Ravi Desai, Silicon Valley executive

Editor’s note: Although we have confirmed that Ravi Desai worked at Quantum, we can not vouch for the contents of these “Diary” entries. For the complete explanation, see this “Press Box” column. 

Something’s eerie at Comdex this year. None of the usual clichés prevail at all. On the other hand, parties remain as strange as ever. Consider the text of a fairly typical invitation:

This ticket allows one mortal into a mystical world of spirits and sorcerers for a spellbinding night of food, drink, and merriment.

This particular party entailed taking a stone-walled elevator down to a faux dungeon, after which toga-clad waitresses handed out drinks in plastic cups and an ample supply of cocktail wieners. At this party, I win a raffle allowing me a night at a substantially more tasteful hotel elsewhere in the country. While I’m standing in the hallway someone comes up to me and demands my presence at a meeting across the street.

The meeting turns out to be with a company that is wondering how much business to do with us. I’m invited because of my title. I have rapidly discovered that no one actually knows what “Strategic Planning” means, and as a result, people assume I either do everything or nothing. The truth matters little in this context. We chat for a while and I leave, not having accomplished much.

I return to my room to get ready for today’s meetings, but I cannot focus. Instead I start reading the magazines Harrah’s has left in the room. Most hotels seem to have some combination of utterly ad-driven publications (Milpitas Today!) and good loo reading (Newsweek). Las Vegas hotels, though, are completely focused on gambling. The magazines they leave in the room have titles like Casino Player. The cover story of this issue is titled “Card Counting Made Simple: Learn it in Ten Minutes.”

I fall asleep under my velour blanket wondering which of these two options is true: Either Harrah’s management is stupid enough to teach their customers how to count cards, or some customers are stupid enough to practice a system of gambling provided in their rooms by the people most in a position to benefit from its practice, the casino owners.

Morning arrives much too early. I wake at 5 a.m. to get ready for a breakfast meeting an hour later. Apparently others have done so as well, since the hot water runs out in the middle of my shower. At breakfast I meet the chairman of fairly large company that tried to recruit me a year earlier. We banter about how good a choice I made (his company’s stock has dropped by 40 percent over the past year; Quantum’s has quadrupled). He still tries to recruit me, for reasons which are still unclear. I stammer a great deal.

All recruiting is a mystery to me. I once got rejected for a position as a late-night gas-station attendant, despite my prodigious cash-register skills. On the other hand, I’ve been offered jobs for which I have absolutely no ostensible or real qualification–general manager of a rapidly growing package-delivery company, for example. I think I was offered that on the basis of having received many packages.

The chairman and I talk about potential partnerships between our two firms. I leave feeling good–my services in demand, my employer attractive to others as a partner. I sprint to the first of several meetings, all of which have to be crammed in before my 11 a.m. flight back to San Francisco. All of them end with polite nods and smiles all around; no one gets crossed off the list of follow-up calls today.

My final encounter at Comdex is perhaps the oddest of the lot. One of O.J. Simpson’s defense lawyers is standing in front of me in the painfully slow line at United. Misguidedly star-struck, I offer a comparison of our laptops; he pulls out his Toshiba and I my IBM ThinkPad. My mind entirely deserts me. I suddenly say, “If the drive’s full, you’re not cool.” He turns away rapidly while I cringe at my joke.

When I fly back to San Francisco, my flight is half-empty.