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.


Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide - Winter 2016 Edition

Whether you’re into Christmas, Hanukkah, Hogswatch or some other holiday, December is a big month for gift giving, and you need to do right by your nerdy friends. Sure, you could spring for a Loot Crate subscription, copies of Pokémon Sun and Moon, or an NES Classic (if you can find one), but those are the gifts you’ll find on any lame “Top 7 Geek Gifts” list thrown together by a news outlet with nary a nerd or geek on their staff.

You’re here because you want to show that you’ve dug deeper than Buzzfeed and the Toronto Star. You're here because you want to show you care!

So, here it is. The extra thoughtful Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide for 2016. Winter Edition!


Nerd Q&A: Arcades of the Future

Chris Ainsworth - TRON
What will arcades look like in the future?

This is a really cool question.

Judging by the fact that stand-alone arcades are nearly extinct--apart from a few high profile places that manage to stay alive to host tournament play, or are run by collectors with deep enough pockets to operate at a loss--I don’t think arcades will ever be as prominent as they were pre-1990s. So I imagine there will be some arcades that cater to nostalgic game players and tournament players, there will be digital gambling, and there will be arcades connected to establishments that offer additional services like cart racing and children’s entertainment.

What does this mean for the types of games in arcades? I think you’ll see arcades specialize, much like they already have, into a few groups: nostalgia, cutting edge adult, gambling, and heavy-duty child entertainment.

Types of arcades likely to survive into the future:


Build Your Own Death Star Christmas Tree Topper

Craineum's Death Star Super Laser
Do you wish you could have the awesome Hallmark Death Star topping your Christmas tree, but don't want to pay the 200% markup that eBay price gougers are charging?

Here's your chance to show the world how nerds handle scalpers!

Just head on over to Instructables where Craineum gives you step by step instructions to build your own Death Star.

Tree topper. Not--you know--a real Death Star.

Hoist your middle finger at Hallmark because Craineum's design not only lights up and plays sounds, but it includes a fiber optic super laser, motion sensor triggered sound effects, and it plays more than two pieces of music. If you're creative, you can make it do even more.


Nerd Q&A: Classifying Computer Geeks

What are the types of computer geeks?

Hmm. This is a question I don’t see a lot. I can only imagine why someone would ask, but if it’s worth asking it’s worth answering.

Note: By setting up classifications I am in no way suggesting that every computer lover fits into a single category, or that someone who is good at systems administration is necessarily a geek or nerd.

Blake Patterson - The Byte Cellar (Check out his other awesome pics!)


The Caped Crusade - A Cheat Manual for Non-Nerds

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture

NPR book critic Glen Weldon explains how Batman--the bad ass detective; the campy TV sensation; the grim heart of the urban night--is at his core a nerd. For almost 80 years now Batman has swung from dark to light and back again, throughout it all embodying the values his readers (and viewers) project onto him, but Batman is undeniably a nerd replete with gadgets, obsession, and a complete lack of superpowers (unless you count all Bruce Wayne's money). Hardcore Batman geeks will already be familiar with the facts Weldon weaves into his narrative, but the way he builds on these facts to construct a particularly nerdy view of Batman offers us a fresh and enjoyable perspective of the Caped Crusader. I think, however that this book is even more valuable for non-nerds who could use some help understanding the Dark Knight's nerd appeal. If you've got a nerd friend who's seriously into Batman, you need to pick up The Caped Crusade. This is your new cheat manual. It's your "admit one" ticket to deep conversations on the finer aspects of Batman, Robin, The Joker, and the role comic books play in popular culture.


A Safe Space to Practice Social Skills

I hesitate to call this a Real Life Nerds post, because the Redditors who started this may not be nerds.

A group of users in the SocialSkills subreddit have started an online practice space using Skype and Discord where people can just practice talking with other people. It's an opportunity to practice conversation and social skills with real people in a completely anonymous environment where you can work 1-on-1 or in groups of three or more. There is no judgment, no high stakes, just a safe place to practice talking.

