Nerdiest ScienceBlogger: me

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?


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Yup. You win hands down.

I love that work. In Grade 2, we had to bring in our favourite piece of music to play for the class. I tossed up between Cat Stevens (Where do the children play), Pink Floyd (Money) and my favourite classical piece of the time (The Sunken Cathedral, by Debussy). In the end I couldn't decide and took them all in - and asked the class which they'd prefer to hear.

Stunned silence. The teacher thought I was pretty weird.

By attack rate (not verified) on 22 Oct 2006 #permalink

As a kid,

Didn't like any music, hated sport. Made model eroplanes and things with meccano & rubber bands.

With hobbies like that, I didn't get friends.

What's a nerd?

Comedy records. Oy.

I'm not mechanical, and inherited half broken nerd toy sets from my brother. He's the one who made very nice ww1 model airplanes and blew them up with firecrackers. And the one who got thrown out of the Boy Krauts.

By Ground Zero Homeboy (not verified) on 22 Oct 2006 #permalink

Hold on there Revere,

I can beat your programming in assembler. My first 'computer' - which I built myself - had 1024 bytes of RAM and had to be programmed in machine code. I remain today amused at the whit of the microprocessor developer who decided that the 'Jump Absolute' instruction was going to be 11110000. for those of you who do not speak hexadecimal, that's F0 - get it? F0 , Oh well, not many of my friends got it either. Of course, I can match you on the slide rule ( I still have my adorable Pic slide rule and occasionally find the need for a quick fiddle), together with the radio and chess clubs and the satchel for my treasured text books, but you trump me with your breakfast music score.

But hold on. You are making claim for the Nerd title TODAY, so surely you should be claiming it with tales of Nerdiness of your now self, not of what you achieved half a century ago!!

You cite the cringe factor as a good measure of Nerdeffect, well just this morning my youngest daughter called to drop off her pooch for the day and asked why I had a piece of hairy brown string tied to my trousers - my answer had her remembering yet again what a Nerd she has for a dad - "They are my new braces" said I, proudly showing her that they were the ultimate in custom adjustability from the inclusion of a sliding grip hitch tied into one side. The ultimate of comfort, sitting, bending or standing - I am quite proud of my new braces, my daughter made that funny little laugh of "Oh my God he's done it again" and left for work shaking her head.

Going further, Nurdiness should not be judged by single events of monumental Nurdiness, surely the title should go to the practitioner of constancy?

Today, my youthful nurdiness stemming from my absorption with microprocessors has gone, now these interests and abilities are seen as an asset and I am forever getting a call for me to go lay my hand on 'that bloody PC - it has gone wrong again - can you fix it please'.

Today, my Nurdiness is built on three passions.

The first - as you might have already guessed - is knots. Not only do I twiddle a length of nylon like a devout Catholic might fiddle with their rosary, but I am also just as likely to pull out my length of pristine nylon braid in front of friends and start showing them my latest knottiness. My lovely lady has often had cause for wishing she had Harry Potters Cloak of Invisibility in her handbag, but has to make do with utilising a withering glower and going through my pockets to divest me of my string before any social engagements. Such is my interest in knots I even have a knot Wiki - go have a look at I am sure you will enjoy it.

The second is the demons of - Flu Pandemic, Global Warming, all issues PC, the EU and .. and.. Go anywhere near one of these topics and the string goes back into the pocket and you can almost see me reach for my 'soap box'. Although I see the body language that says "OMG here he goes again", I somehow cannot resist the opportunity to make sure that the message is spread and that none of the all important details are left out of the limelight, after all, 'The Devil is in the Detail'. Isn't it?

The third is Ascorbate or any topic such as blood pressure or acute viral infection which give me the opportunity to get to my most favourite topic - ASCORBATE, and yes, there is a wiki being prepared at - I am sure you will enjoy it.

