Posted by: nickgerlich | October 25, 2007

All Geek To Me

Each year around this time the folks at Neiman Marcus grab the media spotlight with the release of their annual Christmas catalog. And in that fine printed piece is one spectacular item that grabs the attention of media and regular folks. It’s usually priced at an oh-so-affordable $1 million or more. The point, of course, is not really to sell any, but rather to snag lots of priceless (read: free) publicity.

But existing quietly among the ranks of our nation’s retailers is another company with its annual must-have item. And it is affordable by the masses. The only difference is, this product is probably not for the average Joe. No, it’s definitely for the geek in your life.

Wifi ShirtThe folks at ThinkGeek, the off-the-wall online retailer of everything geeky, has rippled the media pond with the announcement of their signature item for the 2007 holiday season: The Wi-Fi Detector Shirt.

Yes, for only $29.99 you can either get one for yourself, or for that nerdy friend or family member who sees the world in binary code. And the wearer will no doubt become a Geek Magnet because everyone in their general vicinity will know where the wi-fi is.

ThinkGeek is perhaps one of the best niche marketers I know. Their selection of t-shirts is the best in all geekdom, while their array of electronic gadgets will keep any nerd occupied for hours. I should know, as I have spent a fair share of dollars there over the years. My USB-powered lava lamp and Christmas tree are prime examples, not to mention a few t-shirts (like “Dad” written in binary code).

Need more than just a wi-fi finder for your hacker friend? Buy him or her the new Ion USB cassette deck, the companion to last year’s famously popular USB turntable. Don’t let those old recordings lay there unused; convert them to MP3!

ThinkGeek has found the magic that makes it a destination site among geeks and non-geeks alike. Its followers are sometimes even fanatical in their devotion. I am reminded of a tale I blogged about nearly two years ago:

So I was sitting on a barstool at a hi-top table over at Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Las Vegas. I was having dinner with a couple of friends, both cyclists, one from LA and the other from Lubbock.We were enjoying a glass of dark beer with our salad, when I looked over at the next table. Four of the five guys were engaged in laughter and conversation. The fifth, a geeky kind of guy, was looking at me.

And he was smiling.

“Uh-oh,” I thought. “This is not good.” I’m a married man, and a very straight one at that.

I tried to dodge the bullet by jumpstarting our table talk. “Hey Charlie, so what’s going on in LA? Great ride today, huh, Shanna? How ’bout these salads. Would you take a look at all the different kinds of lettuce here.”

But still the guy kept looking at me. And smiling.

Finally, I locked onto his eyes, and he started to talk. “Nice shirt,” he said.

“Huh?”

“Your shirt!”

Well, it could have been worse. He could have said, “Hey, you look good in those pants” or something. But, no, he was pointing at my t-shirt now as if I had just spilled the house vinaigrette all over it.

“Think Geek,” he said. And then I got it.

You see, I was wearing a t-shirt from my favorite geeky online hangout, ThinkGeek. It said:

There are 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Of course, if you’re geeky, you already know how to count in binary, and you quickly realize that “10” is really “2” for the rest of the base 10 world.

I looked over at him and saw that he was wearing another ThinkGeek shirt, this one with some obscure line of code from a Perl script. Only a coder would get it.

By now my friends were wondering, “What the hell is going on here? Why didn’t we drive our own car?”

And the other four guys all gave this sneer that said, “Hey, look…he found one of his own kind.”

So I asked the geek what he did, and replied that he was a programmer, wrote in Perl and C++, blah blah blah. And suddenly the ball was in my court.

“Well, I started with web pages, javascript, and PHP, and then moved on to…mumble mumble mumble…networking and back-end databases…blah blah blah…”

And thankfully about that time the noise in the bar increased. I think someone had scored a goal or something, because no one could hear anyone. Which was fine with me, because I was ad libbing anyway.

I’m really not that much of a geek. I just look like one. But as far as this guy was concerned, he had just bumped into a long-lost cousin. It’s not every day you run into someone outside the computer lab wearing a ThinkGeek shirt. I was a fellow traveller on the geek highway, and maybe if we locked eyeballs long enough we could sync our business cards to one another.

I ordered another round and hoped that dinner would hurry. My friends were already having reservations about hanging out with me that night. And I’m sure my wife wouldn’t be too thrilled that some guy was smiling at me (even if it was only because of my shirt).

Affinity may be a marketing buzzword these days, and I think it’s great that Mini Cooper owners can get together to tool around town at rallies. It’s cool that Harley riders have poker runs and stuff. And it’s awesome that Trekkies have their own little conventions.

But it scares the daylights out of me thinking about the King of the Nerds sitting there with that ridiculous grin on his face, staring at my shirt.

I think I’d rather hang with the crowd that doesn’t understand binary.

Dr “Excuse Me While I Go Change Shirts” Gerlich

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