Stupid Tuesday questions, ibid edition

For the past few weeks, I have passed a light-up sign on my way to work.  It stands at the turn toward the highway, having been placed there to give information to travelers about to head onto the interstate.  Its message — “Road Work on I-95 NB.”

The first time I passed that sign, my split-second, instantaneous thought was “Shouldn’t it say ‘NB’ at the beginning?”

A few nanoseconds later, I was hit by the crushing realization that I am a colossal nerd.  It dawned on me that, in that context, “NB” stood for “northbound” and not “nota bene.”  And that only a truly, preposterously nerdish nerd would ever imagine that the Maine Department of Transportation would use formal legal/academic notation to draw attention to an announcement already being displayed on a light-up sign.

This is a realization with which I am all too familiar.  Indeed, it has been the subject of a previous STQ that I have lost in the misty ethers of the Internet.  But so regularly am I reminded that I am deeply nerdy that it felt appropriate to revisit the topic.

The other recent reminder was a chat I had with one of the nice people who works at the front desk in my office.  I have no memory of how the subject came up, but for some reason he made reference to the Greek goddess Iris.  (That was, admittedly, a pretty damn nerdy set-up.)  And I not only mentioned that Iris was the messenger of the gods, but that she traveled by way of the rainbow.  Because nothing says “cool boss” like stone cold mythology knowledge.

You see, in middle school I was way into Greek mythology.  Like, way into.  “Hand my brother a copy of Edith Hamilton’s ‘Mythology’ and tell him to quiz me” into.  For this reason, I can not only name all nine Muses, I can tell you the particular ambit of each.  I named a couple of fish I owned at one time “Deimos” and “Phobos,” after the chariot-drivers of Ares.  (They were little red fish, you see.  It made sense.)  I considered Roberto Calasso’s “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony” enjoyable leisure reading.  You get the idea.

My nerd cred goes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back.

But I know I am not alone.  Oh, no.  My geekery may not trend in the direction of video games like many of the League’s denizens, and my comic-book-fu may be relatively rusty and weak compared to some of the rest of you, but I know a crowd of nerds when I see them.  I am not alone here.

So what was the most recent reminder of your nerddom?  When in the not-too-distant past were you confronted with the fact of your nerdish leanings?  Bonus points if you actually felt better about yourself afterward.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Can one be a nerd about memories? Because I find myself listening to music with my 12-year-old daughter and sometimes saying, “I remember where I was when I first heard this.” Like, literally remember the place and roughly the time and who was around. As in, I remember the first time I ever heard/saw Bjork’s “Human Behavior” video: my friend Zach’s house, a Saturday night, after midnight, on MTV’s 120 Minutes. I probably didn’t actively listen to Bjork until years later, but I still distinctly remember that. And I can do that with lots of songs.

    If memories don’t count then, it’s probably the time last week when, asked to fondly recall my favorite college course, I said without blinking, “East African Comparative Politics” as if that’s a normal thing.

    • That second answer is aces.

      And you’d get more nerd cred for the first if you’d picked an artist less awesome than Bjork. (No matter how crazy she gets, I will always forgive her because of how much I love “Big Time Sensuality” and because she wore a dress shaped like a swan to the Oscars. I am even willing to forgive her for being romantically involved with Matthew Barney, if only just barely.) Like, say, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

      • I offered Bjork as an answer. I can also tell you the first time I heard the Red House Painters “I Feel The Rain Fall”, Smashing Pumpkins “Cherub Rock”, Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad”, etc. etc.

        We can also get into a HUGE fight about how punctuation should not ever appear within the quotation marks that surround a song title. My problem is having lots of general nerdiness but nothing specific. I’ve never been a specialist in the same way that you appear to have been/are about mythology or BlaiseP is about all things.

        • What, I don’t get generalist nerd points for throwing down a derisive reference to Matthew Barney? How much harder do I have to work, man?

          And all of your answers are too awesome for nerdishness. Nostalgia for cool music makes you similar to LCD Soundsystem, and being similar to LCD Soundsystem is the definition of “awesome.”

