Nerd merit badges


John Young and his friend are making a line of nerd merit badges. "Attach to your jacket, your backpack, or the lid of your overclocked, battle-scarred laptop. Start a nerd sash!"


Open Source Contributor

Nerd Merit Badge 01

Open Source

Requirements: Make an accepted commit to any open source project.

$3.99 plus $1.00 S&H in the USA


  1. What the hell is that, a cat jumping in to an ice fishing hole? Actually that’s not a bad metaphor for the experience I went through to add an -indices switch to Tcl 8.5’s lsort. It was really uncomfortable at the time, but after it was over it felt sort of invigorating.

  2. You don’t recognize it? That’s Hello Kitty Cthulhu, rising from the deep to embrace your code in eternal cross-cultural madness.

  3. That’s the only badge available so far, half cat, half octopus. Those other badges on the sash? They must be Girl Scout badges, because they aren’t any of the Boy Scout merit badges. I see one that looks like a doll-playing badge.

  4. @hlehmann2, those are indeed Girl Scout badges. That sash belongs to my friend Susan, and she earned those badges in the eighties. Girl Scouts seem to have the awesomest badge technology, including these amazing little badge “buffs” that attach to the badges. Little stars on chains, and stuff. It’s pretty badass. You know, in a girl-scouty way.

    Right now, we’re working on our second merit badge “Regular Expressions.” We’re torn between having a superhero-y one in bright colors, with the Regexp that Creates Reality (“replace nothing with everything!”) or a mailed fist with the Regexp that Destroys the Universe (“replace everything with nothing!”)

    Next step after that? MERIT BADGE SASHES, naturally. For your laptop lid. And a system whereby you can challenge someone that you don’t think deserves the badge they’re sporting: “S-a-a-ay, pardner, you don’t look like the sort that programs in assembler. LET’S SEE YOUR OPCODE!”

    We welcome your suggestions! For instance, a Twitter-er just suggested the awesomest merit badge ever this morning: “Played every Infocom Game.” If that isn’t a nerd achievement, I don’t know what is!

  5. make the “Played every Infocom Game” badge and I’ll buy one. Actually, I’ve only played every TEXT Infocom game…but I played them all off of 5 1/4 inch disk, and that should count for something too.

  6. terrific idea, but there must be an agreed central coordinating authority. Otherwise it’s just a mockery.

  7. @ Tikaro

    I thought the one above the cat was a Naruto badge for anime nerds. But now that I look closely at it, I realize I don’t know what it is.

  8. Why, the regex one should certainly be =~

    Also, maybe a stick of RAM for replacing your own hardware.

    An antenna (or laptop) with waves for setting up a wifi access point.

    A two-entity UML diagram signifying creating a database.

    Lines signifying code with an arrow pointing to a box with ones and zeroes for compiling your own software.

    A soldering iron: self-explanatory

    Something steampunk oriented.

    A ukelele.

  9. Wow, I just had a boy scout themed party last year. We just made our own though – Firefox badge, HTML knowledge, duct tape ability…

  10. @takuan I imagine you saying “there must be an agreed central coordinating authority” in a Vader voice. While clutching a fist.

    Going on the open-source principle of “the simplest thing that could possibly work”, we think that anyone can WEAR a badge, but there will be an agreed-upon protocol for Nerd Throwdowns. Like greasers racing for pink slips. When you defeat another nerd, you get to keep and wear THEIR badge on YOUR sash, with a black slash through it.

    Several have mentioned the O.O.T.S.S.O.E.R.A.A.A.P. badges, which absolutely are the central inspiration for ours. Gonna go put a big fat link on the website to make that clear.

    Other great merit badges are PodPost’s zine-maker merit badges, at:

  11. Okay, so I don’t have the Open Source badge.

    But somewhere, probably in a box in my mom’s attic, is a box containing the sash I proudly wore as a Girl Scout.

    It bears every damned one of the other merit badges in the photo, as well as year pins, crests, chains, and all the other stuff. (But jeezus, don’t ask me what they all are any more…I don’t remember.)

    Now THAT’s nerdy…that I earned ’em all, AND that I still own ’em.

  12. PS. I don’t know if I or anyone else has mentioned this, but the Science Scouts are definitely our inspiration for this. I think “published in Make:” is the nerd analogue of their “published in the New Yorker.”

  13. Last year I got a girl scout badge for selling cookies. I asked for it since I, rather than my wonderful little girl scout daughter, actually sold most of those cookies at work! So the troop gave me the badge. I might be the only father to every have earned a girl scout badge for selling girl scout cookies (not that there aren’t parents out there who deserver as well).

