Product Launch Failure

 

Let’s be honest: it’s only human to get a kick out of the spectacle of powerful, infinitely rich companies making a disastrous entry into a splashy new field, like Google’s recent epic fail with Gemini Al. These are rare, special cases of plunging right over the edge, involving an unusually choice degree of hubris and corporate humiliation.

Thirty years ago, it was Apple’s turn in the barrel when it introduced Newton, predecessor of today’s tablets and smartphones. At the time, Newton seemed almost miraculous. To be fair, new products often don’t succeed, even when they aren’t paradigm-shaking novelties. Most of the time there’s nothing unusual, let alone disgraceful in that normal winnowing process. It doesn’t usually involve becoming an instant, media-wide, national laughingstock that spoils the launch of a Whole New Thing.

Back then, business people often carried Dayrunners, a trendy brand of totable small looseleaf notebook with calendars, notes, and contact info. Newton let you carry all that, reduced to the size of a paperback book and easily kept in sync with your desk computer. You could scribble notes to yourself, and—here comes the hangup—it could even read your handwriting. It was that one feature that led to ridicule, because Apple released it too soon after insufficient testing. Product designer Jony Ive joined Apple to revise the early Newton. A year later, handwriting recognition worked much better, but by then the PR damage had been done. After Steve Jobs’ return, he would keep Ive for every major product launch thereafter.

Newton’s main problem was it wasn’t networked. WiFi didn’t exist yet. When your 2024 smartphone does handwriting and voice recognition, it’s acting solely as a thin client; the work is done in the cloud and instantly returned to your screen. Newton, by contrast, had to do everything all by itself.

In retrospect, Apple’s big mistake was overpromising, with a pretentious ad campaign that implied a lot more AI than the little MessagePad could deliver. Newton’s basic idea wasn’t dumb. The proof was the late Nineties success of the Palm Pilot, a smaller, lighter, and cheaper Personal Digital Assistant.

My Newton, ready for an overseas trip in 1995. 

Four years before the first Betamax arrived, more than a decade before Blockbuster stores would spread through our towns and cities, a U.S. company named Cartrivision released a domestically designed and built home video player. Unlike the handful of earlier attempts to sell home video recorders, this one had a specific marketing target and function: playing pre-recorded movies. Sold through Sears, Roebuck, & Company, the actual manufacturing was done by Packard Bell, a respected if second tier electronics company. Every Sears store that sold it also offered a fifty-film rental library of legal, licensed Hollywood feature films. No previous home video machine offered any.

This pioneering effort did things a little differently. Since most people didn’t live within daily driving range of a Sears, those rentals weren’t charged by the day, but by the number of viewings before a customer brought it back. (Each video cartridge had a simple mechanical counter, like an odometer. There were also a few cartridges for outright sale, mostly of the same kind of drearily cheap content that would later fill direct-to-VHS tapes.) The need to trade off rental tapes would bring customers back into the store frequently, which Sears liked.

It wasn’t a crazy scheme, but it didn’t quite work. Aimed at the top end of the market, for most of its existence Cartivision was available only as a built-in to “wideboy”-styled mahogany console TV sets for the living room. But the target buyers already had expensive color TVs, and didn’t need another console set. It also meant the huge, heavy sets wouldn’t be brought in for servicing, and few of the field technicians in the Sears service trucks had any training in fixing the moving parts of a videotape machine.

In contrast, when Sony came to America with Betamax, it too targeted a specific purpose: time shifting of broadcast programs. Just about any of the previous video recorders could have done that, but Sony was the first to make it the key to sales.

Often, the development period has been so long and expensive that the sunk cost fallacy takes over. That’s what happened to RCA’s incompatible, non-laser videodisc system; by the time it made it to market in 1981 they already knew it would flop, but after seven years of effort and $100 million, they couldn’t go back to their stockholders without making a valiant try. That four-year “try” wasted an additional $60 million.

