Make me an internerd.
January 21, 2009 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Help me become a better geek.

So I read MetaFilter, which is itself pretty geeky. And often there are great suggestions for things to look at on the internet, sites to check out, things to keep in reading rotation, etc. And there are even a couple useful questions on the subject - but searching them out can often require knowing what you are looking for.

I learned HTML back in high school (almost ten years ago). I read Penny Arcade and xkcd. I have a LiveJournal. I play World of Warcraft.

But that's not nearly as geeky as I'm sure I have the capacity for. What can I do to up my geek factor? What do you do to stay geeky? What books/websites do you read? What skills do you hone?
posted by greekphilosophy to Technology (45 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Well, what kind of geek do you want to be? In the greater Venn diagram of geeks, there is always some overlap (like PA, xkcd, blogging, and watching sci-fi [start catching up on Battlestar Galactica, btw]), but there are unique kinds of geeks. Example: I couldn't care less about web programming or the latest A/V gadgets, but I can go on for hours about all things robotic.

(Also, I would like to express how pleased I am that people finally WANT to be geeks. My awkward high school self feels so validated.)
posted by olinerd at 11:35 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Figure out what your interests are, and pursue them. You might end being a 'geek', you might not. Either way, you'll most likely make yourself happy.
posted by echo target at 11:47 AM on January 21, 2009

Go to an anime convention and observe. I'm not going to say that all (or even most) anime fans are geeks, but you'll inevitably find some people there who have taken something they are passionate about and brought it to a whole different level. I think that is part of what defines being a geek - an elevated passion about something, usually fairly obscure, and an overall intelligence and technical competency that makes that passion even more potent.

So, what flavor of geek do you want to be? LoTR? Gaming? Anime? Music? Science? Have fun- there is something freeing about embracing your inner geek.
posted by bristolcat at 11:47 AM on January 21, 2009

Self-loathing, and lots of it. Wear it like a shining badge on your chest.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:50 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Self-loathing, and lots of it. Wear it like a shining badge on your chest.

I thought that was emo?

My ticket to geekdom was getting an IT job in the school system. The students call me Computer. And, though I'm not into self-loathing, I do wear my geekness like a shining badge and people seem to know it, asking me all manner of random questions.

The anine convetion's also a good idea. So is PAX. DragonCon too.
posted by jmd82 at 11:54 AM on January 21, 2009

I always thought the formula for geekeyness was to find something you're interested in (computers? science? band? comics?) then proceed to spend a disproportionate amount of time involved with it. The more it eats into time for socializing (with non-geeks), taking care of yourself, and pretty much anything that involves leaving the house (except when related to your chosen interest) the bigger the geek you will become.
posted by waxboy at 11:54 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's a great time to pick up Dungeons and Dragons. They just released 4th edition, which, if you read Penny Arcade, you probably know.

There are tons of geeky meetups on

Read old sci-fi, making sure to start with the original Foundation trilogy.
posted by crickets at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2009

I know it was suggested in another thread, but AL Daily is fantastic for arts and culture nerdery. Checking in on American Life, also.

My video game obsessed ex-Roomie sends me links from kotaku regularly. I in turn, often send him video game stuff from etsy, craftster and spritestitch (hell, it's turned into such an obsession for me, I make those damn things now).
posted by piratebowling at 11:56 AM on January 21, 2009

Go to Dragon*Con. If you can't make that, find a con in your area, but D*C is one of the biggest there is.

You don't mention it, but I assume you read

Try running Linux as your primary OS.

Find or found a local boardgaming group. (You might want to start with things like Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Ticket to Ride, and Caracassonne.)

Hang out with other geek/nerds.
posted by fings at 11:56 AM on January 21, 2009

Hell, I forgot to close one of those tags. Sorry. All links still work, though.
posted by piratebowling at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2009

In the big road of geeky perdition, I can only offer you my own obsessions: board games, Cthulhiana, Sinclair microcomputers, overanalyzing David Lynch, work with formal logic for computers for a living, obscure mindfucks (May Day Mystery, I'm looking at you), web browser games (plugins, who needs plugins?), way too many comic books, Aimee Mann, "oo shiny" reactions to anything vaguely sci-fiish, horror or fantasy related, dormant DXing (I will come back, my precious).
posted by Iosephus at 11:58 AM on January 21, 2009

Watch G4 and other tech shows and channels to see what sparks your interest and keep up with current developments in tech/geek culture.

