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Geek Of All Trades

Motto: A geeky guy was going to buy a fridge. He chose a small one, barely bigger than an Xbox, and he was already planning how to fit it inside furniture and how to stack juices, beer and snacks into it. The saleswoman, an older lady, asked rather puzzled: „Isn’t it just a bit too small? How are you going to fit raw food inside, for when you cook?”

mini-fridge

What Is A Geek?

A computer scientist. A master mechanic. A brilliant mathematician. An art expert. A sci-fi reader who even tried to write himself or herself a few stories. A champion gamer. A history buff.

At least nowadays.

The original meaning of the geek (incidentally, at the time, the word geek applied only to a male…) has been an eccentric carnival freak show performer, who ate glass and bit the heads of living chicken. What most people disregard is the fact this was the only dictionary meaning of the word, as late as 1976. Less than two generations back. At the human history scale, yesterday. The computer or engineering geek raised to wealth and power is a modern invention.

As late as 2006, the geek was „a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace—somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer, not a drab teenager’s room in his parents’ house”.

Emphasis is mine. In the dull job market post-crisis, people outline the bright intelligence, computer talent, devotion to his work and school, for these are the things which make people usefully employed and fed. You bully the geeks until you work for one. You bash them until you’re patching the tires for their Porsches.

But even as the guy (see above, a bright young man…) pushes himself through school and work, these change little of the fact he is still a geek.

Do You Believe In Yourself?…

Tony RobbinsOne can easily learn sciences and crafts. It’s a matter of self-discipline, far more important than intelligence or talent. There are people who changed career plenty of times in their lives. Went to school as late as early retirement age. Trained madly in sports and games. Theodore Roosevelt himself, the archetype of machismo, built himself brick by brick from a gangly youth afflicted with asthma to the war hero and President. Who graduated from Harvard and Columbia and published his first historical treatise when he was 24. The motivational speakers post-1980 bombard us day by day with examples of hard work raised from the bottom. Their trade flourishes as long as people are seeking to raise themselves to higher station in life, to earn and spend, save and invest, learn and work, read and improve. Earlier in human history people who were born low stood low, now they strive upwards.

…You’re Wrong

Training only gives you mastery in technical matters, from sports to astrophysics. Matters where the rules are both clearly defined and consistent. There is a set of movements one does in football, a number of rules and formulas in maths, a set of rules in engineering and others in fencing or baseball. Practice and study do the rest, thousands of hours spent. Hours during which the geek can retreat from the outside world in a world of people like himself, work or club mates.

Do you say geeks run only in the field of computers, as Hollyweird taught you? You’d be surprised to meet a geeky guy who earned the black belt in karate. Or who turned himself into a master mountaineer, able to spend the night on Everest. Or who can teach lessons in sex to porn actors. What can stop him from training? Can you compete with him, when he invested a truckload of money and time into training? Would you do the same effort? Most likely not.

But, as a guy who learned the human nature by knife, bullet and fist on his own skin used to say, just because the geek achieves brilliant results and surrounds himself with a small group of like-minded people doesn’t mean he isn’t still dysfunctional.

Training gives you skills and crafts. It’s a bit less successful into teaching you how to be human.

As the basketball coaches used to say „you can’t teach someone how to be 7 ft tall”.

A poorly socialized guy may get the technical stuff right. And yet there are some other details which still betray him as …a bit off. He is only half there. He may say perfectly rational things about his passion and his handiwork. A lifetime of bullying taught him how to hide the real motivations behind. But being poorly socialized, he can’t hide them 100%. Even as there are some people who teach you how to understand the world around by reading cues, this is still a bit useless when the geek’s mind processes the cues differently from the everyman. Talking to them gives the annoying feeling they are a different species, one who plays a role to fit in. They are more like someone who learned a lot about sex by watching porn for years… or they even did just that, but they are ashamed to tell. (And their attitude tells it better than words. Their movements are nearly perfectly timed, their flexibility is good, muscle development nice, they are usually very gentle and polite. Too good. The fact they are never spontaneous in regards to sex, not even when they’re wrong, is a bit unsettling. Especially for a woman.)

You know, when you’re about to decorate your home, the choice of materials may be right, just as craftsmanship. But the guest, even better when the guest is female, may ask some other unpleasant questions. She may be put off by the fact you have absolutely no family photo around. Or by seeing that your computer is the only object carefully and meticulously dusted. Or by the fact you have no visible fridge for when you need to cook. Don’t you ever cook?

Crize · English

The Age Of Freakonomics

Motto: „Critics, in accordance with prevalent opinion, exclude all moral forces from theory, and will not allow it to be concerned with anything but the material forces, so that all must be confined to a few mathematical relations of equilibrium and preponderance, of time and space, and a few lines and angles. If it were nothing more than this, then there would not be a scientific problem for even a schoolboy” – General Carl von Clausewitz

Both the present day economic crisis and the exuberance of the 2004-2007 years are far too complex things to be left to such lowly beings as traditional economists. The basic flaw of economic science of the last few centuries lies in the fact it has not been a true science, more a mathematical reflection on an idealized reality.