In other cases, the product is stillborn, barely on the market at all. In 1951, it was CBS’s early form of color TV; a much later example is HD-DVD, the 2007 competitor of Blu-Ray. In 2012, Hewlett-Packard’s tablet computer lasted only 49 days before it was pulled. They all made it to the sales counter, but were almost immediately abandoned by companies that belatedly realized they weren’t going to win.

Most technological products become cheaper over time, but some have an intrinsic wall of high cost and limited demand that never fully goes away. Supersonic flight, Concorde style, never did enter a virtuous circle of becoming affordable. AT&T’s 1970 Picturephone, at a monthly rent of $100 ($775 in today’s money), couldn’t attract enough customers to make calling each other worthwhile. Color TVs, which started out three times as expensive as black and white, spent ten years as a niche for the rich that didn’t hit its 1955 sales goals until 1965, when they were only twice as expensive. But they doggedly hung around long enough to succeed, mostly because RCA, color’s chief developer, never gave up.

The failure of the Alto computer, invented a half century ago at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and a decade ahead of its time, was more than a simple case of lazy or overcautious corporate timing. What made Alto so unique, so advanced was its windows-icons-and mouse interface and its (relatively) high-definition bitmapped screen. At the time, fifty years ago, that required so many expensive silicon storage chips that the product would have been impractically costly. Then, a key breakthrough in cyber engineering allowed the computer to save most of that money by continuously, imperceptibly swapping parts of that screen image in and out of a smaller memory.

With the Alto, Xerox had a five-year head start on a workplace-capable, networked, windowing computer with a laser printer. But this is critical: they knew, they had to know it would be a rapidly depreciating asset. It was literally a case of use it or lose it. They didn’t use it in time, so, in one of the great what-ifs of corporate history, they lost it.

Apple’s nearly forgotten 1983 Lisa computer series preceded the Macintosh by a year, with much of the same system architecture—windows, icons, a mouse. The problem was a familiar one for groundbreaking new technology: it was way more expensive than planned. A well-equipped Lisa workstation cost about half as much as a car. From that point forward, the brand that once called itself “The computer for the rest of us” was twice as expensive as the computer for the rest of “them”—i.e., MS-DOS, later in the form of Microsoft Windows (with a capital “W’).

Sometimes it’s a problem of timing. The project is rushed to the market before it’s ready, like first generation fission power stations, the space shuttle, Newton, or VR headsets in the Nineties. Or it’s too late to reach the market, like Polaroid’s Polavision, instant (silent) home movies that would have rocked the Super 8 market in 1966. But when they finally appeared ten years later, they were overshadowed by truly “instant home movies”—video, with sound, on reusable tape. Sony’s Walkman cassette players were world-beating hits, but their much-ballyhooed 1992 follow-up, the MiniDisc, had a unique Sony recording format that didn’t have time to catch on before direct online digital delivery and storage (MP3 and Apple iTunes) took over from physical media.

At the other end of a particular technology’s birth, widespread adoption, and economic lifetime, there are often a few ideas, once novel, some quirky, that have had unpredictable staying power beyond the grave of obsolescence. Super 8 movies, vinyl records, vacuum tube music amplifiers, instant film cameras; hobbyists gave them ghostly afterlives, decades after their abandonment by the mainstream market.

Some costly corporate misfortunes are outright blunders, combined with, in many cases, infighting and ego. In the case of Google Gemini, it was wokeness, combined with willful blindness. To be fair, plenty of other bad product launches were normal misjudgments, combined with unexpected technical snags and plain bad luck.

Apple’s very recent cancellation of its decade-long, multi-billion-dollar pursuit of a practical self-driving car, is a rare, apparently laudable case of a megacorporation that prudently pulled back from the brink before taking that last, bet-the-entire-company risk of manufacturing and selling a vastly expensive new product. Even the world’s most successful firms are wary of the tricky transition between a promising idea that works in a lab and a commercially viable product for sale to the public.

One suggestion, though: if you’ve got a risky new product, don’t give it a too-easily-mockable name, like Edsel, Ishtar, or Gigli.

