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Court Conviction Confirms Everything I Ever Thought About LULZSEC

Date/Time Permalink: 05/18/13 06:20:44 pm
Category: Geek Culture

Many times on this site, I have railed against online "hacktivists." Quite a few people have been critical of me for doing it, claiming that I must be a mean old Grinch who hates freedom-fighting and justice. So when we finally see a hacktivist group in the harsh light of day, without being shrouded in cyberpunk romanticism, it just makes me smile all the sweeter.

Four British members of LULZsec have begun serving relatively light sentences for various cyber-vandal crimes. Far from the Robin Hoods that websites like Boing Boing, Reddit, and 4chan like to characterize them as, they are revealed to be the same breed of petty thugs that steal your hubcaps and set fire to your trash cans.

Now for the fun part: The defense's pleas for the LULZsec members paints a picture that perfectly matches the way I imagined them:

  • Kids.
  • Claiming every psychological disease in the book, all the time.
  • Oh, and also mommy and daddy didn't love them enough.
  • Socially isolated.
  • No clear idea or goal. Waffling between "let's have some fun dude!" and "I'm Batman!"
  • Ignorant.
  • Arrogant in their ignorance.

Of course, the troll legion (who has my site on speed-dial) will insist that because I'm anti-LULZsec, I must be pro-Westboro-Baptist-Church (one of their targets) forgetting that I can dislike both equally. Two trolls do not make a citizen. Ditto Sony, a company I will always condemn. I condemned the presidency of GWB too, but you'll notice I didn't get arrested for committing any crimes against him.

I will say it again: Hacktivism HURTS THE CAUSES IT PROPOSES TO HELP. Now that LULZsec has gotten themselves busted like a meth lab, they have given credibility and honor to their targets. WBC and Sony can now point to themselves as victims, leveraging this case for the further abuses of the legal system they have in mind.

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Why I Am Perfectly Justified In Being A "Grammar Nazi"

Date/Time Permalink: 04/06/13 10:05:50 am
Category: Geek Culture

punctuation list

For many years, when online and encountering sloppy spelling, grammar, and punctuation, I resisted the urge to stick up for proper language usage online. "Don't be such a nag!", I'd say to myself. "What if English isn't their first language?", I'd reason. "Not everybody can handle dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger's, etc.", I'd excuse. "It's not that big a deal.", I'd shrug.

On and on we go, year after year, using the Internet, a medium that relies exclusively upon text, while heedless of the simple methods of expressing ourselves with that text. First, we tried to helpfully guide those who struggled along. Then, when the inevitable, damning label of "Grammar Nazi" was hung around our necks, we backed off, puzzled, but not in the mood to be the world's white knight today. But now, the tide has turned all the way around. The straight-A students are now the "bad guys" and the drop-outs the "good guys."

Now we have... I guess I have to coin it myself... "Laziness Nazis"! People who attack you for using correct language! "Oh, you stuck-up snob! You elitist! Who do you think you're trying to impress, with your showing off? You must really think highly of yourself using a semicolon there!"


I even complacently tolerated this, as well. For far too long, I recently realized.

Here's one page to give an example - I assure you, I only limit myself to one example to save space. This example is a perfect snapshot of the spirit of the times. Dangerous Minds proposes a new CAPTCHA system to screen out those who cannot distinguish between similar elementary words like (there / their / they're), (were / we're / where), and (lose / loose). And you can ironically dance through the comments and pluck up the flames like wildflowers a-bloom. The mob reacts: How... how DARE they!

At the center of the "only elitists use correct grammar / spelling" movement is this attitude that "knowledge of language does not equal intelligence". And then I wonder... doesn't it?

That's when I had this epiphany.

Because typing the correct word does not cost anything. Leaving out a superfluous apostrophe doesn't require expending extra effort. Remembering a rule of sentence structure does not place a great burden upon people - there are parrots out there with a vocabulary of thousands of words, there are gorillas who learn sign language to communicate with their handlers in a semantically logical fashion. Even dogs I have owned understood the difference between "Where did your ball go?" and "We're going to the vet." And for Heaven's sake, unlike the parrots, gorillas, and dogs, we have built-in spell-checkers at our disposal.

