About 15 or 20 years ago, I was attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, as many more people were wont to do in those days. CES then was today’s equivalent of Burning Man: a hot and crowded circus, way too expensive, a place to be seen and to see naked people in unlikely places. In short, CES was, in those heady days, a gargantuan beast. The event took up the newish convention center, plus two other huge hotel convention venues.
Depending on the time of day and day of the week, it could take over an hour to get from one venue to the next – and one didn’t simply walk from one to the other. Too far, too cold (CES took place in January and Vegas can be bone-chilling cold at that time of year.), and, well, nobody walks in Vegas.
As it happened, I was invited by an important vendor of ours to a small luncheon with Larry Ellison. I said yes, of course, because, you know, any way to escape the nonstop noise and bustle of the show was much appreciated. And Larry Ellison was a huge draw for a person like me who is fascinated by the bizarre quirks of others. (Ellison had just finished a huge fight with his neighbors over the rights to fly his Soviet MiG jet fighter.)
Lunch was held in a small, non-descript hotel meeting room; the room held only five tables. There was a small lectern up front. When we sat down, no Larry. Salad served, no Larry. Entrée served, no Larry. No Larry through dessert and coffee. I remarked to my host that it must have all either been a clever way to get a captive audience, or a not-so-clever joke.
After the dessert plates had been well and cleared, the doors opened and all heads turned.
In walked a phalanx of attractive, stylish and sleek women. Maybe two dozen. They fanned out against the room’s walls. Then, in came Ellison himself with another attractive, stylish and sleek woman carrying a leather hatbox. She and Larry walked to the front, where the lectern stood. She walked a half pace behind him the entire time and stood behind his left shoulder.
Ellison talked about the cloud. He never used that term, nor would anyone there have understood him had he done so. No one knew or talked about the cloud in those days. But he sketched out the cloud, alright, from principles to use to utility.
I thought it was brilliant and completely original.
But in the back of my head, that hatbox, and the attractive, stylish and sleek woman who carried it, kept a certain part of my attention. “What the hell was in it?” I wondered.
When he finished his remarks, Ellison took a couple of questions and answered them in a way that suggested great boredom. And then, he was gone.
He walked out, followed immediately by the woman with the hatbox, then by the two dozen women who’d lined the room’s walls. Then the door was closed and that, as they say, was that.
A few of us mentioned the cloud, or how we’d heard Ellison conceive it at any rate, but mostly, we all wanted to know what was in the leather hatbox and why himself felt it necessary to have it so close at all times. None of us seemed ready to invest in cloud computing after that lunch, but quite a few of us would have put down real serious money to answer the hatbox riddle.