You don’t always know what, at the outset, will fail; on the other hand, you don’t always know when an established institution that seems to have been humming along practically forever is about to enter a failure spiral.

I recently opened a used book (Man Without a Face, 1997). After a lifetime of disillusion, Markus Wolf, Communist east Germany’s coldly brilliant spy master, spells out fifty different ways that he helped the DDR state cynically betray the cause of socialism. Nonetheless he couldn’t resist ending his postwar tale with a defiant dedication to Marx:

A demain, Karl! Until tomorrow.

Now, if that’s not a chilly ending, I don’t know what is.

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  1. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Percival (View Comment):

    In 1980, Exxon Office Systems (part of Exxon’s post-Oil Age corporate plan) introduced the latest word in … word processing.

    Rather like perfecting the buggy whip as the first Model Ts roll off the assembly line in 1908.

    Exxon Office Systems let 20% of their staff go in 1981. They sold off the whole shooting match (to Harris, I think) in 1984.

     

    The name Vydec is familiar, but I don’t remember the details.  Did they have some larger minicomputer systems too?

    • #31
  2. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Gigli was not mentioned in the halls of Sony Pictures.  At least not loudly.

    Thanks for a wonderful historical essay.  Great as usual Gary!

    • #32
  3. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Also, re Calgary: it’s useful to be reminded that not all of our Canadian friends live in trendsetting modern apartments within walking distance of the Toronto or Montreal subways.

    Very few do. But those that do live in such a bubble that they dont realize it.

    Decades ago, CBC gave up on covering Canadian events. It started covering the major cities Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal… These cities have no idea what’s happening in Manitoba – Alberta at all.

    You’ll probably laugh, but 40 years ago one of the lures of owning a satellite dish in California was the ability to receive a CBC feed. Imagine! Foreign television, 24/7, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world! And I was tempted. After all, these were the people who brought the world the National Film Board and expo67.

    Both of them, all kidding aside, things that brought the world’s eyes to Canada.

    Sure the National Film Board made Canadian films in the 60’s to 80’s … but really hasn’t done anything interesting in 30+ years… Its funny, but the CBC gets $1.5 Billion in government funding – nearly twice what PBS gets. To produce entertainment that is 1/2 as entertaining, or less than 1/2 as informative than anything that PBS produces…

    To be fair, I think PBS gets a lot of private money too.  Corporations and stuff.  Does the CBC?

    • #33
  4. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    kedavis (View Comment):
    To be fair, I think PBS gets a lot of private money too.  Corporations and stuff.  Does the CBC?

    Yes, CBC also sells advertising, and competes against private broadcasters that dont receive public funding.

    Or at least didnt until Trudeau started giving friendly media $600 million a year in subsidies.

    • #34
  5. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Also, re Calgary: it’s useful to be reminded that not all of our Canadian friends live in trendsetting modern apartments within walking distance of the Toronto or Montreal subways.

    Very few do. But those that do live in such a bubble that they dont realize it.

    Decades ago, CBC gave up on covering Canadian events. It started covering the major cities Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal… These cities have no idea what’s happening in Manitoba – Alberta at all.

    You’ll probably laugh, but 40 years ago one of the lures of owning a satellite dish in California was the ability to receive a CBC feed. Imagine! Foreign television, 24/7, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world! And I was tempted. After all, these were the people who brought the world the National Film Board and expo67.

    Both of them, all kidding aside, things that brought the world’s eyes to Canada.

    Sure the National Film Board made Canadian films in the 60’s to 80’s … but really hasn’t done anything interesting in 30+ years… Its funny, but the CBC gets $1.5 Billion in government funding – nearly twice what PBS gets. To produce entertainment that is 1/2 as entertaining, or less than 1/2 as informative than anything that PBS produces…

    How could you say that after the masterpiece that is Robyn Hood?

    • #35
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Also, re Calgary: it’s useful to be reminded that not all of our Canadian friends live in trendsetting modern apartments within walking distance of the Toronto or Montreal subways.

