The premise of Thing Explainer began with a classic XKCD strip, Up Goer Five, which presented a detailed cutaway technical schematic of the Saturn Five rocket labelled exclusively in the thousand (ten-hundred) most common words in the English language. Buoyed by the success of the strip (and delighted by the intellectual challenge of describing complex ideas in simple words) (and indulgent of the sheer pleasure of drawing cutaway diagrams of technical objects), Munroe has created an entire book of Up-Goer Five-style diagrams.
Most of these diagrams are technical, ranging from the mundane (washer/dryers AKA "Boxes that Make Clothes Smell Better") to the fantastic ("Up-Goer Five") with loads of biology (cells AKA "Tiny Bags of Water") thrown in for good measure. As a bonus, Munroe also gives the US Constitution ("The US's Laws of the Land") the same treatment, and sets himself the challenge of explaining a complex, foundational, deeply important political document in a strictly controlled vocabulary.
I love every single thing about this book. As you've gathered, I can stare at exploded diagrams of technology forever. The schematic is such a deceptive, seductive way of presenting the inscrutable and chaotic innards of our daily world. Then there's the language-game Munroe is playing with himself and us. Part of the delight of this is enjoying the linguistic backflips he has to go through to express complex technical ideas in the simplest words possible, but where it really shines is in just how clear he is when he nails it, turning the abstract and abstruse into something you can share with a child.
Houghton Mifflin were kind enough to exclusively share with us my three favorite diagrams from the book: Cellphones, Elevators and the US Constitution. You'll find them below.
It’s a commonplace that in the natural world, males attempt to mate with multiple females, while females attempt to entice males into being monogamous; this is attributed to the high cost of producing an egg and bearing children (or laying eggs) for females, and the low cost of sperm production for males.
Mathematician Stephen Wolfram and his company do a lot of consulting for Hollywood. But he doesn’t often do it on an urgent basis because a movie is about to shoot and they neglected to “tech the tech.” When I first started looking at the script for [Arrival], I quickly realized that to make coherent suggestions […]
Can you “hear” motion or light flashes? If so, according to new research from City University London, you may be experiencing a not-so-rare form of synaesthesia. Synesthesia is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. For example, a synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. (In this study, […]
Whether I’m trying to relieve some stress at work or entertain myself on the metro, Space Putty is there. You can bring this magical goo home and try it for yourself for just $9.99Like Silly Putty of yesteryear, this viscoelastic substance can be molded into different shapes and stretched around in your hands. Use it […]
You know as well as I that writing complex, long-long form text requires significant organization. You’re probably also well aware that Word just isn’t up to the task. That’s why I’m a huge fan of Scrivener, the software suite used by best-selling authors and technical writers alike.Scrivener is much more than another digital typewriter. With a […]
Looking to upgrade your weekend? Here are three randomly awesome products on my mind this week.#3 FRESHeBUDS Pro Magnetic Bluetooth EarbudsAs more and more phones and gadgets switch to Bluetooth-only compatibility, you’ll need to get Bluetooth headphones like the rest of us. I’ve been super impressed with these affordable magnetic headphones. Pull the magnetic earbuds apart to auto-connect […]