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June 12, 2003

Arthur Hlavaty wonders about high-school students being urged to be “well-rounded.”
I’m proud to be a geek. I get more and more tired of the apotheosis of well-roundedness, whether it’s Heinlein’s list of all the things a person should be able to do to be considered human, or saying that people who are “too” interested in something “have too much free time.” The British Pocket Essentials Guide to Conspiracy Theories says, “Trainspotter and anorak are terms media representatives use for people who have a longer attention span than they do.” Geekery is a form of division of labor, which is what got humanity to the moderate amount of civilization we have now; it’s a negentropic factor that is as natural as entropy.
What he said. Particularly the part about declaring that anyone who accompishes something odd and time-consuming has “too much free time,” a bit of by-the-numbers humor that stopped being funny after the first several hundred iterations. [06:49 PM]
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Comments on Arthur Hlavaty:

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 07:00 PM:

I believe I first encountered a good arguument against "too much free time" here on Electrolite.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 07:32 PM:

I must have too much free time; this is the second topic I got the first word in on today. (Actually, I'm waiting for a series of scheduled events to succeed or fail, and since I don't have any memos to read or write . . .)

Arthur sets up a false dichotomy:

You can be a geek AND well rounded in terms of skills, knowledge, and interests.

In fact, your average geek is probably more well-rounded than average. (Joke about high lipid fraction of sterotypical geeks deleted.)

The difference isn't specialization, it's _intensity_. An outside observer might assume that "all he's interested in is ____" and imagine a lonely and deprived existence revolving around one obsession.

High school students SHOULD be urged to be well rounded in terms of their practical skills. (I was going to suggest typing as an example, because it is a skill that almost no guys took when I went to school. But I suspect that schools have got it by now, and teach all kids to 'keyboard.') The job market is too fluid for specialization that early in the game.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 08:47 PM:

But the "well rounded" trope is often used as a hammer to beat up people who would rather just spend time on something they find interesting.

The job market is too fluid for specialization that early in the game.

Oh, nonsense. Do you really mean to tell me that the skills one develops by following a passion are universally untransferable to other fields of endeavor?

Aaron Bergman ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 08:59 PM:

As I remember it, the idea that colleges want well-rounded people is largely out of date (a myth?). Well-rounded types with good grades and tons of extracurriculars are a dime a dozen. I don't have a source on me, but I think the general thing that colleges want is a broad base and a specific direction in which a student has put a lot of effort.

Or something like that.

Stephanie Zvan ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 09:14 PM:

As a serial obsessor, I can't really comment on whether knowledge is better deep or broad. I only found out what I wanted to do by trying enough things that I could find out which ones didn't get boring when they got easy(ier).

But I have noticed that the same people whose eyes go wide and who go a little quiet when I show some evidence of deep geekery are often the people who can quote advertising jingles for hours at a time, or who will debate endlessly, say, who was the best of Charlie's Angels. Or they're the people who know who had their good year when and on which team. Heck, they're the people who know who announced for which team when.

If I had watched TV endlessly as a child (or an adult) or was rooting for the "home team," no one would even notice. Flash a little grammar or make someone's computer do what they want it to do, though...

Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 09:46 PM:

The best defense I've read for being a geek is in Sarah Vowell's last book, "Partially Cloudy Patriot". I'm paraphrasing here, because I lent out my original copy, and two subsequent ones, and therefore don't have it at hand, but in essence her argument is that feeling passionate about something is a positive thing, and that all of the most interesting people she's met have something that they feel passionate about. This is different from having no interests apart from learning Klingon-- it is about caring deeply about something that rewards the attention. An instrument, a language, literature, a political belief. It is possible to be so wrapped up in something that one becomes one dimensional (Ralph Nader comes to mind) but I'd have to say that for the most part, I find that the people who are the most passionate about the things that they do are the most well-rounded, because their passion illuminates everything else that they do. The media artists that I work with at Squeaky Wheel, for example, are much better informed about politics than most of the "well rounded" lawyers and judges I meet.

vfc ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 10:44 PM:

"He was possessed of a very large fortune, and could have done whatever he wanted. What he chose to do was dissect barnacles under the microscope, day in day out for eight years. This is not a choice that many of us would have made in the circumstances. We, but not he, are fritterers."

I found this quote off of aldaily, from a review of "Darwin and the Barnacle".

