Don't Ask Bill
Bill Gates pens a semi-monthly column which is distributed to more than 120 newspapers internationally through the New York Times Syndicate. The column alternates essay and question and answer formats. Topics and questions come directly from readers. Unfortunately, Bill Gates can't be with us this evening, so Gusworld is accepting this honour on his behalf. The Gatesmeister would like to thank no-one, because he did it his way.

Q. Is there life on other planets? Are we alone? Do we want to be alone?

A. I'm not an expert on this, but it seems quite likely that you're fucked in the head.

I give no credence to stories of flying saucers, but the fact that so many people do believe in them suggests a widespread desire to believe that we are not alone, or that there's something in the tapwater.

Greta Garbo once said: "I want to be alone", but you know, deep down, I don't think anyone wants to be alone. We all want someone just to give us a big hug at the end of the day. Not from an alien, but. Or you for that matter.

Q. Do you have any pets?

A. No, because I still haven't trained Steve Ballmer to use the porpourri-scented air freshener when he's "let one rip". Sometimes it gets so bad in the executive meetings, it's like one long episode of Terence & Philip.

Q. I manage a longtime sales rep for my company. His sales are awful and his attitude is worse. He brings down most of my meetings and doesn't take any of my advice. I don't want to fire a person who has done a good job in the past but has lost his skills. I don't want to be the bad guy! The person I'm talking about is really a great guy. Any suggestions?

A. Well, the obvious answer is to sideline him into "special projects". That's how I deal with all my pain-in-the-ass employees that are too expensive to fire. Alternatively, you could just shoot the fucker.

In any case, don't worry about being the bad guy. Bad guys are sexy. Just look at that dude from Die Hard, or Hannibal Lecter, or Richard Nixon. No-one gets turned on by kindness -- it's the knee-high boots and stockwhip that'll do it.

Q: How much of your daily schedule is managed by other people and how much of it by yourself?

A: The biggest decision I make is what burger I want from McDonald's. I look back periodically and say, "Were there things that I didn't need to do?" For instance: should I have wasted two evenings last week watching the repeats of Return To Eden? What was I thinking when we invested in Real Networks? And I didn't really need to doctor those videos for the DOJ, did I?

I even get Steve Ballmer, the president of Microsoft and a close friend, to come in and review my schedule with me. I say, "Pick the 10 percent of this that you think is the least necessary." He always says, "Piss off Bill, I'm fucking busy, I have to run this whole goddamned company, sort out your own pathetic schedule, I'm the president of Microsoft, not your stupid social secretary." He's pretty ruthless about it, and his advice is invaluable.

Q: What do you think was the most formative event in your childhood that led you to your current life path?

A: All the girls say I'm pretty fly for a white guy. If I had to pick just one thing, it would be that.

Q. I love challenges and working under pressure, and my goal is to manage a department at a company. I really want to make a difference. However, I was born and reared in a ghetto. This leaves me with little to talk about at social events with managers. I surely can't talk about all the tragedy I've endured. I can't talk about the different parts of the world that I've seen, because I've never been anywhere. I feel this is going to be major obstacle to my career. Do you have suggestions?

A. Just make it all up. If you pick an obscure enough country, no-one else is going to have been there to prove you wrong.

On the other hand, when it comes time for promotions, managers are going to say, "Hey, this person's really hard core - they keep raving on about their visits to Oooga Booga Land. I say we sack them.''

If you keep up with sports and other news and still feel you're inadequate as a conversationalist, it probably means you're a total dweeb who's never going to make it.

Q. How do you continue at the pace you do and not get burned out?

A. Monday afternoons are "me time". I put on my favourite CD, Pat Boone's In A Metal Mood, cook myself up a butterscotch self-saucing sponge pudding, slip on my Horny Little Devil boxer shorts and sit in my purple fluffy beanbag, scratching myself.

I'm not overworked, at least by my standards. I reserve time for my family and friends. I let them into the office and say "Right, you've got ten minutes. Justify your existence or get the hell out." I take vacations for fun, and to renew my energy and to get a new perspective, and to wear my thong swimming costume.

