Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

4/6/2009

My First Geek Gathering

Filed under: Art,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,Fun Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, Friday I went to my first geek networking event.

Okay, now, to be clear, I mean the first event I’ve ever been to that the point was to get to know other geeks, not work on computer networking. It was the first of what I think will be many. The event is a monthly “Geek Gathering” put on by Jay Lee and Dwight Silverman of TechBytes and the Houston Chronicle. I was convinced to come out this time by Kristie “Suburban Goddess” MacLaughlin. Though, I have to admit, I think she did it simply to get me active on Facebook, since the event was announced there. We’ve followed each other’s blogs for some time now, and exchanged a few e-mails, but never met. And, before any of my regular readers who are often eager for me to get involved with someone, mainly for the jokes that come out of my so-called love life, let me hasten to emphasize that this was not a date! She’s quite happy with her boyfriend and doesn’t need my uncivilized self mucking things up. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Still, she was quite eager to get me out to meet Jay and Dwight and “the gang”. Now, I did meet those folks, but I got caught in ugly traffic, so I got there a bit late and didn’t get to meet everyone I might have liked to know. For instance, I missed meeting the guys who run the Houston-based Japanese animation and manga convention known as ONI-CON. I did meet a couple of very nice journalists who got laid off from the Chronicle, however, who were there networking as well.
Funny thing about that, the networking thing. I’ve never really done it before, and I think it showed. Living alone, my conversational skills have atrophied so as to be almost non-existent! Thankfully, I was surrounded by people who were good at it and gracious. Donna, aka @Cottonwood2009, was very nice and kept my end of the conversation up as well as her own. And, of course, it seemed that everyone was on either Twitter or Facebook or both. I’m on Twitter for the tools I can add to this blog in case of losing my connection to the Internet again during a hurricane, so my family up North will know that I’m still alive. (They worry.) I was on Facebook, but hadn’t really done anything with the account. Since meeting a few folks, most notably Dwight and Jay, my Twitter followers have more than tripled in the space of two days and my Facebook friends have gone from one to eighteen.
And, I got to talk with several people about photography, too. In fact, it seemed like every third person there had a camera in hand. I didn’t take many pictures this time, but you can see the few I did at my Flickr page, under Geek Gatherings. There will be more eventually.

I remember when the on-line world and the “real” world were mostly separate. I’ve blogged for almost nine years now and never actually expected to meet most, if not all, of my readers. But, as the song goes, the times, they are a-changin’ and now, I fear, I’ll be meeting more and more of them. Perhaps I’ll have to start writing better and more relevant things! Good gravy, I may have to start writing technical posts again! What a strange turn of events that would be.
I have to be honest, and in all seriousness, meeting some of my readers makes me, well, a little uncomfortable. It’s bad enough that my readers often think that they know me based on what I write here, but now… Now, having met me in person, I’m afraid that the lines will become even more blurred. And, anyone who’s read my blog for a long time knows how I like my life neatly segmented and clearly defined. Still, what else is there to do? It’s either that or keep talking to the dog and, frankly, I think she’s getting a bit tired of hearing the same jokes over and over.

But, it was good to be out of my comfort zone Friday. It was good to go to a new place and meet new people. And, it was even good to put some faces to names that I’d seen on-line in any number of venues. I may not be very good at this networking thing, as ironic as that seems considering the title of my blog, but I’m going to keep working at it. It’s the one thing that I should have been working at harder all these years. Who knows, maybe I would have had a better series of jobs than I did? Maybe even a better series of girlfriends? Well, maybe not, but a guy can dream! Certainly going forward, if anything happens to me at my current job, I’ll be better off if I have a good, strong, professional network. If you’re in Houston and a geek like me, it would be worth checking out next month.
And, who knows, maybe one of these times I’ll meet the future ex-Mrs. Hoffman?

12/10/2005

On Cheerleaders

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:59 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Or, why I know about such varied subjects as aikido, accupressure, high-explosives and poetry.
Cheerleaders have played an important part in my life. That’s not what I meant, so, get your mind out of the gutter. What I meant was, cheerleaders have been responsible for several defining moments in my life. Okay, yes, that might be true for a lot of guys, one way or another, but not the way I mean it. Sure, when I was first discovering my “special purpose”, it was no doubt cheerleaders that aided that discovery, just like most men my age. Watching the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on a Sunday afternoon made us feel “funny”. But, really, there’s nothing that unusual about that.

