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Nerd Herd!
April 10, 2009 11:09 AM   Subscribe

A group of middle-school-aged self-proclaimed nerds from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, who won the New York City FIRST Lego League Robotics Championship with their motorized robot called Thingamajig are embarking on a trip to the Robotics World Festival in Atlanta. After a lack of funds nearly scuttled their journey, they've been bailed out by British vacuum cleaner exec James Dyson, and have been given the kind of sendoff most young nerds can only dream of: an all-school nerd-cheering pep rally.
posted by ocherdraco (52 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Elementary school cheerleaders?
posted by boo_radley at 11:14 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


How come the world is so much better for nerds now than it was when I was a nerd? When I watched Star Trek, the screen never melted and Spock stepped out and said, hey, you're such an excellent nerd, here's an even newer Star Trek for you to watch. When I made robot legos, no millionaire ever threw me a party.

Fuck you, nerds of today.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:22 AM on April 10, 2009 [15 favorites]


Otherdraco, you had good material to begin with, but hear this: EXCELLENT CADENCE.
posted by krilli at 11:24 AM on April 10, 2009


How come the world is so much better for nerds now than it was when I was a nerd?

*rolls up her sleeve to reveal a "Nerd Army" tatoo and several scars*


Don't be bitter, AZ. What we went through just paved the way for equality for the nerds that were to come after us.

Someday they may know the full story of our struggle, but it may not be in our lifetime. Only us veterans of the Nerd Wars may ever really know.

C'mon, I'll buy the next round. *limps towards bar*
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:27 AM on April 10, 2009 [21 favorites]


First lego League is pretty awesome. Though, honestly, most kids I met doing it aren't nerds. Doing computer work and engineering stuff is frankly no longer the domain of the nerd. Which is why I carry a circular-slide-rule and tape my glasses to maintain true nerd cred.
posted by GuyZero at 11:39 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hahaha. Yeah, I dig what you're saying AZ. When the other kids at my highschool found out that I was into computers, they responded either by hitting me or asking one of the following questions :

1) Can you "hack?"
2) Can you change my grades?

Apparently, the entirety of their computer knowledge came from the movie War Games.

(and the weird part is that we're talking less than 15 years ago)
posted by Afroblanco at 11:41 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Doing computer work and engineering stuff is frankly no longer the domain of the nerd.

No, it is, but only if you keep at it. A non-nerd can spend a couple hours messing around with their roomba, say, but FIRST takes a lot more dedication than that. You have to design, build, program, test, redesign, obsess, etc. That's 100% Nerdsville.
posted by DU at 11:43 AM on April 10, 2009


Only us veterans of the Nerd Wars may ever really know.

Now I can't think of anything but what the War Memorial would look like.
posted by Zed at 11:48 AM on April 10, 2009


What we went through just paved the way for equality for the nerds that were to come after us.

Someday they may know the full story of our struggle, but it may not be in our lifetime. Only us veterans of the Nerd Wars may ever really know.


I remember when The Wad Accord was signed. Still brings a tear to my eye to this day.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:49 AM on April 10, 2009


I know what FIRST takes and I really don't think any of the kids from my kids' school in Lego League would self-identify as nerds or be identified as nerds. Frankly they have to cap the program and there's a rush to get in. It is a lot of work indeed, but if every grade 5 kid wants to do it the idea of them all belonging to the nerd sub-culture gets sort of negated. It's not a sub-culture if everyone's in on it.

Of course, I suppose not every school is like that. But more and more I see things like FIRST being considered normal and not some sort of esoteric activity like when I was trying to crack QNX on ICONs over lunch hour in high school. also, QNX sucks because I pwned it at least three times and I am no fracking hacker.
posted by GuyZero at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2009


I guess I'm like that Japanese guy after WWII who didn't know the war was over and stayed on a Pacific Island for decades, waiting for his next orders. Except I have spent this time constructing a monsterously elaborate campaign for Chain Mail.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aren't they technically geeks? Nerd to me implies grade-grubbing, or LARPing, or being a "theater techie", or having owl posters. Building robots is geek's work.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 11:52 AM on April 10, 2009


Geeks are just nerds who think they're better than nerds.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:57 AM on April 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


The principal of their Sheepshead Bay school said, "Kids actually think being a nerd is cool now."

I can't tell you how annoyed I am by this quote. It so pregnant with top-shelf American ignorance it would take an Olympic team of semioticians and literary theorists to fully deconstruct it. It doesn't even belong in that story. It doesn't belong in anyone's brain. No one's mental programming should be able to generate that sentence as output without triggering a mandatory bug-fix in the form of a claw hammer and a garrote.

