Are you a nerd? If you are, you might know the late Dr Seuss made up the word back in the 50′s. Dr. Seuss’ story, If I Ran the Zoo, stars a boy named Gerald McGrew who makes extravagant claims of how’d he act were he in charge of the zoo. First, he would bring in a Nerd (a creature from Ka-Troo.) Says Gerald:
And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an IT-KUTCH a PREEP and a PROO a NERKLE a NERD and a SEERSUCKER, too!
Just like the odd looking Seussian nerd, the modern nerd is a different breed. I know some of you are half way through an email to me expounding on the differences between nerds and geeks. Send it, if you must, but know I don’t care. When I write nerd, I’m thinking of the movie “Revenge of the Nerds.” The term geek seems an awkward attempt to popularize and socialize nerds. I embrace my nerddom, so should you.So what makes a nerd? Well social obliviousness (or indifference) is a good indicator, but the primary characteristic is passionate curiosity coupled with scientific rigor.
Let’s take as an example a certain Mr. Hans F. A lot of us use the microwave oven (I happen to heat nearly all my meals in mine.) Hans is no different in that regard. But one day, perhaps while waiting for a delicious TV dinner to thaw, he began thinking about magnetrons. The magnetron, you might know, is the device that zaps your food and warms it up by making the water molecules dance. Hans happened to know that the magnetron inside of microwave ovens does not change power– it’s either on or off. So how does the oven adjust the perceived output power? By duty cycle, that is, by switching the magnetron on and off. Says Hans*,
In a bout of curiosity I sat down with my microwave today and figured out exactly what those duty cycles are (you can hear when the magnetron switches on and off). My microwave apparently has a cycle period of 32 seconds. High is power level 100 and the magnetron is on all the time. Power level 50 is on 18 seconds and off 14 seconds. Power level 40 is on 16 and off 16 (which I would have guessed would be the case for power level 50). Power level 10 (the lowest setting) is on for 6 seconds and off for 26 seconds.
In sum, nerds apply the scientific method to everyday life and though that generally refers to computers, it’s not exclusively so. And while the accompanying social abrasiveness can be mitigated by a girlfriend or a wife (if ever we manage to find a either…), there seems to always run an undercurrent of social maladroitness.
How much of a nerd are you?
As much as Carolus Linnaeus and I would like to clearly classify people with simple labels, people are complicated and so few people are 100% nerdy. That’s why we need a system to gauge nerdiness. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Some quick nerd litmus questions: Can you count in hexadecimal? Do you know what a “reverse polish notation” calculator is? Have you ever used the word “asymptotic”? Can you convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit? Celsius and Kelvin? Do you know how fast light travels, in miles per second?
I’ve been interviewing people for a couple open positions at work all week. Asking the same questions gets old, so I make up new questions to annoy the interviewees. Here is today’s question:
Aliens are about to destroy all human life on earth. You have built a secret super bunker that can save you and ten other people. Your job is to choose which people you’ll need to reconstruct society after the annihilation. Which occupations, skills, and abilities are essential to your new, healthy society? You can select particular people (your mom), or roles (a politician). For each, explain why you selected them.
Maybe you’ve seen kids wearing Heelys*. Heelys are the shoes that have a wheel in the heel which allows the wearer to both walk and roll (with a little practice.) It seems like great fun for preteens. Oddly, they make Heelys for adults too. Back in college, my sister’s roommate, Syndey, was dating a guy named Jason**. Jason was an otherwise good guy who one day showed up wearing a new pair of Heelys. Sydney thought it was amusing at first, a funny short-term gag. But the Heelys didn’t go away. In fact, they became Jason’s primary footware. Where Jason was, there were Heelys. The Heelys accompanied Jason and Syndey on all their dates, to the supermarket and even to church. “Clop, Clop, Scoot!”, went Jason.
Finally, Syndey had had enough. Her subtle, Heely-disparaging remarks to Jason were getting no traction. She could take no more. She gave Jason an ultimatum– he must either pick her or the Heelys. It didn’t take him long to make a decision.
He choose the Heelys.
Have you ever regretted a decision you made?
* Heelys. Freedom is a wheel in your sole
** Names have been changed because, frankly, I don’t remember them.
The Bible says we’re not supposed to judge others, but that really means we shouldn’t cast final judgment on people. (That’s God’s job.) It is, on the other hand, perfectly appropriate to make decisions using our experience and intelligence. That’s how society operates. But people are complicated and measuring them is difficult and time-consuming, and so we devise shortcuts to determine a person’s real makeup.
What are these shortcuts? Well, after a minute of brainstorming and Googling, I came up with: You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their mother, by what they find funny, what they do when they have nothing to do, by what they do when nobody is looking, by the company they keep, by their shoes, by the way they handle four things: a rainy day, the elderly, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights, by what’s inside her purse, by the music they listen to (what’s on their iPod), by the clothes they wear, by the books they read, by their golf swing, from the stuff on their desk, by the car they drive, and by looking in their refrigerator.