Science Sucks

Science, generally, is unpleasant. Even from the moment you rub noses with it in grade school. It takes years to master, it takes energy and devotion, incessant reading and analysis, poor social life. It feels much better to be the football field star instead of the nerdy bastard from the darker corner. Until you find yourself working for the said nerd, at least. Take the general unpleasantness and esoteric character of science and add the next unpleasant thing, try to explain it to some pointy haired boss who has a migraine. And who holds the power of life and death over you.

So if you want to have a long and prosperous career, you need to keep the science under the carpet and obey the rules. Which means to support what the official ideology has to say. Just as advocating free market in Stalin’s Soviet Union usually cut your career short. With a Nagant bullet to the back of the head.

Therefore economic thought followed the same tortuous paths as physics in the Middle Ages, as the people tried to reconcile the accepted outlook of life with logic and research, accomplishing nothing. Official economic theories say little to nothing of the black markets, for example… which becomes obviously disconnected from reality when the black market has a large percent of all goods traded in the country. As it is customary in totalitarian states.

Social And Economic Thought Runs On Belief, Like Religion

KiplingWhich brings us to the point where the leadership claims absolute control over economy, and yet they barely know the existence of entire branches of it. (Non-totalitarian example: the illegal drug market in the Western countries amounts to billions. How much do Government people know about it? Does it count as part of the national GDP, or not? The fact you’ve made it illegal does not mean it does no longer exist, you know.) Yet, they run it. Judge via false and biased reporting, take biased and misguided decisions, vote laws which diverge from social reality. And the social mechanism runs forward, wages and taxes are paid, goods bought, investments made, statistics published. As Rudyard Kipling used to say, „if the Government’s Financial Statement is not magic, I don’t know what it is”.

Was life better in the pre-1990s Communist regime, and if so, why? Were the people on the opposite, free side, better a few decades ago, and if so, what was the reason? After all, the most elementary way of doing statistics shows in most material and technical issues the present day is incomparable. Even the decline of crime followed the trend, 2011 was the year with least number of violent crimes in history. And yet the reaction of people was absurd, everyone seems to desire a tightening of the laws and surveillance, like we are in the middle of a war.

The Glory And Death Of Socialism

In practice, the amount of power wielded by the State, Big Brother surveillance notwithstanding, has mellowed itself over time, while the amount of power wielded by a private citizen, either in the West or the newly-developed countries like China, has increased exponentially throughout the last 30 years.

Generally, from 1945 to 1980, the power, be it financial, military, scientific or propagandistic, relied on centralized control, government or corporate authority, state investments, long term objectives. Broadcasting TV could be done only by the State or large corporations simply because nobody else had the resources to do it, scientific research was outside the reach of the general public for the same reasons (who could build a mainframe computer or nuclear reactor?), the regime of wages, salaries, taxation and public services was established by negotiations between State, corporations, conglomerates, trade unions. A trade union in a large market economy had more members and wielded more power than entire national armed forces together.

The difference between Eastern Bloc and free market economies stood in methods, visibly brutal in one place and more civilized in the other. Not in the basic principles. During Cold War, schooling, building a career, family structure, military service, cultural life were barely different. Judging with a cool head, the Cold War was a dispute between a „capitalism” where every business was run (indirectly) by the State and another one where every business was owned by the State. The State and the military were those who flew men in space and on the Moon. On both sides. And people believed in it. They expected it. There was no need to punish those who asked questions, because too few people dissented to matter.

For these reasons, even crime followed the trend, being the province of millionaire crime lords dictating their own conditions. Authorities could afford to be lax to a citizen in matters of social disturbances (illegal car racing, unregistered gun ownership, building illegally, small time smuggling) because they were fully conscious his or her power was too limited to matter.

The trend broke abruptly due to a combination of factors which nobody could control. Starting with the oil and resource crisis, misguided environmental policies, the fall of the Communist Bloc and moving into electronics and computer science. A new trend emerged, where the power is easily available due to both increase in wages, schooling and career opportunities of the average population and decrease in the price of technology. A mainframe computer of 1980 is hopelessly outclassed by a humble smartphone. A complex Betacam owned by public TV stations has poorer performance than a cellphone camera of today. The average car in „the happy Sixties and Seventies” could have mean a BMW 1500, VW Beetle, an infamous Pinto or a Mustang II and a dream car was a Ferrari BB – nowadays you get more horsepower and infinitely more refined chassis in a freakin’ hot hatchback. The peak of technology decades ago was a dial-up modem, nowadays you get broadband for a few dollars per month. Drugs were the province of complex labs and ruthless armed mafias, nowadays much more potent and toxic meth is done by barely literate people in plastic bottles.

