Month: January 2007

Nerd Love, Day 7: I {heart} Edward Tufte

tufte books

When normal people play hooky, they go to the movies or the beach or Vegas.

When nerds take the day off, they go to see this guy, and come home 8 hours later, drunk with possibility, clutching a set of books so beautiful in both thought and execution, you get a little dizzy just opening one up.

I took a ton of notes, which I’ll share with the class at a later date, but the topline is this:

Edward Tufte really is “the Leonardo da Vinci of information” (New York Times quote, not mine), and seeing him in person really is worth every penny of the not inconsiderable sum it costs to do so.

You get all of his books, he’s up to four, which are impossibly priced at the low, low figure of $40 apiece. I say “low, low” because from the little I know about book production, there’s no way you could print these conventionally for that price. (Tufte has his own publishing company, Graphics Press.) They are exquisitely produced works of art so full of wonderful information it will take me months, nay, years to absorb it all. And if you go to the lecture, he uses them as the support material! Makes those crappy PowerPoint leave-behinds looks pretty lame. Which is, of course, the entire point.

Edward Tufte is not as anti-PowerPoint as even he says he is.

The essay that put Tufte on the map with the hoi polloi (he’d been rockstar-popular with the geniuses for far longer) was, predictably enough, the one where he tells everyone’s favorite meeting crutch where to get off.

He hates PowerPoint, to be sure, but he was careful to qualify his hatred:

  1. ET says that PowerPoint does not ensure sloppy thinking, it just makes it more likely
  2. ET reserves the bulk of his wrath for those who misapply PowerPoint in “serious” presentations, people who are cutting off feet to fit bodies in beds, either unintentionally (well-meaning scientists who abandon their language of notation and explanation to fit PowerPoint’s low-resolution, limited character set world) or intentionally (evil people obfuscating or outright fudging data with visual double-speak, and he hates those people no matter what medium they’re using towards their nefarious ends)

If you wanna do a PowerPoint about kitties, I don’t think ET is gonna have a problem with it. PowerPoint as infotainment is relatively benign. So my work as a presentation designer is not moral compromise, provided NASA or the Federal Reserve don’t engage my services. As if.

Watching Edward Tufte is an exercise in head-exploding newness and, simultaneously, a joyous feeling of coming home.

My brain is still reeling from playing catch-up with some of the finer technical points, but the rest of my body is still vibrating with the shock of recognition. Over and over in my notes, I have little asides with stars and underscores where I realized his points were essentially the credos I’ve been living with for the past 10 years or so: “Tell the Truth” and “Form Follow Function” and, less pithily, “Figure Out How to Say It So People Will Get It, Asshole.”

It’s the content, stupid.

‘Nuff said.

Now, back to the business of delivering information in an elegant, useful fashion…


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the work of Edward Tufte, here are some good places to start:

  • Edward Tufte’s website (link)
  • Salon review of Tufte’s book, Visual Explanations (link)
  • Jason Carr’s notes on a Tufte speech several years ago (link)
  • A brief post by a software engineer on Tufte’s relevance in new media (link)
  • Wikipedia entry (link)

Image by unertlkm via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Nerd Love, Day 6: Adirondack Lily and the Stealth Nerd

lily of the adirondacks

Make no mistake: my friend, Lily, is as gorgeous as they come. And I’m not just talking inner beauty; I mean angel face, non-stop bod, the whole ball o’ wax.

And yet…

Lily is a nerd. Not an honorary nerd, either: a full-on, piano-playin’, pie-bakin’, own-clothes-makin’, Feynman-readin’ N-E-R-D.

The nerds, they are everywhere, you see. That whole tape-on-the-glasses-bridge thing? Dunzo. Lily has a bitchin’ pair of high-end ironic nerd glasses, but she can go deep-normie-cover in contact lenses and Hollywood actress drag. You can’t tell the nerds from the civilians anymore, friends. Such is the beauty of the nerd camo that has been embraced by the hipster-ati. Who’s a nerd? Who’s just playing one on TV?

I’m certainly not telling. My ability to make a living depends largely on keeping people guessing.

But here’s a clue: check what’s in their homes. Check their homes, period. It’s a good bet you’ll find weirdly obsessive streaks: excessive clutches of stringed instruments, five shelves of South American poetry, too much software, too much hardware, too much, too many, too too too-doo.

How to discern between nerds and their de trop and ordinary Ammurricans and theirs? Nerd-i-mi-bilia is not available on QVC. Nerds are not trend-meisters or herd members; even in their obsessive overconsumption they flit about the fringe. They are gamers, but crazy-smart; they score off the charts in standardized tests but play in jug bands.

Nerds defy classification. This is why previous eras with their rigid strata were a little hard on nerds, and why we are all breathing a bit easier now. Never before in history has it been so sweet to be a nerd.

Even a nerd in deep cover, with fedora and six-shooter, knee-deep in snow and particleboard cabin construction, in the middle of an Adirondack winter…


Nerd Love, Day 5: Score one for the Nerds

all my favorite Thanksgiving foods rhyme with d. lee

Nerds with a secret are like little kids before Christmas: they cannot, CANNOT, I tell you, wait for the big day.

