The Nerd Handbook

27 January 2009

I don't remember whether I posted this article when it was new, I may have done but it's been a long time (it was posted in November 2007). That said, it's still very relevant and explains a great deal of my behaviour, although not all of it. I was going to put an exclamation mark at the end of that last sentence but I'm a bit too depressed to bother with humour.

The article talks about some of the main behaviour of us geeks, nerds, whatever you feel like referring to us as. Personally I prefer "geek" as I see "nerd" as more of a pejorative.
Grammatical tangents aside, the article raises the following main points:
  1. Projects
  2. Computers and our relation to them
  3. Control issues
  4. Our self-built controlled environments
  5. Toys and Puzzles
  6. Our appetite for information
There are more and I've missed out a few, partly because I don't want to be sitting here typing all afternoon but also because I don't have anything much to say about them at this juncture.

Right, let's kick off with the first one - Projects.
I don't know about other geeks but it's certainly true of my father and myself - we constantly work on things. There might be a single huge project, many smaller ones or a combination thereof, but regardless we're always working on things. In my case it would be, right now, the NSS, Wooden Dice, making/keeping friends, Mordheim, trying to maintain a decent relationship with my girlfriend and probably a few more.

My current re-ignited interest in Mordheim can be evidenced by a quick glance over the last few blogposts I've made. If I could be bothered to take more photos there'd be even more blog posts as I've done more than I've actually posted about. Macro lenses are a pain in the arse though.

Whatever I'm currently most focused on gets a ridiculous amount of attention, so much so that I work to make sure I don't overdo things although I'm probably fighting a losing battle.

Let us move onto the next point:

Computers and our relation to them
To quote the article : He sees the world as a system which, given enough time and effort, is completely knowable.
Well, I don't know if I see the world as quite conmpletely knowable, but certainly it is my perspective. There's a great deal of things out there I know about, plenty more that I don't but generally speaking, given a bit of time I can work out most things, including most of the people I've met, for better or for worse. Perhaps I'm wrong but so far I've not found it to be completely broken even if it is somewhat traumatic and is somewhat the reason for my misanthropy.
I don't see people and things as powered by some unknown force, rather explaining the issues I have with religion. It makes me think of the Olde English sketch "Writers of Lost" - how does the world work "ooOooOoh" (accompanied by slow jazz-hands).

Moving on: Control issues

Once again I'm going to quote the article:
Your nerd is sensitive to drastic changes in his environment. Think travel. Think job changes. These types of system-redefining events force your nerd to recognize that the world is not always or entirely a knowable place, and until he reconstructs this illusion, he’s going to be frustrated and he’s going to act erratically.

It explains quite a lot of my behaviour and why the rest of the NSS exec were concerned with how I would react to changes made to the NSS Podcast whilst I was away. It's difficult to get me to agree to change without either just doing it or knowing how to deal with me. Ironically the changes they made brought it more inline with the original vision for the show as our old notes show.

It's also why it really screwed with my head to shave my beard off. I miss my beard still. It didn't look great but it was something I chose to have, something I wasn't allowed when I was younger (much like I wasn't allowed long hair when I was in school - no beards either).

Our self-built controlled environments

My controlled environment is generally my primary laptop or desktop. These days it's my laptop but the same was true when I had a desktop. It's a portable virtual environment where I call the shots without having to justify my actions to anyone. Admittedly I often call the shots and do things without answering to anyone in the real world too but that's not the point I'm trying to get to.

It contains my music, access to my video library, my photos, my bookshelf and much more. I used to keep a physicial version of this environment but it became unmanageable given how often I've moved. This does have the disadvantage that it's not necessarily visible if I like something or not. You can't glance at a rack of CDs, a row of DVDs, look at photos on the wall. Sorry.

In our flat in Edinburgh I/we attempted to establish a common space that would share many characteristics of our individual controlled environments. Our living room contains an extensive media centre, extensive gaming capabilities, reclining areas, work areas and project areas. I've currently got my laptop sitting on the kitchen counter and my Mordheim projects on the dining table. Matt has his textbooks and assignment papers around the coffee table, Chris has the latest Afro Samurai waiting for him to watch when he finds a minute.

The idea for me is to have a "safe zone" where I can relax. I can wear just a dressing gown if I want, I can retreat into myself, as it were. I find too much social contact very tiring. It was great having Elasticbandy here but it did mean that by the time she went my head was spinning - I'd barely had any down time to just be on my own and wait for my brain to recharge. It's probably why I'm depressed at the moment. I don't know whether I was a good host, whether I alienated my girlfriend, whether there's any problem at all.
This confusion also partly explains my escapism - I'm retreating to a different mental place, somewhere I understand.

