What’s that smell in the air? It’s the reek of Bill Gates

Finally, the touch of Bill Gates is being recognized as the taint that it is. The New York Times, the Daily Beast, the Guardian are all writing about his terrible ideas, I talked about it yesterday, and Rebecca Watson has a video on it.

I’ve despised him since the late 1970s, when he wrote his paean to capitalism, a letter berating the Homebrew Computer Club for pirating his version of BASIC. Don’t you know that because he wrote a BASIC interpreter, he now owned BASIC and you all had to pay him for his two months of work…forever? That’s been his philosophy ever since.

Now he has written a book (I think; did he have a ghostwriter?): How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need. The hubris is impressive. Does he have any expertise at all in climate science (or epidemiology, or education, all topics he has pretended to have mastered)? No. He’s a college dropout who spent most of his life marketing a monopoly. Now he’s so obscenely rich he can throw all kinds of money around to get reviewers to publicize his stupid book.

Why would anyone buy a book by an unqualified rich person on a complex topic? Go read Michael Mann’s book instead. He knows what he’s talking about.

I expect Jeff Bezos to come out with a bestseller on labor management now.


  1. Allison says

    I expect Jeff Bezos to come out with a bestseller on labor management now.

    Well, it is a field he has experience in. I don’t think Amazon’s abusive work environment happened by accident.

  2. weylguy says

    A physicist can easily become an actor with little or no training, but an actor cannot become a physicist without spending many years getting educated and trained. Gates is an actor, and with the money he made he became a celebrity. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger were actors, and they got elected solely on the basis of their celebrity. I would venture to assert that Jim Jones, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and their ilk also owe their wealth and position to their celebrity status. And today we have the ultimate celebrity actor, Donald Trump, who continues to hoodwink tens of millions of Americans to our peril.

    America is doomed if its citizens cannot avoid becoming besotted solely by the wealth, fame and celebrity of its so-called leaders.

  3. says

    #3: I am not at all surprised. Gates has spent his whole life trying to get validation as a good person.

    The only problem is, he’s a very bad person.

  4. PaulBC says

    Reginald Selkirk@3

    Bill Gates Thought Jeffrey Epstein Was His Ticket to a Nobel Prize, Ex-Staffer Says

    Eh? Nobel Prize in what, and how could Epstein be anything but a liability?

    I will have to read this. But first I’m trying to guess. Peace? I guess people get those for fairly random reasons, so who knows? don’t think you can buy the other prizes. Even if you threw a ton of money into Nobel-winning research, the committee is going to know someone else did it. It’d be interesting if he was delusional enough to think otherwise. Or maybe writing Vogon poetry in hopes of getting the Literature prize (unlikely, but that would be hilarious.)

    I stopped really hating Bill Gates around the time my attention had shifted to George W. Bush. Maintaining an OS monopoly to the point of levying a tax on computer sales seemed like small potatoes compared to lying the nation into war. I also hoped his foundation could do some good. But I may need to reassess. I think he’s about as bad other gazillionaires, though probably not the worst. Power corrupts and that kind of money brings a lot of power. (I’ll add that Google leaves a strong imprint on former employees, and I still have a reservoir of affection for Larry Page and Sergey Brin.)

  5. numerobis says

    weylguy: acting is a lot harder than you think it is. Physicists and other academics have public speaking as a core part of their job, practice for years, and often still suck at it (if they don’t take it seriously).

  6. weylguy says

    #7 numerobis

    I’ll concede on the basis of one example: Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Spitz was a remarkable athlete and a great-looking guy, but his acting career was short-lived due to his complete onstage ineptitude.

  7. PaulBC says

    OK, I read the article. Maybe if he had some tangible results on polio or nutrition, the Nobel committee would notice. The idea that you need Epstein to pitch you still makes little sense.

  8. PaulBC says

    weylguy@8 Mark Spitz had an acting career?

