Last month, before Gray Powell became the most notorious man on the Internet, North Carolina State Vice Provost Tom Miller spotted him in a cafeteria at Apple.
Miller was leading a field trip to Silicon Valley and hadn't known his former student was working at the technology company.
"Things were really going well," Miller said. "He was enjoying it out there and enjoying his work at Apple."
Maybe less so now. A few days later Powell accidentally left behind a super-secret prototype of the next iPhone, triggering a big scoop for technology blog Gizmodo. The blog reported that he left it at a German beer garden in Redwood City, Calif., not far from Apple headquarters, after celebrating his 27th birthday.
His last act with the phone was posting to his Facebook page.
"I underestimated how good German beer is," he typed, according to Gizmodo.
Boy, did he.
Apple closely guards its prototypes, which are always the subject of intense speculation and hype. This weekend, though, Gizmodo not only published a story about the phone's new features with detailed photos but also outed Powell, going so far as to link to the Flickr account where he posted personal photos.
Gizmodo's Web hits topped 1 million per hour at one point. Stories by The New York Times, The Associated Press and The Washington Post followed, and a host of websites spread the chatter.
Now, in a meteoric arc measured in days, Powell, a native of Oxford, N.C., has gone from unknown engineer to punch line to digital-era folk hero, with Facebook pages pleading with the famously strict Apple not to punish him. One website is hawking T-shirts for $22.95 that say, "I went drinking with Gray Powell and all I got was a lousy iPhone prototype."
Read more of this story at NewsObserver.com