Yes, it's come to this. The same people you raked on in high school now run the world and control every gizmo you own or want to own. And, as you hold your "normal" identity throughout your life, there are times when it may be advantageous to pose as a geek. Maybe to convince your first date that you have job prospects beyond "Walmart clerk". Maybe to slip in the door at Comdex. Perhaps even to escape being hacked to death by the evil-looking punks at the Internet cafe, the ones with the Tux penguin tattoos and the Mohawks who are eying your laptop. Hint: They don't like you because of the suit and tie; they HATE that!
Well, fear not, hopeless lamer, I, a certified geek, will give you a rundown of how to pass as a geek for brief moments. Understand, these tactics will in no way work over the long term, like, say, a marriage. But in quick social exchanges, or to bamboozle your cow-orker, these tricks should work sufficiently to help you fool the rest of us into thinking that you're one of us:
One of the chief attributes of geeks, and intellectuals in general, is attitude. No, attitude doesn't MAKE you a geek, but that's not the point of this article. The point here is to FAKE it. And to fake it, you have to feign interests and opinions, and then be smugly confident that your "choices" are superior to the mainstream's.
Scott Adams, creator of the "Dilbert" comic strip, has a chapter in one of his books about enhancing your aura at work by posing as a "prima-donna", which is very similar in tactics to this article. Here again, it's all about the pretended-to attitude.
What defines geeks the most is the range of interests. Use these tricks to speak in the tribal tongue of geeks:
Math: Of course, if you have a calculator, use it. Geeks do that, too. It isn't about being able to do complex calculations in your head; it's about using the techie tools to free up your brain for less mundane functions. And by all means, top the other person in arcanity of equipment. If they have a Radio Shack, whip out a Texas Instruments. If they have a Texas Instruments, unclip your slide-rule. Facing a slide-rule? They make portable abacuses! Slide your beads around on your abacus and comment how you saw these things in a whole new light after you read Feynman about computing cube roots on them.
Primes: All prime numbers end in 1, 3, 7, and 9. Just remember those numbers, and look at the last digit of prices, bus numbers, etc. When you encounter one, remark to your companion, "Hey, I think that's prime". Odds are good, provided the number is short enough, that you'll be right. When you work it out on the calculator, even if you were wrong, you will at least get points for the informed hunch.
Counting bases: Learn these words: Binary, Octal, Hexadecimal. Binary is ones and zeros. Octal uses zero thru seven. Hexadecimal uses all the standard numbers, plus the letters A through F. Upon encountering, say, a phone number 455-6102, ask, "Is that in decimal or octal?" Point at the license plate AD3 61F and comment that that's a number in "hex". Motel rooms on the first floor, such as 101, 110, etc. are prompts to point and chuckle: "Look, they even number in binary!" It doesn't matter that you have no idea what you're talking about. Don't go out on a limb and try to convert to normal numbers.
Computer Systems: That elite snobbery comes out the hardest in this subject. It's easy, all you have to do is pretend to hate the mainstream choices: Windows, AOL, Intel. Assert Windows is inferior to (pick one or more) Linux, Unix, BeOS, or Macintosh. Act sympathetic upon hearing an email addy ending in "@AOL.com" and say, "Any idea when they're gonna put cable modem in your area?" Snort at Intel commercials and chortle "Give me an AMD Duron any day!" It doesn't matter, again, that you have no idea what you're talking about. When challenged for an explanation, pick any random nonsense and string it together. Insist that your choice is faster, more secure, less expensive, conductive to open source, more efficient, or whatnot. This is exactly how real live conversations between geeks defending their favorite software/hardware go all the time. The point is that you're faking an opinion. Like any random geek, you could still be full of hooey.
Now, when it comes to operating systems, the Geekosphere (I coined it! It's mine! You heard it here first!) has jelled around Linux and BSD. When it comes to Linux distros, you win points the older and more obscure your distro is. Simply look up the history of computing and pick machines and systems going back in 5-year increments; or just learn this phrase: "I run Yggdrasil on a PDP-11. Boy, it was a bitch installing all that from tape!" You'll need a snorkel to breathe underneath the pile of groupies that will sack you. *Any* BSD distro is obscure. The mere name "BSD 386" instantly repels suits like garlic repels vampires.
Software: Games: Any popular computer game will do just fine here, but tend to shy away from the "Sim" genre. Some geeks like Sims, some don't. But almost any geek has at least taken a crack at any game ending in "quest" or "craft", and first-person-shooters. Bonus for enthusing about Myst, Schizm, etc. Claim to have solved Riven in a single day. RPGs stand for Role Playing Games, and there's about 999 flavors of them, and they all copy the original Dungeons and Dragons game. The upshot is that if you mumble something about your level 97 (human | troll | elf | hobbit | orc | halfling) (rogue | ranger | warrior | wizard | mage | necromancer | priest | dunadin | paladin), you will easily pass for a devotee of (Rogue | Nethack | Angband | Diablo | DandD-Classic) without too much trouble.