Parse that sentence and you see it reveals that the principal acknowledges that 'cool' is where the kids should be, and that isn't it amazing that being a 'nerd' has fallen within the scope of that term. All the other kids were cool, and now finally the smart kids are too. I'm sure that the principal intended the statement as an expression of how interesting it is that kids these days openly acknowledge and are proud of their smart and accomplished peers. That in and of itself is stunning, because it acknowledges that prior to 'now', kids were ashamed to be smart because their peers couldn't stand it. Kids actually think being smart is cool! Ha ha, those crazy kids...don't they know that now that they're smart, they'll never be cool?

What the statement reflects is a slavish adulation of 'cool'. The message is "Isn't cool an amazing thing that it now blesses this condition?" This isn't a story about being cool, it's a story about dedication, focus, persistence, and success. But the adult, their goddamn principal, can't see it that way. The principal can't process the narrative that kids enjoy an inclusiveness, a cultural participation, outside of cool, that the media and the community have embraced the kids on their own terms.

In this sense, 'cool' is actually a stand-in for conformity. The principal is saying, "Isn't is great that these kids, who are so smart and so driven and are therefore nerds, are actually considered normal?"

Cool has ruined American culture. I'm prepared to argue that the damage is permanent. "Nerd" (as the opposite of the cool) is the way that the ignorant and their apologist/enablers in media compartmentalize and marginalize people who have the intelligence and the determination to alter the culture to fit their vision. Everyone takes math, right? But who is the math nerd? The kid who is good at it. The kids who works at it. See math is hard for everyone, even the people who do well in it. The difference is that the accomplished students struggle to understand the material. The cool people give up on understanding it, or they convey the impression that they don't want to understand it. But our culture holds the latter condition in higher regard. Better to be ignorant and look good while doing it than achieve something and look like you've made all the sacrifices and expended all the effort that would be expected in reaching that goal.

In other countries, especially the ones that are taking our jobs, and determining the course of our technological future, cool is joke. It's dress-up. To be cool is to want to be an entertainer. But those cultures, and their media, educators, and public officials would never expect their children to hold being cool as a goal, and they would openly decry iot if they saw it. The message there is "Cut the nonsense - you have work to do and your people and country depend on you to do it."

I read things like "Kids actually think being a nerd is cool now," and I wish that unemployment would go to a billion percent and that public institutions would literally crumble around us, because it would mean we really get to start over. It would mean decoupling social success from ignorance and/or shame of intelligence, it would mean that hubris is something idiots as well as smart people can be equally guilty of, and it would mean that we could align all aspects of our culture to achieve social, intellectual, political and technological progress, instead of becoming mired in a schizophrenic identity crisis/inferiority complex from which, in my opinion we can never extricate ourselves.

It would also mean that all those kids who are smart and accomplished in areas other than math and science would not still be ostracized and suffering in their personal hells.. The writers, poets and the artists - they don't get to be nerds. Those kids who choose to escape their social environments through creation rather than equation, they aren't cool? They still have to suffer the monikers "weirdo" and "misfit"? How long before they can be 'cool'?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:00 PM on April 10, 2009 [25 favorites]


We're like the Jesse Jackson of nerds and these kids are the Barack Obamas. Eventually we'll want to cut their nuts off.
posted by ND¢ at 12:01 PM on April 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


It so pregnant with top-shelf American ignorance it would take an Olympic team of semioticians

I cannot articulate why, but I feel compelled to congratulate you for this sentence.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Overthinking a plate of nerds.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2009


When I saw the first linked photo, I had a brief moment of glee: "Yay! One of those robotics nerds is female! Maybe things really have changed for teen girl nerds since I was a kid!"

A closer look revealed that the woman in the photo, who is not identified, is an adult - probably the school's principal. (Which is cool, but in a different way than I was hoping for).
posted by velvet winter at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2009


I prefer to think that nerds are like geeks but with better grades and fewer experiences of mild electrocution.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 12:07 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Last year's southern Ontario team that went to the finals in Atlanta was an all-girls team. They were from an all-girls school, but I think almost every FIRST team I saw last year had at least one girl and most teams were a pretty even mix. Whether this continues into the high-school FIRST teams, I dunno.
posted by GuyZero at 12:10 PM on April 10, 2009


Huh, I was actually going to comment on the frisson between the term "nerd" and how the word has been inflated, how being a nerd is now "cool" and everyone wants to say they are one. I mean, nerds with cheerleaders?

