Nine Nerds of Note: Local Geeks Going Above and Beyond

From wine, to food, to news, we call out nine of the cities nerdiest personalities.
Brangien Davis  |   February 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

Nine local nerds of note

1. Wine Nerd
ERIC LEVINE  [ Former Microsoftie and founder of CellarTracker and GrapeStories, wine-reviewing databases (; ]

Nerd stats: Personal collection: 3,000 bottles. Database: tracks 21 million bottles. Has published more than 4,000 tasting notes to his website.
How it began: “It just seemed natural to build a proper SQL database and host it in the cloud.” (Huh?)
Nerd cred: Staying up until 5 a.m. after tastings to write up the wines while the memory is still fresh; custom bar-coding every bottle in his collection.

2. Food Chemist
NATHAN MYRHVOLD  [ Master French chef; author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking (due out in March, ]

Book stats: Molecular gastronomy explained in 2,400 pages and six volumes.
Tools of the trade: Water baths, homogenizers, centrifuges, hydrocolloids, emulsifiers and enzymes.
Nerd cred: Ph.D. in theoretical and mathematical physics; postdoctoral worka on quantum theories of gravitation with Stephen Hawking.
Other careers: Former chief technology officer at Microsoft (where he led the team that developed Windows).
How he began exploring sous vide cooking: “First, I wrote computer code to simulate heat moving through food.” (Duh!)

3. Book Worm
SUMMER ROBINSON [ Founder and proprietor of independent bookstore Pilot Books ( ]

Favorite childhood pastime: Reading Emily Dickinson.
Claim to nerd fame: “We carry exclusively books published by independent publishers...for the hard-core literary types.”
Number of publishers she carries: More than 200, both domestic and international.
Idea of a fun road trip: Powell’s bookstore’s independent publishers section.
Nerdiest thing she’s ever done in public: Set up an outdoor poetry factory on Capitol Hill.
Nerd cred: The upstairs “lending library” at the store is composed of her personal book collection (and bookshelves).

4. Music Groupie
[ Cofounder of local music-reviewing website Three Imaginary Girls ( ]

When she knew she was different: “I remember telling some coworkers I was driving to Portland that night—a Tuesday—to see a Seattle band, reasoning, ‘They’re so good!’ They explained that’s not normal.”
Nerd cred: “I was at the first Horses [renamed Band of Horses] show and picked up their homemade EP.”
True confession: When she realized the yearly amount she spent on live shows and records far exceeded her car insurance cost, she contemplated getting rid of her car.

5. News Junkie
[ Cofounder of online news journal PubliCola ( ]

News sites she visits daily:, local newspaper and neighborhood blogs, Seattle Transit blog, Crosscut, The New York Times, Talking Points Memo, The Atlantic….
Dream beat: “The one I have now! I get to cover the ongoing battle between the council and the mayor, the deep-bore tunnel, the debate over cars vs. bikes and transit—all the exciting stuff.”
Nerd cred: “I’m the only reporter who goes to Transportation Choices Coalition’s monthly brown-bag lunches.”
Nerd knowledge: Knows the meanings of all these acronyms: SDEIS, PDC, CIP, BIA, RPZ, TIF, COBE and SEPA.

6. Poetry Scientists
SIERRA NELSON AND RACHEL KESSLER  [Performers—as Drs. Ink and Owning—in the Vis-à-Vis Society, which studies the science of poetry ]

Audience surveys conducted: “102.5 (approximately).”
On the scientific method: “It’s a form of poetry—its structured ritual is comforting the way sonnets are.”
Where science and poetry meet: “All poetry secretly invites you to reflect on your own experience and circle your favorite answer—the answer that is most true, for you, right now. Our survey-poems just make that process more explicit.”
Best thing about wearing lab coats: “It’s very reassuring to everyone involved. Also, pockets.”

7. Dirt Doctor
[ Professor of earth space sciences at the UW and author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations ]

Nerd cred: 2008 MacArthur “genius” grantee for his pioneering work on dirt and the evolution of topography.
Extracurriculars: Front man for local folk-rock band Big Dirt.
Favorite childhood pastime: Looking at maps.
Favorite book: Sacred Theory of the Earth (published in 1684). “It attempts to explain European rocks through the biblical story of Noah’s flood.”
Biggest dirt adventure: “Sinking up to my hips in boiling quicksand in the Philippines.”
Most upsetting thing about dirt: “In 150 years, at the rate we’re going, we’ll be completely out of soil.”

8. Star Wars Fanatic
GUS LOPEZ [ Star Wars collector and founder of the online Star Wars Collectors Archive ( ]

Number of items in his collection: “I have lost count. Easily thousands. Over 1,400 different Star Wars cereal boxes alone.”
Publications: Co-authored three books about Star Wars collectibles, including the recently released Star Wars Year by Year.
Specialty: Hard to find stuff: cast and crew items, toy prototypes, movie props, awards, food collectibles.
Notable items: A massive laser cannon from The Empire Strikes Back;
Virgin Atlantic’s series of Star Wars barf bags for the Revenge of the Sith release; the original Death Star model used in the first Star Wars, currently on display at EMP|SFM.

9. Computer Icon
ROBERTO HOYOS  [ Founder of Throwboy, maker of computer icons and chat lingo pillows ( ]

Throwboy origins: “I made some
pillows that resembled Mac OS X icons as a Christmas present for a girl I was dating.” The girlfriend blogged about the pillows, and the blog went viral.
Why people love the pillows: “People love being able to express their geeky side beyond just their computer and gadgets.”
Nerd stats: Ships roughly 50 orders a day (1–12 pillows each).
Typical day: Toggling between sewing machine and computer.
Nerd cred: Streamed live 24/7 from the Throwboy factory (his apartment) during the Christmas rush.