Using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation does not cost anything. Using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation requires only mental effort. A person who cannot be bothered to expend the mental effort required to distinguish between two elementary-school words is also someone who cannot be bothered to expend the mental effort required to reason soundly... use logic... read carefully... think critically... have intellectual curiosity... take pleasure in solving problems... seek things out inspired by pure curiosity. Someone who is careless and sloppy in such a simple matter as typing out a few keystrokes - while using a medium that depends entirely upon typing the correct keystrokes in order to use it effectively - and gets belligerently defensive and insulting hostile when other people try to help them use this medium more effectively, is someone with a lazy brain that does not like to do work.

And that, my friends, I am so regretful to report, is an idiot.

Email, commenting, and texting are not constitutionally-protected rights, you know.

Now let's hear all the excuses the intellectually lazy use:

What if English isn't your first language? Then you have undertaken to learn a second language - so LEARN it! I have, in fact, been fluent in Spanish, having been born and raised in Southern California (I am no longer fluent in Spanish because I've lived up north for ten years now, so I'm out of practice). When I was rubbing elbows with Spanish-speakers, I tried to pay attention and get it right. When I made a mistake and was corrected, without fail, I was grateful every single time and thanked them for the lesson. And now that I am too rusty in Spanish to use it effectively, I stay out of Spanish forums. If I undertake Spanish again, I will ensure that I am at least back up to speed when I do so. And if a native speaker corrects my grammar, I express gratitude for the free lesson. In fact, I've never met the ESL (English-second-language) speaker who was hostile at being corrected - it's always the English-native "Laziness Nazis" who use the old ESL defense.

But is English too hard a language? Yes, I know, English has its little quirks: "Why do we park in a driveway and drive in a parkway?" and all that. That's because English is derived from West Germanic, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and French. It is not consistent in its rules because it draws from many languages with different rules, and we even import more words from other languages with impunity.

But so what, do you think English is hard? Oh my goodness, try some other languages. Try Spanish, which has the concept of grammatical gender, so that 'taco' is male but 'quesadilla' is female, and then the rest of the words in the sentence have to agree with the gender of the subject. Try Japanese, which has the concept of honorifics, suffixes attached to the end of any word referring to people, which change depending upon the relationship between speaker and "speakee"; thus your brother George is 'George-san' to you, but your father calls him 'George-kun'. Try Thai, which has the concept of phonemic tones, so that five words which are spelled and pronounced identically have radically different meanings depending on the tone of voice you use; the syllable 'na' on a rising note means 'thick', but on a falling note means 'face'. And try Chinese , which uses 600 pictograms just to get started with a baby-level vocabulary!

What, you feel taxed because you have to keep "they're" and "their" straight? Oh my God, when is the telethon? I want to contribute all I can.

What if you have dyslexia, ADHD, and Asperger's? Yes, I know someone who has all three. You do, now, too. In fact, you're reading something written by him right now! And I chose not to go through life with a brass band in front of me declaring my handicaps like a flag that people have to salute. All I have to do, you see, is care about overcoming my own natural disadvantages, and then I overcame them. Because I am a human being, with a spine and a brain and a heart, and I would rather live standing on my two feet than hide behind a diagnosis, like a coward. Which is why I have never mentioned it before and will never mention it again. For the same reason, I also don't bring up that I was raised in poverty, had to miss a lot of school to support my family, was raised in a broken home, could not afford college, was forced to self-educate, or dozens of other excuses I could use.

What excuse is it now? Did you have a poor education? Well, if you are in such a bad way that you fail kindergarten literacy, then what are you doing online at 2AM arguing about which Marvel superhero deserves to have the film with the biggest budget this summer? You have to hurry to your tutoring appointment - you have no time for idle chit-chat! And by the way, how do you manage to hold down a job, procure a place to live, or even find your way around town? Who gave you a laptop? How did you find this website?

You say you didn't have the time to spell it out the long way when you texted me? Well, what are you, an EMT? What are you doing while you text - driving a fire engine on the way to a four-alarmer? Yes, I know, I have a smartphone too, and my fingers are as fat as Grecian columns and the buttons are as tiny as fleas. I still text in complete sentences. And if I'm too busy to do that, then I'm too busy to text at all.