        • punctuation should not ever appear within the quotation marks that surround a song title

          Why not?

          • I have zero idea of how to properly punctuate quotations.

          • Well, ideally, nothing should appear inside the quotation marks that isn’t part of the original quote (or song title).

            But when there is punctuation IN that quote (or song title) it should be in there. That’s why I am confused.

          • I think he means the sentence punctuation, not anything in the title. So I assume he thinks this would be ok:

            But to Sam’s point, here’s what the Economists Style Guide says (which is what I tend to follow):

            Inverted commas (Quotation marks)

            Use single ones only for quotations within quotations. Thus: “When I say ‘immediately’, I mean some time before April,” said the spokesman.
            For the relative placing of quotation marks and punctuation, follow Hart’s rules.

            Thus, if an extract ends with a full stop or question-mark, put the punctuation before the closing inverted commas. His maxim was that “love follows laughter.” In this spirit came his opening gambit: “What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?”

            If a complete sentence in quotes comes at the end of a larger sentence, the final stop should be inside the inverted commas. Thus, The answer was, “You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.” She replied, “Your jokes are execrable.”

            Note that the first letter of any sentence quoted in full should be upper case, and should usually be preceded by a comma or a colon.

            If the quotation does not include any punctuation, the closing inverted commas should precede any punctuation marks that the sentence requires. Thus: She had already noticed that the “young man” looked about as young as the New Testament is new. Although he had been described as “fawnlike in his energy and playfulness”, “a stripling with all the vigour and freshness of youth”, and even as “every woman’s dream toyboy”, he struck his companion-to-be as the kind of old man warned of by her mother as “not safe in taxis”. Where, now that she needed him, was “Mr Right”?

            When a quotation is broken off and resumed after such words as he said, ask yourself whether it would naturally have had any punctuation at the point where it is broken off. If the answer is yes, a comma is placed within the quotation marks to represent this. Thus, “If you’ll let me see you home,” he said, “I think I know where we can find a cab.” The comma after home belongs to the quotation and so comes within the inverted commas, as does the final full stop.

            But if the words to be quoted are continuous, without punctuation at the point where they are broken, the comma should be outside the inverted commas. Thus, “My bicycle”, she assured him, “awaits me.”

            Do not use quotation marks unnecessarily, as in this sentence: Her admirer described his face as a “finely chiselled work of art”; she wrote in her diary that it looked more like a “collapsed lung”. Note that the Bible contains no quotation marks, with no consequent confusions.


            I believe (though I’m not sure) that the British/Canadian rules are slightly different than the American rules.

            By the way, Rus, does me quoting the Economist Style Guide count as my most recent nerd moment (slightly more recent than me citing the punctuation in a Smiths song title)?

          • Because it isn’t part of the song’s title. So my favorite song, for example, might be Nina Simone’s, “Sinnerman”. Because that’s the title of the song. The title isn’t, “Sinnerman.”

            I really get fired up about this. I also get fired up when people describe use plurals for teams (the Pittsburgh Pirates, for example). “The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs today. They scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth.” No, “they” didn’t. The team did. The team is singular. Hulk Smash. (And yes, I know there are applicable rules about such things.)

          • Now I follow you.

            I was confused as to why you would write the song title “A Hard Days Night” instead of “A Hard Day’s Night”, or “Lord Can You Hear Me” rather than “Lord, Can You Hear Me?”

          • Glyph,

            That is an excellent point. My apologies about the lack of clarity. I simply mean including anything between the quotation marks that isn’t found on the back of the album*.

            *digital file

          • I get lost when you are referring to a question but not asking a question.

            E.g., John’s question was, “Can I go to the bathroom?” but Tommy’s was, “Can I go poop?”.

            That ending just seems wrong and screwy! I have no idea if that is right!

          • The Economist guide describes British punctuation rules. In American usage, a comma, period, or question mark typically goes before the terminating quotation mark, regardless of whether it’s in the actual quotation. I stick with this rule unless it would create confusion.

