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“Is this your child?”  We were sitting in the balcony waiting for the opening ceremonies of NerdCon: Nerdfighteria.  It was a woman who was probably 35 when her teenager was born.

We chatted for a minute and then I clarified that Jeff & I both consider ourselves Nerdfighters – a title that is bestowed on anyone who is active in decreasing world suck. She apologized, she thought she & I were both just parents facilitating the interests of our children.

I wonder about her now, at the end of the weekend, I wonder if she realizes that she is a Nerdfighter too.

John & Hank Green started Vlogbrothers 10 years ago in an attempt to connect with each other through videos. They made a thing and it has become a much bigger thing through a community of watchers and creators. A multi-million dollar charity arm, a British soccer team, educational YouTube channels that cover everything from Adulting to World History to Physics and Gaming.

All with one idea – Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

As part of the foundation of DFTBA is that who you are, right now, works fine. ASL translation in panels, therapy animals, clearly marked non-gender bathrooms, folks with their anxiety management tools (headphones etc) clearly and comfortably in use, those of us with funds sponsored scholarships for those without.  About 3,000 people were there and there was more spectrum of everything (color, visible religious signals, abilities, genders) than I have seen at any other professional or personal conference I’ve ever attended (and Dragon*Con has 40,000 attendees).  To be sure – still mainly white, in their 20s, and tilted towards women … but not glaringly so.

When we arrived on Friday we saw Emily Grasile who works at the Field Museum in Chicago. She also hosts a video channel. I was geeking at Jeff so he’d see her and she heard me. So. Unprepared to speak anything coherent some random excited words fell out of my face. She was gracious. Jeff was entertained. I was giddy. EMILY!! She is chuck full of science mind and unabashed curiosity.

We made a point of walking outside the hotel on Friday night. They picked a great combination of amenities that made it unnecessary to be outside once you arrived but it was 60 degrees in Feb in Boston so we went outside. (Sorry dying world).

There are a ton of tiny details that will get lost to time but the point of NerdCon is to be around a bunch of folks who think nice has value, that books should be read and shared, that anyone who says that math or science is their jam gets high fives like the business and computer science folks get. Art, Harry Potter, running, and generosity have value.

That everyone can be in on the joke – so why NOT wear a Ryan name tag?

We signed the wall – one side asked for book recommendations and Jeff wrote “Percy Jackson”, he got a high five from the med student who saw him write it.

We made friends with the ASL translator from opening ceremonies as we were headed back to our rooms at lunchtime to relax in silence a little. When we saw her later she hollered, “my self-care friends”!!

I got to make eye contact with, and ask a question of, Aaron Carroll who is on Healthcare Triage and writes for the NYT which … lordy- I’m as excited about that as I was about getting a photo at Dragon*Con the first time.

We got to see Andre “the black nerd” and although we missed his small panel (filled up fast) seeing him in the auditorium was fun as well.  Jeff is currently watching “Gremlins” which is Andre’s favorite movie.

This is the second year that Jeff & I have done a February trip. Last year was the NOLA train trip.

He generally doesn’t like 48 hour trips as much as I do so I didn’t put too much in this one. We took breaks, we ate well and with dessert, there was TV. Still, it was simple, plane – cab – hotel – cab – plane.  He sprawled on me and I let him read through dinner. He imagined things and said them out loud to me. We made compromises about who we would see and when we would rest. We took good care of each other as travelers. I love these trips with him and I hope that he remembers them as fondly as I do.  Hell, I hope he remembers them at all.

This trip though, I hope he remembers that good, earnest, curious, smart people look for each other. That there is a tribe of them and they are doing what they can, in the ways they can to decrease world suck.

Is this my child? Hell yes, he’s a Nerdfighter, a traveler, and my favorite person on the planet.


Yes, this defies physics and logic – BUT if I were to have total sensory comfort right now I would …

Be wearing a black hoodie pullover over a loose tank top – the hood pulled over my head.  Also, warm, soft leather wrist cuffs.  Sweatpants that are oversized and soft inside but felt the way I always imagined X’s from high-schools sweatpants did (they fit her in the super cute way that was possible when you are both shorter and curvier than I was/am).  My socks would be soft (but not that strange fuzz) and oversized.  My feet would feel non-in-pain (which frankly can’t remember).

I would be sitting on a moderately sturdy chaise lounge shaped bean bag covered in the strange white “fur”that currently covers everything at Target, it would be on an east coast beach where I was on the good sand but not in immediate need of attention to the tide, it would not be covered in sand.  My legs would be stretched out in front of me and the back would be tall enough that my head and shoulders were supported. I would be under a weighted blanket (good l-rd I want a weighted blanket).

It would be sunrise with a warm fire between me and the water where the ocean breeze would move the sense of warmth but never the smoke.  It would smell and sound like a beach.  Unless I looked in one direction (chair and fire staying oriented to me) and it would be totally silent, or in another direction (chair swivels) and it would be a dance beat that was just loud and interesting enough that it made not-thinking a great option.

My fingernails would be painted beach sunrise colors (ten different variations of the colors) with some little details, but in a totally classy way.  I would have a big cup of coffee that had sugar and chocolate creamer and the insane “whipped cream” science craziness  from Race Trac.  I would get to drink as many cups as I’d like and I wouldn’t turn into a nasty, anxious, tremoring bitch.  There would be medium rare fillet mignon and over easy eggs.



Local Billboard

Why don’t we do this for other ideas?

I’ve been thinking about this for more than a year now.  At first, I considered it in the context of civics and helping people recognize their place in American duty.  I still think of it in that context.

I also think of it in a scientific way.  The American Dream is built on science.  Anti-lock brakes are science.  Skyscrapers, John Deere, candy-coated chocolates, and ATMs are all science (and engineering and math and art …).

So, in the spirit of each person digging in and doing what they can as part of their civic duty — I will do the same.

I am launching a community funded project to bring simple, approachable, effective messages of science and civics to the highways of the United States.  Patron is an online platform that is designed to let people donate small amounts to build up to a big cause.  You can donate monthly at any amount you choose but at the $10 amount you get to help vote for designs and locations.

How much a billboard costs varies on a lot of different components, and it will take some time to build up to the second billboard but I hope you’ll consider helping to start this.

There isn’t time to waste.

Patreon Highway Mind