It seemed apropos [sp?] to the discussion.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 02:14 AM:

Then again, I really wish I'd gotten some decent arts education much earlier than I did. I don't trust narrow education; it's too often an excuse for inadequate education. And some help with some of the issues that have come out during graduate school much earlier in my life would probably have made me a much happier person.

Ah, well. I AM GRADUATING WITH MY M. ARCH! It took too damn long, but I think it's been worth it.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 02:43 AM:

"Oh, nonsense. Do you really mean to tell me that the skills one develops by following a passion are universally untransferable to other fields of endeavor?"

Depends on the passion, doesn't it? It's entirely possible in this day and age to get wrapped up in an involving passion that's, well, heavily mediated and sterile. If all a kid wants to do is hammer away at his Playstation, or watch the same TV series or read the same set of books over and over . . . I just don't see much coming out of these.

I'd contrast these with puttering about in a garden, messing with cars, or costuming, many sports, building BattleBots, my own hobby -- model rocketry, writing for the school paper (or, heck, any excuse for writing).

"I don't trust narrow education; it's too often an excuse for inadequate education."

Word. My point: the "narrowing" can can from without (crappy schools, tracking), or from within, by a kid who feels overwhelmed or is unmotivated.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 03:59 AM:

Stefan, you were talking about practical skills, and job markets, and specializations, not about hobbies.

But anyway, I don't think I know anyone who does the things you describe, and I know a hell of a lot of nerdy people. I know people who play video games, and also review them, and design new levels for them, and program new items for them, and and create new skins for them. I know people who are devoeted to a particular set of books or TV show, and who write fanfic for it, or do artwork based on it. They sometimes get involved in conventions. Writing, art, programming, social and organizational skills, you can get decently well-rounded on that.

I don't know anybody who actually does nothing but play Playstation, or read one set of books, or watch one TV show over and over, but I know quite a few people who might look like they're doing that, to people for whom those activities are sufficiently strange that they don't notice what else the kids are doing.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 06:45 AM:

Oh dear.

I work corporate, and I think quite a bit of the backash against what is being portrayed as dilletantism is a nagging sense of inferiority with a few shovelsful of dirt on it. I keep bumping into people (from Very Good Schools, mind you) who know _absolutely nothing_ their boss doesn't know as a matter of strategic yupward mobility. I suspect sometimes they didn't read anything in college just in case they might get a more than usually ignorant boss.

Conversation at work:

me: The British Museum was amazing. They have so much great stuff that the Rosetta Stone is with the other stuff in its historical period by a stairwell. Can you imagine? In an american museum they'd have a hologram of it over the entrance.

coworker: What's the Rosetta Stone?

me: blablablademoticblahieroglyphicsblablagreekblablablablablba

coworker: How do you know all this stuff?

me: I had no life as a child so I read a lot. [parenthetically, I have witnesses for this part

coworker: You know too much.

Hands before god. Not edited a bit. And this is a _friendly_ coworker. I went to her wedding a few months ago.

Thank god for marketable skills is all I can say.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 06:58 AM:

Far worse than unfamiliarity with the Rosetta Stone is the meme that reading a lot as a child is a function of "having no life." I'm not saying this to dump on you, Julia--I've been in that conversation and I've found myself saying similarly apalling things to cover up my own embarrassment for the ignorance of others. But there are kids out there right now taking shit because of this idea.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 08:45 AM:

I don't feel as if you're dumping on me - I was just so staggered that it popped out. You're right, of course. I need to take that out of my rhetorical slushpile.

We did go on to talk a bit about egyptian history, and she seemed to be enjoying it, so I told her that what was so great about history was that it was just like gossip but with better stories and nobody gets hurt when you repeat them (for various reasons I thought that was the best approach in with this particular person) and she seemed to be struck by the idea so maybe I've made a convert...

It did bring up an interesting thought, though, when we were talking about how the pharoahs, as far as we (I, at least) know, pioneered the concept of disappearing people from the historical record, and how later the British disappeared a lot of stuff about them, and something struck me about the whole Cleopatra debate - I don't think that the later Pharoahs of her dynasty were nearly inbred enough for the amount of inbreeding that went on, particularly when you look at what happened to the european royal families with a lower level of consanguinity.

Does anyone ever question whether those children where actually all descendants of the royal matches? I've never read anything about the way that they do business that would make me think that it's impossible that they substituted healthy children that the pharoah begot with less royal women for the heirs if the heirs were born too genetically damaged to function or even live.

I don't much care about Cleopatra - honestly, I don't see why so many people want to lay claim to her - but it seems a bit counterintuitive to me that no-one ever questions whether the strictly direct descent of the pharoahs wasn't another shot at historical revisionism.