You say "mistakes happen"? Yes, they do! In an essay of this length with nobody to edit it (or publish it, for that matter) but me, I'm sure that I've made a few mistakes. I will try to catch and correct all that I can. I will save a draft and re-read it. When others catch mistakes, I will acknowledge them and correct the error (and have a sense of humor enough to laugh at the irony, given the subject). The difference between the occasional typo and lazy thinking is painfully, painfully obvious. ERRORS are random; LAZY is a habit. Pro-intelligence people admit to error; anti-intelligence people attack the one who pointed it out.

Oh, wait, maybe you'll catch me on some really arcane Strunk-and-White-type style rule. English, you say, has so many rules, nobody could be expected to memorize them all. Oh, please! We're not talking about dangling participles or split infinitives or ending a sentence on a preposition here - we're talking about the difference between 'there', 'their', and 'they're' - an adverb, a pronoun, and a contraction for a pronoun and a verb - words that most any three-year-old child knows.

You say that I am "exclusionist" for wanting to limit my online company to good writers? Why yes, yes I am. This is the "social" web, after all, and I see no problems with applying the same standards to virtual socializing on the Internet that I deploy, sans controversy, in the real-life socializing that takes place in my living room. So from now on, I will also ask all rude, violent, and irresponsible people to stay off my website as well. In fact, as soon as webcams are standard, I intend to be exclusionist to the point that, just as I would when answering the door, I give prospective visitors the once-over through the peephole and refuse them entry if I don't like the way they look.

And now I have an unpleasant task to do. I really, really like British performer Stephen Fry, have been following his work for quite some time, and have just plain looked up to him in the past.

But now, I have to pound sand in his rat-hole.

I have to do this because of this video, linked to and cited more and more every day as a "take that" to us "Grammar Nazis".

I'm afraid that I don't much care for Stephen Fry anymore.

In this little vlog, he does the very un-British (but very, very American) act of taking "Grammar Nazis" to task who, for example, protest the sign in the grocery store that says "Ten items or less" when it should (allegedly) say "Ten items or fewer".

OK, Stephen, I'll play your little game, because I have an appetite for straw men today.

In defense of the offending sign-painter, Fry has the audacity to cite Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare (basically, it amounts to "they didn't use perfect English, either"), and then looks down his noses at us "pedants" for not appreciating the rhythm, music, art, spirit, and joy of language as a dynamic, alive, and vibrant thing.

Gee, golly. We're sorry. No, actually on second thought, we're not the least sorry, Stephen Fry! You write like slugs on opium bugger, you have no more command of English than a USA beauty-pageant contestant, and you're only a British David Hasslehoff pandering to your real fan-base overseas because you're a loser in your own home country. And to put a fine point on how out-of-touch you are and perhaps always have been, you start off getting it wrong regarding whom is calling whom 'elitist'. It's the Laziness Nazis calling the Grammar Nazis 'elitist'; it wouldn't make any sense for it to be the other way around, now bloody would it?

That was the ad hominem appetizer. Now for the main course of reasoned arguments:

One does not have to violate the rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation in order to produce a beautiful work of language any more than engineers must violate the laws of physics to pull off a perfect rocket launch. When Oscar Wilde or William Shakespeare misplace a comma or noun a verb, they have a license to do so by virtue of being historic and world-famous authors. Historic and world-famous authors do not get to be historic and world-famous authors by being ignorant of the rules, but by having mastered the rules, to a degree such that they know when they can augment them to serve the higher purpose of their own, more inspired writing.

Not that sign-painter. No historic and world-famous author, he. And he knew it. When the store hired him to paint a sign for the express check-out lane, he wasn't trying to wring the most succulent morsel of poetry from the dry bone of commercial store display work. No, he was getting paid bottom dollar to crank out the sloppiest, but still acceptable, possible wording and head for the pub while the paint dried.

And for such a simple task to which he was appointed, he was too incompetent even at that. For the correct phrase would not have been "12 items or less" nor even "12 items or fewer", but "12 item limit", a solution which is unambiguous, irrefutably correct, and takes less space and less time to boot.

But that sign painter, anonymous forever, did not think of it. And do you know why? Because he could not be bothered to expend the mental effort. Because he had a lazy brain that does not like to do work. Because he was a "Laziness Nazi", and people like Stephen Fry are making a living appealing to the Populist masses by telling them that their sloth is justified.

