Geek It Happened to Me

Scenes from a sci-fi convention 2: "Who let the mundane in?"

On Friday night, after helping Eric Raymond score some peanut butter cookies, a guy who looked sort of familiar approached me.

“Hey Joey, when’d you take up the accordion?”

I looked at him a little more closely, trying to figure out who this guy was. There was something familiar about the eyes…

“It’s me, Tyler!

I assumed he was Tyler from praytothemachine, but this Tyler said “I was at Mackerel.”

Mackerel was the first company I worked for after graduating from Crazy Go Nuts University. I realized who he was.

“Tyler Battle,” I said. “It’s been so long — I didn’t recognize you!”

When I last saw Tyler, about eight years ago, he was a high school student with an impressive collection of CodeWarrior T-shirts. He was sort of an intern at Mackerel. The company had a knack for taking on interns but then having no idea what to do with them. Being a responsible Chief Programmer, I took anyone with an interest in programming under my wing, because I didn’t want to see them wasting their time sitting in front of a computer with nothing to do.

“Hey,” said Tyler after a swig of Amsterdam Nut Brown Ale, “thanks for teaching me about arrays. It was useful.”

“No prob. You in programming now?”

“Yup. In fact, I go to Queen’s.” Ah, my alma mater, which I often refer to as “Crazy Go Nuts University”. It’s not just a name I lifted from Strong Bad’s Email at, it’s an apt description.

“Cool. Why’d you pick Queen’s?”

“For many reasons, including this,” he said, holding up the beer bottle.

(Queen’s is part of Canada’s ivy league, and in addition to snob value and academic excellence, it also has a reputation for being one of Canada’s biggest party schools. I enjoyed a rather extended stay at Crazy Go Nuts University.)

A guy walked up and asked me if I was the Accordion Guy.

“Yes. My name’s Joey,” I replied.

“I’m Phoenix,” he said, “and my girlfriend Deb was looking forward to meeting you, and she’s just left. Could you stay here — I think I can catch her.”

“Sure,” I said.

He ran off, and five minutes later returned with Deb, who along with Phoenix, ended up being my tour guides for the rest of the evening. Knowing that this was my first science fiction convention ever (which some of you will find very surprising), they were kind enough to explain just about everything — the differences between the various conventions, all sorts of acronyms and jargon that were unique to sci-fi cons, and the process by which a city gets selected for the World Science Fiction Convention.

At some point, we ended up in a small room where a guy was serving Purple Jesus and had a drink. A woman had just finished feeding her baby, and the cute little tyke was staring at all of us from her cradle with wide-awake eyes. Someone suggested that I play the kid a song, and I obliged with The Hokey Pokey.

At the end of the song, a guy sitting on a nearby couch wearing a police uniform from Demolition Man sat with his arm around a girl wearing a blue Starfleet uniform (blue is what science and medical officers wear, by the bye) from the 2366-2373 era of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

“Who let the mundane in?” he asked her, gesturing towards me with a motion of his head. I don’t think he meant me to hear it, but he was either drunk or perhaps one of those people who hadn’t mastered the difference between “inside voice” and “outside voice”.

Those of you who watched Babylon 5 will recognize the word “mundane” — it’s the derogatory term used by humans with psi-powers to refer to those who did not have the gift. However, the origin of the term goes farther back; all to way back to 1940, in A. E. Van Vogt’s book, Slan.

In Slan, Van Vogt created a literary archetype that lives on in various forms, from Revenge of the Nerds to the X-Men. Slans are a race of enhanced humans who have the gifts of greater intelligence and telepathy, who are feared and hated by “normal” humans for their superiority. While the book is your standard run-of-the-mill “Golden Age” sort of sci-fi, it resonated very will with science fiction fans, and no wonder: being smarter, very interested in things that other people don’t understand and shunned for those reasons, fans saw themselves in the slans. Hence the old sci-fi battle cry “Fans are slans!”

Just as black people have their fighting-back derogatory terms for white people (“ofay”, “honky” and “cracker”) and gays and lesbians have a similar sort of term for straight people (“breeder”), the slans had the term “mundane” for the “normal” humans. Fans, being slans, adopted the term for those who didn’t read or quite “get” science fiction.

I was wearing a dressy short-sleeve shirt, black tapered dress pants, kenneth Cole boots, gelled hair and cologne. Maybe I hadn’t adapted the proper speech patterns and kinesics for the venue (yes, the eye contact rules and speech patterns are different — which is why outsiders to fandom often cocktail-party-psycholoogy-diagnose them as “autistic” — you’re supposed to make as many parenthetical asides as possible, there’s a helluva lot more hand-waving, and changing your voice when mimic something else or making a point and making sound effects is strongly encouraged). I’d come in from catching up with some friends at a dance club. I had enough of the stink of mundane all over me to cause a disturbance in The Force, apparently.

