Justin R. Erenkrantz Where do you want to go today?

Unstrung Heroes

I am a geek. Unlike most geeks, I am not ashamed of it. After all, one can only hide his true being for so long. Eventually, the ugly truth will be revealed. Most people are afraid of geeks. They represent a counter-culture. And, they are right. Geeks are different from other human beings. I am not sure that we can even be called human beings. Since a computer is always within arms length of any true geek, most geeks would rather be called cybernetic beings. Somehow this picture frightens normal people. As a geek, I am merely amused by their fear. Yet, I decide to take a preemptive strike and just let them know from the start that I am a geek. I sometimes introduce myself as "Justin Erenkrantz, geek-at-large. And, I don´t bite."

In the inner depths of any geek lies a profound love for computers. Geeks can´t resist computers. We are hopelessly drawn to them. When a local computer store runs some outrageous deal on printer cartridges, geeks line up for hours in front of the store waiting to stock up on printer cartridges that are five dollars off the regular price of $29.99. I have personally witnessed (and taken part) in these Saturday morning extravaganzas. Five bucks off those cartridges is a tremendous deal and it is worth standing in line for two hours (when you´re buying five or six of them). The geeks manage to control their urge to stampede and break down the door to get these cartridges. When the store eventually opens, it is an ordered march to the print cartridge display. The first geek to grasp a cartridge screams in a holy furor. I imagine that he can´t believe that the store didn´t run out of stock in the twenty nanoseconds since the doors opened. If you are unfortunate enough to be in the back of the line, you are merely lucky to get your hands on one of the precious little vials of ink. And, then, you too let out a blood-curdling scream. So, what ensues is a mad cacophony of screams of euphoria. All of this for print cartridges, when of course, you already have twenty of them sitting on your desk at home.

Geeks are one of the most racially diverse cultures in the world. We have CEOs, executives, grunts, and entry-level geeks. Anyone can be a geek if they can simply explain the difference between SCSI and IDE. If they can do that, Geekdom accepts them with open arms. It doesn´t even make a difference what language the answer is in. As racially diverse as geeks are, there is very little representation from the female population. If a female somehow makes it into Geekdom, she is often treated with contempt. I find this attitude very distasteful. Yet, it is the prevailing thought - women are not supposed to be geeks. Some of the best geeks are women. Oh, well.

I find it absolutely incredible that some women are attracted to geeks. What is there to like about them? They are obsessive and can be extremely temperamental. I would not suggest talking to a geek while he is immersed in an intense Deathmatch session of Quake. You are liable to have your head chewed off by the otherwise tame geek. In spite of all of this, many women find geeks irresistible. In fact, most geeks are happily married. I guess the geek feels very lucky that he has someone that he can share his time with when he is not on his computer. However, most women have a breaking point. This is where problems begin to arise. Numerous divorces have occurred because the husband has devoted too much time to his computer and not enough time to his wife. The Internet is full of stories regarding choices that a geek is forced to make between his marriage and his computer. The computer wins every time. The computers were there before the marriage, and they will be there after the marriage.

Geeks are never content with the status quo. We always feel that something is out there that is bigger and better than what we presently own. Most geeks concede the fact that computers are something more than a mere hobby. They are an unexplainable obsession. We are hopeless addicts who need our pretty little computers in order to make it through the day. Some people have had serious withdrawal problems when their hard drive crashes and they can´t play their daily game of Freecell. They will break down and start crying out, "FREECELL! I NEED IT! HELP ME!" Drool eventually oozes from their mouths. Since I can understand their problem, I would be among the many trying to steer them to my own computer to help them get their daily fix. Unlike heroin, there is no substitute for a computer.

There is also a group of people who are wannabe geeks. They are in limbo. They have some of the characteristics of a geek, but they are missing some very vital qualities of a geek. With the advent of the Internet, more people are using computers than ever before. The Internet is becoming deluged with newbies who do not have a clue as to what the Internet is all about. I am reminded of Dennis Leary´s commercials for Lotus software. Leary chastises everyone who is off building web pages about their Siamese cats or what they had for supper last night. However, he praises the businessman who saved his company $1.2 billion dollars by using the Internet. That is what a true geek is about: saving money. This way we can buy a bigger and better computer. If a geek is lucky, his technical knowledge may parlay into a well-paying job in the land of Geekdom.

Being a geek has helped me tremendously these last few years. When I moved to the area about eighteen months ago, I didn´t know a single soul. I was lost, but in a way that only geeks (and Jews) can, I was found. After settling down and unpacking, my family and I visited the local synagogue. It was rather uneventful as far as the service went. However, after the service was over and as I was getting refreshments, I overheard some people discussing computer problems. Immediately, my ears perked up and I went over and diagnosed their problem rather quickly. In all honesty, it was a common problem that I had encountered myself a few months before. Eventually, a small crowd of geeks gathered around me. Here was a sixteen-year-old diagnosing their problems and telling them everything was going to be alright. Unbeknownst to me, a fellow geek took notice of my actions.

When Monday morning rolled around, I received a call from that geek and he told me that someone at his company had quit. He asked whether I would like to come in for an interview. Well, it took me about a minute to close my mouth. You see, I had been working at Kroger´s for the previous month and I hated it. No, I utterly despised it. They worked me unmercifully into the ground. Looking back on it, Kroger´s did teach me a very valuable lesson about education: stockpile it. Get as much education as you can possibly get. If you receive a Ph.D. in quantum physics, I doubt that you will be working at Kroger´s when you are forty years old. The worst you could settle for is a job with the federal government (hey, they´ll hire anybody with a Ph.D.). That isn´t so bad. You could be taking home $6,500 a month just for showing up at work. Our tax dollars are spent so wisely, aren´t they?

