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.


Real-Life Nerds: When Nerds Get Their Hands on the Past

Andy2 from The Warhol
The Carnegie Mellon Museum has a marvelous documentary series called The Invisible Photograph, parts of which are ostensibly geared toward photographers and archivists--who many people would consider highly qualified nerds in their own right--and when the archival nerds in front of the camera run into problems they can't solve they tap into their own nerd networks and call in reinforcements. Teams of nerds from different fields converge on outdated computer equipment, decaying floppy disks, and decades-old analogue tape recorders to rescue data from time's gaping maw.

This article isn't really part of the Nerd Manual's "how to" aesthetic, but it gives you a taste of how real-life nerds leverage their passions into careers and how sometimes the only thing keeping our collective long-term memory from succumbing to entropy is a nerd with a home-made hardware emulator. Everyone should be glad that there are people out there who are passionate about weird things.

Extreme Nerd Content Ahead

In the episode "Trapped", a group of basement computer hackers resurrect data from a collection of thirty-year-old  floppy disks once used on a computer system that a lot of people have never heard of. Using a two-pronged attack with computer hardware emulation and low-level disk scanning, they resurrect previously unseen works of art by Andy Warhol, and quite possibly some of the last art he created.

While salvaging data from floppy disks is a challenge, the "Extraterrestrial" episode documents efforts of the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, which took over an abandoned McDonald's and turned it into their headquarters in order to recover high resolution images of the moon taken in 1966. Once they rescue these images, do they turn them over to NASA? Well, yes, of course, but they also make these previously unreleased images available to the public on their blog. Want to map the moon? You can, thanks to these guys. This same group later went on to take control of an abandoned spacecraft. Are they mad scientists? That's a story for another time.

Sure it's encouraging to know that there are nerds out there preserving the past (and even rescuing our more recent data from disc failure), but the big takeaway here is an awareness of the ephemeral nature of our information. We place such a high value on it, but we don't make an effort to ensure it will make it to the next decade, much less the next century. So, remember these nerds when you're considering what format you should save your pictures in.

Part 5 of the series "Subatomic" covers the AEgIS project at CERN--which relies on glass plate photographic emulsion technology to determine if the weak equivalency principle applies to anti-hydrogen. The video also gives a breakdown of how the ATLAS detector in the heart of the Large Hadron Collider works.

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