So the trend empowers each person in the material and technical sense. An atomization of power happened – material resources which only the State or mega corporations working with the State could command are now everywhere. People have built jet aircraft, armored personnel carriers and and drug-carrying submarines in garages. Launched digital cameras into space or at the edge of space. Computer hackers have crippled governments’ servers. Bitcoins issued by private people are traded by banks. Untaxed services are outsourced over thousands of miles.

FreakonomicsAs we deal with a mass empowerment, the traditional economic thought sucks even more visibly, since it provides no logical way to understand it. One needs a freaky way of analysis to explore the previously ignored parts of the economic machine. Even a freaky analysis can be countered and debated and therefore is better than total ignorance.

Ignoring them as before would yield no sound response, just an ostrich-like gesture in front of new challenges.

English

Why Does Clive Cussler Suck

clive-cussler

Our good ole friend Clive Cussler is a man of great ambition, fortune and success. As proven by countless others, from Hitler to Paris Hilton, ambition, fortune and success are not always your friends, they have side effects like Prozac has. Sometimes they make you feel a military genius, a diva, or, in this case, a writer. Even as a look in the mirror tells otherwise.

Why do we read Mr. Cussler’s books? We like to think of him as the modern Ian Fleming. He had all the spices to make the stew taste less like crap – which the likes of John le Carré deliberately left out of the recipe. This is why the life of le Carré’s „master spies” after some pages begins to taste dull, crappy, because it is realistic. Real life cloak-and-dagger is crappy for all those involved, if less so for the head people in plush offices sipping vodka mar… sorry, scotch, from crystal glasses. One needs the heavy, hot spices to make the crap palatable: the cool cars, guns, girls who stepped down from Playboy centerfolds into elaborate underground labs, the vodka martini for Eru Iluvatar’s sake. Or add a few pinches of underwater adventure, some gunslinging, a few lost historical artifacts, a dash of masterful aircraft-ballet to put von Richthofen to shame. Salt it with a bit of computer science more like Dexter’s Laboratory in late 1980s* than any real life data center in the late 2000s.

The wave of cool swamps you from the first page of Mr. Cussler’s books, picks you up and carry you like on a surfboard. Which  may be behind the fact the most likely place in the world to find someone with a Clive Cussler book in hand is the beach.

clive_cussler

Our hero Dirk Pitt and his pals are sometimes treated as spoofs of James Bond, Q and M (or, as an experienced consumer of Pitt adventures put it, somewhere between James Bond and Jacques-Yves Cousteau). The unpleasant truth is they are not even that. The logic behind their stories is different. Not the logic of a master spy sent to save the world, because even that may sound a bit realistic from time to time, as long as we know master spies do exist. They are more like spoofs of the Marvel Comics Universe, where everything is so cool that people never need to put their drinks into the fridge and should walk only in fur coats. Everything is grandiose, every minor artifact is a Nobel Prize discovery, it’s enough to drop a few words to our immortal and ageless Admiral Sandecker and you get a fleet at your disposal, the Titanic is raised by the flick of a switch, century old secrets are unearthed in the middle of Sahara, KGB Generals and rogue agents road-race each other through freakin’ damn’ Cuba, from all possible places, worldwide mafias are blown away like sand, Japan takes over the world and then says it wasn’t worth the effort, flying assassins on the Moon is just as simple as flying them by plane to World Tr… (better drop this one). They run on „comic book logic”. On the fantasies of a 12-year old kid who dreams to find out something, from a lost superweapon to a pirate treasure cache, use it to save the world in the morning, eat his lunch mid-day in the school cafeteria and get into his classic car in the evening. Which purpose does the classic car serve, we can only guess, but it may be the fastest way to get to U.S. Rep. Loren Smith, who looks like a MILF fantasy, dresses herself in red like a 1940s diva, kicks ass like a Bond Girl and got elected into an American rural district. Which is not far from getting the Pussy Riot girls elected to the Russian State Duma.

So our dear friend Clive Cussler writes something which is not quite literature and looks suspiciously close to a Marvel Comic transposed into words, down to the description-porn he does to the heroes’ cars, computers, homes, aircraft, guns (we can thank Allah he never got the idea to write actual history, otherwise we would be bored to death by accurate description of Napoleon’s underwear stitches and Rasputin’s co…better leave details aside).

You’re not a writer, dear sir, and your 56 novels are solid proof of that.

* – Yep, I know, Dexter’s Laboratory first aired in 1996. NUMA chief programmer Hiram Yeager was supposed to have a similar datacenter in 1988. When the fastest state-of-the-art Cray supercomputer had less computing power compared even to the modern smartphone in my pocket.