Lois ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 10:17 AM:

13 comments on Friday the 13th? Quick, add number 14 fast!

Seriously, I've been known to call myself "well-rounded", partly as a humorous reference to the extra pounds I've put on. But I do know a little about a lot of things (comes in handy as a reference librarian!) and a lot about some. It impresses many people. I've also been told that it intimidates some people. It doesn't stop me, though: I like learning new stuff!

When I was in college I worked a bit on a campaign for someone who was running for Pittsburgh City Council. One of the things she felt might be a issue was that she had a Ph.D. (I forget in what; this was 30 years ago), which might strike some people as overspecialized, but she pointed out that it meant that she knew how to learn things.

Meanwhile, look at our current "president," who has an MBA. A degree in management. And many CEOs of major companies also have MBAs. But management of what? Of anything? Are management skills really that interchangeable, from industry to industry and from industry to government? I sometimes wonder if that's part of the problem with the economy -- the emphasis is more on managing than on what's being managed. Do we need managers or do we need steelmakers or computer geeks or librarians or (insert name of specialty in whatever industry)? Do we need managers or leaders?

Many people overspecialize. Maybe most people do. They focus very narrowly on what's useful to them, and ignore or forget things they have no reason to think they may ever have use for. It's not necessarily the educations system's fault. A lot of people have no idea what the Rosetta Stone is, even though they probably heard about it in school. It's one of the things they forgot as soon as the test for that grading period was over, because they never thought they'd need that information again. "It's ancient history" is another one of those tropes. To some of us it means, "This is 5000 years old! Wow!", but to other people it means, "So what good is it now?" It may (or may not) have come back to bite us in the bum in the recent Iraqi war, but "it's ancient history" may be the main reason why a lot of Americans couldn't really care about the pillaging of the Iraqi museums and libraries.

To paraphrase Proverbs, there's a time for generalizing and a time for specializing. There's a time for just sitting back and knowing what other people know and doing what others do, and a time to learn and do something new and different. The trick is knowing which to do when.

Or, as Arthur put it, "Geekery is a form of division of labor", and that's the division I find I've enlisted in.

Off to war!

(P.S. Julia: You saw the Rosetta Stone! Wow!Cool!)

Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 11:11 AM:

I have mixed feelings about well-roundedness. On one hand, I had to do a fair amount of stuff at school that I found really hateful; on the other hand, I still get envious when I hear people talking about USAn university courses that let you do things from all sorts of areas, I spent quite a bit of time as an undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin wishing I could have audited a course or two from the Joyce/Beckett mafia in the English department instead of doing all science all the time; on the other hand again, I'm damn glad not to have had to do any coursework during my PhD.

And where all this has left me, at thirty, is with a skill set that maybe a dozen people in the world share, in a field where I got lucky enough that it got really big at the right time - there are piles of people around now with the same sort of background and experience on the biology/computing interface I had three to five years ago, but I have that time advantage. Of the people who do have those skills, I get the strong feeling that most of them are happy to work five times as hard for three times as much money, and not many of them are interested in the sort of quiet sitting in the corner developing stuff thing I want to do. I'm not sure what the moral of this story is; feeding your obsessions can get you into a position where you don't have to do the really hard things like people stuff ? It's worked for me.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 11:15 AM:

That's Ecclesiastes, not Proverbs.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 11:57 AM:

Oops. Alan, you're right; it's Ecclesiastes 3. I knew I should have looked it up but I was in the middle of a rant and didn't want to stop!

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 12:02 PM:

Stefan: There are various degrees of well-rounded. I, for instance, straddle the supposed line between mathematical and verbal. What I'm complaining about is the insistence on playing for the team and participating in the puppet government. Actually, though, I wish I'd gone along with the gag and learned to touch-type in high school.

Aaron: This is what the high schools in the rich suburbs are telling their students, and I would assume they know what they're talking about.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 12:13 PM:

OK - I'm a bit of a newbie here, but here I go head first without checking the depth of the water...

It's possible to be both well rounded and a geek, and both goals need to be encouraged and supported in our children. I, too, am one of those people who will sometimes slip and say something that reveals a co-worker's ignorance. Thankfully, I've been fortunate enough to have been surrounded mostly by people who saw these moments as a chance to learn, not a chance to be stupid. (There's something to be said for having been a non-lawyer at a law firm.)

