Etech: Secrets of the Alpha Geeks

Ideas rot if you don’t do something with them. I used to think it would be dumb to give my ideas away, that I should hoard them up for that great article or startup I would do. Then they just rotted. Now I just blog on them or otherwise tell people. Sometimes they come to naught all the same, but generally somebody tends to find the idea useful in one way or another.

Edd Dumbill

Danny O’Brien decided to interview a load of geeks to see if he could find out what their secrets are. His survey included Cory Doctorow, Simon Cozens, Eric S. Raymond , Nat Torkington and Jamie Zawinski. Not surprisingly he found that these people had quite a few things in common. It seems that they still use the command line, they organise their lives in a todo.txt file, they will try lots of new things but don’t really trust them and they backup like crazy.

It amuses me that a todo.txt file is used to organise the life of the alpha geek and I can see why they could be embarrassed to let others know that they use these. It seems to be a really low tech solution to the organisation problem. I make lots of todo lists but I don’t have one big global one that I keep everything in. I also prefer to write my lists as this seems to help me to commit things to memory. Typing doesn’t do this in the same way for me. I have worked as an audio typist and learnt to type without really having to put a lot of thought into what I was typing. Of course geeks need to find somewhere to put the important information in their lives as they usually aren’t very good at remembering things like birthdays and anniversaries and a text file is fast and easy to use.

Danny mentioned that blogging software was also being used as an organising application. He found the concept of a private blog fascinating as blogs are usually written for other people to read. He mentioned that people are starting to use blogging software and RSS feeds instead of email and mailing lists. I really like blogs. They are a wonderful way to keep important notes. We have been using them in work for the past year or so as a way of storing information on various projects. We even have a project blog that the system writes to automatically when changes are made to our software.

Danny also talked about trust and software. You can’t trust software unless you’ve written it yourself and then you still can’t trust it but you are much more forgiving. I will never understand why geeks feel the need to write everything themselves.

I still don’t know from all this what it means to be an alpha geek. I am surrounded by people who can’t remember dates or where they are supposed to be, who use the command line for everything, have strange scripts in ~bin and who love writing things from scratch!

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