4. Shen Kuo (1031-1095)
Shen Kuo was not born into wealth or status, but through the Imperial Exam was able to test into a career as a bureaucrat. He rose quickly and served in the Imperial Chinese ministry as a diplomat, military commander, educator and head of the astronomy bureau. After being blamed for military failures, he was placed under house arrest. He put this time to good use, pursuing his studies, including creating two atlases for the government which helped him earn him a pardon.
Like all of our Geek historic heroes his interests were far and wide—geography, astronomy, engineering, strategy, pharmacology, mathematics—and his achievements and improvements involved magnetic compasses, a petroleum-based ink, and a raised-relief map. His magnum opus, the Dream Pool Essays, cataloged his own observations and the earlier achievements of Chinese technology such as canal engineering, moveable type and advances in mathematics.
3. Alhazen (965-1047)
One of the great figures of the Islamic Golden Age, Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham (you can just call him Alhazen) was born in Basra, Iraq but traveled throughout the Middle East. Using the scientific method, he explored and wrote on the fields of mathematics, engineering, physics, philosophy, engineering, theology and even the effect of music on animals.
Alhazen was so well-regarded as a man of great knowledge that he was called to Egypt by Al-Hakim, leader of the Fatimid Caliphate to construct a dam to prevent flooding near Aswan. Realizing that he didn’t have the skill set for this particularly difficult challenge, he feigned madness and was kept under house arrest until the death of Al-Hakim some ten years later. During this period of confinement, he was able to work in peace and avoid the punishment that would have resulted from his failure. Self-preservation for the win! This was the period of his life where he completed his most influential work, a seven-volume treatise on optics. He died many years later after researching, traveling and teaching, living the geek dream.
2. Hypatia (?370-415)
As the daughter of the last librarian of the great Alexandria library, this Egyptian Geek had access to all the knowledge collected within and the scholars who studied there. She edited and annotated others’ works and then wrote her own treatises on mathematics and astronomy.
She is thought to have invented the hydrometer (which measures relative density of liquids) and charted stars and planets. She was known as a great teacher and defied many gender boundaries by moving freely in previously male only settings. Of course, her influence and outspokenness on matters of science, religion and more dangerously, politics, led to her being seized by a mob, stripped naked and murdered in the streets of the city. She has inspired free thinkers, articles and many a science fiction writer. Her name and memory live on in fiction by Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Umberto Eco and Marcel Proust, in an essay by Carl Sagan and even as a character in an episode of Doctor Who. She is the namesake of an asteroid belt, a crater on the moon and even a genus of moth.
When you have over six thousand years of recorded history, choosing ten exemplary Geeks will certainly be just skimming the surface and leaving out many notable names. There are also many anonymous Geeks who never got proper notice—the person who figured out how to use a wheel to make everyone’s work easier, the Geek who paid close attention to what was edible and what was poisonous by using the scientific method of observation (of others getting sick) and let’s not forget the devoted brewer who figured out fermentation (imagine the trial and error on that one!).
Each Geek chosen here led a relatively long life for their era and made sure that they received some measure of recognition. Geeks for all of their supposed lack of social skills (more of a nerd thing, really) do want to get noticed. And the long life comes from keen observational skills matched with enough good sense to avoid dying as a hero. So in the spirit of learning how it is done, let’s meet our oldest school Geeks.
1. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
Aristotle was first and foremost known as a student. Socrates taught Plato and Plato taught Aristotle. To continue the chain, Aristotle was tutor of Alexander the Great and his successor Ptolemy at the Royal Academy in Macedonia and of the elite youth of Athens at his Lyceum. He helped to preserve the knowledge he had acquired from those who preceded him and then went on to fill in the gaps and instruct his influential students.
Aristotle set up to understand not only the world of the mind but also the physical world that surrounded him. Mathematics, astronomy, physics, medicine and zoology were observed, examined and theorized into whole new orders. Some of his ideas evolved into our current understanding, some shaped our understanding of logical arrangements of life forms into kingdoms and smaller groups, and some of his ideas were proven to be wildly off base. What makes him a geek is that he set out to find out answers and develop theories on everything.
