Finding Bill Gates Without Even Trying

Mar 23, 2018

IC Staff

My life has been a bit surreal since I joined the Interactive Commons  (IC) as lead 3D artist.  Well, truth be known, it was a bit surreal before the IC, but that’s another story.  The IC is a new team of artists and coders working together to help revolutionize the way anatomy is taught (and do a few other things).  A large part of my memories of working here over the past several months are made up of things that I saw, but know were never really there.  These illusions are made possible by Microsoft’s augmented reality headset, the Hololens.  Still, working with magic glasses in the basement of Thwing has not been the sole surreal element of my job.  My experience “finding Bill Gates,” also ranks highly.

So, how do you find Bill Gates hanging out  in the same room with you without really trying to make that happen.  I’m sure there are easier (and more random) ways to find a famous person, but this is how I did it: You can pay roughly $31,000 for entry at WEF as an individual, but if you find yourself a staff member of the IC invited as a guest of Microsoft to the World Economic Conference, things get a bit cheaper for you.  (We were there to showcase IC work with their amazing AR technology.)

Dr. Mark Griswold (Faculty Director of the IC) is leading the trip. He is the comet, and the rest of the IC the tail of his comet… like Sherlock has several Watsons. That’s what it’s like to work with him. You’re the Watson. The game is afoot/the trip begins.

Take off from Cleveland. A few plane and train rides later, you are in Davos, Switzerland.  Getting to the highest city in Europe during winter is a bit of an ordeal. My first trip to Europe.

First day:

Wake up in Davos Switzerland before sunrise. Shower. Dress. Got to get to conference building in downtown Davos. Jet lag killing me. Sub-zero temperatures outside. Beautiful vistas. Must walk to bus stop.

Thoughts walking to bus:

“This place is so f’ng beautiful!”

“I can’t feel my f’ng face!”

“Wow, look at the sun washing those mountains in morning light!”

“If the bus is late, I’m going to freeze to death here.”

Large German Shepard loose. Barking.

“Nice… dog… nice dog….”

Owner gets dog. I tell the owner in English that he should name his dog “Coffee.” He understands enough English to laugh. (Sorry. I studied Spanish. No help in Switzerland.) 

Hair frozen. Note to self: must dry hair completely before leaving. Snow. Glad I bought new boots. 

Mark talks to a former Human Rights Hague Lawyer at bus stop. Small talk.  Lawyer says part of the magic of WEF is meeting so many amazing people.  (He’s talking about “[super VIPs].”) How? “Serendipity,” he says. He then describes his own brush with British royalty from the previous year.

Bus arrives. To the “red zone.” Going through security. Sub machine gun toting guards. (Very friendly military. Call you, “Sir.” Open doors for you. Why not.) At booth. Journalist. Economists. Everyone’s rushing to get ready. Game faces on. Setting up Hololenses. First WEF attendees come in to try our Hololens demo. To do list for the day:

1.    Get sleeping pills.

2.    Get cold cereal.

3.    Help show important people the future of education.

“Hey look!  It’s John Kerry.”


“You missed him. He just walked by with a bunch of reporters following him.”


Third day:

“Guess what? Saw Shakira.” [ My colleague shows me pictures on her phone.] 

“Really? Why is she attending the World Economic Conference?”

“She wants bankers to give money to poor whales.”

“Money to whales… you’re joking, right?”

“Yep.  I have no idea why she is here. And of course I’m joking. Whales don’t have pockets… no place to put money even if they had it. Now kangaroos… that’s entirely different. That would make sense…”


Third day:

“Saw George Clooney and his wife.”


“Microsoft cafe. You been there?”

“No. I want to try out Microsoft’s new Surface Studio.”

“Yeah. They have several over there on demo.”

“Got to get over there on a break.”

“Why is Clooney here?”

“He told us that his wife made him do it. He said something about how he hates being married.”

“You’re joking, right?”


Fourth day:

“So after you guys left yesterday, the CEO of Microsoft came by the booth…”

“Bill Gates?”

“No, are you joking? Everyone knows the CEO of Microsoft is Satya Nadella… ”

“Oh, yeah, I was joking… I knew that… yeah, Satya… I keep up with my CEOs, let me tell you. Yeah… Ronald McDonald, CEO of McDonalds, right there. Colonel Sanders….”

“Stop it.”


Fifth (last) day:

On break, I walk into the Microsoft cafe to try out the new Surface Studio. Think a giant monitor you arrange like a desk and digitally draw and paint with. (They also invented a sort of new magnetic art mouse called the Surface Dial.) More impressive magic from Microsoft.

I look up from painting on the Surface Studio. 

“Is that Bill Gates?” [Bill Gates on far end of cafe talking to folks and laughing.]

“Yeah, it is.”


I thought briefly about talking to him. Not actually talking to him, just musing over what I would say to him, and what he would say to me.

Me: “Hololens… amazing. Thank you.  Incredible technology. Years ahead… years….”

Bill Gates: [He smiles and nods.]

[awkward pause…got to say something….what to say…. ]

Me: “I have the 64 bit version of Windows. Good stuff.  Fast. Smooth… like butter…”

[awkward pause…]

Bill Gates: “Thanks. We try…”

[awkward pause…]

Me: “What are you guys going to call the next version of Windows? Windows 11?”

Bill Gates: “No, we’re going to call it Jerry. Don’t tell anyone. It’s just a PR stunt.”

Me: “Are you joking?”

Bill Gates: “Yep.”

No, I didn’t talk to him, and pictures of attendees were not allowed, but, nonetheless, that’s how you find Bill Gates without really trying too hard. Well, that’s how I did it.

  • Galen Tingle

IC Staff

Posted in