Comic-Con by the numbers
The San Diego Convention Center on Tuesday, just prior to the start of Comic-Con.
July 11th, 2012
03:17 PM ET

Comic-Con by the numbers

Here's a quick look at some of the most important numbers in San Diego Comic-Con's 40-plus year history, according to the Con organizers:

300: The number of people who attended the first Comic-Con in 1970. That first Con took place in the basement of a hotel. Among those who remember some of those early days: "Star Wars'" Mark Hamill (who grew up in San Diego) and former "Walking Dead" executive producer, Frank Darabont.

130,000: A conservative estimate of the number of people (including exhibitors, panelists and others) who attended the convention in 2011.

600: The hours of programming officially offered at Comic-Con (there is no way to see everything unless you've perfected cloning, so don't try). That's not counting events near the convention center like Nerd HQ, w00tstock, the Nerdist podcast and more.

460,000: Square feet used by exhibitors in the San Diego Convention Center during the Con.

6,500: Number of seats in the hallowed Hall H, where many of the highest profile panels take place.

2008: The year that Comic-Con was first invaded by Twi-hards. That particular panel in Hall H was the first clue that this movie franchise was going to be huge. Also screened in Hall H: test footage of a sequel to "Tron," which built buzz around that movie over two years before release and "Iron Man" made its wowed the crowd in 2007.

180,000,000: The estimated economic impact, in dollars, of Comic-Con on the city of San Diego each year.

75,000,000: Direct spending, in dollars, by Comic-Con attendees within the convention center in 2011.

14,663; 10,311; 8,160: Hot dogs, bottled water and sandwiches or salads purchased at Comic-Con from food vendors within the convention center alone.

One: Number of eyes in the official Comic-Con logo.

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Spider-Man: Still a nerd at 50?
Can you tell whether Peter Parker, as played by Andrew Garfield, is a nerd?
July 4th, 2012
12:56 PM ET

Spider-Man: Still a nerd at 50?

The very first page set the tone.

"Amazing Fantasy" #15 presented an image of a bespectacled, oft-tormented high school science whiz named Peter Parker. As bully Flash Thompson poked fun, Peter's shadow formed the silhouette of Spider-Man – a character who would use both his spider-powers and his intelligence to defeat larger opponents.

It was unheard of for a teenager, especially one with lots of personal problems, to be a superhero in comic books back in 1962.

"A teenager can’t be a superhero, he can only be a sidekick," co-creator Stan Lee remembers being told by his publisher. And as for heroes with personal problems, forget it.

But this nerd almost immediately struck a chord with comic book readers.

"Peter was an outsider, and that was me in high school," said artist Mark Bagley, who related to the hero of "The Amazing Spider-Man" and ended up working as the artist on that book years later.

At the start of his near-decade run on "Ultimate Spider-Man," Bagley was dealing with the unsavory mandate of "beefing up" Peter Parker in "The Amazing Spider-Man" books. Determined to save Peter Parker's nerd cred, he decided that "Ultimate's" hero would always be skinny. He saw that physical trait as an important reminder of Peter's underdog status, something key to the character’s popularity.

That was true for Brad Douglas of fansite SpiderManCrawlspace.com, too.

"He has problems just like you," Douglas said of the classic version of Peter Parker. "He can't pay his bills, he can't get a girl, when he does he has to ditch her to go fight bad guys. His costume rips."

Peter Parker puts on a mask and goes off on adventures to avoid bullies or other problems. What put-upon nerd wouldn't daydream about that? FULL POST

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When animals light up: Bioluminescence
June 19th, 2012
04:48 PM ET

When animals light up: Bioluminescence

I can see them hovering in my Brooklyn yard: tiny balls of yellow light that flicker on and off in the dusk like lighters at a rock concert.

Fireflies are quite a common sight, although for how long we don't know. There have been widespread reports that firefly numbers are dwindling. The reports are all anecdotal, but they were enough of a concern for entomologists and biologists to hold a symposium in Thailand in 2008 entitled, "Diversity and Conservation of Fireflies." If fireflies are under threat, it's a terrible state of affairs.

Fireflies belong to a very exclusive group of land creatures that exhibit a phenomenon known as bioluminescence.

In simple terms, bioluminescence is technique certain organisms have developed to create energy, in the form of light, through a chemical reaction. This reaction often involves a chemical called luciferin.

Fireflies are unique because most bioluminescent creatures – 80% – live in the sea. On land only certain insects and fungi are bioluminescent.

It was in the ocean that I first found out about this phenomenon.

I grew up in England where we don't get fireflies. We get things called glow-worms, which are not worms at all but flightless insects. They're hard to spot because they're usually hidden away in long grass or hedgerows. Consequently most Brits will probably tell you that their only recollection of a glow-worm growing up was via the pages of a cute children's story.

It was a few years ago and I was on Lombok, a tiny island next to Bali, when I first experienced the weird spectacle of nature flickering to light in the darkness. I went for a midnight swim and started to feel a strange prickling sensation and when I dipped my head underwater and ran my hand in front of me it was as if the Milky Way had been miniaturized and liquified at the same time.

The trail of sparks left by your moving hand in bioluminescent waters is caused by single-cell organisms called dinoflagellates. They're a mysterious organism scientists don't fully understand. They're a form of plankton and while they feed on prey and move around like animals, they can also convert the sun's rays into food using chlorophyll in the same way plants do.

If you want to see the coolest bioluminescent creatures, though, you've got to go into deep water.

READ FULL POST

Word minion or word nerd?
Kate Karp, center, participates in the 2012 Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet.
June 1st, 2012
05:39 PM ET

Word minion or word nerd?

Do the Scripps National Spelling Bee competitors love words? Word nerds have to wonder.

There's something about compulsion, the competitiveness of reading the dictionary every night and only being in it to win it that disturbs writer, editor and self-described word nerd Ed Hall.

Hall is part of a community that derives joy from words — orthology hobbyists who gather for low-stakes, adult spelling bees.

Adult spelling bees, like the one hosted by AARP, the National Adult Spelling Bee in Long Beach, California, and the long-running Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet, are held across the nation.

Some of them look a lot like the Scripps bee, with contestants wearing pinned-on numbers and spelling steadily into a microphone. Others are deliberately more laid back. FULL POST

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Believers vs. skeptics: A great geek divide?
Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker (bottom center) with his alien creations for "Men in Black 3." For one subset of nerd, aliens and "MIBs" aren't just characters in movies.
May 28th, 2012
04:11 PM ET

Believers vs. skeptics: A great geek divide?

I was surprised, leading up to this weekend's top grossing movie, "Men in Black 3," that paranormal phenomena such as UFOs, the Roswell Incident and, yes, the mysterious Men in Black themselves  were conspicuously missing from the zeitgeist.

When the popular sci-fi franchise launched 15 years ago, it was all anyone could talk about. The first "MIB," along with "Independence Day," "The X Files" and "Roswell," brought aliens and government cover-ups their biggest pop culture moment in a generation.

While my geeky friends were rabid science fiction fans, excited about the proliferation of these movies and television shows, they scoffed at the idea that any of the aliens or UFOs we saw on screen had any basis in reality.

When we got hold of a video of purported UFO sightings around the time the first "Men in Black" movie came out, my friends proceeded to take apart the grainy footage methodically, claiming "hoax!" or easily identifying the flying object.

So, I wondered, how is it that some nerds can be so interested in science fiction involving alien life forms but can't believe that anything remotely paranormal is actually happening? FULL POST

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