As a child, I had two real academic passions, math and foreign language. Well, knowing what I know now, linguistics probably would have been the thing for me. Unfortunately, no one was there to tell me that I could do this (including advisors at Bronx Science - great teachers, great students, crappy guidance). Instead I got packed of to engineering school (with "why don't you think about pre-med" ringing in my ears) carrying the lower-middle class striver's burden. I hated it and dropped out. So much for force-fed geekdom.

Many years later, I finished my degree. In the process, I took several literature classes and German, both of which I loved. Then I quit my job and got an MBA. Yes, an MBA, the most general of graduate degrees, except perhaps for "interdisciplinary studies." I found the same mix of well-rounded geeks and know-nothings that I found in my workplaces. By and large, the know-nothings just wanted their ticket punched and the geeks really wanted to learn some problem solving techniques, which is what B-school is really all about.

I have to offer Lois the response that we need BOTH managers and steelmakers, and that really good steelmakers are often (usually) the wrong people to manage a steel plant. I've seen many good companies run onto the rocks because engineers and technicians were playing manager, and they became blinded in their attachment to a particular product or business model and couldn't react to change. (Remember Wang Computer? Great product in it's day, but they never caught on to the whole distributed computing model, so they dried up and blew away, taking billions of dollars of value with them.)

So, how do we deal with the militant know-nothings in our daily lives? I see three options - Teach, Ignore or Subvert. And subversion is easier than you might suppose.

And as for me, I landed as an independent marketing consultant. While it's far from formal, a lot of what I do could be considered applied linguistics. Plus I get to use my analysis skills. And my clients pay me to be smart, and while I need to be sensitive to their feelings, they expect me to surprise, challenge and educate them. Not a bad gig for someone that society tried to make into an "anorak."

Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 12:33 PM:

Avram wrote:

"I don't know anybody who actually does nothing but play Playstation, or read one set of books, or watch one TV show over and over, but I know quite a few people who might look like they're doing that, to people for whom those activities are sufficiently strange that they don't notice what else the kids are doing."

That incomprehension is familiar to every writer confronted by someone (sometimes, unfortunately, a significant other) who does not understand or want to believe that just sitting and staring at the computer monitor (or blank piece of paper, cuneiform tablet, whatever) is part (sometime a significant part) of writing.

As far as well-rounded goes, I've noticed a progression of attitude at some places where I've worked, from being called "Mr. Trivia" to being the person people come to for answers on (to them) obscure topics. Sometimes not, too, but I don't care. I've finally decided it's fun living in this particular brain/lumber-room/attic/antique store, and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

Geek pride, anyone?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 01:28 PM:

Avram wrote:

"I don't know anybody who actually does nothing but play Playstation, or read one set of books, or watch one TV show over and over, but I know quite a few people who might look like they're doing that, to people for whom those activities are sufficiently strange that they don't notice what else the kids are doing."

Hey, give me some credit. I'm am *deeply geeky.* I embrace my nerditude. Ask Julia, she's my cousin.

I not only am a geek, I observe them. What I'm suggesting is that there's a difference between a young person using an interest as an enabling tool (fan fic, writing levels) and one who tunes out and ends up marginalized.

I suggest that the latter need some prodding. I sure as hell could have used some. I wish I spent less time reading SF in high school and more time taking challenging math courses. And DANG, I was in "track three" English courses, with the moves-lips-while-reading crowd, because I was a distracted slacker.

Arthur notes:
"What I'm complaining about is the insistence on playing for the team and participating in the puppet government."

I'm with your there. But, dang, even then I wish geeks would do more to learn the Ways of the Normals, if only out of self-defense.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 03:50 PM:

To paraphrase Proverbs, there's a time for generalizing and a time for specializing. There's a time for just sitting back and knowing what other people know and doing what others do, and a time to learn and do something new and different. The trick is knowing which to do when.

I apologize, Lois, but as a Preacher's Kid, I'm required to do this:

You mean Ecclesiastes, not Proverbs.

(In particular, you mean Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, but I had to look that part up. It's been a very long time since I was a Christian, but one never does recover from being a PK)

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 04:00 PM:

I have been wondering what role class plays in the arguments about a well-rounded education. I believe that in the 19th century, a gentleman's education included esoteric subjects such as the classics and philosophy, whereas the education of teachers, ministers, nurses, and other working people was focused primarily on practical matters. The colleges and universities of the US have been used as a class-eraser for some time, now.

