Friday, June 6, 2003

The Library Hotel

by Suw on June 6, 2003

Oh, pray that I come into a little money before October, when I'm off to see Eddie Izzard in New York, so that I can stay at the Library Hotel. As the name suggests, it's organised according to the ten sections of the Dewey Decimal Classification system: Social Sciences, Languages, Math and Science, Technology, The Arts, Literature, History, General Knowledge, Philosophy and Religion. The rooms are numbered according to the DDC and, more importantly:

“Each of the 60 rooms is uniquely adorned with a collection of books and art exploring a distinctive topic within the category or floor it belongs to.”

I can’t make up my mind between 700.005 Music and 500.005 Dinosaurs, and I have to admit that 800.005 Fairy Tales sounds like fun too.

I found out about this from this week's New Scientist, of all places, and although I feel that I really shouldn’t repeat their puns about the hotel being a ?novel place to stay? or always ?fully booked?, somehow I can’t help myself.

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Part 2: A geek like Neo

by Suw on June 6, 2003

The second question to take up residence in my mind after seeing the Matrix was “Why do I like this film?”. Apart from the obvious hawttttness of Keanu Reeves, who frankly hasn’t looked so good in a long time, what is it that has sucked me in so successfully? Answer: the geeks.

To me, The Matrix is a film by geeks, about geeks, for geeks. Certainly observations of my friends would bear this out to some extent. The least geeky of them think that whole thing’s over-rated, they really can’t see what all the fuss is about and besides, what is all this scifi crap anyway?

Those of us who are utterly besotted by the film all have some sort of geek pedigree uniting us, although to rather differing extents.

My own geek heritage is, I suppose if I’m honest, somewhat questionable. It’s true that the first computer I had daily access to was a ZX-80 when I was nine, and I did learn Basic back when Basic really was basic. I walked the computing module at uni because I’d done it all before and I used to regularly get down and dirty disembowelling my own computers. I know which end of a soldering iron is the business end, and I’ve plenty of experience soldering pcbs.

I think it’s fair to say, however, that I peaked early. I never really had a head for programming; I’m now more likely to find new and interesting ways to kill a computer than I am to fix it; and whilst I still remember that you don’t pick a soldering iron up by the pointy end, my knowledge of electronics has pretty much evaporated.

But that doesn’t really matter. I still have an inner geek of which I am proud, and I assert my right to claim a geek heritage. I use the word ?geek? not as derogatory term, but with affection and pride.

Neo’s geek status is established early on when we see him surrounded by assorted piles of gear, asleep on the desk next to his computer which is still running the search he started earlier. He’s obviously been up all night doing whatever geeky, hackery thing he does.

Now, I pulled the odd all-nighter when I was writing for the Maker – Saturday night gig, Sunday getting the photos developed, Sunday night writing the words, Monday 9am deadline. And I loved them. There’s something attractive and romantic about being up all night working on something. It’s that tortured-artist-in-garret thing that is somehow really cool.

I also did some pretty late nights when I was working as a web designer – me, the other designers, the techies, all desperately trying to get the intranet to hang together with virtual spit and sticky tape. The pizzas, the beers, the hunting round the office for a bottle opener. Again, there’s that kinda twisted romanticism about it, something maybe in the ingrained British work ethic that sees that kind of effort as commendable instead of just a downright pathetic inability to manage time properly.

Anyway, Neo, yes, he’s a geek and a geek who pulls all-nighters. But he’s not just any old geek. No, I’ve met a lot of geeks, but I’ve never met a geek that looked quite like Neo. I wish I had – I’d have kidnapped him there and then and locked him away in a darkened room somewhere for my own nefarious purposes.

Come to think of it, Trinity’s a geek too but I’ve certainly never met a geek that looked like her.

See, usually your average geek is usually portrayed in films and on tv as some little, bespectacled, spotty urchin who really needs to get out more but who would probably spontaneously combust if sunlight ever hit his skin. It’s that whole ?Revenge of the Nerds? characterisation which is, quite frankly, about as way off in my experience as you can get.

All the programmers, coders, techies – geeks – I’ve ever known have just been, well, normal people. You would not be able to spot them walking down the street. And all the spotty, teenage urchins that spend their time hacking code usually look to me just like the spotty, teenage urchins that go round burning cars for fun and profit.

(Obviously I’m taking a British viewpoint here. Maybe things are different in the States.)

If you do the obvious thing and extrapolate the geek as usually portrayed, you end up several million miles in the opposite direction away from Neo. Yet Neo is a geek. But he’s not just any geek. He’s an ?bergeek. He goes way beyond simply getting in the code to actually becoming the code.

So you have this vision of the future, where the despised geek becomes the all-powerful ?bergeek with an ?bergeekess in a tight pvc catsuit as a sidekick and enough really, really big guns to keep the nasty suits at bay.

(And we all know that if there’s one thing that all geeks are united in their hatred of, it’s suits.)

The hero is a geek, the heroine is a geek, their mentor is a geek and their mates are geeks. And they are all indescribably cool. Except possibly for Mouse, who is indescribably stereotyped. In fact, he’s the exception that’s simply there to provide a foil for the coolness of Neo, a contrast that says “I am the Geek of Christmas Past. Look at my bad skin and awful dress sense and be thankful yours is better”.

The ?bergeeks escape from the world of the suits to the real world from where they are jacked directly into either their own computers which they can control, or the computers of the Matrix which they attempt to control. They are hacking multiple virtual universes in real time in an effort to free more minds. By implication, they’ll be freeing the hackers first.

So in the Matrix, it’s true. The geeks shall inherit the earth.

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