Here is the original Reddit thread.
This is meant to be a safe space for anyone to practice and make mistakes with other people who get it. Whether you're socially awkward, shy, learning to converse in a non-native language, or just want to talk with other people, take a look.

Another Redditor suggested hanging out in r/CasualConversation, which is a similar idea but it's all in text. Talk about any casual topic you want without worrying about someone judging you.


What Videogames Taught Me About Frustration

Life is frustrating with a regularity that makes dietary fiber manufacturers jealous.

However, video games take frustration to a torturous level that makes me believe game designers are actually in league with the devil. Sometimes I ask myself why I keep playing (why anyone keeps playing) and I think part of the answer is that diabolically frustrating games put life into perspective, but there’s more to it than a simply setting a higher tolerance threshold--it could be worse, we could trapped in an undersea laboratory overrun with escaped subjects from the sentient jellyfish experiments--I think that games actually teach us how to deal with frustration.

For comparison, I present two scenarios: a clutch or kick moment in Rainbow Six vs catching that water-loving Slowpoke in Pokémon GO.


Nerdism: Clutch or Kick

Shirasagi Dojo - David Gegen Goliath

 "Clutch or kick" probably makes at least a little sense to most people. You’ve likely heard something along the lines of, “she’s a clutch player,” meaning that she does well under pressure. The kick part is what confuses some people, but don’t worry, it has nothing to do with literal kicking, and these days no one intends to follow through on the kick part anyway. If someone looks you in the eyes and says, “clutch or kick,” here’s the background and what’s expected of you.

The phrase purportedly originates with the game Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) a team-oriented first person shooter game where each person is either part of the terrorist or counter-terrorist team and has objectives to complete. Each round is won by either completing the objective or killing all the opposing players. The phrase is likely a carryover from previous multiplayer first person shooter games, possibly earlier Counter Strike games, but CS:GO was the game that made the phrase ubiquitous among gamers of the early 2010s.

In gaming terms, the phrase is used when the last member of a team must face overwhelming odds to win the game by defeating all the other opponents in the last few seconds. Consider this scenario: all but one member of the counter terrorist group has been mown down by rifle fire, there are 3 terrorists guarding the bomb and 58 seconds left before it detonates and destroys the stadium. The lone counter terrorist might just give up under the circumstances, but over her headpiece she hears the voice of one of her dead teammates shout, “clutch or kick.” She knows she can’t disarm the bomb under fire, she must push in on the objective and mercilessly eliminate all the hostiles. That’s the clutch. Her motivation to accomplish this? If she fails, the team will kick her from the server and allow someone else to take her spot.

The reality is that the team probably won’t kick her, unless they’re playing a few unimportant casual rounds and feel like being jerks, but the phrase still inspires a try-hard mentality. 

Outside the gaming world, if you’re told clutch or kick then you’re facing a high-pressure situation where you’re the last hope for success. You have to close the last sale of the month, weld the seam no one else can reach, or convince the vending machine to release the cinnamon bun. Just take a breath, nod, and go to work. If you make the clutch, you’ll be a hero.

For extra nerd cred, once you’ve made it back with the win, ask your teammate how exactly he planned to kick you if you didn’t get the clutch.


Real Life Nerds Found the Loch Ness Monster

Sonar scan revealing Nessie
People have been hunting the Loch Ness monster for centuries. Some, like Steve Feltham, George Edwards, and Dr. Robert Rines have dedicated their lives to searching for Nessie. Even Google Street View got in on the action. But everyone's come back empty handed...until 2016.

That's right, earlier this year the UK division of Kongsberg Maritime used an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to discover the elusive Nessie.


Is Pokémon GO the Solution to Social Anxiety (and Maybe All the World’s Problems)?

Image via /u/DUBLZZ
It has more active users than Instagram, Snapchat or Tinder. It’s overtaking mammoth social media apps like Twitter. It helps people with social anxiety talk with strangers. It may even lead to a reconciliation in Korea…or cause an international incident. 

