Thursday, July 21, 2005

Geek Pride

The other day a friend put a post on her blog, claiming that, contrary to popular belief, she wasn't really a geek, and providing some fairly lame arguments to 'prove' this fact. The post saddened me - it was an excellent example of how societal pressure can force us to deny our natural inclinations, making us pretend to be other than who we are. It's shocking that in a world that prides itself on its liberated and inclusive attitude to alternative lifestyles, being a geek should still carry the social stigma that it does, causing young people to be confused about their own intelligence, trying desperately to repress their most normal and natural needs[1]. This friend of mine is quite clearly a geek, so it's painful to see her in denial about it.
Personally, I think geek is the new gay. Think about it. They are a secret sub-culture of people who have lived hidden away from society's eyes for centuries (historical accounts show evidence of geekiness in many ancient cultures - in ancient Greece for example, being a geek was considered a sign of nobility and some of the greatest philosophers of the day - Plato, Aristotle - were confirmed geeks; there are even people who claim that even here in America, President Lincoln was secretly a geek), forcing themselves to appear 'normal' - getting married, showing enthusiasm for sports, pretending that the computer is just a little black box they use to check e-mail, rather than the pulsing heart of their very existence. And all the while a secret yearning has been hidden away in their eyes, that tiny spark of connection when they meet a fellow geek (geeks have extremely sensitive radar for other geeks - a geek sitting in a bar will recognise another geek instantly, no matter how well disguised he is), the sense of being somehow unfulfilled by the 'good' life, the longing that takes over them every time they pass by another geek's cubicle and see his spreadsheet lying open. Then there are the little tell-tale signs that give them away: the way they dress, their tendency to talk in equations, their fondness for math and computer languages, their horror for anything physical. And if you think having sex with someone of the same gender is unnatural, how about having sex exclusively with yourself?
Recent years, have seen a heartening tendency towards openness about geekiness. More and more people are coming forward and openly declaring that they are, in fact, geeks. Geeks are finding increasing acceptance in the popular media, spurred no doubt by the number of prominent geeks in the real world (such as Bill Gates) who serve as role models to young people coming to terms with their geekiness. There is finally a sense that the geek lifestyle, though inexplicably alien to the average person, is a valid personal choice and that society needs to embrace its geeks, not shun them. Geekiness is even starting to become cool - just check out the popularity of the Matrix movies.
As geeks everywhere continue to fight for greater integration into the larger social structure, I foresee (and call for) an increasing solidarity among geeks. There will be geek pride parades and geek bars (these already exist, of course, but more as an open secret than as an explicit fact). Women will increasingly turn to geek men for friendship - appreciating the twin benefits of being with someone who's never going to get around to making a pass at them and who can help load programs onto their laptops and understands wireless networks. You'll see more openly geek couples in the parks, at shopping malls. Eventually geek rights will become an important political issue. Advocates of geek marriage will propose the setting up of large national database along with a compulsory dating draft so that geeks can hook up with other geeks, while the Republican party will wax eloquent about the threat such a move comprises to life, liberty and the American way of playing football.
Bottomline, sister: don't be ashamed of your geekiness, embrace it.
As a first step, towards this better, more open society, let me start by freely admitting (for the benefit of those of you who haven't figured this out yet) to my own geekiness. Yes, Mom and Dad, I'm a geek. Don't tell me you never suspected this. Didn't you ever wonder why I never dated any women in college? Why, when all of my friends were out playing cricket on the society lawn, I was indoors reading a book or messing about on the computer? Haven't you ever noticed how every time I go shopping I come back with four exactly identical shirts because I needed four shirts but couldn't be bothered with making more than one decision about something as trivial as clothes? Don't you know me at all?
Not convinced? Here is the list of ten things that prove I'm a geek:
1. At the age of 8, when other kids would happily lend their toys / books to each other, I had a detailed cataloging system for all my books - they were divided into six categories and within each category a book had a single letter identifier followed by a unique numerical identifier (remember I was 8, I'd never heard of the Dewey Decimal system, I came up with this all on my own). Kids who wanted to borrow books from me had to enter the code number of the book they were borrowing (they were on the inside back cover of the book, in blue felt pen) in a register I kept for this purpose and then sign their names against it. They were given a receipt.
