The story is set in several cities. It starts in Seattle, in a neighbourhood called Redmond. It’s a nice place with houses, whichare around twenty years old and they all have front- and backyards. Microsoft Campus is nearby, as is Nintendo Campus,where Daniel sometimes goes by for a chat with some acquaintances of his.It is also set in Palo Alto. Daniel’s parents live there. It’s near San Francisco and it’s a typical Silicon Valley place. Downtownis the new office of the Oop!-team. Everywhere in the city are offices of new software companies. It’s the area in the techindustry : ‘Life happens at fifty times the normal pace. ...if someone says to you, They never called back, what they really mean is, Theynever called back within one week. A week means never in the Silicon Valley.’
-Daniel Underwood is a 26-year-old Microsoft tester. He lives in Redmond, which is near the Microsoft campus, with severalother Microsoft employees. His dad works with IBM, but when he gets fired he freaks. He dresses up for work and leaves forthe garage for the rest of the day. There he works on his modeltrain and landscape. On a high mountain he builds a house‘..where Jed lives...’. Jed is Daniel’s younger brother who drowned at the age of ten. Daniel thinks he was much smarter thanhim. He and his parents have a lot of problems to cope with when it all comes up again. Daniel’s mom is a Palo Alto,California, housewife and librarian. As a volunteer she does a lot of social work.
-Karla works in an office down the hall from Daniel’s office at Microsoft. She was mentally abused by her parents, who toldher she was stupid on and on.
-Susan is 26, too and she works in Mac Applications. She hates IBM with all her heart because she and her family weretransferred eight times before she graduated high school and in doing so they ruined her youth. Her dad got fired after living allover the US for his company. She’s desparate about getting a boyfriend.
The book is Daniel’s journal and he describes his roommates by naming their seven Jeopardy! dream categories. I think Susan’s seven dream categories are the funniest. They are: 680X0 assembly languageCatsEarly ’80s haircut bands ‘My secret affair with Rob in the Excel Group’ License plate slogans of AmericaPlot lines from The Monkees.
-The death of IBM Todd is young compared to the others, he’s 22. He’s a tester with Daniel. His parents are realigious psychos. They thinkcomputers are the Devil’s voice box and they want him to come back to their home in Port Angeles. But Todd is only interested in girls, his car, his body-he’s a real healthfreak- and in working out.
-He met his girlfriend Dusty, who is six yearsolder, at the gym. She’s a real California Girl including accent (Rilly). They have a daughter together, she’s called LindsayRuth.
-Abe is the oldest nerd in the house, he’s 29 and has earned so much stock that he’s a multi millionaire. He’s been living in thegroup house since 1984. The others have been there for just eight months, average. He has spent the last ten years coding andhe still is happy.
‘He seems happy to be reaching the age of 30 in just four months with nothing to his name but a variety of neat-o consumerelectronics and boxes of Costco products purchased in rash moments of Costco-scale madness ( Ten thousand straws! Just think of it-only $ 10 and I’ll never need to buy straws ever again! ) These products line the walls of his room, giving it the feelof an air-raid shelter.’
One of Abe’s passions becomes trampolining. He buys one and puts it up in the front yard. In last week’s issue of TimeInternational there was an article on geek millionaires. Trampolining was the hobby of one of them. Details like these show, Ithink, that this book is really about today’s geek culture. Abe still is still a kid, although he’s a millionaire, and pretty silly.E-mail from Abe about the newest HotWheels from Mattel. ‘The only decent one they have is a Lexzus SC400. I’ve bought 3 of them (the toys)...’
-Bug Barbecue is totally addicted to Aussie supermodel Elle MacPherson and he’s got a lot of pictures and items with her on itin his room. He’s 28-year-old bugtester (#3 in the house) and very bitter. The reason for that is that he’s gay. When he findsout he jumps into dating instantly. He tried to deny his homosexuality by drooling over and (day)dreaming about ElleMacPherson, but he accepts it.
-Michael is the most important person in the house. He has an important function in their department and he is sent to aMacExpo in San Francisco by Bill (Gates). He has strange moods; when he locks himself up in his office for a few days to domake a deadline. In Palo Alto he has such moods also, but not as extreme as in Seattle. It’s probably that he’s confused andfrustrated about Amy, whom he only knows by the name of Barcode (She has a barcode tattooed on her arm).
-Amy: She’s a Canadian student, 20, very little but she trains really hard and she armwrestles a lot too. They fall in love over the Internet.Michael had the idea of a simulator that makes it possible to build Lego objects with your computer, because in real life you’llnever have enough bricks. The game is called Oop!.
-Ethan is the manager of the company, which develops Oop!. He’s been a millionaire twice, but he lost his money. He likesexpensive cars and he sort of has a life.
In Redmond the group orders practically everything by phone, the only things they eat are cereals and noodles and that sort ofthing. They all get up around nine and work untill after midnight. The whole group of geeks is annoyed by certain things. They can’t stand the word Information Superhighway and fax machines ‘are like e-mail from 1987.’ Or in more widely accepredterms: out of date. Like all Microsofties they’re all fond of their e-mail. At Microsoft they get about 60 messages a day. In theoffice in Palo Alto they send each other messages over the e-mail system, while they’re in the same office. Usually that is afterfights amongst them.