Also there are many geeky magazines (including one called Geek) that you can check out at any decent sized bookstore (I also suggest Make). You can browse the magazine racks and get info on tech, sci-fi, anime, gaming, and other geek interests.

So, grab a caffeinated beverage and a notebook (a moleskin is most geeky) and jot some ideas as you watch tv or spend the afternoon in a bookstore exploring.
posted by CoralAmber at 12:02 PM on January 21, 2009

Play Magic: The Gathering. We got it started at work and those who don't play think we are the most horrible geeks ever -- and this is in an IT-related workplace.

Also, one letter off from being eponysterical.
posted by fhangler at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2009

Red Dwarf
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 12:13 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Our own Lore Sjoeberg provided a nice guide a few years ago. It's aged fairly well.
posted by tkolar at 12:22 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't be a geek poseur. You will give us a bad name and we will come and beat you with slide rules and pocket protectors.

That said, nothing beats being able to talk someone to death over some obscure interest. You need to start alienating people by making their eyes glaze over with minutiae. You could take the easy way out with D&D/Sci Fi Channel/anime, or find something totally awesome that will excite normal people for about five minutes and then bore them terribly as you keep talking about it.

Example - girlfriend is in bioengineering. She deals with flow problems within cells, which I immediately recognized as a boundary layer problem! Pulled out my old boundary layer notes and started reviewing them and comparing them to the bio applications I had never seen before, at which point she packed up her things and moved to another room.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Help me become a better geek.

Bathe regularly and use deodorant. Your geekiness will be much more interesting if people can stand to be around you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

I recall a discussion with some fellow anime fans revolving around the idea that fans generally fell into one of two camps: those who simply consume anime, and those who further express their love for the medium in some particular way, be it through cosplay, blogging, drawing, running a club, etc. Personally, I don't think it's quite so black and white, but I do think the idea presents a useful framework for separating the fans from the fans. Or, put a little differently, the pedestrian geeks from the hardcore geeks.

So, from that point of view, it's not good enough to simply be interested in a subject. You have to do something with it. Don't just read up on home theater systems; build your own. Don't just play video games; start a blog and write reviews. Don't just listen to music; learn how to play an insturment and/or write your own. Don't just watch football; join a fantasy league. Don't just hang out at the art museum; learn how to paint.

The journey to higher geekdom requires more than time and money. It requires effort. Pure blood, sweat and tears, man.
posted by jal0021 at 12:39 PM on January 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Self-loathing, and lots of it. Wear it like a shining badge on your chest.

The geeks I know think they're awesome, mostly. When you're geeky you're often very very good at or knowledgeable about something. This may or may not translate into good social skills or a good paying job or whatever but there's often a point of pride associated with it. I take it like the sort of attention baseball fans give to statistics and obsessive record keeping and then apply that to any number of scifi television shows or movies. And they often know math. And science. And computers.

As an example, I just spent this past weekend with roomfuls of geeks at the MIT Mystery Hunt where we competed against other geeky teams to try to solve a set of nested puzzles -- somewhere between 100-200 -- over what turned out to be nearly three days. We built robots. We did geocaching. We had a wiki. We had team members in five timezones. You know what you get if you win? A chance to run the puzzle next year. You don't even get a trophy. You get the adulation of other geeks -- which is a big deal when everyone in the room is a super genius -- and you get to flex your brain and show off by designing an awesome puzzle next year.

I'm not bragging personally, I'm usually one of the slower people in the room, but I'm good with morale and keeping things organized, that's my special skill. And my team? We came in second. Not bad.

