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Deep Thoughts on Being a Geek

By Katherine Noyes
Nov 11, 2010 5:00 AM PT

The term "geek" has come a long way in recent years, from a cutting insult (particularly favored by cheerleaders and others on the extroverted side of the fence) to a label worn with pride.

Deep Thoughts on Being a Geek

Whatever one's opinion of the Geek Squad may be -- Linux Girl will refrain from comment on that one -- there's no denying "geek" has shed many of its negative connotations. Heck, attractive women are apparently now even making the term their own -- imagine that!

Now, we all know already that our favorite Finn is officially the Greatest Geek of All Time, but what about the rest of us? Do we qualify as Linux geeks too? What makes a geek a geek, anyway?

Those are all questions Linux bloggers have been mulling over in recent days.

'I Am a Linux Geek'

It was a blog post by Jeff Hoogland that started the ball rolling. Entitled "I am a Linux geek and proud of it," the post chronicles the story of a misbehaving netbook that led to Hoogland's realization.

Hoogland fixed the netbook's problem without too much trouble, causing him to observe, "Something that at one point would have taken me hours to figure out (and odds are would have required a few forum posts) I had resolved in minutes."

Few of us today look like the classic stereotype of the Unix geek, Hoogland concludes. Rather, "Linux users come in all shapes and sizes."

'I Was Excited That Windows Stopped Running'

The topic obviously struck a chord with numerous readers because it wasn't long before they were chiming in with similar stories of their own.

"I realized I was a linux geek when I was actually excited that windows stopped running on my laptop because it forced me to get more acquainted with linux for everyday use," wrote Alix, for example.

"Realized it a couple of months ago after tinkering and modifying various bits of code here and there, adding/removing packages just to TRY and get a minimal as possible system up and running, on a computer that absolutely have no need to run it," offered an anonymous reader, on the other hand. "I'm in love with being completely in control of my own computers and ruling my process list as a tyranny."

As a determined geek herself, Linux Girl knew there must be countless similar stories throughout the Linux blogosphere. She took to the streets to find out.

'Always Have Been, Since Age 5'

"I am a geek," confessed blogger Robert Pogson. "Always have been, since about age 5 -- always asking questions and demanding answers. Thank goodness I am slowing down a bit in my old age; otherwise I would be a crashing bore instead of an eccentric old man."

Pogson's "first geekiness was disassembling my toys to find out what made them work," he recalled. "Somehow they never got back together again.

"Fortunately, PCs are more flexible," Pogson added.

"I've been using Linux since you had to be a geek to use it," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack asserted. "I had to enter modelines by hand in the X11.conf and hand-write the PPP dialup script to handle my ISP's login."

'Passion for What You Do'

What is it that makes a geek a geek? Blogger Jeremy Visser had an answer to that one.

"To me, being a geek means the difference between just getting something done and actually learning how something works," Visser told Linux Girl. "It is the difference between being a consumer of the system and being a part of it."

Part of Visser's own geekiness is that he is an avid collector, "whether it is computer parts, snippets of code or other knick-knacks," he explained. "You never know when you will need to be innovative and fix that heatsink socket by soldering a paperclip to a motherboard (true story!)."

Being a geek "implies passion for what you do and a genuine interest in the subject," Visser added. "Being a geek is not just something you do from nine 'til five. Nor is it something you only do in your spare time. It's a state of being that governs your thinking, your problem solving, your outlook on life, and influences everything you do."

'Good Luck With That'

Of course, geeks exist outside the world of FOSS too, as Slashdot blogger hairyfeet pointed out.

"I like to work on computers, not flog myself with a cat o' nine tails," hairyfeet quipped, explaining his preference for Windows.

On servers and old PCs, "Linux kicks the booty -- it is cheap, solid, reliable," hairyfeet explained. But "on new hardware, the kind of consumer stuff 99.9995% of households have? Yeah, good luck with that."

'We Have the Women!'

As an added attraction, geeks on the Windows side also get more dates, hairyfeet asserted, referring to the pictured geek in Hoogland's post.

"We Windows repairmen find that particularly funny," hairyfeet said. "A t-shirt for us would read, 'Hi, I fix windows, which means girls LOVE me because I make their game work!'

"So for all those poor, lonely Linux geeks? Come over to the dark side and learn Windows PC repair -- we have the women!" hairyfeet said. "I have met my last four girlfriends at the shop, including the very lovely princess I've been happily with for nearly three years. I can say happily I'll probably settle down with my little princess, and it is all thanks to a Win32 bug. Thanks Steve Ballmer!"

The End of Geekiness?

Do geeks remain geeks forever? Not necessarily, suggested Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

In fact, there are a number of telltale signs Hudson believes suggest that a geek is outgrowing his or her geekhood:

10. "You have more pairs of shoes than hard drives..."

9. "... and you have clothes to match all those shoes..."

8. "... and you don't mismatch them 'to be different.'"

7. "You haven't compiled a kernel in years because the stock kernel is 'good enough.'"

6. "You'll upgrade your distro ... some day ... whatever ... because there's more important things in life."

5. "You no longer turn older machines into file servers 'because you can.'"

4. "You have a Wii instead of a Playstation or XBox."

3. "You've never played WoW, Starcraft or any other MMORG..."

2. "... and you don't care."

1. "You'd rather someone gave you a box of chocolates than a new bootable distro on a usb stick."

And for a bonus:

0. "You think the nicknames that people give to new releases are both childish and cheesy."

Let's just hope none of that happens too soon to too many of us, Linux Girl would hasten to add. After all, isn't it written that the geeks shall inherit the earth? ;-)

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