That Time an Apple Computer Called Someone an Asshole


Apple, as a company, are well known for, shall we say, borrowing the imagery of renowned intellectuals and thinkers to bolster the view of their own brand. Newton, Edison and Einstein to name but a few. But there’s only one intellectual heavyweight we’re aware of who took an exception to being associated with the Apple brand. To which Apple responded by calling him an asshole.

Okay so specifically Apple called him a Butt Head, but our guess is that’s only because they were trying to be polite.

Moving on, the genesis of this sordid tale of business fuckery is the development of Power Macintosh 7100 which we’re going to assume was like a regular Mac, but more powerful? Anyway the story goes that during development Apple engineers working on the 7100 had an internal codename for the device, the Carl Sagan. A common practice in tech, with out favourite examples coming from the world of video game console development where near enough every console had a usually much cooler codename during development.

Want some examples? Okay well for starters the Xbox One was known internally as SCORPIO. Not cool enough? Well how about the Dolphin? The internal codename for the admittedly aptly named GameCube. Then you have the Katana, which was the proposed name for Sega’s final wet fart of an effort in the marketplace before they settled on the Dreamcast.

The important thing to note though is that this is a common occurrence and usually the name either doesn’t really mean anything or is chosen as knowing nod to something or other. An engineering in joke if you will. For example the internal name for Microsoft Edge prior to release was Spartan, a nod to protagonist of Halo and fact it was designed to work seamlessly with their answer to Siri, Cortana. Another character from the same series.

In fact, it’s likely Carl Sagan himself would have had no idea that Apple had taken to calling their device this internally if the company themselves hadn’t mentioned it during an interview with MacWeek. Presumably the company expected the renowned astronomer to appreciate the gesture or at the very least, not throw a massive hissy fit about it. But that’s exactly what the esteemed man of space-science did, writing a pissy letter to the company demanding they change the name or else.

When Apple refused because, seriously, who really gave a shit, a programmer at the company asked to just change the name of the project to shut him decided on the acronym, BHA. When asked what this meant by Sagan, a sheepish Apple rep is said to have quietly told the scientist, presumably whilst sighing like, so hard –

Butt-Head Astronomer.

Sagan was incensed and sued the company for libel, a case he lost because it’s not illegal to call someone a butt-head, asshole or indeed anything like that because it’s a statement of opinion. Which is course protected by the first amendment.

When the judge informed Sagan of this and dismissed his case he instead opted to sue for using his name the first time. A suit which was again dismissed because it was only used internally and obviously didn’t confer any sort of endorsement, especially not with him shitting all over the company in the news.

Unperturbed Sagan tried to sue again, at which point Apple realised that he wasn’t going to let the issue go and just gave him some money to shut up and agreeing to tell engineers to change the name a final time. Which, to their credit, the engineers did do, opting instead to call the device the LAW. Which stood for Lawyers Are Wimps.