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April 18, 2005

Meeting Mr. Foobar

I was thrilled and flattered when I received an email from the Supreme Nerd, Beta Foobar himself, telling me that, of all the bloggers in the blogosphere, I had been chosen to interview him.  “Why me?” I text-messaged back, all thumbs in my excitement.

I grocked your post on doing a ping test and changing the jitter-buffer settings each time you make a phone call,” he Skype-TMed me back.  “Obviously, you understand KICS.  And the post where you pretend to give away all the secrets of geek-speak and don’t tell any of the good stuff, that rocks. And four of the ten posts tagged ‘nerding’ on  Technorati are yours.”

“Mr. Foobar,” I began (I had thought long and hard about my first question), “what do you consider your greatest achievement?”

“TV,” he said without a millisecond’s hesitation.

“TV?” I asked.

“Without a doubt,” he said.  “It used to be any idiot could turn on a TV and twist the dial.  Even jocks could do it with a beer in one hand and a cheerleader in the other.  That problem is now fixed.  No one watches TV without a nerd.”

“You did that?” I asked, truly awed.  “You made it so no two entertainment centers are the same?  Babysitters don’t have a prayer of finding MTV even if they can get the screen lit and the speakers working?  Wow!”  A true geek, of course, can play a coffee table full of remotes like a xylophone.  “But what about programmable universal remotes with touch screen interfaces?” I asked suddenly alarmed that our hard-won gains would slip away to a new ease-of-use.

“Not to worry,” he said.  “They’re actually part of the plan.  They’re a scripting opportunity.  You can even write macros for them.  You can get a date with any coed in any country if you program her remote.  She certainly isn’t going to use it without your help.  And she still ends up watching whatever you want.”

“What about girl nerds?”  I asked politically-correctly.  “What’s in it for them?”

“Are you kidding?  A fem-nerd who can backspace and freeze-frame a forward pass has hairy athletes following her around like puppy dogs.  Soon there’s gonna be interactive TV, lets you choose which camera you wanna see; who do you think’s gonna operate the remote for that?  ex-halfbacks?”  He took a self-satisfied swig of Jolt.

“What about TiVo?” I ask. “That’s really pretty simple to operate.”

“It looked like it was gonna be a problem,” he conceded.  “But that’s been taken care of.  Wait’ll you see the new generation of DVRs the cable networks ordered so they won’t have to resell Tivo.

‘That reminds me,” he says, “of the invention of the Macintosh.  That was a dark day.  A computer any fool could use.  The end of the purity of the a: prompt.  No more grep.  Just GUI this and GUI that.”

“What did you do about it?” I asked.

“Well, I can’t really tell you or I’d have to erase your memory … or maybe I did tell you and then erased your memory.  You can’t really be sure.  But I digress.  Suffice it to say I went North of Silicon Valley and West of Silicon Alley to a place where there was lots of good coffee.  “Embrace and devour” was our slogan.  You can still get a Mac today.  They still look cool.  They work as soon as you plug them in but no more smiley face.  And if you want to run any software on them, you have to get a Windows emulator from you-know-whom. Heh heh heh.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” he continues.  “We thought we had a lock on both TV and porno with the v-chip.  But the darned kids figured it out so the parents didn’t dare use it.

“We’re making good progress with cars.  Nothing a big sexy guy with a wrench can do anymore if the fuel decides not to burn.  Maybe a hardware problem or a software problem but you gotta have a nerd to fix it.

“We have high expectations for the man-eating spam filter.

“We’re proud of the fact that the intersection of the settings of a video projector and the settings for the video drivers of a PC which consistently provides a legible screen is a null set.

“A GPS can get people somewhere but they may need a nerd to get them back if they can’t use the user interface.”  He stopped and showed signs of being ready to be beamed up to another world.

“Mr. Foobar,” I said.  “Two more questions. One: how did you get started in your fabulous career?”

“I owe it all to the bully on the beach,” he said.  “You know the one.  There are a million TIFFs and JPEGs of him kicking sand in my face  The girl left with him and I went back to my cabana and tried to get the sand out of my eye. I don’t see things very well at a distance but up close I saw that it was silicon.  Dustin Hoffman went into plastics.  The bully became an insurance salesman when he didn’t make the NFL.  And I virtualized everything in silicon.  That’s the paradigm shift which brought us power.”

“Mr. Foobar, my last question is one I’ve been afraid to ask.”

“Go ahead, son.”

“What does “KICS” mean?”

“Keep It Complicated, Simon.”

I didn’t dare ask who Simon is.

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