Operating systems

Meet the winners of the Geek contests!

Meet the two winners of TechRepublic's Geek contests and find out who they are, how they can tell if a peer is a geek, and get their advice on how to be a 'true geek.'

Yes, it's finally time to announce the top winners in the TechRepublic Geek contests! Drum roll please…

First Place: 'What Makes You A Geek' contest winner: Alan Hedler (aka  AlanGeek)
First Place: 'Geek Definition' contest winner: Stefan Olivier (aka SOLIVIER 1)
TechRepublic congratulates both Alan and Stefan, as well as all of the TechRepublic members who participated in the recent Geek contests. The submissions in both contests were all extremely creative and judging to determine the finalists was difficult.

TechRepublic members voted for the top entries, and winners will soon be receiving their prizes (a choice of a TechRepublic book/CD and a coffee mug). Finalists received awards as well.

The five finalists in the 'geek definition' contest were presented with a certificate of achievement from TechRepublic, and the six finalists in 'top geek' were provided with a special commemorative e-mail signature file noting their accomplishment as a finalist.

Meet TechRepublic's top geek
Alan Hedler, aptly described by TechRepublic's Trivia Geek (Jay Garmon), "fits the quintessential geek profile."

Hedler's entry states it all (click here to see all of the Top Geek contest entries):

Well, lessee...I have: 2 PDP-11 machines with dual 8-inch floppy drives; still shrink-wrapped boxes of 8-inch floppies; paper punch tape diagnostics for the PDP's; a VT-180 CP/M box with quad 5-1/4 drives; a Franklin 1000 (Apple II+ clone) with sound card and Z-80 card Apple CP/M; dBase II and Wordstar for CP/M; a USR 300/1200 baud modem; a Compaq portable; and an old IBM portable with 8x24 LCD display and stacking peripherals that clip on the back end (modem, parallel port, serial port). I still have 386 and 486 machines running on my home network along with PII and PIII machines. I've fixed the fans on most of them by disassembling and reassembling them. Most of my boxes were picked up from the curb on trash day, as were 2 of my guitars. I had cable modem and cable TV hooked up and running on my PC the day we moved into our new house. I run VNC on my parents', in-laws', and siblings' PC's so I can fix their problems from home. I still use OS/2. I'm an OS/2 admin and still write REXX code for LAN Server functions. I have 6 boxes running under my desk here at work (3 OS/2, 2 Solaris, 1 Win2K). Oh, yeah, there's a Power Mac G3, but it's not currently on. I set up my own NTP time server in my cube. I have TokenRing adapters for ISA bus with DIP switches to set the MAC address. I have an IP Subnet calculator on my Handspring Visor Prism, but I don't need to use it for subnetting. I almost never use a mouse in Windows, OS/2, or Solaris, and have trackballs at work and at home because there isn't usually space for a mouse.

I have read the GPF, Diesel Sweeties, MegaTokyo, and User Friendly archives in their entirety and stay current with them. I have been reading Help Desk since it was in the OS/2 e-zine. I use vi to write Perl and nawk scripts. I've written applications in nawk and sed. I don't need no steenking spellcheck or grammar checker! I was working in development of experimental gas lasers at 16. I made laser glass amplifiers for the hydrogen fusion project at Lawrence Livermore Labs that showed up in TRON. I have written machine-language programs for Motorola 6800 processors with no assembler and only a hex keypad for input and 6-digit display for output. I have done translations into Braille by hand and configured numerous Braille printers (embossers) for computers. I've repaired manual and electronic Braillers. I've translated program source code from German to English. I'm fairly proficient with a yo-yo. I love to solve and collect mechanical puzzles. That's all that comes to mind just off the top of my head. Oh, yeah, ham radio operator, guitarist, flutist, tenor, skier, snowboarder, cyclist...

TechRepublic's top geek Alan Hedler


The Northville, Michigan, tech analyst says he was completely surprised to win the Top Geek contest and is honored to have attained such status among his TechRepublic peers.

"I'd like to thank everyone that voted for me, though I don't think I'm anywhere near as qualified as many others that I read about on TechRepublic," said Hedler. "I'm sure that the REAL geeks are just too busy to even take the time to enter. I know at least a dozen here that would blow me away hands down. In any case, I really appreciate the recognition, as we all know how infrequently we geeks get any."

When asked about the 'geekiest' things he's ever done, the 47-year-old describes two school-related events. The first took place in a high school physics class (a senior class he took as a sophomore) in which students were studying interference patterns.

