Nerds Inc. Merit badges, meat business cards: When these wizards of the weird get an idea, they run with it.

Posted: April 28, 2010

How do the Nerd Guys do it? John Young and Randy Schmidt, computer geeks with enough ideas to fill 1,000 gigabytes, appear to have the (Web) master touch that turns a totally goofy idea into solid gold - or embroidered patches.

Or beef jerky business cards.

Or gorilla suits.

In recent years, Young, 39, and Schmidt, 28 - plus a buddy or two - have conjured kookiness, made it happen, and hit the spot.

Usually, it's all about them. When the two West Chester-based Web-design consultants-by-day notice the lack of something, they don't just wish for it like most cubicle rats - they start writing code.

"You scratch your own itch," said Young, who is married with a 6-year-old daughter. He often sees the brilliance in an idea, while Schmidt is the code-slinger.

Take the Nerd Merit Badges. Schmidt, a Drexel University structural engineering graduate who lives with his wife in Lansdale, contributed some beautiful code to an open-source project, a collaborative effort to create software that's freely available.

Schmidt thought, "We deserve a merit badge."

That bit of brain fireworks led to the 1 1/2-inch wide, fully embroidered patches, with Velcro backs, that tout success at technogeek pastimes. Thousands of the $5.99 badges made at a Berwyn company and hawked at www.nerdmeritbadges.com have sold since last year's debut, Schmidt said.

The business, which turns a small profit, is a labor of love, Young said.

"If we tallied up the time that we spend thinking of new designs, working with wonderful designers, obsessing over embroidery-thread cards, talking to folks on Twitter about what the design should be, and carefully applying badges to little Velcro dots on badge backs (not to mention stuffing envelopes), . . . we'd be making pennies an hour," he said. "But we really have fun with the project, so we're absolutely not complaining!"

Reduced the e-mail in-box to zero? There's a patch for that! Helped the family resolve technical issues? You've earned Family Tech Support! It features a slice of apple pie and a pair of handcuffs - because not everyone happily helps Mom with her issues. Collect dozens of others, including ones for special events and conferences such as the JavaScript confab. The guys even sell a sash for nerds everywhere to display their collection on a laptop or at a cubicle.

"They're crazy," customer and fan Ellen Peters, 40, of West Chester said in complete admiration. "I've never met people who have so many ideas and actually go through with so many. . . . It's living a full life."

Customer Jason Tremblay, 32, of Media, has earned his share of nerd accolades, including Full Stack Web Developer, which shows a stack of pancakes topped with a slab of butter. It honors the wonk who's "able to turn a pile of loose electrons into a fully operating and styled website," as it's described online.

"The Nerd Badges are very clever," said Tremblay, a freelance Web developer and entrepreneur. He was so smitten with his hoard that he made his own sash, which is portable, unlike the official one.

"I'm just hoping there'll be some type of ceremony where we can proudly wear them, maybe a uniform to go with them," he said, tongue in cheek. (We hope.)

Besides the badges, the duo-plus-friends have created Meat Cards - laser-etched beef jerky business cards that grew out of offhand chatter:

Schmidt had a brain cramp and couldn't think of the Web address for the business-card vendor he usually uses. He shouted a query into the interactive chat room he frequents with other programmers.

One guy, Will Ronco, suggested he Google "sweet business cards."

Immediately, Schmidt quipped: "OMG EDIBLE BUSINESS CARDS!"

Said Ronco: "You would want to make them out of beef jerky or something, so they would keep."

Young saw the possibilities and called his friend Christopher Thompson, a digital artist who has a laser printer. Now Thompson has taken on the project, etching a leathery slice of beef jerky with gold lettering for a set of four cards, which are vacuum-packed in clear plastic. Cost: $29.95.

The ideas know no end. When the Nerd Guys, well aware of the pudgy tendencies of computer programmers like themselves, wanted to lose a few, they conceived Lose It or Lose It, a weight-loss motivational program. A participant puts a certain amount of money on the line each week. If a predetermined weight goal for the week is met, he or she gets the money back in full. If not, Young and Schmidt keep it.

