Nerdette’s Summer Homework Special

American Flag
The best part about the summer? Plenty of extra time to do homework. Mike Mozart / Flickr
American Flag
The best part about the summer? Plenty of extra time to do homework. Mike Mozart / Flickr

Nerdette’s Summer Homework Special

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Guests on Nerdette assign listeners homework, so in honor of summer and the pursuit of meaning in our lives, we collected the best assignments to bring you our near-definitive 2017 Summer Homework Guide

In this special episode of Nerdette, you’ll get homework from astrophysicists, writers, sex therapists, and even Tom Hanks. It’s bound to keep you occupied through the Fourth of July, the dog days of summer, and maybe even Labor Day, depending on your diligence. 

Click ‘play’ above to listen to the entire special broadcast. And do your homework!

Buy a typewriter

Tom Hanks

 Tom Hanks is the star of such films as ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ and ‘Toy Story.’ He’s also obsessed with typewriters. (Andrew Gill/WBEZ)

Tom Hanks: “The algorithm for old manual typewriters is that none are worth more than $50. Although I have paid more than $50, just because I wanted to have the machine. But in all honesty, I have so many that I am giving a lot of them away.”

“I’m going to tell you [that] if this Underwood Champion that I’m looking at right now was the only typewriter I could have, I would be completely satisfied. Your great-great-grandchildren will type on this machine. So start typing them letters right now, throw them in a shoebox, and hand it over when the time comes.”

Watch ‘Columbo’

Lindy West

 Lindy West is a feminist writer and author of ‘Shrill.’ She also loves the 1970s detective TV series ‘Columbo,’ which starred Peter Falk, seen above. (Yury Ostromentsky/Flickr)

Lindy West: “It’s just the most flawless, brilliant, soothing, cinematic, incredible TV [show] ever made about a darling detective who always knows. They think Columbo doesn’t know — they think they’re smarter than Columbo every time — and they’re not. You’re never smarter than Columbo.”

Be an earthling

Jill Tarter

Jill Tarter is the former director of the Center for SETI Research, which searches for extraterrestrial life in the universe. You probably know her best as the inspiration for ‘Contact,’ a 1985 sci-fi novel that became a movie starring Jodie Foster. (Victor R. Ruiz/Wikimedia Commons)

Jill Tarter: “Go look at all your social media profiles. What’s the first thing you say about yourself? I would like that first thing that you say about yourself [to be] that you’re an earthling. I would like you to try and follow that with an open, larger perspective — a more cosmic perspective — about who you are, where you are, and how you fit into a much larger universe. Because I think it’s that kind of perspective that’s going to allow us to get through these next 100 years, and to find answers to challenges that don’t respect national boundaries — [problems] that have to be worked as global problems.”

Read the Constitution

Carol Moseley-Braun

In 1993, Carol Moseley-Braun became the first black woman to serve as a United States senator. She was also the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand from 1999-2001.(Beth A. Keiser/Associated Press)

Carol Moseley-Braun: “What we have is a very, very rare and precious jewel in terms of our governmental structures. The way our system is set up is the envy of the rest of the world. And we really should pay attention to it. … 

“Find out about government. Read the Constitution. There’ll be some parts that seem a little bizarre. It’s like reading the Bible — seriously, there’s some parts of it that you’ll go, ‘Huh?’ — but once you’ve done that, then you’re in a better position to actually have a conversation about what it is that we’re doing with our politics.”

Watch ‘Jane the Virgin’ and ‘Ancient Aliens’

Jaime Camil

Jaime Camil was a real telenovela star before becoming a fake one on the CW TV series ‘Jane the Virgin,’ where he plays Rogelio De La Vega, the father of Jane (played by Gina Rodriguez) and a notorious overactor. Camil also loves the History Channel’s ‘Ancient Aliens.’ (Screenshot via YouTube/Courtesy CW)

Jaime Camil:Ancient Aliens. It’s about the theory that we have been visited by aliens many times. It’s a very interesting show that I am completely addicted to.”

Go outside

Peter Sagal

Peter Sagal is the host of NPR’s news quiz show ‘Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’ He’s also the co-host of our OTHER podcast, ‘Nerdette Recaps Game Of Thrones with Peter Sagal.’ He loves running and his dog. (WBEZ/File)

Peter Sagal: “The body that you have is more useful for things than carrying your head around and pointing it at various screens or pages. And I think it’s really important — especially today, when we have our iPhones and iPads and televisions and computers — to cut all that out. … Exist for a moment. And the way I do that is I go out for a run. Sometimes I take my dog. Also, get a dog.”