So my suggestion, after all this, is ignore the haters who think that geeks are somehow ashamed of who they are. The truth is, they're not ashamed though other people think they should be, but fuck 'em. Let your geek lights shine and shine brightly and you'll find your people. Welcome.
posted by jessamyn at 12:40 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Self-loathing, and lots of it. Wear it like a shining badge on your chest.

The opposite of this. Love what you love. Love it with abandon and with no regard to what people think of the fact that you love what you love that much. Love it as much as, and for as long as, you enjoy it (healthily), as longs as it leads to a life that makes you happy, and then love something else just as much. It doesn't matter what it is. It can be the things you mentioned, or anything else. The best geeks are people who, when they talk about what they love, their enthusiasm is so infectious that, whether you had any interest in the subject or not, you find yourself admiring them for just being so damn into something. The best geeks are so fucking into Ghostbusters (or whatever) that if someone were to come up to them and say "You are a total loser for liking Ghostbusters that much" they won't care that someone is badmouthing them, they will just be glad that someone wants to talk about Ghostbusters. Love is the foundation of true geekery. Embrace that love. Then, only then, a geek will you be.
posted by ND¢ at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2009 [20 favorites]

Learn how one thing you use in your daily life works, each day. Also try learning things you thought you already knew (you will be surprised how often you were wrong).

I once resolved to not use anything I could not make or at least design if pressed to. I went through a bunch of awkward years, bent and broke that resolution more than I admit, and learned a metric shit-ton about so many things. And I found a deep appreciation for experimental art (I didn't want to listen to music I could not have made or read what I could not have written) - experimental stuff seems difficult because it is unfamiliar, but for the most part, the set of rules it is derived from is simpler and more consistent, and more rewarding to analyze.

By the way this is a large part of why I still have not learned to drive a car - some of the details of internal combustion engines failed me, and I understood the derailleurs on my bicycle just fine. It is also a big part of why I use Linux as my only OS: I could read the source code for my kernel, tools, and apps, if I was ever curious (though I did start learning to reverse-engineer machine code once, because there were a few windows apps I wanted to use. I ran out of energy/brainpower for that project though).

I no longer pretend to live up to such a ridiculous rule, but I am already into Linux, bicycling, and experimental arts enough that I may as well stick with those geeky things.
posted by idiopath at 12:44 PM on January 21, 2009

What can I do to up my geek factor?

Do a PhD in maths, physics, computer science, or similar and work on it for 10 hours a day. Join a Linux user group, ideally one that meets in a pub. Grow long, unkempt hair and a beard. Take up chess. Take up Go. Take up board games, card games, role-playing games. Start watching Anime, then learn Japanese because of it. Switch to a timekeeping system which eschews 24-hour days. Boycott Facebook due to privacy concerns. Boycott credit/debit cards due to privacy concerns. Go to LAN parties. Buy a computer monitor 24 inches or larger. Get a domain name for your name, and set up a personal website entirely in the browser-default colour scheme. Learn Perl and enter a perl golf competition.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:48 PM on January 21, 2009

Hi there. Firstly, my response is probably going to come across as confrontational to certain groups of users. Bear in mind that the comments below are purely my opinion, as a geek since 1981 and an internerd since 1989. Take them for what they are.

Here's what I recommend you start playing around with and reading if you want to become a true geek.

