Geek ink

A reader writes:

Just wondering if I could pick your brains (or maybe, more specifically your funny-bone)?

I fancy having a little tattoo done, but have been struggling with what to have permanently etched into my flesh. I've been looking round the web at geeky logos and pictures, scientific equations and symbols, even romantic stuff I could possibly have about the girl I'm marrying in 2 months (not sure about that idea, kids are for life, but divorce can happen after all, haha). Then I hit on the idea of having a funny little "program" or code snippet done, something to insult/amuse the reader. That would be just the right amount of "geek". Doesn't have to be syntactically correct obviously, pseudocode would be fine too. But I'm struggling with it, as I'm no programmer and basically have very poor creative ability.

This is what I've conjured up so far, but I'm not happy with it yet :

TimeInSecs = 0
While YouReadThis = True
AnIdiotIsDistracted = TimeInSecs + 1

See what I mean? Very poor so far I think. It needs a little more, *something* doesn't it... So I know it's an odd request for help, but I thought I'd try my luck, as your writing style always gives me a good laugh and you always seem to help where you can.


I'm not a programmer either, so I can't help you a great deal with code-tattoos, but there's a whole genre of science and other "nerd" tattoos, as you've noticed.

If someone pointed a gun at my head and said "You! Decide on a tattoo for yourself in five seconds, or die!", then I would immediately nominate the "Hacker Emblem" glider, with or without the grid-lines. At the moment that symbol is tainted with the egotistical aroma of Stephen Wolfram, but after his crank theories have been forgotten, Life will endure.

(The Life motif also, obviously, gives you lots of other possible tattoos. Your second tattoo could be an R-pentomino, for instance.)

If you're going with code, consider some famously elegant algorithm, rather than just a gag. Usually, the whole idea of a tattoo is for it to say something about you; if you're a programmer, some landmark piece of code from your field would serve the same purpose as a cosmic-background-radiation tat would for the right sort of astronomer or physicist.

If you're not a programmer, though, I think getting a code-tattoo is a bit like all of those people walking around with tattoos in languages they cannot read (often in languages that don't even exist).

I sent a slightly smaller version of the above to Jonathan, then realised I could turn it into this post with a bunch of pics plundered from the Flickr Geek Tattoos group. I invite readers to contribute their own suggestions, and also to show off their own totally rad whole-back IK+ screenshot or whatever. If you want an image in your comment (which the commenting system won't let you have), just give the image URL and I'll pic-ify it.

And now, on with the tats!

UL fo' life, yo.
UL tattoo
source: jon_gilbert

A classic periodic table:
Periodic Table tattoo
source: o2b
(You might also like to consider the Chemical Galaxy or some other alternative table.)

Geometry Classic™!
Euclidean tattoo
source: normalityrelief

Sodium chloride tattoo
source: megpi

...and a smaller tat of a bigger molecule:
Molecule tattoo
source: thiswasmeantforyou

Marrella splendens.
Marrella splendens
source: Anauxite

This isn't quite a science tattoo, but there is an Aperture Science tat:
Valve games 4 life yo
source: vissago

If you're going to go evil, of course, you might as well go ancient incomprehensible evil:
Cthulhu tattoo
source: scragz

Or try to ward it off:
Elder Sign tattoo
source: iamthechad

The Elder Sign within
source: Yabon_Gorky
(If you could get someone to engrave Elbereth somewhere on you too, you'd be pretty much set.)

"It's not the East or the West Side." "No, it's not."
Empire-symbol tattoo
source: katie cowden

Technical but abstract:
Power symbol and circuit trace tattoo
source: bdjsb7

Hindu Mario!
Hindu Mario tattoo
source: artfisch

Real computers are magnesium cubes:
NeXT tattoo
source: lantzilla

Ubuntu - but ooh, what a giveaway...
Ubuntu tattoos
source: Myles Braithwaite

More generic techno-symbols:
Power, Play, Stop symbol tattoos
source: Rain Rabbit

The Answer to the Question.
Binary 42 tattoo
source: sensesmaybenumbed
(That one's actually a temporary tattoo, but it looks good enough to me.)

