One Saturday morning in the Summer of 1982, I hopped on a couple of buses and made my way to the Robson Square Media Centre, which at the time was the city’s busiest (and perhaps only) place where conventions were held, located around the perimeter of the skating rink, now part of UBC.
I was there because there was a computer convention going on… one of these pioneer computer shows, long before the rise (and fall) of Comdex.
I went around checking out the cool technology of the day, and gravitated towards a few booths with familiar names. One of them was Microsoft, and I got to chatting with a guy who didn’t look too much older than me, some geeky skinny teenager with whom a I had a great chat about the newly-released Microsoft Flight Simulator… a game which I was a huge fan of, and continue to be. I’m sure if the hours spent on MS FlightSim counted towards real pilot hours, I’d be qualified to fly a 747 by now. I had no idea about that company’s corporate structure or who this guy might be; I just appreciated that somebody “official” with the company found time to chat with this pesky little kid, and listen to his thousand questions and suggestions. Nice guy, whoever he was (his name-tag said “Bill”). A year or two later, I realized who that had been.
Sixteen years later, I was sitting at a $1/$2 limit hold’em table in The Mirage poker room in Las Vegas when the PA system paged “Bill for one-two, Bill for one-two”. And shortly after that, Bill Gates sat down a few seats away from me with a few hundred dollars in chips, just like any other regular Joe. And for the most part, he was treated as such; just one more person trying to play his game. I said “nice hand” to him at some point, after he outplayed me and took some of my money. But that was the extent of my interaction with him, and that was the last time I saw him in person.
My definition of knowing someone might be: When you bump into them on the street (6 feet apart these days!) and you both know each other. There are problems with that definition, because sometimes one person knows the other, but not the other way around. More than once, somebody has come up to me like they’ve known me all their lives with a huge hello, how are you, what’s new, how’s work, etc etc. And I have no idea who they are. They look familiar, sort of… maybe? Awkward. More awkward is when both of you know that you should know each other — and probably you do, from somewhere… but neither is sure…. “Oh yeah, hey… how are you? …how’s… uhhh… the family, yeah the kids, how are the kids, gosh they must be getting so big by now, how old are they? Oh yeah wow, how time flies, hey we should get together and have lunch or something… yeah, for sure, have your people call my people and set something up, haha. Yeah, cool, seeya”….. ok, who the hell was that… Super Awkward.
And actually, I guess that two very famous people who’ve never met could bump into each other on the street and know exactly who the other is, but they don’t actually know each other.
Anyway, by any definition, I don’t know Bill Gates… but I’ve been following what he’s been up to for most of my life… he’s gone from the guy who co-founded Microsoft to the guy who ran Microsoft to the guy who stepped back from running Microsoft to the guy who retired entirely from Microsoft, to pursue other things. And one of the things he’s pursued is the foundation he set up, along with his wife.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is involved in sorts of things, many of them hugely ambitious — the sort of thing that requires teams of supremely qualified people, and billions of dollars. Thanks to his life’s work and success, he’s able to provide both… and seeks to tackle things on a global scale: education, health, poverty, access to information and technology. For everyone.
Among his epic pursuits: he seeks to eradicate polio, he pours money into HIV research and treatment and he provides vaccinations for poverty-stricken countries. Thanks to him, deaths from measles in Africa are down 90% in the last 20 years.
So when Bill Gates starts talking about a potential vaccine, it’s worth listening, and he’s had a lot to say. Some of the highlights include his explanation on how a process that can typically take 5 years could be compressed into just 18 months, by overlapping parts of the process that typically would be done sequentially. For example, instead of waiting for a confirmed, tested and approved vaccine before mass-manufacturing, why not scale up the production of it while tests are still ongoing? At worst, it’s not good, and you just throw all that away… but if it works out, you’ve saved months or even years. There’s a cost to that, of course — throwing money at a problem sometimes means throwing the money away, but sometimes money can buy time, and this is one time where we all agree it’s worth it. And where would that money come from? Bill’s foundation is throwing $100 million at it — that’s a good start. Others are joining in as well. There are more than 100 vaccine-seeking research teams hard at work around the world, and probably 10% of them are onto something potentially viable. Human trials have already begun — something way ahead of the usual time-line. All of this, and much more, is worth reading on his blog.
And by the way, it bothers me greatly to hear the stupid nonsense being said about Bill Gates by the conspiracy-fuelled Covidiots whose version of reality somehow involves an evil Bill at the top of a convoluted mess of theories that make no sense at all. They’re not worth repeating, but feel free to “research” it if you want a good head-shake and laugh.
I know some people reading this know Bill Gates personally… a couple from my tech world; fellow geeks who’ve been working closely with Microsoft for decades. And from my horse world; Bill & Melinda’s daughter Jennifer is an accomplished show jumper, and the equestrian world is a small one…. so if any one of you see Bill any time soon, please tell him I say hello, and thank him for what’s he’s doing — from all of us. Of course he’ll have no idea who I am, but that’s ok — truth is, I’d like to “meet” him for a 3rd time in my life. Have his people call my people and set up a lunch, or something.