            The final period isn’t necessary. Omitting it does create some ambiguity when the sentence is viewed in isolation (is this a statement or a question about John’s and Tommy’s questions?), but in context it will almost always be clear.

    • …asked to fondly recall my favorite college course…

      You know, that’s a good STQ area right there. When I read your comment, “Approximation of Functions” is what popped into my head — even after 37 years. I’m not sure if there are still differences in the meanings for nerd, geek, and wonk, but I have at various times in my life been referred to by all three (math nerd, computer geek, and state budget wonk).

  2. So my next door neighbour in this duplex, nice guy — anyone younger than 30 is a kid to me. We sit out back watching our dogs playing in the yard. He mentions he’s from the Oneida tribe.

    “Oh, yeah. The Oneida. Longhouse people. Everyone hears about the Cherokee getting screwed over, Trail of Tears and all that. But the Five Nations people in New York got the shaft, too. They knew the Marquis de Lafayette. Of course, everyone had to take sides in the American Revolution and the Oneida sided with the Patriots. Didn’t help them much, though. The whites murdered them anyway and lots of them went into Canada. Don’t have to tell you they were also run out of New York State up here to Wisconsin, despite all those treaties the Americans signed with them. Never trust a treaty signed by an American: he’ll screw you as soon as there’s a reason to screw you.”

    He looks at me and blinks.

    “You must be a hell of a Jeopardy player.”

    • Plus, in our house, Old McDonald’s farm has a beholder. With a “zap, zap” here and a “zap, zap” there.

    • On a small board? It’s hard to picture a small child having the patience for a 19×19 game.

      • She likes the large board, but hasn’t yet managed to finish a game on it.

        Then again, she IS only three years old.

        • Well, sure. Though if you were being a mean daddy, it would be a quick game because you captured all of her stones.

  3. Crazily enough, I was reminded of my own geekery at a gaming convention.

    Of course, everyone else there was a geek too. But someone made an off-handed comment about the chance that the dice roll would go his way, and I immediately corrected him, and then spend the next ten minutes jotting down dice probabilities when I should have been paying more attention to the game.

  4. Not an interaction-with-people thing, but one of the items on my To Do list these week is to compile our books and organize them into an actual library, so that I can find an exact title when I’m looking for it. I’ve even put a lot of time into thinking how I’ll organize it, and which rooms’ bookshelves would be best suited for particular sections or sub-sections.

    I feel like doing this should earn me some kind of nerd blue ribbon.

    • “Kazzy, what’d you do to our books?!?!”
      “I organized them, Zazzy!”
      “But how?”
      “Alphabetically by author, of course.”
      “But, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
      “Well, naturally they’re divided by subject matter first. See… this shelf are all social science books, alphabetized by author. That shelf are fiction titles, themselves alphabetized by author…”
      “I’m getting a Kindle.”

      • You should arrange them autobiographically.

          • Bingo. I’m not sure if that counts as a geek moment for us or not. I’d like to think so.

    • I’ve tried this; but there are too many oversized books and too many undersized bookshelves. I think most bookshelves are built for people who only read paperback romances.

      • I was in the Library Club in high school.

        Categorization and me go ‘way back. It’s been an acrimonious relationship, to say the least.

  5. I blog at the LoOG… does that count?

    During a recent bachelor party with friends, I found myself starting entirely too many sentences with, “I wrote about this on my blog…”

    Also, I fell asleep in the strip club. But that might have more to do with being an old fuddy duddy than being a nerd.

    • Well, it’s a start.

      And I am charmed by the picture of you snoozing away while various attractive women shake their lady-bits in your general vicinity.

      • If pictures were allowed in such places, I feel like that would be a great one to simply caption with “New Dad”.

  6. Mine comes through in the kitchen. I’m not a gadget-collector, I eliminate the clutter of unused things whenever possible; and find most people have heaps of kitchen clutter but not what I’d call essential tools. Thermometers, scales, and good knives, in particular.

