# The Space Doctor and his Big IdeaNovember 19, 2015 8:02 AM   Subscribe

A man who draws pictures for the computer explains the space doctor's big idea about time and space using only simple words. posted by schmod (29 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

This whole project reminds why jargon and specific vocabularies are really, really necessary and make everything much easier to understand. Describing rocketry like a Saxon or an Icelander his too close to cute, but obscure for me.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:06 AM on November 19, 2015

The numbers said that everyone will see light going that same distance every second, but what happens if you go really fast in the same direction as the light?

This reminds me of the the time in 7th grade math where we got the teacher to waste about 15 minutes of class time by asking him what was at the time a popular joke from comedian Steven Wright. "If you were driving in your car at the speed of light and you turned your headlights on, would they do anything?" Teacher didn't recognize the joke and tried to actually answer, while we all silently giggled that we'd gotten him distracted from his lesson plan.
posted by dnash at 8:17 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

So, as per the first comic, I just viewed source for google.com.

Good God, Why?
posted by leotrotsky at 8:23 AM on November 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Sorry, let me try again:

So I just viewed the writing that gives directions to the page for the big searching engine and it is very very hard to read or understand.

Good God, Why?
posted by leotrotsky at 8:26 AM on November 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hee! He's going on tour for this, and I haven't decided whether to get the book signed for a young geek in the family or to keep it for myself.
posted by Pronoiac at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2015

Y'know how a soda can gets a little narrower at the top, like this? Why bother with that? Because the metal on the top is thicker than the sides, so they save a small fraction of a cent on material by shaping them that way. Multiply that small fraction of a cent by skerbillions of cans made each day and you save more money than it costs to design and manufacture them that way.

Now do the same thing with bytes on a network.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

This whole project reminds why jargon and specific vocabularies are really, really necessary and make everything much easier to understand. Describing rocketry like a Saxon or an Icelander his too close to cute, but obscure for me.

Yeah, the original Up-goer Five post was cute, but I've found the later Simple English explanations to be tedious and overly constrained, especially his refusal to use proper nouns. There's nothing wrong with explaining that "the space doctor" was a person named Albert Einstein or that the world closest to the Sun is called Mercury. I'm pretty sure children and non-native English speakers understand the concept of names just fine.

Also it seems to be interfering with updating What If, and I liked that better, even if he's had a tendency to focus on questions that boil down to "what if [thing that would destroy the planet]?"

Good God, Why?

Most webpages divide their content into a few different files, which your browser assembles into a single page. The source code for Google.com puts everything (minus the Google logo and a couple of other images) in a single file. This means that your browser only has to ask for one file (plus the images) instead of asking for several separate files.

On top of that, the page has been heavily optimized to be as small as possible. For example, they took out extra blank space and renamed variables to things like "a" and "b" instead of "search_terms" or "browser_type". That may seem tedious, but that kind of optimization is mostly done automatically, not by hand.

It's worth it because Google's page is loaded billions of times per day. Saving two requests and a few hundred bytes per page load translates to a large savings in bandwidth and server time.
posted by jedicus at 8:47 AM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Previously: I help students learn how to study all types of rocks.
posted by Kabanos at 9:09 AM on November 19, 2015

I liked this article, and my understanding of Space Doctor's theories just quintupled, squared. I just clicked on the link and it displayed just fine.yMaybe this is why some space rocks sneak up on us. Nah. Nevermind.
posted by Oyéah at 9:36 AM on November 19, 2015

There's nothing wrong with explaining that "the space doctor" was a person named Albert Einstein

Yeah, I was expecting this to be about Peter Capaldi
posted by Lucinda at 9:41 AM on November 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

And I fully expected the big idea about time and space to be the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey... stuff.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:45 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's actually quite helpful for those of us who quickly go adrift in thinking about these kinds of concepts. Yes, it's dumbed down, but it also gives people who need it something to build their ideas of relativity on.
posted by emjaybee at 10:07 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

xkcd and 'What If?' are both amazing, but this project? Sorry, the premise (making complex ideas simple) is actually being undermined by the gimmick (1000 most common words). And the gimmick isn't funny or cute enough to justify an investment in the bad writing.

What's sad is that Munroe could've written in his traditional style and made the same concepts both much funnier and easier to understand. This is like when SNL takes the most mediocre sketches and blows them up into some multi-million dollar budgeted Hollywood movie. Why?
posted by dgaicun at 10:11 AM on November 19, 2015

This would be a great project if the indented goal was getting semi-literate people some science education. But I don't think that's your readership when you're getting published in The New Yorker
posted by thecjm at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2015

It seems particularly unfortunate that this method leads him to use the word "weight" for mass in a discussion about gravity.
posted by straight at 10:23 AM on November 19, 2015

I get why Munroe would do this. His whole oeuvre is to take a simple idea and scale it up well past 11. I actually like it, and the 1000 words project is interesting and clever, though (as I mention earlier) it actually highlights why we have specific vocabularies and jargon. I'm guessing he's well aware of this fact, as well.

He's just having fun publishing some humour.

Just being clear my comment above is not any sort of hate on for you if you like it or Munroe.

Also, the poet in me (he's not dead yet) loves that Icelanders get to use words from the Eddas and Sagas to describe the modern world.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is like when SNL takes the most mediocre sketches and blows them up into some multi-million dollar budgeted Hollywood movie. Why?

Same reason, of course. Although Munroe is probably more successful at it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2015

The Google.com front page source was a lot simpler before suggestions and then instant results came in and it became largely a mass of machine-generated Javascript, which is what Randall is talking about. In the early years it was pretty simple HTML, although annoyingly it was never valid HTML, as the devs would leave out some closing tags, quotation marks, attributes, etc to save space, as long as the omission didn't break page rendering in top browsers.
posted by w0mbat at 11:04 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm working on the search for gravitational waves, I read this, and I liked it. It's a rather insightful distillation of Special and General Relativity. And the part about correcting the clocks on the GPS satellites for both SR and GR trips up all sorts of people.

(I do agree that the use of "weight" for mass was rather unfortunate. Ugh. And yeah, Space Doctor had me expecting wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:08 AM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's really more of a writing exercise than actually making complex ideas simple.
posted by atoxyl at 11:59 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's really more of a writing exercise than actually making complex ideas simple

C.f. Simplified English.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:12 PM on November 19, 2015

I loved it. I thought I had a decent grasp of relativity for a non-STEM guy, but I learned things from this. And as soon as my sore throat heals up, I am totally reading this to my elementary school-aged son. I'm psyched.
posted by Bugbread at 4:20 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I liked this a lot.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:36 PM on November 19, 2015

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that all the folks who disliked it already knew all the information presented in the article.
posted by Bugbread at 4:41 PM on November 19, 2015

He makes things much too simple. He inadvertently sets pi to 3, and he also has phones talking to GPS satellites, whereas they passively receive signals from the satellites.

Feynman was much better at this!
posted by monotreme at 4:22 PM on November 20, 2015

He inadvertently sets pi to 3

Why do you say that? He says twice that he's talking about a value "a little more than three" and then refers to it as "the usual three times the distance across" in a way that makes it (I thought) obvious he's referring to that same "a little more than three" that he told us is the same for all circles.
posted by straight at 6:49 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

To celebrate his new book being available, take a ride on a hoverboard.
posted by Theta States at 10:52 AM on November 26, 2015

I'm not OK with this dumbed-down, politically-correct grade inflation that thinks they can call a vehicle on two wheels a "hoverboard."
posted by straight at 6:02 PM on November 26, 2015

Straight: did you know you can chain jump?
posted by Pronoiac at 11:27 AM on November 27, 2015

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