Sunday, April 26, 2009

Two Geeks

A month or so after starting this blog, I was curious whether it would
be indexed by Google. The settings indicated it would.

A bit to my surprise, I discovered there are *two* sites called the
well-rounded geek on The only difference is that the
other one isn't hyphenated. Not my grammatical preference, but by
today's standards, acceptable usage.

Kind of a shock, there, blogspot. I've signed up with lots of other
services, sites, vendors, etc., and they never let me take a name that
was already taken. Guess I just assumed the same would apply to the
title I gave my blog.

My daughter took a light-hearted poke at the other geek, saying,
"Don't worry mom, his idea of being well rounded is probably something
like knowing *both* C and Java."

At any rate, I apologize abjectly to the other geek for treading on
his territory. Hopefully we will complement each other and do our best
to raise all geeks to well roundedness.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Geeks and Sports

Our society values sports. There are a lot of good reasons. Sports
teach teamwork. It is fun to be a member of a team or to root for one.
Sports help keep you physically active and healthy. They teach you
to follow rules and to play fairly. They give you an avenue for
competition. People who excel at sports become role models.

It is also obvious that many see sports as a civilized form of
warfare. When well played, a game has all the advantages given
above. When played badly, bodies and egos get bruised. Many geeks have
experienced the shame of being picked last for the team because they
are viewed as less physically "talented" than their mates.

What is physical talent, and is it really important? For any given
game, certain skills or physical attributes are useful. For example,
in baseball, it is ability to throw a fastball, to sprint, and to
catch fly balls. In basketball, being tall is an advantage, because
the basket is 10 feet from the ground. But people have been getting
taller, so perhaps that advantage is shrinking. In Tae Kwon Do, the
flexibility to kick somebody in the head is pretty important. A fifth
dan black belt who breaks five bricks just doesn't seem human! For
sports, physical talent seems important. Hard work goes a way toward
physical improvement, but talent is just something you're born with.

We don't really need physical talent to be physically healthy. Average
flexibility is plenty for routine tasks, and you are rarely called
upon to do the splits at work. Your body stays happy if you just walk
half an hour a day. In fact, working your body too hard leads to
untimely wear and tear, stress, and injuries. Any Pilates teacher will
emphasize that you should build a strong "core" but teaches you to
move about as effortlessly as possible. Pilates was originally
developed for rehabilitating injured dancers but is widely popular for
maintaining general fitness. Competition is discouraged.
So, we see this disconnect between physical talent and physical
health. We want both, of course. But if we want to participate in
sports, what's to be done if we don't have the former? Enquiring geeks
want to know.


1. Consider a sport that can be done either alone or on a team. A good
example is bicycling. You can start out by riding to work alone and
then work your way up to riding a multiday tour. Or, if you want to
try racing, you can enter time trials, where the competition is
against the clock or against your personal best. If your personal
best looks competitive, you can try a triathlon. If to your
surprise you find that you actually have some talent (and a good
VO2max ratio), you can try team racing.

2. If you want to take up a sport, first find out what the average
timeline is for reaching the desired level. You might have more
patience if you knew that high-level karate black belts have been
working on their technique for 15 years or more. It is likely they
weren't born with talent but with much work, perseverance, and five
years, they learned how to kick. Or, you may decide to pursue
another sport that requires a lower learning curve.

3. Balance your sport with some "healthy lifestyle"-enhancing
activities such as hiking, yoga, Pilates, vegetarian cooking, or
meditation. These will help improve your ability to focus on your
vision for yourself (both on the field and at work) as well as to
relax and recondition you. Don't forget to stretch. Hey, keep

4. Don't spread yourself too thin. Professional golfers know they get
better by swinging a golf club. Bikers have to put in the
miles. Most don't try to do three sports in hopes of making
themselves better bikers. Weight lifting may be complementary, but
I'd put it in the category of item #3.

