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Pretty Good Hat

What's Your Thing?

Recently I was having a beer with a friend from work and he asked, “So, what’s your thing? What are you really into?” It was a provocative question because he and I have worked together for several years and have a pretty good relationship, so the idea that he wouldn’t know much about what makes me tick sort of took me by surprise. It really made me pause.

He’s a board game guy, like a level 18 board game geek. Once every few months I make it to his place on a Saturday afternoon to play some games with him and a handful of others. I’m mostly casual; they’re pretty hardcore, like the guy with a remarkably elaborate packing system for his Arkham Horror sets,1 which is totally okay, just not so much my thing.

So despite being really into plenty of things, I paused when asked. My coworkers don’t really see that much of my non-work life and interests; despite believing in sharing and celebrating nerdy enthusiasms, turns out I’m not a really big sharer, myself. I’m quiet; it shouldn’t surprise me that having worked with someone for a few years, he wouldn’t really know what I dig.

I might have gushed: I’m into hobby coding, programming tiny things only for myself, blogging and online communities, all things internet and sometimes the internet of things, personal web pages, twitter and tinkering with APIs. I’m an IT guy, and I work with deeply IT people of various kinds, yet many of the things that feel to me to be such natural elements of being into computers for so long, growing up with them and working with/on/around them — like twitter, blogging, and RSS feeds full of nerds — just aren’t resonant with most of them, or at least most of the folks I spend most of my time working with.

I told him about my network visualization, which required a brief visit to first principles: Here’s a bunch of people who put up tilde web pages; oh, a tilde page is this convention for home pages; home pages are something I’m into. Then I gave an explanation of what the network graph shows and why I would think it might be cool enough to spend several weekend evenings tinkering with, and a quick demo on the screen of my iPhone. Not sure he got it, though. On a cool exercise in parsing XML to produce a map of beer styles, Gabe Weatherhead nicely sums up the impulse to do this kind of thing: “It’s not super-useful. But, then again, this was never about the problem. It was always about the problem solving.”

Over at But She’s a Girl I find some familiar thoughts about being too much geek (or perhaps, really, about being a different sort of geek among other geeks):

That — in a nutshell — is why this blog is a lifeline for me. Many of you are fellow geeks and share my enthusiasm for ridiculously geeky things like building documents with embedded statistical output. You are my kind of people. Plus, on the internet, I can’t see the eyes of those of you who are not interested in geeky things glazing over with boredom and despair as you read this.

Yes. And while I share the notion that this online space is a lifeline, one of the things I want to do for myself this year2 is to be more open and expressive about the things I enjoy, in order to find more local community and friendship in it.

  1. Spoiler from my Arkham Horror experience: Ninety minutes of setup followed by thirty minutes for the party be wiped out by Nameless Horrors. ↩︎

  2. And something that I wrote about in an unfinished thing that might still become a blog post, somewhere. ↩︎