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What makes a geek?

© September 2006 Anthony Lawrence


I ran across an interesting article that explores Why Desktop Linux Will Not Take off, and Why You Don't Want It to.

The basic point of the article is that making Linux suitable for the typical desktop will effectively destroy its value for geeks. I disagree with that: Macs have ease of use for technically challenged, but definitely appeal to geeks. Eye candy and easy interfaces don't detract from the BSD power underneath, and the same thing would be true for Linux. The real problem for Desktop Linux is the same issue that has always plagued Unix: market fragmentation.

But that's not what I wanted to discuss here. What I took exception to was the assertion about geek learning styles:

First and foremost, technological enthusiasts possess a skill that is essential to the practice of their craft but is far beyond the reach of mere mortals: they are www.visualspatial.org/what_is_a_vsl.htm (link dead, sorry) visual-spatial learners. The more you read on the topic, the better grasp you will have of what follows. One consequence of this is that visual complexity - or even visual clutter - does not scare them away. It may even be impossible for them to understand why ordinary folks feel overwhelmed by slightly complex user interfaces. The truth is that most people cannot visually grasp the entire screen at once, let alone an interface of fifty icons or user controls. In order to be attractive to them, the interface needs to be dumbed down to the average automated bank teller's level. Yes, they find the simplicity attractive, not disconcerting or dull.

What's a visual-spatial learner? There's a www.visualspatial.org/Product_Marketing/UDB/vslquiz.pdf (link dead, sorry) PDF file that purports to tell you if you are. I am somewhat that sort of learner. I don't like to listen, and prefer to read, but that isn't because I forget what I hear: it's that listening is too slow. I can read extremely fast, far faster than anyone can speak intelligibly. I cannot visualize objects from different perspectives, I'd rather follow WRITTEN directions than read a map, I'm neither musically nor mechanically skilled, I abhor bad spelling, speaking to groups never bothered me a bit, and I feel dumber rather than smarter with each passing year. But I would answer affirmatively to the other questions, and I am definitely geekish in temperament.

There's another PDF that www.visualspatial.org/Articles/appendc.pdf (link dead, sorry) lists characteristics of such learners: I don't fit well with that, either. I do think in words, don't relate well to space, can attend well to details, have no problems with words, can PRINT quickly and neatly, have both good short term and long term memory, am insensitive to anyone's attitudes when learning, and so on. I'm still a geek in spite of that.

Personally I think there are two qualities all geeks and tech types share: logical thinking and a good memory. I'm also of the opinion that having a good memory is the key to both logical and creative thinking: you can't be logical if you can't remember the steps that brought you along, and you can't be creative if you can't recall old knowledge that can be applied in new ways.

So what do logic and memory have to do with geekiness? It's what LETS US BE GEEKS. If you can't remember things, and can't follow logic because of it, of course you won't be a geek: how could you be? You could be frighteningly intelligent in other ways, but you'll never make a good geek.

All that other stuff does have value, of course, but I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with geekiness. A visual-spatial learner can be a geek, but it isn't necessary.

So: Linux Desktop can succeed (as evidenced by geeks liking the new Macs) and geekiness isn't limited to certain learning styles.

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Fri Sep 15 04:42:29 2006: 2455   BigDumbDinosaur

I looked at the PDF's on the visual-spatial site and, in my humble dinosaurish opinion, those people are full of it. They sound like they are typical educators trying to pigeon-hole everyone.

I meet some of the criteria for being auditory-sequential and I meet some of the criteria for being visual-spatial. Whether that has anything to do with being geeky is anyone's guess.

I'm not even sure that I qualify as a true geek, since I don't exhibit some of the behavior that geeks are purported to exhibit. However, according to my dear wife, who tries to avoid using her education background to define who I am, I'm a geezer-geek, an appellation she applies to anyone who is over the age of 60 and fixes computers. My colleague Dave is very geeky but doesn't qualify as a geezer-geek due to his relative youth (he has 10 years to go to hit that magic 60).

Getting back to this audio-visual-sequential-spatial mystical mumbo-jumbo, I think it is extraordinarily difficult to neatly categorize people that way. Evidently, someone must make money doing this sort of thing -- probably by billing a school district for their time, which means we taxpayers are effectively paying for a lot of mumbo-jumbo-psycho-babble-bullshit.

Fri Sep 15 10:05:14 2006: 2456   TonyLawrence

I have to disagree a bit: understanding learning styles IS important.

For example, I don't like to listen to lectures, but that was my school environment. I also prefer to learn by reading from multiple sources and viewpoints, yet of course school (at least in the early grades) had one approved textbook per subject and seldom anything else. As a consequence, I hated school, resented my teachers, and dropped out the minute I was legally old enough to do so.

Identifying learning styles is very, very important.

Fri Sep 15 15:33:20 2006: 2459   BigDumbDinosaur

Identifying learning styles is very, very important.

Only if you are trying to design a cookie-cutter education system, e.g., public education in the USA. There are as many learning styles as there are students. While it isn't practical to tailor curricula to each individual, the pigeon-holing mentality of many educators probably has more than a little to do with how poorly, on average, students perform in many schools. You yourself inadvertently bolstered that notion by stating ...I hated school, resented my teachers, and dropped out... Obviously (to me, at any rate), your learning style wasn't taken into account.

