Geekiness at issue in Hans Reiser trial

When it comes to stereotypical nerds, the programmer accused of murdering his wife is in a class of his own, or at least that's what his defense attorney would like the jury to think.

OAKLAND, Calif.--There are stereotypical nerds...and then there is Hans Reiser. He's in a class all by himself, or at least that's how he was being portrayed here Monday in his first day on the stand in his own murder trial.

Between getting him to talk about the game he created at age 17 to compete with Dungeons and Dragons, to highlighting his interest in Russian mail-order brides, to having him explain a Linux kernel to a jury of laypeople, Reiser's attorney is laying his client's geekiness on thick.

Hans Reiser mug
Hans Reiser via Stanford University

Reiser, 44, the founder of the ReiserFS file system software available for Linux, is accused of murdering his estranged wife, Nina, whose body has never been found . Experts for the prosecution have presented biological and trace evidence tying Reiser to Nina's death. But Reiser has long suggested that his wife might not be dead at all, but could be hiding in her native Russia after stealing money from her husband's former company Namesys.

As in his earlier testimony Monday at the Alameda County Superior Court, defense attorney William Du Bois seemed to be making a special effort to present his client as the computer wonk he clearly is. Du Bois flashed back to Reiser's days at U.C. Berkeley where he spent years in Evans Hall playing computer games and watching his compadres hack into the university's computer system. "I wasn't the cracker, but my friends were."

The idea for Reiser's file system first came to him around 1984, he said, and he developed the idea until about 1993, he testified. At that point, Reiser was working as a system administrator at IBM's Almaden Research Center and he brought his idea to some computer scientists there. It didn't go over well, he said. "One of the researchers fell asleep during my talk."

After reading an article about computer programmers hungry for work in Russia, Reiser then hired a Russian team to work on his file system. It didn't hurt that "the women in Russia were beautiful," said Reiser, who also decided to visit some agencies there he said were for "mail-order brides."

The Russian programming team eventually quit, perhaps out of frustration with Reiser's management style, he said. "They didn't like my telling them how to write code," Reiser said. That's when Reiser renamed his file system ReiserFS so his contribution to it would always be known, he said.

ReiserFS was eventually accepted into Linux around 2000, he testified. Reiser later corrected his attorney's pronunciation of the OS named for Linus Torvalds.

Du Bois alluded to Reiser's nerdy tendencies as he drew out his client's account of meeting Nina at one of the agencies in Russia. Nina, unlike others, wanted to talk to him on the phone first before meeting him. "She actually heard you talk before she agreed to see you?" Du Bois asked Reiser. "And she still agreed to see you?"

The two of them only met a few times before agreeing Nina would come to the states on a tourist visa, Reiser said. Months after she arrived she got pregnant and they were married, Reiser said.

While he talked Nina as "perceptive," "beautiful" and "a step above all the other ladies I dated," Reiser agreed with his attorney's labeling of the marriage as "one of convenience."

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Michelle Meyers, associate editor, has been writing and editing CNET News stories since 2005. But she's still working to shed some of her old newspaper ways, first honed when copy was actually cut and pasted. When she's not fixing typos and tightening sentences, she's working with reporters on story ideas, tracking media happenings, or freshening up CNET News' home page.

 

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