Geekery & house flies

If you haven’t already seen the article about’s $23million book about flies, please check it out.

A few weeks ago a postdoc in my lab logged on to Amazon to buy the lab an extra copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly – a classic work in developmental biology that we – and most other  Drosophila developmental biologists – consult regularly. The book, published in 1992, is out of print. But Amazon listed 17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).

What I loved about this article wasn’t just the conclusion the author reached, which is worth reading the article to find out. But the fact that he reached it at all, and the methodology. Because right here, we have quintessential geekery.

click to go to XKCD image source

The difference between a geek and a non-geek is that a non-geek would have laughed his head off and passed it around to all his friends, but a geek, after laughing his head off and passing it around, then established a methodological approach to figuring out why this absurd situation had come about in the first place.

If you read the article at Io9, there’s even a spreadsheet as they track the price fluctuations between the two sellers, and they determined a pattern as first one price adjusted, and then the other.

Not contented with that, they then figured out why the prices were set as they were, and to what purpose.

Geeks have a bad reputation as being aloof and not quite comprehending human nature, but here you see that they do: when it’s necessary to decipher the absurd, human nature came under the microscope and was analyzed accurately.

This tickles my inner geek, and I read it to my Patient Husband and our tragically geeky Kiddo#1, and we all got a good laugh. But I keep thinking about it and realizing geekiness, while it sets you apart to some extent, it has its uses.


  1. cricketB

    I’d say us geeks comprehend human nature as well as we comprehend anything else.

    “Hmmm, that got a reaction I didn’t expect. I should see if it’s repeatable, and test the variables.”

    1. philangelus

      But the stereotypical geek is either the absent-minded professor, or the 26 year old guy who lives in his parents’ basement between Star Trek conventions. Neither of those would be someone who particularly notices social conventions or human behavior.

      I tend to think geek-types gloss over things that seem unimportant, and sometimes social conventions fall into that category.

  2. cricketB

    Also, we see through social conventions. Mom often asks me, “Doesn’t it sound nicer if you say, ‘Shouldn’t you clean up your room?’ ” Uh, no. If you want me to clean up my room, skip the question and say so.

    I do it all the time in correspondence. Here’s what I want, here’s why you should do it (which can include effects on you, me, and others), I appreciate your time. Oh, right, add something warm and welcoming at the top, comfortable teamwork at the bottom. Done.

    One of the senior storytellers is upset because I’m abrupt when reminding them to arrive early or keep to time limits because we have a crowded program. My peers are glad not to wade through the formalities to get to the important bit.

    Remember the days when the salutation and closing took more room than the content?

  3. cricketB

    Nope, can’t find a non-circular reference for this, but it’s a good story:

    The Duke of Wellington is said to have once ended a letter “Your most humble and obedient servant (which you know damned well I am not)”.

  4. Monica

    Nobody’s ever accused me of being a geek, but I could still appreciate the fun of all this.