The BSD Daemon...
BSD Daemon tattoo
source: andyi
...which can be useful for detecting advanced Christians.

The original:
Space Invader tattoo
source: Arkhan

Dammit, Jim!
Bones McCoy tattoo
source: Mez Love

From the same artist:
GOB Bluth tattoo
You gotta be pretty hardcore to successfully rock a GOB tat.

Oh, you're gonna pop a cap in my ass? Then I might just erase your species from history. How you like that, bitch?
Seal of Rassilon tattoo
source: Diamond Geyser
(Another Seal of Rassilon, with further sci-fi and anime tats, here. Also, it now occurs to me that it would be awesome if the Twelfth Doctor was Samuel L. Jackson.)

Reduced to its essentials:
Dalek and TARDIS tattoos
source: HB Art

"NCC-1701. No bloody A, B, C, or D."
Starship Enterprise tattoo
source: hunedx

And the opposition, plus some triangles of no importance.
Klingon tattoos
source: thatgrumguy

And then there's this Romulan spy infiltrating a Gay Pride parade:
Blackwork plus a Romulan Empire symbol
source: djwudi

The Glorious Revolution of Comrade Bushnell!
Ornate Atari-and-star tattoo
source: evil angela

This could just be camouflage for a pool shark.
Nintendo assortment tattoo
source: Fujoshi

A collection of ancient technological talismans:
Green-screen Atari 2600 tattoo
source: fejsez

(You can get geeky temporary tattoos, too. Oh, and if anybody knows where you can buy those fabric fake tattoo sleeves with stuff other than the generic tough-biker or B&W-tribal tats on them, do share. UPDATE: DealExtreme have a bunch of very cheap sleeves now, including a few less-Hell's-Angel-or-pirate options.)

UPDATE: Cracked tells you everything you need to know about tattoos!

24 Responses to “Geek ink”

  1. heather Says:

    My stab (or roughly 120,000 stabs) at a geek tattoo is panel 6, page 17, issue 7 of Watchmen. Inked a couple of years before the movie, thank you :)

  2. Alex Whiteside Says:

    I'm curious as to what the freckle in the sodium chloride molecule is supposed to represent. Perhaps it is about to form a transient rydgberg anion. Top marks to them for using a Lewis diagram which manages to adequately reflect the covalent character of the gas-phase molecule, which coincidentally provides a reasonable basis for the diffuse orbital. I may be overthinking this.

  3. Daniel Rutter Says:

    panel 6, page 17, issue 7 of Watchmen

    Let's see... that'd be this one, yes?

    Watchmen skeletons

    If we're talking COMICS, then I might opt for a background-deleted version of this:

    Transmetropolitan: It's Journalism!

  4. RichVR Says:

    Hmmm... My "time to get another tat sense" is tingling.

  5. phrantic Says:

    You say "ancient incomprehensible evil", I say "badass Ood".

  6. Xanthir FCD Says:

    My tat, gotten for my 23rd birthday

    Pi tattoo

    I'll extend it down to the elbow later, and finish with a large pi symbol on top. When I can afford it...

  7. reyalp Says:

    Science writer Carl Zimmer collects Science tatoos if you need more inspiration.

    As for code related tattoos, I'd suggest avoiding specific languages. Something more fundamental and symbolic would seem appropriate. Perhaps some kind of visualization of a Turing machine or a symbolic representation of some clever or important algorithm.

    You could also become an international arms smuggler. Or a copyright protection circumvention device.

  8. speedweasel Says:

    I’ve never understood people who want a tattoo but don’t know what tattoo to get. The only way I would ever get a tattoo would be if it was something so profoundly meaningful to me that it warranted etching into my skin. I think people who first decide to get a tattoo, and then decide what tattoo to get have put the cart before the horse. Buy hey, whatever man, it’s your skin.

  9. mookers Says:

    I don't have a photo of it, but a former colleague of mine had an RFID tag tattooed on his arm or leg. It made the front page of BoingBoing one day.

  10. kamikrae-z Says:

    You'll find a lot of results if you GIS "Quake Tattoo", which again isn't exactly sciency, but is definitely geeky. The Quake3 logo seems quite popular as a lower-back tattoo for females. If you check the second page, you'll also find a tattoo of Tux, and also of the Weighted Companion Cube.

