My "blog fodder" file is bursting with fascinating, thought-provoking half-finished posts on all manner of super-cool topics. But it’s just too damned hot for my brain to function sufficiently to actually bring one of these posts to fruition. My neurons are quite literally wilting. Besides, it’s Friday. So I thought I’d give the little gray cells a break and indulge in one of those online quizzes that always seem to be making the rounds of the blogosphere: in this case, one entitled, "How Nerdy Are You?" Really, how hard could it be, given how totally uncool I was in high school? I figured, "Easy A."
I didn’t even finish. Seriously. Halfway through, I realized I no longer even understood the questions sufficiently to come up with a feasible answer, even though it was all multiple choice. It was like one of those recurrent nightmares where you’re suddenly back in high school, wander into the classroom, and are hit with a pop quiz. Not only have you not studied for this quiz, but the test paper, when it’s handed out, is either blank or written in some strange foreign language. There’s a moment of horrifying clarity: You Are Going To Fail. And then you wake up in a cold sweat.
Apparently, I am not even close to being a true Nerd. Or even a hardcore GeekGrrl. This seems a vital prerequisite for someone in my profession of science writing. If only I could figure out how to, you know, "fake it" whenever it’s to my advantage to be deemed a geek. Fortunately for me and other Geek Wannabes, some Uber-Geek in the blogosphere named Penguin Pete has a handy guide on "How To Totally Fake Being a Geek." (Jen-Luc Piquant is far more geeky than I am, and intuited immediately that Penguin Pete’s moniker is a reference to Linux and its telltale penguin logo.) Per Pete, it’s ultimately all about attitude: "To fake it, you have to feign interests and opinions, and then be smugly confident that your ‘choices’ are superior to the mainstream’s."
Still, in order to be convincingly smug, it helps to have some insider tips, particularly when it comes to things like math and computer programming. Also calculators: the older the model, the better; it’s all about one-upmanship, after all. Penguin Pete recommends a slide rule, or possibly carrying around a portable abacus: "Slide your beads around… and comment how you saw these things in a whole new light after you read Feynman about computing cube roots on them." Brilliant! There’s even a useful cheat sheet on counting bases; I now can pretend to understand the word "hexadecimal." Can’t wait to drop it into the conversation at my next cocktail party.
When it comes to computer stuff, I’m not too unhip: I know better than to have an AOL account, I use a Mac, and Firefox is my preferred browser. I have a passing familiarity with the various programming languages that are out there, even though I can’t keep them straight, and couldn’t begin to list them according to Penguin Pete’s accepted hierarchy. Furthermore, Apple has switched to Intel chips, so I can no longer "heap scorn" on Intel commercials with any convincing degree of self-righteousness. And not being a hard-core programmer, I’m stuck with the Mac standard operating system. Even the comparatively user-friendly Linux is beyond me. But no matter, Pete assures me I can fake geekdom just by uttering the following phrase: "I run Yggdrasil on a PDP-11. Boy, it was a bitch installing all that from tape!" I have no idea what this means. It appears to be a reference to Norse mythology. Who knew Odin and Thor had computers?
Sadly, I also play all the wrong computer games. I kick ass at SCRABBLE, and do pretty well with my Poker Academy 2 Texas Hold ‘Em software, but these are not, it seems, acceptable options in the Geekosphere. (At least I’m not downloading Monopoly onto my cell phone. Yet. It’s kinda tempting.) Instead, I should be playing any game ending in "Quest" or "Craft", or engaging in first-person-shooting games. I do know about Role Playing Games (RPGs), but have never actually played one, and frankly I find the whole concept a bit strange. I once went to the big Otokan anime convention in Baltimore and checked out a few of the RPG sessions. The Ranma people were pretending to know martial arts and engaging in half-hearted "matches." It struck me as a bit sad, but they were certainly better than the vampire fans of Kindred: The Embraced. For the "Kindred," the whole point was to "blend" with the "humans" in attendance, so they pretty much walked around in normal clothing, with knowing smirks on their faces. If attitude is paramount, they were the pinnacle of geekdom.
When it comes to pop culture, though, I can hold my own in the Geekosphere just fine. My DVD collection alone gives me stellar credentials. I own every complete season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel — hell, I wrote a book about them — plus Seasons 1 through 7 of The X Files (once David Duchovny left the show, the series was dead to me), and naturally all episodes of the tragically canceled Firefly (struck down in its prime), although Penguin Pete warns that the latter is so supercool, "Even its fans disown it for fear of being flamed by the other fans. It’s like the name of a deity: never say it out loud."
As for movies: Blade Runner? Check. Monty Python movies? Holy Grail is one of my all-time faves, closely followed by Life of Brian. Rocky Horror Picture Show? I can sing along and do the "Time Warp" with the best of them. My anime tastes run to Fullmetal Alchemist and the recently discovered Naruto, although I’ve been known to enjoy the sublime silliness of Ranma. I am pining for The Tick to be released on DVD. Ninja Scroll moved me to tears. Plus, I have loads of books with vampires, planets, robots and equations on the covers. I’ve read Snow Crash, the entire Hitchhiker series, and Neuromancer (didn’t love it — I though Pattern Recognition was far better). My collection of graphic novels includes the entire Sandman oeuvre and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Anyone with a strong sense of curiosity is bound to have a few esoteric interests, but it never occurred to me to just make some up to improve my standings in the Geekosphere. Penguin Pete suggests uttering phrases like, "I collect cephalopod footprint fossils," just to savor the sudden respectful hush in the room. Except I think P.Z. Myers has that esoteric hobby cornered with his weekly cephalopod photo (can a pinup calendar or squid porn be far away?).
The only fault I can find with Penguin Pete’s guide is in his list of scientific names to drop. He rightly excludes Einstein as way too mainstream, but c’mon — Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Asimov are hardly obscure. Pete gets points for bringing up Buckminster Fuller and Blaise Pascal, but any true geek should also be familiar with names like Ludwig Boltzmann, Nikola Tesla, Michael Faraday, Alan Turing, and Charles Babbage, just to name a few. Bonus points if they also know about Sophie Germain, Ada Lovelace, and Emilie du Chatelet. (Marie Curie is too mainstream.)
Thanks to Penguin Pete, I re-took the Nerd quiz and emerged with a respectable score of 88%. Whew! Sure, I wasn’t entirely honest in my answers, but I successfully pretended to knowledge I didn’t have which Pete swears is the whole point of the exercise. So I feel I am well on my way to achieving at least the illusion of True Geek Status.
But I have my limits. I will never, ever wear sandals with socks. I don’t care if all the lab folks are doing it, as reported by Alex Palazzo at the Daily Transcript. (Check out the photos of people flaunting the look — oh, the horror!) Alex finds this trend as baffling as I do. In the comments section, Rob Knop (of Galactic Interactions) gamely tries to offer excuses for this most unforgivable fashion faux pas, but we’re not buying it. No, Rob, no — put the socks and sandals down and back away slowly. Go buy a nice pair of loafers or Doc Martens instead. Don’t force Jen-Luc Piquant to come out to Vanderbilt and kidnap you for an emergency fashion intervention!
That goes for the rest of you sock-and-sandal-wearing criminals, too. Trust me, you don’t want to be on our bad side. See, we also took the "Which Star Trek Character Are You"
quiz. Jen-Luc Piquant, predictably, came out as Captain Jean-Luc
Picard, but I found that I am Worf: "You are trained in the art of
combat and are usually intimidating." It’s true — here’s proof: