[Click here to register for DESIGN West 2013,
April 22-25 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. Options range
from an All-Access Pass -- which includes Black Hat (security)
Conference Session to Free Expo Admission].
The really fun stuff starts at the conference's Expo Party, which will be held on Tuesday 23 April on the main exhibition floor from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. All of the people receiving the CapNet training will be instructed to wear their wireless mesh networked propeller beanies to this party for a chance to win a prize (a Quadricopter featuring forward-facing and downward-facing video cameras that you can control using your iPod touch, iPhone, iPad, and/or Android devices). To make things really interesting, it's the propeller beanies that will communicate amongst themselves to determine who is to be the lucky winner.
The only thing that could possibly add to the excitement would be if we could get an honest-to-goodness celebrity to present the prize. Well, I'm delighted to be able to inform you that we have just such a celebrity, but before I tell you who it is, let me first set the scene (cue harp music and visual ripple effect as we travel deep into the mists of time…)
The original propeller beanie was invented in 1947 by science fiction author Ray Faraday Nelson when he was a high school sophomore (Click Here to read the full story). This inaugural incarnation was a brimless/visorless skullcap-type beast, similar to the one shown below:
In 1949, an American television series called Time for Beany started to air locally in Los Angeles. Using puppets for characters, this show was so popular with kids that it quickly went national and ran across the country from 1950 to 1955. The reason this is of interest to us here is that one of the principal characters was Beany, a plucky young boy (much like myself) who wears a propeller beanie (much like myself). Amazingly enough, I found a video of this on YouTube:
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the show was revived in animated form as The Beany and Cecil Show. Yes, of course I found a video on YouTube:
So when did baseball cap-type propeller beanies with visors appear on the scene? And who was the mastermind behind what was to become the essential accoutrement for "Propellerheads" (scientists and engineers in general, and computer programmers in particular)?
Well, this is where our story takes an interesting turn. Wavy Gravy (born Hugh Nanton Romney in 1936) is an American entertainer and activist for peace. Wavy is best known for his hippie appearance, personality and beliefs. His moniker (the name he uses day-to-day) was given to him by B.B. King at the Texas International Pop Festival in 1969.
As an aside, Wavy was one of Bob Dylan's earliest friends in New York City – they shared a room above the Gaslight cafe in New York City's Greenwich Village where Bob used to play – and Wavy ended up marrying one of Bob's early girlfriends.
Due to the fact that he was frequently being arrested at demonstrations, Wavy decided he would be less likely to be arrested if he dressed as a clown. "Clowns are safe," he said. This explains why Wavy is also the official clown of the American rock band the Grateful Dead (and it's not often you expect to hear someone being introduced in this manner).
Wavy was instrumental in forming the famous Hog Farm commune near Los Angeles in the 1960s. At the first Woodstock Festival, Gravy and the Hog Farm collective acted in the role of the "Please Force" (a reference to their non-intrusive tactics at keeping order along the lines of "Please don't do that; please do this instead"). When asked by the press – who were the first to inform him that he and the rest of the Hog Farm were handling security – what kind of tools he intended to use to maintain order at the event, his response was "Cream pies and seltzer bottles" (both being traditional clown props).
But we digress (as is easy to do when you are dealing with characters like these)... One of Wavy's closest friends, and a fellow member of the Hog Farm commune, was Stacy Samuels. For his birthday party in 1975, Wavy came up with the idea of attaching a propeller to a regular baseball cap, so a friend made him one to celebrate the occasion. The propeller baseball beanie looked so good that Stacy decided to make and sell them, and – still living and working out of the Hog Farm commune, he formed the Interstellar Propeller company in 1976. (When the Internet arrived a couple of decades later, the URL adopted by the company was PropellerHeadHats.com. In addition to unadorned propeller beanies, you can also purchase versions emblazoned with appellations such as "Nerd," "Geek," Hacker," "Propellerhead," and even "Chief Propellerhead.")
I was chatting with Stacy only the other day. He told me so many stories that my head is spinning (pun intended). For example, I could tell you tales of "The Great Beanie Boom of '91" that would leave you rolling your eyes and shaking your head in disbelief.
The point is that you can purchase "cheap-and-cheerful" propeller beanies all over the place, but they tend to fall apart if you so much as sneeze. In the case of our CapNet wireless networked propeller beanies, we wanted to use the highest quality beanies available, and we wanted these beanies to be customized with our logos, so we went to the company that started it all, Interstellar Propeller, which is how I came to be chatting to Stacy in the first place.
But wait, there's more, because Stacy is a celebrity in his own right. It turns out that Stacy is none other than “Banjo Man" of local fame with the San Francisco 49ers football team! For the past 30 years, since the first football game of the 1983 season, following the national anthem, Stacy has roamed the aisles playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown on his five-string banjo powered by his propeller beanie and sporting his 49ers cape.
In addition to 230+ consecutive regular season home games, 23 home playoff games, and at least half of the preseason games, Stacy has also serenaded fans at four 49ers Super Bowls. Suffice it to say that Stacy is a well-known and beloved figure in northern California.
All of which brings us to the reason I currently have a great big "Cheshire Cat" smile plastered on my face, which is that Stacy has graciously agreed to attend the CapNet giveaway at DESIGN West. Sporting his full regalia, Stacy will play his banjo while the wireless networked propeller beanies flash their LEDs, spin their propellers, and decide amongst themselves as to the winner. Stacy will then present the winner with the grand prize.
All I can say is that I CANNOT WAIT to be part of this event. Of course, you can be sure that I will be taking a video to share with you afterwards, but it would be so much better if you could attend in person...
Think about the original Woodstock. I’m sure a lot of people heard about it before the event and said something like “Well, it sounds good, but I was planning on washing my hair that day.” Later, when they heard just what a “happening” Woodstock turned out to be, I bet they were kicking themselves for not going. Well, the same thing applies to this “21st Century Techno-Woodstock” in the form of DESIGN West. In years (and technical conferences) to come, people will be saying “I was there at DESIGN West 2013 to see the legendary CapNet Giveaway.” Anyone who could make it, but doesn’t make the effort, will be chastising themselves soundly after the event when they hear tales of just how wonderful our wireless networked propeller beanie fest turned out to be...
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Stacy has also performed at Oakland A's games, wearing A's green and gold colors.
If you want to know what Wavy is up to, he was just interviewed this week and it can be heard here:
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.