    Tangentially, I didn’t watch the SNL with Elon Musk, but I caught the parody of Mare of Easttown and the two seconds of Musk at the end is the weakest part. I mean, they clearly tailored it to his limitations. I’m not convinced “anyone” can be an actor even at the level of most TV and movie actors. Stepping into a realistic role and making it believable is hard enough, let alone scaling the heights of comedy or tragedy.

    Gates is a huckster, which is something different. It’s hard for me to guess how much he really understands about tech, since he has stolen more than he ever invented. But I don’t want to fall into the trap of underestimating him. He has always thought strategically and “dropout” or not, he is not a dummy or a slacker. (Plenty of very rich people who are.)

  9. Michael says

    Yeah, I am always reminded of the Onion article with the headline “Microsoft successfully patents 1s and 0s”. The story Microsoft in one headline.

  10. garnetstar says

    And what did Gates do to become so rich? Was he a genius at writing the best software?

    No, Microsoft has always produced mediocre products (does anyone really like Office? or even Windows?) It was that Gates was such a ruthless monster, driving every other competitor into the ground and doing any shady trick to destroy others who threatened to take root, that Microsoft became the default. Gates never even attempted to improve his product: all his effort was spent on destroying the products of others. That’s how he got his billions: savage destruction.

    And, some sociopaths become, out of necessity, excellent actors. Gates isn’t so good, he’s pretty open about his viciousness.

  11. PaulBC says


    does anyone really like Office?

    Talk to any spreadsheet nerd. A good discussion prompt is “I use Google sheets because it’s in the cloud but boy do I miss [blank] in Excel.”

    Granted, Bill Gates didn’t write Excel. I am also pretty sure the Office suite is a ripoff of something else. Microsoft’s days of hegemony are long gone, but it still pisses me off to think how they destroyed Borland by poaching its best developers.

  12. garnetstar says

    PaulBC @13, LOL, I especially loathe Excel. And Word, and Powerpoint.

    Are you spreadsheet nerds sure that it’s not just that Excel is what you’re used to, from birth or something?:) Better the devil you know.

  13. PaulBC says

    garnetstar@14 Excel is feature rich and whatever you think, there are definitely people who love it, which was the question. I get that you’re not one of them.

    I am only a casual user of spreadsheets, though I think software people dismiss them too easily. They provide a very intuitive way to roll out and visualize loops or even dynamic programming tables. I have done a lot of prototyping in spreadsheets that would have been slower in a conventional programming language. There have been a few cases (and unfortunately I never remember) where I am using Google sheets, want to do something I could remember doing in Excel and find a many-years-old support page where someone asks for it and gets the response “That’s a really good idea, and we may support it in the future.” But they almost never do.

    Still, convenience and sharing wins out. Google sheets are perfectly adequate. I haven’t touched Excel in years.

    Another maligned but feature-rich product is Oracle, though I haven’t used it in years and I think MySQL and Postgres are more than adequate.

  14. Michael says

    Yeah, I am always reminded of the Onion article with the headline that went something like “Microsoft successfully patents 1s and 0s”. The story Bill Gates in one satirical headline.

  15. captainjack says

    I remember using WordPerfect under DOS. The documentation was very good and I could call up a live help line when I didn’t understand something. The documentation that came with Microsoft Word, like most Microsoft products, was mediocre at best. If you needed help, you could buy another book from them that wasn’t quite so bad. Microsoft used that lack of support to develop a new revenue stream teaching and certifying “experts”.

  16. garnetstar says

    Yes, WordPerfect was a much better text app than Word. And, Gates smashed it so that Word became the default.

  17. captainjack says

    WordPerfect is still published by Corel, I believe. I have not used the current version.

  18. says

    @4 weylguy

    I am an actor among other things, and just…no. No.

    Your own example at #7 doesn’t even add up to it, for more (of the same) see Rick & Morty S04E03 in which Musk throughout the episode voiced a parody of himself, and the difference in quality between the pros and him was actively startling.

