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‘Running with the Devil’ offers an unpleasant glimpse at the ‘real’ John McAfee

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‘Running with the Devil’ offers an unpleasant glimpse at the ‘real’ John McAfee

The following article discusses the themes explored in the documentary, which includes substance abuse, mental health, gun violence and suicide.

We all know, or knew, that guy. Not in your social circle, but known nonetheless; someone’s older brother, cousin or drinking buddy. Whenever they had a captive audience they tell you tales of their exploits when they’re not kicking around suburban Lowestoft. In between puffs of cigarette smoke and the cheapest whiskey available, they’ll say they tried to join the army, but the recruitment people told them they were just too brilliant to waste in an infantry unit. Or they are an off-duty bodyguard who was lying low because The Mafia was looking for them (don’t ask why, shut up). Or that they had just signed a contract to replace The Undertaker at The Wrestling™ and would be jetting off to the US in the near future. The intensity of their testimony may, for a brief second, sucker you in, but you’ll soon realize that these people are more Walter Mitty than Walter White. Now imagine what that guy would look like if they’d been handed $100 million, and you’ll get a fairly decent pen portrait of John McAfee in his later years.

Running with the Devil: The wild world of John McAfee is a new documentary, arriving on Netflix on August 24th. It harnesses footage from the lost, unreleased Vice documentary On The Run with John McAfee, as well as film McAfee commissioned himself. It attempts to chronicle the life of the antivirus software pioneer from when he was named as a person of interest following the death of his neighbor Gegory Faull in Belize, through to his death in 2021. McAfee would spend his last decade on the run from pursuers, both real and imaginary, become embroiled in a cryptocurrency scam, try to run for US president (twice) and loudly declare that he refused to pay his taxes, which attracted the attention of the IRS. Arrested in Spain on charges of tax evasion, he died by suicide in his prison cell.

Devil is broken into three rough parts, each told from the perspective of the people in McAfee’s orbit at the time. Part one focuses on then-Vice editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro and legendary photojournalist Robert King, who accompanied McAfee on his escape to Guatemala. Part Two covers McAfee’s backstory and his relationship with ghostwriter Alex Cody Foster, with whom he sat for a series of interviews. Part Three shows how McAfee would eventually reconnect with Robert King, and asked him to become his personal biographer as he sailed on his yacht, mostly around South America. The footage is interspersed with commentary from McAfee’s partners, as well as Foster, Castoro and King.

Something that’s clear from both the footage and the contributors is that McAfee was obsessed with truth, but not always as you or I would understand it. There are several times when he fixates upon his legacy, his reputation, his image, his story and how he would be perceived. And yet the story was malleable, the facts unclear, and his behavior erratic – while on the run, he would buy a disguise and then proudly tell everyone in the store his name, and pose for photographs. McAfee’s behavior mirrors the cult leader who’s gone all-in on the grand deception, both in his use of charm, and his propensity for violence. More than once he’s pictured or discussed pointing a gun at friends and allies for what feels like nothing more than the pleasure of being a bully, or at least to remind everyone who had the power.

If you’re looking for some sort of truth, or grand coherent narrative to help you grasp who John McAfee was, however, you won’t get it here. That’s not a criticism of the documentary – McAfee loved to hint about who he was without ever saying it out loud, and always muddying his own water. There are scenes where he implies he is responsible for the death of both his abusive father and Faull, but never to anyone’s satisfaction. But it’s similarly clear that much of his bravado disappears when he’s faced with real consequences for his actions. Much is made, too, of his substance abuse, which seems to have supercharged his paranoia and delusional thinking.

Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee. John McAfee in Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Netflix

Much of the footage shot by King is low-res, untreated first-person digital video, although there’s little shakycam here. It instantly dates the footage back to the start of the last decade, and sets the scene perfectly given the turn-of-the-millennium anxieties it creates. It works here, too, because it captures the unpleasant stale air in rooms that haven’t had their windows opened for too long. Rooms scattered with dirt and loose tobacco flakes, a half-empty whiskey bottle resting on its side next to some bath salts and a loaded handgun. It helps capture the smallness of the man in his decline, especially as he rages against not the dying of the light, but to the world’s seeming indifference. I imagine that anyone trying to dock a yacht in a foreign country with a cadre of automatic weapons and mercenaries on board would be greeted with a frosty reception from the local police. But, for McAfee, it’s all part of the grand conspiracy the world has contorted around him, and it’s sad. But you can’t feel too much sympathy for him given the trail of destruction left in his wake, and there’s little closure offered for his victims here.

