Nerds Make Sense of Love Lives Through Formulae

As a follow-up to an earlier post, consider a conversation in the XKCD forums regarding a formula for acceptable age limits for dating. It offers another interesting glimpse of how math (sort of) helps us think about our lives. My favorite exchange:

Is it sad that I have both heard of and used that formula before?

I’d say no, but since I’m trying to remember where my graphing calculator is, I’m hardly impartial.

This also led my friend Jordan to calculations on the probability of finding a girlfriend. The validity of this analysis is apparently in dispute. Let us remember that the odds change depending on context: If you’re determined to date a gamer, for example, you may have a better chance of finding a mate at the local arcade than in, say, Chuck E. Cheese’s, where the people playing games are likely to be minors, and the adults are more likely to be married parents. (Exception: You may also find the occasional group of twentysomething guys who recall that Chuck E. Cheese’s serves beer for the parents and decide to show up for the novelty of getting drunk with an animatronic animal band. I learned of this practice from someone at South by Southwest Interactive.)

Convention-related Links

Very soon, I would like to put the post on Bioshock I’ve been taking occasional notes for, reflect a bit on the dissertation proposal writing process, and discuss how the image of the Jewish male fits into the nerd stereotype (which came up in my proposal defense and when someone from The Jewish Chronicle recently told me about an article he’s writing about nerds, both of which inspired me to find this “nerd vs. nebbish” article from 1998). For now, though, it’s all I can do just to keep up with some links that have been piling up.

Reflections on Comic Con: David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations for the huge pop culture festival known as Comic Con, has given a couple interviews with The Comics Reporter‘s Tom Spurgeon and Comic Book Resources‘s Jonah Weiland. Apparently the show saw 125,000 this year. I believe it, especially considering how much waiting in line has become a standard feature of the weekend. Some people I spoke with waited in line for hours in the hopes of seeing the trailer for the next Batman movie (i.e., waited in line for a commercial) at the DC panel, but it was not shown. Anyway, there’s a lot of business-oriented stuff in those interviews (which some of you may find more engaging than others), but also some interesting stuff about how conventions function within geek culture, such as when Tom asks about the con’s role to “consummate (in the g-rated sense) on-line friendships,” which leads to increased space for clubs. Actually, even more space seemed needed for that this year, I think; the Browncoats’ (Firefly/Serenity fans’) meeting seemed filled to capacity with regulars, so I had to meet folks through other means, chatting with some fellow Browncoat-curious attendees standing outside.

The Vibe of PAX: Mike (“Gabe”) at Penny Arcade reflects on how the vibe of PAX is so different from other conventions because it really feels by and for the gamers themselves. Having been to PAX three times, this actually sounds pretty accurate and not just touchy-feely, self-congratulatory stuff. While the con hosts plenty of panels and the obligatory exhibitors’ room, much of the space simply hosts tables with tabletop games going, beanbag chairs seating handheld gamers, and TVs and computers for console and PC gamers. People are just there to have fun with friends and strangers, participating in the hobby that brought them all there in the first place. Plus, Mike and Jerry go out of their way to make the visitors feel like they’re the ones in charge, allowing people to come onstage to fulfill silly requests, and fielding every personal question (except who would win in a fight between ninjas and pirates). My first year there (before I was officially there for research), they even let my friend Tony take a photo of my friend Kai pretending to lick Jerry’s head. “You were a good sport about that,” I told him, to which he replied, “I am here for your amusement.” He wandered off, presumably to do something more official. Now that is dedication to your fans.

Update (again): Mike also posts links to PAX desktop wallpapers made by PA designer Kiko. As of now, some of the links seem to not be working, but I expect that will be fixed. (Yes: see the Flickr set on PAX culture in particular. This is fairly representative of what it looks like from the convention floor: a huge line, colorful shirts, and DS’s aplenty.) For now, you can still see a good pic of a giant crowd holding aloft their phones and DS’s—the PAX equivalent of holding up a lighter at a concert.

The Saga of Ball

For many, the highlight of last year’s Penny Arcade Expo was entirely unplanned: A crowd of people made the best of their long wait in line by knocking a big, blue ball around. Later, while Gabe drew a strip onstage and Tycho fielded audience questions, someone requested that the ball be included in the strip, and the artist happily obliged him. (See lower left corner, third panel. An old character made it to the second panel by special request, too. I’m blanking on the relevance of the still-beating heart and the crowned hot dog, but those were last-minute additions too.) After the convention, the event apparently became somewhat legendary, with “ball footage” posted around the web and references among my interviewees. One of these people suggested that this illustrates the heart of gamer culture: Geeks just wanna play.

