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But there were disappointments, too. None as painful as the case of Jan Sloot, introduced by an old friend from the Dutch Phillips on whose board Perkins had served for two years.

Sloot, a spare-time inventor, had spent most of his life as a television repair technician and the last 15 years on his invention. The inventor's idea involved a revolutionary concept - putting two hours of video, including sound, on a smart card. It seemed loony, yet looked like the idea of a lifetime. The demonstration left Perkins, the man with hundreds of deals behind him, excited, unable to sleep that night, and eager to discuss the next step.

He phoned his friend early the next day. "After you left," the friend said, "the inventor collapsed, we rushed him to hospital and he died."

"But we are still doing the deal," said Perkins.

"Yes, we own the technology," he was told, "but we have to find the compiler. Without it the system doesn't work."

It never showed up. After 15 years of work and the sudden prospect of acknowledgement and reward, poor Jan Sloot died - in a brief state of ecstasy, his life fulfilled. And so ended the "deal of a lifetime".