    Very few do. But those that do live in such a bubble that they dont realize it.

    Decades ago, CBC gave up on covering Canadian events. It started covering the major cities Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal… These cities have no idea what’s happening in Manitoba – Alberta at all.

    You’ll probably laugh, but 40 years ago one of the lures of owning a satellite dish in California was the ability to receive a CBC feed. Imagine! Foreign television, 24/7, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world! And I was tempted. After all, these were the people who brought the world the National Film Board and expo67.

    Both of them, all kidding aside, things that brought the world’s eyes to Canada.

    Dude … Hockey Night in CanadaIt would be like having Don Cherry as a next door neighbor.

    • #36
  7. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    How could you say that after the masterpiece that is Robyn Hood?

    It’s not about Canada. I bet they didnt even read the book. That the mistake Robin Hood as a socialist rather than a tax protestor.

    As of October 26, 2023, Robyn Hood scored 1/10 on IMDb.[7] The show’s creator accused online critics of having rating-bombed the series due to the fact that a Black woman was cast as Robin Hood

    No. The real problem with the series (that I never seen or heard of) is the story. They’ve mistaken the characters for narrative. Characters support and progress the narrative.

    — although I see the need for a modern robin hood in Canada, ruled by an incompetent and corrupt dictator – taxing the people a kings ransom to improve the weather… With a disarmed population – the cut spruce trees to make long bows, and are able to puncture the Kevlar vests of the sheriff trying to seize their properties…

    Now that show could have sold …  Even with the “Diverse” cast – you could make Robin hood work as Robin Hood…

    • #37
  8. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Again, so much wonderful stuff here. Naturally, I’ll highlight something with which I disagree and make a tedious protest:

    Color TVs, which started out three times as expensive as black and white, spent ten years as a niche for the rich that didn’t hit its 1955 sales goals until 1965, when they were only twice as expensive. But they doggedly hung around long enough to succeed, mostly because RCA, color’s chief developer, never gave up.

    Perhaps Color TV was different from the Newton and LaserDisk because it was an inevitable, logical iteration of the basic idea: invisible waves come to your house, hit the spindly antenna, and get sprayed on the backside of a glass tube. Just as movies had gone from BW to color (yes yes, I know, there was color during the B&W era – tinting, two-strip, all that) TV would naturally go from a monochrome flickering image of Felix the Cat to lush living color. Or so it was expected. The tech changed, but the “format” didn’t.  

    I remember the ridicule heaped on the Newton – Nelson Munz in the Simpsons made fun of it, and I think Doonesbury did likewise – and it irritated me, because it was like people were handed a magic lamp, and the Genie did not pop out every time in three seconds after you rubbed it. Sometimes it took a whole 15 seconds. Argh: This is miraculous magical Star Trek stuff! It’ll get better! And people would look at you like “yeah, sounds like a guy who bought a Pippin.” 

    • #38
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    kedavis (View Comment):
    The name Vydec is familiar, but I don’t remember the details.  Did they have some larger minicomputer systems too?

    Not quite. Here is a pretty good high-level portrayal of Exxon Office Systems rolling into the Eighties. They identified an industry to which they wanted entree, bought up various products aimed at the target market, and fell flat on their corporate face. C’est du business.

    • #39
  10. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: In contrast, when Sony came to America with Betamax, it too targeted a specific purpose: time shifting of broadcast programs.

    Betamax was superior to VHS, but it seems like there have been a lot of times when Sony would develop some new standard that really wasn’t better than the competition, just different (and obviously incompatible).

    Beta suffered from other issues, including cost and weird running times. ~5 hours on a tape was enough to record 2 2-hour movies, but not enough for 3. etc.

    Also, VHS HQ took care of many of the quality differences.

