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.
That’s a very nerdy thing to do, but Hans didn’t stop there. He GRAPHED his results and then BLOGGED about it. Hans is a nerd. A HUGE nerd.
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:
The Expanded Byrd Nerd Scale (EBNS)
- Socially Challenged (1-25) [form follows function, utilitarian,% un-well-rounded]
- Passionate (1-25) [willing to forgo food & hygiene, overwhelming desire to create things]
- Curious (1-25) [constantly asking why, how & why not]
- Scientific (1-25) [mathematically oriented, scientific method based]
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?
Nerds, they ain’t just Wonka candy anymore.
* you should know that pressing your ear against a microwave oven to count the magnetron clicks is a good way to give yourself brain cancer…