April 26, 2011

Rock and Roll, Philanthropy, Brain Science and Computer Code: Paul Allen is a Modern Day Renaissance Man

IN 2007 and 2008, Time magazine named Paul Allen one of the hundred most influential people in the world. His impact has been felt in science, technology, business, medicine, sports, music and philanthropy. His passion, curiosity and intellectual rigor - combined with the resources to launch and support new initiatives - have literally changed the world.

The "bitter billionaire," as he's been called, appeared before a crowd of some 400 people at the Computer History Museum in a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

Mr. Allan came to the Silicon Valley to pump his new book, "Idea Man: A Memoir By The Co-founder of Microsoft," which is the story of this remarkable man's life. While the book paints a less sometimes than flattering portrait of Bill Gates, with whom he co-founded Microsoft in 1975, one of the greatest stories he told last night was how he and Mr. Gates, as young high school kids, would dive through dumpsters looking for discarded computer code. From there the story of the evening weaved its way through the years and explored some of his many endeavors - buying professional sports teams, building a super yacht, throwing star-studded parties, his work on brain science, philanthropy and SpaceshipOne.

Now for some of the rough spots of the evening. (Forgive me, I can't help myself).

Jose Antonio Vargas did a remarkably poor job conducting the interview. He never exposed Mr. Allen's true inner-qualities - what makes him tick. Many of his questions for the "idea man" started with, "I'm curious" and he seemed more focused on himself than he was on the guest sitting to his left. Mr. Vargas regularly interrupted the guest and tried too hard to be both cute and funny.

I can see why Mr. Vargas is a journalist and not a public speaker.

Next, the sound system in the large auditorium was bad. At events like these a quality sound system makes all the difference in the world. It gives voices a warm richness. And just as true, a bad speaker system gives voices annoying qualities and that impacts the enjoyment of the event.

And finally, while a big thank you goes to Kepler's Book Store for co-sponsoring the event, the process they used for registering people once they showed up - was, well - lacking. Inside the museum there was a long line waiting to get name badges. There were no signs telling you what to do or which table to go for sign-ins or will calls. God bless the "volunteers" who worked those tables. The unfortunate thing is that they didn't seem that versed in what they were doing plus they didn't do any of it with much speed.

I guess it was the juxtaposition of it all.

Here I was in a computer museum (where the current theme is "Revolutionaries") to hear the co-founder of Microsoft, while volunteers thumbed through a small accordion-type cardboard file to find my 4 x 2 inch ticket. And once inside, audience questions were written on small snips of paper and manually collected and passed to the stage.

You'd think that a computer museum would have taken Internet questions before the event and had them ready to go - or something?

I am too harsh. Forgive me!

Oh, for a great interview of Paul Allen by a pro - visit the Charlie Rose site here.

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