Randall "XCKD" Munroe's Thing Explainer: delightful exploded diagrams labelled with simple words

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2015/11/24/randall-xckd-munroes-thi.html

Randall “XKCD” Munroe’s Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words arrives in stores today: it combines technical diagrams and wordplay in pure display of everything that makes XKCD brilliant and wonderful in every way.


Well I got tired of Up-Goer Five before I even reached the end, so I wasn’t too excited about this book, but I have to say that’s the best explanation of a transistor I think I’ve ever seen, including engineering school.

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(washer/dryers AKA “Boxes that Make Clothes Smell Better”)

A miracle of modern technology, I think.


There’s a nice interview over at the Register. (And that’s a couple of Christmas presents sorted.)

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My pre-order arrives today. Looking forward to reading it with my niece and nephew when they get a little older. And since it’s Randall Monroe, I expect I’ll learn plenty myself.


Apparently a total mystery to some folk.

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Yeah, HR had that “talk” with a certain somebody last week…

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Relieved to see that “book” is still in the top thousand for now.

Where did he get that list anyway, and what timeframe does it cover? Is it the thousand most-used words right now or over the past century or of all time or what?

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Wow, you have a WINNER here, Cory! What a great find. Indeed, delightful, educational. This will make great holiday gifts for the grandkids!

Why ‘hand computer’, if ‘phone’ is used in the annotations?

…and ditto for picture taker and camera!!

I think its an interesting conceit, and RM is brilliant at explaining things, but way too often the wordiness of thing explainer gets in the way of a clear explanation. Often I find I have to spend time trying to guess what technical term is being alluded to. Makes me realize how useful it is to be able to introduce new terms when you’re explaining technical concepts.

I love the book concept so I hate to be a curmudgeon but I’m not convinced that a computer has as many transistors as people on earth.
Casually 2015 earth pop around 7 billion, apple A8 chip around 2 billion and I doubt that the support chips make up the difference.

It’s not a computer without memory. A one GB DRAM has 8 billion transistors.

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There seems to be a fine line between explaining things in a simple, clear way and dumbing them down so much as to obfuscate and misinform.

Better count RAM and NAND flash. DRAM is 1 transistor per bit(not counting assorted housekeeping, refresh controller, etc.) so add roughly a billion transistors per gig of RAM. Classy SLC flash is also 1 transistor per bit(ignoring any support infrastructure); but that’s expensive, so most flash memory is MLC; which is anywhere from 2 to 4 bits per cell(not counting the necessary additional cells allocated to ECC to compensate for the lousy reliability).

Unless you are really slumming it; that’s at least a billion transistors for the RAM(512MB is so last decade) and probably not less than four billion for flash memory(an 8GB MLC setup), possibly a great many more.

I’d be inclined to buy the claim.

You are aware that the “conceit” is there because it’s funny? That the purpose of the book isn’t “clear explanations” but rather to provide amusement through the tortured convolutions of an explanation limited to such simplistic language?

It certainly amuses me to imagine Randall buying into the idea that it can only be one thing or the other.


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