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.

2019-12-06

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.

2019-10-15

The Great Literary Guide Has Left Us

Harold Bloom, the literary critic whose melancholic visage graces a vast collection of literary guides in libraries around the world, died on Monday at the age of 89. He was still teaching his class at Yale University up until a few days earlier.

Certainly Bloom carried his share of notoriety for defending the great white literary canon--Plato, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Emerson etc--and his reference to the multicultural literary movement as “the School of Resentment”, but he was one of the most passionate literary critics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and definitely the most well known. His name and face (forehead perpetually propped in one hand) adorn 600 or so guides to literature--collections of critical articles from a vast array of critics, across multiple centuries, covering everything from understanding individual characters, to teaching and writing about a huge swath of literature. He authored 40 well-received books of his own, including two this year and another due out soon.

There are those who dismiss Bloom's canon as too Western, and highly subject to his personal whims, and perhaps he would agree. Bloom believed that aesthetics were paramount in literature, proposing that, “the canonical quality comes out of strangeness, comes out of the idiosyncratic, comes out of originality."

However, he lamented the fate of the university English departments, fearing that they "will be renamed departments of ‘Cultural Studies, where Batman comics, Mormon theme parks, television, movies and rock will replace Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens."

I hope he left us his map.

2019-09-23

Hijack a Satellite

Image from Lockheed Martin
If you're interested in computer security, the US Air Force is offering people the chance to test the robustness of their satellite network with their challenge to hijack a satellite during a live event at Defcon 2020. Read more at Wired, and consider taking the Air Force up on the opportunity test your mettle against military equipment.

2019-03-07

Nerd Q&A: Straight Talk

Here's a question that I personally answered a while ago, but after thinking about it, I figured there may be other people out there who want some straight talk.

Do you have any personal advice (not a gimmick or step-by-step program) for someone who is socially anxious?

Yes, actually. You know, I like step-by-step instructions, but they can be a little disconnected, and sometimes you just want to know what other people think, how they feel, and how they get through life.

So I’m going to share a few things that I’ve figured out over the years.