    When listening to people talk about cooking, I’m also often amazed. So much weird craziness that’s actually unhinged from good, safe food. My favorite example is the recent ‘gluten-free’ craze. So you’ve been eating mostly processed, bleached white four, combined with lots of refined sugar, for years, and suddenly decide to eliminate that from your diet. You replace that flour with lots more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and other whole grains, and you feel great; you know you must be a gluten intolerant. Right.

    I get particularly upset about this because some people genuinely cannot eat gluten; and every time the gluten-free freak goes into a restaurant and says they’re gluten free and then orders gluten foods (happens a lot, too), they’re reinforcing this weird ‘a little gluten is okay,’ myth in the food-service business. Either you’re gluten intolerant or not; and if you’re not, look at what you replaced gluten-rich foods with to discover why you might actually feel better.

    So the bonus feeling-good part: Went through the gluten-free thing with a friend recently; really did feel better when he didn’t eat bread, etc. Then one day, while visiting, I’d made chocolate chip cookies with spelt flour and coconut oil, and he couldn’t resist. Had one. Didn’t make him feel bad. Had another. Came back the next day, asked for more. No problem. Come to find out, he’s not gluten intolerant, he’s allergic to wheat. We’ve been working to revise many of his favorite recipes to spelt, he cooks at home nearly all the time now, and is happily learning how to make his own bread.

    • And I should add that developing those spelt recipes involve use of scales and thermometers (particularly for the bread. Don’t tap it, take its temperature; about 200℉ is the target, depending on hydration.)

    • One of these days, when I’m in the mood to have another comment thread saturated with incensed trolls out for my blood, I will write a post about the new mania for “gluten-free living.”

      • I’m often tempted to see what new thing I can convince people is mania worthy.

        “You mean you don’t eat dog shit? Well, if you don’t care about your family’s health, I guess that’s fine. But ya know, Dr. Oz had this to say…”

      • Oh please do. Those sorts of posts are some of my favorites, trolls out for blood be damned.

        • Oh, I enjoy them, too.

          But they’re so much bloody work. For the sake of fairness and intellectual humility, anytime some commenter posts some crackpot article or study or some such, I go to the trouble of reading it because, hey… I could be wrong. And it gets so damn tiring to read them and then find the bit where its crappiness makes itself known, at which point I try to post a somewhat respectful comment in reply., to be repeated ad nauseam.

          At a certain point I finally say “well, that’s all the time I’m gonna spend on this” and let it go. But until then… WORK!

  7. I don’t know if it is so much nerdy/geeky but being very aware that I came from a different culture.

    At my last job, I shared an office with another guy. Towards the end of the project, they brought in some other people to finish it quickly. I had a respectful but largely quite relationship with my office mate but when the new people came in, the room became talk central.

    Most of the conservations revolved around bits and pieces of pop culture that I somewhat knew about but never saw or never heard of. This involved Tropic Thunder, quoting various comedy sketches (“Like a Boss”), lots of hip-hop (to be fair, they had no idea about my music tastes either), etc.

    I suppose that they were sharing more mainstream tastes and I felt kind of lonely and isolated. At one point for some reason I mentioned having a favorite journalist. One of the new guys turned to me and said:

    “You have a favorite journalist?”

    So yeah….I don’t think that my tastes are nerdy per se but I know I am far off the pop-culture radar because I don’t watch much TV and my taste in movies tends not to be Hollywood Blockbuster. And as we said, I don’t play video games. There was a lot of discussion on video games. There was an interesting conversation on how I would buy a nice pair of shoes for what my co-workers would spend on tech…

  8. Having a discussion about the derivation of Master of Puppets[and heavy metal in general] (including throat singing, which is only one of the reasons why (apparently) heavy metal albums never reach 10/10, though they can come pretty close).

    • why (apparently) heavy metal albums never reach 10/10, though they can come pretty close

      Mine go to 11.

