Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

We think we know what “geek” means. Wrong! We believe anyone who downloads “apps” to a pad or tab is a geek. Or kids who download free “hacks” (posted by genuine hackers) are hackers. Wrong again.

Geek-dom is an evolution. When I traveled and wrote about The Valley – and when I moved there with my family – I met the real thing: folks who invented geek-dom. Here are some of them. (Yes, I have changed names and identities.)

geekThe Ice Cream Man: I noticed this at a software development facility – every day at 2 o’clock, an ice cream truck rolled into the parking lot and a mob of programmers met it like a “Star Wars” opening. Curious after he left, I strolled through the coding department – and discovered the engine that drove operating system development.   Windows were open and the air was fogged and pungent. In a minute, I was pretty high myself. “Okay”, I thought, “now I know why I have trouble reading code.”   Argue if you will, but the OS always worked just fine. When I visited similar spots, guess what — an Ice Cream Man.

Today, we have a DEA. Because of that, I think OS’s don’t work as well (Microsoft sends hundreds of patches a week). That’s because the Ice Cream men are gone.

Beatrice the Micro-coder: not many of us micro-code. Yes, we write programs, high or low level, forgetting that control chips are also programmed. Chips and controllers have tiny programs supplying logic. Compact stuff, this is written in languages close to pure binary. Even X-86 hotshots are stumped.

Beatrice was the star. She thought in binary. I can’t verify this, but it must be so because she rarely conversed with her fellow beings, except for one-word answers. But all of her controllers worked.

Being a star, she could be odd. She never wore shoes – summer or winter, only seemed to have one outfit and – this is a guess – only bathed in months without an “R” in them. (A good reason for limiting conversations.) She also brought pets to work – sometimes cats or strange creatures.

Gregory the CPU Genius: multi-degreed from Cal Tech, he was a true logic genius. He designed internal CPU logic and, like Beatrice, seemed to think in binary. I say “seemed” because he rarely, if ever, spoke. (There being no verbal equivalent for “XOR”.) In engineering meetings he scribbled notes, and silently passed them to the engineering director. If he scribbled a lot when you spoke, you were probably wrong.

His daily dress was in Hong-Kong casual style, with black smock and cloth slippers. I never saw the slippers wet, so he didn’t go out on rainy days. He might have lived in his office.

That said, here’s how to recognize a genuine geek:

  • They don’t brag – having no interest in talking with ordinary mortals who can’t understand.
  • They don’t wear T-shirts with funny slogans. Those mark pseudo-geeks.
  • They can think in binary or assembler. Anything else loses something in translation.
  • They often smell bad. Not to be offensive, mind you. Hygiene is just low on their task list.
  • They rarely “hack”. Everyone else’s code is child-like – they prefer their own.
  • They ignore your new iPad as it’s too damned inefficient and retarded.
  • They don’t wear Birkenstocks, leaving them to tree-huggers. Having no logic, trees are boring.


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”