How did we get here? Have you ever sat down and actually thought about what it is that classifies you as a geek? Do you think your geekiness is an innate part of you, or is it formed over time by your experiences and your exposure to geeky endeavors? Like the chicken and the egg conundrum, we here at GeekDad have been discussing the philosophy of becoming a geek. Were each of us shaped by geeky things, or did we like those things because we were already born geeks?
Regardless of on which side of the geek nature vs. geek nurture debate you may stand, one thing we can all agree on is that, on the journey to becoming a GeekDad, there are certain landmarks–key people, places, things, and ideas–that stand above the rest. Similar to our recent everyday carry articles, we thought it would be fun to share with you some of the items that helped to shape the geeks we are today. So join us for a trip down memory lane as we look back at some of the pivotal moments in the formative years of a GeekDad.
How K-Mart and Princess Leia Made Me the Geek I Am
I was six in 1977 when my parents took my sister and me to the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado to see Star Wars. (Of course, it was only Star Wars back then, years before Episode IV and A New Hope became the first and, as it turned out, least offensive changes George Lucas would make to the movie.) According to them, I crawled into my dad’s lap and buried my head, terrified, when Vader first appeared only a couple of minutes into the movie, and remained there throughout the rest of the movie.
What came next wasn’t a repeat viewing of the movie, but rather an otherwise innocent trip to the local K-Mart with a friend of my mom’s. No one in the family quite knows why, when my mom’s friend offered to buy me something, I chose an action figure from that movie that so scared me, but coming home with that Princess Leia figure (it’s also a bit of a mystery as to why, given how cool the other figures were, I chose that one) certainly changed my life.
I don’t remember how or when I would have seen the movie again, but I do clearly remember the day I first saw a commercial for the first VHS release of the movie. And I remember my mom picking me up from school on May 21, 1980, to join my dad at the theater–he had spent the day there in line to be sure we’d be able to see it. (I also remember the jerk on the playground in 1983 who revealed who “the other” was a few days before I got to see Return of the Jedi.)
While I do love all three Star Wars movies, and have loved watching them with my son while arguing with my daughter as to whether or not they are princess movies (they are), my true passion for Lucas’ creation has always been with the licensed material. Today, most new additions to the collection are in the form of Lego, but I’m also proud of the fact that I haven’t had a single birthday or Christmas celebration since that first action figure purchase all those years ago where I haven’t received something related to Star Wars.
Geek Writer: From Classics, to Comics, to Code
by Randy Slavey
I am the quintessential book nerd. From the time I first started reading at 2 or 3 years old, there has rarely been a moment when I wasn’t in the middle of one book or another. While I cut my teeth on Little Golden and Dr. Seuss, it wasn’t until I received the Illustrated Classics Editions for my birthday that I recognized exactly how in love with reading I was. My mom soon learned that sending me to my room as punishment was no punishment at all, so long as I had D’Artagnan or Phileas Fogg to keep me company. While my friends were having their video games and television privileges taken away for their misdeeds, I must have been the only kid in town who had ever been grounded from reading.
When I wasn’t reading, writing, or drawing stories, I was playing video games. In the early ’80s, my stepdad worked in the stock room of the local department store. One of his responsibilities was to dispose of damaged goods. The manufacturers wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle of large items being returned, so the workers were supposed to render the item unusable and toss it in the dumpster. As you can imagine might happen when you put minimum wage stockroom employees in charge of such a task, many, many items found their way into the back of his Chevy Vega and, ultimately, under my Christmas tree. One such item, which I’m sure required assistance from someone with a larger vehicle, was an Atari demo cabinet. It had about 50 games, and you could add more by opening the cartridge and plugging the chip into this big board. The greatest gift an 8-year-old ’80s kid could possibly imagine, and the catalyst to my love of video games. Many an asteroid was destroyed and a Yar Revenged (whatever that meant) on this behemoth.
With my love of the written word, and my fascination with games, it was only logical that I began to explore the world of puzzles. Scrabble, Boggle, word finds, crossword puzzles, jumbles, even those “How many words can you make from the letters in HAMBURGER” on the back of fast food placemats. If it involved words, I was in. In second grade, my teacher would end every week with a word find of that week’s spelling words. The first person to win got to pick from a selection of Brach’s Royals. After winning five or six weeks in a row, she took me aside and said she’d give me a Butter Rum (my favorite) on the way home every Friday if I agreed to stop being the first one done and give the other kids a chance to win. I agreed, and instead of finishing first, I started finding all the words I could, not just those on the spelling list. I also became infatuated with physical puzzles. Rubik’s cubes, Tetris, those little golf tees in a triangle you find at Cracker Barrel.