How does the concept of a liberal arts education tie into the concept of class, and the attempt to eliminate class? I don't know, I just think there's probably some connection. I also wonder if there's any empirical proof of the claim that a person with a BA is more flexible, and a greater asset in the workplace, than someone with a BS, that a liberal arts education better equips young people for life.

Allow me to say that I fundamentally do not understand the concept of class. Maybe it's because I grew up betwixt and between, maybe it's because I'm an American, maybe it's because I never studied Marx, I don't know. However, arguments about class seem to make sense for a while, and then they suddenly become slippery in my hands, and all the logic squirts out. I am not attempting to express any strong opinions on this, I don't have any. I hope someone else does, though.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 05:00 PM:

in re: Stefan, I have to reveal that when he took the geek quiz, he came out as a geek liaison (a non-geek who could translate for fellow normals).

Trust me, though, he's a geek. I decided there was something wrong with the test.

The Rosetta Stone is astonishing. The pictures/models/mouse pads don't do it justice.

Larry, I went to Stuy. I've always felt that we were the lucky ones, spending our adolescences in one of the few places where we ruled.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 05:06 PM:

This should prove it:


(Big file, guest appearance by Buddy Lee, Jr.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 05:14 PM:

I had to dig for this, and I apologize for the length, but it's worth it:

Bruce Sterling's over-the-top rant on Geeks in art and literature.

'We're not into science fiction because it's *good literature,* we're into it because it's *weird*. Follow your weird, ladies and gentlemen. Forget trying to pass for normal. Follow your geekdom. Embrace your nerditude. In the immortal words
of Lafcadio Hearn, a geek of incredible obscurity whose work is still in print after a hundred years, "woo the muse of the odd." A good science fiction story is not a "good story" with a polite whiff of rocket fuel in it. A good science fiction story is something that knows it is science fiction and plunges through that and comes roaring out of the other side. Computer entertainment should not be more like movies, it shouldn't be more like books, it should be more like computer entertainment, SO MUCH MORE LIKE COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT THAT IT RIPS THROUGH THE LIMITS AND IS SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE!

'I don't think you can last by meeting the
contemporary public taste, the taste from the last
quarterly report. I don't think you can last by following demographics and carefully meeting expectations. I don't know many works of art that last that are condescending. I don't know many works of art that last that are deliberately stupid. You may be a geek, you may have geek
written all over you; you should aim to be one geek
they'll never forget. Don't aim to be civilized. Don't hope that straight people will keep you on as some kind of pet. To hell with them; they put you here. You should fully realize what society has made of you and take a terrible revenge. Get weird. Get way weird. Get dangerously weird. Get sophisticatedly, thoroughly weird and don't do it halfway, put every ounce of horsepower you have behind it. Have the artistic *courage* to recognize your own significance in culture!

'Okay. Those of you into SF may recognize the classic rhetoric of cyberpunk here. Alienated punks, picking up computers, menacing society.... That's the cliched press story, but they miss the best half. Punk into cyber is interesting, but cyber into punk is way dread. I'm into technical people who attack pop culture. I'm into techies
gone dingo, techies gone rogue -- not street punks
picking up any glittery junk that happens to be within their reach -- but disciplined people, intelligent people, people with some technical skills and some rational thought, who can break out of the arid prison that this society sets for its engineers. People who are, and I quote, "dismayed by nearly every aspect of the world
situation and aware on some nightmare level that the solutions to our problems will not come from the breed of dimwitted ad-men that we know as politicians." Thanks, Brenda! [Brenda Laurel]

'That still smells like hope to me....

'You don't get there by acculturating. Don't become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull. Become a thoroughly spiky person. Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a pufferfish. If you want to woo the muse of the odd, don't read Shakespeare. Read Webster's revenge plays. Don't read Homer and Aristotle. Read Herodotus where he's off talking about Egyptian women having public sex with goats.
If you want to read about myth don't read Joseph Campbell, read about convulsive religion, read about voodoo and the Millerites and the Munster Anabaptists. There are hundreds of years of extremities, there are vast legacies of mutants. There have always been geeks. There will always be geeks. Become the apotheosis of geek. Learn
who your spiritual ancestors were. You didn't come here from nowhere. There are reasons why you're here. Learn those reasons. Learn about the stuff that was buried because it was too experimental or embarrassing or inexplicable or uncomfortable or dangerous.'



natasha ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 07:18 PM:

Gosh (brushes tear), I've never been so proud to be a geek.

