Homage to a good egg

Big day Friday, the last day of work:

Bunches of flowers: 2
Wondrous speeches about moi: 2
Lovely cards detailing my awesomeness: 2
Gifties: too numerous to mention
Wine consumed: ditto
Unscheduled weeping: 3
Unproductive retch on Lt Collins: 1

It was a marvellous day, and a fine send-off after such an ignominious end to this little part of my career. And although I’ve foamed enough about the pit of rabid sharks, vicious piranhas and screaming eels in my job, I actually neglected to mention some of its finer points, which is, as you’d hope, the people. Continue reading

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Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 6)

CINEMA THEORIST
This very pale, unhealthy species spends a great deal of time inside a darkened movie theatre, in video stores, online downloading movies, ordering movies, watching movies and in friends’ houses doing all of the above. Like the IT Professional and the Animator, the Cinema Theorist Nerd subsists entirely on a diet of Curly-Wurly’s, dry Nutri-Grain, pineapple lollies and Diet Coke. This sustains them through the long, clammy hours of cinemagoing.

Unlike many other Nerd species there is an equal male/female split, and all kinds of Cinema Theorists can be found in schools, TAFEs and film schools, where they collaborate on a number of short film projects. At the apex of this Nerd pyramid sits the University Cinema Theorist. Despite their moniker, it is not their life’s work to create films, rather to obsessively devour them whole. In this self-constructed ivory tower they debate, construct, deconstruct, analyse and disparage their favourite filmmakers, from Kubrick to Kurosawa.

The Cinema Theorist may occasionally deign to attend such populist pap as Indiana Jones or Star Wars (if only to utter hollow chuckles throughout), but what they really live for is to appreciate films that no-one has ever heard of, or indeed would want to. Thus in conversation with this vexing Nerd, the average cinema-lover will find themselves shanghaied into a discussion about good films that somehow becomes an eyebrow-flicking contest about Fassbinder’s little-known shorts or Corman’s never before seen snuff films. It is unknown whether the name for the short film festival Flickerfest originated from this Nerd technique.

Their insistence upon demonstrating filmic knowledge is the key to understanding the Cinema Theorist. The most obvious example of this is the knowing laugh uttered at film festivals and the like. This irksome cry is not made to express genuine enjoyment or recognition but to convey clearly to the surrounding cinemagoers that the Cinema Theorist knows exactly what is going on and understands the filmic allusion. With the issue of noisy mobile phones in cinemas, it is surprising that more is not made of this disruptive habit.

The Cinema Theorist is so immersed in the make-believe world of cinema that they have lost track of much of reality (some may say the inspiration for many a feature film), and have trouble walking down a road without adding a swagger and an internal soundtrack, or leaving a room without saying ‘exit screen right’. The most extreme of these examples is the Tarantino Nerd, detailed below.

Tarantino
A subspecies of the Cinema Theorist is the Quentin Tarantino Nerd (the director himself a Nerd of international status). As well as studying his oeuvre late into the night, Tarantino Nerds have also devoted their lives to studying whatever it is the director studied as a Lesser Spotted Video Store Nerd: blaxpoitation, Hong Kong cinema, horror, action genres and so on.

Their enjoyment of film, and indeed their lives have become ensnared in a self-referential spiral, where they struggle to maintain their grip on what is original, remake, inspired by or just plain ripped off a minor Vietnamese exploitation flick that not even the Vietnamese are aware of. While Tarantino is considered a master of borrowing from obscure films to create something fresh, the Tarantino Nerd will battle to keep even one original thought in their heads. It is their deepest desire to pen a script as influential as Reservoir Dogs, and they may spend hours verbally art directing, casting, producing and storyboarding this Work of Art – the actual writing of the script is postponed until a future, unspecified date.

The Tarantino Nerd also takes great pleasure in quoting large tracts of dialogue from Tarantino’s movies, often in place of regular conversation (refer to the ‘Quotation’ section under ‘Habits & Preferences’). An example is as follows, with two Tarantino Nerds at lunch:

Nerd 1 (pointing to his sandwich): Mmm-mmmm. That is a tasty burger. You mind if I have some of your tasty beverage to wash this down?

Nerd 2: What?

Nerd 1: (suddenly and explosively): What country are you from? ‘What’ ain’t no country I’ve ever heard of. They speak English in What?