I’m fascinated to see now that Penny Arcade has made an “All hail BALL” t-shirt, announced the week before PAX 2008. This strikes me as a fairly brilliant merchandising/marketing technique. The only ones who will really be interested are those who have fond memories of the ball at last year’s PAX, which drastically limits the market for such a product. That’s okay, though: PA has its own venue where their most fervent fans are sure to appear, and some of those people seemed intent on getting the ball somehow included in the annals of PA history. The reference will be completely opaque to outsiders, so the shirt basically functions like a secret handshake with other fans. And, as I realized at Comic Con this year, some people buy fannish and geeky apparel just to wear at other cons—as a button on one person’s backpack said, “Being a fan means never having to ask, ‘Where would I wear that?'” When I go to PAX next weekend, I’ll be surprised if I don’t see dozens of people wearing this shirt.

This move really helps characterize Penny Arcade as an outfit that takes its cues from its own fans, while still doing projects in their own style. Kudos, too, for having the restraint to let the subject lie dormant awhile and suddenly announce the shirt the week before the next con.

Party in the Stacks

Cleaning out my mailbox, I came across a New York Times article forwarded to my from Lee S. several weeks ago about how librarians are hip now.

How did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

Continue reading “Party in the Stacks”

Nerds in the News

I turned in the first full draft of my proposal to my advisor this past weekend, and I will be defending on August 20th, just before leaving for PAX. I’m still quite busy getting back to people I met in San Diego, Lisbon, and Paris, in addition to revising papers for journals—but I can’t pass up two explicitly geek/nerd articles in the New York Times posted in one week, can I?

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Checking in After San Diego

I’m finally home after three weeks of travels, having just returned from Comic Con International in San Diego. I’d like to blog about the con a bit more soon, though I suspect I’ll be playing catch-up and contacting potential interviewees for awhile. Here are three items of particular note, at least:

First, this year’s theme seemed to be “waiting in line.” I know that you’ve had to schedule line-waiting time into things for awhile now, but this year was particularly ridiculous, especially because the big events of 2007 were TV-related but the absolute biggest ballroom tends to go to movie-related panels and showings (neither of which, you’ll note, necessarily have anything to do with “comics”). I arrived over an hour early to wait in line for the first event of the day Saturday, a screening of the new Bionic Woman pilot, and I was roughly 5,000th in a line that snaked outside the convention center.

Continue reading “Checking in After San Diego”

Checking in from Paris

I arrived in Paris yesterday, after about two weeks in Lisbon. I will miss Lisbon’s tile and cobblestone, hilly streets that challenge those of San Fracisco, humble strangers who speak more English than they think they do, and especially our hosts from Universidade Católica Portuguesa. For more info and for images of our visit to the Presidential Palace, see the page for the Annenberg Scholars Program and the official page of the President of Portugal (photos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Photo #6 features the whole group, and photo #4 has a closer shot of me and Mike (my roommate here in Paris) with the First lady.

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Do Rejuveniles Listen to Toddlerclash?

MSNBC has an article up about how “adults are clinging to childish things” (link via The Comics Reporter). The article turns to Christopher Noxon, author of Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up, for an expert opinion.

Plenty of the items mentioned here (and in Noxon’s book) are just generally associated with childhood, though I checked the book out of the library in the first place because a lot of this (including comic book collecting) seems also implicated in geek culture. I’ve often posed a certain question to people as I try to explain what it is that I’m studying: Why is it that certain interests (like collecting comics or playing video games) get stereotyped as geeky, while other interests with fans who are no less fervent (like sports or soap operas) do not? One reasonable answer is that many geeky interests (save for computers) are associated with childhood. This “rejuvenile” stuff presents me with a fair follow-up question: Why is it that certain childish interests get stereotyped as geeky, while other interests do not? Maybe there just haven’t been kickball leagues around long enough to really accrue that kind of meaning yet. Plus, kickball might be a source of unhappy memories for many who were called geeks as kids.

As an aside, hearing about “rejuvenility” reminds me of something I saw a few music bloggers writing about a few years ago. Writing about playful bands like the Go! Team and others prompted one blogger to suggest that a new music movement was underway, which he called Toddlerclash. (Music for Robots also gushed about the Go! Team’s childlike wonder, but didn’t suggest any greater movement). Could be totally unrelated phenomena; blogging about a dissertation kind of feels like putting together big puzzle a few pieces per day, knowing full well that some of the pieces belong to other puzzles.

Colbert’s Comic

Stephen Colbert is apparently involved in the production of a satirical sci-fi action comic. Read about how this came together, and see seven pages here.

Says [co-writer John] Layman, ”We’d get notes, like ‘Oh, you know, I was rereading this on my porch Saturday…’ I’ve had editors who don’t pay that close attention. There’s quite a bit of back-and-forth because I think Stephen Colbert is a geek.”

Though the serious Report fan admits that he and Peyer initially went in the wrong direction — ”We wrote it as if it was Stephen Colbert in space, so he had a robot eagle sidekick and he was going after alien bears” — they ultimately found the sweet spot. ”Tek’s got a radioactive robotic monkey sidekick,” Layman says. ”He’s got an evil pet named Meangarr, this giant energy void, that has vowed to kill him if he ever escapes. And then he has girlfriend after girlfriend after girlfriend.”

I’m not sure how to follow that up, but it seemed worth noting.