technology and zen of life

“A heisenbug (named after the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) is a computer bug that disappears or alters its characteristics when an attempt is made to study it.”

5 Addendums to The Nerd Handbook

Every year, I re-read the classic essay The Nerd Handbook on Rands In Repose, to quench my spiritual thirst. And every time I cry a little. No one in this world, including my mother and my girlfriend, has ever understood me so well. If you haven’t read the handbook, shame on you, go do it right now. It is the most perfect and empathizing description of what and who nerds are and how the people around us (especially spouses) should understand us. It is unfortunate that more nerds end up reading it than their spouses, mothers and bosses combined.

Even though it is perfect, the essay inspired me to try and make a few additions that I have understood about myself and my nerd friends. Like the original article, my prototypical nerd is a he as a convenience. There are plenty of she nerds out there for which these observations equally apply.

Your nerd may seem fickle but he is not. Every few weeks or months your nerd has a new project idea that he can’t stop talking about. Whether it is a new blog, a bird house or complicated sound system for the apartment, it all he can think. He has already bought the domain name or the tools or has read the DIY manual over the night. Then he drops the idea completely, moves on to something else, seems to have forgotten about it.  And you are left wondering over this bizarre inconsistent behavior.

Your nerd hasn’t forgotten about the project. He has simply shelved it for future use. As stressed over and over in the original article, he draws pleasure from his projects. His life is pretty much the collection of projects going on his life right now. And projects need ideas. One of his biggest fears is that when his current project is over, he won’t have an idea handy for the next one. Good ideas are hard to come by. And so, he keeps a large repository of ideas in his head, with a little bit of ground preparation, to take off at moment’s notice.

That and the fact that he is lazy.

Your nerd refuses to fake it, even though he can. You have spent a couple of hours dressing up. You stand in front of him and ask him, “how do I look?” and he replies “great,” without even looking up from his computer. You drag him to meet your parents and find him sitting in a corner refusing say anything but an occasional “uh-huh.” And yet only a week ago he had said things that made you feel like the only person in the world and had charmed you parents to death.

What happened? Your nerd figured out how to charm you. Don’t get him wrong; when he said those things, he was trying to make you happy. But in the back of his mind he was trying to figure out the social construct of charming you or your parents. He was putting in considerable efforts to figure out the rules required. It is insensitive, but now that he has mastered the skill and lost interest. He may still use the skill every once in a while, but now it will not be so effortless. He may still love you, but he has lost interest in expressing it. Same logic applies for why…

His excuses don’t make sense. It is easy to know when a person is going through life-changing moments and should be left alone. When you lost a friend, took up a new job or moved to a new city, everyone around you understood that you are busy. You won’t be able to reply emails right away, get off from work early or miss birthday parties.

But his excuses do not make sense. He won’t go to work for three days because he was trying to learn how to make interactive maps on flash or reading a book. This is because he does not understand the difference between work and pleasure. You go to work or that boring party because you consider this as work; you go to movies to have fun. Your nerd is unable to make this distinction. He is chasing the same High at his job or at his home, the one of solving problems and figuring out a system. He will spend hours writing a Wikipedia page and consider it just as important as doing the job he gets paid for.

He will keep trying. He screwed up. May be he tried a thing in bed that was awful or made the wrong joke in front of your friends in a party. You just want to have a quick fight, forget about it and move on. Only he can’t. He will do the same thing again and again, until he gets it right. Because that’s his nature. He compiles a piece of code hundreds of times before getting it right. That is how he has learnt, by making mistakes and trying again. Back in school, while others would give up and see the answer in the back of the book, he would keep staring at it for hours before finally getting it right. And that’s what he is doing right now.

He has quirks, but he is not whimsical. Of course, he is eccentric. So are you. But your quirks are just that- inexplicable quirks. His, on the other hands, are decisions that he deliberately took after a lot of consideration. If he is reading three books in parallel, it is because he is reading the heavy manual in bed, the small history paperback while travelling because it is easier to carry, and the John Grisham novel as some light reading to relax his brain. If he doesn’t eat that particular cereal ever, its because he has read the ingredients and probably a few research papers on their effect on human brain. And if his ATM pin does not make sense, it may be because it is every fourth digit of Fibonacci Series. Every third digit is his pin for the other card. There is a lot of it’s history and interesting info about Sweden. It helps him remember all the pins.

And this is what you should know about him. Now to close, I will simply copy-paste the ending of original article because it is simply perfect:

As you discovered when you were the project, your nerd’s focus can be deliciously overwhelming, but it will stop. Once a nerd believe he fully knows how a system works, the challenge to understand ceases to exist and he moves on in search of The Next High.

While I don’t know who you are or why in the world you chose a nerd for your companion, I do know that you are not a knowable system. I know that you are messy, just like your nerd. Being your own quirky self will be more than enough to present new and interesting challenges to your nerd.

Besides, it’s just as much a nerd’s job to figure you out and maybe someone somewhere is writing an article about your particular quirks. Good news, he’s probably reading it right now.

While not catching butterflies or trying to impress first-year female grad students in university pubs, he can be found at his blog on foreign policy and national security: www.dreamsofatypewriter.com

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