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Geek Stars From Atkinson to Zappa 320

Ian Lamont writes "You probably remember reading about Brian May getting a PhD in Astrophysics, but may not know about the many other celebrities from the music, TV, and film worlds who have studied science and technology in college and grad school, or are simply serious gearheads who like gadgets, games, and other geek pastimes. Computerworld has identified about 50 celebrities who fit the bill, including Dan Grimaldi (Patsy Parisi, The Sopranos) who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in math, a master's in operations research and a Ph.D. in data processing; Rowan Atkinson, who has a master's in electrical engineering from Queen's College, Oxford; and Todd Rundgren, who developed an early paint program called Utopia. Other folks on the list: Dr. Demento, Montel Williams, Natalie Portman, Curt Schilling, and Huey Lewis."
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Geek Stars From Atkinson to Zappa

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  • Portman (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mr. Capris ( 839522 ) <tobeycapris@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Friday October 26, 2007 @04:11AM (#21125651)
    From the article:

    Likewise, Natalie Portman -- beloved of geek fanboys worldwide since long before her Star Wars turns -- is an accomplished psychology student with two published papers under her belt, but psych isn't strictly a science or tech pursuit. (Waaahbulances will please park in the designated Comments section.)
    Hot grits, etc.
    • Psychology (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dr. Cody ( 554864 )
      I think we've all got to recognize that the psychology department is where people go if they're not geeky enough to go into engineering or compsci, but have too much self-respect to wake up one day with a Bachelor's of microeconomics on their wall.

      Natalie Portman isn't a geek, she's just a girl who was smart enough not to spend four years with a bunch of Star Wars fans.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MicktheMech ( 697533 )
        There is real science being practiced under the heading of Psychology. There is also pseudo-science people call psychology. What we really need is for a particular geeky slashdotter to track down her papers and have a look at the analysis.
  • Yawn (Score:4, Interesting)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @04:13AM (#21125663) Journal
    This isn't so much "geek stars" as it is an exhaustive list of "Everyone in Hollywood that isn't mechanically inept."

    Many actors majored in some field of science rather than art, and didn't flunk. Robin Williams plays video games and likes gadgets. Real big geek cred...

    Quite a waste of time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TapeCutter ( 624760 )
      "Many actors majored in some field of science rather than art..."

      Comic Guy voice: "I like to refer to these people as "closet geeks", their many faux friends call them "interesting"...pffft!"
    • Re:Yawn (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:29AM (#21126091)
      Actually what is interesting is that very few of the people on this list ever publicly talk about their education or interests. We live in an age when kids are losing interest in science in technology and chasing the celebrity dream of fame and fortune. Many of these people could be good roll models to encourage kids back into science, technology and engineering.

      Also, Masi Oka has a double in Math and CS, and worked at ILM. I don't care what you say: Hiro Nakamura is a real geek. He still consults for ILM for Petes sake!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by JamesRose ( 1062530 )
        Shut Up! I'm sixteen years old, and the more of these guys getting sucked into chasing fame the greater my chances are of getting into a top university. Quit Ruining The Plan!
      • You mean they could be good role models like in: "I couldn't get a proper job despite my academic education(s) but hey, who can complain when you get millions for jumping up and down like a monkey?"
        • No, he wrote roll in 16 sided dice.
        • by Nullav ( 1053766 )

          couldn't get a proper job...get millions for jumping up and down like a monkey
          Pardon, but that not only sounds like a 'proper' job, but a very desirable one at that. If you mean betterment of society, rather than of oneself, then think about all of the people out there with flat nothing to do between work and sleep.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dido ( 9125 )

      Apparently he's also a huge fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and managed to get an Evangelion toy to appear in his movie One Hour Photo [] .

  • Bill Nye the Engineering Guy doesn't seem to ring as well... I don't know why, but a part of my childhood feels like it was deceived. :P
  • Hey Editor! (Score:5, Funny)

    by pato101 ( 851725 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @04:14AM (#21125667) Journal
    Is mentioning Natalie Portman in a Slashdot story a good idea?
  • by DTemp ( 1086779 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @04:15AM (#21125675)
    I was considering karma whoring and making a Natalie Portman joke early on in a discussion, almost guaranteeing a +5 Funny...

    But I decided to actually read the story. According to the article, and also Wikipedia, shes a Psyc student, published a couple papers. Seriously, thats enough to make the geek list? Am I in a dillusioned world that of the thousands of "stars" out there, there aren't many with more geek cred than this?