Do something sexy

Bat Sheva Marcus

 Bat Sheva Marcus is a sexual health expert and counselor who works with the Orthodox Jewish community in New York (so this piece of homework is a touch salacious). (Mike Sperry/One Degree)

Bat Sheva Marcus: “Every day, if you can find two little tiny, sexy things to your life, you should do it. And then see how that changes the way you feel about yourself and your relationship. So that might be as little as unbuttoning one more button, or holding somebody’s eye contact for an extra 10 seconds, or licking your lips while somebody is watching you, or just staring into the mirror at yourself, or getting a really sexy color of nail polish — anything that makes you feel sexy just for an extra few seconds. Add those into your life maybe twice a day, and see how that changes your reality and your sense of yourself.”

Try yoga

Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga instructor and author of ‘Every Body Yoga,’ argues 'all yoga bodies deserve to be represented in print, not just those who are slender, female and white. (Photo by Christine Hewitt/Courtesy of Jessamyn Stanley)

Jessamyn Stanley: “I’ve never met a yoga teacher or a yoga practitioner who is obsessed with it who didn’t get that way because they have anxiety, or depression, or some injury, or something happened to you to make you need this medicine.”

Be a space cadet

Dr. Sheyna Gifford

Dr. Sheyna Gifford spent a whole year inside a mock spaceship atop a Hawaiian volcano, where NASA tested how humans experience long-term isolation. (Photo courtesy of Sheyna Gifford)

Sheyna Gifford: “If going to Mars or travelling in space appeals to you, think of yourself already as this traveler in space. You’re travelling in space, you’re on a very large ship — the size of the Earth — and just like in space, resources are limited. You have only so much food, water, so much air. Begin to look around your world and think of yourself as having only so much of anything. Behave accordingly. Buy only the food you’re going to eat and if you’re not going to eat it or use it, compost it. Turn lights off. Wash dishes in the sink and then use that water to do the floor. Plant something that generates oxygen. And really choose when you buy things — when you purchase things, when you fill your life with stuff — think of it as the thing you want with you on your ship. And if you don’t want it with you on your ship, do you really want it? Fill your life with the people you want with you on your ship. And if you don’t want them with you on your journey to the unknown? Well, maybe choose other people. And most of all, decide who it is you most want to be in life and be that person. Be your boldest, most brilliant, most generous, most patient individual. Because that’s the kind of person that survives in space.”

Save civilization

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says civilization faces problems that cannot be solved by a smartphone app. He says that means everybody needs your help. (Justin Bull/WBEZ)

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “If I were to give homework, the homework would be that there are problems that society faces — civilization faces — that cannot and will not be solved awaiting the next app on your smartphone. We have problems in housing, in food, in health, in poverty, in military conflict — so basically unrest in the world — problems with energy, climate change. There’s got to come a point when we take fewer selfies and step out there and ask, ‘What kind of major industries need to be revamped so that we can assure a peaceful, prosperous future for us all?’ Ask what you can do for civilization.”

Buy a titanium spork

Hanna Rosin

Hanna Rosin is a co-host on the NPR podcast ‘Invisibilia.’ (Siwen Liu/Flickr)

Hanna Rosin: “I carry one everywhere and I never use plastic cutlery.”

Watch a meteor shower

Dr. Carrie Nugent

Dr. Carrie Nugent is an asteroid hunter at the California Institute of Technology’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center. She recommends meteor showers and, according to, this year’s Perseid meteor shower will occur between July 17 and August 24 — with the shower’s peak falling on August 12. (John Fowler/Flickr)

Dr. Carrie Nugent: “Meteor showers are amazing and they’re super easy to do.”

Go see ‘Get Out’

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is the author of ‘Hunger,’ ‘Bad Feminist’ and ‘Difficult Women.’ In March, she recommended everyone go see the film ‘Get Out’ — starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams, seen above — even though she had not seen it herself at the time. (BagoGames/Flickr)

Roxane Gay: “It’s supposed to be really fun and really scary and also really prescient.”

BONUS listener homework:

Read The Answer Is Never by Jocko Weyland. It’s a general and personal history of skateboarding, starting with surfers in the ’60s and going all the way through to the early-2000s, when the sport became more mainstream. Skateboarders have historically been given a bad reputation, and this book will give you a renewed respect for their commitment to the craft and their sportsmanship and camaraderie.” -Tasha from Chicago, IL

“My homework for you is to read Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. This is a beautifully crafted work of historical fiction that tells the story of Caroline Ferriday, an actress, socialite, and philanthropist during World War II. Go check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed.” -Kim from Olympia, WA

Special thanks to all the listeners who submitted their homework for this episode. You are the best.

And one last reminder to subscribe to our OTHER podcast, ‘Nerdette Recaps Game Of Thrones with Peter Sagal.’ You’ll get fresh G.O.T. analysis in your podcast feed every Monday at noon(ish) after each new episode of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones.’ Here’s just a small sample of what’s in store this season:

‘Nerdette’ co-host Greta Johnsen threatens NPR’s Peter Sagal with a small dagger, a foreboding sign of what’s to come on this season of ‘Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal.’