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At Large: Pull the string

At Large: Pull the string

If he had a hammer, Matthew JC. Powell would hammer in the morning, hammer in the evening . . .

In Toy Story (1996), Tom Hanks portrays the voice of Woody, a cowboy doll that talks when a draw-string in his side is pulled. Woody is the favoured toy of an eight-year- old boy. Tim Allen plays the voice of Buzz Lightyear, a sci-fi space cadet doll with flashing lights and buttons that make him talk. Buzz arrives as a birthday present for the boy, and soon becomes a rival for Woody's favoured place. Unlike Woody and the other toys, Buzz believes that he is real - a space cadet protecting the galaxy from the threat of invasion. Woody must convince him that he is really a toy, but a pretty cool toy at that.

There's a whole layer of metaphor in it, where Woody represents older analog technology and Buzz represents newer digital technology, while our central conceit is the rivalry between the two. Some have argued that Buzz represents the World Wide Web - just a toy, really, but a pretty cool one.

When the inevitable marketing machine for the film rolled out, I was among the first in line to get my hands on a Buzz Lightyear doll.

Let's face it, he's pretty cool. He even says a few catch phrases from the movie in Tim Allen's actual voice. I own two Buzz Lightyears, one in movie-standard colours and the other in flashier silver armour.

I don't however, own a Woody, even though (as a collector) I ought to. Why? For a start, the drawstring on the Woody dolls is a fake and the voice mechanism in a Woody is just the same as the one in a Buzz - they don't make toys no more like when I were a lad. Furthermore, the voice is not Tom Hanks' original, and he says things that aren't from the movie, like "you're my favourite deputy" and "there's a snake in my boot".

Reflected reluctance

I can only presume from the large piles I see of unsold Woody dolls at reduced prices that my reluctance is also reflected in the general toy-buying population. Unsold toys are never a good thing for a company new to the merchandise licensing game, and Pixar's share price probably would have suffered from this harsh lesson.

All of this would not have been lost on Pixar's CEO and major shareholder, one Steven P. Jobs. As you may be aware, he has taken a second job since the release of Toy Story, presumably because he's finding it tough making ends meet. In his second job, he's running a computer company out of Cupertino in California.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with someone who works closely with Jobs at his computer company. One of the more interesting and even fun aspects of my job is getting to speak with famous people and with people who know famous people, so I was chuffed to be given this interview. We spoke on a broad range of topics, ranging through developer relationships, hardware sales, retail strategies and more. His answers were lucid, to the point, and relevant to my questions.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read Another Publication and found that it had an interview with Steve himself. That interview was also far-reaching, covering a number of different subject areas. Steve's answers were also lucid, to the point and relevant to the questions he was asked.

The odd thing was, they were almost identical to the answers I got from my interviewee. Examples:

Jobs: "Apple is the only company left in this business that makes the whole widget . . . We do the hardware, we do the software, we do the design, and we do the marketing. We do everything."

My guy: "What we see as our great strength is that we do everything: we build the hardware, we write the software, we do the design, we do the marketing, we do everything."

Jobs: "[if we hadn't included only USB ports on the iMac] everyone would have kept doing the old thing. So we took the serial ports and said we were really going to commit to this."

My guy: "if we let people keep doing stuff that was just good enough, they would keep on doing it that way. We saw that USB was the way to go, so we said we were really committed to it, we took the old ports away."

There are, of course, other examples. The very weird thing about it is that I did not ask the same questions of my guy as Another Publication asked Jobs. These virtually identical answers, which seem relevant to the questions as asked, are clearly drummed into the subconscious of Apple's employees, waiting to be triggered by keywords.

Funny thing is, I didn't even notice a string.


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