Kindle Deathwatch

Who is General Failure and why is he reading my hard disk?
— Steven Wright

There’s a “journalist” in Australia named Gareth Powell who used to be editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, one of Australia’s better papers. Way back in the days before the web became a household concept, if you wanted to read about computers in a newspaper, and you lived in Australia, your options were The Australian’s computer section (on Tuesdays) or the SMH’s computer section (written, we believed, by Powell) on some other day — I forget which. The Australian’s section was quite good, while the SMH’s was, in general, howlingly bad. And what’s worse, any attempts to correct errors in it (e.g. by writing letters to the editor) were stymied by Powell being Editor in Chief (or something)(Edit: corrected, see comments). So, hating Gareth Powell was something of a local hobby for pretty much anyone in the Australian IT industry (on the east coast, anyway).

All of this came to a sudden and mildly dramatic end when a wonderful Australian TV show called Media Watch, then hosted by a lawyer named Stuart Littlemore (the show is actually still going, but without Littlemore) decided to spend a little time investigating Gareth Powell’s career. (I don’t know what it’s like now, but back then Media Watch was fifteen minutes of gut-busting laughs at the expense of incompetent journalists, reporters, and editors delivered completely deadpan — kind of a like a week of Daily Show Act I hosted by Steven Wright with no studio audience.) Anyway, it emerged that Powell was not only a complete idiot, but a shameless plagiarist (i.e. he wasn’t as stupid as we all thought because a lot of his idiocy was copied and pasted from above someone else’s byline). Powell left the SMH the next day, and we all hoped he would be taking up a career in animal husbandry (well, those of us who don’t care too much about animals, anyway).

(See comment: according to Powell the plagiarism was an isolated incident perpetrated by a colleague in his absence. in other words, his articles may have been ridiculous but, with a few exceptions, they were his own work.)


Above is Stuart Littlemore in action back in the day. Unfortunately, it’s not the segment where he gets Powell for repeated, egregious acts of plagiarism.

Unfortunately, Powell is still in the industry, and still getting cool hardware to play with — or so we might be led to believe.

I found this in my inbox today:

Gareth Powell seems to be having difficulty with the concept of an “NDA”.

from CDN 5th May 2009

New iPad a goer, says Powell

SYDNEY – Apple’s handheld reader/media pad – reported to be nearing release after the design was worked on by CEO Steve Jobs while on sick leave (CDN yesterday), definitely exists, says CDN special reporter Gareth Powell who adds he’s seen, and held, a prototype.

CDN had noted a Business Week report that said the device – larger than an iPod Touch or Kindle, but smaller than a notebook – would be called the “iPad”, and reckoned they were probably guessing.

Writes Powell: “They may well be, but it exists already in prototype as I have had one in my hands. Think Newton only larger. I think it a certainty – it will kill the Sony market and hammer the Kindle market — and I want one. For the record, I read Hornblower and the Hotspur on a demo version inside a factory where they were ironing out the bugs of making it in quantity.

“Which is well down the line from concept but well away from certainty of launching. But mate, it does exist, and I will be the very first customer. And possibly the very first Australian/Welsh user.”

If I can just somehow help undermine Powell’s standing or credentials, I will feel myself to have done a little bit to make the world a better place.

That said, assuming Powell isn’t talking out his ass (which is hardly certain, or even probable), or that he is talking out his ass but he happens to be right (which is, in my opinion, more probable), the much rumored bookreader-sized iPhone/iPod Touch/Macbook Touch would probably kill the Kindle and stab the already dead Sony bookreader through the heart with a wooden stake, stick wafers in its mouth, cut off its head, point it downward, then douse it all in holy water. Why? Because it replaces multiple devices you’re already carrying around with a single, better, more useful device rather than being “one more fracking thing to carry around and recharge”. Because it will make people’s lives better and less complicated, rather than making them worse and/or more complicated by the smallest possible increment.

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  • Hmmm…you need to check your facts. Powell was never the Editor-in-Chief of The Sydney Morning Herald just the “editor” of the Travel section and the Computer section – in other words, a staff journalist.

  • You’re right, I’ll correct the article. Memory plays tricks blah blah blah. (Thank goodness really, since he was (is) terrible.)

  • Going through old blog posts, it appears that Powell was right and so was Business Week about the name!

  • I have just received correspondence from the man himself (Powell, not Littlemore) and his version of events (unsurprisingly) is different. First, note that he got the name of the iPad right, so he was probably violating an NDA or had snuck in to a factory and not talking out his ass, but this was not the point of his message.

    The key issue he has is with accusations of plagiarism, which he says was perpetrated by another journalist while he was on vacation (ie someone else published plagiarized articles under his byline while he was on leave) and that Littlemore based his entire (very nasty) piece on information provided by one person.

    I do not have a recording of the show in question, but Littlemore’s pieces were built on pieces taken from the public record — he would simply show articles, with portions highlighted, on screen. In this case they showed pieces in the SMH with Powell’s byline juxtaposed with earlier articles published under other bylines. It was, apparently cut and dried.

    I don’t know how newspapers work. Powell’s version seems plausible — except that as I recall he left the SMH the next day.

    In essence, however, the thrust is that Powell’s articles, with the exception of those posted in his absence, were his own. So, from my point of view, an idiot but not a plagiarist.

    He was dead on about the name, though.