About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.


I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.

2017-08-25

Nerdism: Headcanon

No, this isn't about a gun installed in your skull.

Headcanon was originally a term similar to fanon that is used in fanfiction circles to refer to the way a person views a character’s backstory. It originates from the term “canon” meaning a collection of formally approved materials and facts within a fictional universe established by the original creator or subsequent creators who have been given authority to add to that universe. The term was firest used in literature to refer to Sherlock Holmes stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, and it is currently used to establish a continuity between characters and events within fiction that encompasses multiple books, movies, games, or other media.

Headcanon takes this concept away from the approved universe, but still applies continuity to the creative process, so that a writer (artist, director, etc.) who has not been sanctioned by the original creator of the materials can adhere to a character’s motivations and fictional life, thus maintaining the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Basically, headcanon means that a story follows the rules already officially established, even if the story’s creator is just a fan.

The term has come into heavier use with the popularity of Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other media with a significant number of characters and events that need to be tracked so that plot holes don’t inadvertently develop. Even official creators use the term. Often fans will ask creators and writers questions, such as if a certain character is actually pretending to be evil, or if a particular location was actually known by another name in a previous part of the story. If these questions can’t be answered “in canon” by referring to existing material, a creator might say that the answer is yes or no according to her headcanon, meaning that she operates according to rules she has set in her head, even though they have not been officially established at that point.

Nerds take an official creator’s headcanon seriously, because it can provide clues to where a story is going, or where it may have come from, allowing us to adjust our own headcanon to fit. We tend to speculate about the meaning of even minute details in our favorite books and movies, and while referring to headcanon doesn’t carry as much weight as referring to an actual passage from a book or scene in a movie, it’s still more reliable than sheer speculation.

It’s likely that you have your own chronology of events and imagined character backstories for books, movies, or games, and even if you weren’t aware it existed until today, now you have a name for it.

2017-07-30

So Much Classic Sci Fi, So Little Time: Galaxy 1950-1976 Free Online

Galaxy Science Fiction was one of the defining publications for mid-20th century science fiction, and it printed stories from sci-fi greats like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and one of my favorites Harry Harrison.

Galaxy eschewed pulp elements and took a somewhat more mature approach to the genre than contemporary magazines like Astounding Science Fiction, focusing on stories that incorporated plausible science and addressed current social issues. 

There are now 355 issues of Galaxy Science Fiction available for free at the Internet Archive and this series contains an early version of Fahrenheit 451 called "The Fireman" and Heinlein’s "The Puppet Masters". The collection ranges from 1950 to 1976, and while it's not quite every issue of the magazine, there's plenty of material to keep you entertained for a long time.

2017-07-22

Real-Life Nerds: Saving Video One VHS at a Time

Everything currently stored on magnetic media is slowly corroding away like old cars in a junkyard. Magnetic tapes, such as audio cassettes and VHS tapes (including those purportedly multi-thousand dollar Disney black diamond VHS cassettes) store information on plastic tape embedded with metal oxides. As time passes these tapes lose their magnetic fields, and the information can't be read anymore. Experts give tape data 15 to 20 years before it's unsalvageable.

Fortunately, the preservationists at XFR Collective are working to transfer information from magnetic tape to digital formats.

XFR Collective is a non-profit, all volunteer group who focus particularly on rescuing tapes containing material from underrepresented communities like people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and activists. Everything they digitize goes to their Internet Archive page where the material is publicly available. They also lend equipment to community organizations (such as a local folklore/storytelling project called Los Herederos) to help them with in-house digitization projects.

They have also partnered with the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) to design and build an AV transfer station for METRO’s 599 Studio space in an effort to support digitization services for the community. The new transfer station has to include a variety of equipment to work with everything from professional 1-inch tape to the 1/2-inch open reel tape commonly used by activists and community artists in the 1960s and 1970s.

The fact that analogue video decks are no longer manufactured was a hurdle the XFR Collective leapt by scouring the listserv of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) for used equipment, including a CRT monitor, an S-VHS/miniDV deck, and a 1/4 inch reel to reel audio player. The group also tapped into the e-waste recycling store at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, where they discovered a corner of the warehouse devoted to functional analog A/V equipment.

The videos that XFR Collective digitizes range from personal family tapes, to recordings from public access TV, to videos of police brutality, and they have transferred over 67 hours of video.

XFR Collective still needs equipment, so if you'd like to donate a deck or scope you can contact them through their Facebook profile

2017-07-05

Which Came First, the Computer or the Nerd?

Part of the Bell Telephone Network
Here's an interesting thought: computer nerds are fascinated with programming, hacking, and networking computers, but what did that type of person do before computers were invented?

There were networks and structured algorithms before there were computers, so the computer nerds of today would still have plenty of opportunities to explore their passions in the past. I'll set the mid-1940s as a starting point for computers because that’s when ENIAC was switched on, although there were much earlier calculating machines, but I'll mention those below.

Possibly the nerdiest thing with wires and switches prior to electronic computers was the telephone network. In the US, the Bell network started out in 1877 and the company started buying up all the smaller phone networks in the early 1900s. At one point, every telephone in the world was connected to the Bell network in some way. Think about that for a second. You had this device in your home or office that could connect you to any other similar device anywhere else in the world. Sound familiar? This was an awesome playground. Nerds figured out how to use their home handsets to connect to parts of the telephone network they weren’t supposed to access and from there they explored its inner workings. Some of these nerds went to work for the network, others became engineers, some were pioneers in the computer industry. Steve Wozniak was one of those telephone network explorers, and he went on to co-found Apple.

There were calculating machines before the 1940s, and some of them were called computers because they…well…computed things. But the computations were limited, for instance an entire machine might be dedicated to computing ballistics trajectories. These machines were developed, maintained, operated and improved upon by nerds who would probably be computer geeks if they had been born in the past 15 or so years.

Counters on the Difference Engine
I like to think that the pioneering computer nerds were Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace Babbage, who were designing mechanical calculators (proto-computers) in the early 1800s. Babbage was a flake, but a genius. He had these astounding ideas for a machine he called the difference engine that could tabulate polynomial functions. He managed to get funding to build some, but then he had these even more astounding ideas for a mechanical computer that had conditional branching, loops and built in memory that made his original difference engine obsolete--at least in Babbage's mind--so he gave up on building the original machine in order to develop the more complicated machine, much to the government’s consternation.

Prior to this, you had people programming looms using paper tape or punched cards in the early 1700s.

At some point back there in the mists of time we get too far away from computers to say what the computer nerds would be doing, but I’d put my money on some sort of engineering or inventing that involved connecting different inputs to get an output, which could involve broad fields such as mathematics and chemistry, or more specific occupations like railway engineering, managing electrical power transmission, and designing the Paris underground sewer system.

2017-06-24

So Excited I Can Barely Contain Myself

I've had a browser tab open to the solar eclipse page for so long that I've had to move it twice when I changed computers. You can guess how excited I am.


You can find out more directly from NASA, or if you're a teacher take a look at Starnet Libraries for classroom ideas.