      • … yeah, the other part of the comment was “the bassist or drummer usually dies before they get to 10/10”

    • Master of Puppets was really where I quit on Metallica.
      Of interest: The opening riff to Master of Puppets is full chromatic. 12 notes, all the way down.
      For listening, I prefer “Escape.” For playing, “Metal Militia.”
      I also tend to play “Eye of the Beholder” every now and then, but I like to work it in with “Lovechild” by Accept.

      By the time Master of Puppets came out, Slayer had replaced Metallica as the heaviest band, and then Celtic Frost took Slayer’s top spot.

      Final word: Go for the old stuff. Save the newer material for coasters at parties.

      • “Battery”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, “Disposable Heroes”, and “Damage, Inc.” are all pretty good. Title track could use more than a little tightening. Leper Messiah is downright clunky. Orion is a trifle self-indulgent. The Thing That Should Not Be isn’t anywhere near as good as The Call of Ktulu, and it’s also in need of tightening.

        Yeah, “Ride the Lighting” and “Kill ’em All” are way better albums. You could take “Blackened”, “The Shortest Straw”, and “Dyers Eve” off of Justice and mash it together with those first four and get an album as good as Ride.

        We will not speak of what follows.

  9. This isn’t entirely on point, but my 20-year-old daughter has come to the depressing realization that she’s inherited my nerdy sense of humor. The latest reminder of this occurred when she was among some college friends and one of them said “Could be worse”, and she jumped in with “Could be raining” (my standard Young Frankenstein response), and they all gave her blank stares.

  10. Law review geekery: I get annoyed when people abbreviate “versus” with the in-fact-quite-appropriate abbreviation “vs.” It’s “v.” damnit! Just “v.” Roe v. Wade, not Roe vs. Wade. (Why is it that way? I dunno. The Blue Book said so.)

    I mean, there’s really nothing objectively wrong with abbreviating “versus” with a “vs.” I can let go of ordinal numbers abbreviated differently in common parlance than in law jargon: after the first of something, how do you abbreviate it? Most people would write “2nd” but lawyers may well write “2d”.

    Which leads to the intersection of another bit of geekery. As a former (and, who knows, maybe once again) RPG’er, when I see an abbreviation like “2d” or “3d” I want to know how many sides should be on the dice that I roll. So if I see a legal citation like “10 F.3d 20” that makes me want to look for my red, white, and blue twenty-sided dice, roll three of them, and multiply the total by 10.

    • You know, if you actually started doing this, and mapping the results to something else, you might, I dunno, win at the stock market or something, like Monkey’s throwing darts, only it’s legal citations and dice instead of monkeys and darts.

    • So do you only get riled up when it’s referring to legal cases?

      Or would something like “In this issue: the Justice League vs. the Crime Syndicate” be equally frustrating?

  11. Last saturday. Just about every saturday i riff bad bad movies with some buddies ( well i’ve never met any of them, but we chat and have a web forum) over the web. As we were riffing away at a truly terrible movie , The Miami Connection fwiw, we made many references to past terrible directors we’ve sat through. I think we seen every short Coronet has ever made. We’ve seen more than one movie starring Weng Weng. We’re calling out guys like the polonia bros or Breen who are more obscure then frickin ed wood in all his cross dressing glory. It really is like crossing the event horizon of a supermassive black hole of solid geek.

    • Don’t let dhex catch you dissing Miami Connection, that thing is like his Bible and Constitution and Citizen Kane all rolled into one.

      I think what makes your particular brand of nerddom special is that, unlike other areas of nerddom where the participants are consuming art that outsiders may mock as pointless but that the participants see as worthwhile, you are intentionally exposing yourself to bad art – it’s possible that via this hobby, you have now knowingly consumed more hours of bad art than most humans will ever experience of good art.

      • If dhex has boogied down to Dancin Ninja’s than i will be his soul brother forever.

        Oh FSM yes i have consumed so many hours of crap. But the thing about crap movies is that they either offer genuine surprises, as gruesome as they may be, unlike mainstream movies or the cliches are taken to such an intense degree it is funny.

