- Me and Computers
- Me and Video Games
- Me and Anime
- Me and Comic Books and Manga
- Me and Board, War, Card and Role-Playing Games
- Me and Books, Movies, Music and Television
Most geeks I know are obsessive about one or two hobbies. For instance, most anime fans are not also computer experts and vice versa. I think of myself as a renaissance geek. My interests and knowledge cover a wide swath of geek hobbies, and I will share with you my experience and credentials in each area. But not before we cover the basics.
My real name is Scott Rubin. I was born in 1982 in Queens, New York USA. My family moved to Trumbull, Connecticut when I was too young to remember, and I spent my entire childhood there. I attended Middlebrook Elementary, Madison Middle and Trumbull High schools. During the summers I attended various summer camps and later became a camp counselor in addition to some other part-time jobs.
Judging by my name and birth location you may have guessed at my Jewish heritage. During high school I was a proud member of Gottlieb AZA #2196 of the Connecticut Valley Region B’nai Brith Youth Organization(BBYO). And in the summer of 2000, right before I left for college, I went on a BBYO 28-day adventure trip to Israel. Despite this very Hebrew resume I actually consider myself to be only an ethnic Jew, not a religious one. That means I enjoy the culture and the people, but I do not subscribe to the idea of a single omnipotent and omniscient deity. In fact, my religious beliefs are almost, if not absolutely, atheist.
After high school I attended The Rochester Institute of Technology(RIT) for five years. In the spring of 2005 I graduated and received my bachelor’s degree in computer science. During my time at RIT the Front Row Crew was formed, and my inner geek was set free. Prior to college there was simply not enough access, nor was there any community, to enable me to get my geek out. My choice of school is something I will never regret, despite numerous bitter cold Rochester winters.
Promptly after graduation I accepted a software engineering position in New York City. Nowadays I rent a house with my former college roommate in Beacon, NY. Every day I ride a Metro-North Hudson line train into Grand Central, from where I walk to my office. In my spare time I do all sorts of things, but mostly I just try to get as much of my geek on as possible.
While I am not obsessed, I do not have to think twice when saying that computers are my number one hobby. On the first day of kindergarten there was an Apple //e in the classroom. I used that Apple at every opportunity. Within minutes of using the machine I had learned more about it than anyone in the school could teach me. Don’t take that the wrong way, all anyone could teach me in that school was how to use the available software. For a few years I went to a half-day summer camp where I learned Logo on Apple and Macintosh computers. Since those days my interest in computers has not waned.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until my thirteenth birthday that my family got an IBM Aptiva multimedia computer. It had a 100mhz 486 processor, a quad-speed CD-ROM, a 14.4 modem, 8MB of RAM(later upgraded to 16MB) and came with OS\2 Warp, Windows 3.1 and PC-DOS installed. I upgraded it to Windows 95 at some point, but eventually the computer became too slow and useless.
Not until much later in high school did I build my first computer. Using money I saved from a part-time job I purchased a 450mhz Pentium/// computer with an Abit BX6-r2.0 motherboard, and I got the NVidia TNT2 the day it came out. Windows 98SE was the operating system of choice in those days, but I also tinkered with old versions of Caldera and Red Hat Linux. This computer was my primary desktop for a long time, and became my first web server before being decommissioned. I still have this computer around today, and it still works. I maintain to this day that every chipset should aspire to be as reliable and robust as the Intel BX.
When I got to college I started using Mandrake Linux about fifty percent of the time. Windows 2000 eventually nudged out Windows 98SE after friends demonstrated how it was better. After a few years of college my Pentium/// just wasn’t fast enough any more. A gift from relatives enabled me to buy my current PC: an AMD Athlon XP2500+ with an Abit NF7-S motherboard and a GeForce FX5900 video card.
At this point I decided I wanted to use Linux more and Windows less. My fading interest in PC gaming and increased learning of Linux helped this process immensely. Also, Mandrake was not meeting my needs in terms of support for newer hardware and supplying newer versions of software. This is when I had a “distro rodeo” in which I tested out every distribution under the sun on the brand new computer. In the end Gentoo was able to ride the bucking bronco longer than any other. Today I still have a tiny Windows XP partition on my computer to play Steam, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I booted into it. I’m all Linux these days with either Gentoo or Ubuntu on all of my systems.