2. Possibly my favourite way to relax is to arrange bookshelves. I will go from house to house, surreptitiously changing the order of people's books. If someone actually lets me arrange their bookshelf for them I'm happy for days. Back home, I have a bookshelf with literally hundreds upon hundreds of books, but I can tell with a single glance if even a single book is out of sequence. If I ever need a book from the bookshelf I can tell you, sitting halfway across the world, its exact location among my myriad bookshelves. (By contrast, it takes me an average of 6.5 minutes every morning to find a matching pair of socks - just in case you thought this was just about being neat and organised)
3. I use Excel for everything. Recently, I got a brochure from the Philadelphia Orchestra listing the different subscription series for their 2005-06 season. I fed all of this information into an excel sheet, then built a spreadsheet model to help me find the optimal portfolio of subscriptions that would give me the maximum benefit (I put in ratings for each concert on a 7 point scale) per unit cost
4. Check out the July 15th post about the contents of my iPod. Can you imagine anything more geeky?
5. I used to write my (now) ex-girlfriend love-letters in Microsoft Word, Times New Roman 10 pt 1.5 paragraph spacing. With footnotes. And, if required, a list of references at the end [2] (you begin to see why ex-girlfriend, right). In order to make these letters more intelligible, I also had a system of brackets - basically different types of brackets I would use for different types of comments: say [] for random witticisms, {} for sentimental / soppy asides, () for general comments, etc.
6. I must be the only person in the world who's disappointed with the new Harry Potter book before he's even read it. The reason? It doesn't confirm to my regression equation of the length of Harry Potter novels [3] - based on that model, the book should have been around 1050 pages long (give or take 50 pages), instead it's only some 650 pages. What a letdown!
7. Before I start a book, I will sneak a quick look to see how many pages the book is. At any given point in the book then, I can tell you exactly what % of the book I've read so far, to the closest 5%. If it's a long book and I don't plan to read it all in one go, then I will have a schedule for reading it - say it's a 1000 pages and I don't feel I can manage more than 250 pages a day (assuming 70 pages an hour, 3.5 hours a day) then I will keep track of when I'm sneaking up to the 25% mark and stop as soon as I get to it (or sometimes, if it's really gripping, at the next section / chapter break)
8. My walking route to office is optimised to minimise time on a probabilistic basis. This means that I've studied the time for which each traffic signal on the way (there are four of them) stays green in every direction and worked out what is the best route to take so that the expected waiting time at a traffic signal is minimised. The only way I will swerve from this route is if I hit a red light and calculate that the conditional probability from that point onwards makes some other route optimal.
9. The other day I took a survey of consumer preferences sent to readers of the New Yorker. The first section was men's apparel and included a list of some three dozen clothing brands. I didn't recognise a single one. The second section was the same type of thing for men's toiletries and personal care items. Ditto. The third section was electronics and tech products. I ticked every second box.[4]
10. I'm obsessed with putting things in lists of 10. For instance, I don't have any other evidence of my geekiness to offer[5]. But I can't stop at nine, because that would be a violation of the order of my life. So I'm typing this in. If I had 11 points to make (see comment to[5]) I would drop one just because I can't go over ten.
[1] While there is little research on whether geekiness is genetic or is a result of the way a child is brought up, it is clear that being a geek is an integral part of the person's life by the time he is an adult, a fundamental tendency that cannot and should not be changed.
[2] Like this.
[3] 5 data points: 309, 352, 448, 734, 870; time series model fit (no constant) R-squared: 0.985, F-test 269 (sig. <.0001 ).
[4] There was also a question about Internet usage. "On an average, how often do you surf the Net?" The highest bracket here was Daily. I laughed.
[5] I'm skipping all the obvious things here - the fact that I spend inordinate hours in front of my computer, my complete lack of interest in any sport, (well maybe F1, but that's only for the thrill of figuring out the combinations of results that would ensure that Ferrari lost and the probabilities involved), my inability to drive and my preference for sitting at home reading a book rather than going out or (shudder! shudder!) meeting people, my tendency to talk in bullet points (I habitually start conversations by saying "Three things")


Heh Heh said...
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e of b said...
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e of b said...

hello, with some of us, it's all about efficiency ... how many geeks do you know who have preppy pink dresses? Bullet points and excel just work better, and asking geek friends for help 'should' save time (btw, had to do a reinstall ... think that's why the geeks hate windows)
And not horror for 'anything' physical ...

which reminds of a supergeek ex ... who made quarterly plans for his personal life ... and you call me a geek!!!

e of b said...
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