Today, May 25, is Geek Pride Day. So get on out there and celebrate your own ferocious nerdiness my fellow geeks!
Ars Technica, one of the smartest tech news blogs out there, had a geek origins post today in which the Ars staff wrote about “the experiences that turned us into the savvy, nerdy people we have become.” Inspired by their fun stories, here is my own geek origin story, such as it is. Enjoy this random collection of geeky anecdotes spread out over my brief geeky life.
First Computer Experience
As a kid, I grew up with some of the earliest computers in school, but definitely not at home. We would take typing tests in the 3rd grade on Macintoshes with a little cat that you raced across the screen. I think that’s why I type so fast now. I’m still racing that virtual cat.
Early Days of Gaming
The first computer I used at home was a Tandy my dad had discarded from his business. In 6th grade I played a lot of Planetfall on it, which was one of the earlier science fiction computer games, text only of course, and it ran off of a 5 1/4″ floppy disk. I loved that it was interactive, and that there was a choose-your-own-adventure kind of storyline unfolding like magic from a computer. I remember typing naughty words into the command line to see what would happen, and the game yelling at me. Ah, childhood. Now I type naughty words into my computer and nobody yells back. Planetfall led to a long line of PC games: Zork, Myst, Diablo, American McGee’s Alice…on and on.
OMG, the Interwebs!
During the last month of my senior year of high school, the computer science teacher excitedly gathered a group of us geeky kids (it was all the Literary Magazine kids, if I recall correctly) and took us into his office to show us this magical new thing called “the internet.” He was so pumped when he got connected to the BBC website. I still remember all of us sitting on the ground around his desk, trying to get close enough to see the screen, and him turning around and saying “Check it out! We’re connected to England right now!” That feelingof amazement and incredulity at a concept so seemingly preposterous is something I recapture every time I try a new groundbreaking technology.
I’d been enrolled in college at the University of Illinois for about a month in 1995 when a friend said “I sent you a few emails and you haven’t emailed me back.” I still remember my moment of blankness and mental panic as I finally stammered “Uh, I have an email address?” Apparently all students got them, but I didn’t get the postal letter telling me about mine. Yes, a postal letter telling you about an email address. Once he showed me how to log in, though, I got super excited and started emailing everyone I could find in the student address book as well as my friends across the country at Stanford. That seemed so cool and futuristic.
Fun with College Boyfriends
My college boyfriend taught me a lot about computers. No thanks to him for breaking my heart, but I still owe him big for upping my geek quotient. He was a computer science major, and I remember late nights helping him build a computer from scratch, debug C code, and diagram a network. All that was a good balance to my English major workload of reading and writing non-stop. He also introduced me to MUDs (multi-user dungeons), early online games that were (*gasp*) text only if you young’uns can believe that. I played BatMUD like a madwoman for years, and thus was introduced to people living all over the world and the idea of a truly international net. I can still remember my shortcut commands for various in-game tasks, like “mm bunny” for “attack bunny with a magic missile.” Don’t ask me why they made bunnies the enemy, or why bunnies left gold and other items after you killed them. I always pictured them with little bunny fanny packs.
Webmaster by Default
I worked for the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library while in Library School and one day my boss (the truly kick ass David Ward, still at U of I) told me I was the webmaster for the library’s Question Board (a type of “ask us anything” Q&A website). So, I figured it out. I was taking the sole web design class offered by the library science school (we weren’t allowed to cross-enroll in the computer science classes). And thus I learned HTML the best way — by just doing it. It’s how I tackled all other coding languages from that point on (jump in, flail about, and hope for the best). David also obtained super cool status for implementing one of the first ever chat reference programs at a library, something that we graduate assistants got to staff and which was my introduction to live online communication. If David hadn’t given me that web project or encouraged us to provide live online reference, I know for a fact I wouldn’t be doing what I do today.
Librarians Encouraging Librarians
I’d been a librarian for less than two years in late 2003, and I saw a conference presentation from Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens about this amazing new thing called blogging. I went up to talk to them after the session was over and I remember gushing like a fan girl about how cool this all was and how amazing they were. And then I remember Michael saying “You sound like you have something to say. You should start a blog.” A month later I started Librarian in Black.
My Geeky Thank Yous
So, thank you, little cat typing game, for making me type faster.
Thank you, Dad, for bringing home a computer with a game.
Thank you, high school computer science teacher, for showing me the internet in its early days and for sharing your sense of wonder with us.
Thank you, random college friend, for having the patience to show me how to use email (and patience was indeed required).
Thank you, college boyfriend, for being really smart and teaching me stuff and helping me avoid being PKed in BatMud.
Thank you, David Ward, for being an awesome librarian who encouraged his library school graduate assistants to do groundbreaking things.
And thank you, Aaron and Michael, for taking the time to talk to a newbie and encouraging me to have a voice.
Without these people and experiences, I wouldn’t be the geek I am today.