In case you’ve missed the stories burning up Twitter and Facebook feeds, Pokémon GO is an augmented reality mobile game released July 6th that allows players to capture, battle, train, and trade virtual Pokémon found throughout the world. It’s not terribly different from most smartphone games: a player gets to create an avatar, consults an in-game map showing where to find perks and rewards, works to increase stats, and gets to battle other players.

But the best part about Pokémon GO is that players have to actually go out into the real world to find different Pokémon, visit Pokéstops, or battle at a Pokégyms, which are typically located at populated spots such as parks and tourist attractions, but also at restaurants, churches, and even police stations.


Real-Life Nerds: Winners of NASA's Star Trek Replicator Challenge

Maybe we can't walk up to our wall mounted replicators and get a cup of Earl Grey tea, hot, just by asking for it, but 3-D printing does bring us a step closer to making Star Trek style replicators a reality. NASA's February 2016 Star Trek Replicator Challenge asked students to use 3-D printing to engineer the future of food in space, and a panel of judges from NASA, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and Made In Space, Inc. announced winners this week.

The competition encouraged students to think about future long-duration space missions and to design 3-D printable objects that will help astronauts eat nutritious meals in the year 2050. Students came up with designs ranging from devices for growing and harvesting plants to new ways of preparing, eating and disposing of food.

Kyle Corrette from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix brought home the win from the Teen Group (ages 13-19) with his Melanized Fungarium, which includes an outer protective shell, an irrigation system, and housings for an organic growth bed for fungus, which would provide a sustainable food source for astronauts on long term missions. The melanized fungus uses ionizing radiation, common in space, as an energy source. The fungarium is designed to be produced and used in microgravity.

Picture of junior winner Astro Mini Farm designed by Sreyash Sola. The Junior Group (ages 5-12) winner was Sreyash Sola from Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn, Virginia, who designed an Astro Mini Farm designed to grow fresh crops on Mars. The device includes a printed lens on top to harvest the maximum Martian sunlight possible, and the container can be pressurized to about 1/10th Earth atmosphere so plants can grow. The entire device could be printed using material extracted from the Martian soil.

Each of the finalists won a MakerBot® Replicator for their schools and a PancakeBot for their own home. The teen and junior national winners also get to travel to New York City and join NASA astronaut Mike Massimino for a private viewing of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum.

Be sure to visit the NASA website to read more about their Future Engineers challenges.


Nerdism: What is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow?

This odd question is likely to come swooping into a situation where there are questions flying around fast and furious. Usually the preceding exchange will have nothing to do with birds or airspeed at all, which might be doubly confusing.

The swallow question originates from the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a seemingly irrelevant running gag involving the transport of coconuts from Africa to England that eventually turns out to be a crucial plot point.

Nerd Note:
There is no answer given in the film, but some researchers used wind tunnel tests and Strouhal numbers to estimate the airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow at somewhere between 8.8 and 11 meters per second.  However, if you peruse the data, you’ll notice that there are a lot of variables involved in coming up with this broad estimate, but none of them account for wind speed, which is vital in calculating airspeed accurately. Ultimately, there can be no single answer!

While Monty Python fans appreciate the nostalgia, the film isn’t popular enough to explain why the swallow question still flies. Its longevity lies in the complete absurdity of the question, which makes it useful so many decades beyond its origin. Within the film itself, characters point out that there are too many variables to account for, not least of which is the species of swallow. The airspeed velocity conundrum is the perfect example of asking the wrong question in the pursuit of a solution to a problem.

Remember: sometimes you have to ask a different question.

The next time you’re faced with a barrage of questions and there isn’t enough information to come up with an answer, feel free to toss this gem into the mix.

Of course, the only appropriate response is, “What do you mean, an African or European swallow?”


Nerd Q&A: How Can I Say Interesting Things?

Alan Turkus - Conversation
I am a boring nerd who isn't considered cool at all. I generally talk about things which seem boring to others. How should I be interesting and cool?

The easiest way would be to hang around people who are interested in the same things you are. They will find the things you talk about interesting, and it will be much easier for you to be cool.

If you regularly find yourself surrounded by people who think your topics of conversation are boring, you should ask yourself why you're with those people.

