Nerdlympics, Summer 2008

By , ITworld |  Offbeat, Olympics, Tech & society

This week, thousands of competitors and millions of spectators from around the world will converge on Beijing for the Summer Olympics. Those who have passed the grueling tests at the national level will face off in competitions that will showcase their strength, speed, agility, and endurance.


But where does this leave the humble geek? While many of us tech types will enjoy watching the games, for most of us the chances of actually participating are low -- unless we're called upon to help circumvent China's Internet censorship infrastructure. Does that mean that the competitive urge that beats in the heart of every nerd goes unfulfilled? Are the thrill of competition, the glory of victory, and the agony of defeat only for muscle-bound jocks? We say no!

And so, in honor of (and, perhaps, in counterpoint to) the upcoming Beijing Olympics, we'd like to propose a multi-sport competition that has a practical basis. The modern pentathalon, which has appeared in every Olympics since 1912 (and thus probably isn't so modern anymore), includes shooting, fencing, swimming, horseback riding, and running, and was meant to encapsulate the skills a cavalry officer would need if he were trapped behind enemy lines. In that spirit, our Very Modern Pentathalon will provide the aspiring pro geek with skills needed to rule the roost.


When you're first hired in an IT department, you're generally on the very, very bottom of the ladder, and you need to be prepared to deal with bottom-of-the-ladder problems, like untangling ethernet and USB cables that have woven around each other to take on lives of their own. Proving your ability to sort out various important wires quickly has developed into its own sport, known as speedcabling.

Speedcabling is a physical competition of sorts -- it requires a steady hand and a good eye. But you also have to be able to think strategically -- will loosening this knot cause another tangle to tighten into complete unworkability? Computer scientist and artist Steven Schkolne launched the first speedcabling contest earlier this year, and you can watch the thrilling final here:

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