April 06, 2004

Family Geeks

Posted at April 6, 2004 12:06 AM in Daily Life .

Madeline's birthday part (late) was yesterday at my grandparents' retirement community. As it turns out, my Uncle George, his two sons, and his wife, Roe, are in town for the week. They came by the party and we got to speak for a while.

My cousins are almost a generation behind me in age (one is 16, the other is just recently 13) and the elder is winner of the who-is-geekiest-in-the-family probably now. He's shot up two feet in the last couple of years and is a lot more vocal than he was the last time I spoke to him. He's been doing advanced placement classes for a couple of years and programming since he was 12 or so. He's already getting feelers and potential offers from Caltech and MIT. I spoke to him about this for a bit and he seems undecided. "I might go to NYU and study film... I like film too..." (though he loves computer science and math). I asked him if he had an offer from NYU (knowing he didn't) and he said as much. Resisting the urge to smack him upside the head, I encouraged him to go to MIT or Caltech unless he felt really driven to do film. If they are offering him the potential of a free ride at a big name engineering school, he should take it! I'm giving him advice that I should have gotten somewhere along the way but he'll probably ignore it.

R and I invited George, Roe and the boys over after work this evening and they came over for a couple of hours. We sat and chatted, which was quite pleasent. It's kind of funny. My uncle is a Christian (Wesleyen) minister and a professional missionary for his church. That being said, he's the most intelligent and normal person in my family of his generation. My mom (hi!!) is probably smarter but George managed, it seems, to find that sweet spot between being intelligent but difficult (like my mother and me) and generally agreeable and nice but a little average (like his younger brother). He's smart, he's got an MA (and a Doctor of Divinity, I think). He and I were speaking about books this evening and he discussed a history of the CIA's involvement in establishing the Shah in Iran and its political events that he's reading right now. Not typical missionary fare. He gets points for being non-reactive to my overtly pagan and buddhist artwork on the walls and mantle. I don't know if he didn't notice or was polite enough not to worry about the four statues three feet from him but he couldn't have missed the four foot thangka of Mahakala on the wall or the framed picture of the Tree of Life by the stairs. I generally get the sense that he's willing to let things be and not feel the urge to convert me that would set me off at him.

I was always closest to his little brother, Karl, who is only nine years older than me, but Karl's tried to convert my brother away from paganism when Lee was a kid and generally similar behavior at various points. I have a feeling that, if I chose to cultivate it, I could easily be decent friends with my Uncle George even though he lives on the other side of the country. Intelligence and willingness to let people do their thing wins points with me.

In any case, I chatted a bit with my cousins, Eric and Evan, as well. Eric, the older one, tried to pull a fast one and do a Microsoft logic problem on me that a friend of his online had given him. It was a basic exchange problem and I recognized the type of it but I declined to play that game. Instead, I grabbed my little whiteboard and started giving him some of my interview logic problems (including everyone in the room in the process). The really scary thing is he almost instantly recognized the basic nature of one of my classic problems and this is a problem that I almost never have people get immediately. If his brother hadn't been yabbering away at his ear throwing him off with false starts, he would have solved it in under two minutes. That has happened only once in my experience. Even funnier, my uncle pretty much figured it out quickly as well but neither of the boys listened to him when they were arguing with each other. :-)

I did a couple of more and Eric actually did quite well. I need to get him into an internship at Microsoft or something. He's geeky enough to make me feel slow and he's 16. Give him an engineering degree and some seasoning and maturity and he'll wipe the floor with people. All that and he's still personable. It's good to know that the geek gene is expressed in every generation. Our grandfather (the Boeing Engineer) should be proud.


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