Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

Gill's Journal, Issue

Quarterly magazine of The ARM Club the Leading Independant
RISC OS Computer User Club.
Well, I think this quarter's journal has to start off with the good news that several spods have taken my advice, eaten their tomatoes, found themselves dancing shoes, and are about to head off for a wild weekend of avoiding treading on women's toes. I hope they succeed in the later. I'm also hoping there's a sort of après salsa where they can also chat to any ladies who happen to be there. - like après ski, but without the necessity for getting cold, falling over, and ending up in a plaster cast.

On the subject of skiing, we took a trip out on a delightful, sunny August day. This then involved having to have all limbs fully covered, and wearing large gloves. It turned out to be a surprisingly successful way of tempting screen-glow-tanned spods to venture into the great outdoors. Dry ski-slope skiing is clearly the way to trick spods into getting fresh air and even sun light.

Gill Smith goes skiing and ponders on the mystic powers of spods who may be tongue-tied with non-spods but recognise each other across crowded rooms.
Stop laughing! The sight of spods on skis wasn't actually a lot sillier than the sight of anyone else on skis, carefully covered up so as not to need skin grafts if they fall over, in spite of the blazing August sunshine. No. What was worrying about the whole occasion is that, for the first lesson at least, you don't get those nice little ski poles to support yourself on.

Now I'm sure that any of you that ski will know some complicated explanation. However when you're sliding forward worryingly fast, whilst being told to look up, lean your weight forward, bend your knees, and lift alternate feet (including heavy ski-boot and ski) off the downhill surface of upturned broom-ends, the lack of stabilisers seems unfair. That's how I learned to ride a bike - I had extra support - how come they only give poles to the good skiers?

I know what you all really want to know, though. You can imagine be-gloved spods flailing around as they try to play catch on the world's shortest slope - that, believe me, feels very long and steep. You can probably even imagine the set of rather warm committee members turning their knees and skis out to master the task of getting back up the slope - which, incidentally, is far harder work than the actual skiing. What you really want to know is who fell over most, isn't it? Stabilizers on skis never really caught on Well, one group member had skied before, so the rest of us were waiting to hear a distant scream as he took a tumble due to paying a great deal more attention to laughing at us than to where his skis - and poles - were. Somehow, he avoided this, and even tactfully kept a fairly straight face in the bar afterward. Lack of balance and wobbling around like scarlet faced (it was warm, OK?) jellies was pretty even all round. The prize for losing skis most frequently had to go to a certain author of DiskKnight. But the trophy for best mid-air cartwheel, complete with loss of skis, and longer term loss of balance for about the next twenty minutes, I claim myself.

I have just one request - since it is absolutely necessary to wear thick trousers (or I wouldn't have a left knee) and long sleeves (or a right elbow) next time we go, how about not going on one of the sunniest days of summer? Just a thought - This year, Bracknell, next year - no, not Aspen - how does High Wycombe sound?

Anyway, enough drama. Spods aren't used to all this talk of physical activity, and I'm sure I ought to manage to mention something to do with computers, in order not to disappoint my aspiring-spod readership.

So, what I'd like to know is, how is it that a spod can find any other spods in a room quickly, easily, and without appearing to have to manage the trauma of talking to anyone not-spoddy? I've noticed an amazing ability in all the ARM Club spods I know, and also in various other technical people to instinctively find the only other person in any room who can either understand, or more importantly care about why they chose which linux distribution.

This ability is all the more spooky for the fact that this skill is, in some spods, so finely honed, that I believe if there is a choice of other spods around, they will find the one who's first choice OS is most similar to their own. Why is it, the rest of us have to ask, that we cannot tell from first sight that someone is a spod, and therefore avoid accidentally asking "So, what do you do?"

Well, it's very simple. This skill shall henceforth be known as 'geek-dar.' And like the equivalent that I borrow the name from, women are hopelessly bad at telling on sight whether a man is gay or straight. Somehow, other gay men just know. This is gay-dar at work. Geek-dar is much the same.

Spods are able to tell a RISC OS user at twenty paces, while the rest of us were casually assuming that the person in question probably worked on a PC during the week. We were even, in some instances, considering asking them what the day job was. That's when it really helps to have a second spod at hand to get their geek-dar up and running, and ask this near victim of our small talk, "So, what's your linux configuration then?"

To those of us who can't count in either binary, or hex, without a major amount thought, it seems odd that we failed so dismally to realise that this person was a spod. But we mustn't blame ourselves. Like gay men don't always dress camply, spods wear a variety of different outfits, suits, jeans, even chinos. Some occasionally avoid the unhealthy monitor glow. Yet nothing stops the other spod seeking them out from across a crowded room and starting up a deep and meaningful conversation about the size of the other's hard drive. You shouldn't worry that you didn't realise someone was a spod. Other spods are simply more attuned to noticing those all-important little tell-tale signs.

I should point out that I'm sure it's possible to get better at spotting a spod on sight. It is a skill, and I'm sure many do display outward signs such as an unhealthy dose of 'mouse-finger' (like tennis elbow, but due to the mouse, and guess where you get it!)

Unfortunately, though, to the untrained, the lonely looking man in the corner starring into his pint as he considers whether he needs a new motherboard can frequently, and easily be mistaken, especially by inexperienced young women, for a sensitive, shy soul quietly composing verses about your fabulous new haircut. Trust me, if he's writing poetry, then that's only because some UNIX commands do just happen to rhyme, helped by the fact that good coders break their work into lines. (National Poetry Day is 10th October, by the way - if you'd like to submit your perl scripts for this celebration, do let me know and I'll see if I can find somewhere suitable! Real verses, send to the editor - Eureka, the Acorn market's most literary magazine.)