Nerd 2: Ah hah hahahahahah. That’s the best bit…and then the other guy’s all like ‘go ahead’ and then he’s all ‘arrggh’ and then he…

Nerd 1: Oh yeah…. and then just fucks those white kids up…

Nerd 2: K-pow! And Vincent’s all…

Nerd 1: …yeah…

(Nerd 3 walks in jauntily)

Nerd 3: What you doin’ you white-ass Korean nigga muthafuckas!

etc etc

This freeflowing vernacular allows normally weedy, fearful gentlemen to feel they can insert racist, homophobic or misogynist statements or words like ‘cunt’ and ‘bitches’ into everyday conversation without condemnation. Anyone else in the room won’t get a word in until this dialogue has run its course, which normally takes up to three days or more. It’s usually best at this stage to either exit the room or change career.

*Stay tuned for the final installment in ‘Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds’ with ‘Habits & Preferences’.

Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 5)

THE TINKERER
This bearded species is most at ease when tinkering about in a back shed, fossicking in the rusty tools section of trash n’ treasure markets or re-enacting the American Civil War.

While readers may read this overview and think: ‘why, that is just most people’s Dad’, it is important to distinguish between an everyday patriarch and the full-blown DIY version, a Nerd for whom all peculiarities of his species must be expressed for him to qualify. For example, a Dad may own a back shed and may even use it to store eskys, bent nails, deflated Sherrins and other implementata of fatherhood, but to the Tinkerer the back shed is a well-oiled extension of his ego; the means by which he articulates the deepest passions of his id to create fantastic apparatus of no discernable use to anyone.

This Nerd lives to mess around with that which rarely needs messing around with in the first place. This can be as trivial as creating a stand for his model Spitfires, to constructing a ‘temple’ for his barbeque; an outdoor area for him and his friends to neatly prepare and cook an assortment of meats with all utensils at hand, all workbenches at the right height, party lights, speakers, padded seating and tiled roof. At said gatherings, and in keeping with his ‘everything home made’ philosophy, the Tinkerer will proudly serve a bottle of his latest home brew. This will start a vigorous debate amongst the assembled Nerds, all of whom will claim to have made a stronger brew when studying engineering at University (a nostalgic time for the Tinkerer).

Like the IT Professional the Tinkerer is devoted to technology, but that of a different, gentler age. The steam engine holds an uncommon pull to this Nerd, a technology that spans the ship, the locomotive, the tractor, or turbines and power stations in general. The sight of a well-oiled steam engine is soothing to this elderly Nerd, and he will travel long distances to attend steam engine festivals, a happy occasion when he can roll up his dusty sleeves and talk knowledgably with others of his ilk.

Enterprize
The author was fortunate to spend a number of months viewing the Tinkerer species up close while volunteering on the Enterprize, a tall ship run by a crack team of handy Nerds. This milieu combines two of the great loves of the Tinkerer: a complicated mechanism constructed entirely of recycled woods, hemp, pitch and tallow requiring a high level of daily maintenance, and explicit historical detail.

The strict onboard hierarchy ensured that from the General Hands to the Master of the ship, all commands were obeyed. Specific protocols were required in day-to-day operations of the Enterprize, including old-timey orders such as ‘helms a-lee’, ‘hard a starboard’ and ‘scandalise the main’, words like ‘fo’c’stl’e’, ‘mizzen’ and ‘futtocks’ and even superstitions, such as the inadvisability of inviting a woman on board. This intoxicating environment would occasionally go to the Tall Ship Tinkerer’s head, and some would even go so far as to bark ‘get down them stairs and make them sandwiches’.

Unlike Alexander the Great’s continental campaigning or Henry VIII’s ribald antics, Melbourne’s early founders are not known for their thrilling escapades and saucy bedtime heroics. But, just as the French Horn Player is perversely enticed to an unpopular shape, so the Tinkerer of the Enterprize is drawn to this lesser-known period of Australia’s history. This eager Nerd was sometimes disappointed to lose his audience with the phrase ‘semi-trailer of the seas’; faces would fall when younger members of the public learned that no piracy, swordplay nor buccaneering took place on its well-scrubbed decks. Regardless of this, the Tall Ship Tinkerer was undeterred. Special dress-up days were arranged, and tired phrases of derring-do were uttered to general glee. Thus the Tinkerer species is a close relation of historical re-enactment species, including members of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

While teamwork was a vital part of life on the Enterprize, so was individual pride in one’s work. It was noted that as some Tinkerers were generous with information and advice, others would jealously guard their patch, be it improving the brasswork on the ship’s compass to furling a sail quickly in high seas. Any clumsy attempt by a novice Hand to do the same would be treated by such Tinkerers with anything from exasperated concern to undisguised belligerence. In such cases it was indeed more prudent to descend to the galley and prepare the lunchtime refreshments.