If there’s one thing I wish the film did better, it’s helping the audience keep track of who, and where, everyone is at each point. I’m not always a fan of documentaries with hand-holding narrators, but this is the sort of film that really needs you to have Wikipedia to hand. That’s not to say it’s not worth watching, both if you knew of McAfee or if the original saga had passed you by. But if it lacks something, it’s enough of a sense of place and time to help you keep track of all of the things that McAfee was up to, and when.

It’s funny, several of my colleagues met with McAfee over the years – including this Engadget Show segment back in 2013. (Back then, McAfee said that he was parodying and leaning in to his insalubrious reputation while he made his viral videos. The documentary makes it clear that there was perhaps more truth than he was prepared to admit.) I’d even walked past McAfee several times at CES, often sitting alone in a sparsely-attended corner of one of the smaller show halls. I often wondered if I should go and speak to him, but there was something of the That Guy even when he was ostensibly on his best behavior. I could imagine him clamping his hand on my shoulder, fixing me with his dark eyes and spinning a fresh bewitching tale of mystery and intrigue, although as it turns out, the truth was probably wilder.

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NASA Says Hurricane Didn’t Hurt Artemis I Hardware, Sets New Launch Window

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NASA Says Hurricane Didn’t Hurt Artemis I Hardware, Sets New Launch Window

NASA’s Artemis I moon mission launch, stalled by Hurricane Ian, has a new target for takeoff. The launch window for step one of NASA’s bold plan to return humans to the lunar surface now opens Nov. 12 and closes Nov. 27, the space agency said Friday. 

The news comes after the pending storm caused NASA to scrub the latest Artemis I Iaunch, which had been scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2. As Hurricane Ian threatened to travel north across Cuba and into Florida, bringing rain and extreme winds to the launch pad’s vicinity, NASA on Monday rolled its monster Space Launch System rocket, and the Orion spacecraft it’ll propel, back indoors to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. 

The hurricane made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, bringing with it a catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding that left dozens of people dead, caused widespread power outages and ripped buildings from their foundations. Hurricane Ian is “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday, adding that it will take “months, years, to rebuild.”

Initial inspections Friday to assess potential impacts of the devastating storm to Artemis I flight hardware showed no damage, NASA said. “Facilities are in good shape with only minor water intrusion identified in a few locations,” the agency said in a statement. 

Next up, teams will complete post-storm recovery operations, which will include further inspections and retests of the flight termination system before a more specific launch date can be set. The new November launch window, NASA said, will also give Kennedy employees time to address what their families and homes need post-storm. 

Artemis I is set to send instruments to lunar orbit to gather vital information for Artemis II, a crewed mission targeted for 2024 that will carry astronauts around the moon and hopefully pave the way for Artemis III in 2025. Astronauts on that high-stakes mission will, if all goes according to plan, put boots on the lunar ground, collect samples and study the water ice that’s been confirmed at the moon’s South Pole. 

The hurricane-related Artemis I rollback follows two other launch delays, the first due to an engine problem and the second because of a hydrogen leak.

Hurricane Ian has been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone but is still bringing heavy rains and gusty winds to the Mid-Atlantic region and the New England coast.

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What You Get in McDonalds’ New Happy-Meal-Inspired Box for Adults

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What You Get in McDonalds’ New Happy-Meal-Inspired Box for Adults

You’ve pulled up to McDonald’s as a full-on adult. You absolutely do not need a toy with your meal, right? Joking. Of course you do.

The fast-food chain will soon sell boxed meals geared toward adults, and each one has a cool, odd-looking figurine inside. 

The meal has an odd name — the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box — that’s based on the fashion brand collaborating with McDonald’s on this promotion. 

According to McDonald’s, the box is inspired by the memory of enjoying a Happy Meal as a kid. The outside of the box is multicolored and features the chain’s familiar golden arches. 

