“Want to embrace your geekness?” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (July 8-14, 2015; page A5)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of July 8-14, 2015

Want to embrace your geekness?

Believe it or not, there’s actually a day for that. “Embrace Your Geekness Day” is copyrighted for fun and profit by Wellcat Holidays and celebrated on the 13th of July. “It’s a great day to be a geek, or to know a geek,” says the blurb at HolidayInsights.com, my reference for looking at holidays, bizarre and unique days, and other causes for celebration.

Long before the folks at the TV show, “The Big Bang Theory” (TBBT) made nerdiness and geekness fashionable, the origin of the word “geek” in particular had a morbid meaning, which we shall see later on. First, we shall make a distinction between a nerd and a geek. A geek is someone who is highly intelligent and technically skilled. A geek is usually associated with the world of computers, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. A nerd, on the other hand, is also a specialist in a certain field but may not be as technically proficient.

The origin of the word “geek” is a bit morbid. It used to refer to a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, such as biting off the head of a live chicken or mice. Nowadays, though, according to Dictionary.com, a “geek” (used as a noun) could be 1. A digital-technology expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often used disparagingly by others); 2. A person who has excessive enthusiasm for and some expertise about a specialized subject or activity: for example, a foreign-film geek; or 3. A peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward. If you are overexcited about a specialized subject or activity, or you happen to talk about it with excessive enthusiasm, you are said to be “geeking out.” I, for instance, could geek out on astrology and angels for hours. With that we have demonstrated that the noun “geek” could also be used as a verb (usually followed by “out”).

In some unenlightened circles, I guess that they still label people as “geeks” by way of a put-down. But in our increasingly computerized world, we need our beloved geeks more than ever. There is so much power in their hands and in the precious space between their ears. Sure, they may appear to be dressed in geek chic or they may not feel like socializing that much, but they do get the job done. You know what, we need to be schooled on the care and feeding of the geeks within our spheres of influence so that they remain benevolent instead of shutting down entire power grids. (Hmmm… haven’t we seen this kind of sci-fi film before?)
In my life, I’ve had the honor and privilege of studying side by side with the most intelligent people in the Philippines. I belonged to Class 1987 of the Manila Science High School (MSHS/MaSci), where I can say I spent my most memorable days. I remember the scramble for ideas for the yearly Science Fair, and then the experiments, and then we put up our illustration boards to present our projects to roaming judges. That must have been our first exposure to a “job interview”-like scenario. During our third year, my group experimented with using zinc casings from dry cells (aka batteries) to react with hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid. This produced granular zinc chloride and zinc sulfate which we then applied to wounds on mice, noting how fast the wounds healed compared with control. We wanted to show that our project combines recycling (getting those old AA or AAA batteries) and finding a cheap, effective alternative for a wound salve. Our project was chosen to be fielded in an inter-school science fair, with Xavier School, Immaculate Conception Academy, and Saint Pedro Poveda College (Poveda). As team leader, it was my job to defend our project, answering questions from the four professor-judges. It was nerve-wracking. Half the time I wasn’t aware anymore of what was coming out of my mouth. But defend it well I think I did – because we won first place and five thousand pesos, a fortune to high school students in those days. We shared our winnings with our beloved school, of course, and then happily divided the prize among ourselves.

During the MaSci Foundation Week where the Science Fair occurs, one marvels at the unique science and technology projects dreamed up and experimented upon by the students. Among my batch mates, Vladimir P. Bermudez really took his passion for science to international levels. He has a PhD now so let’s call him properly as Dr. Vladimir Bermudez. When we were in high school, Dr. Bermudez won a major award in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was also named Youth Achiever in Science by the Dept. of Science and Technology during the National Science and Technology Week in July 1987. Now this is Dr. Vlad’s birth week, so this is my way of paying tribute to my classmate and friend, probably the first “nerd” that I knew, who was always trying to explain his science fair project to me… something to do with “gibberellins”… hey, beats me, too, but he won all those awards, right? The promise of things to come. Look at where Vladimir is right now: living it up as a research biochemist and fitness coach in the Big Apple itself! And besides, he always treated me to an ice drop or pinipig crunch when I asked nicely.

During my time, calling someone a “nerd” was derogatory, implying that that poor person only focused on academics but had no social skills. Those of us, myself included, who were always in the star section got labeled “nerd” a lot. That’s why when that pesky star-section system was abolished when we were seniors, many were relieved (but there was somebody I knew who was so disappointed that he wouldn’t be in IV-Einstein, the former star section, since they removed that section, too). The nerd-not-nerd dichotomy gave way to better understanding among the students. And then being called a nerd was not so stigmatizing like before. It even became a sort of badge proudly worn as we tackled advanced chemistry, calculus, or physics.
The “geek” designation in today’s parlance may be traced back to the early years of computer development, in the sense that computer “hobbyists” Wozniak and Jobs would have been considered “geeks.” Remember the definition that these people are both brainy and tech-savvy. By this time, “geekness” isn’t a term of potential isolation anymore, but a mark of community and solidarity, like the organization of “white-hat” computer hackers we keep hearing about hush-hush. Apparently these white-hats are simply pointing out the vulnerabilities in the systems already in place. For further understanding, may I point you in the direction of your TV remote and a dystopian TV series or two?

Well, if July 13 is indeed Embrace Your Geekness Day, let’s enjoy it to the fullest! Are you yourself a geek or do you know anyone who is? Then why don’t you lay garlands of flowers on our computers, dance and twerk with your mobile devices, and let out a shout of joy? Don’t forget to talk computer lingo and jargon, like HolidayInsights.com suggests. Obviously, I’m not a geek. You had me at copy and paste.

Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings (fee required), email me here: blessingsandlight725@gmail.com