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GEEKS ARE THE NEW HEROES IN TODAY'S POPULAR CULTURE

Nerds, dweebs, geeks. Call them what you will, but they're back, and they're cool.

Ten years after the first Nerd Revolution - largely embodied in the 1984 movie "Revenge of the Nerds" and 1985's "Real Genius," "Weird Science" and "My Science Project" - computer geeks are in the limelight again, with a new sense of techie pride.Pop culture is inundated with pocket protectors and horn-rimmed glasses, from the big screen to the little screen, from newspapers to books. Consider:

"Dweebs," a new series debuting in the fall on CBS, is about employees at a computer company who have the real world forced upon them in the form of a new office manager (played by Farrah Forke, late of "Wings").

"A lot of people, to join the human race, are getting into new technology: `I've got to make that step or the world's going to pass me by,' " said Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays a nerd named Karl.

On the other hand, he said, geeks also feel out of touch because they're not part of mainstream society. "Both sides of the issue feel they're out of it. Everybody feels they're outsiders."

Tobolowsky admitted he and wife Ann Hearn love perusing the Internet. "Instead of winding down with a bowl of pretzels in front of the television, we just start surfing the 'Net."

This new geek pride goes beyond the nerd movement of a decade ago, Tobolowsky said. This time, it's about technology, not simply about being geeky. "A few years ago, the fashion was nerds. These guys were into technology, but Val Kilmer was no nerd in `Real Genius.' Now the science is coming to the fore. People are beginning to embrace science, and the fashion is secondary."

Techies are sex symbols for the '90s, said Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip "Dilbert." Dilbert, an engineer, has grown wildly popular; six years after his debut, the mushroom-headed, mouthless man now appears in close to 500 newspapers daily.

"Technical people are becoming the people with the most money," Adams said. "Also, you see engineers and technical people sneaking into popular culture. In `Star Trek,' for instance, it's the engineers you see saving the universe much of the time, and in shows like `MacGyver.'

"There's an evolutionary imperative in that people the most capable of reproducing and taking care of children are the most sought after, and engineers are fitting those needs."

Adams recently ran a personal ad in his Dilbert newsletter from a woman who described Dilbert as her perfect mate: dependable, employed and smart.

It's the techies and dweebs who save the day in the movie "Apollo 13." While astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert fight to stay alive in space, the thick-lensed boys at Mission Control work their slide rules feverishly to get them home safely. At one point in the film, a group of engineers has to find a way to build a carbon dioxide filter out of common items aboard the rocket - a la MacGyver.

Douglas Coupland, the man who coined the term Generation X, investigates geekdom in his latest novel, "Microserfs." The book is a fictional journal about life at Microsoft, written from the point of view of Dan Underwood, a 26-year-old software coder. Underwood and his co-workers revel in their geekiness, worshiping "Star Trek" and "Melrose Place," sending e-mail rather than talking and spending 12 hours a day (and often more) coding.