    I think you mean S-VHS, but you’re right, so why quibble over details? Thanks for bringing it up; the final decade or so of plain ol’ NTSC, America’s analog TV standards, saw a great deal of improvement in that traditional 3 by 4 picture. S-VHS, like Sony’s somewhat similar Hi-8, had the same number of up and down scan lines as the regular stuff, but did everything within the rules to improve the side to side picture detail. Both of these improved formats did the same thing, making a greater separation between the luminance (detail) and chrominance (color) signals. 

    • #40
  11. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Again, so much wonderful stuff here. Naturally, I’ll highlight something with which I disagree and make a tedious protest:

    Color TVs, which started out three times as expensive as black and white, spent ten years as a niche for the rich that didn’t hit its 1955 sales goals until 1965, when they were only twice as expensive. But they doggedly hung around long enough to succeed, mostly because RCA, color’s chief developer, never gave up.

    Perhaps Color TV was different from the Newton and LaserDisk because it was an inevitable, logical iteration of the basic idea: invisible waves come to your house, hit the spindly antenna, and get sprayed on the backside of a glass tube. Just as movies had gone from BW to color (yes yes, I know, there was color during the B&W era – tinting, two-strip, all that) TV would naturally go from a monochrome flickering image of Felix the Cat to lush living color. Or so it was expected. The tech changed, but the “format” didn’t.

    Tedious? To have the burbling words of one’s post occupy several micro-cycles of focused Lileks time? Pshaw. Besides, I don’t even disagree; expecting TV to turn color was entirely natural. 

    Soviet TV factory, mid-Seventies. 

    I remember the ridicule heaped on the Newton – Nelson Munz in the Simpsons made fun of it, and I think Doonesbury did likewise – and it irritated me, because it was like people were handed a magic lamp, and the Genie did not pop out every time in three seconds after you rubbed it. Sometimes it took a whole 15 seconds. Argh: This is miraculous magical Star Trek stuff! It’ll get better! And people would look at you like “yeah, sounds like a guy who bought a Pippin.”

    What was frustrating was the inconsistency. Much of the time–most of the time–it worked like a charm. Part of the appeal was it worked outside of the usual strict categories, so if you scribbled “Hertz $80”, it usually lodged it among business expenses, transportation. One thing that really, really helped was deferred recognition. It stored your handwriting and translated it, but slower and more accurately than real time. 

    • #41
  12. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    One of those photos that looks wildly out of date and yet at the same time, impressively modern. 

    • #42
  13. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: In contrast, when Sony came to America with Betamax, it too targeted a specific purpose: time shifting of broadcast programs.

    Betamax was superior to VHS, but it seems like there have been a lot of times when Sony would develop some new standard that really wasn’t better than the competition, just different (and obviously incompatible).

    Beta suffered from other issues, including cost and weird running times. ~5 hours on a tape was enough to record 2 2-hour movies, but not enough for 3. etc.

    Also, VHS HQ took care of many of the quality differences.

    I think you mean S-VHS, but you’re right, so why quibble over details? Thanks for bringing it up; the final decade or so of plain ol’ NTSC, America’s analog TV standards, saw a great deal of improvement in that traditional 3 by 4 picture. S-VHS, like Sony’s somewhat similar Hi-8, had the same number of up and down scan lines as the regular stuff, but did everything within the rules to improve the side to side picture detail. Both of these improved formats did the same thing, making a greater separation between the luminance (detail) and chrominance (color) signals.

    No, I’m careful about that.  Regular VHS and VHS-HQ tapes could be played on either machine, but S-VHS was not backward compatible.  I bought an S-VHS machine when “Star Trek: The Next Generation” first began, but adding in the cost of the special tapes it was too expensive to keep up with.

    • #43
  14. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    expo67

    I was there!

    And in Buffalo we could always get tv and radio from Canada.

     

    • #44
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):

    In 1980, Exxon Office Systems (part of Exxon’s post-Oil Age corporate plan) introduced the latest word in … word processing.

    Rather like perfecting the buggy whip as the first Model Ts roll off the assembly line in 1908.

    Exxon Office Systems let 20% of their staff go in 1981. They sold off the whole shooting match (to Harris, I think) in 1984.