    Oh and I will karma whore... here's the link to the full article print link: []
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by amRadioHed ( 463061 )
      The fact that she knows 6+ languages qualifies as geeky in my book. That's an impressive intellectual accomplishment, no two ways about it.
      • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:55AM (#21126241) Homepage Journal
        Understanding R2-D2 and Wookiees doesn't count. So basically we're saying that any smart/accomplished person is now a 'geek'? Hmm :P
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CRCulver ( 715279 )
        As multilingualism is the rule for the world (there are something like 85 times as many languages as countries), most of humanity grows up learning without complaint various languages besides that which that use in their family for religious use, trading with neighbours, dealing with government, etc. For some reason, people in a few First World countries think learning other languages is hard and only geeks can manage, but it's an unrealistic outlook.
      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
        No, her publicist CLAIMS she knows 6+ languages. A lot of publicists have adopted this "multilingual" shtick for any actor who can speak even a few words of a foreign language. It makes the actress/actor look intelligent and the publicist knows that they will never be called on it (since they usually don't even specify WHICH languages).
    • Ah yes, so what couple of papers did you publish in the mean time? I think it's quite respectable. Furthermore, I am afraid that being able to perform logical thought is indeed already geeky at the moment, partly due to the big lobbies of people who want to press 'the word of god' as superior than 'reason'. Yes they do, look at the photos of the creationist museum in texas, you can find them on flickr.
      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
        "Publishing Papers" is laughably easy in academia. "Publishing articles in well-known, reputable journals" is where you separate the dipshit students from the real academics.
    • by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @09:31AM (#21127661) Journal
      After discovering that she published her papers under her birth name of Hershlag (urg, no wonder she took a stage name), I found one of them on Google Scholar:

      Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy []

      Definitely geekier than your average psych paper.

      And it appears that her other paper, on which she was first author while in high school, was actually in chemistry:

      A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar []

      Though it's actually in a chemistry education journal, and appears to maybe have something to do with doing demonstrations in chemistry classrooms.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by olddotter ( 638430 )
        Damn. Now I am going to stay awake at night thinking of Portman. Sexy, Cute, and smart. Oh why why couldn't she be stupid...... :-(
    • ...shes a Psyc student, published a couple papers. Seriously, thats enough to make the geek list?
      I've had a couple of letters published in the newspaper - does that make me a journalist?
  • Mensa (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Propaganda13 ( 312548 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @04:26AM (#21125741)
    What no mention of Asia Carrera? Mensa, gamer, pornstar
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by porcupine8 ( 816071 )
      Mensa is not an organization for smart people. It's an organization for people who feel the need to prove how smart they are. The vast majority of people who qualify for mensa are not members.
  • Zappa on music (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ThirdPrize ( 938147 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @04:32AM (#21125777) Homepage
    In his book "The Real Frank Zappa" [] released in 1989 Zappa explains his plan for the future of music distribution. He says that consumers arn't that interested in CDs or vinyl and explains how you could use the cable tv or telephone system to digitally transmit music (and cover art, etc) into peoples homes on a subscription basis. This was back in 1989, long before your interweb thing took off.
    • Although I don't know at hand if there are any patent trolls or music companies claiming this idea as IP. But wouldn't it being written down in that book count as prior art?

      Just food for thought people.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Hal_Porter ( 817932 )

      In his book "The Real Frank Zappa" [] released in 1989 Zappa explains his plan for the future of music distribution. He says that consumers arn't that interested in CDs or vinyl and explains how you could use the cable tv or telephone system to digitally transmit music (and cover art, etc) into peoples homes on a subscription basis. This was back in 1989, long before your interweb thing took off.

      But 1989 is not before Modems. And he could probably figure out that the time to send a song would drop dramatically in the future to the point where it was possible to send songs.

      I mean it's not rocket science to work out the Shannon limit for a phone line with the filters in the exchange tweaked would give DSL like speeds, or to notice that a frequency domain compression algorithm should be feasable for music and should compress raw PCM data from a CD by around 10:1. So would clearly be possible to send

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fafne ( 840092 )
      Yeah, Zappa was a true genious. Another thing he said back in the seventies IIRC, was something in the lines of "sometime in the future, the bulk of new music will consist of recycled ideas". And look, we got sampling a number of years later. Today, the number of true musical innovation creations topping the charts steadily dwindle.
  • by drphil ( 320469 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @04:37AM (#21125823)
    Do the submitters actually RTFA? Dr. Demento's name was dropped in trying to put context around Prof. Tom Lehrer (not sure why you need to see Dr. D's name to understand who Lehrer is). BTW I think Dr. Demento has only a masters degree and was an A&R guy at one time - one of the least geeky jobs ever.
  • by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:00AM (#21125959) Homepage Journal
    He and I were both BeOS developers back in the day.

