Of the origin, location and inhabitants of Shebang we will learn more later. We begin with the opening, because that is the sensible place to begin.

It began with the posters which appeared around town, and in common rooms, and in the cafs where the people who cared about this kind of thing were known to hang out. The posters were not fancy, but were striking to the people who they were designed to attract. They featured the symbol that would become the logo of Shebang watermarking a simple sans-serif paragraph:

Saturday.

42 Trumpton Street.

Obfuscated hardware contest.

All entries welcome.

Opening 9am, Announcement at noon
—Crash@Crikey.sb

Several things stood out to the people who it was targetted at. First was the signature. Crash@Crikey.sb was the address of one of the more famous hackers, creator of a new routing protocol in 1999, he’d vanished into corporate obscurity until his much-publicised abandonment of the company who had bought his expertise two years ago. Since then he hadn’t been heard of, though it was assumed that with the money he’d made selling out he could live in happiness for an extremely long time. In this, they were correct. In the assumption that he’d changed aliases and gone underground, they were less correct.

The second was the event itself. The idea of an Obfuscated $foo contest, where $foo was just about any programming language this side of Python, was a popular one. The idea was to make an incredibly convoluted, yet fascinatingly elegant, program. Preferably one that nobody could work out the purpose of until they ran it. Previous winners of such things include car racing games in less than thirty lines, and network pong (in which the code was molded into the shape of an “I”). Variations included programming entire systems where the code was the shape of a beer-glass, or in the email-sig-block standard size of 72 columns by just 4 lines. The idea of an obfuscated hardware contest seemed difficult, though.

Saturday noon came, however, and the three-story building was – while not exactly full – buzzing with anticipation. From behind the counter, a short figure stood and picked up a microphone from behind the bar.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, more of the latter than the former, I note with less than absolute surprise” he began, to a nervous titter from his audience, “My name is Christopher J Ashdown, better known as Crash, occasionally known as Crash at Crikey, and this is my new project, Shebang. Soon to be the ultimate ‘net caf. We have – as you have noticed – Proper coffee and real tea, as well as a decent net connection, all for sale, all for reasonable prices in cool surroundings. Yes, this is something of a Geek Haven, but the rest of the world should be comfortable here too.

“So what of this competition then? This Event for which I dragged you here from your comfortable monitors. Well, it works like this. I know that there are those among you who have dreamed of the ultimate computer. Not in speed, but in elegance of concept and weirdness, and I hereby challenge you to produce your dreams onto paper. The strangest and coolest idea for a working computer device will win.

“But what of the prize? We can’t offer something like this without a prize, can we? Indeed we cannot, and the prize is as follows: The winner will get a reasonable-lifetime’s supply of coffee and or tea from this very establishment for as long as we exist. Definition of Reasonable is fairly flexible, and will be on the entry forms. But that isn’t all, The winning project will be actually created, and will run in this very room. This means, people, that your ideas have to be fantastic but possible. They have to actually work, but beyond that it’s up to you.

“Pens and paper are dotted around, take one or get some kind of writing implement ready, for the instructions on how to enter will be as follows:” Crash paused while the room either grabbed pen and paper, or withdrew notebooks or – and a significant percentage fell into this got out palm-top computers to write it down.

“Send an email to this address: Oh Bee Haitch Dee Sea At Crikey dot sb. That’s Sea Argh Eye Kay Ee Why Dot Ess Bee. That’s Oscar Bravo Hotel Disco Charlie At Charlie Romeo India Kilo Echo Yankee, or Open Berkley Hack Digital Coffee Commercial-At Coffee Random Infocom Kludge Eris Yak. If you still haven’t got the address after that, it’s on the posters in here and will be all week. You’ll get an Entry ID and further instructions. Those further instructions consist of how I’ll accept entries, namely PDF, Tarball or Zipped HTML directory, or Word doc. Anything that doesn’t pass my virus checker will be shot, as will any entry over half a meg. Comp will close in one month, extensions forbidden – you aren’t at university now. Now go forth, Think, Drink and be geeky.”