gatesnotes
The blog of Bill Gates
gatesnotes
The blog of Bill Gates

A Basic Guide for Curious Minds

Sign In
 
My Profile & Settings
Log out
GO
Filter By
Posts
Videos
Your search for "", with selected filters, does not match any posts. Please try again with a different search term or reset filters.

Popular searches include: Books, Malaria, and Future of Food.
RELATED ARTICLES ON
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
This verification token has expired.
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
Your account has been deactivated. Sign up to re-activate your account.
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
Logout:


Become a Gates Notes Insider
- or - Sign up with email
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Send me updates from Bill Gates
Sign Up
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, subscribe to your favorite topics and more. We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
Account Settings
VIEW & EDIT PROFILE
Your Information
First name
Last name
Save
Cancel
Email address
This email is already registered
Save
Cancel
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Password
Save
Cancel
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
Your Interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Deactivate Account
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process. Deactivate account If you want to permanently delete your account and remove its content, please send us a request here.
Ok
Gates Notes Insider Sign Up FAQ

Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

A. There are three ways you can create a Gates Notes account:

  • Sign up with Facebook. We’ll never post to your Facebook account without your permission.
  • Sign up with Twitter. We’ll never post to your Twitter account without your permission.
  • Sign up with your email. Enter your email address during sign up. We’ll email you a link for verification.

Q. Will you ever post to my Facebook or Twitter accounts without my permission?

A. No, never.

Q. How do I sign up to receive email communications from my Gates Notes account?

A. In Account Settings, click the toggle switch next to “Send me updates from Bill Gates.”

Q. How will you use the Interests I select in Account Settings?

A. We will use them to choose the Suggested Reads that appear on your profile page.

Forgot your password?
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Reset Password
Change your header photo
your image
 
Change
your image
Uh Oh!

The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.

Ok
First name
Last name
Enter a first and last name. For example, "Richard Feynman"
Bio
0/160 characters
Edit Profile
Account Settings
Save
Cancel
Suggested Reads
Reset your password.
Set New Password
Your password has been reset. You will now be redirected to the sign in page, or you can click here
Ok
Get emails from Bill Gates
Send me updates from Bill
You must provide an email
This email is already registered
Continue
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Continue" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
 
your image
Uh Oh!
The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.
Ok
Welcome FirstName!
You are now a Gates Notes Insider
Update Your Profile Information
First name
Last name
Save
Cancel
Email address
This email is already registered
Save
Cancel
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
Select Your Interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Continue
Confirm
Are you sure you want to
deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will unsubscribe you from Gates Notes emails, and will remove your profile and account information from public view on the Gates Notes. Please allow for 24 hours for the deactivation to fully process. You can sign back in at any time to reactivate your account and restore its content.
Deactivate My Acccount
Go Back
Your Gates Notes account has been deactivated.
Come back anytime.
Welcome back
In order to unsubscribe you will need to sign-in to your Gates Notes Insider account
Once signed in just go to your Account Settings page and set your subscription options as desired.
Sign In
Request account deletion
We’re sorry to see you go. Your request may take a few days to process; we want to double check things before hitting the big red button. Requesting an account deletion will permanently remove all of your profile content. If you’ve changed your mind about deleting your account, you can always hit cancel and deactivate instead.
Submit
Cancel
Thank You! Your request has been sent
Become a Gates Notes Insider for access to exclusive content and personalized reading suggestions
Sign up to receive occasional updates from the Gates Notes
Sign Up
Privacy Policy
It looks like you're using an older version of Internet Explorer which may not display all the features on this site. Upgrade Now » close
Complex Stuff, Simple Words

A Basic Guide for Curious Minds

Terminology is an occupational hazard of philanthropy. I’ve found this is especially true if you work in an area like health. It is not unusual to be discussing the latest disease research and hear someone throw around words like serum and in vitro (and more complicated ones). Over the years I’ve gotten comfortable with all the terms, but at first I had to keep reminding myself: Serum just means blood without the red and white cells. In vitro just means “in the glass”—as in test tubes. I still go through that process today with different subjects.

So it was fun to read Randall Munroe’s new book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, which will come out on November 24. Munroe sets out to explain various subjects—from how smartphones work to what the U.S. Constitution says—without any complicated terms. Instead he draws blueprint-style diagrams and annotates them using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. A nuclear reactor is a “heavy metal power building.” A dishwasher is a “box that cleans food holders.” The periodic table is “the pieces everything is made of.”

It is a brilliant concept. If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it. And Randall Munroe is the perfect guy to take on a project like this. He’s a former NASA robotics expert who now makes a living drawing the geeky comic strip XKCD and writing books. (I reviewed his What If? earlier this year.) Munroe reminds me of Sal Khan of Khan Academy, or the novelist and Crash Course host John Green. All three are polymaths who not only know a lot but are also good at breaking things down for other people.

Thing Explainer may use a limited vocabulary, but it is filled with helpful explanations and drawings. Have you ever wondered why frozen food defrosts unevenly in a microwave oven (or, as Munroe calls it, a “food-heating radio box”)? Munroe writes: “When you put iced food in a radio box, after a while, parts of it start to turn to water. But since radio boxes are really good at heating water, those parts start to get hot really fast. They can even get so hot they start turning to air—before all the ice is even gone!”

If you know Munroe’s previous work, it will come as no surprise that parts of Thing Explainer are laugh-out-loud funny. Here for example is what he says about the business end of a Saturn V rocket (“U.S. Space Team’s Up Goer Five”): “Lots of fire comes out here. This end should point toward the ground if you want to go to space. If it starts pointing toward space you are having a bad problem, and you will not go to space today.”

Or, his take on the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Let’s get rid of beer and wine.” And then the 21st: “Never mind about getting rid of beer and wine.”

If I have a criticism of Thing Explainer, it’s that the clever concept sometimes gets in the way of clarity. Occasionally I found myself wishing that Munroe had allowed himself a few more terms—“Mars” instead of “red world,” or “helium” instead of “funny voice air.”

Of course, that would defeat the purpose of the book. And Munroe himself is aware of the tension. In “Page Before the Book Starts”—a.k.a. the introduction—he acknowledges that some terminology is inescapable. “To really learn about things, you need help from other people, and if you want to understand those people, you need to know what they mean by the words they use. You also need to know what things are called so you can ask questions about them. But there are lots of other books that explain what things are called. This book explains what they do.”

And it does that beautifully. Thing Explainer is filled with cool basic knowledge about how the world works. If one of Munroe’s drawings inspires you to go learn more about a subject—including a few extra terms—then he will have done his job. He has written a wonderful guide for curious minds.

Become a Gates Notes Insider for access to exclusive content and personalized reading suggestions

Read previous versions of the Annual Letter

Filed Under

Discussion
comments powered by Disqus