Seriously, your free time is limited. Spend it with people who appreciate you.


Nerd Traveler: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pizzerias

Ninja Pizza - Turtles and Friend
You only have to watch about one minute from any episode of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, or maybe two minutes of one of their movies, to know that the Ninja Turtles love pizza. The boys even have a favorite Pizza Guy who delivers their pies.

But did you know that you can actually get your own Ninja Turtles pizza from a Ninja Turtle pizzeria? I'm not talking about Pizza Hut promotions, I'm talking about full on shell wearing, trademark flaunting, boxes with turtle logos, pizza delivery services. (Some translation may be required.)


Why Do Nerds Like Star Wars?

R2-D2 doesn't just carry messages for Leia
Let's be clear, there are a lot of nerds who don't like Star Wars (and they probably enjoy Star Trek), which is fine, but never assume that all nerds are Star Wars fans.

Let's also be honest and accept that the appeal of Star Wars has transcended the nerd realm in the past 20 years or so, and is now a cultural phenomenon. 

Star Wars is one of a very few stories that successfully combines fantasy and magic with science fiction and technology, two realms with mass nerd appeal. You should know that there is more than a single Star Wars--it's actually a huge collection of films, television shows, comic books, novels, stories, and games. They call it the Star Wars Universe for good reason.


Nerd Specializations: Horror Nerd

Nick Kenrick - Horror Show

Horror is a tricky topic, that cuts across cultural facets from nerds to non-nerds, geeks to jocks, men to women, and east to west, but it's a $400 million dollar a year movie industry, and it's absolutely huge when you add in other media and the seasonal earnings of haunted attractions. A lot of people enjoy the occasional scare, but when when someone collects Wes Craven films on VHS, she earns herself the horror nerd label.

Like any other facet of society, nerds are divided over horror. Somewhere around half of all nerds take great pleasure in horror books, movies and games, but the half who don't enjoy it usually can't stand it, so ask before you queue up a hi-def stream of Dead Snow.


Nerd Q&A: Can a Programmer be Interesting?

Malcolm by Matthew Ragan
I'm so glad people are concerned about their friends' well being. It gives me hope.

I have a nerd friend who only knows programming. He spends every hour on coding. He's about to date a gorgeous babe who knows nothing about programming. How does he keep up a lively chat? He wants to get to know the woman better, but is concerned that she is only interested in his money because he has had previous bad experiences with gold-diggers.

This is a lot to unpack.

Let's start with your...ahem...friend. It's noble of you to care so much about your friend's social life, but I'm going to go ahead and write this in second person to make life easier.


Is Anything Nerdier Than True Love?

Quick! What's the nerdiest thing on the planet?

Star Wars? Nerf? Harry Potter? The Hobbit?

Maybe it's Lego?

If you're Kevin Ulrich of Brotherhood Workshop, the nerdiest thing on the planet is
true love...

rendered in Lego, or course.


Nerd Q&A: Is There Such a Thing as Nerdy Fitness?

JD Hancock -[ beGIn m8rnInG w8rk8ut ]-
What are some nerdy hobbies for getting into shape?

Thanks to fitness trackers, pretty much any physical activity can be nerdy these days, but there are some choices better suited to nerds than others.


Real Life Nerds: High School Student Sends Genetic Experiment to the ISS

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to carry the Dragon module on a resupply mission to the International Space Station today. In addition to food and supplies, the Dragon spacecraft includes 17-year-old Anna-Sophia Boguraev’s Genes in Space experiment.

Using a miniPCR DNA analysis system, Boguraev's experiment is designed to establish whether genetic changes to DNA and the weakened immune systems observed in astronauts are linked, a first step in safeguarding astronaut health in long duration missions, such as future Mars missions. Her experiment may open the door to detecting immune system alterations in space, as well as assessing astronaut health during space flight including genetic changes that could lead to cancer, neurological disorders, and developmental abnormalities. This will be one of the first experiments to use advanced DNA detection technologies in orbit.

