Sudsy Symposium: Nerd Nite Ann Arbor

If you're learning about something new, why not do it over drinks and in good company? 

That's the key idea behind Nerd Nite, a monthly event that's caught on in over 60 cities worldwide—including Ann Arbor, where Nerd Nite made its debut in January. Currently organized by software developer Amber Conville and project manager Justin Fitins, the event rotates through various Ann Arbor bars, spotlighting three presentations per month from local enthusiasts on topics ranging from knifemaking to the history of influenza. 

Nerd Nite represents a localized facet of the national trend towards fast-paced, socially-oriented speaker events like Ignite and TED. Drinking and general camaraderie are encouraged to promote networking and further group sharing; in the case of the upcoming September 12 Nerd Nite at Live, a Nerf war will round out the night. Concentrate asked the speakers for September's event to give us a pitch for their presentations. Here's what they had to say:

The presentation: "Origins of Writing," by Ed Trager, software engineer 

The pitch: Written language is everywhere in our lives and we take that pretty much for granted. There was a time in history when people did not have writing systems, so it's interesting to ask: How did we get to the place where the written word is this ubiquitous thing? And to answer that we have to go very far back in time, to the Neolithic period, and see what happened to human culture at that time. 

Why check out Nerd Nite? There actually should be more university lectures that are done at places like Dominic's or Live with beer served. I think people would learn more. I loved the presentation in July from Anna Seekatz, about fecal bacteria. She incorporated a lot of jokes about poop and shit and fecal matter, and people were just rolling on the floor laughing. But the subject matter was fascinating.

The presentation: "Boozecookery: Drunk Science For Fun and Profit," by Kevin Davis, IT storage engineer

The pitch: I'm going to be talking about the history of brewing and then going into a live demonstration of how to brew. Being able to cook your own beer is interesting and allows you to know a lot about where the ingredients came from and how the beer ended up tasting. [Attendees] can cut their cost of drinking craft beer by 90 percent and at the same time learn how beer is produced.

Why check out Nerd Nite? I think the single fact that everyone has something in common to start out with is a great icebreaker, especially among nerds. We all have something that we can relate to each other in, and that helps the introductions and socialization. 

The presentation: "Why Video Games Will Save the World," by Jim Stanhope, high school teacher

The pitch: The way we generally view video games, both as players and non-players, puts them in a box where we see them as, at best, this childish way to waste time. But recently there's been this big push in a genre of games called eSports. This isn't Tetris. This isn't Angry Birds. The games are wildly complex and very difficult to master, and there's currently no outlet for them. Kids who don't want to play [traditional] sports should have access to being on a team and being able to carry those team-oriented learning skills on to their older years.

Why check out Nerd Nite? I think the credo of Nerd Nite, the idea that all good learning happens among friends and colleagues, beer in hand, is something that really appeals to me. All of my great ideas and epiphanies have come late at night, hanging out on the porch and talking to friends about the world and all this crazy stuff.

All photos by Doug Coombe

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.