Short Cuts 59

by Paul Stephens

Paul Stephens takes a sideways look at the world of IT.

HardCopy Issue: 59 | Published: February 1, 2013

Stranger than fiction

Long-term readers of Short Cuts will know that we have, from time to time, focussed on the more characterful CEOs in the IT industry, from Sun Microsystems’ all-blogging Jonathan ‘No-Role’ Schwartz to Oracle’s Glamorous-But-Slightly-Scary Larry Ellison and Safra Katz, and (of course) Microsoft’s incomparable Steve ‘Mad Dog’ Ballmer.

It seems, however, that we’ve been barking up the wrong tree all along, since without doubt the industry’s most colourful, wildest-living and basically frightening CEO is (or at least was) anti-virus pioneer and alleged assassination target John McAfee, currently residing in Oregon but recently of Belize and Guatemala. What’s more, he’s half British, having been born in England but raised in Salem, Virginia.

To be fair, McAfee hasn’t actually been a software CEO since 1994, when he resigned from the anti-virus company he’d founded. But his name lives on in millions of boot partitions (although new McAfee owners Intel may well be trying to play that association down at the moment). And when we say ‘colourful’ we do mean colourful.

We’re reluctant to write too much about Mr McAfee, mainly because we’re scared of him. However The Sunday Times, clearly made of sterner stuff, neatly summarised his recent adventures as involving “Guns, call girls, death, drugs, a lost or possibly hidden £60m fortune, laboratories deep in the jungle, espionage, terrorists, government corruption, a faked heart attack, poisoned dogs…”

It seems that, having moved to Belize and built an organic pharmaceuticals lab on what turned out to be a major drug trafficking route, McAfee was then accused of murdering his neighbour over a poisoned dog. He escaped to Guatemala but a journalist uploaded a picture of him complete with GPS coordinates, leading police to make possibly the world’s first Flickr-assisted arrest.

Facing deportation back to Belize, he faked a heart attack (as you do) and used the delay to get himself shipped to the United States instead, where he now lives in fear of Belizean hit squads. Somehow it all makes standing on a TechEd stage bellowing “Developers, developers, developers” until you’re hoarse seem rather tame.

Second lives

Marissa Mayer as Queen Boudicca

Artist’s impression of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer in her former life as Queen Boudicca.

John McAfee’s antics got us wondering whether other IT industry CEOs might have back-stories they’d rather keep quiet about. Our investigations revealed some arresting tales:

  • Larry ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’ Ellison. The Oracle CEO’s sailing expertise is, it turns out, a legacy of his days as a maritime outlaw working the West Indies and Central America region with an unequalled record of 21 ships sunk, 3 billion doubloons (plus stock options) seized and 438 technology acquisitions made, subject to FTC approval. “I based my character of Jack Sparrow entirely on Larry,” said actor Johnny Depp, “right down to the Keith Richards impersonation and ruthless integration of captured vessels into my fleet’s technical ecosphere.”
  • Marissa ‘Boudicca’ Mayer. Advanced Past Life Recognition software running on an early-shipment Intel Xeon Phi has revealed that the flaxen-haired Yahoo! supremo was in fact Boudicca Queen of the Iceni between AD 43 and 60. She fell foul of the region’s owners, the Roman Empire, after issuing free food and slate tablets to every soldier while failing to gain market share against arch-rivals the Gauls. As one Gaul insider cruelly put it, “Is that where she went? I didn’t know the Iceni were still in business.”
  • Steve ‘Mad Canute’ Ballmer. Advanced Past Life Recognition Software spotted after Yahoo! executives searched for it on Bing has revealed that the Microsoft CEO was also a figure from history – Danish/English international King Canute, who in 1028 attempted to hold back the tide of mobile operating systems using only the Divine Right of Kings and three versions of Windows. In a related development the CEOs of four Windows RT tablet manufacturers are now claiming descent from Ethelred the Unready.
  • Tim ‘Last Samurai’ Cook. Before taking over from Steve Jobs, the Apple chief was the last of Japan’s Samurai warrior class, continuing a 1,000 year old tradition of getting Chinese children to make shiny trinkets then selling them at enormous margins to style-obsessed Westerners. He was eventually challenged by Korean upstart Sam Sung, who cunningly offered cheaper trinkets with bigger screens and easier file transfer. Despite a series of titanic battles in friendly courts, the Last Samurai’s market share went on a downward spiral.
  • Gordon ‘Three Wafers’ Moore. (That’s enough back stories – Ed)


Led Astray

Fake iOS 6 map

Apple’s iOS 6 map app: not quite as bad as this.

We’re used to police forces telling the public not to approach dangerous criminals, but December saw possibly the world’s first official police warning not to approach a life-threatening app. The product was, of course, Apple’s catastrophic new mapping app, and the force, in Victoria, Australia, warned that iPhone users looking for the town of Milura were being sent on a 70km detour into a national park where cars get bogged down in sand, temperatures reach 45 degrees and there’s no water supply (we bet there’s no 4G signal either).

The app cost two senior Apple execs their jobs, and no doubt resulted in double smoothies all round at Google HQ after its hastily-authorised iOS 6 map app (complete with special ‘Maps That Show Places Where They Actually Are’ feature) was downloaded 10 million times in its first two days. Unable to decide between this and the tale of John McAfee, we’ve had to make them joint winners of this month’s Short Cuts ‘You Couldn’t Make It Up’ award.