Back in September Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science challenged Sciencebloggers to a nerd-off. I didn’t take part because I have an inherent sense of fairness. Professionals shouldn’t compete with amateurs. So I let it go. But now I want to claim my rightful crown from the usurper.
In that competition Orac at Respectful Insolence declared himself the übernerd on the basis of a long list of supposedly nerdish things, like the kind of tchotchkies in his home office (a 12″ model of the Incredible Hulk, a replica two-handed sword, etc.) and that he learned to program in Fortran, not Cobol, and a bunch of other geeky stuff. Correction added later: It was pointed out to me that MarkCC of Good Math, Bad Math, another great scienceblogger, actually won the nerdiest scienceblogger title, with Orac coming in third. My apologies to both nerds. I still think my nerdishness wins. Orac is a surgeon and by definition surgeons are too assertive to be true ubernerds. Mark is a computer scientist, for whom nerd as a category is just a collection of objects, maps and a couple of rules. So I still claim the title.]
Well I learned to program in assembler and then Forth, even before I learned to program in Fortran, but I don’t think that makes me the nerdiest Scienceblogger. I kept an Einstein scrapbook in elementary school and sent him a birthday card (when he was still alive, of course). I don’t think that necessarily makes me the nerdiest, either, but it gets me in the game. And I carried all my school work around in a leather briefcase (you know, the kind with the clamshell top and flat bottom) and had a log log duplex trig versalog sliderule in a leather case that I used daily (in highschool; of course there weren’t any calculators then, but still). That’s pretty nerdy, but not out of the ordinary for nerds. I was the President of the Math Club. I helped form a rocket club. The list goes on and on, just like Orac’s list.
It’s not about size, though — that my nerdiness is longer than his nerdiness. No, it’s about quality not quantity. True nerdiness is the kind of thing that dares not speak its name, that doesn’t even know its name, that when you describe it to your kids it makes them blanch and want to hide under the sofa in embarrassment, even though it was something that happened two decades before they were even born and which none of their (now grown) friends will ever find out about (or care about). Because its nerdiness is so overwhelming, even fifty years later.
Nerdiness like this.
When I was in highschool — a typical middle America public highschool of the late 1950s — the principal decided that for one week he would allow one student each day to play music through the school’s Public Address system in the period from 7:30 am to 8 am, the time when homerooms were assembling for the day. Sort of a disc jockey thing for a week. For a reason I can’t recall, I was one of those chosen to play anything I wanted for all of my classmates. All of them. The whole school.
I can’t remember what grade I was in, but I remember what I chose, thinking my classmates would like it. Thirty minutes of a Shostakovitch oratorio celebrating Soviet forest restoration (Song of the Forests). I announced it first. Over the school’s PA system. Then I played it. I played this for the whole school. And I played it because I really liked it and thought they would like it, too.
See what I mean?