The Performant: Nerds vs. Geeks and other four-letter words

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Scoping out the local arts and culture scene ...

Are you a nerd, or are you a geek? A geek, or a nerd? I like to think of myself as a word nerd. Doctor Popular claims to be a super nerd. The organizers of the next San Francisco-based BarCamp claim to be geeks -- though they do allow that one can “geek out” about almost anything, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Yet both nerds and geeks presenting at Noisebridge’s monthly “5 Minutes of Fame,” to a crowd composed of nearly 100 folks who mainly, though not exclusively, could be categorized as either, or possibly both. The premise of 5MoF is short (very) and sweet: in five minutes or less each presenter gives a talk, makes a pitch, or demonstrates a work in progress to the general public who may then in turn offer assistance or appreciation.

Topics this week included why dumb is good (‘cause Socrates said so), music you can make on your iPhone, how to combat global ignorance with a video game, the creation of a new Tenderloin performance space dedicated to “cutting-edge vintage,” the demise of the fourth estate, and what the heck is in my kombucha anyway? Best of all, during the post-show mingling, people who’d asked for assistance with projects were almost all approached by people equipped to do just that. Maybe that’s the vital ingredient in what makes a nerd a nerd or a geek a geek -- that an entire social event can be built around the moral equivalent of helping people out with their trig homework. Journalist Quinn Norton inadvertently summed up the collaborative spirit of the event by promising in her talk “Manufacturing Dissent” to stop “only writing about the shit that geeks break, but writing about the shit that geeks build.”

What else do geeks build? Well, while some geeks are building pathways to newer computers, others are building pathways out of old ones. The Sculpture Garden at the San Francisco Dump has an entire walkway made of cement slabs with embedded ephemera -- computer chips, silverware, random tools, colored glass. But it’s the sculptures lining the walkway that really dazzle. A dragonfly made of a propeller, a fence made of bicycle wheels, a double archway decorated with a dazzling mosaic of tiles and glass, nesting balls of webbed wires. Free tours of the garden, the facility, and the Artist-in-residence studios take place every third Saturday of the month, inspiring not a small dose of waste stream envy.

Wrapping up my dork-tastic journey a couple weekends ago was the They Might Be Giants concert in Stern Grove, where myself and all my pasty brethren were treated to an afternoon of unseasonal sunshine and a 25-song set stuffed with maths, geography, the periodic table, space ships, the alphabet, shriners, and drum-playing worms. Since TMBG has been crossing over into the kid market since 2002, there were lots of little’uns jumping up and down to the geek groove, but not nearly as many as there were awkwardly-limbed adults trying to frug to “Upside Down Frown”. Which in many ways proved just as entertaining to watch as the band -- another one of my favorite four-letter words.

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