Daniel starts his journal because he can’t sleep at night. He fills his late hours with entries on his PowerBook. He also has a filewith words that just come up to him at any moment. He also starts falling in love with Karla. It doesn’t really show in hisjournal, although he mentions her often for someone who’s not living in the group house (besides his parents, that is) and she’sthe first one to hear about Jed. It shows just a bit, in the book, when he uses a program written by Todd, which compressestextfiles into the titles of song by Prince. It’s a paragraph where he shows a glimpse of his feelings. It’s spelled really practical,as soon as you get used to it: ‘It wuz so odd 4 both uv uz, C-ng Ech uthr outside the otmeel walz + oystr karpetng uv the offis. We stopd & s@ on the lawn+ talkd 4 a wile. We shared a fEling uv konspiraC by not B-ng inside helpng with the shippng dedline.’‘It was so odd for both of us, seeing each other outside the oatmeal walls and oyster carpeting of the office. We stopped andsat on the lawn and talked for a while. We shared a feeling of conspiracy by not being inside helping with the shippingdeadline.’
Karla moves in with Daniel and she tries to help him with his sleeping problem by teaching him about massage.The whole gang, except for Abe, moves to Daniel’s parents’s house in Palo Alto, because they get offered jobs by Michael.He started a company with Ethan. They’re working on Oop!. (I hope something like that is worked on right now. It’s a greatidea.)In the mean time Daniel’s dad is constantly talking to Michael in a very sneaky way. Daniel starts thinking Michael is takingover his father and replacing Jed. While everyone was coding in a part of the Underwoods’ house, Daniel’s dad wasdecorating their new office with all kinds of Lego buildings. At that time Dusty joins the story and in the meantime Michael fallsin love with Amy. In Silicon Valley all the nerds seem to have a life besides their work and that has it’s influence on all of them.Susan and Bug move to San Francisco and Karla and Daniel move to another place. Until Abe joins up he sends a lot ofe-mail to Daniel. The messages are filled with mishits on the keyboard.Todd and Dusty change their political views by the day from Marxist to Maoist. Daniel thinks Todd needs something to rely onsince he left his parents.Susan starts a club for female coders in the area called ‘Chyx’ (chicks). She, at first, wanted to spell it Chycks, ‘but Chyxsounds more like a bioengineering firm, and that’s kind of cool. To become a ‘Chyk’ you need to write two computerlanguages fluently, to have a vagina, and you have to believe ‘that Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards in a slinky pantsuit isthe worldly embodiment of God.’She makes a CNN headline with it.They go to a convention in Las Vegas, to show their product and watch those of other companies. Todd finds his ultrareligious parents hanging all over pokermachines and gets into a huge fight with them. Daniel’s mom has a storke during her swimmingclass and she’s paralysed. She survives and she can communicate with the helpof a computer and of Michael. At the end Daniel suddenly has overcome the loss of his brother, which I think is very American(and the writer is Canadian for crying out loud). Everything ends up all right.
Coupland gives his characters a task and when they work out their problems they have ended it. That is a bit moralistic.I think this book is really good. It gives a lot of inside information, or at least it’s very easy to assume things really go the waythey are described. Douglas Coupland succeeds in giving a believable image of nerds, their way of conversation and theirhabits. I think the book tells what it’s all about in the computer industry right now.The book is full of geek details.‘...Tauri (nerd plural for Taurus)...’Nerds are told to fake ‘having a life’. A lot of them have kayaks in their garages, where ‘they’re collecting dust.’ Now theycan answer to the question ‘What do you do in your spare time’, ‘Oh, I kayak.’Geeks seem to be far more aware of some things than you or me. For instance: ‘This morning before heading to the office I read an in-depth story about Burt and Loni’s divorce in People magazine. Thus,1,474,819 brain cells that could have been used toward a formula for world peace were obliterated.’
They make lists about products (Lego minifigs vs. Fisher Price minifigs) and name their good and their bad assets.
There are several themes in this book, some of them are variations on one of them.
Most important is ‘getting a (social) life’, asis mentioned everywhere. All the characters are getting frustrated about having nothing but their jobs and 1-800phonenumbers.
Another theme is sexuality, which is related very much to getting a life. As soon as all the characters ‘get lives’(they start to date etc.), they discover sex too. Daniel looks up to his colleagues at Nintendo, who have a life: ‘It was nice being at Nintendo where everybody’s just a little bit younger and hipper than at Microsoft and actually takes partin the Seattle scene. Everyone at Microsoft seems, well, literally 31.2 years old, and it kind of shows.’
The parents are afraid of getting isolated from other people. Daniel’s mother has a lot of jobs and his Dad has a hard time afterhe’s fired. H’s got a lot on his mind. Especially the death of his son Jed. The message in this book isn’t anything new, it’s rather old. I think it says: care about your friends and family. Don’t work allthe time, but have some fun too.
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