As I entered my tweens, I discovered comic books. I knew comics existed; I had been writing and illustrating my own stories since I was 5. But this went way beyond the Ziggy and Garfield knock-offs I was penning in my bedroom. These were real stories, much like my beloved classics, but with illustrations that blew Moby Dick out of the water. Plus, they had girls in them. Blind ninjas, sorcerers, web slingers, and the world’s greatest heroes as well, but mostly, girls. I believe I was actually in love with both Betty and Veronica for the better part of junior high.
This love of video games, solving puzzles, and writing coalesced into my greatest geek past time, and the adventure that would shape my entire career, when some time after the Atari cabinet, my mom brought home a Commodore Vic-20 personal computer. After weeks of playing Video Poker and Radar Ratrace, I started thumbing through the book that came with the computer. In the back were instructions and source code for creating your own games. Although Commodore did later sell a cassette player for saving and loading programs, at the time there was no way to save my work. For hours, line after painstaking line, praying nobody flipped the power switch while I was eating lunch or using the bathroom, I copied the BASIC code from that book into the machine. Finally, after more PRINTs, PEEKs, and POKEs than are healthy for one 8-year-old, I was finished. My heart pounding in anticipation, I typed the final command:
SYNTAX ERROR IN LINE 86
This was also where I learned my most enthusiastic and imaginative swearing.
Nevertheless, I stuck with it, and after another interminably long time fixing all my typos, I finally had a working snake game. I was officially hooked. Over the ensuing years, I had other computers including the Tandy Color Computer 2 (this time with a tape recorder), an IBM 286 followed by a 386 with dual floppy drives, and on and on up to the home-built i7 I’m writing this article on. When I reached high school, I quickly finished all of the computer courses they offered and spent a couple of semesters assisting the teacher and digging into more unfamiliar languages like FORTRAN on my own. Although the first decade of my computer career was in IT, I never gave up on programming, and eventually, I worked my way into a developer position. Now I get to share my passion for programming with my kids, and I owe it all to that funny little computer with the 4K of ROM.
A Totally ’80s Childhood
by Preston Burt
Looking at the snapshot of items from my childhood, it probably doesn’t look much different from many other boys who grew up as a child of the ’80s. However, the objects you see had such a huge impact on me that I still own each and every one these thirty plus years later. Some of these items are special as individual catalysts, others are merely a representation of some infatuation with my life. Either way, I look at these objects and see the building blocks of the man I am today.
Like countless others, Star Wars was my gateway drug into geekhood. Unlike most, my first exposure wasn’t the movie, but rather the storybook and the accompanying record I played endlessly on my fisher price record player. From there it was an innocent purchase of some trading cards (first Garbage Pail Kids, then Topps baseball cards) from the impulse buy section of the grocery store. Little did my parents know, but that small foray into collecting would start a fire in me that burns to this day. However, The greatest love of my life (aside from my family, of course) was action figures. First G.I. Joe, then Transformers, Thundercats, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The merchandising machine of Saturday morning cartoons did a number on me.
I know I sound like a grandpa, but in my day, if you wanted to learn about something, you had to go to the library to read a book about it. So it was with numerous magic books. For a brief time as a young adult, I was a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, but it all started with those trips to the library. Similarly, it was through books like Ender’s Game that I fell in love with science fiction and reading in general. Further stoking the flames, my mom bought me my first comic book (Uncanny X-men #233) before entrusting me with a gigantic stack of her old comics of The Flash, Superman, Green Lantern, and more.
Movies continue to play a big role in my life, but before I managed a movie theater and worked at a now-extinct Blockbuster, my sister and I watched and rewatched movies we recorded on VHS tapes. In fact, I just showed my two daughters Ghostbusters for the first time using the old VHS you see pictured here from my childhood – ’80s commercials and all! The most evident geeky obsession currently in my life is my game room. Too young for Atari, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the best Christmas present I ever received. Through the years, I would spend many quarters in the arcade and later roll many dice playing tabletop games, but it all started with that NES. I always kept these objects for the special memories they held for me, but now, the memories I’m making by sharing them with my children makes them truly unforgettable.