Q. My young son is left-handed and I'm not sure whether I should swap right and left mouse buttons. It might be easier for him now, but just about any other computer he'll use will have the usual mouse button configurations. I know you are a lefty. How are your mouse buttons set up and what would you recommend for my son?

A. I would recommend that he got a mother who wasn't so fixated on which hand he wrote with.

Maybe my opinion isn't representative of other left-handed people, because I'm fairly amphibious. I write with my left hand, but I use my right hand for most other things and breathe through a set of gills concealed under my glasses.

In college, I wrote most of my notes with my right hand just for the heck of it, which explains why I dropped out, now that I think about it. That was a long time ago, and my ability to write legibly with my right hand has deteriorated because I've got better things to do, baby.

Q. Why is technology moving so fast? Will it ever slow down?

A. The other day, I forgot to put the handbrake on in my Porsche when I parked it, and it started to roll down the hill. That was a case of technology moving really fast. I ran after it, but I couldn't catch it. It slowed down when it hit a wall, though. I hope that answers your question.

Q. What do you think about franchises? Are they a good idea?

A. I'm amphibious about franchises on the whole. Sometimes you go into McDonald's and you just want a burger where you know what you're getting and that's great, but Taco Bell is shit. And what is the story with Succcessories?

As visitors to suburban malls in the United States can attest, they are bland places filled with bored teenagers who buy their clothing at The Gap. I use the Home Shopping Channel myself to buy those really neat miniature toy cars that are accurate in every detail --you can even open the boot.

Q. If you were a mayor or governor, how would you use the power of technology to create economic development opportunities for your city or state?

A. Why would I want to be mayor or governor? I've got enough power to drop anyone's knickers.

Q. Do you read the e-mail messages sent to askbill(AT), or are they filtered before they reach you?

A. No, I read email messages sent to And I read yours, didn't I? The fact that made it into my intray shows there are no filters. There will be soon, though, I promise you.

I bet you're one of those people who writes in to magazines and says "I bet you won't publish my letter because you make them all up". You're one of those smug people that makes me want to rip off your head and shit down your neck.

Q. What is your opinion about computer games?

I think Mi-Sex said it all when they said: "Com-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-pute-computer games".

Q. Does the constant criticism from some sections of the media and industry ever get you down?

A. Yes. But then Steve Ballmer comes in and says "Turn that frown upside down, good buddy", and playfully ruffles my hair. Then we give each other a high five and say "You're the man. No, you're the man." He's such a big lug.

I also have a big motivational message on my desk that says "At least I'm not Gil Amelio".

Q. Given a chance for rebirth, what would you like to be in your reincarnation: Bill Gates, the president of the United States, Clint Eastwood or your favorite actor, Michael Jackson or your favorite musician, Diego Maradona or your favorite sportsman, Mother Teresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the next-door ordinary common man or none of the above?

A. I'd like to be Madonna, because I'm mad on her. Just my little joke. Get into the groove, boy you've got to prove your love to me. Or maybe I could be a little puppy frolicking in the field, and then a butterfly lands on my nose. Shit, those paint fumes are strong.

Seriously, though, I'm kind of amphibious about the idea of reincarnation. I'm just happy to be me.

Q.Why do you hate Cobol and mainframe computers?

A. They killed my dog. Bastards.

Q.What are the duties of a president or CEO of a large company?

A. There's no magic about it, as long as you don't hire David Copperfield.

When I first became CEO, I was dating this girl called Hilda. We went and saw Teen Wolf at the movies, and she said "You look like Michael J Fox", and I said "Cool". Now Michael J Fox has Parkinson's Disease, and that makes me sad. Hilda lives in some trailer park in Ohio.

Q. As a man so aware of time and its finite limitations, do you have any techno-plans for dying? I always thought that if I were a jillionaire I would fund research into some kind of cryogenic process. It would be cool to launch my preserved body into space, coast around the universe for a few billion years. You never know, right?

A. As a matter of fact, I do have techno-plans for dying. I'm going to play 'This Beat Is Technotronic' at my funeral, and there'll be a lot of woo-woo-woo strobes and everyone will drop Es.

But what the hell is a jillionaire, anyway? I don't even have one Jill. If you think it would be cool to launch your preserved body into space, I'm quite happy to help. How's Thursday for you?