And that, my friends, I am so regretful to report, is an idiot.

proof-reading provided by Cutty Sark

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Attention Reddit (and everybody who cares about it): A History Lesson

Date/Time Permalink: 12/28/12 10:02:14 am
Category: Geek Culture

It seems I can't avoid Reddit.com even if I want to these days. It gets quoted on every other news feed I check. Reddit, formerly the new Usenet, is now the new Internet Oracle, whose every babbling is posted alongside Twitter tweets and Facebook comments as one more "citizen in the street" comment. It streams by in CNN tickers and blares from the pages of my hometown newspaper. Obama did an interview there.

Which is starting to make it a teeny bit concerned with its own self-image. Because, like countless other social news and bookmarking sites out there, it's turned into a vat of boiling crap.

Prerequisite reading: "Why Social Bookmarking Will Always Suck".

That old post wasn't just meant as idle ranting. There are sociological forces at work here which so far go un-examined in academia. Social, psychological, and political scientists could be reaping gobs of research from online forum sites, but apparently they're not important enough to justify the research grants. So, if any of us care any at all about the atmosphere in which most of us spend the majority of our time, we will care at least once in a while about the quality of the time spent there.

The problem on Reddit is the quality: They're drowning in crap.

I've seen it before: Usenet, Yahoo groups, Slashdot, Delphi forums, About, 4chan, Ebaumsworld, Digg, Something-Awful, Tumblr, Twitter, MySpace, ten million PHPBB boards, and even BBS discussion sites of the '80s of yore.

The only one thing that sets Reddit apart from countless discussion forums is that it is the most conservative online community ever! It is insulated and xenophobic - Redditors consider themselves thousands of miles higher than every other website, infinite degrees morally superior to every other human being on Earth, just for having gotten a free, unscreened nick on the site. In their opinion, if it didn't happen on Reddit, it didn't happen. To Redditors, history began with the first Reddit post. Reddit doesn't just repost tired meme jokes, it recites them in unison in high Latin during midnight mass. As tight as Freemasons, you can't even get in the door there without the secret handshakes and lodge signs. No Reddit account can do any wrong; even spammers and astroturfers and child pornographers and scam artists are lovingly embraced and tenaciously defended, once they show that they have a Reddit account. It is the Manson cult of social media, while thinking it's Haight-Ashbury. It is impossible to get banned from the site, something even 4chan can't claim. Although the site has a reputation for being a traffic driver, akin to Digg and Slashdot, it actually drives the least traffic per post of any social linking site - that's because the vast majority of Reddit links link to other pages on Reddit itself. Beyond that, a huge chunk of Reddit posts are merely comparisons of itself with other sites, trying to squeeze that crucial last millimeter out of the ruler. Bellybutton lint: It's what's for dinner.

In previous forums, companies needed to create a walled garden to keep a community this insulated; Reddit is the first community to do this to themselves. And of course, with such an airtight, hermetically-sealed, monocultural, inbred web society, it's a little hard for news from the Outside World to get in there.

So let your friendly neighborhood Redditor know "Why Social Bookmarking Will Always Suck".

But tell them outside of Reddit! The site has immunity built up to any opinion not branded with the barcode of the Hivemind; Reddit is as deaf to differing opinions as Glenn Beck. But it has millions of users; these same users are bound to sleep, eat, and go to work sometime. Some of them, miraculously enough, even have significant others.

Answer for them this conundrum, and then they can stop screaming "Why are we drowning in crap?" at each other every day. Because the rest of us would like to browse "the Mainstream Media" in peace again.

Penguin Pete's neon sig

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My Own Musings On Content Creation For The Web

Date/Time Permalink: 11/20/12 04:32:01 pm
Category: Geek Culture

...because that's just what the web needs is more navel-gazing!

I don't normally become such a squeeing fantard over another author's work, but The Oatmeal (hereby legitimized as True Art by my writing its name in 'em' tags) put up a strip called "Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web". And it spoke to me! It touched me! It touched me in places that I'll have to show my therapist on the dolly later! He read my soul!

Despite the fact that Matthew Inman can't draw for sour owl poop and normally doesn't rise above Dave-Barry-esque fart humor (*), he's produced what may some day arrive as a classic definitive description of what it's like being an online content producer.