    Being other stuff, even other stuff primarily, does not prevent one from acting, but it’s not trivial and LOTS of awful indie movies are available full of people who imagine they can act.

  19. says

    All the non-graphical functions of spreadsheet programs are copies of the original spreadsheet program, Visicalc, which was published for the Apple II in 1979, and came out for other platforms of the era over the next few years. (And you can download it for free and run it in an emulator, if you doubt my word. It uses the same syntax for referencing cells and the same syntax for formulas that all subsequent programs do, because they all ripped off the ideas to be Visicalc-compatible.) All the graphs and GUI support and things came from Lotus 1-2-3, a product which Microsoft explicitly targeted with Excel (after their initial offering, Multiplan, failed).

    Word is not even remotely close to the first word processing program (Wikipedia reports that there was one for home computers named Electric Pencil in 1976, 7 years before the very first release of Word), or even the first GUI word processing program (from Wikipedia: Bravo, developed at Xerox PARC).

    Microsoft’s only major innovation in those programs was their macro language, which is what people generally miss when they move to other programs (which are usually ones based on Open Document Format). ODF programs seldom have significant macros in part because ODF is designed to be cross-platform and a lot of the more powerful macro functions turn out to make implicit assumptions about the platform which don’t hold everywhere (on Linux in particular, from what I’ve read), but also because Office’s macro system is a massive vector for malware, as anybody who had to use or administer a computer lab in the late 90s/early 2000s can attest. (To give some idea of the scale of the problem: if you include only OS-level malware, there were a total of something like 20 viruses for the classic Mac OS over the course of the 18-odd years it was in active use. If you include non-Microsoft application-specific viruses, such as HyperCard viruses, there were something like 40 or 50. If you include Office macro viruses as well, there were well over 300 as of the last count I saw, which was in 1997, years before the platform was discontinued.)

    (The macro virus problem is kind of typical of Microsoft: come up with an idea, decide it is Brilliant and The Way Things Should Be, do no thinking about the security or usability implications of it, include it in the next version of Microsoft Whatever turned on by default and possibly without a way to turn it off, and then discover that there’s a huge downside that causes massive problems which would have been apparent almost immediately if anybody had applied any critical thinking about it. Anybody remember the enabled-by-default messaging system which came with Windows 95 that let people pop up a modal dialog on your screen using TCP/IP? The one which let people on broadband — or large LANs — send spam to everybody on the subnet? Similar situation. Same with the whole “everybody loves tablets and would love for Windows to have a touchscreen-centric interface” push in recent Windows. People complain about Steve Jobs, but for sheer arrogance Microsoft’s engineers left him in the dust on a regular basis.)

  20. mailliw says

    Rebecca hits the nail on the head here. The problem with billionaires isn’t that they have too much money, it is that they have too much unaccountable power – the money is just a way of obtaining that power.

    I’ve never thought of Gates as a good person. He’s a clever businessman, and that’s it.

    To be fair to Microsoft they did bring in some very highly qualified people who have had some direct influence on their products. Leslie Lamport and his work on formal program specification. Jim Gray, who was one of the leading figures in transaction management – and one of the reasons – though I will undoubtedly be flamed for this – that SQL Server is a better product than Oracle or Postgres.

    I doubt that Gates had any influence on hiring these people – he wasn’t really terribly clever mathematically or technically. I remember reading an interview with Herman Hauser, the founder of Acorn Computers who recounted how Gates had tried to sell him MS-DOS. “We can’t use this Bill it has no network capability”. To which Bill repied “what’s a network?”

  21. mailliw says

    @21 The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    All the non-graphical functions of spreadsheet programs are copies of the original spreadsheet program, Visicalc, which was published for the Apple II in 1979, and came out for other platforms of the era over the next few years.

    The original inventors of the electronic spreadsheet never thought to patent their idea.

    The innovators in software almost are almost always eclipsed by the marketeers. When Forbes ran an article on the most important software innovations, whose picture appeared next to the section on relational databases? No, not Edgar Codd, it was Larry Ellison – someone who is as repellant as Gates and who corrupted Codd’s ideas to make a fast buck.