We hear the word ‘Geek’ tossed around casually and pejoratively, but Geeks consider themselves as part of a grand tradition dating back to those Ur Geeks who thought of melting rocks to form metal tools, dreamed of sewer systems to make cities livable, and devoted their energies to figuring out how exactly man could fly. Da Vinci was a Geek, The Wright Brothers, yup Geeks, Mendel with his pea plants–the list goes on. Each had the ultimate Geek qualities—absolute devotion to matters deemed too arcane for the more popular heroes, perseverance, and the ability to look beyond the obvious into the strange to find the next big thing. Geeks do this knowing the social cost of being an outsider by choice but they persevere for that tingling of excitement when something really ‘cool’ happens.
Geeks have developed their own sense of community and style. Geek culture is in the popular mindset today at a level that matches the last great golden age of the geek—the Space Race. The tools have changed (more powerful and much smaller), the jargon has changed (more cyberpunk than trigonometric) but a lot of what was cool then remains just as influential today—just a bit broader.
You know if you are a Geek. There comes a point in every young Geek’s life when you realize that perhaps we care a bit too much. It can be comic books, baseball stats, skeins of yarn, Italian cinema or the electronics that surround you—but we are obsessed and more importantly we proudly wear our obsessions out in the open. We don’t hide our passion out of the fear of being ostracized by the non-Geek society (but we might keep it low-key when first meeting someone).
A Geek doesn’t care that others might find our dedication strange or a waste of time. In some ways, being outside of the mainstream is attractive to Geeks. We Geeks feel more comfortable on the side stage, in the back of the room or in our own communities.
Geeks often have wide-ranging interests. If you geek out over sci-fi movies, it wouldn’t be that unusual that you would also have strong opinions on the differences between computer operating systems, or the proper way to grill. Geeks often enjoy discovering new things to obsess over. Of course, when pursuing this desire to find shiny, new topics Geeks can get close to hipsterdom; but just as we approach ‘coolness’ inevitably a nerd snort will erupt and we are back to our proper Geek roots.
In this series, we will survey many of the topics of Geek obsessions, the unifying identifiers, the subcultures, the essential tools, and the heroes. We know that these lists will be far from complete and will generate a few nerd fights about how X was included and Y wasn’t. Our message to our beloved Geek comrades is that imagine that our lists are just a starting point, that they can expand out into non-whole, negative or even imaginary numbers. That way, your favorite Geek film may not be on our list but it can be number 4.255 or ≈√5.
We are happy to share that our book, Digitally Daunted is now just $7.00. Here is the link to Amazon.
Even though it came out a few years ago, the advice still stands. No tablets or 3d TVs, but this is a primer on how to choose intelligently and regain control.
I will not be going cold turkey. Technology is a part of my daily routines and during holiday times it is a treat to see updates from friends and family that I am unable to see in person. But I will be making an effort to step away from the tech that just passes time.
Some of us either are, or know someone who is, a bit compulsive about ‘checking in.’ It becomes a part of our busy lives, engaging or entertaining us in the midst of work emails and projects. A distraction from our pressing responsibilities is welcomed during the rush but when work pressures ease and emails are answered with out-of-office notices, it might help to step away from the keyboards to truly enjoy our time off.
Time flies when you click links and flip virtual pages. And that is the root of the problem with turning mindlessly to tech on our work and school breaks. If your intent is to pass the time, then your smartphone, tablet or computer is very good at helping you break the boredom. But don’t miss out on the chance to decompress, enjoy time with loved ones, exercise or simply allow your mind to daydream.
Take a walk
Try leaving the phone behind as you head out on a long neighborhood walk. It is a small bit of time, but an evening walk among Christmas lights or in the early morning light, can bring peace that we all can sustain ourself when the January deadlines reappear.
It is never a good idea to walk and text, or to close out the neighborhood’s sounds with headphones, for safety and security reasons. We now hear talk of distracted walking that leads to accidents. Most street robberies seem to be about expensive phones rather than the old targets of wallets or jewelry. Instead of worrying about what we might miss by leaving the phone at home, switch the focus to what we miss out on when we connect with technology instead of neighbors, wildlife and the sights and sounds.
Spend time with a non-e-book
Whether curling up by the fireplace with an epic or sharing a story with someone else, a real live paper book can seem especially indulgent. Escaping into another world without the distractions of social updates or breaking news is one of the benefits of print books. Reading words on pages is a very intentional act, giving the writer your full attention.
Experiencing a book with little ones, whether with lively language or wordless picture books, is something that gives so much to both the reader and the read-to.