(*) I kid, I kid!

I've just gotta give back! So I'll riff on the theme by adding my own corollary observations here:

#1. I never run out of ideas.

I have friggin' gigabytes of ideas scribbled into Emacs textfiles just waiting to be nurtured into brilliant content. I can't stop the ideas. If a squirrel farts next to me while I'm walking in the Wilderness of Inspiration (where I go to get away from the Internet and meditate like a Tolkien elf), it gives me an idea. The trouble is coming up with a good idea.

Corollary to the corollary: Ideas suck. It's the execution that makes all the difference. Take Stephen King (the horror author, you illiterate bagheads), he writes stories about werewolves and vampires and haunted hotels. That's it, that's his big ideas. In anybody else's hands, they'd be the most yawning, boring cliche stories ever written. But it's his writing style, his pacing, his inventive techniques, and his dedication to just writing the most entertaining yarns possible, that makes him a best-seller. Ideas suck. With an idea, all you have is a story about a lost little girl. It's the execution that makes a Wizard of Oz.

#2. The web is the rottenest possible audience.

There is a gap between good ideas, and ideas that the Internet likes. Seriously, you guys have shit tastes. Sure enough, if I croak out something so gawdawful that I'm trembling with self-loathing as I click the 'post' button, you guys eat it up like Christmas mornin'. If I concentrate on one idea for months and months and craft it with every fiber of resolve dwelling in my breast, revising and rewriting and laboring mightily with creative passion, slaying the dragon of indifference and mediocrity with my sparkling polished lance of inspiration, where the hell was I, I post my completed masterpiece and not a single one of you likes it, you don't even care enough to yawn at it. But those retarded ideas I twiddle out in ten minutes on the potty? Rave reviews, two thumbs way up, Reddit front-page, reposted and retweeted and retumblered and pinterested to the moon and back.

True story: Just to blow off dumb ideas, I made my "Penguin Pete's Daily Funny" Tumblr, which I actually call my "daily stupid". It's all image memes and lowbrow 4chan humor. To this day, it is still ahead of my webcomic (where I make Twue Art) in raw page views.

The most popular joke on the daily stupid so far is this one, lowbrow toilet humor. 1,767 likes and reblogs and the total can only go up now that I'm linking to it. But when I came up with this post, witty political humor framed in the device of Weird-Al'ing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", chock fulla currently relevant memes, and predicting the outcome to the election five days in advance, I might add, and its score is currently...

--> 2 <--

That's what I get for being psychic just for your entertainment.

#3. There's always good old pandering...

The one guaranteed road to Internet success is to pander to a niche. After all, this is Penguin Pete's, home to geek-in-blackface nerdy-minstrel STEMmer-feel-goodyness that started years before The Big Bang Theory ever wrote its pilot. Remember "How To Totally Fake Being A Geek" and "One for the ladies: How to date a geek guy?". Pander, pander, pander. Hugely popular, still StumbledUpon in the hundreds of hits per day, Digg front page - back when that meant anything, hyuk hyuk!

So if I post jokes about Minecraft on my daily stupid, they always get a tiny little bit of niche appreciation out of the Minecraft audience. Post an
Inkscape tutorial
, and that's guaranteed interest from somebody. I'll bet The Oatmeal fans are still reading this far. It's like those "aggressive yield" stock portfolios: The percentage is tiny, but it's a sure bet. I pander to the females on Pinterest, to the futurists and science geeks on Mind--Blown, and to the sysadmins and hackers and general geeks on Doomed to Obscurity.

So, yeah, pander = success on the webs.

#4. Pandering stunts your creativity.

Man alive, how is a body supposed to break new ground if they have to stay stuck in the same rut? I don't have to explain that to you, it's a very old story. TV Tropes has huge chunks devoted to cataloging the tropes of fanbase-conservatism, including "Why Fandom Can't Have Nice Things", "They Changed It, Now It Sucks", "Serious Business", "Ruined FOREVER", and "Fan Myopia".