But then I decided, you know, I didn't want to hijack the thread so I'd just not comment and let people talk about robots or whatever :P.

I will mention something a little contrary, though, which is this attitude among some nerds that everyone who isn't a nerd is somehow stupid and actually inferior, or something. And I think a lot of the angst about nerds now being "cool" is that now kids who are actually cool, and therefore actually stupid and not as secretly awesome as real nerds now get to call themselves nerds. And so being a nerd is no longer something we can secretly lord over the "cool" kids (if we hypothetically ended up back in the middleschools and highschools of today).

On the other hand, it still annoys me.
posted by delmoi at 12:14 PM on April 10, 2009


Krilli: you want cadence? How about iambic pentamater!

A group of kids from Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay
have won the tournament for Lego League.
Now that a patron (Dyson) paid their way,
they and their robot will embark upon
a trip to Georgia for another try.
But, best of all, back at St. Edmund's School,
the entire student body cheers them on.

posted by ocherdraco at 12:16 PM on April 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Trochaic tetrameter or bust.
posted by GuyZero at 12:20 PM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it's confirmation bias, but lately it seems everybody I've come across who self-identifies as a nerd or geek thinks that they're qualified to label themselves such just because they own a computer and have a WoW account.

It's refreshing to see people claiming the title actually doing something to earn it.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 12:21 PM on April 10, 2009


Also, somewhat tangential, I think the world would be a better place if more people knew how to program (and how computers worked) I actually think school should teach programming to kids as a basic skill like math or reading.
posted by delmoi at 12:36 PM on April 10, 2009


Trochaic tetrameter or bust.

Okay, here goes:

Kids from Brooklyn made with legos
robots that then made them heros
of the New York City boroughs'
FIRST robotics competition.
After bake sales, came a patron
who gave money that would take them
to Atlanta to compete in
a new world of robot geekdom.
As they set out on their journey,
they were given adulation
and a rally in their honor.
Simon Shkreli, said, excited,
"I'm so pumped up. It's amazing."
posted by ocherdraco at 12:41 PM on April 10, 2009 [10 favorites]


How come the world is so much better for nerds now than it was when I was a nerd?

I'm kind of grateful for the fact that I grew up back in the nerd version of the Burning Times. Because I know that, were I a twelve-year-old today, I'd be flunking math due to the enormous burden of modding a forum for Alia Atreides Soul Bonds, and I'd be involved of some sort of sickly, internet spirit-marriage with a triad of sixty-something Heinlein theists who lived together in a group home outside of Decatur, Illinois. (Inexplicably, my mother would consider the parolee/water brother gang to be a "really neat people," and she would, on a weekly basis, convince my dad not to grab the first plane to DEC to kick their asses. More inexplicably, I would be profoundly thankful to her for this.)

Decades later, at job interviews and on first dates, NSFW self-portraits with crysknives, ninja gear, and/or luck dragons would continue to surface.

Executive summary: I am very glad that the internet did not get the chance to witness or document my adolescence. Because I know exactly what kind of a ravening moron I was back then and damn. Just-- damn.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:44 PM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Woah. But I actually meant anapestic tetrameter. Sorry about that. Not that that wasn't excellent.
posted by GuyZero at 12:45 PM on April 10, 2009


That, to me/Is awesome nerd'ry.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 12:45 PM on April 10, 2009


I'm just giggling at Dyson being labelled a Vacuum company exec
posted by fullerine at 12:47 PM on April 10, 2009


Parse that sentence and you see it reveals that the principal acknowledges that 'cool' is where the kids should be, and that isn't it amazing that being a 'nerd' has fallen within the scope of that term. All the other kids were cool, and now finally the smart kids are too

I have no idea what the principle actually meant, but there's another way of looking at it. All of the kids at the school agree the principle is not cool. All of the kids also agree that most of their peers are not cool. Some of the kids think Twilight is cool, some think that the Yankees are cool, etc. The fact that all of the kids think nerds building robots is cool is astounding in that sense, because kids are fickle and coolness is difficult to capture.

Adults are always trying (and failing) to make various positive things (learning, eating healthy, treating others with respect) seem cool. Things become cool for reasons other than how good or bad they are, and just being better than everyone else at something is not necessarily enough to be cool. And yet kids don't really get interested in things that aren't cool. So when something like winning a robot competition becomes cool, educators would look at that as a big unexpected boon in getting kids interested in science.