Reading aloud isn’t just for parent and child. Many of my husband and my first dates were spent reading together. Joining in a shared literary journey is an incredibly intimate experience, especially on wintry afternoons.
Taking the time to step away from all of the screens in your life can help you put the ‘noise’ of daily life in perspective. Winter time can be a quiet time whether outdoors or in the comfort of our homes. When it coincides with the end of one year and the beginning of another, we are given the chance to look at how we live our daily lives.
There is no virtue in being disconnected, technology isn’t an ‘evil’ or a vice. I love technology and how it connects me, but I want it to be a choice not a habit. At New Year’s we think about how we want to improve our daily lives. We re-evaluate our approach to our personal finances, our health, and our relationships. Taking a breather from all of the glowing pixels of our multiple screens, gives you a chance to make sure that you aren’t missing the big picture while staring at the small screens of our devices.
As we look forward to end-of-the-year gatherings, it is sometimes hard to think of ways to involve the whole gang in fun and memory-making. Adults and kids alike can retreat to their respective technologies, whether smartphones or gaming devices. Why not take the rules, strategies and skills used in online games to have some “offline” fun?
The most popular online games are often just reworkings or outright replicas of the games that have been played for generations. The top 10 games at the Apple app store or in the video game sections are often reworks of card games, puzzles, board games or group games like tag or cops and robbers. Get everyone in the game by trying to take the game from the small screens of their digital devices to the real world for some active and cross-generational fun.
For the little ones who love Angry Birds
For the little guys who love Angry Birds, why not try a ring or bean bag toss game? If necessary, you could even print out color images of the games’ characters and cover the targets. The game play isn’t complicated in either instance but there is the satisfaction of hitting the targets and racking up points.
For the co-op military game player
Time for some Capture the Flag if the weather is good. As you might remember from your own versions of the game, all sorts of rules can be invented to complicate the basic game of two teams vying for the other team’s flag and protecting your own.
The addition of a few Nerf guns can add more challenge and replicate the action of the military games. If the weather is more challenging, maybe make it a day for Laser Tag. Two local facilities are Shadowland Laser Adventures in Franconia and Laser Zone in Woodbridge. If your group is a little more hard-core, Pev’s Paintball is a bit of a drive to Aldie but is serious in its gameplay.
For the Wii Sports enthusiasts
How about a real bowling experience? Great for multiple generation groups where Grandma might be able to show off her skills earned without the help of a “Wiimote.” We have a number of great local lanes that are fun no matter the weather. The satisfying sound of pins being knocked down and waiting for the ball return is sure to be fun for kids and adults alike. This is a family activity that is accompanied by a snack bar, something that can appeal to everyone at the holidays.
All the world loves a card game
Are your holidays going to be celebrated in a non-WiFi zone? A deck of cards has helped families and friends pass countless vacation hours. Even solitary players know the rules of solitaire thanks to their smartphone apps. For more competitive players, penny poker can bring out the card sharks while rummy, hearts or spades can be taught to younger players for a lifetime of easy fun.
Tetris addicts get in the game
Tetris players can take the skills learned in the game to games such as Jenga, pick-up sticks or even dominos. These tactile games add another element to the gameplay that is sure to appeal to the puzzle addicts. For that matter, less speed-dependent jigsaw puzzles are a great way to have quiet fun either cooperatively or for the solo player.
For the Draw Something experts
Kids who have never played charades or Pictionary might find that hours spent playing Draw Something on their portable devices has made them excellent clue-givers or solvers. Balance the teams between younger and older players and you give the teams some balance when dealing with pop culture or technologies that might be too young or too old for the other team member to guess.
Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Yahtzee go online
Sometimes playing offline games online can be a way to get everyone in the game. No worries about missing pieces or arguments about whether a word is usable when you play online. Your favorite board games can be fun to play on a game console. Hasbro’s Family Game Night is available on all the game platforms and includes classics such as Scrabble, Boggle, Sorry, Connect Four Yahtzee and oddly enough Battleship. Another game that is fun to play online and without the need for the little pieces is Trivial Pursuit.
Have fun over the holidays
Games help you have fun, relax, tap into your competitive spirit. They also help build closer bonds through cooperation and shared memories. Taking the time to enjoy each others’ company is the best gift we can give and receive when we gather together.
Wishing everyone fun and happiness during this wonderful time of year!