About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


Nerdy Hip Hop Assessment of 2020

 Hip hop artist Ekoh just dropped his new track "Real Bad" and it sums up 2020 from a nerdy perspective that name-checks Tony Stark, DOOM, Gwen Stacy, Wonder Woman, the Joker, time/multiverse travel, Silver Surfer, Michael Myers, Miles Morales, Sam Raimi, Zach Snyder, Black Adam, and a lot more.

So, put a finger up if you're picking up what Ekoh's putting down.


Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide - Winter 2020 Edition


It's that time of year again. Maybe you’re coming up on Christmas, or it's Hanukkah, or Hogswatch or possibly some other holiday.

Or maybe you're just happy to see the back end of 2020.

Doesn't matter.

You know why? Because December is a big month for gift giving!

And while you're passing around gift baskets, make sure you do right by your nerdy friends. Sure, you could spring for light saber chopsticks, an Enterpise-shaped pizza cutter, but those are the gifts you’ll find on any old “Top 148 Geek Gifts” list thrown together by a news outlet where the nearest thing they've got to a nerd is the reporter who knows the first line of the Spider-man cartoon theme, but couldn't tell you who Miles Morales is.

So you’re here because you want to show that you’ve dug deeper than Buzzfeed and the Dallas Morning Herald.

You're here because you want to show you care!

Hold onto your hat because here it is: the long awaited, extra thoughtful, Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide for 2020, Winter Edition!

Items in this list range from super affordable to fairly expensive, so you should be able to find something appropriate for any nerd you know. I try to locate gifts suitable for nerdy and geeky people of all walks of life, both girls and boys, and I’ve also tried to sort things a little bit to make it easier for you. I do not own all of these items, but I avoid suggesting things that get bad reviews. I won’t recommend something that I wouldn’t buy for my own friends.

Full disclosure: I am not selling any of these items myself, but if you use one of my links I may get a reward, which helps pay for The Nerd Manual. Even if you don’t buy one of these items, I hope the list gives you some ideas for gifts that your nerd friends will love!

Ready? Let's go!


Nerd Toys: Vintage Microscope

Some people like vintage cars, others like vintage computers, I like vintage microscopes.

I just received my AO Spencer Series 4 microscope. It's in good shape, and I got it because I don't see Series 4 models around much. Now that I have it though, I question the wisdom of my choice because I need to clean and adjust a few things but I can't find a manual for it anywhere.

There's a great microscope support group over at Microbe Hunter, so if you're into microscopy of any sort, you should take a look and consider joining their forum.


Real Life Nerds: World Record Spaghetti Marshmallow Tower

u/codesherpa's tower
Check out Reddit user u/codesherpa, who not only built what may be the world record spaghetti tower constructed within the restrictions posed by Peter Skillman's tower challenge, but also went to great lengths to explain the structural engineering behind his tower, and why he believes that it's unlikely anyone will be able to build one much taller than 65 inches.

The tower challenge can be seen in Skillman's TED talk, but the rules are pretty simple:
in eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one meter of tape, one meter of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. (codesherpa is working at a slight disadvantage because he's using yards instead of meters, so his materials are a bit restricted.)

Taking the challenge seriously, codesherpa went home and tested ten varieties of spaghetti to determine which is the sturdiest, and engineered a design that maximized the structural integrity of his limited resources. If you read through the comments, codesherpa also explains the other different designs he tried, and the difficulties of working with a cat.

What makes this such a nerdy reddit post isn't so much the spaghetti tower, although that's certainly an enjoyable part of it, but it's codesherpa's attention to detail, meticulous planning, application of engineering knowledge, and iterative testing to accomplish a completely frivolous task. It's a delight to read the initial post and the discussion between users in the comments, and I think the world is better for having people like codesherpa who are willing to share nerdy experiments like this.


Who Knew the Air Force is the US Military's Transistorpunk Holdout

Launch Control - US National Park Service
If you want to Aim High with your soldering iron, maybe you could be part of the maintenance crew for the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), which relies on an IBM Series/1 computer to send emergency action messages from nuclear command centers to forces in the field. Based in Offutt Air Force Base, the 595th Strategic Communications Squadron is the unit that kept SACCS marching along.

While the Air Force said goodbye to the 8-inch floppy drives they used for data storage in October of 2019, it appears that the rest of the system is still in place.

In an age when a fitness tracker has more computing grunt than the Air Force communications system, it seems kind of...risky to rely on a computer system from the era of disco, but Lt. Col. Jason Rossi jokes, "it's the age that provides that security. You can't hack something that doesn't have an IP address."

If you're good with old systems, and don't want to enlist, the Air Force relies on both active-duty and civilian personnel to keep SACCS operational. “I have guys in here who have circuits, diodes, and resisters memorized,” Rossi says. “They can tell you what’s wrong just based on a fault code or something. That level of expertise is very hard to replace.”

When something breaks on a current computer system, standard practice is to throw it out and replace it, but on SACCS the components have to be repaired, which could mean spending hours spent on a microscope repairing a circuit board.

On a related note, Air Force programmers keep the SACCS software up to date with regular revisions to the code. In order to keep the programmers in touch with current development, the 595th sends its airmen to development hubs with appropriately nerdy names like Kessel Run and Kobayashi Maru.

Read more about the 595th at C4ISRNET.