Monday, March 21, 2005


In the last two days, I've been madly Javascripting. My quest culminates with a // browsable map of beleriand.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Of the Origin of Nerds

On the list of interesting facts that haven't come to light yet, "nerd" is a Greek word meaning "enlightened" (or so I've been told by a Greek person who used to role-play on my MUD), and a "geek" originally was a carnival entertainer who would bite the heads off of chickens.

Literally, "nerd" and "geek" are insulting labels. If there's any confusion about their distinction and meaning it is because of a common psycho-sociological pattern whereby people who have been victimized gather under the label they've all been cast beneath and develop a group pride, even arrogance, and definitely elitism. "self proclaimed nerds" tend to shun geeks as they were shunned, and "self proclaimed geeks" tend to shun their nerd brethren.

Frankly, the social barriers are illusory. All that makes a "nerd" or a "geek" is shyness in youth. Young and shy males in at least in American social avenues tend to fall behind in the break-neck, competitive environment they're hurled into as children. Young and shy girls tend to support each other earlier on, I think. If nerds are less interested in sports, there is little correlation to physical attributes, but rather that they weren't accepted in sport venues when they were young because _they were shy_. This presents the familiar, analogous dichotomy of "nerds" vs. "jocks". Alternatively, kids that are just plain smart when they're young might shun or be shunned by their cohorts, leading to the same disparity.

Of course, this leads to a lot of walking around, playing in the sand box, watching Star Trek, and pondering beneath trees. So, the people who are rejected ultimately find time for diverse interests and imagination games rather than sports and "ring around the rosy". Perhaps this is where our "dreamers" come from.

As far as names go, people tend to pick the label they ascribe to based on what sounds right. "Computer geek" and "band geek" are common idioms. If you haven't heard either of them, you might chose "nerd". I did. I've never heard of a proudly self proclaimed "dweeb" or "dork". For me, "dweeb" conjures images from "The Farside Gallery".

My personal experience is a combination of circumstances. In school, I wasn't very interested in sports. I was shy, but ambitious. I was nonconformist. From watching TNG, I had adopted a daunting vocabulary and appreciation for higher ethics than "take from others when they take form you", which led to being less assertive. So, I took to imagination games and drawing. Later, in the void of social activity, I started playing with computers. I took an interest in phonetics and alphabets which blossomed later on when I started learning languages like German and Quenya. Again, in the wake of social activity I ended up in band and Boy Scouts where the ethical waters seemed safer. Then I became a self-proclaimed "nerd" at about 14 years old. So, now I'm studying Computer Science with a bunch of other "nerds" and "computer geeks". I suspect that many of my fellows had similar experiences and age gave us all an opportunity to accrete here.

In summary, "nerd", "geek", "dweeb", "dork", and "jock" are all names of mutually exclusive social groups stemming from fierce competition, a social expectation of assertiveness and success in common sport games, intolerance, and a social pattern of victim dignification/anti-defamation. Petty distinctions among these victim groups depend on the definitions assigned within them.

Originally posted for the conlang list.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What is the Airspeed of an Unladen Swallow?

Ryan Witt sent me a lovely link that resolves the long lingering question, "What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?. Not only does What is the Airspeed of an Unladen Swallow answer the question, it does so with style. See // for more stylish answers to burning questions.

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Finished Farthest Shore

I finished my third read of "The Farthest Shore", by Ursula LeGuin. I very much enjoy LeGuin's writing style, particularly the meter.

"Farthest Shore" is about the cycle of life and death, and how greed can mar its course. At first, LeGuin paints a picture where art is lost. No one cares any longer for their crafts, and even magic seems to no longer work. In actuallity, society had listened to the greed in their hearts, ceased their high arts in pursuit of self interest, albeit by consuming a poisonous intoxicant.

The idea applies well to problems that society faces today. Many of us have arrested our creativity and drive to others. For example, we relinquish our spirit to network television and have given up on the seemingly insoluble problems in favor of relaxed indifference. We are no longer alive.

Of course, in literary intrest, the author anthropormorphises the problem, giving Ged and Lebannen, the protagonists, an opportunity to strike and destroy the voice that whispers in everyone's ear, lying to them that death can be forstalled by denying life.

While this end is appropriate to the book, I don't believe that the solution applies to us. The voices in our hearts that drive us to sloth, indifference, and ease, that answer our problems with false solutions, are indeed in our hearts and through us communicated to everyone around us, bringing down the drive of civilization. This is all the more hurtful since our civilization's future depends on our attention; the problems we face are real and our entire legacy could end within decades without perseverence. For us, I think the message is to do one simple thing: live.

Additions to my reading list:

  • "Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring", J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov (began it last year; never got anywhere)

It's worth noting that I finished rereading "The Hobbit" last month, which I think is the third time over all. Aside from a renewed vision of Middle Earth, I took from it one notice. When speaking of the relationship between the Elves and Dwarves, Tolkien alludes to Thingol and the Nauglamir. It also reminded me that I would like to have conversant birds to the aid of those who can hear and speak in MAGE. I also remembered that I have to talk to my roommate, Matt, about building a falconry skill tree and subgame.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Reading List

I'm reading:

  • "The Farthest Shore", by Ursula LeGuin,
  • "The Lay of Leithian", from "The Silmarillion", by J.R.R. Tolkien,
  • "The Evolution of Usefull Things", by Henry Petroski, and
  • The Kalevala, by Finland

Will Google Return My Call

I sent my resume to google last week. I've been polling my four mail inboxes with vigor.

My lab partner, Mike Andrion, and I have been meeting every evening since Tuesday to get a handle on our Minix kernel hack assignment. It will, in the end be a magic eight ball device driver.

$ cd /dev
$ mknod 8ball c 15 0
   # character device, major number 15,
   #  minor number unimportant
$ echo Are we done yet? > /dev/8ball
$ cat /dev/8ball
Outlook uncertain.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Heaven and Hell

Jean Tam sent me this gem from cyberspace yesterday: I would like to find the MIT answer to the question "Is Hell endothermic or exothermic". Seems like they should all be collated in a common place.

Ryan Witt added a turret, wall, tower, and moat to the Cixtle yesterday. If there is any other omen to a successful open source project suite, its when someone expands on a small idea. Thank you, Ryan.

Ryan Paul posted his survey of XML editors to News Forge. I'm very pleased that OSNews thought it credible, usefull and pertinent to cross link the article. I look forward to a long, literate relationship growing from these seeds we see today.