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episode 257: Randall Munroe, the genius behind XKCD


I’m not usually a fanboy on this podcast, but this episode is the exception.

I love the web-comic XKCD. I’ve had prints of it hanging in my house for years. It’s nerdy and humane, curious and kind. And every so often, it’s explosively, crazily creative, in ways that leave me floored. Like the Hugo-award winning “Time,” a 3,099 frame animation that unspooled every hour for over four months. Or the book Thing Explainer, which used only the 1,000 most common words in the English language to explain some of the hardest ideas in the world.

XKCD is the work of one person, Randall Munroe, and I’ve wanted to talk with him for years. Now he’s out with a new book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, and I got my chance. The episode covers:

- The simple places Munroe draws inspiration for his ideas
- The fact that scientists still don’t know how lightning works or why ice is slippery
- How pedantry kills creativity
- Why aliens probably build suspension bridges like we do
- The superpower of refusing to be embarrassed by what you don’t know
- How to retain a sense of wonder as you age
- Whether the water of Niagra Falls can fit through a straw
- How to dig a hole
- How a priest in 1590 intuited dozens of scientific discoveries centuries before they were officially discovered
- And, most importantly, the best book recommendations I think I’ve ever heard on the show

This one was a pleasure.

References:

Jimmy Carter's Voyager letter

Book recommendations:

Natural and Moral History of the Indies by José de Acosta

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record by Carl Sagan (and others) 

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 16 September 2019  1h27m