    The Vydec actually came out a few years before the company was bought by Exxon Office Systems Corp, when the it was buying up office technology left and right including memory typewriters and fax machines.  “Information will be the oil for the twenty-first century!” was the mantra.  But the pieces never really coalesced, and Exxon was playing catchup behind industry leaders like Wang (speaking of unfortunate names) and NBI.

    As a first-generation word processor, the Vydec was page-oriented, meaning that the typist composed a page at a time on the screen, and then saved it to an 8″ floppy disk.  Revisions were simple if the page endings didn’t change as a result.  When edits increased the length of a previously saved page, the overflow went into a buffer which, after the revised page has been saved, had to be retrieved along with the following page, and then pasted in at the top.  Likely, this pushed text from current page down into the buffer again, and the process had to be repeated for each page, until the end.  When revisions shortened a page too much, the typist had to capture the text from the top of the following page, and stick it back at the bottom of the short one.

    This, however, was a great improvement over retyping the whole document each time.

    I worked for EOSC, in customer support and sales, from in 1983-1984, shortly before it folded.  By then, it had come out with the “500,” an improved but still not terribly good product which had “borrowed” many features from its competitors.  It used a Z-80 chip (Zilog was a subsidiary of EOSC).  The infighting between Zilog and its parent company also contributed to the chaos and collapse.

    The next generation of word processors, which came out in the late 70s were “document oriented,” meaning that the text of individual documents flowed automatically to the next page, and repagination after edits became much simpler, either being done automatically (NBI) or with a “repagination pass” (most others until they figured out how to do it automatically).

    Prior to working for EOSC, I worked for NBI for several years.  I suppose, in real terms, all those companies “failed,” for various reasons.  But it was an exciting time to be in the business, and the products, and what we were doing, certainly changed the face of office work forever.

    • #45
  16. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I’m sure I’ve commented before — probably on another @garymcvey post — about how we had a semi-homebrew Cartrivision when I was a kid. This was after the product had failed and you could buy the parts at fire-sale prices; my dad, who was a competent electronics hobbyist, cobbled together a working unit built into a homemade cabinet. He was able to make it work and repair it when it (frequently) broke, but the technology was clearly not ready for prime time.

    I always seem to find myself watching “format wars” unfold because I desperately want some new technological toy, but I don’t want to bet on the wrong horse. I had a LaserDisc player and a small collection, but I knew that would never be more than a niche format; when DVD came out, I was excited because it seemed like a slam-dunk success, an evolution of the cinephile LaserDisc and a consumer-friendly replacement for VHS. But it took way longer than it should have for studios to decide to release their content on the new format; I remember that Steven Spielberg was a holdout for some reason, which frustrated me because I wanted the Director’s Cut of Close Encounters on DVD.

    Worth mentioning as a failed format is DIVX, which was one of the things that slowed down DVD’s adoption. DIVX was the brainchild of Circuit City, and it was an idea that must have sounded great in engineering meetings but was not welcomed by users. It was a variant of DVD intended for the rental market; the idea was that you’d buy a movie on disc for just a few dollars, and it would be playable for 48 hours. After that time you could pay more money to extend the rental, or to unlock it permanently; or you could just throw it away. It was kind of a clever idea, like Netflix disc rentals but without the need to mail anything back.

    One problem, though, was that these rental-targeted DIVX movie releases were bare-bones discs that lacked all of the special features that appealed to film buffs (making-of documentaries, commentary tracks, that sort of thing). And the idea of “buying” something that would become useless after two days — unless you paid more money — was hard to market. Nonetheless, some studios decided to support DIVX exclusively, and Circuit City pushed the format, selling only DIVX-capable players. Many movies remained unavailable on DVD until after DIVX finally died (and there was much rejoicing).

    • #46
  17. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Post of the Week . . .

    • #47
  18. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    There is an entire museum dedicated to failed products in Michigan, named, aptly enough:  The Museum of Failure.  I remember reading in a book that it was popular with industry as they could study what didn’t work.