Many folks also are fans of Coworkout - where people follow a Twitter tweet to an outdoor spot to work via WiFi when the weather's perfect. Young and Schmidt measure perfection through an index they developed called the "Sandex" - it indicates how close the local weather is to the ideal conditions of San Diego.

Young is probably best known for his popular Guerilla Drive-In, a roving outdoor movie night for adventure nerds who have to go on a hunt to find the location of the flick, projected from the sidecar of a BMW motorcycle.

"When you get a bunch of programmers together, this is what we do," said Young, who considered a divinity degree but instead got his master's in philosophy from Columbia University and eventually worked as a marketer in the Big Apple.

"It's about being creative," Schmidt added. "Some people create oil paintings. We just think of weird stuff."

Like isfeasting.com, where friends share pictures of what they're eating. Or gorillasuitworkshop.com, a to-be-announced workshop to make a gorilla suit, of course.

Peters, the West Chester fan, has participated in a few Nerd Guy undertakings and respects Young and Schmidt's "adventure ethic."

The opera singer, who also works as an accounting director at a travel agency, first met Young at a Guerrilla Drive-In, where her quest led to the screening of Ghostbusters at the purportedly haunted Fort Mifflin.

Last November, she was one of the first to put out money for Lose It or Lose It, one venture the Nerd Guys hope will return some serious moola. She had $200 on the line to lose 10 pounds over 10 weeks.

"It's perfect for people who know how to lose weight," Peters said. "It's not rocket science. You take in fewer calories than you burn."

Each Saturday, she e-mailed a picture of her white bathroom scale topped by her feet. The image was then posted to the Web site, along with her commentary. Both Young and Schmidt are enrolled as well. Young has $2,000 on the line, and Schmidt has $300 and often wears a T-shirt that logs his success - or not.

The Web site has attracted about 70 dieters. So far, 41 people have completed the 10 weeks and lost a total of 710 pounds. Nerds track that type of stuff.

Peters started at 161.2 on Nov. 7. She made her target eight of the 10 weeks, hitting a speed bump over New Year's Eve. She got back on track despite "dozens and dozens of homemade cookies that appeared at my office after the holidays," she wrote. But she slipped again the last week.

In the end, Peters was out $20 but thought it was well worth it for the eight pounds she did lose. "It was an extra angel on my shoulder to balance out the devil on my other shoulder," she said.

She was so pleased, she tipped the guys $50.

She also got a complimentary Lose It or Lose It badge.

"It's goofy, and it's fun," she said. "I've succeeded at something, and here's my proof."

Contact Lini S. Kadaba at Lkadaba@gmail.com.

Nerd Merit Badge Sampler

INBOX ZERO

To earn: Keep your e-mail inbox empty five out of seven days a week.

HOMONYMS

To earn: Correctly

spell words that sound

the same.

In this case

- reign, rein,

and rain.

FULL STACK WEB DEVELOPER

To earn: Write a Web site from scratch by setting up the Web server, writing the scripts, styling the pages, and configuring the analytics - abilities reminiscent of Charles Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie, who could turn a stand of trees into a cozy cabin.

OPEN SOURCE

To earn: Contribute code to any open-source project. "Octocat" is the mascot of GitHub, one place where many

people collaborate on these projects.

FAMILY TECH SUPPORT

To earn: Provide hardware, software, and telephone support for extended family member - voluntarily or involuntarily.

BEEN BOINGED

To earn: Have a project mentioned

on http://

boingboing.net,

a popular Web site that showcases

links to "wonderful things. "

ROBOT LEGS

To earn: Contribute to a software project called Robotlegs. This is one of many custom badges that Young and Schmidt occasionally make for geek-friendly organizations, including Wordpress, a JavaScript conference, and even the Girl Scouts.

SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP

To earn: Take

a new idea

or product all the way from idea through execution to launch, no matter what the obstacles.

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