Sorry, got a bit bogged down there - Toys and Puzzles

I like puzzles of a certain kind. It varies between geeks. Some love programming, some love RPGs, I like all sorts of things. I don't like puzzle games, by the way. Too artificial.
It's all part of the knowable system concept - I know when I've finished building a website, when I've finished a wiki article, when I've finished painting a miniature, when I've finished editing a podcast. I can give pretty good estimates of many things in human social terms but they're just that - judgements, estimates. It's not possible to be certain.
But when I finish something I get a little kick out of it. For example, right now I'm still rather chuffed with how the green parts of the Reiklanders I painted over the last few days turned out. I want to paint some more of them as I liked it so much.

I try to make sure I don't get too involved with projects that don't achieve anything. I like finishing video games, for example, but I recognise that in the majority of cases it's a hollow victory, an accomplishment that isn't worth anything, so I don't tend to play that many of them, even if I do enjoy them.

Right, let's carry on to the final point:
Our appetite for information

I know a great deal of random things. I'm utterly useless at pub quizzes, although I partly theorise that this is because it seems most questions are focused on people. I know the majority of Scrubs facts, storylines and characters but I don't know the names of more than three of the actors!

I don't consider the actors particularly relevant. Who plays Dr. Cox? Not a clue.
What does JD's brother bring him when their father dies? Easy. (Cake)

Off the top of my head I know that a 6Mbit connection will pull data down at a approximately 750kb/s if there's something fast enought to supply it at that speed. I also know that Hive Primus is supposed to be 10 miles tall and that FEV in the context of Fallout stands for "Forced Evolutionary Virus". The thing in common here is that none of them contain any people. Why would I bother remembering the names of people I'm never going to get to know?

I'm bad enough with names of people I've met (partly due to the way my brain prunes people, I guess). I try to remember names but it's hard - most of them I won't see again so there's no point. If they were to be killed in a horrible accident in the next few hours, it wouldn't bother me as they essentially disappeared from existence as soon as I left the social context in which I met them. If I see them several times, chances are I'll remember. I was proud of myself for remembering Graeme's name at a pub quiz I was at. I figured I'd probably meet him again so I made the effort to try and remember him (although I would spell it Graham if I hadn't seen it written down somewhere in the last few hours).

Anyway, back to the point - we like information. We have a broad knowledge of a huge number of subjects and if there's something we don't know we'll be able to find out within moments. I can remember the name of the actor that plays the Janitor. He's a comedian named Neil Flynn. I know he's very tall but off hand I could not remember how tall. It took me all of five seconds to discover he's apparently 1.96m.

With the advent of smartphones with decent internet access it's even easier. I can look things up within moments as long as there's some mobile phone signal. It rocks.

Hopefully the article gives some insight into how we geeks think and some of our odd quirks.

Zombies!!! Game Night

25 January 2009

Man the shotguns - Zombies!
It was a recent Friday. Hannah was here from Bangor, Rik and Steph from their flat and my girlfriend from wherever she is when she's not in the library. Oh and the three of us from our flat.

Anyways, to business!
Initial attempts to understand our new copy of HUMANS!!! came up fruitless and came close to scuttling the evening, but onwards with ZOMBIES!!! we persevered. Our attempts paid off and a truly epic game ensued. Yes, I know, maybe it's a bit geeky to spend a Friday evening playing a boardgame, but one shouldn't forget that earlier in the week we were out partying, so it seemed only right to stay in this time around.

There were drinks, there were films but there were also ravenous zombie hoards, silly photos and Chris having victory torn from under his nose. Admittedly he would only have come second, Nicoletta chose the alternative path to victory and brutally slaughtered the required 25 zombies whilst the rest of us were still trying to figure out how to get to the helipad (and how to stop all those other gits getting there first!).

The phrase "No, fuck YOUUUUUU!" certainly came up a lot, as was to be expected but it alone could not top the wonderful photo of Chris throwing a one whilst standing on the helipad's centre square. That final zombie nommed his character and that was the end of him. Poor Chris.

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A little something I feel compelled to share:

(If the video is no longer up, go find a copy of "Bart's Inner Child", it's episode seven of the fifth series of the Simpsons - between 0:50 and 1:10)

Finally finished them. Seriously. I have a to-do list down in Wales written in about 2000 that contains the item "finish painting Skaven". Well, done. It's done.

More interestingly, it seems my painting has actually improved in the intervening time. I wasn't brilliant before and I'm still not that good, but I rather like the results. Below is one of my Skaven, the last one I finished. A black Skaven with fighting claws.