Their eyes caught across a crowded room I've probably deeply offended a few people out there by comparing spods to gay men. Firstly, I'd like to say "Get over it" - nothing wrong with being gay, so what could be wrong with being compared to being gay. Secondly, and more gently, take it as a compliment. Gay men, along with possessing gay-dar, are considered to be better dressers and dancers. While I can't honestly claim either skill for the spod, I'm sure there are some other special skills that we can find - now if only I could work out what they are.

What they seem to be, is spotting odd, but unique landmarks. A certain spod I see more of than most managed to navigate his way round our recent trip to Edinburgh by remembering emergency-backup electricity generators and computer shops. Along the same route, I was too busy gazing at the antiques shops, day-dreaming of my own one-woman show at the Fringe, and wondering in passing why there was a double bed, complete with mattress, lying on the pavement. I never worked out that last one.

You can't fault Toby's ability to remember the route from A to B, having only done it once before. In fact, due to his ability to remember strange things along the roads, that I wouldn't, when I'm lost, he's usually fine. Just occasionally he doesn't have any landmarks to work with, but then I can often find a particularly pretty run of Georgian houses, or simply spot a discount shoe shop.

In other areas of life, too, the spod works a little different from the rest of humanity. Many of us learnt left and right at school. Others learnt it when they had to, in order to drive. A few still need prompting. However the spod needs no such help. The spod knows his (or her) left from right easily. How? Because all they have to do is picture the little 'left' and 'right' justification buttons, and all becomes clear.

For the spod, the world is a little different. The sky does not look as if it has fluffy clouds today - it has a Microsoft image across it. Colours are all merely a mix of red, green and blue - sorry 'rgb.' Where other people find computers do something wrong, the spod finds a 'challenge.'

One of Toby's colleague has even developed a new hobby. It works like this. You search on the internet for the non-word "retiblue." You then laugh hysterically at anyone whose site includes this word. This is not because you're a mad computer scientist who spends too long starring at a screen. Oh no. Everything the spod does has logic (of a kind). So why the ROTFL? (Rolling On The Floor Laughing - we've covered that sometime ago!)

The reason for such scenes of amusements is that these are examples of people who decided to change a colour name throughout their website. They did a "Search and Replace" on 'red' and changed the word 'retired' to 'retiblue.' Try it on other -red words sometime - you'd be amazed how often it happens. But I have to ask - amusing as it is - who else but a spod could have created such a game?

Now, given this special mindset that draws together all spods within any room, why haven't more male spods met more female spods, and lived happily ever after, collaborating on child-processes, and slowly taking over the world? Partly, the numbers of female spods are more limited than male ones. This is nature's method of natural selection, and ensuring that the spod population doesn't get completely out of hand.

However, there are female spods. I have met some. I have been introduced to several at shows. It has even happened that some of them are attractive, showing all the signs of a life beyond the computer (such as a skin that doesn't glow green.) Why aren't male spods becoming drawn to these women, and chatting them up with their witty repartee about the evils of a certain large software company in the US, or by offering the lovely ladies a discount on a CD writer?

Ski Spod Pheremones. Now, in case you haven't heard of pheremones, these are, scientists believe, what attracts men and women to one another. These are a scent, given off subtly, that draws in the opposite sex. Everyone has them, according to scientists, although I'm not convinced that their study actually included lawyers.

I've concluded that the strange scent given off by constant finger-keyboard contact, and especially picked up from taking the case off your computer, causes a special spod pheremone. When this mixes with male pheremones, spods are pulled into deep conversations comparing recent pieces of coding. This is a similar effect to two rubgy players knowing from each other's pheremones that they must instantly do battle to drink more and much faster than each other. Spods instead compete to de-bug with the most style, panache and speed.

When the delightful whiff of monitor cleaner and dandruff stuck between the keys instead mixes with female pheremones, sadly, it only causes confusion in the male spods. Their senses become confused, and instead of mentioning their enormous processor speed, they just become shy.

Female spods are able to chat among themselves "Love your new motherboard, sweetie, where did you get it?" "That new DVD ROM is just so you!" but when faced with silent male spods, aren't clear what to do. In case there are any female spods reading this, my advice is simple. Run away! This confusion is nature's way of saying 'go off, find someone non-spoddy. Distribute the technical abilities wider in the gene pool.' Just think - by taking my advice, you could help lead to a society where no one mistakes a mouse for a foot pedal, and everyone knows how to reply to emails without top posting - and better yet, without assuming anyone who doesn't top-post hasn't written anything! And wouldn't that be an upgraded world?

Hence male spods drift to the outskirts of any party, geek-dar scanning the other lost and confused souls, to work out who to show off about their bytes to over the hostess' carefully prepared nibbles. Female spods drift to different corners, and compliment each other on their set-up, ensuring the next generation's varied genetic make-up. And just occasionally, Mother nature finds a partner for a spod, allowing us all to dream of a better world where technical support never needs to ask "Have you plugged it in?" What with all this skiing - exercise, sunlight and fresh air - as well as dancing classes, you might have to keep your eye on The ARM Club committee!

Written by Gill Smith, ©
Cartoons © Howard Read
Published Winter 2002 Reproduced with permission.