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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 29, 2007 at 10:21 PM

Ballmer’s next job and other gossip from “D”

CARLSBAD, Calif. — I’m fighting the paparazzi impulse here at the WSJ’s D Conference, but I’ve got to share a few tidbits.

After some tense policy talk, John McCain and host Kara Swisher cracked up the audience with the obligatory Microsoft joke.

McCain had been saying that if he were president, he’d fill key positions with the smartest people in the country, instead of appointing cronies and political hacks.

Asked for examples, he mentioned Cisco Chief Executive John Chambers, who was sitting in the front row, and FedEx founder Fred Smith. Smith could help sort out the defense acquisition system, McCain said.

Then he said Steve Ballmer is another person he’d like to hire to help run the country.

Swisher chimed in:

“I’m curious, Steve Ballmer’s secretary of state, right?”

McCain caught the wave of laughter with a comeback:

“How about ambassador to China?”

They schmoozed backstage, according to the D blog, which has a photo.

I wish I’d known about McCain’s offer when I saw Ballmer earlier during the pre-dinner cocktail reception.

Ballmer was talking to some investor types and mentioning that his busy summer schedule includes a Harvard reunion. I butted in and asked if he’ll still have time to buy Yahoo! He smiled and said he wouldn’t comment on that topic, but I think he was smiling to be polite and not to send any kind of message about a deal. What he really wanted to talk about was the Detroit Pistons.

On the way to the evening events, I rode the elevator down with uber investor Roger McNamee, who was questioning the way Washington, D.C., media have been covering McCain.

Just as he got rolling, the elevator door opened and there was Don Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co.

Graham was in a crowd and carrying bags up to his room. We sort of mumbled and glanced toward him as we passed, but the freakish timing of the appearance basically ended the conversation and we wandered off toward the registration desk.

As I said, I don’t want to go paparazzi, but every time I write about Charles Simonyi I get a bunch of questions about his friendship with Martha Stewart. Yes, I saw them together tonight at the reception, looking pretty snazzy, at one point talking to Rob Glaser. I thought about asking about the menu she created for his spaceflight last month but held off.

Even though this is a conference hosted by journalists, I felt like I’d be about as welcome in their conversation cluster as a fly in the champagne. I left them alone by the cupcake and fondue line and headed back to blog central, my room with a view of the parking lot, where I’m working through the tin of Swedish fish candy that Glaser’s RealNetworks put in the goodie bags. (The tin’s lid says “Real it in!”).

Comments | More in | Topics: Billionaire techies, D conference


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