Yeah, I could go on doing the Same Formula That We Know The Internet Likes. God knows, clients ask for that by the ton. It pays the bills. But on my own sites, I'm getting less and less interested in what pays the bills and more and more interested in shaking things up, trying new things, and exploring new horizons. You know, for the Internet, the greatest enabler of spontaneous creativity ever invented, its potential sure isn't explored very much. The same old crap gets reposted again and again and again.

The Internet is changing culture. I can turn off the Internet and turn on the TV, the radio, or a magazine (yes, I read magazines by turning them on, so there), and there's the Internet anyway. Twitter polls on TV, websites quoted in magazine articles, radio DJs cackling over something going around on Facebook. All media is all just one big Internet now.

The Internet is changing art. But it's changing it by putting it in Annie Wilkes' bedroom with a wheelchair and leg casts, making it rewrite the same book over and over and over...

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Here: This Is What a REAL Girl Geek Looks Like

Date/Time Permalink: 08/03/12 08:07:10 am
Category: Geek Culture

Real Geek:

Meet Brittany Wenger, a 17-year-old high school junior from Lakewood Ranch, Florida.

google science fair grand prize winner

She just won the grand prize in this year's Google Science Fair competition. Her project was a Java software application for helping in the diagnosis of breast cancer cases. It correctly identifies 99% of malignant tumors by using a neural network to compare millions of cases of test data looking for patterns. She's planning on banking her prize money scholarship towards a medical degree, and few could argue that that isn't a career with a future for her.

And she was first inspired on the project when she found out about artificial intelligence in seventh-grade. Which tells you that she was on the path to this day for a long time. Another story on Brittany Wenger at this site, tecca.com, which I just mention because it has more related stories about young kids showing promise in science careers, such as this 10-year-old who discovered a new molecule through tinkering around with the classroom set.

Fake Geek:

It's ironic that this story hardly gets notice, while just last week CNN and several others threw a hissy fit over whether girls in Batman Tshirts and girls in Dark Knight Tshirts at some cheesy skiffy convention both get to call themselves "geeks". I covered that here. Like I said, "Actual geeks [Such as Miss Wenger here.] would never be found within a mile radius of any event at which 'booth babe' would even be an applicable term."

You know all those people wringing their hands about "Where are the girls in science and computing careers", wondering what could possibly be discouraging more young women from a career in science? Maybe this has something to do with it, when I can type "girl geek" into Google and find dredge like this:

There are zero girl geeks in this picture

I can't help but leave with the impression that the interests of feminine achievement and empowerment in the arts and sciences is being misrepresented a tad.

To clarify, that is a montage titled "NOT what girl geeks look like".

Proof That Somebody Else In The World Gets It:

Ah, but I preach to the Western world as pearls before swine. Where, oh where, are there some people in this world who can appreciate the point? Ah, in The Netherlands, of course! Here is the "Girl Geek Dinner" event in The Netherlands, dedicated to promoting science careers among women, and check out that page. Check out this image from that page:

These are girl geeks

Once again, Northern Europe gets it so, so right while America gets it so, so wrong.

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Why is everybody fighting to be called "geek"?

Date/Time Permalink: 07/26/12 12:16:58 pm
Category: Geek Culture

OK, everybody explain it to the dumb guy. Let's try it that way.

Yesterday, I saw the latest hissy fit thrown on CNN about who gets the "privilege" of being called "geek". I wrote this post.

Now, the battle rages on. Wahhhh! I'm a geek, you're a geek, no you're not a geek, no I am and you're not, wahhhh! Felicia Day is pissed. Booth babes are pissed. Women are pissed. CNN troll bloggers are pissed. Developers are pissed. Small, furry creatures from Alpha Centauri are pissed.


What are you fighting over?

What is SO SPECIAL about this one stinking little word?

I started this site some six years ago for geeks. "Geeks" as I had it in mind, were, as I indicated in yesterday's post, people like Cody Brocious. To me, it's a profession. It's something you do. Had I had the foresight to know that in six years, world war three would be waged over the World's Most Important Word, I would have chosen a different word. Which still would have meant what "geek" used to mean.

Why do people want to be called "geek"? Why do they complain that they're being "excluded"? "Excluded" from what?

Does it give you a break on your taxes?

Do you get the A-table at Spago's without a reservation?

Do you get your own jet fighter?

Does it get you out of jury duty?