    • #48
  19. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    In 1980, Exxon Office Systems (part of Exxon’s post-Oil Age corporate plan) introduced the latest word in … word processing.

    Rather like perfecting the buggy whip as the first Model Ts roll off the assembly line in 1908.

    Exxon Office Systems let 20% of their staff go in 1981. They sold off the whole shooting match (to Harris, I think) in 1984.

     

    The most popular thing I ever wrote for Ricochet (I think) was partly about a big law office switching over from typewriters to computers.

    https://ricochet.com/1007686/men-women-and-workplaces/

     

    Loved that post. I was a young lawyer in that era and my path did not go through a private law firm, but into the military and then to a staff attorney position for a nuclear weapons laboratory. I never was integrated into a typing pool support situation and always did my own drafting on a typewriter/word processor. In the military the typing support was limited and in my position I was not their priority, which worked given the way my mind worked. I liked to –then, as now — sit and ponder in front of the machine and craft my work. I always pushed for “early adoption” of any word-processing technology for selfish reasons and talked my boss into the expenditure because it avoided paying for additional wages, benefits, and overhead. 

    The observation on women in the workplace when women attorneys started to integrate was spot on as well. How word-processing technology affected relations of the typing pool and the woman professionals is likely little appreciated. It shrunk the former as it expanded the latter. And pretty quickly.

    • #49
  20. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    There is an entire museum dedicated to failed products in Michigan, named, aptly enough: The Museum of Failure. I remember reading in a book that it was popular with industry as they could study what didn’t work.

    Gonna have to put that on the Bucket List.

    Edited: Now that I have visited the website it looks like virtual only (for the moment). So I guess I know how to “visit” (anytime).

    • #50
  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She (View Comment):
    I worked for EOSC, in customer support and sales, from in 1983-1984, shortly before it folded.  By then, it had come out with the “500,” an improved but still not terribly good product which had “borrowed” many features from its competitors.  It used a Z-80 chip (Zilog was a subsidiary of EOSC).  The infighting between Zilog and its parent company also contributed to the chaos and collapse.

    Wow. I didn’t know that I knew any EOSC employees.

    Zilog was an inspired purchase. It was cofounded by Federico Faggin, a true genius. He was designer and project leader for the MCS-4 family of processors at Intel. The Intel 4004 came out of that. He left Intel for Zilog. The rumor in the computer labs of yore had it that he was annoyed with some of the early decisions made for the Intel 8008 and started Zilog to “do it right.” My university picked the Z80 as the better design, and I think they got that one right.

    • #51
  22. Jim Kearney Member
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Gary McVey: if you’ve got a risky new product, don’t give it a too-easily-mockable name, like Edsel, Ishtar, or Gigli.

    Quibi

    • #52
  23. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    Stad (View Comment):

    Post of the Week . . .

    Totally agree! Not just for the post itself, but for the comments. (Most of them. Nova doesn’t mean anything in Spanish, although it does mean new in Portuguese.)

    But back to its first paragraph: I know I should not think in any way that Google is a benign institution, but I still prefer to think of Gemini as a fantasy-generator, not a source of anything anyone would confuse with scholarship. If you simply ask it for images of scientists in general and it returns images that sure look like Frederick Douglass or Pocahontas, well, what did you expect? But suppose you asked it for a picture of the scientist Benjamin Franklin. You might get a picture of the guy on the $100 bill, flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Or – and I would consider this truly alarming – you might get the guy on the $100 bill, in a lab coat, standing between a tabletop cyclotron and a refrigerator with a biohazard symbol on it, and a whiteboard behind him showing the chemical structure of penicillin, plus maybe an electron microscope with a screen showing the AIDS virus. That’s the sort of welter that Gemini might output. Does it?

    • #53
  24. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    3D TVs!! I think they are beautiful. I don’t understand why everyone didn’t love them. Yeah, glasses, I know. But I don’t mind since I often wear glasses anyway.