At one point I jokingly remarked to Deb that “furries scared me,” using that quiet voice some people use when they admit that clowns frighten them.

“They’re good people,” said Deb, laughing.

“I keed, I keed,” I replied, using my Triumph the Insult Comic Dog voice.

“Furries scare him,” said my critic with a derisive snicker into the girl’s ear, still using the “outside voice”. Memo to girl: get your left ear checked for sound-pressure level damage on Tuesday.

The guy at the bar asked for a classic rock number and I obliged him with Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild. The chorus is at the upper end of my vocal range, and if I don’t get a good breath in before certain notes, I fail to hit them. I almost missed one of those notes, but I got great applause and hanshakes from everyone in the room. Everyone, that is except for my newfound critic.

“I don’t know what’s worse,” he said into the girl’s ear “the accordion or his singing.”

Good thing I was in a jovial mood — hey, i usually am — otherwise I’d have introduced him to the works of Ike Turner. Not his music, but his bitch-slapping.

I let it go without confronting him or using a good comeback. It wasn’t worth it, and it seemed to be not so much any malice toward me than an attempt to impress the girl and seem clever-clever with witty put-downs (or a close approximation thereof). Mostly harmless dick-waving.

But really, a fan dissing an accordion player? That’s hot pot-on-kettle action, dont you think?

Next: The view from the mundane side, or: Enter the bridal party.

Recommended Reading

The Geek Hierarchy. There’s the abridged version and the “big massive GIF” unabridged version. Lucky Cory, at the top of the hierarchy, with the power to point to a fan and say “This one amuses me. Have a rug made out of him.” Poor furries, at the bottom of the pecking order in both versions.

Vanity Fair’s March 2001 article on furries. Includes a great photo of Katharine Gates, sex therapist and author of Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex, posing with an open shirt, but tastefully covered with a plush alsatian and a handgun. May or may not be safe for work, depending on your office environment. Well, I think she’s cute.

Transcript of the MTV Sex2K segment on furries. Unfortunately this transcript is in ALL CAPS.

A heavily-linked to essay called What is Fandom?

Not quite fandom, and more a portrait of Eric S. Raymond and his circle of friends, the Portrait of J. Random Hacker gives a glimpse into geekdom, whose Venn Diagram circle has some considerable overlap with fandom.

Geek It Happened to Me

Scenes from a sci-fi convention 1: I discover ESR’s weakness

I decided to bike over to the Royal York last night (only non-locals refer to it as the Fairmont Royal York), and see what was going on at the various parties being held by attendees of the TorCon, 61st World Science Fiction Convention. I knew I was at the right place because the Royal York is a landmark with its name in illuminated latters near its top and because I saw a guy dressed up as a demon talking to another guy dressed up as Boba Fett hanging out outside the hotel.

The Royal York was once considered to be the hotel to go to (that crown now belongs to the King Eddie), and while it still maintains some of its prestige, so it’s very unusual to see its lobby bar packed with people in T-shirts with things like Red Dwarf or the character of Death from The Sandman silk-screened on them. The Fans have arrived!

It didn’t take long to find the party floors; a number of announcements and posters were posted on a board near the elevators. I went one flight up and arrived at a floor full of guys in glasses with Hawaiian shirts. I joked to myself that everyone looked like Larry Wall, creator of the Perl programming language.

Except for that guy, I thought, looking at a rather animated man in a black shirt, talking a handful of people in the hallway. He looks like Eric Raymond.

(For those of you who aren’t in computers, Eric S. Raymond, often referred to by his initials ESR, is one of the most outspoken spokespersons for open source software and current president of the Open Source Initiative.)

“…if McBride thinks he’s going to get a single penny from Linux, he’s terribly mistaken…”

Holy shit, it IS Eric Raymond.

Later that night, while nibbling on some cheese at the Kansas City “bid party” — a party where fans canvass people for votes to have a future WorldCon held in their city — Eric made inhumanly rapid epicycles around the snack table like a vulture on crystal meth. He was moving in Internet Time.

Since it is in my nature and also my job to be a goodwill ambassador and friend to programmers, especially open source ones, and most certainly the president of the Open Source Initiative, I decided to help.

“Hey, Eric,” I said, tapping on his shoulder. “What’cha lookin’ for?”

Peanut Butter Cookies!” he said with manic glee, touching his fingertips together, mad-scientist style.