Anyone that has spent time over at the will have read the arguments I have had with Melanie et al on the subject of using ascorbate to destroy a cold or flu within 4 hrs of symptom onset. Sadly, the Fluwikie has now been sanitised and is headed firmly for the mainstream medicine stance relating to ascorbate - whoops - did you see that soap box creeping out again? I just don't seem to be able to help it. I guess the key issue with being a Nerd is that we do not seem to have others sense of 'appropriate time or appropriate place' and we really do not care what others think of us.

So Revere, I am not making any kind of challenge for your Nerdiness title, after all you have created Effect Measure and been invited to host it on ScienceBlogs, that puts you in the MegaNerd league straight away, it's just that, if you intend to retain your title it should be done with you today's Nurdiness and not rely on your Nurdiness of yesteryear.

Aspiring MegaNerd

By DerekSmith (not verified) on 23 Oct 2006 #permalink

Derek: There are some things that are (as we say in medicine), pathognomic. They are unmistakable signs of disease. I am claiming the school DJ as such an episode. In fact, I don't think of myself as a nerd but as someone who is pretty cool. That is another sign of a born nerd. S/he doesn't have any self awareness of their nerdiness. Which is why I could play a Shostakovich oratorio to hundreds of 7th through 12th graders in a not very intellectual school and think they would like it.

Also, I make a distinction between a person who is inherently nerdy and one with strange obsessions -- like ascorbate. Regarding the latter, I don't have anything against it (no Pauling Exclusion Principle), but I do remember the wise words of my father, who was an old fashioned General Practitioner: Everything in moderation. Megadosing with anything doesn't seem to fit that. But I say this at the risk of making you crazy, so forget I brought it up.

I have no doubt you are pretty nerdy if you took the trouble to program in machine language (I used to boot the PDP-9 with paper tape after setting switches by hand), but like a slide rule, in those days we didn't have a lot of choice. I still miss using my slide rule. Another sign.

Shostakovich, that's wonderful, Revere! I would have played obscure Macedonian folk music for the same reason.

By polyphony (not verified) on 23 Oct 2006 #permalink

I read several of the nerdiest blogger sites, and nowhere did I see a mention of ham radio. Now come on!

By Ground Zero Homeboy (not verified) on 23 Oct 2006 #permalink

GZ Homeboy, thankee most kindly dear dude for removin' my nerdy mind from the 1994 Stephen King six hour mini-series (tv movie), The Stand. Yes, twelve years ago on a rather hot Summer nite, wrapped in the arms of my lost Australian love, Leighton. A chilled cask of Oz vino snuggled in the 60s art deco fridge, and feelin' emotionally pumped from a seasoned group of actors' well crafted performances (I got teary when Molly Ringwold's character, Fran, post-Captain-Trips, listens to "Don't Dream It's Over")...

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a wimper -- T. S. Eliot

Cough, sniff, cough, back to ham radio and the 1970s...

My, what a big 10-4 you have, baby: "Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June In a Kenworth pullin' logs Cab-over Pete with a reefer on And a Jimmy haulin' hogs..."

David Frederick (from The growing popularity of C.W. McCall's hit 1976 song, political matters involving the 55 MPH Speed Limit, Gas Shortage and Trucker Strikes and a book/screen play by B.W. L. Norton as well as other hit car chasing movies movies such as Smokey and the Bandit inspired Director Sam Peckipah and EMI Films LTD (Producers Robert M. Sherman, Michael Deeley, Barry Spikings and Michael Friedman) film the movie "CONVOY" in 1977. It was released in the summer of 1978.

By Jon Singleton (not verified) on 24 Oct 2006 #permalink

GZB: OK. I'll mention it. I had both Novice and General Class licenses, K9***. Copied about 15 wpm and only worked CW. Di Dah Dit, Di Dah Dit, Di Dah Dit . . .

revere, I don't think your DJ thing would have been nerdy. I think it's a kind og Clockwork Orangian, weirdly beautiful.