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: 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?”

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