August 4, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Donna's Detroit

Nerd Nite: It's like the Discovery Channel ... with beer

Nerd Nite Detroit
Nerd Nite Detroit: Nerds unite to socialize and see presentations on various topics by people who are passionate about them. It's like TEDtalks with beer.

Detroit -- Remember that kid in high school with the pocket protector, the heavy-rimmed glasses, broken and held together with tape wrapped around the nose bridge? The one the popular kids only called when they needed help with their homework?

Sound familiar? Well, it’s cool to be a little geeky these days -- and there’s even a club to celebrate it.

Across the globe, nerds are organizing Nerd Nites, and that includes a Detroit chapter.

Nerd Nite 313

Detroit area nerds are getting together once a month to drink some beer and listen to other nerds give presentations about their passions. The topic doesn’t matter to the audience.It’s the commitment and depth of knowledge each speaker brings to his or her subject that captivates the crowd.

"We're much more interested in the things that someone really, really loves," said Nerd Nite Detroit co-founder Nathan Hughes. "And if you love it enough it doesn't matter what the topic is. If you love it enough it's going to be an interesting story for this crowd."

So far Detroit has held five Nerd Nites drawing 100 or more people each time to hear about topics as diverse as robot design, paper airplane building and circus performance. "It's kind of like TEDtalks with beer and a lower bar [for prominence of presenters]," said Hughes. (Note: If you're not familiar with TEDtalks, you are NOT a nerd. The wildly popular global conferences -- which stand for Technology, Entertainment, Design -- are organized by a private non-profit group devoted to spreading the word about new ideas.)

The four Detroit founder-facilitators, called "bosses" (for reasons even they don't understand) are Hughes, Liz Lamoste, Amber Conville and Josh Diskin. Excepting Lamoste, who is a newly-minted attorney, they all work at mobile app development company Detroit Labs.

“When I was going through school and I was a nerd, I was beat up for it,” said Hughes. “There are kids now and they’re going through school and because they’re nerds, they’re popular...It’s dramatically changed.”

LaMoste agrees that the label "nerd," once seen as a pejorative, has now developed caché. The over-sized glasses, the too-short pants and one-size-too-small shirts are now hipster chic. Knowing more about computer programming than football is acceptable; it means your brain has bigger fish to fry.

A global movement

Nerd Nite is a global phenomenon that started in Boston in 2003 by Dr. Chris Balakrishan, according to From there it spread to New York and eventually to over 50 cities worldwide. In Michigan, Nerd Nite Ann Arbor came first, with their inaugual event in January. Detroit's first Nerd Night was in March.

On Aug. 16, 17 and 18, Nerd Niters will gather in Brooklyn, N.Y. for the first annual Nerd Nite Global Festival featuring 25 of the best presenters from across the globe (details at and free beer.

Nerds on the cutting edge

Nathan Hughes points out that so many activities -- such as online gaming -- were once nerd activities but have become commonplace in today's culture. "If you played a multi-player game like that (World of Warcraft) in the early 90's," he said, “you had to find a crew that knew what you were talking about." Warcraft has millions of players today.

Be there and be square

Nerd Nite Detroit is skipping its August meeting in deference to the Nerd Nite Global Festival in Brooklyn. The next Nerd Nite will be in September, probably at Tangent Gallery, 715 E. Milwaukee, which has its own bar. Food catered by Sidecar is available for purchase as well. $5 dollars at the door. Drinks and food are extra.

September’s theme is not yet set so the Detroit bosses suggest you check their website:, for the latest info.

Bubba Ayoub, 19, of Warren, a Maker Corps member at The Henry Ford, demonstrates how to make an 'artbot' at the Maker Faire edition of Nerd Nite. / Donna Terek/The Detroit News
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