Gates draws on doodles mix-up to liven up speech

Bill Gates found himself in the middle of a bizarre mix-up last week involving the British press and Prime Minister Tony Blair, but the Microsoft chairman ended up with the last laugh.

It all started at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, two weeks ago, where Gates participated in a panel that also included Blair and U2's Bono. After the session, a reporter for the London's Daily Mirror discovered a page of notes and doodles that the newspaper assumed were the work of the prime minister.

The doodler in Davos, Switzerland, was Bill
Gates, left, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, center. U2 lead singer Bono wasn't a

The newspaper called in a psychologist who conducted an extensive analysis of the doodles and concluded, among other things, that Blair was "struggling to concentrate and his mind is going everywhere, but he knows he will get to the bottom of the problems in time."

Other U.K. papers quickly jumped on the bandwagon, hiring their own psychologists and handwriting experts who examined the scribbling, triangles and squares to determine, among other things, that Blair was "not a natural leader," that he was "struggling to concentrate," and that he was "stressed and tense."

The only problem: None of the papers checked to see if the doodles actually belonged to Blair. And they didn't. In fact, it looked like they belonged to Gates, a spokesman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told reporters last week.

But rather than take offense at the expert analysis, the Microsoft chairman used the incident to add a dose of humor to a speech he gave to a group of software developers on the company's Redmond campus Friday morning.

"Actually they were my doodles," he said with a sly grin, after explaining what happened. "And so, I thought I would let you know exactly what I had there."

Then Gates showed a parodied version of his notes, with spoof scribbles such as, "So hungry -- need cheeseburger," "I miss Clippy," referring to the former Office help assistant, and "Why does Bill Clinton get to sit next to Angelina Jolie?" -- referring to two other Davos attendees.

And finally, he couldn't resist a plug for Microsoft's note-taking software. "If I had OneNote," he said, "it would have been a lot better."

SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS: Microsoft touts the ability of its new MSN Search engine to not only search for keywords but also to answer questions posed in natural language.

Sound familiar? It does to the folks at Ask Jeeves, the search service that has been using that approach since the late 1990s. A public relations representative for the company took the opportunity of last week's MSN Search launch to send an e-mail to reporters highlighting questions that Ask Jeeves could answer but that MSN Search couldn't.

Among them: "What does Bill Gates look like?" and "Is it raining in Redmond?"

LEAVING THE DONALD: Ah, The Insider has a new friend at Microsoft. She's famous, too.

Verna Felton, the 31-year-old business manager at the Redmond software company, called last week from New York City to talk about her decision to quit the popular NBC reality show "The Apprentice."

That's the show with real estate tycoon Donald Trump and in which candidates compete for a job with his organization. It's a tough gig.

But a non-disclosure agreement with NBC bars her from saying exactly what happened.

"I can confirm there were actual events that made me upset," she said. "I went into this because I am a serious businessperson. When in actuality, there is so much going on with the backstabbing and people fighting for camera time, that this wasn't the game I wanted to play."

There was a run-in with another contestant during a job to remodel a New Jersey shore hotel. She also was working with hardly any sleep.

The producers, she added, could have used clips to portray her as a strong person and not make her appear weak.

On top of all that, there was jockeying among candidates for modeling jobs and TV appearances.

So, she exercised her right under her contract and left the show.

Since her departure, she said friendly New Yorkers have cheered her on for her decision. Some have posed for photographs with her, too.

Job offers, ranging from marketing to public speaking opportunities, have come her way.

OK, Verna. The Insider has a boardroom, too. Come on over for a visit and a chat. The Insider will buy you lunch and introduce you to the P-I's publisher, if you'd like.

There will be no television cameras. The Insider promises.