In other countries, especially the ones that are taking our jobs, and determining the course of our technological future, cool is joke. It's dress-up. To be cool is to want to be an entertainer. But those cultures, and their media, educators, and public officials would never expect their children to hold being cool as a goal, and they would openly decry iot if they saw it. The message there is "Cut the nonsense - you have work to do and your people and country depend on you to do it."

So the kids in India don't grow up wanting to play cricket, and the kids in China don't grow up wanting to be an actor or play in a band? That seems culturally stifling and depressing. The nonsense and lack of hard work I enjoyed in my childhood was worth it, I have plenty of time to be a nerd and sit in a cubicle 40+ hours a week now that I'm an adult.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:48 PM on April 10, 2009


Astro Zombie, just as with our generation, these nerds will look back in 10 years and realize that they too never actually got laid by the cheerleaders.

Did you see the look in those girls' eyes...clearly just friends.
posted by Muddler at 12:51 PM on April 10, 2009


"I mean, nerds with cheerleaders?"
I never saw the difference between intellectual competition and physical competition, as a competitor. Stepping back from that, I suspect "cool" has more to do with sex appeal, as does conformity. It's easier to hook up in an endogamic environment (usually), some social circles are set up for this specific type of thing (Greek collegiate organizations). And nerds tend to be focused on other things. The relative importance of those things notwithstanding.
So I get why nerds don't have cheerleaders, but I think it's stupid that they don't. The presence of the opposite sex tends to spur one on in any competition. And despite what some of you might think athletics does require thought and concentration. I don't think the distraction is a greater factor in either case.
In terms of pure academics - whole book loads of thought on what competition does there. Nerds may gain the stigma fanatics get in other sorts of contest. Speculation really. But if you play monopoly and some other guy all he does is read, study, work very hard at winning at monopoly, you're not going to want to interact with him because it's no damn fun and even if you do, you'd have to rise to his level and you're going to get blown away in any case because all he does is live and breathe monopoly.
So with academics, perhaps some kids feel the same way.
Although I think learning is more collaborative now. Which places the fanatic in a valued position. He's not a monosubject nut anymore, he's the go-to guy that you're there to support.
And that support - your style or whatever your own contribution, can have value even if you're not a braniac.
On the other hand, some forms of competition are still very focus dependent, so I'm not saying we need more competition in terms of grades. (I've only been a coach and instructor in practicable skills - not an academic teacher).
But there's no question working on academics needs to be valued more. I think that is a cultural thing. And yeah, far from being something apart, like another clique, nerds - or at least the concept that one should work hard in school - should be the entirety of the mainstream.
And competition, while in a special category, should be equally valued whatever it's core. I mean - they're representing your school community too.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:54 PM on April 10, 2009


You can be an English nerd but you can't be an English geek.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 12:56 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Still, none of those cheerleaders will ever give any of those nerds a hand job behind the bleachers.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:03 PM on April 10, 2009


I actually meant anapestic tetrameter.

So they call them the Nerd Herd, this young Brooklyn crew
that makes robots from legos and wins tourneys, too.
With their bake sales and patrons they're ready to go
all the way to Atlanta to show off once more.
At their pep rally two St. Edmund's fifth graders,
Serenah Nevarez and Michael Loseto,
said GOOD LUCK NERD HERD! and waved a big poster.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


Or what Muddler said. Must preview.

*gives self wedgie*
posted by Pollomacho at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2009


Now I can't think of anything but what the War Memorial would look like.

I'm thinking a giant statue of Spock, in one hand he's holding a 20 sided die and in the other a slide-rule. Strapped to his hip is a Han Solo blaster, and K-9 is sitting by his knee. On his back is an unlicensed nuclear accelerator, and he is standing in front of a heavily modified DeLorean DMC-12 with the plate "OUTATIME". He is also wearing a ceremonial bra on his head and fuzzy bunny slippers.

Completely surrounding this statue on all sides are the names of the fallen in punch card form.
posted by quin at 1:09 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those kids who choose to escape their social environments through creation rather than equation, they aren't cool?

While I agree with most of your statement, Pastabagel, I do want to point one thing out: these kids created something, they didn't just solve some partial differential equations. I get a little annoyed when so-called 'creative' types disrespect the creative aspects of science and engineering.
posted by overhauser at 1:23 PM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


lately it seems everybody I've come across who self-identifies as a nerd or geek thinks that they're qualified to label themselves such just because they own a computer and have a WoW account.

Question my nerd cred one more time motherfucker! Do you WANT me to start naming books set in the Star Trek expanded universe that I've read?!
posted by ND¢ at 1:49 PM on April 10, 2009


Pastabagel: I love you.