    His real last name isn't Dolby, it's Robertson [].

    When he spoke at the BDC, it was about his high-tech startup [], which developed a new audio format.

    He got sued by the Dolby corporation; according to Wikipedia, the settlement allows him to use their trademark only when in the context of "Thomas ".

  • Dr. Demento's Thesis (Score:3, Informative)

    by vertigoCiel ( 1070374 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:25AM (#21126069)
    Here at Reed College (Dr. Demento's alma mater), finding Dr. Demento's senior thesis in the Thesis Tower is a common scavenger hunt item. While the topic (the operas Wozzeck and Pelleas et Melisande) isn't traditionally nerdy, no one can get through Reed without being a little bit geeky.
  • Erdos-Bacon number (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:30AM (#21126099) Journal
    I can't let this go past without bringing up Erdos-Bacon numbers. []

    Natalie Portman has one of the better scores (Erdos 5 + Bacon 2 = 7). She did not (so far as I know) use her fame in her primary field (acting) to get preferential treatment in the other (science/maths.) There are scientists with a lower total, but I think they've all got an acting part on strength of their science fame (e.g. Stephen Hawking.)

    According to Wikipedia, a few people have lower Erdos-Bacon numbers which appear to be 'clean', but I haven't heard of them before: Kiralee Hayashi (3+3), Danica McKellar (4+2), Barney Pell (3+2), John Platt (3+3), Karl Schaffer (3+2), Brian Wandell (3+2), Wendelin Werner (3+3).

    • She did not (so far as I know) use her fame in her primary field (acting) to get preferential treatment in the other (science/maths.)

      Well, I'm sure she did not, because how would that even work! "Umm, look, I'm a famous celebrity! Please add me as a co-author on numerous academic papers so that I can be a famous academic as well!"

      Academia has its flaws, but obsession with celebrity culture is thankfully not one of them!
  • by Ztream ( 584474 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:33AM (#21126113)
    isn't this just a list of famous people who also have an academic degree? That's hardly synonymous with "geek" for me..
  • by Fross ( 83754 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:33AM (#21126117)
    How does that work?

    "e^i*pi = -1. How does that make you feel?"

    "Pythagoras' Theorem is a^2 + b^2 = c^2. What do you think he was trying to convey by that?"
    • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @06:03AM (#21126283)

      How does that work?

      Quoth Wikipedia []:

      Traditionally the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery, a concept which altered during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science".

      The "Bachelor of Science" (BSc) is a relatively recent invention by modern universities. "Modern" in this context means "Not already 600 years old when those Romantic trendies re-wrote the dictionary". Certainly the University of Oxford (est. 1069 give or take a few decades) doesn't have any truck with this sort of newspeak and awards BA for everything.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      If you go to a liberal arts school, perhaps. The school I went to, Lawrence University, offers only BA degrees (well, also a B. Music for those who are in the conservatory), no matter what you study. I assure you that the math curriculum involves no asking how it makes you feel, and is good, solid, old-fashioned math. ;)
      • Surely the difference between a BA and BSc is in the approach of study - and some subjects are approachable from many angles. While I'd not expect a BA in Engineering, other cutting-edge science could be - I'd expect a BSc in genetics or nanotech to be versed in the technical application thereof, while a BA could be more on the ethics, real-world scenarios and so forth. Both would be strongly versed in theory, of course.

        But yeah, I would expect a BA in Maths to be about as useful as a BSc in art - while a
    • Some Universities just like to crap up perfectly good degrees. It wasn't quite going to end up as a BA, because we'd already started it, but when the University of Manchester 'took over' UMIST (they said it was a merger) then the UMIST Computation department became Informatics in the Faculty of Humanities.

      Quite how you could be taken seriously with a BSc Computing Science from the Faculty of Humanities I don't know - luckily I got an old-style certificate as well.

      So, in summary, Universities do stupid thing
    • at the time that's the only option the physics department offered undergrads. I'm rather proud of it actually - I think I got a better education at "Uncle Charlie's Summer Camp" than I did during my first two years at Caltech; for example I took classes in painting and drawing.

      At the time, they didn't give grades. Instead, instructors wrote a short "narrative evaluation" about their students' performance.

      However, I understand that they've given into economic pressures, so that now both grades and BS d

    • I have a BA in Computer Science (and East Asian Studies). The difference between a BA and a BS at UW-Madison is a three credit online nutrition course. I just took a lot of foreign language when I was there and the BA came easily.
    • by lahvak ( 69490 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @09:48AM (#21127847) Homepage Journal
      Perhaps is a similar way as "Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics"?
  • Wrote his own website and flies aerobatic stunts at airshows - does that count?
  • by Mister Transistor ( 259842 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @05:58AM (#21126259) Journal
    There's Elvis Costello - former computer programmer who chucked it all for Rock 'N Roll...
    (He kept the geek look but lost the career!)