In business school we studied incentive plans. The inherent problem with motivating and rewarding employees is that it’s hard to find good performance metrics. If you pay programmers on the number of lines they write, they’ll write lots of worthless code. If you pay salespeople solely based on new sales, they’ll neglect current customers and over-promise in order to close the sale. In measuring people using shortcuts, you run into the same problem. Measure people on metrics and they’ll optimize for those metrics and could neglect what you think is really important. If someone thinks you’ll judge them by the what they laugh at, they’ll intentionally suppress laughing in order to boost your perception of them.
The solution in life is the same as in business– use a broad range of measures, while discarding ones that are ineffective determinants.
That’s a maxim I coined a few years ago in an attempt to describe the concept that it is through significant situations and intentions from which truly impactful things emerge. That is not to say the nascent circumstances have to be on a grand scale, but merely important or rich in meaning. For example, New Testament Christianity began in a humble manger, but that manger and its surroundings are rife with symbolism.
Maybe the modern-day equivalent of the manger is the garage? Apple Computer and HP both started in garages. And that got me thinking about my garage. Ignoring the massive piles of emergency supplies and tools, it’s pretty empty. But what to fill it with?
This last year my dad turned 60 and for his birthday present, us kids decided to make a documentary of his life. That involved driving around the country filming his brothers and sisters, his family farm, the places he lived, etc. For that effort to succeed, I invested (probably a bit too heavily) in prosumer video equipment (an HD camera, lights, microphones, etc.) The project was a great success, but after the DVD was made, I looked at the pile of cinematographic equipment and lamented its lack of further use. That’s when I started thinking of creating a media company to do commercial work for local companies. But back to my garage–
My garage is a standard two car garage, and because my brother always parked his boat in front of the garage door, the garage never had cars inside it. That made it a great potential space for filming. We set up a green screen, lots of lights, microphones, a teleprompter, the camera and a heater to create our own DIY film studio. Now we just needed clients…
Bret Rassmussen of Kuru Footware approached us film nerds (Ben, Luke, Tyler and Me) and asked if we could help in his marketing efforts. We quickly agreed. Shortly thereafter we assembled in my garage and began to film. That was last Saturday. A few hours later, with the help of an amazing actress (Kim), we had a good quantity of footage for the project. It was just a first step, but it was a great one. And that is how great things begin, remember?
Today is Saint Patrick’s Day which is an odd holiday sponsored by high-pitched, crazy Catholic leprechauns over in Dublin. The Irish like everything to be green on their holiday, and if you don’t wear green, people are given free license to pinch you. Strangely, in all the years of my life, even though I rarely remember to sport green on this day, NO ONE has ever pinched me. I don’t know why this is the case. I don’t know how I’d even react to a punitive pinching. If it was from a stranger, I might react poorly. Otherwise, I’d probably tackle the pincher to the ground and make them say “uncle.” Or something.
Dublinites even want us to eat strange food, like corned beef and cabbage on this day of theirs. I’d like to make it clear that under no circumstance will I ever eat corned beef and cabbage, unless I was being held hostage by rebel, bearded, gold-hoarding elves and my eating of said food was prerequisite to my release. Then I’d consider it.
England’s neighbor to the west once had a potato famine and boat-loads of their citizens immigrated to the USA as a consequence. A lot of them ended up in Chicago. To this day, the ancestors of those immigrants dump buckets (40 lbs) of dye into the Chicago river each year. How that makes it past the rabid environmentalists, I have no clue.
My mom used to dye our breakfast food green. Something about green pancakes and syrup is not particularly appetizing. Maybe we could change the color to blue? I think i’d support St. Patty’s day better if the color was blue. Nearly all of my dress shirts are already shades of blue. I’d drink blue Muscle Milk. I already like Gatorade Glacier Freeze Thirst Quencher Frost (which is blue.) I’d even consent to an annual listening of Eiffel 65′s I’m blue, even though the lyrics seem to say, “I’m in need of a guy”, instead of “da ba dee da ba die.”
Some people have trouble sleeping. Sometimes it’s because they don’t have a real bed, instead they have a futon, which is a couch that becomes a bed, but not a very good one, unless you happen to like metal rails jutting into your back as you sleep.
But I’m getting away from my point, which is this: the Didgeridoo (that odd sounding Australian musical instrument) helps you sleep. Well, it doesn’t spit out Ambien CR or make a great pillow, but for those who suffer from sleep apnea, playing the Didgeridoo can strengthen the muscles in your upper airway “reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.” What else? Well, playing the magical didjeridu also reduces snoring. AND, when practiced twenty minutes a day, a recent Brazilian study found the didge lowered player’s anxiety by 10%, decreased vulnerability to stress and helped some quit smoking. Take that Pfizer!