  11. mookers Says:

    Update: I found my colleague's RFID tattoo listed on Carl Zimmer's blog.

    After all the headaches this guy had getting our RFID software to work, I'm surprised he wanted such a permanent reminder!

  12. Red October Says:

    Having something encoded in a bar code seems to fit the bill, especially since you could encode it yourself and would know what it means. A girl I used to work with had the big Legend-of-Zelda triforce-Figlagee-with-bronze-oak-leaf-palm as a lower back tattoo, but she was a walking collection of examples of thigns you shouldn't be tattoo'd with (names of people, names of bands, roses, hearts, the number 69 -on her neck, no less, breaking another rule of good tattooing -that is, beeing tattoo'd in a place that is difficult to hide).

  13. idris Says:

    Just thought I'd anally point out that TimeInSecs never seems to be incremented, so every iteration of the loop assigns AnIdiotIsDistracted = 0 + 1, which is, of course, just 1, and it will forever be 1. Unless you were incrementing TimeInSecs in another thread, or something.

    If you do end up getting a code tattoo, I'd get a few different people to look it over first =)

  14. Maxn Says:

    The circuit board tattoo above makes me want conductive tattoo's. (low volts and amps at first)

    Also a 2D bar code readable by mobile phones, with the message in the bar code itself or on a web page encoded linked to.

  15. Maxn Says:

    Just found this for people the want to try it before they commit it to ink.

  16. Chazzozz Says:

    Oh man, barcode tattoos are just so Big Brother it's scary.

    I'm with RichVR, this is making me think of getting another done. The problem, though, is that it can be real hard to stop at just one. I've thus far resisted...but I'm starting to wonder how cool a Big Daddy would look (with matching Little Sister, of course!).

  17. heather Says:

    @Dan's comment: my Watchmen tattoo.
    Yep, that's the one. I've also considered the caffeine molecule, and an armband of "pacman-eating-dots-chasing-ghosts-and-being-chased". I might still go for that, eventually. I also have a non-geeky (depending on PoV) tatt of the AC/DC "fly on the wall" character.

    I have a friend with the rebel alliance symbol on his upper arm, and another with the Elvish inscription from the One Ring around his calf. Geekiness abounds.

  18. Daniel Rutter Says:

    A few more illustrations (probably not of the actual people and/or body locations Heather's talking about, of course):

    I've also considered the caffeine molecule,

    Caffeine-molecule tattoo
    source: adam coster

    and an armband of "pacman-eating-dots-chasing-ghosts-and-being-chased".

    Why just an armband :-)?

    Alarming Pac-Man tattoo
    source: DarthAbraham

    I have a friend with the rebel alliance symbol on his upper arm,

    Rebel and Empire symbol tattoos
    source: Walt Jabsco

    and another with the Elvish inscription from the One Ring around his calf.

    One Ring inscription tattoo
    source: cheetleys

  19. yasth Says:

    QR Code has been done. Though I can't imagine it being all that fun. I mean one looks much like another, and the size to get one that reads nicely is largeish. Plus you'd have to worry about stretching...

    Connect the dots Suggests an easy way to make a lot of things, a little math providing multiple sequences giving different ways of connecting would be sufficiently geeky.

  20. Anthony Hersey Says:

    I know someone who has the One Ring tattooed on his ring finger, in lieu of a traditional wedding ring. He says it hurt like hell.

  21. Red October Says:

    I don't even know if anyone is still following this, but Dan's Transmetropolitan refference made me think: Why not the three-eyed smiley face, or some variation on Spider's own tattoos, although out-of-context they may be too generic.

  22. pjcamp Says:

    The salt molecule arguably depicts a covalent bond. It also seriously violates the Pauli exclusion principle as well as being a sort of Bohrish model (which only works properly for hydrogen).

    One could argue that if geek tattoos are not at least correct, they become idiot tattoos. After all, there is a fine line between genius and stupidity. Tesla lived his entire life on that line.

  23. Dr. Wang Says:

    I tried in vain to dig up the link when I saw this. Lo and behold, it appeared the other day.

    It's not ink, but it's definitely geeky.

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