First Person Life


I'm not a Chic Geek

Apparently the qualifications to enter "geekdom" have changed radically since I was a geek.
Your score is 30

30 to 60: Heading to Geekdom
0 to 29: Stuck in the Last Century
30 to 60: Heading to Geekdom
61 and up: Seriously Nerdy
(Source:Newsweek Geek Quiz)

This makes me think about how much my life has changed since going to seminary. The fact is, I've been a geek since sixth grade when I was teaching my classmates who where considered "accelerated" (I was not tracked as "accelerated") how to program graphics on the Apple IIgs computers in the computer lab. I was selected to do this because the computer teacher didn't know how -- and I did.


I started college in Computer Science at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It was there I was introduced to Unix (Sun Solaris and others) when I got a job in the Academic Computings Services Department. I was a tech who was installing packet drivers and related software on 286 computers so they could access the Internet and the Novell file servers. People there began asking if I was related to "Arthur Dent" -- and I was introduced to the number 42. (If you don't understand this reference, you are NOT a true geek!)

When I was leaving there, I downloaded Linux 0.98a to a set of 30 floppies so I could install it at home.

I went from SUNY Buffalo (SUNYAB) to Concordia College, Ann Arbor (CCAA) after a year and a half... Various things in my life led me to consider entering the ministry. While there, I set up a Linux box to connect the college to the Internet for email and usenet news as well as some "gopher" access. During my time there, I noted that the flat network they had was being over-run with traffic. I pushed an initiative to have the network segmented into multiple subnets (Academic and Administrative).

When I had to cut back on school, I began working for the Internet Provider that the college was connected through. This was before NCSA Mosaic was popular -- most people were still using text only connections with very limited graphics. 3/4 of the US didn't even know what the Internet was much less how important it would become in most of our lives.

I won't bore you with all the details of my life there, but we did some pretty "cutting edge" stuff. For example, in connection with another company, we were the first to virtualize web services so more than one web site could run on a single machine. I personally developed an accounting system that would allow us to monitor the amount of data each customer sent and received so we could bill them more as a "utility" (i.e. pay-by-the-byte) -- (I still predict that this will be the way you pay for your Internet service in the not-too-distant future.) I did some other cool stuff like develop (in the C computer language) a customer service application.

Basically, I was in the cutting edge of development of Internet and related technologies in the 1990's. The company survived the dot-com collapse and is still in business today. I can't imagine where I'd be if I didn't leave there (due to office-politics)... I worked there about 7 years and left and worked as a consultant for 3 years someplace else. I really missed my days at ICNet.

But my, how the mighty have fallen. I went from "dot-com" geek who (still) can do almost anything you ask me to with a computer -- mostly with open-source software that won't cost a dime (EVER!) -- to a virtual "luddite" according to Newsweek's survey.

I guess I won't talk about the major flaws with the survey (oops... already started -- can't stop me now! And in reality -- I can't believe you're still reading!). It seems that the survey was geared more toward the "chic geek" than true "geekdom."

One thing that was interesting in the consulting firm I worked for... we could tell based on a small number of seemingly unrelated factors how good of a network engineer someone would be. Here is a sampling of our assessment:

*What is the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything? (42)
*How much of Douglas Adams, "Hitchhikers Guide" series have you read? How much can you recite from memory?
*How much Monty Python's "Holy Grail" can you recite from memory?
*Which is better, Babylon 5 or Star Trek? Why? (Babylon 5 - there's a better story and the costuming is better)

It was strange... without fail, the answers to these questions were a good barometer of how good of an engineer they would be. Usually the one's who walked in *looking* high-tech, whiz-bang geeky with all of the Microsoft Certifications to "prove" it didn't last long. Of course, getting these questions in the official list used by Human Resources didn't go over well...

Our best and longest engineers were pretty unassuming - had the geeky toys but didn't flaunt them. In fact, they typically thought everyone else already had them (or couldn't be bothered to ask why they didn't).

So, I think that's the flaw in this survey. It's really measuring "How much have you been taken in by the marketing hype of geeky toys?"

So I lay before you the evidence for my true geekiness:

1) Until my new vocation required it, I had not owned a Microsoft Operating System that was in use for 8 years. (I recently had to purchase MS-Windows in order to run Libronix -- they REALLY need to make a LINUX version!!!!)
2) Even when I run Windows, it's in a "Virtual Machine" (i.e. I run Windows in a "window" on my Linux computer).
3) I have found at least 2 major security holes in online websites (Look up USPS Billpay Security Dent for proof. The other was a smaller problem with an online bookstore that sold ebooks where you could download without purchasing) -- in both cases I helped fix the problems.
4) I can still usually diagnose a computer problem reported by an end-user in 3-5 minutes of conversation. I can usually "get around" the problem in less than 4 minutes if I can sit in front of the machine that is having the difficulty (It usually takes at least an hour to talk the end-user through the solution over the phone.)

There are many other things...

Geekiness is just as much a "habitus" as theology. The toys and gizmos you own don't make you a geek, just like owning a Greek New Testament, a BHS, and commentary don't make you a theologian.

While it was an interesting survey -- I wouldn't call it conclusive by any means. But it was fun walking down memory lane remembering the way things "used to be" in my life. It will be even more interesting to see how God uses everything he's trained me with to date in the future...

Soli Deo Gloria!


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