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Growing Up Geek: Zach Honig

Zach Honig

Growing up in the 80's, many kids used their Little Tikes easels to sketch their homes, or their families, or a football or two. Mine was littered with pictures of ceiling fans. But not just the ceiling fan mounted above my playroom -- no, these fans were upside-down (like a model I saw in New Orleans), daisy-chained (seen at a local arcade), and connected to a gas-powered motor (as I once noticed at an Amish farm). My obsession with ceiling fans, and really any motor-powered gadget, ran deep. At one point, shortly after I took my first steps, I began refusing to eat in restaurants that didn't have fans. And when a particular establishment was sophisticated enough to have installed that ever-so-necessary exposed air circulator, you better believe that it needed to be running, and at full speed.

My seemingly bizarre obsession with powered devices didn't stop there. I also had an unlikely fascination with vacuum cleaners. Not with their ability to pick up dirt -- I don't believe I had any interest in what they were actually used for, much to the chagrin of my mother -- but with the loud motor that sprung to life when I flipped the power switch, and the uncannily bright headlight that lit the way. Sure, vacuums today feature quiet motors and highly maneuverable ball designs, and even though life was simpler two decades ago, that mesmerizing loud hum, and bright, guiding light would be all it took to get a two-year-old me hooked. But electricity became more than a casual curiosity. My most prized possession was a wood-mounted set of outlets paired with matching switches -- one was fixed, and one dimmed. My grandfather helped me build it after one of our weekend trips to the hardware store.

My parents were happy to support my electrified obsession, buying dozens of sets of Christmas lights in the middle of summer, and allowing me to string up the house with interconnected strands. Cords kept me grounded, so once I discovered battery power, that was it. I began collecting flashlights of every shape, size, and degree of luminosity -- a three-cell D Maglite became my pride and joy, until million-candlepower beacons first made their way to the neighborhood Radio Shack, which had always been my first stop on every trip to the mall. I owned enough flashlights to keep the house perfectly lit during power failures, which, quite disappointedly, were few and very far between in New Jersey.

As I grew older, I moved far beyond vacuum cleaners and ceiling fans, focusing all of my geeky attention on my first MS-DOS powered desktop. Eventually, I was racing around a pair of GUIs -- System 7 on the Macs at school, and eventually Windows 95 at home, which came installed on my first Intel Pentium desktop, which arrived bundled with a color monitor. Unboxing that color CRT, a MAG Innovision with the text COLOR printed in a enormous rainbow font on the box, was not an insignificant life event. I remember that moment more vividly than any other during my pre-teen years, and was only able to match that level of excitement with the purchase of my first notebook -- an Apple PowerBook G3 (Pismo).

I quickly learned that in order to afford the sky-high prices technology demanded in the late 90's, I'd need to get a paid gig. I was far too young to meet the 16+ age requirement for finding "legal" work, so it was under-the-table odd jobs for me. Tech support house calls brought a couple bucks from mom and dad, but summers de-veining shrimp in my uncle's seafood restaurant and falls blowing leaves in Jersey helped to pay some of the bills. Eventually, I was able to afford to build my own computer, driving to a mom and pop computer store down the street. My dad watched in awe as I pushed the cart around the tiny store, loading up on one of the first Pentium III processors, a rather unassuming case, a 10GB Maxtor hard drive, and -- if I recall -- 16MB of RAM.

After that second major desktop purchase, each year brought a new computer, with the previous year's acquisition heading off to eBay to fund the next new thing. I spent much of my time browsing the auction site, often buying new gear second-hand after letting an early adopter drive it off the lot, even if it meant missing out on that still-thrilling unboxing process. Cell phones hit the mainstream during my senior year of high school, and my first smartphone -- a super-sleek Palm Treo 650 -- made its appearance the year before my MacBook made the jump to Intel during college.

Just before my first year of journalism school, I took an interest in photography, buying my first DSLR -- a Canon Digital Rebel. The Ritz Camera salesperson threw in a 1GB CompactFlash for good measure, which made the $999 camera an even bigger bargain. That six megapixel cam stuck with me until I decided to make photography a career, choosing to major in photojournalism at the Missouri School of Journalism. During my second year, I invested in a nearly $10,000 pro kit, including a second-hand Canon EOS 1D pro body, 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm f/2.8 L-series lenses. I took up an interest in aerial photography, even dedicating a few weeks to earning my private pilot's license. Sadly, flying quickly became cost-prohibitive, as aviation fuel prices rose beyond $6 per gallon. Instead, I decided to focus on writing, replacing all the heavy gear with a set of pens and a reporter's notebook -- and a brand new MacBook Pro.

Since then, writing and editing has paid the bills, starting with a year-long stint as assistant editor for news and reviews at Popular Photography in 2007. The following summer, I found myself staring out the window of a 747 as we passed over the polar ice cap en-route to Beijing, where I worked as an Olympic News Service reporter at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After two months in China, I was proud to call PC Magazine home for a couple years, before joining the incredible Engadget team earlier this year. Over the course of my still-young career, I've considered keeping work and pleasure separate, letting a business gig fund my gear addiction to avoid the risk of losing interest in technology. But while I've been much more critical in recent years, tearing through the packing tape of the latest gadget hasn't become any less of a thrill. Ah, I think that's FedEx at the door. I'll be going now.

A Senior Associate Editor at Engadget, Zach Honig spends his free time traveling the globe, having visited more than 30 countries in the last decade. You can follow his adventures on Twitter, where he'll soon be posting from Germany, the UK, Japan, and Vietnam @ZachHonig.

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