As you should be able to infer from the above, my computer knowledge is vast. I have been writing software ever since I used Logo in kindergarten. The number of computer languages I now know is too long for me to list, but Perl definitely isn’t on it. I can learn a new computer language in under a week if I have the time and desire. As far as the rest is concerned, let’s just say that if you’ve got a computer problem I can fix it 99% of the time, no matter what it is.
While I am less passionate about video games than some of my other hobbies, I have been playing them since before I ever saw a computer. My mom was playing Super Breakout on the Atari 2600 when I was in the womb, and when I came out the first thing I grabbed was that paddle and joystick(metaphorically speaking).
It wasn’t long before the Nintendo Entertainment System appeared. While it would be a few more years before I had my own NES, I got plenty of playtime at my friends’ houses. The NES was my primary source of entertainment for nearly an entire decade, and, like others of my generation, it has left an indelible mark on my soul.
Unlike most other kids during the 16-bit era I wasn’t planted firmly in either camp. Regardless, we eventually got the Sega Genesis. Of course I didn’t miss out on the Super Nintendo because my friends covered all the bases. Any games that I missed were later emulated on the PC.
When the 16-bit era was coming to a close I was busy playing PC games. My brother eventually got a N64, and I played the important titles for that system. But PC gaming dominated up until the release of the GameCube. It started with the full range of DOS games including Commander Keen, Doom, Mechwarrior 2 and Descent 2. Next it was Windows 3.1 games with Sim City 2000 and Civilization II. When we eventually got AOL I took a step back and got deep into MUDs. On that Pentium/// I started playing Half-Life and other modern fps games. Those fps games got switched to multiplayer mode at RIT thanks to two OC-3s.
I bought the GameCube on release day because I recognized that PC gaming was starting to fade. The GameCube was the right choice for a college environment because of its ability to handle four players at once. But I must admit that the GameCube helped to turn me slightly towards Nintendo fanboyism. While part of this fandom comes from nostalgia and appreciation of innovative gameplay, the most significant portion comes from the GameBoy.
We didn’t have the original GameBoy in my family. We played Tiger LCD games, and we were happy. But my brother got the GameBoy Pocket and the original Pokemon game when they were released. Skepticism overtook me at first, but after playing it and realizing the fun, I wanted one too. I got the GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS all on their respective release days. And while I only buy the cream of the crop, I think I own more games for these systems than any other. I also probably spent more time playing these games than any others. I dare anyone to take me on in Mario Kart: Super Circuit for the GBA.
Now that I’m a working stiff I don’t have as much time for video games as I used to. My interest in games seems to fade in when games are released and then fade out as games are beaten. I can feel the cycle getting ready to gear up again now that the DS is dishing out a constant flurry of great games. PC gaming seems to be ready to make a slight comeback, but if Linux isn’t part of the equation it will be very hard for me to take interest. That’s alright, the revolution is on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to it.
Animation has been important to me since my early childhood when Transformers, Voltron and Thundercats where all the rave. But it would not be until much later that I actually watched Japanese animation. Over time I turned to Nickelodeon and then Cartoon Network for my animated entertainment needs. Like with everything else, the Internet now is the primary provider.
My awareness of the existence of anime is quite old, but my impression was simply that it was violent cartoons drawn in a foreign style. I remember seeing Dragonball and Ranma VHS tapes in stores and completely ignoring them. That is until one night when the Sci-Fi channel aired Galaxy Express 999 after a Godzilla movie. Galaxy Express totally blew me away, and I proceeded to watch anime on Sci-Fi every night for the rest of the week. I also tried to watch their Saturday morning anime until it was canceled.
Time passed, and I pretty much forgot about anime. Then in my senior year of high school I met a fan who had an Akira VHS tape. Again, I had known about this movie for years, but I never had an opportunity to actually see it. Watching Akira gave me the same feeling I got from Galaxy Express 999. I no longer get this feeling from these movies, but I’m always on the lookout for something new that fits the bill.
Before going to college I went on that trip to Israel. One anime related incident occurred on this trip that is worth noting. Anime came up in a random conversation, and one guy said he had seen this movie “Princess Mononoke” in theaters in the US. I had never heard of such a thing, but was very interested. This guy who had not seen other anime said this movie blew him away. I knew the feeling. Later on the trip we saw a movie poster for it outside an Israeli cinema. We didn’t stay for a showing, but this was a sign of things to come.