It seems that a distinction could be made between additional subjects studied for the sake of ticking off a box on a checklist and additional subjects studied in relation to each other. I'm hoping, for example, that I'll be able to get into a class next spring that's microeconomics and ecology taught together as an exploration of the intersection of these. Otherwise, taking another quarter of econ might seem a little tedious, but the context makes all the difference.

A random assortment of rote facts is boring and useless. Facts put into context of each other become an interesting narrative about the Way Things Work. Too much K-12 teaching is rote, and it fosters and feeds the 'do I need to know this for the test' mentality. You may want to cultivate a laser focus when trying to do well for some particular knowledge measurement event, but that mindset should be the special case.

You've probably all read the Programmer's Stone site, but if you haven't, it's interesting.

It's kind of hard sometimes to function in environments where a geek may feel that they have to apologize for even their vocabulary. But then, on other occasions, you get to hang out with people who pepper their conversations freely with both sci-fi and greek mythology references. And then you know: It's all worth it.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 07:32 PM:

An outstanding Sterling rant. I'd seen it before, but Stefan is right, it's pertinent.

(And I certainly take the photo as evidence.)

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 09:59 PM:

Over my life, I've tried different ways of "blending in." Fortunately, I've managed to cultivate both a friendly disposition and the type of friends who, although they may not always understand what I'm saying, shrug and smile and say, "Well, that's Rachel."

My hubby, unlike some of these affectionate but confused friends, participates with me in esoterica (much to our mutual delight.)

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 09:59 PM:
"Across the flatlands 
   we came out of nowhere special
Like a peasant revolution,
   makeshift weapons in our hands
We crashed the gates so hard 
   we'd never heard that kind of sound before
And braced ourselves for victory 
   and the spoils of the land
Defences melt away before 
   our frozen blank surprise
From the palace now we stare 
   into a million waiting eyes
"When I was young they taught me well 
  to always play to win
 But they never said what happens 
  when you've won the bloody game!
Justin Sullivan

Y'know, HTML needs a <poem> tag. And I don't want to be a successful geek, myself--I want to be successful, and for me that means knowing more than just one thing very well.

Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2003, 04:02 AM:

Focusing on this geek stuff is the intellectual equivalent of Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage. (If you don't know it, a good explanation is at http://www.calus.org/articles/economics/0027.htm )

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2003, 10:13 AM:

The Ricardo link is interesting, although I think (through a cold) that it falls down if each tribe is best (in its own ranking at the same task -- maybe the explainer missed this, or maybe it's reasonable to assume that in the real world the hierarchies (and the numbers of tribes) are large enough that my case doesn't hold.

wrt the original discussion, I've long been fond of

...I don't believe there are two cultures; there is only culture and non-culture. A person who knows all about the plays of Aristophanes and nothing about the Second Law of Thermodynamics is as uncultured as one who has mastered quantum theory but thinks Von Gogh painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel.
Arthur C. Clarke, in the forward to his anthology Time Probe: The Sciences in Science Fiction.

Which is why I was massively pleased when Harvard reworked its "Core Curriculum" to require much more spread-out study outside one's major, specifically including rudimentary computer programming; too many people I ran into needed to learn that there are some parts of the universe that you can't beg, bribe, threaten, flatter, cajole, or persuade to do what you want unless you do what the universe requires. (Let's not get into the people who confuse what they want with what the universe requires; we don't need another round on "The Cold Equations".)

Unfortunately, "culture" is another of those words that's been (re?)hijacked by the Right and/or the self-distinguishing upper class; but there is some point to well-roundedness(not that I'm convinced schools can teach it...), not to be uniform but to have some substance to hold together the spikes (which I thought I saw mentioned in a previous post and now can't find); "well-rounded" shouldn't mean "perfectly spherical", even if too much of the population is deeply suspicious of the wizards who actually have their hands on the levers of the universe (or at least seem to know where the levers are).

Larry Brennan is significantly right; I worked for a company where engineering overdrove marketing (they provided LISP for customers who wantd to customize the product, which (borrowing a friend's observation) is a little like publishing user manuals in Basque -- you need a different world view to start to make sense of it) and subsequently for a company where marketing overdrove engineering. But often the pure manager or pure engineer is at a disadvantage next to the person who is some of each; the bridge controls the communications, the horizontal, the vertical.... (And bridges can be necessary even within engineering; my first job for a computer company was speaking Chemish to programmers.)

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2003, 07:20 PM:

"...I don't believe there are two cultures; there is only culture and non-culture."

I like John Brockman's spin on this idea. He's pushing The Third Culture: