alpha geek

alpha geek - First Place —— Math and Science Gordon...

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Unformatted text preview: First Place —— Math and Science Gordon Dexter Alpha Geek I can’t say for sure when I started reading Xkcd. It was probably about two years ago, when the comic was already somewhat established but not yet the icon of geek culture that it has grown to be. The reason for the vagueness of my memory is not because the comic I read that day wasn’t particularly memorable, but because the moment I read it I clicked on the “skip to first comic” link and read the entire published history of the comic—roughly 200 strips in all—in a single sitting. This was not my first, nor my longest, archive binge (those distinctions belong to Queen of Wands and Questionable Content, respectively), but it was certainly the most enjoyable. There are many webcomics made to appeal to computer geeks. Some, like User Friendly, are sitcom-like representations of IT office life. Other strips, such as Penny Arcade, lampoon video games and players. Xkcd, however, really gets to the spirit of what it means to be a geek. The comic #207: “What Xkcd means,” for example, says that Xkcd means “instinctively constructing rules for which floor tiles it’s okay to step on, and then walking funny ever after.” My immediate reaction to that was, “I thought I was the only one!” It’s something I’ve done since childhood, for no particular reason except maybe boredom, and was always certain that it made me weirder than everybody else. Randall Munroe, the author of Xkcd, grew up reading comics such as Calvin and Hobbes, and enjoying math and physics. He graduated as a physics major, and went on to become a contractor for NASA’. At least that’s what his Wikipedia article says. (He said in a ‘blag’ entry that “my main NASA achievement was that I once lassoed a robot with cat-6 cable and had it pull me around the hallways”) His Wiki article, though, can probably be trusted to be pretty accurate, since he—along with many of his fans—frequent Wikipedia, and have probably fixed any errors. I, like much of Randall’s audience, get much of my information from Wikipedia, so much so that it has become less a reference work and more—as Randall put it—a “brain extension”. However I don’t think I’d go as far as the character in comic #333, who reads the “Foreplay” article while lying in bed with a woman. But I am quite familiar with “The Problem with Wikipedia,” which, according to an Xkcd strip of the same name (#214), is that you look up something like the Inca Civilization, end up clicking on related topics such as “Trepanation” and then, hours later, you realize you somehow have the articles “Extraterrestrial real estate,” “Head-Smashed~In Publishing Group Essays 111 t) Buffalo Jump,” and “Autofellatio” open in your web browser. I have done this, and so have many of the geeks that make up the Xkcd audience. Wikipedia, however, is only one of the unique ways Randall gets the geek zeitgeist. Some of the popular strips reveal an almost Peter—Pan-like refusal to grow up, but in a surprisingly grown-up way. One of his comics insists that a part of his brain is “devoted, no matter where I go in life, to building the ultimate tree house.” It sounds childish until you hear him theorize about the best species of tree for his ideal tree house, and construction methods for it. A girl in comic #219 builds a fort out of every blanket and cushion in the house, and when another character tells her that it seems a childish thing to do she reveals that her boyfriend is hiding inside of it... naked. The girl simply says that she “won’t pretend fun things aren’t still fun out of fear of looking silly.” It’s a much more elegant response than my stammering in response to my girlfriend chastising me for climbing a tree in public. Geeks generally dislike unnecessary social standards. When my girlfriend and I wanted somewhere to sit and relax while watching TV we got a couch, because that’s what normal people do. Randall says: “Fuck new couches. I now have a ball pit in my room.” Most webcomics portray geeks as romantically inept and clueless. This is probably more true than many of us would like to admit, but there’s a point that they’re missing: Geeks don’t lack romantic feelings. They feel them just the same as normal people, they just don’t always express them as you’d expect. Some of Randall’s comics are extremely sweet. One of his popular t-shirts laments, “My normal approach is useless here” upon trying to solve cos V =? Another one compares love to an item in a video game, resulting in a surprisingly poignant metaphor for relationships, and a simultaneous punch line about one of the most surreal video games ever, Katamari Damacy. Sure, some of the comics start off romantic and end with “your mom” jokes, but as Randall said in comic #314, every geek hopes that “Somewhere, at the edge of the bell curve, is the girl for me.” Of course What he’s said in his comics is perhaps not as impressive as what he’s inspired. A comic about smuggling a chessboard, with pieces glued on, onto a roller coaster, looking contemplative for the cameras, and getting a really awesome ride photo, inspired many people to try the stunt in real life. A comic in which open source software advocate Richard Stallman is surmised to keep a katana under his bed to fend off evil “Microsoft lackeys” was recreated in real life by some xkcd fans who actually gave him one. Recently YouTube added a feature which reads video comments aloud before they’re posted. Xkcd readers instantly recognized the reference to strip #481 in which a virus forces posters to listen to their own comments, causing many YouTube commenters to realize, “I’m a moron”. 112 The 33rd Whenever Randall gives talks, he’s often besieged by joke references to his comics. During a talk at MIT he was pelted with playpen balls and stalked by a robo-raptor, a reference to his oft-mentioned irrational fear of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. Another talk had red spiders, which appeared in some of his early strips. One would expect xkcd fans to appear at lectures he gives about the comic. But his staying power in geek culture is so great that a singie mention of GPS coordinates and a date and time in strip #240, without saying anything about them, caused hundreds of fans to flock to a Cambridge Massachusetts park and redecorate it with xkcd-themed signs while reenacting scenes andjokes from the comic. People came dressed up as raptors, held Tape Measure Length Olympics, and built a working trebuchet. The comic with the GPS coordinates ended with nothing happening at the location, and the lament that “It turns out wanting something doesn’t make it real”. Mentioning it on xkcd, however, apparently does, and at the specified time Randall appeared before the crowd and gave them the opportunity to rewrite the ending of the comic, before autographing random items for hours. Geekdom is an often -misunderstood social group. We spend hours at a time on computers tinkering with Python, write essays about webcomic authors, and don’t quite communicate normally With the rest of the world. But Randall, and his comic, communicate to us perfectly, speaking not just our language but our own words, maybe even better than we could have said them ourselves. xkcd isn’tjust a sign of geek culture, it is geek culture, distiiled into a form as pure as mathematics, and as tender and heartfelt as making love in a pillow fort. Publishing Group Essays l 113 ...
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alpha geek - First Place —— Math and Science Gordon...

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