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Which tech newsmakers have made the biggest splash so far this year, and which have gone splat?
High-tech heroes and zeros: 2013's best and worst (so far)
It's the midyear point (give or take), which means it's time look back at the first six months of 2013 and say, "Is it July already? How the heck did that happen? Am I really that old? And has anyone seen my reading glasses?"
It's also a good excuse to look at the people who've made the first half of this year both interesting and exasperating. Here are my picks for the biggest heroes and zeros of 2013, so far.
Hero: Ed Snowden
I get it: If Snowden were truly a hero, he might have stayed in the United States when he made his disclosures and hoped for public opinion to be on his side. But whatever his motivations, Snowden performed a valuable service by exposing the secret reach of the NSA and the complicity of the courts and Congress in allowing it. By staying in the limelight (and out of Guantanamo Bay) he gave journalists motivation to move the story forward instead of burying it. The result was a remarkable series of disclosures that built upon what Snowden uncovered. Other whistleblowers have tried and failed to warn us about the insatiable appetite of the industrial surveillance complex; Snowden succeeded. That's heroism in my book.
Zero: Elon Musk
For his attempts to make electric cars sexy and space tourism feasible, the PayPal billionaire and CEO of Tesla Motors is considered a hero by many. But when Musk responded to a negative review of his supercharger stations in the New York Times by calling the reviewer a liar -- complete with selectively chosen data points that demonstrate exactly how creepy Tesla can be if it really wants to -- he ignited an Internet storm. Some praised him for fighting back against a flawed review, others (me included) scolded him for throwing a public tantrum. Your mileage may vary.
Hero: John McAfee
Perhaps the antivirus software legend murdered his neighbor (though my gut tells me he's being set up). Perhaps he's been cooking up some not entirely legal biopharmaceuticals in the jungles of Belize. Perhaps he faked a heart attack to avoid being imprisoned by the authorities. Definitely, he's a few coconuts short of a full piña colada. But McAfee is also the most entertaining high-tech entrepreneur turned bath-salts-huffing yogi on the planet. And this NSFW (trust me) parody video on how to uninstall McAfee AntiVirus is flat out hilarious. When I grow up, I want to be John McAfee.
Nothing screams "dork!" like a pasty-faced guy wearing high-tech spectacles -- unless, of course, you're an overcompensated member of the techno-Illuminati, in which case it's the only manly thing to do. If you end up violating total strangers' privacy along the way? It's the cost of progress, say the gadget-obsessed geeks. It's not at all surprising that on July 4, a glasshole in Wildwood, N.J., surreptitiously captured the first Google Glass video of someone being arrested in public. If he'd taken the video with a phone or camera, Chris Barrett said, he might have gotten punched, which sounds like a good idea to me.
Hero: Kim Dotcom
The plus-sized multimillionaire founder of Mega Download got sweet revenge on the authorities in the United States and New Zealand when he opened his latest online venture, simply called Mega, last January. It was nearly one year to the day SWAT teams stormed his compound outside Auckland and arrested him in a takedown worthy of a Colombian drug lord. Since then, Dotcom has won most of the legal battles he's faced and launched an encrypted cloud storage service that will be much harder for Johnny Law to crack. Whether it will actually succeed or crash and burn like the first one remains to be seen. But you have to admire the man's chutzpah.
Zero: Wanda Lee Ann Podgurski
Who's Wanda Podgurski? She's an insurance fraudster who was convicted of 29 felony counts by a California court last January and has been on the run from the U.S. Marshal service ever since. She's also apparently an idiot. On June 6, Podgurski tweeted "Catch me if you can" to her sole follower on Twitter: San Diego prosecutor Bonnie Dumanis. It turns out they could. Last week, the LAPD's high-tech crime squad used the geotags from her Twitter account to track down where she was hiding in Mexico and brought her into custody. The 60-year-old now faces a 30-year stretch. It looks like Wanda won't wander much further.
Hero: Judge Otis D. Wright II
Wright earns his hero status not merely by smacking down legal beagles Prenda Law in its endless porn trolling suits, but by doing it with such geeky gusto. Wright struck down Prenda's attempts to extort money out of porn-swapping BitTorrent users in a ruling peppered with "Star Trek" references, recommending federal prosecutors throw the Prenda principals into the brig and their respective state bars to blast these shysters out of orbit. Make it so, number one.
Zero: Sean Parker
Remember those old MasterCard ads?
Creating a "Lord of the Rings"-themed fantasy wedding in the middle of an old-growth forest: $5 million
Paying California Coastal Commission to "mitigate" the environmental damage you caused: $2.5 million
Publishing a 10,000-word essay whining about how negative media coverage ruined your nauseating display of geeky excess: Priceless
There are some things money can't buy. Humility is clearly one of them.