I understand and sympathize. “I saw some cookies over there,” I said, pointing to a coffee table on the other end of the room that had two plates of cookies. I’d seen it earlier and thought of having one, but cookies make the Baby Atkins cry.

“All right,” said Eric, and with a burst of speed that even The Flash would envy, he made a beeline for the cookies. Woe betide anyone who was in his direct path.

Hear that, SCO and Microsoft? You devils want your Linux headaches solved? Here are four words that will allow you to plunge the world into the darkness you crave so very much with slobbering lips (and perhaps engage in some hot Sauron-on-Saruman kink afterwards):

Explosive. Peanut. Butter. Cookies.


Welcome to the Mac club, Zooko. You’re one of the cool kids now.

Last night, I helped Bryce “Zooko” Wilcox-O’Hearn — Python hacker, computer language and security aficionado and all-round sweet guy — purchase a Mac. Like me, he was hoping to get one of the 15″ G4 PowerBooks, and like me, he found out that everyone’s been out of stock for the past few months. He purchased one like mine — a 12″ G4 Powerbook with the RAM maxed out to 640 MB. I walked him through the non-UNIXy stuff over dinner at Mel’s Montreal Deli.

Zooko feels a little odd about Mac OS X, coming from the Debian world. I showed him the Terminal app and said “Here go you, BSD with tcsh as the default shell. Zooko checked for the presence of bash and was pleased to find it there.

“I’d feel safer if I installed Linux on this thing,” he said. “Maybe I can have the best of both worlds by installing Linux, and then running Mac-on-Linux to get at the cool OS X stuff.”

I kept my own counsel, deciding to let him try it out over the next couple of weeks. A lot of the hardcore end up liking using OS X as their desktop UNIX. It’s the pleasant UI, the way the hardware the integrates so well with the software and most of all, the way things just work on the Mac that inspires such loyalty. try it. You’ll like it.

My own personal take, Zooko: buying a PowerBook and putting Linux on it is like winning a gold medal and then having it bronzed.

(Hmmm. Perhaps I’d better don the flame-proof accordion. Really guys, I run Linux too.)

Welcome to the club! Your Steve Jobs idol, to be worshipped several times a day, is in the mail.

(Tyler informs me that there’s a 1GB SODIMM now available, which would put my Mac at the 1.1 GB RAM mark. I checked the price, and it’s 5 times as much as the 512MB SODIMM’s. Really maxing out the RAM would be cool, but I can wait. I need new pants and dress shirts more.)


At last, the identity of the time travel spammer is revealed

Hey, longtime readers: remember the guy who sent me time travel spam, and my response?

Wired has a story on him! It turns out that he’s the same spammer who sent me spam last month. It would appear that he’s not a prankster, but a guy who actually believes that the technology exists.

I will have to send him a fetching tinfoil chapeau for Christmas.

(Thanks to Boss Ross for the link!)


The latest controversies

There are many changes in the law going on here in the province of Ontario, Canada. Perhaps you’ve heard of the effective decriminalization of marijuana possession or perhaps of the legalization of gay marriage, both issue where there’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth from the right of the political spectrum (and filling of bongs from the left).

However, I predict that these two controversies will pale next to these two:

I get such a kick out of living in interesting times.


Hello, "Moxie" readers!

And welcome to The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century. Thanks for dropping by, and double-thanks to Moxie for linking to me as “the hot accordian [sic] guy”. It’s an honour to be linked to by my dream date blogger.

If you’ve never been here before, you might want to check out this list of what I feel are some of my better postings. (A more complete list is in the sidebar of my old blog).

Some random facts about me:

Once again, welcome to my blog!


Andy Ihnatko talks about charm

In a blog entry titled Liquid Charm Is On Backorder, And I’m #918 On The Waitlist, Andy Ihnatko has this paragraph on the problem of trying to emulate charming rogues:

But does the general male populace appreciate that Colin Farrell arrived at Charm Island only after successfully navigating some desperately long odds? Of course not. So off they go, pointedly not shaving. They start cursing during wedding receptions, appearing in public wearing a crusty vintage Harlem Globetrotters tee shirt, smoking plastic-tipped fruit-flavored cigars in restaurants and stabbing them out in the desserts of nearby patrons. Through miracle or accident, they may find themselves speaking to women; on these occasions they eagerly speak of how much time they spend vomiting during any given day. They are serenely certain that the giggles and phone numbers they receive as a result are all completely genuine.

There is a fine line that divides the rogues from the jackasses, and if you’re on the jackass side of this line, charm will obscure this fact for only so long. Charm, like any other power bestowed upon you by Fate or radioactive spider bites, should be used only for good, or perhaps to extricate yourself from sticky situations. With great charisma should come great responsibility.