Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been getting some good mileage from self-deprecating humor in recent high-profile speeches. There was the sidesplitting...

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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been getting some good mileage from self-deprecating humor in recent high-profile speeches.

There was the sidesplitting “Bill’s Last Day” video at the International Consumer Electronics Show. And last week, Gates opened his speech at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, with these quips:

“As you all may know, in July I’ll make a big career change. I’m not worried; I believe I’m still marketable,” he said, getting laughs. “I’m a self-starter, I’m proficient in Microsoft Office. I guess that’s it. Also I’m learning how to give money away.”

Gates’ Davos speech, which he described as the most important he’ll give this year, centered on the idea of creative capitalism, “an approach where governments, businesses, and nonprofits work together to stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases the world’s inequities.”

The idea sounded to us like a version of the “social business” espoused by microcredit pioneer and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who spoke here recently.

A Wall Street Journal story on Gates’ “creative capitalism” idea noted as much, and also shared the back story of how Gates developed the ideas he expressed in the Davos speech.

The books that he read, as reported by The Journal, include:

• “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” the less-famous predecessor to “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith.

• Former World Bank economist William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden,” which suggests five decades of international aid have done little for the world’s poor. Gates hated it, according to The Journal.

• “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,” by University of Michigan professor C.K. Prahalad, which argues that businesses should not overlook the world’s poor as a market. Gates dined with him “near Seattle” in 2004, The Journal reported.

• “The Bottom Billion,” by former World Bank director Paul Collier, which calls out the widening gap between the world’s richest and the poorest.

Getting a break

With spring-break season looming, Farecast chimed in with this observation: Travelers will probably pay 10 to 12 percent more for a plane ticket during that time.

The Seattle-based company, which provides predictive information about airline fares, offers a couple of tips:

• Avoid traveling during the height of college breaks — around March 8 to 22.

• Think Tuesday. A Tuesday-to-Tuesday trip saves a bunch, especially compared with flying on weekends.

What’s in an Office?

Todd Peters, the former Staples exec whom Microsoft hired to head up its Mobile Communications Business as corporate vice president of marketing, said he had a leg up when he took on the task of raising consumer awareness of his former employer. Staples came out with the “Easy Button” campaign under his watch.

Still, when he got there, he said, the biggest thing Staples had going for it on the branding front was that its name didn’t start with Office (unlike Office Depot and OfficeMax).

Top of the clubs

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America last week named Robbie Bach, president of the Microsoft division responsible for fun, as chairman-elect for 2009-10. Under his watch, Microsoft has plunged into the video-game business with the Xbox and now Xbox 360 game console and the Zune digital media player.

Bach, officially president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, has long been involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs.

The news release was silent on whether Bach would hook the clubs up with Xbox 360s.

Download, a column of news bits, observations and miscellany, is gathered by The Seattle Times technology staff. We can be reached at 206-464-2265 or