A final note on the Enterprize –while the name of the vessel is almost identical to that of the starship in the well-known Nerd touchstone Star Trek: The Next Generation, albeit with a minor change in spelling, this is pure serendipity; a joyful coincidence of Nerdy proportions. The name of the replica ship relates to the actual tops’l schooner first piloted by John Fawkner from Launceston across Bass Strait to found the city of Melbourne. It is a sign of the exacting research and dedication of the author to be acquainted with such facts.

Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 4)

GOTHS
To the casual observer, the Goth seems to be an interesting person with a unique sense of style. But despite surface appearances, these Nerds are amongst the least cool people in the modern world.

The Goths of old would be busily engaged in sewing their own waistcoats and bodices, reading The Mysteries of Udolpho, shuffling to Bauhaus and picnicking in cemeteries and other morbid locations. This model has since transformed to encompass other subgenres of the species. Goths in 2009 may be just as likely to buy their clothes ready-made from Dangerfield, devour the oeuvre of Anne Rice, attend an Evanescence concert with their 10-year-old sister or hang out under the clocks at Flinders Street Station. In extreme cases of this altered landscape, this may even spill over into the reviled subgenus Emo, although it is not recommended these similarities ever be pointed out to the modern-day Goth.

Like all Nerds, Goths exult in their difference from the mainstream, and will simultaneously draw attention to him/herself while repelling it at the same time. In this way, the Goth is truly ‘misunderstood’. But unlike most Nerds outlined in this Field Guide, the proliferation of female Goths is high. As a species marked by no definite philosophy, what unites all Goths is a love of aesthetics and form. In this light, the opportunities for assembling elaborate petticoats and stockings, corsetry, makeup and hairstyles has proved irresistible for many a female Nerd.

As much has been written and photographed about the Goth species, it is not necessary to go into further detail regarding their appearance. What is most striking is the height/weight ratio of many female Goths to their mate. It is not uncommon to see a tall, voluptuous woman, magnificently arrayed in velvet, silk and shining latex squiring a small, ferrety, caped gentleman about town. The evolutionary sense this makes is ambiguous, although the abundance of such couplings suggests that this approach is proving successful. It is rare to see a Goth on their own, and if not in a couple they travel in a group known as a ‘piteousness’.

The thematic union of death, sex and lace ruffles is a powerful lure to the Goth, and all enjoy the vampire genre above all others. They will eagerly devour any comic, TV show, movie or band with vampires as its central theme, which spans anything from the ordinary (Blade) to the sublime (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer). The other genre beloved of Goths is sci-fi, which can go anywhere from the output of Philip K. Dick to TV shows Dr Who, Babylon 5 and Star Trek, the movie Star Wars, the TV show Star Wars, the animated TV show of same and so on. The squabbles associated with the definitions of the above are too convoluted to list here.

The glue that holds together the Goth’s twin loves of vampires and sci-fi is fanfic. It will astonish many readers to discover that while some people struggle to fill an A4 page with their thoughts, Goth Nerds are capable of writing several hundred thousand words a month. Rather than going towards a hard-earned PhD or their definitive magnum opus, their talents are spent (often in addition to writing said PhD or magnum opus – the Nerd output is extraordinary) on writing reams of fanfic; stories about their favourite fictional situations in which the Goth writes about what ‘should’ have happened.

This fanfic is then uploaded to the Internet, where, rather like the List of the Birdwatcher or the Mac forum of the Graphic Designer, other Nerds fall upon it with cries of joy. Endless discussions are then held as to whether or not the fanfic is ‘canon’, if the writer is a ‘slasher’ (author of slash, or gay fiction) or if the ‘shipping’ in the text (a shipper being the creator of an unlikely pairing in the original text) is an insult to the text’s creator. Weeks may pass. It is speculated that such fruitless endeavour binds Goths to their fantasy environment, allowing them retreat into the alternate world cherished by all species of Nerds.

GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Similar to the Goth, the Graphic Designer holds a respected position on the international hierarchy of coolness. However the Graphic Designer is a whole-hearted Nerd who hides their inclinations behind a bulging bookcase of art & design books, groovy spectacle frames and retro transport such as scooters, lowriders or Vespas.

Heroic works of art, symphonies or great literature are but dust in the wind to the Graphic Designer; it is in the font that they find the truest expression of truth and beauty. While the layperson may see the font merely as a method of conveying what they actually wish to communicate, to the Graphic Designer the font is the message itself. This must be kept in mind when approaching this species for the first time. Many unskilled newcomers have erred on first contact with this fastidious Nerd, in presenting an apparently innocuous document in a serif typeface. This is anathema to the Graphic Designer.

