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February 27, 2008

Great Time to be a Nerd


My friend Jeff Pulver was just telling me that it’s a great time be a nerd. Right on cue I walked past the poster above which I think advertises a new TV show.

On the same theme, Mary asked the other day what all us nerds would’ve done for a living if there weren’t computers or other electronic devices for us to play with. It’s a very frightening thought. I thought I’d be a writer like my father but met my first computer, an IBM 7090 mainframe, in the computer lab at college when I was nineteen (1962) and found this was a much better way to make a living. Didn’t get around to writing fiction again until a couple of years ago when I wrote hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble – not surprisingly, nerd Dom Montain is a major character of that book.

So what would we have done? Took some thought. Not many of would have been gymnasts, super warriors, craftsman (takes fine motor skills), or very good farmers.

We would’ve counted, added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. Before there were computers, there were lots of numbers that had to be crunched by hand. When you go over the George Washington Bridge or ascend the Empire State Building, remember that the only mathematical tools for all the engineering calculations were adding machines and slide rules (easy to use for a nerd); presumably the calculations were done at least twice.

All the accounts of everything had to be done by hand. All monthly statements manually totaled (at best on an adding machine).

So we would’ve been accountants or engineers or employed by such.

It’s much more fun to teach computers to do all that work (what programming is all about); we never have to do the same thing twice – at least until we reimplement it for a new computer or operating system. And we get great toys to play with.

Jeff’s right.

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