        • One of Pat Benatar’s lesser-known tunes, apparently.

          the thing about crap movies is that they either offer genuine surprises, as gruesome as they may be, unlike mainstream movies

          My wife, an otherwise wonderful person who has an inexplicable weakness for Bravo “reality” shows, occasionally walks in on some terrible movie or TV show I am watching and sniffs at it. I always tell her that I would rather watch the stupidest, most inept failure of a scripted program than one of these contrived “reality” shows that consist of gathering terrible people together and provoking them to act terribly to each other. The worst SyFy Sharkorillatopus has some amount of thought and human creative impulse behind it, however misguided in intent or botched in execution.

          • Back in the day, before kids and migraine curtailed my going-to-the-movie-theater ways, I had a 100% failsafe method for picking a movie I’d like: Anything the Boston Globe rated two (out of four) stars.

            I’d sometimes really like the four star movies; but if I didn’t like it I really really really disliked it. I usually found the three star movies boring beyond belief. But the two stars?

            Space awesome.

  12. So what was the most recent reminder of your nerddom?

    What’s water?

    • Oh, c’mon!

      Blaise was able to come up with something concrete. Surely you, my other friend I knew would own this question, can come up with a specific example.

      Don’t make me make more Greek myth references, because God knows I have plenty.

      • On the nightstand, in my room, at this moment, are four copies of CQ (ham radio magazine), three Pathfinder books, and a very large jug filled with 10 different sets of polyhedral dice plus enough d6es to roll the entire opening assault of Germany on Russia in Axis and Allies with one throw. Because rolling 50 six sided dice in one go is clearly the only correct way to roll.

        Right now, I have two different posts on two different episodes of Babylon 5 open in a text editor, and I’m not happy with either of them.

        I thought the Greek gods in Edith Hamilton were passe, but I loved the heroes and devoured the Norse mythos.

        In the last three weeks, I’ve rolled on the Wandering Harlot Table in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. I’ve had four hour long chat conversations about monetary policy in massively multiplayer games in the last 48 hours.

        My two most commonly worn baseball caps at this moment are an Institute for Quantum Information hat from the IQI group at Caltech, and a Albuquerque Isotopes cap my father-in-law got me some time back.

        If you look at collections of television series I have on DVD: Starblazers (Season 1), Robotech: the Complete Saga, the entire run of Babylon 5, the entire run of Space:1999, Firefly (that last one on iTunes), the Prisoner (also iTunes) and the first and second seasons of Star Trek, the original series. If you saw my Amazon wish list, you’d see that the next two candidates are the Six Million Dollar Man (the entire set) and Mission: Impossible.

        I work at Caltech, and I think I’m a plenty nerdy specimen, there.

        My freakin’ gravatar is from the Endeavor’s trip through Los Angeles pulled by a truck, for cryin’ out loud! My kids call me the Goofmungus!

  13. We’re culling the library of books that make both of us say “I have no idea why that one is in here.” We got through non-fiction and are getting rid of six boxes of books (three boxes from the liquor store, three copier paper boxes).

    In going through these books, I had forgotten how many books on astrology I own.

    They’re staying, for the record.

    • Mine is that after we culled all those, I spent SIX HOURS STRAIGHT rearranging the other books and listening to Downton Abbey (I don’t need to watch it because I know all their voices very well by now, having started watching it last Friday and already being almost done of 2nd season despite the amount of drinking games I’ve been playing this week). And I was happy as a clam for all six hours.

      Oh, also, while I was watching Downton, someone said something that was a Kipling reference and I was so happy I literally squealed aloud in glee. That’s a pretty good marker right there.

  14. I think I mentioned that Edith Hamilton and our mythology unit almost did me in during ninth grade honors English–I really stunk at it. All those difficult names to remember! All those stories! Seriously, I did not do well at mythology.

    The glasses bring to mind my favorite rock-n-roller–in fact, I was five minutes late playing for Presbyterian Manor this morning because I had to listen to Buddy sing “Oh, Boy” on the Sirius fifties station in my car, although most people WOULD think of nerdiness upon seeing said glasses.

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