The first day you can get a Cactus Plant Flea Market Box will be Monday, Oct. 3. Pricing is set by individual restaurants and may vary, according to McDonald’s. It’ll be available in the drive-thru, in-restaurant, by delivery or on the McDonald’s app, while supplies last.

You can choose between a Big Mac or 10-piece Chicken McNuggets. It will also come with fries and a drink.

Now about those toys. The boxes will pack in one of four figurines. Three of the four appear to be artsy takes on the classic McDonald’s characters Grimace, Hamburglar and Birdie the Early Bird, while the fourth is a little yellow guy sporting a McDonald’s shirt called Cactus Buddy.

In other McD news, Halloween buckets could be returning to the chain this fall. So leave some room in your stomach for a return trip.

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Why companies like iHeartMedia, NBCU rely on homegrown IP to build metaverse engagements

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Why companies like iHeartMedia, NBCU rely on homegrown IP to build metaverse engagements

To avoid potential blowback from a skeptical audience, retailers as well as media and entertainment companies are learning to invest in their homegrown intellectual properties while building virtual brand activations inside Roblox or Fortnite.

Take, for instance, when they get it wrong.

Earlier this week, Walmart launched its own Roblox world — called Walmart Land — and was roundly mocked for it across social media given the announcement’s disjointed brand message and apparent lack of life. In one viral tweet, a Twitter user described a clip of Walmart CMO William White introducing the Roblox space as “one of the saddest videos ever created.”

This video of Walmart’s chief marketing officer on a stage in Roblox talking about its new “Walmart Land” experience is one of the saddest videos ever created. pic.twitter.com/HtIIToShKs

— Zack Zwiezen (@ZwiezenZ) September 26, 2022

To some extent, this sort of criticism is to be expected during the early days of the metaverse.

“Walmart is an iconic brand; when you see them coming into a platform like Roblox, people are going to be 10 times more critical of what is being launched,” said Yonatan Raz-Fridman, CEO of the Roblox developer studio Supersocial.

But Walmart’s size is not its only disadvantage as it dips its toes into Roblox. Although Walmart has a widely recognizable brand, it owns few intellectual properties that users are actually interested in experiencing virtually — a shortcoming reflected by the somewhat cavernous emptiness of Roblox’s Walmart Land.

Provided by NBCUniversal

The success of other recent brand activations is evidence that media and entertainment brands are better equipped to build metaverse spaces that can dodge online skepticism, thanks to their wealth of owned IP.

“They are having to reinvent themselves, to a certain degree, but that is in their DNA,” said Jesse Streb, global svp of technology and engineering at the agency DEPT. “So they have a unique advantage over, say, some kludgy company that sells lumber, or a construction company.”

For example, iHeartMedia’s Roblox and Fortnite spaces were inspired by the mass media corporation’s wealth of popular real-life events, such as the Jingle Ball Tour and iHeartRadio Music Festival, with virtual versions of musicians like Charlie Puth performing pre-recorded concerts that allow real-time audience interaction.

“There’s a strong brand association with the IP, down to a station level — you’re in the New York area, you probably know Z100,” said iHeartMedia evp of business development and partnerships Jess Jerrick. “The same is true for the event IP, or the IP that we now have in the podcasting space, and of course our radio broadcast talent. So there’s no shortage of really strong IP we can bring into these spaces.”

Translating real-life properties into the metaverse is also an enticing prospect for brands that view metaverse platforms as an experimental marketing channel, allowing them to bring tried-and-true IP into their virtual activations instead of designing them from the ground level. This was part of the strategy behind the recent Tonight Show activation in Fortnite Creative, which was designed in collaboration between NBCUniversal and Samsung. “We’re looking at it holistically — how do we find fans in new ways, and use IP that fans love in new ways?” said NBCU president of advertising and client partnerships Mark Markshall.

Since opening on Sept. 14, iHeartLand has already enticed over 1.5 million Roblox users to visit. The company aims to retain that attention with a schedule of virtual programming featuring popular musicians and personalities.

“At our core, we are essentially an influencer network; our broadcast talent are some of the most connected, most engaging influencers at work in media today,” said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeart Digital Audio Group. “That gives us this sort of superpower, to be able to go into new-ish platforms, like Roblox or Fortnite, because we talk to our listeners through those influencers.”

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