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.


Nerdism: Do...or do not. There is no try.

Axel B├╝hrmann, Yoda
One of the most deceptively simple quotes in popular culture comes from a 900 year old little green guy living on a swamp planet.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda (the little green guy) tells Luke (the hero of the story) to levitate his space ship out of the swamp using the force (a somewhat mystic power that can be harnessed to move large objects without actually touching them). Luke, smirking, says, “I'll give it a try.”

Here's the genius of this scene. Everyone watching knows exactly what Luke feels like at that moment, we've all been in the situation where a parent or teacher or manager tells us we can do something great with our lives if we try, and we just nod and go, “sure, I'll give it a try,” but we're actually thinking, “there's no way I can do that.”

But Yoda, wise old Jedi that he is, cuts through Luke's bullshit:
Try not.
or do not.
There is no try.
You could spend a lot of time unraveling all the ramifications of that statement, but the genius of it is how it simplifies everything--either do it, or don't. Yoda makes no judgment, he doesn't pander to Luke's self esteem, and he makes no excuses. It comes down to knowing what you can do and doing it.

Imagine if you live your entire life by that principle.


Flexing Your Social Muscle

Alan Turkus, Conversation
This article is intended for nerds who have trouble dealing with social situations--maybe you get along fine with your close friends but strangers baffle you, perhaps you want to interact with people but don't know where to start, or maybe you simply don't like interacting with anyone. Even if you're not shy or socially inept, maybe you know someone who is and could use your help. 

As mentioned in an earlier article, nerds often have the gift of being able to detach from emotion and look at situations logically. Cool detachment can be great if you're coding, balancing an equation or assaulting an AI's fortress, but it leads to problems when we're faced with situations that don't follow rational rules. The nerd brain that's tuned to purely logical tasks tends to be less able to deal with emotional nuances. (I'm not including physiological origins of social difficulties such as Asperger's, although the outcome can be similar.) A few articles out there suggest that the brain allocates mental resources from the social area to the logical, but I think they're just being polite. I've known many nerds who have great intellectual as well as interpersonal skills, which suggests that some nerds deliberately focus on their logical interests while neglecting the social skills necessary to maintain relationships. This may sound lonely or even sad to some people, but I've also known nerds who would argue that social interaction = social distraction, and they aren't in the least bit lonely. 


Logic's Negative Connotations

Nothing will earn you a nerd label faster than loving activities based on logic and rational, systematic thinking. Doesn't matter whether it's your profession (mathematics, coding, network administration) or a leisure activity (chess, computer gaming, hacking) if you like rules, structure and predictability, you must be a nerd.

Five-Spock by grilled cheese
I suppose that's OK, considering that nerds are also known for their astounding brain power and impeccable taste in movies and books, but the problem is that logic carries connotations of emotional detachment and mechanical disregard for people's feelings. The detachment part is true to an extent, but logic doesn't always exclude emotion. There are times when numbers carry more weight than feelings, but generally speaking emotion still plays a huge role in logical thought. In fact, it's impossible to logically assess human behavior without including people's feelings, for example any marketing manager includes human emotions into the equation when designing new products and advertising campaigns, and these days advertising is almost a branch of science.


Nerd Specializations: Movie Nerd

Ginny, Movie Night
Who doesn't like movies? The popularity of films across all sections of people means that you won't usually uncover a movie nerds until you spend more than half an hour talking with them. You might notice a liberal sprinkling of movie quotes in the conversation, a sparkle in the eyes when you ask what was going on with the train in that one Wes Anderson flick, and oblique references to parallels between Groundhog Day and the human condition. Movie nerds are easy to get along with because their passion is something most people can understand, although you might get tired of incessant connections between everyday life and screen scenes. Movie nerds are great though because they'll go see anything with you, and they can open up your eyes to all the things hidden in your favorite movies, making them brand new again.


Why do Nerds Like Batman?

A Real Hero by Randy Robertson
Answering this question is a little unfair. I mean, who doesn't like Batman? Sure, there are nerds who prefer Superman, Captain America or some other hero, and there are non-nerds who only know Batman from movies, but even the most contentious nerds and completely hero-oblivious people have to admit that Batman is cool.

So the short answer is, nerds like Batman because everyone likes Batman.

OK, but why does everyone like The Bat? It's not like he's a loveable character--his alter ego isn't a jovial scamp with a shaggy dog sidekick, and everything from his costume to his car is designed to strike fear in the hearts of criminals.

What is it then that makes him so special?


Nerdism: 42

Any time a nerd has to give a rapid answer to something unknown, the likely response will be:
This isn't because of some cosmic significance (although nerds will argue about this point), but because of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, in which a group of hyper-intelligent beings want the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. They build a supercomputer that takes 7½ million years to compute the answer, which turns out to be...



The Fire Hose vs Hyper-Focus

Here's an observation:
nerds deal with information differently than the average person.

Think about the number of messages vying for our attention each day: 24 hour news, music in all its formats, reality TV, everything you deal with at work, everything you deal with from your family and friends, and of course the relentless deluge of advertising in all its forms.
"How Much Media", a study by the Institute for Communication Technology Management at U. of Southern California, suggests 74 gigabytes of information per person daily in 2015, not including information for work.

Most people pay selective attention to all this data: for example you tune out most of the irrelevant information and only allow the important stuff to enter your brain so you can stay on task and finish your job. Sometimes this doesn't work, and you find yourself distracted by a song on the radio, a friend's personal problem, a juicy tidbit of gossip...you get the idea. It's enjoyable to give your brain a break from one task, and studies show that it's actually productive to let your mind cavort around something frivolous for a few minutes before putting it back to work.

On a day-to-day basis, people operate somewhere in a happy middle ground between fun and focus, but you will often find nerds at one extreme or the other, and here's why.


Nerdism: Live Long and Prosper

Vulcan Salute-Ashwin Kamath
One of the earliest nerdisms, the phrase, "live long and prosper," originated from the first Star Trek television series in 1967 and is usually accompanied by a hand gesture--hand raised with the palm forward, fingers parted between the middle and ring finger, thumb extended.

Don't worry, it's not a gang sign, simply a benign gesture of greeting or farewell. The hand gesture was actually inspired by a Jewish blessing. The usual response is to raise your hand in the same manner and say, "peace and long life."

If you really want to impress (or blow the mind of) the person who bestows this greeting upon you, answer, "dif-tor heh smusma" (which is the same phrase in Vulcan.)

Nerds commonly use this greeting as a way of showing their common interests to other nerds--much like some men high-five and shout, "dude!" or some women air kiss and say, "darling." While the Vulcan salute may seem like an affectation, it actually resonates with a core nerd value, considering that its roots lie with a race that eschews emotion for the pursuit of pure logic, and the greeting allows nerds to subtly proclaim independence from everyday society in a way that indicates respect and well-wishes toward the recipient.