Applications: While there is the obvious prejudice for emacs, vi, Gimp, Adobe, Mozilla, Firefox, and etc., you're just as well off here letting the other person name a software tool that they use, then caw, "Get a REAL program!"
Programming: Learn not only the names of these programming languages, but the order in which I present them: Basic, Cobol, Pascal, Ada, C, Java, Lisp, Perl, Python, Ruby, Assembler. These are listed in order of "least cool" to "most cool". Now you know what to do. Whenever the person you're talking to name-drops any language on this list, simply pick the next one and assert that this is what YOU prefer. What to do if you meet an assembler programmer? Act like any other geek: impressed! Bug them to teach you how to write a tic-tac-toe game that uses artificial intelligence in assembler. Stand and pretend to absorb their explanation in one shot. Shake your head in marvel and mutter, "And all that time, I was trying to do it the hard way!"
Here's another thing if you're out-trumped by somebody who knows multiple programming languages, including the coolest: make one up! Yes, it's true, there are more languages and variants out there than any human being could possibly keep track of, and new ones get invented all the time. Just call it something like "B/arg3" or "Modico" and claim that it combines the best features of (insert random language #1) and (insert random language #2). The geek you're talking to will simply assume that they've missed the relevant Slashdot articles. Cover up line: "It just reached 'break-even' point last month."
Pretend you like these: TV shows: Babylon V, Star Trek, Carnivale. When you meet a B5 fan, claim ST. Claim B5 to ST fans. Meet a fan of both, ask if they've seen Carnivale. No, Carnivale isn't true geek fare, but it's high-brow enough that you'll pass as one who has "burnt out" on the science fiction genre temporarily. Gain extra points by dropping "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "X-Files" into the conversation. Avoid "Sliders" and "Quantum Leap", they died on cancellation. Don't even claim affection for "Firefly", because Firefly is so supercool, even it's fans disown it for fear of being flamed by the other fans. It's like the name of a diety: never say it out loud.
Movies: Original Star Trek movies, Lord of the Rings movies (but be sure to mention that they came CLOSE to re-creating the books), Highlander, the Fifth Element, Minority Report, Blade Runner, Alien (deny ever having seen the sequels), Sneakers, marginal reference to the Star Wars series (all geeks have seen Star Wars movies, but seldom RAVE about them), any Monty Python movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and anime. Beware of wanna-be fodder that's marketed to geeks (and which some geeks, sadly, fall for), such as Hackers, Trekies, Wargames, Short Circuit, and The Matrix series. And whatever you do, don't use the Rocky Horror one unless you're sure that the other person _isn't_ a Rocky Horror fan, because the last thing you want to do is be caught not having every single line, song, and nuance from this movie memorized.
Hobbies: The more obscure, the better. You can always start out with the standard model-building, model railroads, chess, Medievalism. But since geeks love being narrow, beleaguered minorities, don't let that stop you from picking increasingly more esoteric interests, until you're assured that the person you're talking to will never be able to trip you up on cross examination. Instead of crossword, say cryptic. Instead of chess, say go. Instead of tennis, say fencing. Best is to find something that NOBODY ELSE IN THE ROOM HAS HEARD OF. Including interests of your own sole invention. Tell me "I collect cephalopod footprint fossils." doesn't hush the room.
Books to leave out on the coffee table: Comics: Dilbert, Bloom County, The 5th Wave, The Far Side, and ANY super-hero comic, Marvel being preferably cooler to DC. What matters in comic books isn't which one, but that you, a grown adult with a job, like ANY of them enough to own one.
Other: Any book with pictures of the following on the cover: robots, vampires, barbarians, castles, aliens, UFOs, other planets, mythical beings (i.e. elves, unicorns, dragons), galaxies, spaceships, and equations. Bonus points acquire for each of these items on the cover of the same book. It doesn't matter what the title is, or whether it's fiction or non-fiction.
Science names to drop: Buckminster Fuller, Richard Feynman, Stephen W. Hawking, Isaac Asimov, Benjamin Franklin, Blaise Pascal. Einstein is too mainstream.
Good luck, and remember to think of me when you get to third base with that Silicon Valley groupie!
UPDATE: 8/3/06 Hello, Digg and Reddit readers! So far my hosting server has been holding up. I'm kind of surprised that this one of all posts would get linked from two sites at once. It's kinda old; could use updating or a sequel.
Glad to see most everybody 'gets' it! (-:
UPDATE: 11/6/06 If you got here looking for some humor about the cancelled FOX show Firefly, I highly recommend "Why Fox cancelled Firefly". Brilliantly funny!