1) Avoid anything Apple. This means macs, iphones, ipod touch, the works. Apple is not for geeks. You will see plenty of stuff on the net about Apple, but when it boils down to it you simply are not able to get under the hood enough - the user experience isn't grittily realistic enough, and a rule of thumb to follow is that if the masses flock to something, it's generally not a geek item. Some geeks I know are Mac guys. I'm convinced that this is because their are 'mentally retired' from the game - sick of fixing, sick of fiddling, just want something that works. Macs just work and look fancy. But us geeks have better things to stroke with our index fingers than the screen of an itouch and we haven't given up on 'real', truly hackable operating systems. This site is a good place to start.
2) Check out Lifehacker. It's a regularly-updated site that shows you how to 'improve your life' by using technology and software. You'll learn about some neat stuff here. They have Apple stuff too, though, so skim those articles if you don't want to dilute your geek factor too much.
3) I think someone once said "if you don't know history, you don't know anything". Immersing yourself in the historical beginnings of computers, or at least home/personal computers (games and the like) and going a little old-school may pique interest or curiosity. For me, it's old Commodore 64 music at I'm not suggesting you'll like crappy old computer music, but how about shelling out a few bucks on an old Atari 2600, or Intellivision or Coleco or an older personal computer from the 80's like a Commodore Amiga? In the early days the manual of your computer showed you how to program in Basic. Again, I'm not suggesting you go hardcore into programming, but there was an amazing world of delight out there that us teenagers revelled in with our cartridges, machine code monitors, bleepy music, pixelated games etc. What we bought and played back then was as much art as it is today, and far more cutting edge in relation to the times.
4) Get the free VMWare Server and install it. You can then easily start installing other operating systems in virtual machines, such as Ubuntu. Have a look at the different worlds via this magical window - you will experience new software, new graphical environments and maybe even boost your skills/employability.
5) Shelve the HTML learning for the moment, and start learning other more complex web concepts. Learn PHP. Learn SQL. Learn javascript. Start playing around with Flash. This way, not only will you learn very cool, very useful technologies but you can immediately put them out there on the web for people to look at. Maybe not put them to use, per se, but many hobby programmers start off coming up with tricks and frameworks before building actual applications out of them.
6) Start nosing around software review sites such as Fileforum, Filecluster and Softpedia. Download some nice freeware and shareware apps. Learn which are good, which are bad. Eventually you will come to be a reference point for your friends, family and possibly workmates. How do I achieve such and such? What's the best way to do this? What's the best application to do that? Etc. Enable yourself to form specific opinions regarding technology that everyone uses. Help your friends and family to fix their PCs. Learn what software to install on a new XP or Vista or Linux install. Firewall, virus, antispyware? Adblocker? Firefox? Defragmenter, text editor, weather watcher, RSS reader, instant messenger, enhanced file manager, sticky note program, email client? What are they and what are the best in class for each app genre? Go find out.
7) Get a PDA. Palm-OS would be my recommendation. I have a Centro. It will give you the ability to run thousands of tightly-coded apps, a giant percentage of which are free, enabling you to absolutely everything you'd ever need in both a usefulness sense and a geek sense.
8) Run cross-grain to the masses. Don't run Firefox, run Internet Explorer with AdMuncher because you know that not enabling ActiveX or direct running of executables from websites isn't acceptable. Don't run WinAMP, run Foobar2000 and customize the crap out of it. Don't run Symantec, run NOD32.

Couple of caveats. Don't get into chatlines, IRC , Facebook or MySpace - they ruin your brain. Watch out for online MMO games, too - night will turn into day will turn into night and you will achieve absolutely nothing except weight gain, braincell loss, and a crust of dried saliva on your chin.

By the way, IMO Metafilter is not geeky. Quite far from it. Try Slashdot instead.
posted by tra at 12:58 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Browse 4chan's /b/ section regularily. Do not give up!
posted by PowerCat at 1:04 PM on January 21, 2009

Look around at gadgets you have. Hack them. Routers, ipods, cameras, etc

Consult regularly for geeky organizational and gadget hacking advice.
posted by ijoyner at 1:18 PM on January 21, 2009

If you want to go old-school in your geekery, bite the heads off of live chickens.

Otherwise, I'll nth the suggestions to love what you love with little or no restraint.
posted by owtytrof at 1:21 PM on January 21, 2009

Response by poster: Oh hivemind, you're so good to me.

What I'm hearing loud and clear is that my introductory-level interest in geeky things is not cutting it and that I'm going to have to focus my attention and energy better.

When I read, "So, what flavor of geek do you want to be? LoTR? Gaming? Anime? Music? Science?" my response was, "Yes. And computer/internet. And political. And environmental." But it appears that it is time to prioritize my geeky exploits.
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:22 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some years ago I made a conscious decision to earn a few geek merit badges. Since then I've converted to the dvorak keyboard, learned to solve Rubik's Cube in about a minute, memorized pi to 100 digits, and scored over 500K on Galaga. I don't feel like my PhD counts toward this goal.
posted by rlk at 1:23 PM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

1) Avoid anything Apple. This means macs, iphones, ipod touch, the works. Apple is not for geeks.

