Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nerdiness as a Projection onto Three-Dimensional Vector Space*

This is not a new idea, but it has yet to be committed to print, so it doesn't really count yet.

Subjective measures of nerdiness have been around for some time, but I'd like to propose a quantifiable method, one that could preempt any possible arguments of comparative nerdiness.**

The nerdiness of an activity can be expressed as the product of the obscurity, intensity, and inverse of productivity of that activity.

N(O,T,P) = O(a) * T(a) * 1/P(a)

To clarify, obscurity is defined as the distance outside the mainstream (measured in parsecs), intensity as the volume of skull sweat produced by the average practitioner (measured in milliliters), and productivity as the amount of energy that would be produced if the activity were converted into energy at the ratio of E=mc^2 (measured in ergs).***

Admittedly, this formula was derived empirically, but it can be extrapolated successfully. Compare the locations in coordinate space of the nerdiness of playing football, watching football, and playing fantasy football. Playing football is not at all obscure, very intense, and (arguably) very productive, so this results in a low nerdiness score. Watching football is not at all obscure, not at all intense, and not at all productive, resulting in a comparable nerdiness score to playing football. Note, however, that as the intensity of football-watching increases (e. g. body paint, statistics tracking), the nerdiness also increases - this matches our observations. Finally, fantasy football is fairly obscure, fairly intense, and not at all productive; hence, it is nerdier than watching or playing football, which again matches our observations.

For another example, compare watching Babylon 5 with playing a space combat miniatures game set in the Babylon 5 universe. Watching the show is quite obscure, not very intense (but keeping up with the plotline makes it more intense than watching, say, Friends, and hence nerdier) and not at all productive. Playing the game is even more obscure, much more intense, and even less productive, and therefore much nerdier. Once again, this meets our observations.

The productivity term is included to distinguish between things that are nerdy and useless, and things that are nerdy and useful. Tinkering with obscure automobiles or programming languages is very nerdy, but it becomes less so if the tinkerer is then able to apply that knowledge. In a broader sense, this term distinguishes between theoretical physics (obscure, intense) and role-playing games (obscure, intense).****

Can the formula be used to compare the nerdiness of fantasy football and Babylon 5? Here, it breaks down due to the subjectivity of the measurements - which is more obscure? Which is more intense? If we could accurately assign numerical values to these properties, we could know the answer for certain.

One more interesting property of this formula is that obscurity and intensity are unrelated. The nerdiness of an activity is as much a property of how we interact with that activity as it is an inherent property of the activity. Sure, video games are nerdier than fishing - when taken at the same intensity level. But if one approaches fishing with great intensity, it becomes even nerdier than video games.

This makes sense. In my definition (and in my formula) of nerdiness, you can be a "nerd" about anything. All it means is that you're passionate about what you do.

*This is meaningless mathematical babble. The more accurate statement would be to say that this is nerdiness as a function of three variables in three-dimensional space, where the axes are defined as the variables, and the domain and range are defined in the first octant.

**This method does not solve these problems, unfortunately, as it only introduces additional subjectivity. So why did I come up with it? If you're reading this far, you shouldn't have to ask.

***See what I mean? Incidentally, this means that the units of nerdiness are parsec-millileters/erg, which I'm pretty sure has never happened before ever, so that's cool.

****If you don't think the intensity values for these two activities are comparable... well, you're doing something wrong.

my love is a louvre



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