    Peter Gabriel is quite the computer nerd...

    Joe Walsh of the Eagles - he's got a Ham Radio license...

    And Jeff Foxworthy used to work for IBM, but I'm not sure how nerdy he was.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 3waygeek ( 58990 )
      More missing entries:

      Gary Shandling -- was an EE before going into comedy
      Cindy Crawford -- valedictorian of her high school class, received ChemE scholarship to Northwestern
      Teri Hatcher -- math major
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DannyO152 ( 544940 )
      Big fan of Elvis Costello, I respect the hell out of him, but I understand that the job was as basic operator, meaning he was mounting and unmountng data reels.
  • Don't forget Herb Schildt was in the progressive rock band Starcastle before turning to the word processor and churning out an almost infinite stream of books on MS-DOS and C, and later C++. I think he may still be around today, but he was big in the 90s as sort of the paragon/punching-bag of bad technical writing.
  • Brian May (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BigBadBus ( 653823 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:31AM (#21126709) Homepage
    Brian May *doesn't* have a PhD. He has submitted his thesis, but hasn't been awarded it yet. Get your facts right.
  • Kris Kristofferson (Score:5, Interesting)

    by puto ( 533470 ) * on Friday October 26, 2007 @07:53AM (#21126845) Homepage
    Although he doesn't have the best voice. He did write a slew of hits, Bobby Mcgee and Help me Make it through the night. Was one of the highway men.

    1. Rhodes Scholar.
    2. Military Helicopter Pilot.
    3. Assigned as a professor at West Point but resigned his commission.
    4. Golden Gloves boxer.

    A true geek in the Heinlein sense. Smart and tough.
  • The summary metions Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. Jeff Francis, pitcher for the Rockies is a Physics Major: [].
  • Paul Verhoeven, physicist, who directed Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers.
  • by bajan_on_ice ( 32348 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @08:43AM (#21127255)
    Dexter Holland, lead singer of the the band "The Offspring" has a Bachelor's degree in Biology and a Master's degree in Molecular Biology, both from the University of Southern California. He is also a PhD candidate in Molecular Biology. []

  • PhD !=geek (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @08:57AM (#21127355) Journal
    Having a PhD does not, of course, preclude nerdiness, but it doesn't guarantee it, either. My old boss Charlie (now retired in Florida) had a PhD and was, in fact, a true geek. OTOH, the fellow now in the next office from mine has a PhD but is dumb as a box of rocks, and has no geek qualifications whatever aside from being a fat dork who wears glasses. It doesn't take a high IQ to obtain a PhD, just stubbornness and a good work ethic. It does require a three digit IQ to be a nerd.

    The #1 all time famous nerd was Niel Armstrong, who was an engineer who famously said "I am and always will be a pocket protector wearing nerd". He accomplished the ultimate in nerdiness, being the first man to step foot on another world. That was a nerd's wet dream come true!

    -mcgrew []
    (Linked text is titled "Growing Up With Computers" from 2005, in it is mention of Niel's most famous act of nerdiness. Another of my useless but on-topic scribblings is a two year old blagh titled What is a nerd? [])
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by xPsi ( 851544 ) *

      It does require a three digit IQ to be a nerd.
      In a base greater than nine.
  • I had to make sure Danica McKellar made the list ... sure enough.

    She was recently on NPR talking about what she was doing with her degree in mathmatics ...

    Poor Kevin Arnold! How'd he let her slip away?
  • by K8Fan ( 37875 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:50PM (#21130583) Journal

    Todd Rundgren only gets a single line:

    Our honor roll is in tune with three remarkable nerds. Todd Rundgren ("Hello It's Me") is legendary for developing the Utopia Graphics System, one of the very first paint programs, and has remained profoundly engaged with technology throughout his recording and producing career.

    ...but his involvement with technology has been greater than any other person in that list.

    • He animated his own 3D music video "Change Myself" [] in Lightwave on a big pile of Amiga 2000s.
    • He wrote a massively popular screen saver, Flowfazer.
    • He created the first completely interactive album "No World Order", allowing the listener to control the tempo, mood and vocal mix from a capella to instrumental for the Philips CDi platform.
    • He may have been the first artist to sell music electronically, via downloads on Compu$erve.
    • Wrote a very early OO operating system called HyperCode []

    Pretty damn geeky.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard