April 22, 2003

geeks do it for the fun

I just got back from Wooch! movie night, and was greeted by the third and last install CD for Linux Redhat 9, freshly downloaded to my desktop. I was also greeted by a silverfish.

On my excursion to the Cities over the weekend I picked up a copy of SuSE Linux 7.0 for $1.99, and while it is an ancient version it got me a handful of install manuals and some basic information for navigating the Linux terminal. It also got me a fat and official-looking software box, some neat Linux stickers, a pin adorned by Tux the penguin, and a guaranteed reentry into the geek realm.

I’ve spent many a year since coming to college (and some time in high school as well) denying my deep geek roots. Back when I was about four my father picked up a 286, and it took me about thirty minutes until I discovered it in his workshop and started plugging away. Before that we had an Osborne (or something equally obtuse, with a tiny amber screen) where I would sit and tinker. For my 13th birthday my parents got me a Sound Blaster Pro soundcard, but I threw a fit because I wanted a new computer and they in turn confiscated the gift. I later decided I wanted a soundcard more than I didn’t want a soundcard (and more than I wanted to pitch fits), so I went out and got one on my own.

That Christmas, my dad finally caved in and picked up a 486 DX, 33 Mhz, 8 MB RAM powerhouse from PC Express, a company that has since gone belly-up long ago. This rip roarin’ piece of machinery was necessary to play the latest gaming sensation, King’s Quest VI. The following summer I sunk $200 into a double speed CD-ROM drive. After upgrading to a huge 540 MB drive we stalled on this computer for a few years, until I was about 16 and a friend and I went to a computer show at the State Fair and built a Pentium 166 from the ground up.

At this point the clear distinctions between one computer and the next become blurry. At some point I bought a 200 Mhz processor. Later I got a dual processor Tyan board, installed a Windows NT partition, and ran both processors at 166 Mhz. The summer before I left for college I picked up an Intel Celeron 300a processor, and overclocked it to 450 Mhz for the better part of my freshman year. At some point in the last couple years I replaced that guy with an AMD Duron 800, but spring semester last year I fried that motherboard and processor and had to pick up a Duron 1 Ghz.

I cut my teeth in the black and white terminals of DOS 6.2. At one time our 286 ran Window 2.0, which was really nothing but a glorified DOSSHELL, called DOS HELL for short. The 486 was eventually stained with Windows 3.1, and slowly, ever so slowly, things migrated towards this horribly inefficient GUI interface. As Windows 95 crept into the picture I started feeling removed from the whole computer thing. Now ordinary people started doing things that only us geeks could do before, and I felt it was my responsibility to side with the common man and distance myself from the geeky computer world. “Best leave that side to the social rejects, and play dumb with the cool kids on the other side,” I reasoned. I saw the geek path as one of cruel isolation and endless misunderstanding.

As I entered college I grew distanced from my geek self, maintaining only a base level resonance to keep my computer up and running. I maintained a cold relationship with the technology, fearing that injecting any passion into computing would cause a sea change and level all the work I had done establishing colonies along the coastline of cool. I embraced having an understanding deep enough to maintain my digital existence, but shallow enough to avoid any serious dedication to the guts behind the hateful screen. I was able to avoid the guts, but I also avoided the advancement of my computer knowledge as a result. I also avoided the passion, the drive, the chutzpah.

But no more, I say! From henceforth I will trudge forward unfetteringly into the briny depths of Linux, into hardware, software, open-source code, HTML, XML, CSS, PHP and Java! I will fight alongside my fellow code-monkeys not because I cower in fear of the outside world, but because I embrace the world and every lovely thing it has to offer, jagged rocks, mossy ferns and source code alike! I will geek out not because I see no other alternative for conducting my life, but because I have such a strong connection towards and passion for the geek.

I will lead the geeks to freedom, out of their dingy basements and darkened hobbit holes and into the brightness of the larger world. With the way technology is going these days, what with laptops and wireless Internet alike, there is no reason that code cannot be written while one sits alongside a gurgling stream, waiting for the wind to pick up. A passion for computers no longer need be a passion for social isolation and musty darkness. There is no reason that us geeks should allow such stereotypes to persist in our name. Break out! Do not feel ashamed just because you have found your passion! Do not feel self-conscious just because you find yourself knowing a bean or two about something. Make them feel bad for not having found something to love!

Kick the sand back in their eyes!