This Nerd will also flinch at the sight of Comic Sans, Brush Script, Mistral – indeed any font that attempts to convey handwriting racing frivolously across the page; fonts are a serious business. With the added insult of ClipArt, a presentation in PowerPoint featuring ‘creative’ dissolves, in fact any product from the Microsoft Office suite will cause any Graphic Designer worth their hand screen-printed obi to lie on the floor twitching with their eyes rolled back in their head.

Graphic Designers have a broad-ranging taste in films and can be seen enjoying the creative output of Judd Apatow as much as that of Kieślowski. There is one film however held up above all others, and that is Helvetica: The Movie. To the mainstream audience this topic would conceivably cover the 5, perhaps 10-minute slot before a feature film, a time perhaps best spent purchasing a choc-top or visiting the Ladies Room. This film somehow manages to extend this idea to feature documentary status, where the ‘personalities behind the typefaces’ are interviewed. At its premiere in Melbourne, Helvetica: The Movie was greeted by the assembled Nerds with hushed awe.

It is the dearest wish of the Graphic Designer to one day own an Eames chair. While it is possible to purchase an imitation chair for a reasonable price, this concept does not wash with this species of Nerd; it is the Eames chair or nothing. Some wistful Nerds have spent US$300 in buying the miniature version of the same model, an amount they think reasonable for the chance to place it next to their Macs and look meaningfully at their peers.

In the space given it is not possible to fully explain the love affair of the Graphic Designer with their Mac; needless to say it would be best to wipe down the mouse, keyboard and 30-inch screen of the device before use. They spend most of the day by its side, preferring to eat lunch in its presence, sneeze, cough and otherwise bask in its simple beauty. While the well-known Apple commercial features two diametrically opposed species (the IT Professional and the Graphic Designer), the true meaning of the ad is lost by marketing gurus and researchers of Gen Y demographics everywhere: while they look different, they are both Nerds.

Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 3)

IT PROFESSIONAL
The IT Professional is so closely related to the 3D Animator that it is often presumed the two are the same species. Also characterised by poor eyesight and non-existent social skills, these Nerds are as irresistibly drawn towards glowing computer screens, dusty motherboards and long pages of code as Environmentalist Nerds are drawn to organic food outlets.

Popular wisdom dictates that the IT Professional is the crème-de-la-crème of all Nerds. When two women grasp for a suitable insult for a single man in his 30s, one will often add the caveat ‘…and he works in IT’. The other woman will need no further explanation. Despite this common prejudice against him the IT Professional is an optimist, and is a regular fixture on the online and speed dating scene. Research has not been completed on the ratio of IT Professionals to regular jobs in this milieu, but early figures show that this ratio is high.

The BBC sitcom The IT Crowd is a sentimental portrayal of the species, and should be considered as an introduction only. Although highly detailed with regard to props and costume, this show depicts the IT Professional with a ready wit and charming demeanour – two traits not often associated with the profession. While IT Professionals are adept at programming languages such as Java, C++ and Perl, the nuances of the English language are often lost on this unique species. It is at times best for them to communicate in the vernacular of code and mathematics, the mode in which they feel the most comfortable. Some IT Professionals take this idea to its logical conclusion by removing the front-end, or user-friendly interface of their computer to type code directly into the machine’s heart. To other Nerds, this is an affecting sight.

One area of communication at which the IT Professional does excel is that of games (see the later ‘Habits and Preferences’ section). When not toiling on his indeterminate work tasks or shyly approaching virtual women in a non-threatening environment, IT Professional plays games (otherwise known as Gaming, a subtle, but important distinction to this species of Nerd). Rather than playing traditional games of dice, cards or chess, in keeping with his respect for technology the IT Professional prefers the online gaming world, where role-playing, first-person shooter and real-time strategy games are enjoyed late into the night.

In appearance, the IT Professional is easily identified as one of two extremes:

1. Slight and Weedy
2. Tall and Massive

With some minor variants eg Gangling and Knock-kneed or Squat and Hirsute. It is suggested that his sedentary lifestyle and unwholesome diet has led to this clear split in form, although some radical theorists put forward that as the IT Professional is already genetically disposed to one or the other, his entry into the field of IT is somehow inevitable. Unlike other predominantly Caucasian Nerd species such as the Birdwatcher or Tinkerer, the IT Professional hails from all continents of the globe and comes in all colours of the rainbow.

