College professor named 'Sexiest Geek'
June 21, 2001

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) -- Ellen Spertus, a women's college professor with a doctorate from MIT, strapped her father's slide rule to her thigh and walked away with the title of "Sexiest Geek Alive 2001."

The ivory-skinned proponent of the Linux operating system -- a free alternative to Microsoft Corp.' Windows - beat out a baton-twirling e-business integration manager, a lip-syncing Web designer and an information technology consultant with deep dimples in the competition on Wednesday night. In addition to the title, she will receive a new computer and a trip for two on

"I bet I've reproduced more geeks than anyone on this stage. I aspire to be a geek fertility goddess," said Spertus, 32, who teaches computer science at Mills College in Oakland, California, and joked that the victory was sure to "increase my students' respect for me."

Not that she needed any help in that department.

"I think she's a terrific role model. She always exceeds your expectations," said Susan Housand, who is taking a graduate-level robotics class taught by Spertus and was among about a dozen of her noisy supporters at the second-annual event, which was part of a Broadband conference in Silicon Valley's capital city of San Jose.

"I left with my cheeks hurting from laughing," said Housand, 31, who added that her professor's win opens up avenues for women "to be zany and geeky and just be yourself."

Spertus came dressed to kill in a long, black skirt that split far above her knee and a custom-made corset that appeared to be covered with computer circuitry.

"I actually did some research on load-bearing undergarments," quipped Spertus, who shares her birth year with computer chip giant Intel Corp. and made the leather thigh-holster that holds her treasured slide rule.

When judges asked about her greatest accomplishment, she said she had scored a personal victory against spammers, otherwise known as the senders of unwanted e-mail, by suing the now-defunct delivery firm in small claims court and winning a $50 judgment.

Such battles fall close to Spertus' heart. Before becoming a teacher, she did a stint at Microsoft Research, where she developed the first computer program to recognize abusive e-mail messages.

Also rising to the occasion was contestant Jamie Hall, who said she spent four solid days memorizing the words to "The Diva Dance" and an aria from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," which was sung by Diva Pavalaguna in the science fiction film "The Fifth Element." The Houston Web designer painted herself blue and became the huge-headed alien, who sings once each decade.

"It was such a blast. I knew I had the right crowd," said Hall, 30.

Those efforts, however, did not come close to last year's most memorable stunt, which involved a finalist tattooing Microsoft's logo into his calf, said Steven Phenix, an account executive at Bite Communications Inc. and one of the contest's creators.

About 10,000 people took the online quiz to enter this year's sexiest geek contest, which had eight finalists. That number was down from 18,000 a year ago, when Hollywood actresses with Web sites were tyring to show their mettle, Phenix said.

No Hollywood actress - save this year's co-host and StarTrek star Chase Masterson - could know the torture this year's geek contestants endured as they made their way in the world via science classes and chess clubs.

They competed to tell the best tales of woe, times when the in-crowd made them feel like they were at the bottom of the heap, and their stories included an incident when a couple of jocks wrapped one contestant's head with packing tape.

This time, though, the best geek rose to the top, said Mike Higashi, a Linux systems administrator who watched the event with about 50 other people.

"I would have voted for Ellen. I like the fact that she teaches other people to be geeks," he said.

05.01.01 Dispatch: Masterson to Crown Sexiest Geek Alive

For the second year in a row, Chase Masterson ("Leeta" in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) will help prove to the world that being a geek is cool. The shapely Dabo girl will host the finals of the second annual Sexiest Geek Alive contest to be held in San Jose, California, on June 21.

"They're smart, they're pasty faced, and they know their way around a RAM cache. Now the geeks have their own beauty contest," announced Time magazine last week, with a photo of Masterson showing off last year's winner, Tony Northrup.

Sponsored by Imark Communications and the website Geek & Guru, the contest is holding semi-final competitions both on-line and in cities around the country in conjunction with Information Technology conferences. Contenders of either gender can register on-line at, where their intellect is tested by answering 40 questions on the Web site about technology and "geek culture," including Star Trek trivia. Based on points awarded for correct answers and a follow-up interview, contestants are selected to compete either online or in person at a local conference (visitors to the Web site can vote for the online candidates). Finalists will then travel to San Jose to compete for bragging rights to the title of Sexiest Geek Alive along with cash and prizes—and a chance to pose with Masterson—in a pageant held in conjunction with the Broadband Year 2001 conference.

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