Some thoughts on bikes, military hardware and geekiness

I have a confession to make: My name is Charles and I am a geek.

Oh sure, I’m a devoted bike geek, with a garage full of two-wheeled beauties who believes that the bicycle is the epitome of human ingenuity. My favorite – nay, my only – competitive sport is bike racing.

But more than limiting my geekiness to bikes, I am an all-around geek. I mean come on, I was on the debate team in high school; esoteric public policy debates are a form of recreation in our house; beyond bikes, I love computers, pocket watches, Monty Python movies and the spastic, dorky humor of “The Big Bang Theory“; my list of personal heroes is heavily weighted with physicists, losing politicians and computer hackers; down time reading often includes obscure scientific and economic research papers (which I rarely fully comprehend) just for the hell of it; a tree-hugging, environmentalist, peace creep, I nonetheless spent years restoring a WWII army jeep to its original splendor – just because the little beast was so damn cool; I know how to tie a bowtie, I wear sweater vests (several of mine are pre-Vaughters argyle) and my favorite sport jackets tend to be Harris Tweed (yeah, with the leather patches).

NPR's Ira Flatow - The king of geeks

Want more proof? Well, for one thing, my hands-down favorite broadcast of any kind (TV, Radio or web) is NPR’s Science Friday. It’s a weekly celebration of geekiness, I assure you, and this week’s edition hit new heights.

Host Ira Flatow used the day after Thanksgiving to broadcast the September 29th awards ceremony of the 2011 Ig Nobel Prizes. Another notable geekfest, the Ig Nobels are designed to recognize the sort of research efforts “that first make people laugh, then make them think.”

For example, the 2011 prize for chemistry went to the Japanese researchers who worked tirelessly to determine “the ideal density of airborne wasabi to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency.”

A multi-national team earned this year’s Biology prize for an article published decades ago in Antenna: Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society London. In the ground-breaking 1984 article,“Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females,” the researchers revealed to the world the earth-shaking news that certain male beetles in Australia often attempt to mate with a certain kind of beer bottle routinely disposed of in the Outback. (Much to the chagrin of my friend and colleague, Patrick O’Grady, it wasn’t a Guinness.)

2011 Ig Noble Peace Prize recipient Arturas Zuokos. (Click for video)

But, for me, it was the 2011 Ig Nobel Peace Prize that represented the ultimate synthesis of almost every aspect of my inner geek. The Ig Nobel committee, composed almost entirely of wonderfully geeky scientist types, recognized the swords-to-plowshares efforts of Vilnius, Lithuania, Mayor Arturas Zuokas who found a beautiful and effective use for surplus Soviet-era military hardware. Specifically, the good mayor used an eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier (yeah, they called it a ‘tank,’ but it ain’t) to crush luxury cars illegally parked in Vilnius’ bike lanes!

Sure, the video looks staged, but you gotta love the guy and you have to applaud his creative approach to delivering an important message about bike lanes’ role in urban traffic management. (Yes, he even went back and swept the broken glass from the bike lane.)

My hat is off to Mayor Zuokas, a most deserving winner of the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, whose obvious sense of humor even prompted him to fly all the way to Harvard to personally accept the award. He’s a mayor, lover of bike lanes and clearly a geek in his own right.