening to something and then transfer that to a device she can take with her. That’s what she is willing to pay for. I am the kind of person who holds onto a piece of technology until it either dies or no longer works with newer technology. The newest computer in the house is the MacBook which I bought last year for myself. My wifes Dell is 6 years old and my kids use another 6 year old Dell. My home theater system is 7 years old. I even have a Sony clock radio that is over 20 years old. It works and I see no reason to replace it.

    The goal of any company is too make products that will separate people from their hard earned money. I can not fault Apple or any other company for doing that. So long as they are not taking my money and giving me crap in exchange. The people who continuously upgrade to the latest and greatest are to blame. They are the ones filling up landfills. Not Apple or Dell.

    I attended an Earth Day fair at the local high school yesterday and a conversation with a gentleman who runs his home and his car completely on hydrogen fuel which he generates for himself on site. It was very exciting stuff and I started dreaming about how I could use such a system. My dreams were dashed when he mentioned the cost of installation; somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000. I calculated it would take 10 years to recoup the investment and I would need another 1000 square feet to house all the equipment.

  3. Khurt,

    I think your comments on Island in the Net are a bit harsh. I don’t like to be called an idiot and it surprises me coming from educated man. There are so many other negative things you could say about me.
    Maybe this is simply one of your ‘inchoate thoughts’.

    Still, it has had a positive effect. My Mother Jones article was buried on the back pages (p 76) of the March April issue of the magazine. Since they didn’t give me much of a contributor’s note, I was worried that my opportunity to alert people to the massive e-waste now being created by Apple’s iPod was bound to end in futility. So thank you Khurt, for alerting many more readers to my article which is available online here

    http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2007/03/iwaste.html

    My main objection to your rant is that you took a comment about AAC out of context. So I’m happy to refer your readers to the whole article (above)…

    –What I was trying to indicate was that in addition to their policy of ‘value engineering’ –something I know you will understand, since you are an electrical engineer in the pay of a large corporation– Apple adds a clever dimension of marketing strategies that begin with the battery being sealed inside the device, failing after 13 months, frequent and sexy model changes, and a proprietary music system that guarantees the quality of iTunes music over mp3 downloads…

    All this marketing manipulation encourages ferociously loyal Apple customers (like yourself…owner of a MacBook) to stay with the product and to trade up regularly.

    WELL OKAY, but then everyone should be aware that the iPod is a DISPOSABLE device DESPITE the rather high unit cost of the upper end models.

    this disposability and the force-fed model of consumption it promotes is something quite new for Apple; they have changed and not for the better. The world should know they are primarily interested in sales now and not in changing people’s heads in revolutionary ways with IT…That has become secondary. Apple Computers is now Apple Inc. Luke Skywalker has become Darth Vader and we’re all a little poorer for it.

    My major beef with Apple is that because they make disposable electronics in such global volumes they produce an overwhelming amount of toxic electronic waste which, due to its miniaturization and Apple’s backwards (compared to Dell and HP) recycling program, are all to easy to toss into a green garbage bag in the landfill. Water leeches through the landfill, becomes contaminated and then leaks out to contaminate the groundwater around it. In Silicon Valley, as you know, they had to pump all the water out of the ground because it was contaminated and then replace it will clean, fresh water. Can we do that for the entire continent? I don’t think so and I’m not the only person who feels this way. (Interested readers can google ‘green my apple’)…I hope you don’t think we’re all idiots.

    So, wishing you a very Happy (although somewhat curt) Earth Day.

    Giles Slade
    –author: Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, (Harvard University Press, 2006)
    –member: PEN USA

    PS I’ll be writing about the iPhone on or about May 9th on Huffingtonpost.com in a piece called ‘Hold the iPhone’. Anyone wishing to express themselves to me directly can reach me at
    gilesslade@hotmail.com. (If I get too many replies, I may not be able to get back to you all).

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