Posted on Tue - November 27, 2007

Selections from the Nerd Handbook regarding the "Cave"

In which Neo reluctantly admits that he does fit at least one definition of a nerd. He does indeed have a Cave. Specifically designed and built no less.

Okay, I picked this because I guess I do have a "Cave." So I am actually going to quote on this blog. Emphasis in original.

Your nerd has control issues. Your nerd lives in a monospaced typeface world. Whereas everyone else is traipsing around picking dazzling fonts to describe their world, your nerd has carefully selected a monospace typeface, which he avidly uses to manipulate the world deftly via a command line interface while the rest fumble around with a mouse.

The reason for this typeface selection is, of course, practicality. Monospace typefaces have a knowable width. Ten letters on one line are same width as ten other letters, which puts the world into a pleasant grid construction where X and Y mean something.

These control issues mean your nerd is sensitive to drastic changes in his environment. Think travel. Think job changes. These types of system-redefining events force your nerd to recognize that the world is not always or entirely a knowable place, and until he reconstructs this illusion, he’s going to be frustrated and he’s going to act erratically. I develop an incredibly short fuse during system-redefining events and I’m much more likely to lose it over something trivial and stupid. This is one of the reasons that…

Your nerd has built himself a cave. I’ve written about The Cave elsewhere, but here are the basics. The Cave is designed to allow your nerd to do his favorite thing, which is working on the project. If you want to understand your nerd, stare long and hard at his Cave. How does he have it arranged? When does he tend to go there? How long does he stay?

Each object in the Cave has a particular place and purpose. Even the clutter is well designed. Don’t believe me? Grab that seemingly discarded Mac Mini which has been sitting on the floor for two months and hide it. You’ll have 10 minutes before he’ll come stomping out of the Cave — “Where’s the Mac?”

The Cave is also frustrating you because your impression is that it’s your nerd’s way of checking out, and you are, unfortunately, completely correct. A correctly designed Cave removes your nerd from the physical world and plants him firmly in a virtual one complete with all the toys he needs. Because…

Your nerd loves toys and puzzles. The joy your nerd finds in his project is one of problem solving and discovery. As each part of the project is completed, your nerd receives an adrenaline rush that we’re going to call The High. Every profession has this — the moment when you’ve moved significantly closer to done. In many jobs, it’s easy to discern when progress is being made: “Look, now we have a door”. But in nerds’ bit-based work, progress is measured mentally and invisibly in code, algorithms, efficiency, and small mental victories that don’t exist in a world of atoms.

There are other ways your nerd can create The High and he does it all the time. It’s another juicy cliché to say that nerds love video games, but that’s not what they love. A video game is just one more system where your nerd’s job is to figure out the rules that define it, which will enable him to beat it. Yeah, we love to stare at games with a bazillion polygons, but we get the same high out of playing Bejeweled, getting our Night Elf to Level 70, or endlessly tinkering with a Rubik’s Cube...

Here are some selections from his entry on the Cave.

It looks like a lot of work, but I do it instinctively . It’s a routine designed to do one thing — get me into The Zone. Much has been written elsewhere about the mental state that is The Zone, but I will say this: it is a deeply creative space where inspiration is built. Anything which you perceive as beautiful, useful, or fun comes from someone stumbling through The Zone.

Once I’ve successfully traversed my morning routine and have entered The Zone, I am OFF LIMITS. I mean it. Intruding into The Cave and disrupting The Zone is no different than standing up in the middle of the first ever showing of The Empire Strikes Back, jumping up and down, and yelling, “DARTH VADER IS LUKE’S FATHER! DARTH VADER IS LUKE’S FATHER!” Not only are you ruining the mood, you’re killing a major creative work. Think about that the next time you enter The Cave with a useless question about what shoes you should wear.

No, I’m not going to answer the phone. In fact, it’s a sure sign of compromised Cave design if I can even hear the phone ring. And no, I don’t hear you when you walk in and ask if we should go to the park tomorrow. I don’t hear you the second time, either. I don’t mean I’m ignoring you because that’d involve using precious brain cycles I need for The Zone… I really CAN’T hear you. That’s how deep I am in The Zone.

No , I have no idea that it’s been four hours since I closed the door and began furiously typing. Really, the only things I know are: a) when my coffee cup is empty, and b) when I need to head to the bathroom.

Yes. When you successfully penetrate The Zone, there is a chance I’ll be an asshole. In fact, I might snap.

Guess I am more of a nerd than I thought. My sanctum is definitely a Cave by these standards. And woe betide the person who comes in.

© 2005 - 2008 All Rights Reserved