School always came easily to Virve Aljas, a 32-year-old graphic designer and founder of Canada’s first Nerd Nite. An upbeat woman with long, blond hair, Aljas’ hands dance as she speaks, emphasizing her words.
Even her home life seemed academic. Her's was the family that would stop on the side of the highway to read those historical plaques while on the way to visit relatives. Camping trips would be akin to astrological field studies, and urban vacations would inevitably include the museums and historical sites.
“When there was an eclipse, we were in the backyard,” she says as she looks up and crosses her arms, re-enacting the moment.
She lapped it up. She remembers one day at dinner, her father mentioned a volcano had erupted somewhere in the world. Eight years old with blond pigtails, Aljas took over the conversation by describing all the different types of lava, recounting what she’d learned on the TV show, Reading Rainbow.
When she launched Toronto’s first Nerd Nite this fall, her friends and family weren’t surprised. A packed pub night with PowerPoint presentations, “It’s like Discovery Channel with beer,” she says. A celebration of learning. And these days, with events like trivia night popping up in bars across the city, nerdiness is all the rage.
Aljas first discovered Nerd Nite in New York, where she lived for seven years before moving back to Toronto last year. But the origins of Nerd Nite take place in a bar in Boston when a biologist got back from a trip to Cameroon and would bring different groups of friends at different times to the same bar to tell the same story about birds.
The bartenders, sick of hearing the same old science lesson, suggested he just gather all his friends at the same time and they’d provide the microphone. The scientist took them up on the offer, and the concept of a bar night centered on science, or anything scholarly, spread to more than a dozen American cities. And now, thanks to Aljas, Toronto.
Presenters are often obsessive about their topic – one of the last ones had built a telescope space centre in his garage. Another was an artist who photographed discarded shopping carts, and even created a classification system for them. Aljas finds out about potential presenters through her network or by stumbling upon someone with an eccentric passion. There’s not much criteria besides being strange and cerebral.
If you make it to the second Nerd Nite, tomorrow night at the Fox and Fiddle on Danforth Ave., you’ll learn how to brew beer using only ingredients you can find at the local supermarket and hear all about the dynamics of sound.
It’s learning for the pure sake of it.
For more info, look for @nerdnitetoronto on Twitter.
– Read more of Carolyn Morris’ columns at www.metronews.ca/carolynmorris