10 Signs You’re an Old Geek


Don’t ask me how but I somehow ended up on the AARP website the other day. In case your bones haven’t begun to calcify yet, that stands for the American Association of Retired Persons. No, I’m not actually retired myself. Who can retire in this economy? Just saying.

Actually, I do know how I landed on the site. I was reading an article on PC Magazine (which I guess is not really a magazine anymore but, whatever) about Yahoo search. Yes, there still is such a thing. According to the story, it’s really not as bad as you’d think. It’s actually a lot like Google search. Hmm … Marissa Mayer. Google. Yahoo. Go figure.

When I finished the article there were some “promoted stories” at the bottom of the page. You know, the sort of articles you have to be a moron to click on. Well, I clicked on one. It was a gallery called 11 Things You Should Never Do Again After 50.

I should have known better than to click on such a dumb headline, let alone read the article. Now I’m depressed because I can’t remember the last time I got drunk on Jell-O shots. Seriously, where has my youth gone? If you happen to find it, please keep it to yourself. It was probably nowhere near as cool as I make it out to be.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the past, which you should never do unless of course you’re desperate for inspiration. So, alas, here are 10 signs you’re an old geek.

You still say “dial” the phone. That, incidentally, is a reference to a rotary telephone. What you did was stick your index finger in one of ten numbered holes on a clear piece of plastic attached to the phone and rotated it, generating electrical pulses. Yes, I know that sounds dumb. No, there was no * or # symbol. They hadn’t been invented yet.

You remember when state-of-the-art chips had dozens of transistors. Yes, I can. The first chips I designed at Texas Instruments had hundreds and that was very exciting. For the record, Apple’s A8 processor has 2 billion transistors.

You still consider “geek” to be an insult. You cringe when you hear the term that now in fact refers to tech entrepreneurs with enormous egos, bad hair and more money than God. Also Jesus actually misspoke. What he meant to say was, “The geek shall inherit the Earth.”

You know a third meaning for the word “brick.” The first two are of course a corrupted, useless router and the material the three little pigs used to build a house that the big bad wolf couldn’t blow down. The third would be the first commercial cell phone, aka the Motorola DynaTAC, that was 10 inches long and weighed a few pounds.

You had a slide rule. Slide rules were how we solved math problems in ancient times. Some of my rich college friends sported Texas Instruments SR-10 calculators but, being on a macaroni-and-cheese budget, I didn’t have $150 to spring for a gadget that just did arithmetic. SR was actually short for “slide rule.”

You owned a $5 digital watch. Come on, tell the truth; you actually thought it was cool and that analog watches were doomed.

You reveled in the epic Steve Jobs – Bill Gates interview from the 2007 D5 conference. Not only did you watch every breathtaking second but you laughed at every inside joke, including the reference to the 128K Macintosh and the one about Apple’s hapless former CEO Gil Amelio saying, “Apple is like a ship with a hole in the bottom, leaking water, and my job is to get the ship pointed in the right direction.”

You were so sure we’d have a domed city on Mars by now. When I was a kid my folks took me to the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing where we saw a mechanical enactment of a space shuttle docking with a space station. Aside from a few moon launches, not much has changed.

You used punch cards. Back in the day before CRTs and keyboards we used decks of cards with holes punched in them (just like the name) to command and input data to mainframe computers. Punch card readers actually looked a little like the dealing shoes croupiers use in Las Vegas.

You remember when: bubble memories, home computers, superconductivity, pen computing, PDAs, Betamax, heads-up displays and Gallium Arsenide were all going to be the next big thing. And you probably played with Tinker Toys, Erector Sets and wooden blocks growing up and you still spin vinyl in your basement when nobody’s around.

Oops, that was me. Yikes.