Real geeks values tools, not so much the brand. Depending on what you need to do and what kind of geek you want to be, Apples may indeed suit your needs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:30 PM on January 21, 2009

Like Iosephus, I can only offer the things that make me a geek:

Read Sci-fi and Fantasy. Read more. Determine which sub-genres you like best, and learn to articulate why.

Learn what Cthulhu is, who Lovecraft is, and then through Lovecraft learn about more obscure authors like Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert W. Chambers, Lord Dunsany.

Get into roleplaying games; start with Dungeons and Dragons, then find yourself loving Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, World of Darkness, Rifts.

Play more video games. Get one of every console, because console fanbois aren't geeks, they're just losers, and there's good games on all of them. Learn what genres of games you like best. Spend time playing browser games, or Flash games. Get into NexusWar or Kingdom of Loathing.

Get into board games. Get into adventure board games (Arkham Horror, for instance, which connects back to Cthulhu, and then you can make custom gods and characters for it with the Strange Eons content creator available for download out on the internet somewhere.) Get into strategy boardgames, like Risk and Axis & Allies and War of the Ring. Learn about table-top miniature strategy wargames like Warhammer 40K.

Obsess about language. Learn grammar, and become the go-to guy for grammar related questions among your friends. Learn editing marks. Learn typography. Buy a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. Read Wired. Learn Wired's internet style guide. Rage against Firefox's shitty spell-check dictionary.

Read Wired. Learn about all kinds of cool technology. Stay up on the latest gadgets and gizmos. Appreciate stories about Japanese robots and US Military remote drones. Get into the ins and outs of the internet. Learn to appreciate memes. Learn to analyze memes. Learn to poke 4chan with a stick.

Read Bad Astronomy and Pharyngula. Get interested in any of a dozen sub-disciplines of physics and biology (I like reading about quantum physics, cosmology, and evolutionary theory).

Get into anime. It covers every genre of story under the sun, all in pretty animation. Love it so much you start reading fan fiction. Maybe even writing it.

That doesn't even cover everything I'm geeky about, but I've got to finish reading this manuscript and evaluating how on earth I might be able to improve it. So in parting, listen to ND¢, he has the best advice here about being a geek. Love what you love. Love it to the point of obsession, though not past that point. As long as you still enjoy it, keep loving it, and if your interest starts to wane, let it go gracefully, and find something else that you love. That's what makes one a geek.
posted by Caduceus at 1:45 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Apple is not for geeks.

Well, except for Apple geeks.

And also, for Unix geeks who have gotten tired of waiting for the Open Source movement to provide a usable desktop environment. Whoever thought that BSD could be so pretty?
posted by tkolar at 1:52 PM on January 21, 2009

There are lots of geeks. Really. See here.
posted by filmgeek at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2009

If you are curious about something, never hesitate to burrow into it.
posted by benign at 2:27 PM on January 21, 2009

Read, read, read.
posted by elmono at 2:42 PM on January 21, 2009

Reading your profile I see you're in the US, so you've just missed the grandest opportunity to practice political (polling) geekery: you may have heard about the national election that was conducted late last year. Don't worry, there'll be others.
Fivethirtyeight, Rasmussen, Pollster and Real Clear Politics are good jumping-in points into the wonderful world of electoral nerdery.
If you're interested in Australian political geekery (and who isn't?) then you must drop whatever your boss wants you to do today and catch up with the Poll Bludger, Mumble, Possum, with Simon Jackmanson, and everything ever written by Antony Greene Election Analyst.
Finally, the number of polling nerds it takes to change a light bulb? 50%+1.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:48 PM on January 21, 2009

My take on this is that a "geek" or "nerd" or "poindexter" is a person with a very specific expertise or knowledge in or of a very small selection of niche subjects, generally in the umbrella areas of science and technology.