There's also two Skaven nightrunners weilding slings and knives but they were somewhat painted when I started out. The black Skaven was just primed and it turned out rather nicely, I think. I hope I get a chance to use them in a game of Mordheim soon, but regardless it's nice to have finally finished them. I ought to finish my Escher gang at some point too but that might take a little longer.

I've also designed a load of flat-pack terrain and much of it is done and painted but that can wait until another day. The basic idea being that it can be carried in something as small as a folder or small box in a backpack and be used to setup a playing field just about anywhere, unlike the terrain I used to build that was difficult to move at all. More on that later.

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More from Mordheim

18 January 2009

The other day I was blogging about building terrain for a Mordheim campaign and today I received some paints and finished the first piece. My multi-storey brothel is open for business, well, no, it's closed due to some sort of giant vermin infestation. Regardless, click on the thumbnails to embiggen the pics, either that or deploy a giant lizard. One way to find out, I suppose.
The tiles are made from strips of card taken from a Stella Artois box and took a little while to chop out but I think the result is good enough, although as it has been pointed out, a little too pristine. I may fix that later, but no promises - this is supposed to be fairly simple terrain rather than artistically detailed. Oh and they were painted with a mix of red and Bestial Brown.

The floors were far easier - I removed them and sliced at them with a scalpel. Using a ruler, of course (made that mistake when I was younger, the results were hideous). However scalpel alone didn't produce a pronounced enough groove so I grabbed the little nail file thing that manufacturers build into those little nail clippers - a few strokes of that sorted them (I repeated this after painting with Vallejo's equivalent of Snakebite Leather).As for the main structure, well, that was "red gore". I could have painted to a solid colour but I rather like the washed-out drabness I achieved. Yes, in this case it was intentional!
I also started painting some of my unpainted Skaven dudes. Not quite finished the two I'm working on but they'll soon be done (I'll get the Captain to photographise those though, I'm a bit too incompetent).A quick shout-out has to go to the ebay seller I bought my paints and brushes from flagbearer101 ( and their ebay store DRUM and FLAG ) . I've never been quite as impressed before. I picked out the paints and brushes (I opted for the cheap brushes). I ordered yesterday and at ~0830 this morning there was a posty banging on the door with a package for me. Oh and they sent me their more expensive brushes. Colour me smug.

Following my post about my unwillingness to join Facebook there was a flurry of comments on my Bebo blog both for and against, neither of which changed my mind considerably. If anything those of my friends who want me to join Facebook just made me want to dig my heels in further. Thankfully my flatmate, Matt, knows how to convince me. It helps to stop and take a moment to try to discern my reasons for taking a particular position.

Is it a practical concern? An ideological one? Or alternative number three.. sheer bloody-mindedness?

Previously my aversion to Facebook was an ideological one but the terms and conditions were eventually changed.
Currently my main activity on Bebo is blogging, I used to post photos as well but only occasionally. Bebo's blogging support is fairly crappy and doesn't support embedding videos or images. Neither does it support update-via-email (the method I'm using to post this post and used to post my Arriva Trains Wales rant from my iPhone whilst I was in transit).
What it does support is an audience. I used to use Blogger and never removed my account but I found I wasn't getting any real eyes on my words.
With Bebo declining I was getting fewer and fewer people reading my blog, so sensibly it would be better to move it to somewhere it will be seen.

So, the reasoning behind my aversion to Facebook is a combination of practicality and stubbornness.
Matt knows that trying to coax me to do something I don't want to do is usually a waste of time, it just encourages me to persevere.
Matt also knows that Blogger is a far better tool for blogging and by checking on applications for Facebook he found that it was quite possible to embed my Blogger blog in my profile, should I create one on Facebook. This would mean no sacrifices, just gains. The same eyes are looking at Facebook, meaning an audience exists, bigger than the previous one, in fact, but also that I could use far nicer tools.

I've not created a Facebook account yet, but I'm considering it.

My other major problem with moving to a new social network is time invested in Bebo. When I joined Napier it was incredibly popular, easily outweighing Facebook, so I took the time to upload content to my profile and use it. By moving to Facebook I would need to make that time commitment again and who is to say how long until Facebook is no longer the network of choice?

To solve this problem I am doing my best to determine where to host my content. My blog will be on Blogger and be syndicated into my current primary social network.
I'm not certain on where to store my photos. Flickr is very popular, for example, but I do not wish to pay to use the service (without paying I can have 200 pics online, a limit I hit long ago). I also do not like that Yahoo! own Flickr as, to be frank, I feel they're somewhat of a technological cul-de-sac, a remnant of the way the Internet used to be. Quaint, memorable, but nowhere near as good as their rivals.