The IT Professional scorns the straightforward simplicity and all-in-one design of the Mac, and concerns himself only with the PC platform. This gives him the chance to configure the back-end of his computer to track NASA communications, eavesdrop on shipping movements or program his mobile phone to ‘talk’ to his microwave and heat the evening’s frozen meal. He is most content when surrounded by not one but many unsightly grey monitors and whirring towers and will dedicate rooms of his department to ceiling-height servers with flashing lights. Rather than organise his equipment to fit around himself and his activities, he is happy to wedge himself behind this apparatus, and as a result is often hard to locate.

It is interesting to note that despite all the literature written by and about the IT Professional, no-one knows what a person working in IT actually does. Despite encompassing fields as broad as programming, working on the help desk, computer science and software engineering, to the layperson these could all be in fact the same thing. While the Birdwatching Nerd is eager to share his knowledge with the uninitiated, the IT Professional enjoys this division from his contemporaries, and secretly rejoices in the frequent eye-rolling and tsking from his family when he is unable to respond to the polite inquiry ‘what do you do’.

In this way he is perhaps the most elusive of all Nerd species, despite his broad distribution. It is the lifelong desire of the IT Professional that this knowledge of his species never be brought to light.

FRENCH HORN PLAYERS
The issue of French Horn Players has already been covered on this blog in detail, so it is not necessary to delve much further into this topic. Needless to say, these rugged individualists can retain strong nerdy characteristics from the amateur player up to the professional.

Although the rare anomaly exists (as demonstrated here by John Entwistle), the sight of a person clutching a French Horn is intrinsically funny to the non-French Horn player. Thus this instrument will always exert a strong pull to Nerds the world over, and should be discouraged by parents early on should they wish their offspring to have any normal kind of adolescence.

The French Horn Player is closely related to players of the bassoon, oboe, euphonium and other awkwardly-shaped instruments. Tuba Players are sorted into their own subspecies owing to the ridiculous noises emitted by the instrument, the extreme inelegance and impracticality of the case as well as the strong connotations with Neighbours alumnus ‘Harold Bishop’.

Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 2)

ENVIRONMENTALIST
The Environmentalist Nerd is a polytypic species ranging from Intense all the way to Extreme Smug.

While the preachiness of John Butler could certainly qualify him as an Environmentalist Nerd, his dexterity with such non-nerdy instruments as the guitar, as well as his active support of emerging musicians discounts him as slightly too cool for inclusion. Musician Xavier Rudd however is unquestionably an Environmentalist Nerd, with his adroit handling of the didgeridoo, slide guitar and percussion (all at the same time – one-man bands are nerdy), his irritating, folksy lyrics and his Aboriginal flag t-shirts (he is white).

Environmentalist Nerds are usually employed in charitable organisations, not-for-profits or other non-commercial enterprises. They have worked hard to assist the disabled, the sick, the homeless or the disadvantaged, and thus feel well-equipped to hold forth on a variety of political and social themes. Any attempt to communicate lightheartedly with the Environmental Nerd may lose their respect forever: topics of pop or trash culture will be met with a cold, uncomprehending stare. They are characterised by a serious, professional demeanour – it is often a challenge to get an Environmentalist Nerd to show outward enjoyment such as gay laughter or even a wry smile.

In appearance, the Environmentalist Nerd is a diverse group. They may sport dredlocks and prayer beads, or they may not. They may wear shoes or they may not. They may wear a suit every day or they may carry a hand-woven basket from Oxfam. In the professional sphere, female Environmentalist Nerds are simultaneously flamboyant and conservative. Many will wear coloured Mary Janes and stripy socks, layered asymmetrical tops and wraps and a child-like pinafore over the top – from women in their early-20s up to the late-60s. Regardless of age, the breasts are always well concealed and skirts always cover the knee (a possible throwback to their private school education), which ensures they are always taken seriously – the lifelong purpose of the Environmentalist Nerd.

As this group is such a broad-ranging species, in the interests of space I will cover two Environmentalist Nerds, an intriguing pair not generally seen in conventional circles.

Earnest Aid Worker
The obscure Earnest Aid Worker is a Nerd for whom any moment not spent catching malaria, photographing dark-skinned children or digging soak pits in Burkina Faso is a moment wasted.

Despite their privileged background and scant knowledge of developing countries, the Earnest Aid Worker has always wanted to help – in any country but their own. Charged up on a steady diet of World Vision commercials, these Nerds know that wherever there are people suffering, there they will find their calling. It is not a question of whether the community in question needs help, or has even asked for it; the Earnest Aid Worker will always be on hand to educate people about safe sex, to build water pumps and to initiate vital employment programs for streetkids to crochet mobile phone covers out of plastic bags.