Okay, getting back to the phone call I received. I went to the interview and was hired on the spot. I was cheap labor and they needed a data entry person rather quickly. If they had not hired me, I would have offered to pay them to let me work there. Anything that I could do to escape manual labor, I would do. So, I escaped the clutches of manual labor. When I started working there, the company was a small software development shop. Over the last year and a half, the company has grown. Now, they are a medium-sized software development shop. We are slowly moving up the evolutionary chain. I have been promoted within the company several times, and I am now the systems administrator for the entire company. If all goes as the optimist in me believes, this could be my chance of a lifetime. I could be a part of something truly remarkable. But, if the pessimist in me wins out, at the very least, I have tons of geek experience to put on my résumé.

Being a geek is not all it is cracked up to be. An outsider would look at my job and think it is a very low pressure job. After all, I wear a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. How pressurized could a job be that lets you wear a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers? With the exception of running a company, maintaining an entire fleet of computers is one of the most stressful jobs in the current marketplace. That is why most entry-level system administrators are paid in the $75,000 range (I only wish I was making a sizable fraction of that). But, like most athletes, system administrators do not lead full productive lives. At best, most of them can only last three or four years before they are hopelessly burned out. I remember reading an essay on the Internet detailing the day in the life of a system administrator. Someone asked the author what it was like to be a system administrator. He replied that most geeks are wowed by the large sums of money a system administrator is offered, but he said that it is a thankless job that requires complete devotion. I can attest to that, and I wonder how much longer I will last before I burn out, too.

When geeks are not on their computer, they love entertainment. Most geeks are not the physical, athletic type. For the most part, geeks are sedentary. We abhor physical exertion. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but it is a harsh reality that we must face. Spending all day in front of a computer will do wonders for your brain, but physically, the only part of your body that has gotten any exercise is your fingers. On overhearing plans for a potential company-sponsored field hockey team, a colleague remarked, "Yeah, right. Why the heck would I want to do that? All of that running around? Getting all hot and sweaty? I think not. When they decide to get a team together for setting up computers, let me know." I could only concur. I would probably be happier installing operating systems than playing field hockey with a bunch of overweight geeks.

Most geeks are true connoisseurs of music. They have excellent taste when it comes to music. When heavy metal became popular, geeks led the way. Same thing for alternative music - geeks everywhere you turned. Normal people can not write music. Geeks can. If a particular geek can´t write music, he sure can appreciate it. A glance through a geek´s compact disc collection (the original geeks still have LPs hanging around) portrays a wide variety of taste and culture. For instance, you might find Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Chuck Berry, The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Garth Brooks and maybe a Tchaikovsky or Mozart thrown in for good measure. Most normal people like only one or two genres, but not geeks, they like it all as long as it is a high-quality piece of work. Oh, a few poor choices may have slipped in, but overall, it is usually a pretty good selection. A geek without a pair of headphones or a speakers feels as lost as if his computer had a catastrophic hard drive crash.

At some point or another, every geek has gone through his Star Trek phase. Star Trek is one of the uniting forces for Geekdom. Computers stores are pretty much abandoned whenever a Star Trek marathon is on television. In fact, it is not a rarity for the computer stores to close when 79 hours of Kirk, Spock, and Bones are on. However, there are reports that record levels of Mountain Dew are sold during these marathons. Since Mountain Dew is known to have the highest levels of caffeine, it can be assumed that the Trekkies are trying their best to stay awake for the entire marathon. Usually, by the 70th hour, most of the geeks are passed out in their Star Trek paraphernalia. Luckily for them, most of them are videotaping the marathon.

Geeks are in fact the only people in this universe who can program their own VCRs. Now, this is what distinguishes us from nerds. Nerds don´t have a clue about the real world. Geeks are deeply rooted in the real world. Ask a nerd who Michael Jordan is and he´ll say, "Isn´t that some Middle-Eastern country that has a population of 1.2 million with a gross domestic product of $20 billion?" However, a geek could quickly recite Jordan´s statistics for his last game - "He scored 34 points on Monday with twelve steals and five assists and the Bulls won 97-96 on a last second buzzer-beater by Jordan. What a game."

For most people, using a computer will begin as a hobby and will stay that way. However, with a true geek, the hobby turns into an passion. I am sure that there are a few geeks who have never even touched a computer in their lives. For some reason or another, they are eccentric enough to warrant the geek label. Until recently, geeks and nerds were seen as one and the same. But, over the last decade or so, that myth has finally been shattered. Nerds are booksmart people who do not have a clue about the world around them (unless it is in the Encyclopedia Britannica). Geeks are smart people, but they are heavily rooted in the real world. In college, geeks do not care about grades, they do just enough so that they pass. After all, does it make a difference if you graduate summa cum laude instead of magna cum laude? So, they devote all of their time and energy to their jobs. Unlike the nerds, they realize that college is over in a few years and the real world never ends or takes a summer vacation. Geeks stand proud. We have a lot to be thankful on this Thanksgiving holiday.

Last Modified Friday, 20-Aug-2010 02:50:20 EDT These pages were made by Justin R. Erenkrantz unless otherwise stated. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. These pages will look best in an XHTML 1.0 compliant browser.

Creative Commons Attribution License Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict! Valid CSS!
[Blue Ribbon Campaign icon] [frdm] Support SFLC