The big day, in this case, was supposed to be closer to baseball season. Or at least post-Stupid Bowl. But I could not, COULD NOT, I tell you, wait one more second. Because I finally got my old pal, Tim Souers, the genius I blogged about a year and a half ago, to start a blog.

True, there are only a few actual “posts” up there. But he’s uploaded two seasons to the image galleries, two seasons, people!!! Hours and hours of chewy, arty goodness.

Of course, the beauty part is, not only have I given this outstanding gift to the world (via, well, you know, Tim’s time, talent and effort), but Tim is cool! He is a Cool Person!!! Who has started a blog!!! Which means…

I actually converted someone to the Nerd Side!!!


I will get you all, my pretties…


Nerd Love, Day 4: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

I see London

I’ve alluded before to Best Year Yet on this here bloggy, but for those of you who missed class and/or are too f**king lazy to click the links or Google it, Best Year Yet is a values-based goal-setting system which I discovered via Heidi Miller’s podcast long ago, and which could just as rightly be called “The Nerdiest Goal-Setting System Yet” except that it’d be redundant.

My friend, Kathy (zen-shiatsu mistress supreme) and I spent four, count ’em, four, hours today going over our plans. We’d both done all of our (nerd) homework and I’ve been implementing mine since the second week of January, but Kathy’s a single mom and, as I understand it, time bends in funny ways when you’re situated thusly.

Anyway, I buffed out the scratches in my Best Year Yet plan and, because one of the things that tripped me up the first time I tried doing it was a lack of concrete examples of workable plans, I decided to make mine public.

Via Backpack. Because that’s how I roll, baby.

Feel free to check it out (link here), and contact me with any questions or comments. You can do it via email or the comments section of this post. I’d like to keep the process as transparent as possible, to help the most people; so if you email me, I may use your question to work up an FAQ somewhere here on the site, but if I do, I promise to keep your identity a total, double-secret-probation-level secret, should you so desire.

Bottom line: if you’re already doing BYY, I encourage you to post somewhere and share a link. If you’re not, consider doing something similar with your goals and post a link.

Accountability ain’t everything, but it helps.

Later, nerds…



UPDATE: I got an email from my pal, Neil, asking why the monthly and weekly goals were missing. They’re not: they just get a little too personal, so they’re not displayed for public consumption. But rest assured, I have them and am doing them. And it’s working!!!

Image by occipital lobe via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Nerd Love, Day 3: Nerd Accessories

pencil case


What’s nerdier than an olive-green hard shell pencil case from 1973 with…

  • a granny decal
  • two day-glo yellow stickers with your name in “mod” type
  • an “Easy Rider”-esque knockoff sticker in the center

…surrounded by:

  • fake pearls from Forever 21
  • a coaster that actually says “Love Like You’ll Never Get Hurt”
  • an Entertainment 07 coupon book you bought from a fellow nerdmaster
  • a picture of you and The BF at an elective Nerdmasters function in which you were inducted as VP of Membership
  • one of no less than 15 affinity program cards
  • which is made out under your company’s name
  • which you decided, in your infinite nerdy wisdom, should be “BeanEyes Communications”



opened pencil case

An olive-green hard shell pencil case from 1973 that is still operational.


Nerd Love: A 21-Day Saluteâ„¢, Day 01


Dorks. Geeks. “Losers.” Misfit toys.

Yesterday’s post got me thinking: of all the people in the world, I love nerds the most. Nerds make lists. Nerds believe in science, not fairy tales, or when they believe in fairy tales, it’s because they make them up themselves. Funny ones, not weird ones. Because while nerds are, in the main, incredibly weird, they are also creative and have a goddamn sense of humor.

No, I don’t love all nerds. And yes, nerds can be incredibly annoying. I, myself, am often unbelievably annoying, ask anyone. Especially people who know me well.

But I can love something about almost any nerd, and I’ll put up with their tics and quirks, their OCD and Robert’s Rules of Order. Because without nerds, there would be no art, refrigeration, poetry, electricity, music, software, hardware, decent food, kickass design or funny movies that are actually funny, not to mention a whole bunch of stuff that people who tend to dislike or fear nerds use a lot, like churches, AM radio and the U.S. interstate highway system.

Bottom line: true nerds, Good nerds, if you will, don’t think the world revolves around them. They have a healthy curiosity about the world around them, are always looking for new, cool, interesting stuff, and are continually improving themselves, whether they call it that or not. Nerds are helpful and additive, looking to make the world a better, more inclusive place (as opposed the world many of them, us, grew up in). Nerds don’t leech off the system, step on people to get somewhere else, have grandiose notions of themselves or tell other people where to get off.

They can’t: they’re nerds.

Of course, there are plenty of people who are doing stuff that emulates self-improvement or invention or being helpful, but they are not real nerds. They are just sad. They are losers without the quotation marks. You can usually spot them by their lack of irony, and they’re best given a wide berth. Talking to them is, sadly, a waste of breath. Wastes your time and annoys the pig, if you catch my drift.

So to offset the horror of the upcoming “holiday” (and boy, how much do I love putting THAT in quotes?!!), a 21-day buffer of lists and hacks, tips and tools, silliness and creativity.

An homage to nerdery. As if that’s not what this whole, damned blog is already.

Let the dorkiness begin…


Image by word freak via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.