What is this special advantage to being a geek that makes everybody desperately claw and grab at it like it was the ring of Mordor? Why this word and not "dog catcher" or "president" or "Rastafarian"? Because none of those titles have any more prestige than any other, either. The difference is in your mind.

What is this imagined prestige that this coveted title of the word "geek" begets? Because I've never seen it. I still have to pay for my groceries at the store like anybody else. I imagine Cody Brocious does, too, unless he rigs the Arduino to hack the cash registers next.

Why does Felicia Day want to be called "geek"? What's wrong with calling her "an actress and writer"? Being an actress and writer is nothing to be ashamed of! Why do video game fans at the convention want to be called "geek"? What's wrong with calling them "gamers"? Being a gamer is nothing to be ashamed of! Why do the women who just show up to try to pick up a geek want to be called "geeks"? Why wouldn't they be happy to be known as "groupies"? Being a groupie is nothing to be ashamed of!

No, I actually want this explained to me until it makes sense.

Why does everybody want to be named "Geek"?

Commenters, you have the floor.

EDIT Great, first time I've ever done a public poll and now Disqus cratered the comment reply form. EIBANOKW. (Everything Is Broken And No One Knows Why) TO COMMENT, GO TO THIS POST, the previous one. Its Disqus comment box is working; this one isn't. They both have the exact same code. (In fact, all posts on this blog use the exact same code - this is how all blog software works!) Yet that one works and this one doesn't. For no reason.

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Fake Geeks Now Complaining About Fake Fake Geeks

Date/Time Permalink: 07/25/12 01:36:47 pm
Category: Geek Culture

Suddenly, CNN has woken up to the stunning revelation that water is wet, objects fall towards the center of the Earth, and there are people who pretend to be "geeks" just to get attention.

"I hate poachers. Pure and simple." whines the pissy little manchild, as he not only poaches the word "geek", but stabs it through the heart and pisses on its grave every day that he has been alive.

Well, gosh.

Color you blue.

Now that "geek" means "somebody who feels that their high standing is jeopardized by booth babes", can we please have our word back? Here is the bar for people who deserve to call themselves "geek" - you need to be at least this smart to apply:

This is what a geek is

That's Cody Brocious, a Mozilla developer, dropping by the Black Hat Conference to demonstrate his new hack using an Arduino to hack into motel keycard locks.

Geek elements in Brocious' story:

  • "developer" - someone who applies knowledge of computers for a living
  • "Mozilla" - open source software
  • "Black Hat Conference" - gathering of geeks
  • "Arduino" - open source hardware
  • "demonstrate" - using one's knowledge to teach others
  • a technology story posted on a technology website

Everything that there is to say about actual geek culture is included in this story. There is nothing left out. If the Venn diagram between your interests and this story does not contain any intersecting circles, then you are not a geek.

Elements not present in Brocious' story, hence not part of geek culture:

  • Batman
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Video games
  • Movies
  • Comic books
  • TV shows
  • Science fiction
  • Fiction
  • Dressing stupid
  • Acting stupid
  • "LOL"
  • "Forever alone"
  • "booth babes"
  • Any Internet meme
  • Being a manchild
  • Being an attention whore
  • Being a loser

You see, the reason that what the mainstream is calling "geek culture" is getting infiltrated by "fake geeks" now is because it's all been "fake geeks" all the way down since mainstream media first found out about the word, exactly like they did with the words "hacker" and "nerd" before that. Actual geeks would never be found within a mile radius of any event at which "booth babe" would even be an applicable term.

Liking fiction does not make you a "geek". Liking fiction makes you a "fan". There's nothing wrong with being a fan. I am a fan too. But being a fan does not make me a geek. Interest in technology, learning, science, computing, developing, creating, doing, working, and teaching, makes me a geek.

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I quit using print encyclopedias even before Wikipedia came out

Date/Time Permalink: 03/14/12 06:37:54 pm
Category: Geek Culture

The social web today just cannot shut up about how Encyclopaedia Britannica is going to quit printing. "Yay! Wikipedia beat Encyclopaedia Britannica! Ding dong the witch is dead!" says the Internet.

Hogwash. Encyclopedias simply wrote themselves out of style, that's all. The whole Internet, even in 1995, was better than any encyclopedia ever written already.