  22. PaulBC says

    mailliw@22 Gates was also pretty slow on the uptake when it came to web browsers. Maybe he has some kind of mental block against anything networked. It really pissed me off when Internet Explorer surpassed Netscape in market share. I actually managed to avoid it, using legacy Netscape even when it was clearly worse, settling on Firefox for a long time and then moving to Chrome (which is a resource hog though it didn’t start that way).

    Microsoft just isn’t the behemoth it was 20 years ago, which is one reason I don’t obsess over Bill Gates very much.

  23. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Re Patents
    One of my pet peeves is modern patent and copyright law. Patents were originally intended as: Was the technique unknown to all experts in the field and given the use case requirements, could leading experts in the field easily come up with the same technique? Nowadays, the requirements have been morphed into: Is there any prior practice? That’s a very different thing.

    For example, when Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray invented the telephone, if you were to ask most leading experts of the time “Create a machine to transmit audible human voice from one place to another place about 5 miles away in real time”, they wouldn’t know how. That’s why the telephone deserved a patent.

    By contrast, Amazon basically got a patent for a fucking internet cookie. That’s obscene. At the time, one should expect any computer software graduate to be able to do the same thing. No one should get a patent for something so trivial to the leading experts in the field.

    To really emphasize this, back in the day, circa 1790 in the US, in order to get a patent in the US, you needed to get the personal approval of 2 of the following 3 people: the Secretary Of State, the Secretary Of War, and the Attorney General. That’s how serious it was to get a patent. Nowadays to get a patent, you just need to convince an overworked patent clerk, and the courts are way too quick to defend bad patents. Finally, there’s a fundamental conflict of interest in the patent office because the patent office is funded by patent application fees.

    As far as I can tell, almost all software related patents should not exist. Instead, it should be exclusively copyright, or something like copyright. It should protect the work that went into it while still allowing competitors to black-box create an alternative, using possibly the same techniques.

    /rant from a software engineer

    See also:

  24. petesh says

    Rebecca Watson is mostly absolutely correct. But let’s not give Gates too much credit on mosquitoes and malaria. The Gates Foundation has supplied mosquito nets, which is good. It has also funded high-tech research into modifying mosquito populations via gene drives, which is much more problematic (but to a techie much cooler). The foundation also helped fund early development of a vaccine (with GlaxoSmithKline and Walter Reed Institute of Research; I don’t know who contributed what) — but it actually took a different group of scientists to modify that work to the point where the vaccine is now showing 77% effectiveness.
    Eradicating malaria might well be Nobel-worthy but I doubt that Bill solo would get it. And if he really thought that Epstein’s contacts would help, he’s much dumber than I thought.

  25. PaulBC says

    Early in my post-grad school career, I worked with the guy who patented XOR cursor drawing, which is mentioned in this link and was the notorious patent abuse of its day.

    I didn’t know who he was until later. He was just an older, somewhat irascible software engineer (maybe the age I am now, maybe a little older) who would occasionally complain that he could solve all our performance issues if they’d just let him write machine code. This was at the peak of the dot com boom and my feeling was “Wow. What happened that he’s not rich enough to be retired already?” It’s laughable now, since I’m still working, but a divorce may have “happened”, leaving him with child support, or maybe he just thought, why not keep at it and write software while they pay you to do it.

    It was really mind-blowing to look up his name later (probably with Google) and realize “OMG, he’s that guy.” It’s probably just as well I didn’t know at the time. It would have been very distracting.

    As for using XOR to draw and erase bitmaps. No, I didn’t invent it, but I saw it in an old TRS-80 video game, an asteroid ripoff, when I was 16 or so, instantly realized what they were doing and though “OK, that’s a cute trick. I should use it some time.” I think I would have already laughed if anyone suggested patenting it.

