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Growing Up Geek: Michael Gorman


Welcome to Growing Up Geek, an ongoing feature where we take a look back at our youth and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. Today, we have our very own Senior Associate Editor, Michael Gorman.

"Weak! Eye! Double-eye cry! Cheap, to the weak, to the la-la land!" That bit of condescending gibberish was the haunting chorus of victory (or defeat) of many of my childhood football and basketball games in Decatur, Alabama. Often, it was followed by a kind of taunting circle where the winners would dance around chanting in unison "CRY!" (clap, clap... clap) "CRY!" (clap, clap... clap) "CRY!", while the losers fumed and demanded a rematch. I spent time on both sides of that win / loss equation, and the picture you see above is one of the occasions that I came out on top. It's the aftermath of the annual football tournament played among the four fifth grade classes at Gordon-Bibb Elementary for the right to call themselves Turkey Bowl Champions. That's me, the kid in the middle grabbing a knee, and I remember catching a long touchdown in that game in spite of my attire -- stonewashed jeans and turtlenecks were the Under Armor of the 90s, I swear. The bomb was hurled my way by my teammate, Philip Rivers (also kneeling, front left), who you may recognize as the Pro Bowl quarterback of the San Diego Chargers. Needless to say, our win that day was due in large part to his talents, and while he has gone on to professional gridiron glory, my skills were better suited for activities off the field.

In case you weren't aware, football's religion in the deep South, and athletics are a way of life. It's not exactly the most conducive environment for expressing one's geeky nature, and as a southern boy I spent a lot of my days outside (at the prompting of my parents), playing sports, fishing, and riding my bike around with the gang of tiny hooligans that were my friends. Because Alabama can be oppressively hot in the summers, however, I spent my fair share of time in the chilled, air conditioned confines of my home while basking in the glow of the family computer.

I grew up in a family of six, and while my father, a chemical engineer, did quite well for us, we never had access to the latest and greatest electronic gear. Our first family PC was an Atari 800 with an external 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, and it was on that machine where I first encountered the wide world of video games. I spent countless hours playing Q-Bert, Joust, Blue Max, Jumpman Junior, and Buck Rogers. That whetted my gaming appetite, and upon seeing (and playing) the Nintendo Entertainment System at a friend's house some years later, I got addicted to console gaming, never to return to my PC roots. I stayed on the Nintendo bandwagon for many years, and still play my NES, SNES, and N64 on occasion, though a PS3 is my current weapon of choice.

Of course, grade-school gaming wasn't the only way in which I satiated my geek tendencies. Science fiction and space travel have always fascinated me, and I was fortunate enough to get to indulge in both of those interests at a very young age. When I was five, my friend's father built a life-sized (child-sized?) replica of the bridge from the original Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) in his basement -- I'm talking viewscreens, captain's chair, the whole nine. This naturally fed my fascination with space travel, and living just 20 miles from the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, I briefly considered a career in exploring the cosmos. With that goal in mind, I figured I should get to know my future employers at NASA, and entered an essay contest to win a trip to Space Camp. I don't recall what I wrote, but it was apparently good enough to let me be an 11-year-old amateur astronaut for a week. Alas, as I got older, I realized that my academic strengths lay in the realm of the written word, as opposed to vectors and formulas. So, I put aside my childhood aspirations of working amongst the stars in favor of more, ahem, terrestrial pursuits.

In high school, my family acquired a Dell Dimension P75 minitower, which granted me access to the internet for the first time. My first taste of the world wide web came using Prodigy, but America Online is where I really learned the power of the internet. Literally, the world's information was at my fingertips! Even though it took more digging to find answers online in those days -- AltaVista and Lycos fell to the might of Google for a reason -- and I was limited to a 14.4K dial-up connection, an internet search was infinitely more appealing than consulting books at the local library. I could just as easily research the new stereo I wanted to buy as I could find the locations of all the Tanooki suits in Super Mario 3. Plus, there was Instant Messenger, which got me to abandon my hunt and peck technique in favor of far speedier touch typing (and let me hit on the ladies long after curfew). Not only that, IM got me writing in a conversational tone, instead of an academic one. In short, the internet was a revelation, and it was in that arena that I took the first steps on the path to my current profession.

I eventually got my own computer, a Dell Dimenson XPS, when I left home to study history at Virginia Tech -- Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi! -- and scored my first laptop, a Dell Latitude D610, upon entering law school at Santa Clara University. Even though I had chosen a career as an attorney, I held onto my love of technology and spread my writing wings penning a blog on patent law while getting my J.D. After passing the bar and practicing for a bit, it turned out that blogging in coffee shops and at trade shows suits me more than arguing in courtrooms, so here I am, loving and living the Engadget way.

Michael has spent summers backpacking around Europe and living in Australia -- upon his return to the US each time, the first thing he wanted to eat was a burrito. Should you wish to chastise or chat with him in a public forum, send a tweet his way @Numeson.

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