Computer `geeks' cruise into Juneau

Professionals from 12 countries talk tech, inspect state systems

Posted: Thursday, June 01, 2000

Randal Schwartz says computer ``geeks'' are like gophers: They spend most of the time underground, and occasionally pop their heads up.

``This is the pop-the-head-up part,'' Schwartz, a Portland, Ore.-based author of several books on computer language, said while on a tour of information technology equipment at the State Office Building on Wednesday.

Just an hour after stepping off the Holland America cruise ship Volendam, Schwartz and 13 other professed geeks saw the heart of the state's data management operations, courtesy of Brian Idzik of the Department of Administration.

The group was from a contingent of 170 computer professionals from 12 countries holding a convention on the Volendam, courtesy of the fledgling business The seven-day cruise of the Inside Passage, which began in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Monday, is the maiden voyage for the venture. Mostly system developers, the participants include employees of Fortune 500 companies, small entrepreneurs and free-lancers, said Neil Bauman, CEO of

Jeff Gnass, a Juneau free-lance photographer who is working on building Websites, had been following news of the cruise on the Internet and said he was awed by the lineup of people holding seminars on-board.

Gnass called them leaders in the application of ``perl,'' or practical extraction and reporting language, which he described as a ``very forgiving'' but still sophisticated methodology for creating interactive Websites. Schwartz labeled perl ``the duct tape of the Internet.'' The convention is billed as ``Perl Whirl 2000.''

While Gnass was aware of the geeks' reputations, they hadn't previously heard about Juneau's locally touted cable modem penetration, reportedly the highest per capita in the nation.

Asked if he could imagine expanding into Juneau, Marcelo Siero, president of of Felton, Calif., said: ``I'd consider it.'' The biggest problem, he said, would be relocating computer experts.

Although Wednesday's weather was beautiful -- ``paradise,'' Siero said -- Idzik's recitation of annual precipitation statistics dampened enthusiasm for most of the geeks. But Idzik stressed the advantage of being able to walk to salmon streams, plus the merits of Alaskan Brewing Co., where the geeks also were scheduled for a tour.

Although their conversation was often incomprehensible to the technologically challenged, the geeks made for a lively group, ooh'ing and ah'ing over the state's data retrieval robot and lambasting Bill Gates for a coerced monopoly with Microsoft Windows.

The group's day in Juneau was to conclude with a ``pub crawl.'' Asked what that was, one geek said: ``You go to a pub. You crawl.''

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