The Northern Spy
Exclusive Interview With Billg
The Spy cashed in a lot of favours from the old days
to land an interview with the great one, and had to pass a multiple security layers to enter the Presence. When you've got gazillions of billions you can afford plenty of minions. The Chairman is someone whose people have people who have people.
On entering his luxurious penthouse corner office, the first thing that struck me was the floor to ceiling windows that made up two walls. Despite a layer of miasmatic fog, the vista was stunning.
"C'mon over and enjoy the view, " he invited, somewhat halfheartedly. I could tell he wasn't looking forward to discussing his company's troubles.
I perambulated to his side, and the two of us stood gazing over the campus of the richest corporation in the world for a couple of minutes, neither of us ready to open the conversation. To our right were a scattering of mere ten story buildings, but to the left was a vast fenced pasture, where perhaps a hundred head of cattle grazed.
"Holsteins?" I asked. The breed seemed an odd choice under the circumstances.
"Used to have Texan Longhorns," he confirmed, but some university down there sued us for embarrassing them, so I turned them into hamburger and re-visioned the product. Besides, they'd gotten so many viruses the animal inspectors were threatening to have them confiscated. Not to mention the mad cow jokes," he appended gloomily.
By now he looked peckish. "You professors and reporters think it's easy being the world's richest man."
He was staring out the window again, and I decided to let him ramble on. I could always ask questions later if he didn't reveal enough to satisfy my readers.
"It's not, you know. The more money, the higher people's expectations. Every Pascal, Ruby, and Ada wants me and the missus to give to their favourite political causes and charities. And, do you have any idea how much it costs to buy a medium-sized country or church these days? Not only that, the minor shareholders are always on the lookout for more profits." He turned to me, for the first time, and I thought his face took on a haunted aspect.
"It's nothing but a money treadmill here. If the profits and the share prices don't increase twenty percent every year, everybody thinks I've failed. I tell you Professor, this racket isn't much fun any more."
He saw me glance at a pile of papers on his desk, some bearing stains that looked suspiciously like blood, sweat, and tears.
"Petitions," he snapped. "Just because we had a slight product slippage, I've got employees demanding I fire my COO. I don't want to do that. Steve's an on-the-ball merchant. These trivial delays aren't his fault." He grimaced angrily. "And if I ever find out who sent these petitions, I'll...." Then he suddenly looked alarmed. "That's off the record, Professor. Print that and....I mean, those remarks are inoperative."
He returned to his funk, staring out the window a while longer. After a while, my own eyes wandered, and I noticed a coloured flag-like logo engraved in the lower left corner. More awkward time passed, but just as I began to consider taking the conversational initiative myself, he spoke up again.
You know, for two billion or so, I'd throw it all over and move to an island in the South Pacific, someplace where there's no reporters, no shareholders, no customers, not even any electricity."
Then he thought better of it. "Well, there's have to be electricity I suppose. Couldn't run my portable off batteries forever. Guess I'd need wireless broadband, too. And a few minions. But not more than a couple of thousand, mind."
He sighed deeply. "I suppose you want a nice juicy quote on the latest delay in our completion date. I suppose you want to ask me about the jokes people about renaming it 'far horizons' or some such. I suppose you've come to rub it in."
He began to pace. "Well, you've come to the right place. I'll give you a story that'll grow hair on your teeth. I'm not Chairman Bill for nothing. I'll show them all. I'll carpe diem. I'll pull a long march on everyone, make a great leap forward." In a frenzy of excitement, he suddenly stopped, seized me by the lapels, and pulled me toward him. His breath smelled suspiciously like dogfood. "I tell you, what I've got in mind will be nothing short of a cultural revolution."
He was in full flight now, and I didn't dare interrupt as he dropped my lapels and began to pace animatedly once more, periodically punching the air as he hectored himself.
"All right, so our OS and applications suite are both too big to upgrade. So we can only make statistical estimates of the number of bugs."
He glared at me as he turned on his next tack, and I recognized a quote from my last column. I broke a sweat for a moment, wondering if he might be tempted to put out a shrink-wrap contract on me, but he dropped the subject as quickly as he'd brought it up.
He was silent again for a while, seemingly lost in thought. Finally I ventured, "You were going to tell my readers about your next bold move, Mr. Chairman."
"Yes, I will." He stopped pacing and suddenly looked businesslike, baring a set of teeth that reminded me of a shark or some other top predator.
"I've torn a page out of my old book, from when I bought my first operating system. Why should I re-invent the wheel? What I can't get my people to build, I'll buy."
My fingers were doing a two-thumbs dance over my Treo, recording his words for posterity as he paused for effect.
He stabbed a finger in my direction, suddenly angry. "It's easy for you to say people can't pass laws against stupidity. But I can sure enough fire fifty thousand or so people for being stupid. Why I haven't got a single person around here that understands our billion-line code base. In my day.....
I noted his second near quote from this space. Obviously he was a reader, even if not a fan.
But his digression trailed out as he returned to his diatribe. "Anyhow, I can cut expenses enough to cover off the fifteen billion I shelled out from petty cash for this little honey in less'n three years. By that time, I'll have a knock-'em-dead product, and we'll be back in control of the industry before you can say 'lines of code'. People won't laugh at us any more after that, I'll tell you. Our problems are over. Well, almost."
"I was going to call it Windex," he offered, suddenly whimsical, but my lawyers spent a couple hundred million, then found out that name was taken. So, we're going with 'Vistex' instead. 'Course, we'll need to tinker with it for a couple of years to add a few things here and there, give it our own flair before we offer it as our next version. Still, it'll be worth it.
I glanced nervously towards the door in case I needed to make an escape, for he seemed to be raving, and I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. After another silence, I cautiously elicited an elucidation with a tentative, "So with your fifteen billion, you bought...."
"An OS X license of course," he replied.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
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