Monday, 20 July 2015

Thinking of a happy place: gets even better with each passing week.

I found the site perhaps a year or so ago and I doubt if there's a day I don't visit morning, afternoon, and evening. Psychologically it's such a good place to be that I'm probably living my life on San Francisco time.

To understand my mild obsession, you have to know that I live in a small northern working class town with no culture to speak of. I have to travel miles into either Liverpool or Manchester to find a bookshop. We have none locally and, thanks to government cuts, our local library has already been half-demolished. Not all is bad news, however. As a town we have eight tattoo parlours. I suspect I'm the only guy in town that doesn't have a single tattoo. Not sure if you can understand how that makes me feel except to say that I feel utterly like a freak: hugely overqualified, can't find decent work, and with interests that few people share. And that's why I love Tested. It's a window onto a better world where being a tattoo-free over-educated nerd is the thing to be.

I've never been so proud of being a nerd as I've been since I discovered Tested. It's filled with articulate people talking about things that fascinate them. Amazingly for an American website, it's not shrill. It's not that horrible twisted version of nerddom you find on Battlebots, where the jocks have taken over and the nerds pushed to one side. Tested is pure unadulterated nerd: intelligent, occasionally awkward, but so totally human. I've never bought a scale replica of anything in my life and I don't intend to start now. However, for reasons I can't fully explain, I now find myself fascinated with replicas. Maybe it's the design, the artwork, or simply the craftsmanship. Never before in my life have I wanted to know how to make a foam mould of something yet I've watched more Frank Ippolito videos about learning to mould than is healthy for a man who never intends to make a mould. I even find myself growing interested in technology that has never before really been my thing, such as 3d printing, drones, miniature cameras, and virtual reality.

None of it makes any sense to me yet, somehow, the site makes complete sense.

The site actually makes me want to use a lathe and I have absolutely no reason to use a lathe...

I suppose it makes sense in the way their most casual conversations affect my life. The site is largely hosted by Norman Chan and Will Smith, who carry the weight of the output. Adam Savage, of Mythbuster's fame, is the Big Daddy of the operation and it's his energy which infects everything they do. However, it's Will and Norm that keep me watching because they carry their knowledge lightly, with enough humour to keep it grounded and well away from that Comic Book Guy cliche that makes that entire world so off-putting.

If you'd told me years ago that my favourite website would be about making a replica topiary, I'd have said that you were deluded. Yet that's exactly how I felt watching Savage build a replica of the Overlook Hotel maze a few months ago.

What's key is that the whole thing is largely unscripted and people talk about the things that interest them without dumbing everything down. The BBC New usually begin every story about Pluto by reminding people that Pluto is far from the sun so it's cold. Tested take that stuff for granted and it's a huge relief that they do. When the talk, I find myself feeling dumb because I don't know half of the stuff they know. It triggers my brain into activity and to hunt out answers. I happily stick one of their podcasts on in the background as I work and I'm in raptures because it constantly helps me generate new ideas. I've not read science fiction in too many years but, thanks to Tested, I've rediscovered my love for hard science fiction. It's so good to listen to people who are as excited by NASA's Pluto flyby as I was.

The week before last was Comic Con in San Diego, an event that largely passes me by because I'm not a huge fan of superheroes hype. I don't read any of the comics (I tend to prefer underground comics), though I've a passing awareness of Frank Miller's Dark Knight. I'm not the full-on fan but enough that I've seen the odd animated film in addition to the live action Batman movies. Avengers leaves me cold like near all of Stan Lee's oeuvre, with the exception being Spiderman. In fact, I'm pretty picky in my tastes. I love the best stuff and I'm very dismissive of the worst. Loved the new Dredd movie, hated Captain America.

Yet Tested just knows how to work its way around my defences. Watching a grown man excited by the cooling system he's created for his cosplay replica suit from Kubrick's 2001 is about as good as the internet gets. The fact that he then introduces a second suit for astronaut Chris Hadfield and they begin to talk about how Kubrick got the sound effects for 2001...

Well, this weekend, realising I wanted to write this blog post explaining my love for the site, I thought I'd do that by putting it into a cartoon. So, here is my latest, in honour of what, for me, is undoubtedly the best site on the web.

If you haven't already and you suspect you have an inner nerd, go check out

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