  14. What a frickin awesome idea. Want want want.

    Need to allow people to upload their own icon, run it through the pixels-to-threads algorithm and get it back as a badge. (What’s the resolution on those badges?)

    Need also:

    – UNIX shell command-line (a prompt?)
    – XML (icon is obvious for that one)

    I also want them as downloadable badges for my web site.

  15. Getting badges made is easy, as long as you have a friend with an embroidery sewing machine, or are willing to buy 1,000 badges.

    The cost is all about the design labor, which comes from specifying the stitches in a way that makes them pile up into aesthetically pleasing berms, like the way that there’s a “line” between the cat head and ears in the badge shown.

    You can get them made for you by the many of the same companies that make custom T shirts. I can mention a company name if it’s allowable.

  16. Wearable iconified geek codes, not so?

    As such… It’s a cute idea, which probably will have a brief surge in popularity and then die out again.

    This isn’t the first time gag scout patches have been done, of course. One of the Worldcon bids was promoting itself by selling SF-themed badges. I bought a few of those, partly because I just plain liked the designs but also because they were a good creative match for the ideas.

    I don’t quite see the connection between Hello Cthulhu and open source. (If it was a badge for technological mashups, or genetic engineering, that would make more sense.) So this iteration is off to a slightly discouraging start.

  17. i hate products like this that are all hype. one badge? really? dont blow your(marketing) wad too early.


  18. There’s also some that are *challenging* to earn – like the one for “reading at least 25% of the already posted comments so you’re not the 4,095th person to post about O.O.T.S.S.O.E.R.A.A.A.P.”

  19. I’ve dreamed about making anarchopunkactivist merit badges: Treesitter, Dumpster Diver, PepperSprayed, Teargassed, Rubber Bulleted, BeanBagged, Generally Beaten, Arrested, Zinester, Bullhorn Expert, Disowned by Conservative Grandparents, Consensus Facilitator, Manarchist… and of course demo-specific badges, with Seattle ’99 obviously the most coveted. Actually, anyone have an embroidery sewing machine?

  20. One of the things I’ve learned as a result of doing the Nerd Merit Badge project is the role of the digitizer, the software jockey that turns pixels into stitches.

    I have experimented with doing this by hand (check out for my QRCode needlepoint patterns), but the digitizer has a domain of knowledge that is 100% computer-y and 100% thread-y at the same time. Haineux had it right about the “berms.” It’s also on a funny dividing line between raster and vector. The digitizers are like long-lost second cousins of us Web nerds.

    Looking at the boy- and girl-scout badges of the 1970s (that’s a girl-scout sash in the photo at the top of the post), I see some REALLY fantastic stitching going on there, and I’m having a great time learning about the special challenges of it.

    There are a number of other wonderful merit badge projects, including PodPost’s zine badges, the “mama merit badges”, and the original BSA “spoof” badges, like the one for beer drinking. I’ll go post them on the NMB site, since they really should be all linked.

  21. Off course, there MUST be a merit badge for inventing nerdy merit badges. It should look like a Mandelbrot pattern and I just erned one. Yay!

  22. @eeyorex You’ll like the infinitely-recursive “Lambda Calculus” merit badge, once we make sure we’ve got the Knights’ approval.

    But yes, you absolutely did invent the “Nerd merit badge” nerd merit badge, which will have a picture of a nerd merit badge nerd merit badge on it.

  23. @tikaro – No need to get the Knights’ approval. There are no Knights. As it mentions in the article you link to, the Knights are a fictitious organization, and the image is in the public domain.

    Which leads me to the next idea: a copyfight badge. Image: copyright symbol combined with ‘no’ symbol.

    Hooray! Now I’m eligible for the nerd merit badge merit badge!

  24. @34

    The link to stream your audio is generating an error at Clearly there should be a merit badge for nerd rap battle winners.

  25. @sapph: I bet there’s at least one Knight who wouldn’t mind being asked. I plan on finding that Knight.

    And as for the copyfighter badge, I absolutely agree. Except I’m particular to the backwards-“C” copyleft symbol, or (my personal favorite) the copyleft-Aeroflot mashup.

    And yes, I’ll put the nerd merit badge nerd merit badge in the mail to you, as soon as I can find an envelope to hold a hole that goes to infinity.

    @doggo is there really such a thing as “nerdy enough”? My undying gratitude for showing me those merit-badge loincloths. That’s so latent lord-of-the-flies.

    @jeffconn I’m convinced that a Big-Name Museum is just months away from holding a big “Merit Badge: Underappreciated American Folk Art” exhibition. Who designs them at the BSA? Who designs the spoof badges? Who digitizes them?

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