The Earnest Aid Worker is instantly recognisable by their poor taste in clothes, and sport white ankle socks and Tevas, crisp chinos and plaid shirts, often all at the same time. Their attire is garnished with a busy collection of necessities: head torch, multicoloured glasses strap and a well-worn bumbag or ‘fanny pack’ strapped firmly around the middle, which bulges with antibacterial hand wash, sensible hankies, muesli bars and 3-in-1 utensil kits. Male and female Earnest Aid Workers are very similar in appearance – with the females adopting the cropped hairstyle of the male for practicality and comfort.

In appearance they are easily confused with the more common American Student Backpacker, however some subtle differences can be noted: in conversation, the Earnest Aid Worker will ‘accidentally’ slip into the native lingo of the country in which they are working, then apologise for their mistake (it is recommended this ploy be averted by swiftly changing the topic). And while the American Student Backpacker will shy away from street food, the Earnest Aid Worker will make a great show of tucking into the local offerings with gusto, as a sign of their tenacity and grit.

While the American Student Backpacker is best avoided in a travel situation, the Earnest Aid Worker is generally well-meaning and helpful, and if approached in the right way (simply by regaling them cheerful tales of the developed world) will provide the weary traveller with translations, advice and hospital-grade loperamide.

Birdwatchers
Despite all his best efforts to spend his children’s inheritance on expensive birdwatching tours, optics and airfares, the Birdwatcher, or ‘Twitcher’ is at heart a Greenie. When twitching outdoors for a number of years, he notes that local birdlife is declining in some areas, an observation that detracts from enjoyment of his hobby. He becomes more involved in matters of conservation, and before he realises it is using phrases like ‘habitat decline’ and ‘sustainable development’.

While not as overtly nerdy as say, the IT Professional, Birdwatchers only reveal their true colours in conversation. The Birdwatcher is capable of spending hours, sometimes days, on the topic of a bird he ‘almost’ saw. Far from this behaviour creating the social vacuum it would in mainstream society, the topic is hailed with delight by other Birdwatchers. They will cluster around him and contribute their own experiences, eagerly discussing plumage, breeding patterns and the third tertial on the lower wing. This conversation may become quite heated, and will only break up when the skill of one of the Birdwatchers is belittled in a jocular fashion.

It is hard for the layperson to accurately gauge how the Birdwatcher gains satisfaction from his all-consuming hobby. Studies reveal that maps are consulted, and long discussions are held before departure. Once out in the field the Birdwatcher approaches his quarry very cautiously, and the binoculars are clapped to the eyes. Facts about the bird are muttered in a low undertone, and twitches of the past are mentioned. The Birdwatcher may pish, or summon the bird to him with an assortment of nerdy calls and clicks. One of the highest compliments a Birdwatcher can make about a bird is that it is ‘cute’. It is unclear whether this appeal is scientific, visual or even erotic.

If the Birdwatcher is not equipped to take a photograph, he will simply write the species and number of birds down on his jotter. This is referred to reverentially as the ‘List’, which is the virtual benchmark by which all Birdwatchers compare themselves. A common challenge from one Birdwatcher to the other involves this record – whereas intoxicated youths in Commodores make eye contact at intersections, all a Birdwatcher need ask of another is: “how many are on your list?” A verbal punch-on will ensue. As there are 800+ bird species in Australia, a Birdwatcher approaching this number is regarded well by his peers. The List may be kept as a personal keepsake of the day, or uploaded to the online community where it is keenly dissected by other Nerds.

Birdwatchers are well aware that their lifestyle choice is as mocked and shunned as the trainspotter of Great Britain or the electron tube collector of North America. Despite this, Birdwatchers fly grimly in the face of conformity, a trait that marks them as one of the purest Nerds on the planet.

Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 1)

Hm. Once again I am surrounded by singular people. Am I drawn to nerdy professions or are they drawn to me? Ah! We may never know. This has gone on since I tenderly laid down the French Horn* and picked up the animation pencil. There is a clear pattern emerging, and I can only wonder at what comes next – who could be nerdier than birdwatchers? Who can say. But like all diligent Nerds I have collected these species together in a list. This series will include:

Animators; Environmentalists; IT Professionals; French Horn Players; Goths; Tinkerers; Cinema Theorists; and Nerd Habits and Preferences

Although this catalogue is by no means comprehensive, it is as full a list as I can make according to my life experience. So let us don the virtual anorak, pull up the highpants of humour and press play on the limited edition box set entitled Nerds I Have Known:

ANIMATORS
With the widespread availability of cheaper software and digital technology, this subspecies of Nerd has become an entirely new taxonomic order. While once animators were rather specialised (typified by their damp, clammy complexion, lack of eye contact and corn-chip aroma), they are now a broad-based family that can be found in almost any professional setting. Animators are now seen working for graphic designers, for medical supplies companies, aerospace engineers, games companies and even schools, where they tutor our young in their ways.