    It makes me sad to think what will happen when mine dies.

    For the time being, there’s still projection TV, useable with active shutter glasses. Me, I’m a passive shutter fan, but I suspect the real Return of the King answer for 3D will be autostereoscopic (no glasses). I have to admit I am surprised that no manufacturer makes a passive 3D screen, because all it is, is a transparent overlay bonded to a regular flatscreen display, with a cost-free option to display different eye perspectives on alternating interlaced frames.

    I picked up a Luma Pad II tablet last November, and it works well.  It has a 12.4″ display.  No glasses required. It has a camera that uses facial recognition and adjusts the image so that each eye sees the appropriate image.  The facial recognition part is creepy, so I leave the device in airplane mode.  It work great as a 3D viewer for stills.  It plays 3D movies also but I don’t have a need for that as long as my TV keeps going.

    I see price has dropped to $600.

    • #54
  25. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Jim Kearney (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: if you’ve got a risky new product, don’t give it a too-easily-mockable name, like Edsel, Ishtar, or Gigli.

    Quibi

    OH! Good One!

    But did it fail? Or was it designed to give Hollywood elites untold gobs of cash at the expense of Venture Capitalists? Venture Capitalists just got tired of pouring cash into a bottomless pit quicker than the developers realized? Look at Disney+ it loses 100s of millions every month, and Disney keeps dreaming that profitability is just another 2 or 3 Billion away…

    CNN+; failed so quickly that the stationary hadn’t been delivered yet…

    • #55
  26. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    The most popular thing I ever wrote for Ricochet (I think) was partly about a big law office switching over from typewriters to computers.

    https://ricochet.com/1007686/men-women-and-workplaces/

    I remember that the USAF was gung-ho on implementing PCs in administrative offices.  About 1986 our unit admin guy was required to do a routine performance report on a PC.  Normally he could type them up in less than 30 minutes.  Now he was required to go to the central base admin location and use a PC there – they had the only ones. It took him most of 2 days to do it, and he complained loudly.

     

    • #56
  27. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    The most popular thing I ever wrote for Ricochet (I think) was partly about a big law office switching over from typewriters to computers.

    https://ricochet.com/1007686/men-women-and-workplaces/

    I remember that the USAF was gung-ho on implementing PCs in administrative offices. About 1986 our unit admin guy was required to do a routine performance report on a PC. Normally he could type them up in less than 30 minutes. Now he was required to go to the central base admin location and use a PC there – they had the only ones. It took him most of 2 days to do it, and he complained loudly.

     

    But once entered into the computer, it exists electronically – somewhere – and can be ignored at the speed of light!

    • #57
  28. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    John H. (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Post of the Week . . .

    Totally agree! Not just for the post itself, but for the comments. (Most of them. Nova doesn’t mean anything in Spanish, although it does mean new in Portuguese.)

    The joke was not about “Nova” per se, but rather “No va.”

    • #58
  29. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I think Vydec might have been one of the hobbyist toys that I sometimes read about at that time, another being the Singer desktop computers.  (Yes, Singer!)  I read some hobbyist magazines and “newspapers” (the Intelligent Machines Journal and I think People’s Computer Company came out in that format for a while) back then where people who had access to early – and expensive! – “compact” business computers wrote about what they were able to do with them “unofficially.”  If they were able to “hack” into the software they might figure out how to create spacewar games etc.

    Intelligent Machines Journal had another name, either before or after that name, which I can’t think of now.

    Oh yeah, Intelligent Machines Journal became Infoworld.

    • #59
  30. No Caesar Thatcher
    No Caesar
    @NoCaesar

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    3D TVs!! I think they are beautiful. I don’t understand why everyone didn’t love them. Yeah, glasses, I know. But I don’t mind since I often wear glasses anyway.

    It makes me sad to think what will happen when mine dies.

    I agree.   Movie makers tended to overamp the 3D effect, but I generally like 3D.  

    • #60
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