5. Cut yourself some slack in the self-esteem department. Many geeks
are actually in very good shape; they've just never had the
opportunity to compete either in a team or solo sport. If you've
been bullied or just don't like the war-like aspects of sports,
note that seeking some sort of success in sports will be rewarded
in our society. It's called "looking for love in all the wrong

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Geek Personality

If you work for a company of any size, the day will come when you have
to go to a "retreat." Uh, oh. A session of touchy-feely and bonding?
There's wa-ay too much work to get done without having to attend one
of these.

I've attended retreats of various kinds: (1) the one where the big
boss wants to show off his superstars (yawn), (2) the kind where you
try to map out your plans for the next six months (useful), and (3)
the kind where you engage in "exercises" aimed at improving your

One of the latter that I attended administered the Meyers-Briggs
personality test. I found this somewhat eye-opening. I work for a
large government-sponsored research lab. The scientists are top dog
here, and computer types do their best to support the noble
research. The scientists had taken the Meyers-Briggs earlier and had a
large preponderance of one personality type: INTJ. When the computing
division took the same test, surprisingly we had a similar ratio of
the same type.

Well, I guess this makes us all compatible. Of course every
personality type has its strengths and weaknesses. INTJ stands for
Introverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging. [See article by Marina
Margaret Heiss at]

My spouse, who is also a software engineer, is innately suspicious of
these personality tests, putting them in the same category as
horoscopes. Admittedly, there are only 16 personality types in the
Meyers-Briggs, not many more choices than the 12 signs of the
Zodiac. However, the fact that 65% of my company's scientists and
engineers are INTJs seems to warrant a look.

INTJs apparently project an air of certainty and are
perfectionists. They are logical and creative. So what's not to like?
Apparently they can be ruthlessly critical of people they think aren't
pulling their weight and don't respect authority. So, it sounds like
people respect them but they don't necessarily like them. Sort of rings
true when the science budget hits Congress, doesn't it?

Luckily (or unluckily), I'm not an INTJ. I'm an ENTJ. So, my
introversion component skews a bit to the extroversion side. I think
that means I care what people think of me. Snap!

But it also means I share a lot with the INTJs at work and can hold my
own. One of my goals will be to help educate geeks so they can be more
ENTJ. After all, this is the perfect personality type. [joke]

Seriously, my personality type wants to lead the world to a better
place. But, unlike Jean-Luc Picard, I know it takes more than to just
say to the INTJs, "Make it so." I think INTJs have everything they
need to succeed, but they just need to work at being
well-rounded. Then, they will have the tools and techniques they need
to communicate effectively with everyone, and together we can help
make a difference.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Renaissance Geekiness

The ideal of the "Renaissance Man" has been around since, well, the
Renaissance. As recently as 25 years ago, college students were
encouraged (and required) to take a mixture of arts and sciences
electives so that their education would produce well-rounded
individuals prepared to learn almost any profession. As the world
grows increasingly complex, however, particularly in the area of
technology and science, the tendency has been to specialize in a
particular area and to do it at an earlier age. Few can claim to be
Jack of All Trades. On the artistic side, the number of choices has
exploded in areas such as music, television, and the Internet. Thus,
it becomes less likely at the office that you and a co-worker share
many experiences or tastes in common. Your best friend may be someone
you've never met, although you converse daily electronically.

While technically savvy people are admired for their brains, they are
often labelled as "geeks." Being called a geek can be taken as a
source of personal pride, marked with a high level of individual
achievement. Sure, Albert Einstein had some problems, but his genius
was celebrated. The stereotypical geek is used to figuring out things
on his or her own, not as a team member.

Yet an appreciation for varied interests and values is crucial in
advancing social justice and economic prosperity. The ability to
empathize and communicate with people from all walks of life is a
valuable asset. Cultivating the ability to learn from history and to
plan together for our children's future is enlightening.

I hope to expose our beloved geeks to some wholesome
character-building virtues, recognizing and minimizing weaknesses, and
reminding them of their already formidable strengths. Whether you are
a geek or you are mentoring a geek-in-the-making, effort spent on
becoming more well-rounded and on teaching others how to do it can
lead to personal benefits as well as increasing the degree to which
society values your contributions.

Of course, I will also post about events that are impacting my life,
plus reviews of music, movies, heroes, and books. Gotta stay