So, start with what you're interested in. Let's say you're interested in spaceships, like me. How does a person find stuff out about spaceships? Well, I guess it would go a bit like this:

Step 1: Learning to read well. A huge part of being a “geek” is being able to process and assimilate big lumps of sometimes-complex information. How does one learn to read well? Well, you could look at stuff like How To Read A Book or the far superior Books & Learning: A Psychology of Reading by Harry Maddox (good luck finding it though), and apply this knowledge to the specific material you then decide to read. Or you could simply read, read, read, everything and anything, simultaneously studying such things as critical thinking, rhetoric, scepticism, the art of argumentation. You need to get to a point where you can skim a page of reasonably dense information reasonably quickly and then determine if it’s, y’know, reasonable or not.

Step 2: Once you're a good reader (an ongoing process, naturally) you can return to the first principles of your chosen subject. In the case of spaceships you would investigate things like extraterrestrial exploration, physics and thermodynamics, naval military history, human adaptability, metallurgy, robotics and nanotechnology, AI and human-computer interaction, fission and fusion, aeronautics, and of course plenty of good old fashioned sci-fi. You might be so hot for some of these things that you actually go to school to learn more about them.

Step 3: All of these subjects will inevitably branch into others, leading you down pathways you would hardly have anticipated but which nevertheless logically follow from your starting point. It could very well turn out you don't give a shit about spaceships but, in reading about submarines, you found out you've got this attraction to deep-sea life. That goes from there, but the good thing is, you've now got all this other stuff behind you, a lot of it squared away in the old gray matter, and at some point your learning journey is going to loop back on itself and become self-propagating, until you're the go-to-guy when it comes to spaceships, deep-sea fish, magma flows, Greek sculpture, Norse mythology, and pipe tobacco.

Congratulations, you're a nerd!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:24 PM on January 21, 2009

Find your spot in the hierarchy.
posted by PueExMachina at 6:38 PM on January 21, 2009

Well, if you're looking for geek merit badges, play Portal. Love the Cube.
posted by bristolcat at 7:02 PM on January 21, 2009

Also, once you've filled out your interests, codify them in a way that is both fun and interesting.

(An oldie but a goodie!)
posted by eclectist at 7:32 PM on January 21, 2009

Note that Stephenson (who is something of a demigod of many geeks...) has said:
I embraced OS X as soon as it was available and have never looked back. So a lot of 'In the Beginning...was the Command Line' is now obsolete. I keep meaning to update it, but if I'm honest with myself, I have to say this is unlikely.
To the person who thinks that OS X is not for geeks, I'd say Neal Stephenson disagrees.
posted by gen at 12:49 AM on January 22, 2009

But it appears that it is time to prioritize my geeky exploits.

For my film making friends, I'm the 'computer and video game guy'. For my computer and video game friends, I'm the 'film guy'. There are levels of geekdom at work. It is very hard to be "the" guy for one specific field because there will always be someone with more time, energy and obsession to spend on what you geek over. I geek a little over a lot of things, rather than geek over one thing a lot.

Here's the google results for 'too much time on their hands' on metafilter. Anyone who prompts geeks to utter that magical sentence is a true geek. Regardless of what the format they are dealing in.

I think ND¢'s point of love being the motivating factor is absolutely true.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:54 AM on January 22, 2009

I think that you're approaching this wrong.

Being a geek is about your passion. What do you love the most? Video games, books, anime, hell, Mr. Potato Head collectible figures. Figure that out, and become better at it. If you love video games, play some you've never tried. Read books about what goes into the making of a game, the history of the industry. Find something you love and go wild with it. *That*'s what makes you a geek, not knowing HTML or reading Penny Arcade.

Or, in short, what ND¢ said.
posted by Tamanna at 7:57 AM on January 22, 2009

Discover good, interest-specfic internet forums for your geeky interests. I read Brass Goggles for my steampunk needs (sorry all you steampunk-haters), The Post Punk Kitchen for cooking, and Ravelry for crafting and laughs.
posted by fantine at 7:58 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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