The quote annoyed me as well, but

It so pregnant with top-shelf American ignorance it would take an Olympic team of semioticians and literary theorists to fully deconstruct it.

...is a thing of beauty that more than justifies the original comment being made in the first place. Out of the ashes of idiocy... and all that jazz.

Well done, sir.
posted by flippant at 1:55 PM on April 10, 2009


At their pep rally two St. Edmund's fifth graders,
Serenah Nevarez and Michael Loseto,
said GOOD LUCK NERD HERD! and waved a big poster.


You sir are both a good sport and pretty quick with the anapestic freestyle.
posted by GuyZero at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2009


Why, thank you. It was significantly more fun than the work I was meant to be doing this afternoon.

You will find, however, that I am not a sir, but a madam.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:31 PM on April 10, 2009


ocherdraco, are we playing "stump the chump?" 'Cause I'd like to see a villanelle.
posted by lekvar at 2:44 PM on April 10, 2009


VILLANELLES ARE MY FAVORITE!

Hold on. This will take a little while.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:46 PM on April 10, 2009


Ma'am, that was great. All of 'em.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:47 PM on April 10, 2009


Aren't they technically geeks? Nerd to me implies grade-grubbing, or LARPing, or being a "theater techie", or having owl posters.

No I think you have the pecking order wrong.

freak < gaywad < goober < Michael Arrington < dweeb < goth < nerd < SEO marketing blogger < drama student < geek
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:14 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


A villanelle for the Nerd Herd of Sheepshead Bay

They made something for all the world to see,
though the world did not notice it to start.
It whirred and ticked and strutted; it was free.

They set out to win without guarantee;
ignored who couldn't see, in science, art.
They made something for all the world to see.

When they won, a few saw their victory;
the robot's blind gears noticed not this start.
It whirred and ticked and strutted; it was free.

Their means were small, unlike the contest fees.
A shame: they'd miss the next, the global part.
They made something for all the world to see.

A gift would save them. From a devotee,
it warmed the robot's brainless lego heart.
It whirred and ticked and strutted; it was free.

So now to send them off, a jamboree
that honors how they've set themselves apart.
They made something for all the world to see:
It whirred and ticked and strutted; it was free.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:43 PM on April 10, 2009 [13 favorites]


Beautiful, brava.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:01 PM on April 10, 2009


quin, that is such a beautiful vision to behold in the minds eye. (sniffle...)
posted by PROD_TPSL at 4:18 PM on April 10, 2009


I was an active (read: obsessive) participant in my high school's FIRST Robotics team (the more grown-up version of FIRST Lego League). I was one of two people on the team to actually wear a pocket protector for much of high school*. We tended to derail classes by ignoring the teacher and talking loudly about motor performance curves, oil-impregnated nylon, and holonomic navigation. We dreaded snow days because they meant we couldn't get to the shop, and routinely stayed at school until late at night. In short: we were nerds, and damn proud of it.

To this day, I am unsure about exactly how we were viewed by the rest of the school. I was never harassed in any way about being a nerd, and as far as I know, neither was any other member of the team. It probably helped that we could be extremely arrogant and insular. Based on various memories, and conversations I've had since leaving high school, I think we tended to give off enough of a "Don't fuck with me" vibe that, well, people didn't fuck with us. More than that though, robots are neat, especially large ones (ours were ~120 lbs.), and are just mysterious enough that people who build them are granted a small bit of genuine awe from those who don't. That, and the fact that we drove them rather recklessly through the halls probably lent us a certain amount of "street credibility".

Or maybe we were just too weird to be worth beating up.

ANYWAY, it's neat-o that those kids will get to go to Atlanta. My team went when I was a senior, and is was loads of fun. Congratulations to them!


*This was halfway a deliberate display of nerdishness, but only halfway. They're actually extremely convenient. I still use mine for organizing my pens/pocket tools in my backpack. I don't wear it on my shirt any more because I just got to a new university and I have enough trouble making friends as it is.
posted by Commander Rachek at 5:07 PM on April 10, 2009


Aren't they technically geeks? Nerd to me implies grade-grubbing, or LARPing, or being a "theater techie", or having owl posters. Building robots is geek's work.

You'll notice that the assembled students yell out "Nerd herd, nerd herd", possibly a reference to a recent documentary series about life in the retail industry which documents the day-to-day existence of a technically proficient man with an unfortunate haircut who hangs out with a beautiful blonde spy and Adam Baldwin.
posted by Sparx at 2:50 AM on April 11, 2009


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