I'm also considering Google's Picasa service. It currently boasts 1024MB of storage, which may well be enough. I use Picasa running in a virtual machine to store my iPhone photos (my primary camera these days) so uploading them to web albums should be easy. I'm not sure whether this is the best long-term solution though.

Video content I have (Virtually only NSS stuff) is already on YouTube and BlipTV and that just about covers it.

So, once I get my photo storage solution selection done it shouldn't be too difficult to join any other modern social networks and carry my content with me, rather than being faced with the problem that Steph is currently dealing with - having a huge number of photos in an album on a social network and not being able to easily move them elsewhere or download them in a quick and convenient manner.

I believe Picasa even has a Facebook plugin, which is somewhat of a bonus and I'm told the iPhone application is rather good too.
Either way - in order to get me to do something pleading, demanding or persisting is not the way to get it done.
I've done my best to learn how to ask people to do things in a way that will leave them inclined to comply - I don't always succeed, mind you, but there's patterns that people follow, once you can see the pattern it becomes easy to know how to work with them.

Constructed in the space of a few hours, this five-storey Mordheim apartment block/brothel is probably unfeasible for the construction methods of the fantasy period Mordheim is set in, but one can worry about these things too much, I feel.
The whole building is easy to disassemble and reassemble, being designed for the purpose and is ideal as a centre-piece, I reckon. Painting will follow when I get hold of some paints (could, you know, help..)

Basic structure established, inter-changeable floors inserted.

Individual windows measured and cut.

Top floor firing positions, pre-apocalypse.

The building in its near-finished state. A partial roof was added later to give it a more finished look. Hopefully when it's painted it'll look even better. Mmmm, terrain making, how I've missed you..

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Arriva Trains Wales

14 January 2009

What is it about this company?
Why are they so broken that it is unusual for one of their trains to arrive at the scheduled time?
I am literally surprised if I'm on one of their services and I arrive on time.

Worse than that are the breakdowns -in approximately 70% of the journeys I've taken between Crewe and Carmarthen don't make it. Sometimes a replacement arrives with fifteen minutes, other times it takes hours. This time on the way down the train contained no functional toilets
and then was stopped at Cardiff. On the way back up the train is delayed. Nice.

How is it that the Virgin trains I've taken are considerably nicer aesthetically but also have fairly extensive buffet cars? (the old Arriva trains contain only a food trolly and no plug sockets)

Furthermore, it's a rare event that they're late, in my personal experience. Sometimes they're even *early*!
I've never had a Virgin train break down on me either, come to that.

Perhaps Arriva can't compete by upgrading their fleet but would it kill them to publish realistic arrival times? Either that or get their engineers to have a look at their trains' flux capacitors.

So, in about half an hour I'll nearly be in Crewe, unless it has been delayed AGAIN..

Bite me, Facebook.

10 January 2009

People are abandoning Bebo at a pretty rapid rate it seems. I would join them if the "upgrade" was to something other than Facebook. Sorry, no. Not happening.

I've spent enough time uploading content here and blogging that I just don't feel like doing it all again. It takes a lot of time and effort and I'm just not up for it.
It annoys me more that when others leave they'll end up taking content with them. By deleting their account they delete their photos, many of which I'm tagged in. Fun.

I do have somewhat of an abandonment complex but that was pre-existing, rather than a product of this. Regardless it's nice to know that if I joined Facebook I'd be similarly ignored after the initial flurry of attention, being the latest novelty.

There's a few people on Facebook that I'd quite like to keep contact with, but if that means selling out my principals then I'd rather suffer. Given my past history with social networks it's fairly likely that Facebook would start to decline shortly after me joining, meaning all my effort would be for little long-term stability.

Perhaps it won't, but I'm not going to spend the resources finding out. If all others fall away then perhaps I will join as it might guarantee that I won't have to rebuild after a year, but that's a pretty big if.

As an aside, from what I've been told there is essentially no decent native blogging support. No sale, sorry. Bebo's blogging system doesn't do half the things I'd like but at least it exists properly and can generate an RSS feed.

Also, the lack of public URL for a profile is a major point of contention for me. I like that when I go to "" I get my profile. It's an easy way for me to be visible. "Find me on Facebook" just doesn't hold the same ring.

Come on, Google, buy out Facebook or market your own to the UK. Orkut might be brilliant but I'm totally in the dark about its features.

Friends will continue to abandon Bebo at a steady rate I've no doubt, it's a shame but most of them disappeared long ago anyway so it's mostly just making it official. I ought to do another cull, I guess.

So, to sum up..
I said I wouldn't join Facebook when Hatty asked me.
I said I wouldn't join Facebook when Heather pleaded with me.
If I said no to them, chances are it's a definite "no".
Yes, I'm stubborn as a mule.