When I finally got to college I had no trouble finding the anime club. There was a packed auditorium every Thursday night where we watched amazing things I never knew existed. Looking back I realize some of the shows we watched were not so great, but watching them with a large group of fans exponentially increased the entertainment value. Using a combination of the tape library and the file sharing networks I got an overdose of anime. Every major series including Evangelion, Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, etc. got a marathon showing.
I was deluged with all the anime I had missed and all the new anime for almost three years until the supply started running low. New shows that could live up to the quality of the old ones were in short supply. There were shows here and there that grabbed a huge following, most notably Full Metal Alchemist. But since the end of FMA there has not been even one show-stopping new anime series. Don’t get me wrong, there have been good shows, but there haven’t been any one show that can get our entire crew crazy excited.
Despite the current drought of new shows I still keep an eye out for anything good. I’m also trying to find old shows on Netflix that have yet to be watched. But anime occupies a significantly smaller portion of my thoughts than my other interests. I have been to Otakon every year since 2002, and I have no intentions of ending that tradition. But at the most recent convention I spent more time in the live action theater than anywhere else.
When I was a little kid I didn’t know or care about comic books at all. I even remember receiving an X-Men coloring book and asking “what’s X-Men?”. That is until my friend who lived down the street got me into Marvel comics, and a comic book store opened up in the mall next to my house. I started reading Spiderman 2099, X-Men and a few other comics. But when the comic shop in the mall went out of business I lost interest. Apparently lots of other people stopped buying comic books in the 90’s as well.
Despite not buying new comics I read my small collection multiple times. But as with my other hobbies, going to college increased my access, and thus my interest, ten fold. The anime club got me interested in manga, but at first I purchased very little. I was a poor college student, and the selection at Borders wasn’t what it is today.
Over time I managed to collect all of Akira, the greatest manga ever. Then I started to read things like Initial D, which matched up with anime series that I enjoyed. But at this point I was reading more manga than I was buying thanks to friends who let me borrow, the anime club and friendly bookstores. Then one day I caught sight of Ghost in the Shell 2: Man Machine Interface on the comic rack at Borders. Luckily it was issue number one, so I bought it. It was good, but its significance to me had little to do with its content.
Weeks later a friend who I met in Israel, who also went to RIT, called me up and invited me to go to a comic book store with him. I wasn’t too interested as comics were mostly dead to me, but then I thought about the next volume of Ghost in the Shell 2 and decided to go. Not only did I get what I came for, but I left with a renewed interest in non-manga comics. We began making monthly pilgrimages to the comic shop, and I started to buy new series.
Since I left college and began working in the city I gained access to a multitude of comic book stores. Every week I head on over to Midtown Comics to pick up whatever is new. Mostly I buy manga, trades of old stuff I missed, a few Marvel titles for nostalgia and the good independent comics. Super heros still don’t interest me that much, but I find enough comics covering other topics these days, hopefully they will get more popular as time goes on. The comic geek speak podcast has also helped to kindle my comic interest. There are many titles I read now that I would not have known about if it were not for their show.
In the early days of my life the only games I played that were not video games were the standard Toys ‘R’ Us board games like Monopoly. I always liked these games, but couldn’t play them enough due to lack of players. My brother and I played a lot of Risk, but most of the games broke down or fell victim to cheating. That’s what happens in games where randomness determines victory and people get frustrated. It’s also what happens when one very good player keeps playing the same game over and over against and much worse player.
From a young age my grandfather taught me all sorts of card games like poker and gin rummy. He also taught me to play checkers and dominoes, even though they never got played much. We did play a lot of backgammon, but that wasn’t until later. Thanks to my grandfather I’ve pretty much mastered the strategies of American card games and the generic board games.
In my early middle school days I got into Magic: The Gathering. I played it for about 3 years, until high school started. It was at the only Magic tournament I ever attended that I learned my lesson. It suddenly dawned upon me that winning and losing at that game depended primarily on how much money you spent, not your strategy. That is not the kind of game I wanted to play any more. Since then I have not played or purchased any more collectible card games.
Sometime in middle school I went to summer camp, a science summer camp to be specific. After dinner at the picnic tables behind the mess hall they had adventure games. This included Battletech, D+D, Magic: The Gathering and more. I had already been playing Magic since before I went to camp, but this is where I got most of my play. I didn’t play D+D at adventure games, but my cabin taught me second edition which we played every day during “quiet time” after lunch. Those were good days.