"The instructor couldn't get the HeNe gas laser to lase, so I opened it up and recollimated the mirrors, having had experience doing this already," he relates.

Later, in college, Hedler was taking a Motorola 6800 (not 68000) assembler class (with no assembler, just a table of op codes) and found himself writing a scrolling marquee program for a microprocessor evaluation unit that had no storage and only a hex keypad and 6-digit LED display for I/O. "As soon as the machine was turned off, the program went away. Talk about programming just for the fun of it," he recalled.

One way to determine if someone is a geek, explains Hedler, is to know that 'real' geeks don't say, 'It's not good, but it's good enough.'

"They also don't like having to put up with inferior products just because 'everybody else is using it, so we have to,'" noted Hedler.

For techies aspiring to become 'geeks,' Hedler offers the following advice and insight:
  • Be curious. Don't just accept that things work (or don't); find out why. Often, you can easily make things better than they were.
  • Be impatient. Learn to use background processes and batch jobs to run stuff you don't have to babysit, so you can do other stuff while you wait. Don't use products that make you babysit them. (Why does Outlook insist on tying up my machine while deleting files or doing many other functions, not only preventing me from using other functions of Outlook, but also prevents me switching to another application?)
  • Be lazy. I've thrown together tons of utilities to simplify all the routine junk that just takes time, in many cases making things simple enough that I've been able to push them off onto semi-skilled chair warmers.
  • Have fun!!! If it isn't fun, why bother? If you don't enjoy it, you probably won't do as good a job as you should. On the other hand, many places are more concerned with plugging a hole with a body than matching skills and interest with needs and tasks; so, sometimes, you don't get much choice, but, in the long run, I don't know that any amount of money would make me willing to stay in a job that I hated with people that I couldn't stand.

Meet our top definer of 'geek'
Stefan Olivier was "techstatic" to learn his definition had won top entry in the 'define a geek' contest (to read all the entries click here):

A geek is a person who: Carries around a photo of her (PC) in his wallet; upgrades more than 3 times a year; boots up straight to the command line; uses "/"instead of "\" Types faster than talking; understands that the term "getting your wires crossed"really means GETTING YOUR WIRES CROSSED; can solder board-level components; still has a few XT CPU chips hidden in a shoebox just in case it is needed for spares on the many satellites up there still using these chips; cried when the "Turbo button"was eventually dropped from motherboards; now knows everything related to "Over Clocking"and "Cooling;"thinks up acronyms like "TCP/IP, ADSL, ISDN, EIDE, SCSI, Serial ATA, MPLS, etc.;"tries to interface everything with everything; downloads the Internet in one lifetime (or seriously tries to); reads books for pleasure like "Advance TCP/IP V6, Building your own moon station in 24 hours, Getting serious about software reverse engineering;" writes books like "Advance TCP/IP V6, Building your own moon station in 24 hours, Getting serious about software reverse engineering;" has the default home page set to TechRepublic on all the 5 different installed Web browsers.

The consultant/owner of the open source firm, Penguin Consulting Services ZA, in South Africa, would like to tell his fellow TechRepublic members "Garamba amigos" for voting for his entry. He says the easiest way to identify if a peer is a geek is by watching how they relate to others.

Author of Best Geek Definition: Stefan Olivier


"A true geek recognizes and acknowledges other geeks' efforts in the field. And here is mine to all open source developers: You guys and gals are just the best!," said Olivier who recalled that he was 15 years old when he first sat down at a computer.

"It was an old Commodore VIC 20 (with 5KB, yes KILOBYTES, of RAM)," he recalls with a chuckle.

The "geekiest" thing the 45-year-old has ever done was a shared experience with a relative.

"My cousin and I spent weekends typing away in prewritten BASIC code that we bought from a bookstore on the mentioned Commodore. I can't believe we took a day to type in four pages of it. At least my typing today is far better than average, but no wonder girlfriends did not last," he said.

His advice to those seeking to be a 'true geek' is to realize that the tech role is not a typical career job.

"Making IT a career is not a job from 9-5. Some self-study, research, and playing with technology will bring you far. Have a broad scope in early years and narrow it down to a specialist field later on," said Olivier, relating how he used to reformat his first 8086 XT PC on a regular basis just to understand how to properly install and configure it. "Remember, this was before the Internet days, so there was no online help; this knowledge and the little BASIC knowledge I had landed me a nice technician position as my first job."
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