No, I meant something else, starting in high school. When I arrived at this big, different, scary place called High School, there were a lot of new faces. One in particular caught my immediate attention: Shelly. Blonde, blue-eyed and like no one I’d ever met. I wasn’t quite brave enough to actually talk to her, right away, but I started paying attention to everything around her and what people said about her. A pattern that continues to this day. That pesky, old marketing research again. Half of making a sale, after all, is knowing your target. What do they want? What do they need? Find out the answers to those questions and the sales presentation becomes dramatically easier. So, I discovered a key piece of information about her. She had chronic back problems, stemming from a car accident, which had her in constant pain. My response to that was to study up on accupressure. Like accupuncture, but using one’s hands instead of needles. I learned all about meridians and nerve centers and massage and manipulation. Physical manipulation, that is. The other kind was something I learned later.
My opportunity to put this knowlege to use came in gym class. In our co-ed track and field unit. Turns out running really hurt Shelly’s back, but she was very competitive and couldn’t not give her all, even in gym class. After one sprint she ran right off the track and dropped on the grass and didn’t move. I was the first person who both caught it and offered to help. To this day, I have no idea why she had faith in me when I told her that I could make it feel better if she trusted me. But, I did relieve the pain, at least momentarily, and well enough that I could help her to her feet and into the gym. Suddenly, I was every geek’s hero in that class. No one else had gotten that close to her, physically. Lesson learned? Knowledge really is power.

The next lesson that Shelly taught me was a little more complicated. And, hey, let’s get those minds out of the gutter again, okay? By our Sophomore year, it was obvious, to me, that I was definately not Shelly’s “type”. (Hey, sometimes, I’m a little slow. So sue me!) But, it was still nice to have a gorgeous cheerleader smile and say hello to me in the hall, so, I kept it at that level. Lusting after Admiring her from afar, as it were. In any case, I heard that her father was ill and that she was a good Catholic girl, so I got her a nice religous greeting card with a message about hanging in and that sort of thing. She thanked me and seemed genuinely touched. But, the lesson came later.
Shortly after that, as I was sitting in English class, the guy who sat next to me asked if I knew someone named Dan Marsch. I said I knew who he was, though I didn’t know him personally, and asked why he wanted to know.
“Oh, because he said he was going to kill you.” Ah, pardon me? You see, Dan and Shelly were dating. Dan was a classic “jock”. Varsity football and wrestling. He was almost literally built like a gorilla. No neck to speak of, shoulders as broad as he was tall, and arms that seemed longer than his legs. Add a protruding brow-ridge and a lantern jaw and you had not only Dan but proof of evolution and the missing link all in one. Well, it seems that he and Shelly had been having troubles. Sadly, he blamed me for them, apparently because Shelly had mentioned me in flattering terms. I can only assume it had something to do with the card. In any case, after that startling news in class, I went to my locker and noticed three dents in it about waist high. After a moment’s thought, I put my fist up to them and, sure enough, the dents just about matched my knuckles. Dan had left his somewhat angry mark.
So, in a bit of a panic, I went to the library and researched martial arts. In retrospect, of course, it was foolish to think that would help, but, still, I had to do something to protect myself. Among other things, I read up on aikido, which is an almost purely defensive martial art. Developed by a remarkable Japanese man named Morihei Ueshiba, it uses the attacker’s strength, speed and force against him by way of leverage, redirection and pressure points. An aikido master in action is a truly beautiful thing to see. I also read up on pressure points and nerve clusters, focusing on a particular book: Self-Defense Nerve Centers and Pressure Points for Karate, Jujitsu and Atemi-Waza. A book which I still own. In essence, I learned all sorts of dirty tricks which built on my accupressure knowlege. I’d hate to think what would have happened to me had I tried to actually use them on this ape, but, they’ve been usefull elsewhere in life.
Oddly, what saved me was Shelly herself. She apparently got wind of what was going on and threatend this neanderthal with never speaking to him again if she ever found out that he’d laid a hand on me. So, I was saved by a cheerleader. Lesson learned? There’s more than one kind of leverage and love or desire is the most effective kind. Also, it made me cautious, though not cautious enough, about what I said to who and how. Like ripples of water on a pond from a thrown stone, everthing I do or say carries out into the world, often in ways I can’t anticipate.