The miniPCR kit will remain on board for future research projects. The machine’s portability, given its small mass and footprint, makes it ideally suited for DNA analysis on the ISS.

The Genes in Space contest is a US and UAE STEM competition that challenges students in grades 7 through 12 to propose DNA experiments that could solve space exploration problems using the unique environment of the ISS. The annual competition is currently accepting student research projects until April 20th. To learn more, visit GenesInSpace.org


Help Unravel the Mysteries of the Cosmos

A LIGO optics suspension - G. Grabeel/LIGO

On September 14, 2015 the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, measured gravitational waves--ripples in the fabric of spacetime--caused by a cataclysmic event far out in the cosmos. The discovery is the culmination of decades of research and development and the world-wide effort of thousands of researchers.

Now you can be part of the next discovery!

Join Einstein@Home, and use your computer's idle time to search for signals from spinning neutron stars using data from the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors, the Arecibo radio telescope, and the Fermi gamma-ray satellite.

Kip Thorne, Caltech’s Professor of Theoretical Physics, says, “with this discovery, we humans are embarking on a marvelous new quest: the quest to explore the warped side of the universe--objects and phenomena that are made from warped spacetime.” You can help on this quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe just by downloading a new screensaver. While your PC is sitting idle, it can analyze data from searches for gravitational wave signals. 

This first detection heralds a new era in astrophysics. The gravitational waves were produced by the collision of of two black holes. Black holes emit no light, so we had no way to see them, but with gravitational waves they shine like stars in a sea of darkness. The ultimate goal is to use “multi-messenger astronomy”, where gravitational wave detectors and telescopes that "see" in visible light, x-rays, gamma rays, radio waves, and even with neutrinos, all at the same time. Each method of observing provides a different look at the same objects, allowing them to be studied in multiple ways and revealing relationships and interactions never before observed.


Nerd Q&A: Can You Profile Someone in a Video Game Arcade?

Chris Ainsworth - Tron
I love this question:

What can you learn about someone by going to video game arcades (Dave & Busters, Gameworks, Chuck E. Cheese's) with them?

If you have the time, and the tokens, I think you could work up a complete psychological profile on a person just by observing them in a video game arcade. I think this merits a longer article, but for the moment I'm going to consider the simplest cues.


Robot Uprising: Ground Drones Can Now Deliver Your Groceries

Starship Technologies, a company launched by the former co-founders of Skype, started trials of its self-driving delivery robots in Greenwich, London. The company plans to expand their service into other cities throughout the U.K. and eventually into the U.S. via New York City in April of 2016.

The six wheeled, intelligent, and kinda cute robot is designed for local delivery of goods and groceries for consumers for under £1 per shipment. Much better than Amazon's $300 a year membership for their Fresh service. The robots use the sidewalk, just like pedestrians, traveling at a top speed of 4 miles per hour. The bots have a locked compartment for the goods you've ordered and won't unlock until you respond to a notification on your smart phone.

Ahti Heinla, Starship's CEO described the robots as, "a totally new class of devices that will provide a combination of low cost and convenience with less congested streets and zero emissions. The robot has been very well-received by pedestrians in all of the interactions we’ve seen so far.” Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich said, “this technology has the potential to transform the local delivery of goods and groceries.”

Watch out pizza delivery drivers. Your jobs are on the line.

This is how the robots infiltrate our lives, with cute bots that scurry around our cities, bringing how the groceries safely and efficiently. Next, they'll be vacuuming the floors and mowing the lawns.

Wait...what...they already do that?


Real Life Nerds Grow the Building Blocks for New Eyes

What happens when nerds collaborate on a problem?

Wonderful things.

At the Osaka University in Japan, ophthalmologist Kohji Nishida and a team of researchers cultivated human cells to produce different types of eye tissue, including corneal, retinal and lens cells. Because the cells could be grown separately from each other, the group was able to remove distinct cells.

So, what does this mean? They can grow entire sheets of corneal cells that could be used for transplants to replace defective corneas.

So far, using the tissue to as a replacement has only been tried on rabbits, but it could easily be used to study how eye tissue and congenital eye diseases develop, and it's not far from being a possible cure for types of blindness in humans.