  26. zetopan says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@25 said: “Nowadays to get a patent, you just need to convince an overworked patent clerk, and the courts are way too quick to defend bad patents.”

    Add to that the fact that there is no shortage of scientifically illiterate patent clerks working at the patent office. As a result, an average of at least 6 perpetual motion machines get patented every year (physicist Bob Park pointed this out many years ago and it is still true). Applicants simply changed names from “perpetual motion” to “over unity” to assist in hiding the actual underlying details. There are absurd patents on nearly (if not literally) everything. As Bob Park had also pointed out some time ago, one of the patent clerks at the US Patent Office openly stated that he wanted the USPO to allow for more “new age” patents.

    https://patents.google.com/patent/EP1821391A1/en <== Over Unity (there are lots of patents on these “machines”)
    https://patents.google.com/patent/CN101026329A/en <= Over Unity
    https://www.lens.org/lens/patent/150-253-671-380-863 <== Anti-gravity (there are lots of patents on anti-gravity devices)
    https://patents.google.com/patent/USD670286 <== A patent for a rectangle with rounded corners
    https://patents.google.com/patent/US6360693 <== A stick or related shape as an animal toy
    https://patents.google.com/patent/US6359347B1/en <= Over unity using siphons (these siphons cannot even work!).
    https://patents.google.com/patent/US20120200088 <== Another impossible siphon(!) used to generate electricity
    https://patents.google.com/patent/US4022227 <= Comb over patent!
    https://patents.google.com/patent/US5188107A/en <== Looped thumb and index finger of hands for detecting diseases!
    https://www.freepatentsonline.com/4344424.html <== Anti-eating face mask
    https://www.freepatentsonline.com/1629892.html <== Anti-mouth breathing device (are your nasal passages clear?)
    https://www.freepatentsonline.com/6557994.html <== Frameless glasses attach to facial studs (everybody wears these)
    https://www.freepatentsonline.com/5265827.html <== Paddle wheel driven airplane
    etc… The list is essentially endless, and it is growing daily.

    Before retiring I had a thick collection of terminally ridiculous patents that had been granted posted by the entrance to my office. I was unable to quickly find that stack of photocopies, but it is around here somewhere.

    College dropout Bill Gates has always been a greedy ignorant jackass. He is known to have donated about $10M to the idiot Discovery Institute, has had far right religious nuts as “advisers”, and even his “Original” DOS operating system (used in the original IBM PC) was actually written by someone else (Gates is quite unskilled in computer programming). Tim Paterson actually wrote the original Q-DOS (later renamed as MS-DOS).


  27. says

    Rebecca Watson claims that “scientists who study mosquitos have trouble coming a single bad thing that would go wrong if we woke up tomorrow and all the mosquitos just disappeared.”
    Not true.
    and lots of other sources that Rebecca could have found in about 10 seconds on Google.

  28. PaulBC says

    Bob Michaelson@30 I don’t like the title “what purpose” because it’s teleological. The question is simply what is the consequence of removing them. My first guess would be that something eats them (confirmed), but then the question is if some other food source can be substituted. Who knows, but it doesn’t seem like something you could determine without doing the experiment. I wouldn’t have thought of them as pollinators, but that’s not a surprise. It’s the height of arrogance to suggest you can make any major change and just assume nothing significant will happen as a result.

    I still hate the use of “purpose” in this context. Mosquitoes weren’t put here to pollinate flowers or feed birds any more than digger wasps were put here to persecute caterpillars. It’s the wrong question to ask and it really worries me when a useful, factual article undermines its message by encouraging exactly the wrong way to think about nature.

  29. says

    PaulBC – I agree with you over that terminology. I dislike using teleological statements when referring to scientific matters, and don’t use them myself. The article that I linked to spoke of the “purpose” of mosquitos, but also used the reasonable terminology “ecological role to play.”
    I also agree completely that “It’s the height of arrogance to suggest you can make any major change and just assume nothing significant will happen as a result.” But that is what Rebecca Watson did in her statement that I quoted.

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