Gaming fell off the map in high school. There weren’t people to play with who were interested. I think my Axis + Allies set got used only once before college. All throughout high school I was trying and failing to play games. It was so much effort to put something together that I usually opted to play video games instead.
As was the case with anime, college blew the lid off gaming. At the gaming club I immediately discovered third edition D+D, and from the remnants of that first campaign emerged the Front Row Crew. We started eating dinner and hanging out together every night. And while hanging out we watched all the anime and played more games and watched more anime than we could handle.
It started innocently enough with D+D and Shogun. But then came late night Battletech games and non-collectible card games like Guillotine. Then, as is common these days, came Settlers of Catan. At first Settlers didn’t garner great interest, but that all changed when we discovered a whole slew of other German games. Settlers of Catan was the Archduke Ferdinand of strategy board games. We always kept at least one D+D campaign going, and we keep one going on today via the Internet. But the real passion now is still the strategy games. The crew is constantly filled with an urge to play Puerto Rico or Tigris + Euphrates. Even weekend long cram sessions can not sate it now that we live too far apart to play every night.
Like most folk I am a fan of books, music, movies and television. But after taking these media in such great quantity I have developed stupidly high standards. Often I will scorn that which other geeks are raving about. While it may be difficult, it is not impossible to please me. When something truly great comes along I can still get just as excited as everyone else. My problem is that my mind detects and magnifies flaws out of proportion.
When it comes to novels I’m a fan of really hard science fiction and fantasy. Those pulpy books don’t cut it for me, you know the ones with the official seal of some fantasy universe on them. I’ve gotta have Tolkien, Heinelein, LeGuin, Aasimov, Gaiman, Stephenson, Vonnegut, Gibson, etc. or nothing at all. Ok, I didn’t list every author, but that should give you an idea. I also enjoy some other genres, especially classics and the occasional really good mystery.
Other than comics and manga, which I devour faster than I acquire, I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction books. I really love the O’Reilly technology books, especially the “in a nutshell” series for learning and referencing computer languages. Anything by Douglas Rushkoff is almost a sure buy for me ever since I read Coercion, which I highly recommend. Most of all I love the books by all the thinkers you learned about in history class. Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Machiavelli, Voltaire and others are all great reads whether you agree with them or not. Every thinking person needs to read these, or else you will be doomed to come up with ideas already thought out hundreds of years ago.
If I am asked what genres of music I enjoy it is easier for me to list genres I dislike than it is to list those I do. Country, folk, MTV pop, emo and gangster hip-hop are some of the few types of music I largely dislike. But there are plenty of exceptions to every rule with great songs to be found in any category. Despite my distaste for those genres I am a huge fan of western music and “real” hip-hop and rap. There is also a lot of far out music I listen to like eurobeat and nerdcore. But if you have to ask me for my favorite band of all time I can easily answer Led Zeppelin. When I was young my parents listened to classic rock and it grew on me. Not watching MTV also helped me to avoid being too interested in the music of my generation.
When it comes to movies I like way too many to even try to begin listing them. I couldn’t even tell you which genres I preferred. Well, I can tell you that romance, teen crap and crap comedies are right out. So I don’t like crap. I like movies that have a certain amount of intelligence and depth while maintaining excitement. Look at the Godfather and the first Matrix as good examples. I acknowledge from a cinematography perspective how great Citizen Kane is, but it is not my favorite. One genre I enjoy a lot and do not get enough of is the comedic crime thriller, i.e: Snatch and The Usual Suspects.
Television shows I enjoy are so few that I can list them easily. I haven’t actually watched television since before college. To this day Cablevision thinks we are stealing cable or satellite because we get Optimum Online without Cable Television. I still have strong feelings for all the cartoons I watched in my childhood. And like everyone else I love The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy and Seinfeld, but I get them via DVD and Bittorrent now. There are a few other TV shows over time that I’ve liked, but I don’t really have strong feelings for any of them. I do like to watch the occasional live sporting event on TV, especially Ice Hockey and Formula 1 racing.
One thing that is important to note is that I am almost completely detached from popular culture. I know some names and faces of famous people, but not many. Whenever I see someone reading a People magazine I have no idea what it’s talking about. It sometimes sucks because I miss a lot of references and parodies, but there is a positive side to it. I don’t suffer the crap, commercial, consumer culture.