Although the rare female Animator can be found, Animators are predominantly male. They may specialise in stop motion, clay, sand or traditional 2D animation, but are brought together by their unusual brain activity and ability to talk about comics for hours on end (distinct from other broadly-drawn caricatures on the Simpsons, the patois of the Comic Book Guy is an honest, life-like portrayal of this species of Nerd, and should be recognised as such).

Tests on the brainwaves of Animators have shown that they are capable of sitting in fixed positions for up to 12 hours at a time while completing the most repetitive, monotonous tasks. It was once speculated that – rather like the migratory shorebird before a trans-continental journey – the Animator had to double their body weight in a short space of time, perhaps in preparation for the rigours of procreation. It has however, become apparent that the constant grazing on Skittles, doughnuts and Coke is merely an occupational quirk, like cowboys and chewing-tobacco, or French aristocrats and snuff.

Rather than feeling downtrodden by his lack of social contact or intellectual stimulation, the Animator considers himself indeed fortunate. The Animator will go so far as to consider himself in his ‘dream job’. And far from being pitied for his monk-like existence and meagre pay, the Animator is greatly admired by others, who consider his profession to sound rather cool and creative. Many male Animators have unusual, often problematic attitudes towards women, and it will be noted that while females are drawn and designed from all angles, the flesh and blood versions are rarely engaged in conversation. This topic is discussed in more detail in the ‘Habits and Preferences’ section.

In 2009, an Animator can don almost any apparel he chooses without shame or fear of censure from his colleagues. The odd traditionalist can still be seen lingering near arcades and suburban movie theatres, garbed in a floor-length black coat, with long hair and sparse goatee. Such sightings are now rare.

3D Animators
It is necessary to place this subform of Animation Nerds into their own distinct group. Closer genetically to the IT Professional, the 3D Animator prefers a darkened room and quiet, foetid environment, warmed by the tiny fans of expensive equipment. It is only in these surroundings that the 3D Animator thrives.

Rather than regarding animation as a way of telling a story, he has refined it down to its external elements: structure, lighting and camera movement. What he is not chasing is not an intellectual or emotional connection with his audience; he is working only to re-design reality in his own image. Indeed audience engagement is not much of a concern to the 3D Animator, and could be considered a fitting metaphor for his way of life.

As with many Nerds, the 3D Animator has trouble with humour-related situations, and is slow to catch onto jokes, innuendo and irony. There is however one thing guaranteed to make him guffaw suddenly and explosively; play him the video clip for Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing, and he will reward you with a spray of half-digested chicos, Chicken-In-A-Biscuit and caramel Big M.

Whereas Animators are capable of having boyfriends/girlfriends and even marrying, the 3D Animator is an evolutionary cul-de-sac; being physically and psychologically unable to attract a suitable mate, he is a dying breed. To continue on his life’s work he must engage a willing intern to pass on his Animation secrets. This young person must be able to work in dismal conditions for little or no pay, eat food with little nutritional value and for few words of praise. By happy coincidence these conditions usually attract impressionable young people still living with their elders, and 3D Animators find their interns are usually overjoyed at the opportunity to spend months designing the wireframe of a tree in the background of a 2-second shot.

*Sold at Camberwell Market for 50 bucks

When nerds express

Over summer I experienced a Brush with Music.

Did I turn the radio on, I hear you ask? Buy a new CD? Attend a chamber music recital? Nay – you may put your sardonically cocked eyebrow away. I decided I was going to sing in public. Not only that, but I decided I was going to sing a composition of my own creation. A pal asked me to MC her wedding with Jules, a friend’s partner, and we wanted to make it a challenge by pooling our talents of music and writing.

What a lot of fun it was! Once we met up for our jam session, the whole thing came together remarkably well. I wrote the lyrics to three songs, and Jules picked out some tunes on his guitar. One song we wrote I just started singing off the bat! A tune came out of my head! Me! I would like to say we were a howling success, but once the time came to sing, the PA system let us down a bit and much of the nuance of my carefully crafted lyrics was lost in the echo-y acoustics. I probably looked a right twat. T’wouldn’t be your modest narrator otherwise.

