Let's over-generalize the nerd archetype for a moment: unhealthy, eats fast food, drinks sugary sodas, sits on his (or her) butt playing video games, a misanthrope with nothing better to do than troll Reddit and pirate some leet warez. Antisocial, anti-nature, probably works in IT while angrily commenting on tech blogs behind the shield of anonymity.
We all know that's not accurate, but there is always truth in the construct others give us. Appease me, won't you?
I'd like to offer something up for those who find themselves stuck in a rut of stereotypical nerdiness: bad health, depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, consumption and / or straight-up boredom: Cook something. Anything.
Start with spaghetti -- it doesn't really matter as long as you make fire in the kitchen. It turns out that when you cook, you're using different parts of your brain that will calm you, allow you to make sense of things and even help you make new friends. I have very little scientific evidence of this, but I am sure it's true.
When you cook, you're using real, three-dimensional tools; you're contemplating the end result; you're modulating fire; things might get dangerous; and you're feeding yourself and probably others. Everything we do in technology tries to emulate this what-we-see-is-what-is-happening interface. Mouse pointer, touchscreen, 3D objects -- it all adds up.
If you're a programmer, cooking will be surprisingly familiar: You follow a program, put objects of code -- ingredients, in this case -- together in a particular order and come up with something new and intriguing that will impress those who double-click or bite. The thrill you get from turning bits of code into a working application is two-fold when you affect your senses of taste and smell.
If you're a web designer, cooking will allow you to explore colors in their native state. If you've painted, you know that nature commands the colors we can choose: green peppers contrasted with tomatoes; a swirl of cream in a deep-brown bean paste -- art! Mix and match.
If you're a gamer, you know all too well that critical items don't just appear in treasure chests, and if they do, you're dealing with some lazy programmers. No, they require knowing what to look for, knowing how to find them and knowing how to put them all together. The grocery store is a place. The recipe is a quest. The result is a victory. The food is a boss fight you win.
Let's continue with the tools. Many of us spend our days staring at a two-dimensional plane called a monitor. While we interpolate three-dimensional objects from the images we're seeing, we're still just staring at a bunch of tiny lightbulbs. I'm not going to say that that's bad for us, but I am going to say that working with actual tools -- knives, ladles, strainers -- at about the same distance that we stare at monitors, but in the real world, is good for us. It is said that humans first struck out from the animal crowd when they began using tools and there's still something to skilling your hand with a knife. If you've ever julienned an onion or sliced one into razor-thin discs of flavor, you know what I'm talking about. Simple, human satisfaction. Making cubes out of spheres. The most basic form of creation.
Next we have the recipes. Like computer programs, recipes recite what comes first, what comes second, how they're combined and how they should behave. There's a distinct technology to the ways that ingredients interact with one another: this is alchemy. Boil something too long and it turns into mush. Understand the way a steak needs to rest after cooking lest it turn into jerky. This is science, dudes. This is what we live for. OG Nerd.
Then we have the visceral experience. I once showed my girlfriend -- and now wife, possibly due to this event -- how to reduce a sauce with red wine. The heat of the pan, the rate of caramelization as it related to reactivating it with more wine, scraping the scrapings, all very logical, but at the same time physical.
The most important part of making a sauce, I told her, was tasting it as it went along. Take a sip. Be in it. Program it. Add code. Add more salt or pepper. Back off on the wine or add more. Maybe drop in some citrus. Be in it. Concentrate. Focus on the fire.
Be a scientist, a caveman and an artist all at once. Cooking is everything you love about technology. It's logical. It's creative. It's dangerous. It's mysterious. It's really hard. It's awesome. And it'll bring the ladies -- or men, what have you. Trust me -- you're meant to cook if you made it this far, nerd.
Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.