The best print encyclopedia I have ever used suffered from numerous flaws:

  • Outdated by the time the ink's dry. Especially science articles when new research overturns old results, and geography articles when some pokey Scrabble-winner country has a military coup and redraws its borders.
  • Incomplete entries. The fattest set I've ever owned never had enough entries to satisfy every query.
  • Skimpy entries. What entries were there might be only a couple of paragraphs when I needed a whole essay.
  • Biased... Yes, worse than the Internet!

To expand on that last point: I am very sorry that one encyclopedia set I had got destroyed before I got a chance to scan in some pages and post it on the Internet. It was the 1942 print of the World Book Encyclopedia, and it was hilarious. I'd picked it up at a yard sale for $5 for the history value. Propaganda so thick you could float a battleship in it. The whole thing sounded like it was written by General Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove. Right-wing, nationalist, pro-Christian, pro-right-wing, pro-conservative, and more. I understand that it was WWII and the Cold War was right around the corner, but even taking that into consideration, it was the most xenophobic reading I'd ever read.

Oh, the fun I could be having with scanned pages of that thing! You'll have to take my word for it, unless someone else has that same print out there...

This is the kind of thing that makes me snicker when I hear people (such as teachers at my kids' school. Today.) say you shouldn't use Wikipedia because "just anybody can write it". What do these people think book publishing is like? Do they think there's a white-robed archangel with a flaming sword standing guard at the entrance to the holy tabernacle where the august pages are composed by muses and cherubs? I got news for these people - anyone can write a book, or a magazine, or a newspaper, too.

Or blog, or Wikipedia article. Never put blind trust in anything you read anywhere, in any media form, not even from me. Lies and misinformation rain from the sky, but you have to encircle the globe in a bloody quest for a crumb of truth.

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Googling Rot13'd Words To View the Secretive Side of the Web

Date/Time Permalink: 02/28/12 10:43:23 am
Category: Geek Culture

I know I've blathered about rot13 before - the "weak encryption" where you reverse two halves of the alphabet to make an obscured "code" word. But have you ever tried to Google for a rot13-encoded word? Take 'Linux' for instance...

Wait, here's a rot13 script:


if [ "$1" ]; then
echo "$1" | tr 'a-zA-Z' 'n-za-mN-ZA-M'
cat "$@" | tr 'a-zA-Z' 'n-za-mN-ZA-M'

exit 0

This'll handle anything. Feed it a cat'd file, STDIN, a pipe from another command, an argument, any old thing.

Anyway, search for the rot13'd Linux, (yvahk), get back 12,100 hits (as of this writing). What the heck is going on? Why would that many people want to have the name 'Linux' encoded?

Well, see, in the early days, web users had a custom of using rot13 to head off any searches that could lead to an unfavorable result. In this case, many people wanted to talk about Linux without having the forum drown in help requests - there's separate help forums for that. Other cases for "yvahk" are just because people would encode whole fortune files and store them plaintext, and 'Linux' tends to come up a lot in fortune cookie files.

But you can try this with any potentially inflammatory topic. For instance, here's a post where users have a guarded conversation about "fpvragbybtl". Hmm, this conversation makes a lot more sense when you decode it!

Speaking of cults, I've found 28 results for "Nla Enaq" (in quotation marks only), who certainly has a cult just as kooky and combative as the other. And 113 hits for "Eba Cnhy" (Even one with his picture - duh)! Given his followers' tendency to try to win presidential elections / utopias solely through online heckling, that makes piles of sense.

If you were ready to flame back about "oh, you arrogant Yvahk elitists, how typical of you!" back there at that Yvahk example, here's "cubgbfubc" at 1770 hits, just to show that the n00b side of the force is even greater in proprietary software's universe. Unfortunately, Gimp users have an even greater cause to shake off the trolls (who Google every Gimp forum on Earth just to troll it), but "tvzc" is apparently a file extension for something. Just Gimp's luck! (Seriously, Gimp is the unluckiest software application in history.)

Even within Linux, "Hohagh" gets 3700 results, but there's some weird stuff mixed in. Its a family name, apparently. However, there are some verified Ubuntu instances there.

Go on, play with it yourselves, share what you dig up in the comments. You just might find 187 people who'd like to sell you some "znevwhnan"!

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