BTW, I did poorly in school as well -- for many of the same reasons. To this day, I harbor some resentment toward the education system and feel as though I was short-changed.

Fri Sep 15 15:36:18 2006: 2460   TonyLawrence

But they didn't try to accommodate learning styles when we were in school.

Now, at least in some places, some effort IS made. That's why researching and understanding learning styles is important.

Fri Sep 15 19:54:58 2006: 2463   BigDumbDinosaur

A fundamental problem that will never be fully solved is the basic classroom setting of one teacher and 30 or more students, as is so common in the USA. Teachers have a teaching style with which they are comfortable, whereas each student has a learning style that may be close to but is probably not exactly like the kid in the next desk. How is a teacher going to adapt to that situation without some kid getting the short end of the stick? The short answer is it ain't gonna happen.

Given the student/teacher ratio prevalent in public schools, as well as the huge variance in student abilities and motivation levels, I really can't see a whole lot of value in current learning theory, as it is difficult to economically implement. This has especially become true since the mid-1990's, when the Clinton administration pushed the "full inclusion" doctrine that eliminated special ed and gifted classes, and lumped all the kids together, with little regard to their individual abilities. This set the stage for the "no child left behind" mantra of the Bush administration, which has pushed the "social promotion" agenda, resulting in a new generation of under-educated students.

BTW, one of the things that hanpered me while in school was vision trouble, which was not diagnosed until I went into the service. I never could properly read what the teacher was scribbling on the board, and to this day, cannot cursively write. In other words, by current standards, I am partially illiterate.

Mon Sep 18 21:27:12 2006: 2468   drag

Goto a public school some time. One thing you'll quickly notice is that the majority of the time students spend in class is during 'social engineering' type things.

I spent a great deal of my time in high school learning such things as, how to not do drugs, sex ed, and how to change babies diapers. I spent as much time doing socialogical stuff as learning history or doing math.

And now it's gotten worse, much worse. My little brother, who is in school right now, came how spouting environmentalist propaganda (not stuff with a scientific basis, but stuff you'd find on "Earth Liberation front") and he was yelling at my dad for being a drug user because he still smoked cigerettes. Goto a restaurant and he'd cough loudly if anybody in the area had a lit cigarette. They'd spend entire clasroom sessions talking about the dangers of second hand smoke.

This is all just stuff he picked up from school. At the same time he was failing the core classes. My mom tried to set up times and talk to teachers about ways to make sure that he gets his work done and so that maybe they could figure out a tutor thing or something like that. Teachers would refuse or just blow them off say crap like 'get back to you tomorrow'. One of the things they would arrange is that my brother would write down the work he needed to do, they would sign it off and my mom could keep track of what is going on day by day. That didn't work out. My brother would just end up at the end of the classroom with the teacher running off on him.

It's absolutely bizzare. There are some very good teachers, but there are other ones that are just crap. There is no effective way to differentiate. You can't just fire them or not promote them. Good teachers get treated the same as bad teachers and if the school tries to fix that they'll get raped by the teacher's union.

You can't bring pocket knives. You can't bring nail clippers. I don't think you can even bring sissors. But on the other hand there is no disaplin. The inmates run the asylum so-to-say. It's a brutal social environment for most kids, unless their privilaged. Kids have huge levels of preferential treatment from the staff and teachers. Athletes get good grades by default while other kids are ignored completely. All sorts of stuff like that. Social divisions are amplified.

A lot of kids are failing because school is a high stress environment with no social regulations were probably less then 20% of the time they are actually spending at school goes to real practical learning.

Another example of something that pisses me off.
Now you can't bring sack lunches. They've also pretty much did away with the popular food that would get served at lunch time.

It also used to be ok for seniors (and some juniors) to leave for lunch, which they can't now.

You know why?

Because now the highschool has Pizzahut and Mcdonalds at school and the school gets a cut of their profits. To me this is obscene.

At most large public schools you have a beurocratic machine running it that doesn't care about the students and cares much more about their bottom line and financing.

That's what is horrible.

I know that in some ways they improving.

For instance years ago my Uncle was considured just another moron that didn't want to work at school. Nowadays it's obvious that he had a sort of learning disorder. Something to do with him didn't fit into the framework allowed at his school. He is smart and can learn quick, but he just couldn't 'get it' the way they were presenting it.

Nowadays they would of realised that and identified the problem. Almost definately.

Unfortunately the response wouldn't be to modify the course or put him in a group of like minded people.. they would of just drugged him so he wouldn't of been a problem for them anymore.

It's getting worse and worse with this tendancy now. You have kindergartens and early elimentary in some places were you have kids lining up in the morning for their medication.

I've also read a article were doctors are now reporting that it's more and more common that parents themselves are requesting ADD drugs and such for children even though they don't need them. The parents feel that kids ont he drugs are giving them a unfair advantage in school and that their children won't be able to compete on even ground for university opennings.

The way I see it now is that public schools are at a down point in our history. They are fundamentally broken in a lot of ways.

Maybe they'll get fixed over time. But for the time being I think that if you have a child a private school is the way to go. Now many of those suck, but you just have to go through the effort of weening those out and find the ones that are positive. I don't think that there is realy any other way right now for a parent to get their kid a good education anymore.

There definately has to major major reform. But I have no idea how to do it. The people in charge of this stuff definate likes it the way that it is and are resistant to change, but you can't run the schools without them. I just don't know.


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