The third time I brushed up against a life-changing cheerleader, it was someone other than Shelly. A nice Jewish girl named Liane Feldstien. She was everything that I never thought would be part of my world. Wealthy, refined, almost snobbish, and, of coure, beautiful. Everything a nice goyim boy like me could want. Naturally, she didn’t know who I was or that I even existed. Until our Senior year.
I’d taken a creative writing course and my teacher was impressed with my work enough to convince me to get into the Advanced Placement English course. It took some scheduling manuevers and, I think, he even rescheduled a class so that it fit with my other plans for that year. In any case, I ended up one of three guys in a class of 30+. The rest of the class were all the most gorgeous girls in our class and, obviously, no slouches in the thinking department either. The three of us were a little surprised, to be honest, at our luck. It looked like an interesting year ahead. I, at least, wasn’t dissapointed.
One of the first things we did was work on poetry review and critique, just like I’d done with this same teacher in creative writing. I had an in. I knew how he thought about this stuff. Remember, knowlege is power. We reviewed a poem that has since become my favorite:

O Western Wind
O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!

It’s a love poem, probably written by a sailor to his lady-love, dreaming about the Western trade winds bringing him home to his sweetheart so they can get their freak on. Yeah, honest, that’s it. But, the trick was, he gave us that and some long, flowery monster with hardly any imagry at all. Then, he asked us to pick which was “better” and why. Of course, I knew which was which, because we’d done the same exercise in that other class. All the girls sided with the long, super-sugary piece. I gave the “right” answer, much to the amusement of my teacher. Suddenly, these girls who’d been in AP English for three years already, started to see me differently. Not quite a blue-collar scholar, but, compared to most of them, close enough.
Interestingly, Liane was not only in that AP English course with me, but also in PhysEd. We did a number of “odd” things that year in PhysEd, including fencing and archery, both of which are good sports for me. And, I got cross-ways with a much larger guy during some flag football, which ended up with me putting him in a hammer-lock face down in the dirt without thinking about it. (Hey, the guy just kept slamming into me harder than was required for a Senior year gym class! I got tired of it, and, well… At least I stopped before I hurt him.) So, she saw all that. The quiet, geeky guy who had a deeper side to him. Who had a few surprises, even for her. On the last day of gym class, she told me, in a startling moment of intimacy, that she was glad she got to know me that year. And, that she regretted not getting to know me better, sooner, because I was “pretty cool after all”.
It was later that I learned the lesson, though. Ten years later, actually. At our reunion. I was there with my girlfriend, who later became my ex-wife, and I was showing the future ex-Mrs. Hoffman something in one of the yearbooks. My picture, most likely. It was a funny picture. I was quite the geek, even then, and never have taken good pictures. And, Liane was suddenly at my side, calling me by name, and joking with me about being careful with her yearbook. In retrospect, I think she may have actually been flirting with me. I’m afraid that I was so surprised that I gaped at her like a fish, but it taught me something. The lesson? Who I am really is good enough and impressive enough. I made a real impression on this girl, who I always thought of as out of my league, just by being genuine. Of course, I couldn’t do that until I’d given up on her and removed her from the category of “possibilities”, but still… Still… Years later, my ex-wife still resented the fact that I found that flattering. But, I did and it was. That cheerleader taught me that it’s not always about looks, or flash, or money, or any of that other stuff that our consumer culture tells us is what counts. And, to be honest, it’s still a boost to my self-esteem when I remember that series of events.

So, you see? Cheerleaders have been an important part of my development, in more ways than one, you dirty birdies. And, they’ve caused me, directly or indirectly, to pick up an amazing array of skills and interests and knowlege. Oh, and about that “high-explosives” referrence? Well, when the statute of limitations runs out, maybe we’ll talk about that again.
Until then, keep this Advice from your Uncle Jim in mind: You never know who might teach you what or how, so, be respectful to everyone you meet and interact with, since they might end up being your teacher one day.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"In life, as in football, you don't go far unless you know where the goalposts are."
   --Arnold Glasgow


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