Things, Explained

A Roboticist-Cartoonist Version of Things

Even though I read a lot, I usually don't recommend books to others. My favorites usually aren't too interesting to most people—lots of books on obscure parts of history, old pulp westerns, and dry technical volumes.

While Christmas shopping, though, I found a book that I loved so much that I bought copies, not only for my grandkids but myself, too.

Ducks in a (vertical) row.

His ducks in a (vertical) row.

It's called Thing Explainer, written by a former NASA roboticist turned cartoonist named Randall Munroe. The premise is pretty straightforward: the book is filled with diagrams of various gadgets, natural phenomena, and scientific concepts, but all the actual explaining is done using only the thousand most commonly-used words in the English language.

In practice, it can get a little silly. Bridges are called “tall roads,” planes are called “sky boats,” and the Saturn Five Rocket is called “Up Goer Five.” All of which earned more than a few chuckles from me.

Added bonus: The actual diagrams and explanations are absolutely top notch. I like to think I'm decently well educated when it comes to science, and yet I still learned quite a bit from Thing Explainer, often in the form of completely new tidbits of knowledge, sure, but just as often knowledge presented in a way that is novel and better for comprehension.

Thing Explainer isn't the kind of book you read in one or two sittings. It's more of a coffee table book you thumb through here and there. Of course, I read it all in one sitting, but I'm just not very good at delayed gratification when it comes to books. (Or when it comes to dinner. Or dessert. Or vacations.)


Paying it Forward

Like book recommendations, I’m not too big on endorsements (unless it’s for ancient inventions that are perfectly great to help the 21st century keep on keeping on).

And then along comes that other Yard Ramp Guy, Jeff Mann, who just the other day introduced me to the Grasshopper Entrepreneur Scholarship. Since I don’t believe my School of Life credentials currently qualify me as an eligible entrant, I offer it up to all you legal young’uns—either in college or headed there.

Here’s the rub—and why I’m happy to present it to you: This year’s essay topic is, “What does market disruption mean to you as an entrepreneur? What would you do to create market disruption for your business?”

Me, I’m all about market disruption. (In my family, Maggie defines this as whatever I’ll do to get out of going to the grocery store.)

A $5,000 scholarship awaits the winner. Go get ‘em.

Posted in Culture, Great Inventions.

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