Read more about this story in Nature.


Epic Nerd Camp

ENC Productions wants to turn summer camp into a nerdfest...for adults.

This isn't a camp about hiking and swimming (although you can do some of that if you like), this is a camp about LARPing, video games, tabletop, role playing, and other nerdy pursuits.

The first Epic Nerd Camp starts June 11th - 18th 2016 in the Poconos. If you're interested in being part of the epic nerd fun, take a look at the ENC web page.

(I am not affiliated with ENC nor being compensated for this post, I just think it's cool.)


FBI Wants to Use Inept Terrorists to Compromise Data Security of U.S. Citizens

The Farook and Malik "terrorism" case has been all over the news (somehow finding a narrow slot in between coverage of Trump and Clinton in the presidential candidate debates), and Apple's resistance to FBI requests to create a back door into the IOS operating system has generated a certain amount of controversy...at least at CNN...over a company's responsibility in the face of rampant terrorism.

But wait! Could it be that the FBI is using a couple of workplace shooters as a smokescreen to advance the U.S. intelligence agenda to compromise the data security of U.S. citizens?

I hate to make light of tragedy, but I think it's a travesty for a government agency to leverage public fears in an attempt to force one of our largest providers of data security to give federal agencies carte blanche access to citizens' private data, when the FBI already has a crap ton of information on the criminals and their communications from telecommunications companies who freely divulged information about the criminals personal devices.

This may seem like a political statement, but it's definitely nerd and geek relevant because it goes to the heart of cybersecurity and how even the U.S. government uses social engineering to break into secure data.

Find more details at The Grugq's Medium article, Feeble Noise Pollution.


Nerd Q&A: How Do I Know?

Modified Version of Andrew Filer's The Physics Lab

How do I know if I'm an authentic nerd or geek?

This question concerns me.

While I don't think the person asking intends the subtext I'm reading, the question implies that there's some official measurement, or perhaps a governing body, to determine a person's nerd quotient, and this idea has caused a lot of grief in nerd circles, particularly for female nerds who get accused of faking their nerdiness. I never thought I'd see a day when people were accused of false nerd credentials, but here we are.

Yes, there are nerd and geek tests that score how big of a nerd/geek you are, but these are memes similar to the "which Harry Potter wand are you" quizzes, and aren't in any way a reliable method of determining if a person is or is not a nerd.

I'm going to take the scenic route to answer this question because it's important to understand that cultural authenticity is subjective, particularly when talking about arbitrary social labels like geek and nerd, or even jock, goth, emo, etc. Who decides what criteria add up to an authentic geek? Who approves membership to the nerd club?


Ancient Nerd Artifacts: d20

Met Museum - 20-Sided Die
One of the universal symbols of nerd-dom is the d20--a 20-sided die most commonly used in Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games. While there are a handful of board games that also use a d20, they tend to be niche oriented and mostly played by...well...nerds.

So, when nerds notice a d20 from the Ptolemaic period in the Metropolitan Museum collection of Egyptian artifacts, we immediately conclude that the banks of the Nile were a hotbed of role playing crocodiles!

OK, not really, but it's natural for us to imagine that a 2000 year old faience d20 must have been part of a really interesting game with so many random outcomes that the Egyptians took the time and effort to construct a die with enough sides to encompass them all. It also leads to some interesting conversations about what the ancient Egyptian equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons would be: Deserts and Drakons? Slings and Serpents? Pyramids and Pythons?

There are a multitude of other dice in the Met Museum collection, but the most common is the mundane 6-sided die, or d6, the same kind you use in pretty much every board game, which means the existence of a d20 in the collection is something very special that makes all of us nerds feel a little bit of kinship with the ancient Egyptians.


Nerd Q&A: Will I Ever Have a Relationship?

mliu92 - Not in Oz
I hear this question so often that I think we all need a bracelet saying, "It's OK to be alone right now."
(Unless you're locked in a basement. In which case you need to call the police.)

"Should nerds worry about never having a relationship?"