Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ted Talk Review Randall Munroe: Comics That Ask "What If?"

Who: Randall Munroe Bio

Website: https://xkcd.com/

Title: Comics That Ask "What If?"

Watch it: Ted2014 (https://www.ted.com/talks/randall_munroe_comics_that_ask_what_if#t-109486)


Length: 9:29

26 Subtitle Languages

Related Books:
Randall Munroe: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Randall Munroe: Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words
Randall Munroe: xkcd: volume 0

Related Ted Talk Reviews: 
Michael Shermer: Why people believe weird things
James Veitch: This is what happens when you reply to spam email

Review: Randall Munroe Comics That Ask "What If?" 

Randall Munroe is a web cartoonist and blogger who uses math and science to over-explain hypothetical questions in his blog "What If?". Every week, readers of his "What if?" blog send in insane speculative questions and Munroe answers them using cartoons and detailed math and science. The "What If?" series is, engaging, well-researched and damn entertaining. Randall has a degree in physics from Christopher Newport University and worked for NASA before working full time on his webcomic. 

Randall Munroe began his Ted Talk by giving an example of his fascinating work. His cartoons are simple, yet precise and his explanations are clear and thorough.  Randall answers the absurd hypothetical question "What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% of the speed of light?" in his typical fashion that would probably make most scientists reach for a pen and paper to run through the math. What is unique about Randall Munroe's work, is his approach to science and math. His work is anything but textbook, these are comic cartoons for science, which happens to work sublimely. Randall's work makes science accessible leading to a common argument in science education; what is more useful? Conceptual understanding and engagement, or technical understanding and precision? 

The talk then took a turn to Google and their data. Google, being google, has tons of data and is understandably secretive about this information. Munroe explains how he went about answering the absurd question of "If all digital data were stored on punch cards, How big would google's data warehouse be?". Through some pretty clever data rummaging methods, Randall was able to estimate the total amount of data owned by google.  After posting his answer to his blog, Munroe got a surprising message from google with their answer to his question.

Randall Munroe is an amazing artist, thinker and scientist who takes insane hypothetical questions and brings them meaning through math and science. The human habit to wonder about what cannot be known, ask questions, and argue about pointless facts, comparisons and "what ifs" is a cornerstone of bar talk and friendly banter. Its common among my circles for friends to show off their nerd knowledge by arguing over the details of some invented scenario, passing the time and sharing a few laughs. Randall Munroe would be that friend who goes home long after everyone forgot about the conversation to stay up all night running numbers and making charts figuring out the particulars of the conversation. Not to show anybody up, brag or to prove a point, but because he loves figuring out the world and using math and science. We are lucky that the world has a Randall Munroe, someone who goes the extra mile to bring us some amazing knowledge.

Randall Munroe's Books: 
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

xkcd: volume 0


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