But the whole episode made me think twice about my humble musical origins. Could I have done any better with my choice of instrument? Is there anything I could do with the growing number of songs sitting in my bottom drawer? Could I call upon my rusty talents and give it a bash?

From the age of six, I learnt the piano from a lady around the corner, Mrs Moloney. This was all about mucking around on the plethora of giant Casio keyboards she had in her back room and getting up to no good with my best bud Cilla. The only gettin’ down and groovin’ that happened was when we realised the Casio had the same riff as ‘Da Da Da’.

Later, things took a turn for the much worse when I decided to learn the French Horn. This phenomenon happens in most private schools, when they look at their prospectus and realise that phrases like ‘full symphony orchestra’ are on it and seek to pad out their feeble line-up. Most kids remain impervious to their offers of cheap tuition and rented instruments, because I dare say they know better. However in the hope of being unique and interesting, the weaker amongst their number say they’ll give the Euphonium or Piccolo or whatever a crack.

I am not raving – if you ask any software developer or engineer what instrument they learnt when they were younger, they will reply ‘French Horn’, ‘Bassoon’ or ‘Tuba’. Don’t believe me? There are no exceptions to this rule. I know at least two animators who learnt the French Horn. I recently saw a weedy, bespectacled Chinese boy struggling with his unwieldy French Horn case on a crowded tram while his mate huffed and pretended not to know him. I felt for the little chap, but was willing to bet that inside his schoolbag was either a giant graphing calculator, JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, a sketchpad of purple-haired Manga girls with big breasts or all three.

So for years too long I lugged my attention-grabbing case on sweaty Ventura buses, out on the Glen Waverley line, on family holidays and even to Year 8 camp, where Nicky Ramsay (the daggiest girl in our year) and I unexpectedly delighted the troops with our Clarinet/French Horn duet of ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, which we hadn’t intended to be funny.

I first learnt the instrument from Mrs Washfold, one of those small, pursed, humourless women you only find in all-girl’s schools. Boy, did she have it in for me. Only now do I realise it was my lack of dedication to practice and ‘tude in general. She harried me into the school orchestra which was led by Miss Remfry, whom it was rumoured went mad, locked a student in a cupboard, and was sent to a lunatic asylum. I doubt this was far off the truth – all the music teachers at my school seemed completely, illogically, nuts.

Mrs Washfold would often shout and gesticulate if I was even five minutes late to a group practice, then spend our private lesson playing mind games. When I broke down in tears one day under her bullying and confessed that I’d got my first period that morning, she spent the rest of the day being alternately solicitous and pulling me aside to loudly whisper if I needed any Panadol. I still cringe at the memory.

Once Mrs Washfold decided she could teach me no more, I continued to be a dork. I felt I had to persevere with that spit-soaked instrument, and moved onto private tuition with Pru – a batshit-crazy sporter of woollen jumpers with busy farmyard scenes and a dirty mouth (Brahms was dismissed as a ‘total fucking Nazi’). Her claim to fame was playing on not only The Man From Snowy River soundtrack, but Whispering Jack by John Farnham. She used to bring in his CDs to play to me. The full story of Pru is a whole other blog post, but suffice to say her tales kept my friends entertained for at least five years. ‘You’re the Voice’ makes me a little physically sick when I hear it now.

After all of this palaver – how much musical information do you think has sunk in? Not very bloody much I can tell you. I can across some info recently on Devo’s unusual time signatures and was fascinated. Is that what those numbers are called? And can you change it in the middle of a song? How about that. I never learnt to play a bass line, I never really got the hang of sight-reading and I certainly never arranged any music of my own. Either I’m musically thick (possible), or it could be that the AMEB’s idea of Contemporary Popular Music includes tunes like ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ and ‘It’s A Raggy Waltz’.

So. We can conclude that there are some dorky instruments that no sane person should go near as a teenager:

1. French Horn
2. Bassoon
3. Tuba
4. Harp
5. Mountain Dulcimer
6. Bagpipes
7. Accordion
8. Harpsichord
9. Flute
10. Oboe

And that there are some that are moderate to very useful, and will allow you to do cool things when you’re older like join bands and put tunes to your songs, should you write any:


1. Guitar (acoustic, bass, rhythm etc)
2. Drums
3. Saxophone
4. Trumpet
5. Trombone
6. Piano
7. Clarinet (for jazz purposes only)
8. Violin (same, bluegrass)
9. Banjo
10. Kazoo/gumleaf/harmonica

It’s a goodly list, and one I think worth presenting to my niece, who is only 10, and has recently started at a posh private school. I will have a very suspicious eye on her music teachers let me tell you.