#rpTEN Speaker Randall Munroe: The Thing Explainer

Randall Munroe is a physicist, a walking encyclopedia of natural disasters, knows everything about Velociraptors and can complete a Rubik's Cube in less than a minute. He probably wouldn't have been able develop these awesome skills had his contract at NASA's robotics research centre been extended. It wasn't. Instead, he's coming to re:publica TEN – and only bringing a pen with him.

Above all, Randall Munroe is the man behind xkcd. Python, Mathematica, R and TeX (scientists and engineers rejoice!) contain scripts, whose function graphs have a certain resemblance to comics. Randall had a few of these old graphs still knocking about, so he digitised them. What started as a bit of a chance product in time became one of the most recognisable features in online scientific communication: "xkcd – A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language". Without xkcd, the world would be a little less understandable – although the acronym xkcd remains a bit of a mystery. The comics could be seen as a form of proto-GIF – very funny, once you understand it, and at the very least fun to look at, while you work out its meaning. Via stick figure art and in single or multi-panel sequences with a meta overlay of tweaks (Firefox 3.0 and higher!), the comics illustrate scientific theorems and pure pop-culture.

[caption]Self portrait; Copyright: Randall Munroe[/caption]Munroe creates accessible pathways into darker and complicated materials. The following, in-depth discussion on Twitter concerning data visualisation shows how academic humour is not always particularly accessible – x-plain-wiki to the rescue!

Randall's body of work is constantly growing and he comes to our aid in those sleepless nights, when we toss and turn with questions and think: “How long would it take for us to notice that the earth's circumference is constantly changing? What would happen if all of the world's rain would fall in one giant, omnidirectional, supersonic drop of water?” For the last few years, Randall Munroe has accepted "WHAT IF" questions. Talk about modern alchemy: he takes his readers' fears and, through scientific furore, turns them into inward peace in a few short sketches.

Fresh off the press and also available in German: "Thing Explainer – Complicated Stuff in Simple Words" It's a masterpiece of ontology, a mix of hidden object books, How and Why Wonder Books and info graphics: stellar constellations, ecosystems, rocket propulsion, engine schematics and much more. Munroe explains everything using only the 1000 most commonly used words. That can make for an interesting read – an elevator becomes a "pull up room" – and lots of fun.

Xkcd at re:publica TEN is a must – he's a personification of digital culture! On multiple occasions, fans of xkcd, including re:publica friends Cory Doctorow and Richard Stallman, have even taken the digital to the physical world. In reference to xkcd Nr. 225, Richard Stallman was sent a Katana sword and, during one of his lectures, surrounded by his students dressed as ninjas.

[caption]Nr. 225 and Richard Stallmann with ninjas; Copyright: Randall Munroe[/caption]We think its only right that the International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid in honour of Randall. Asteroid "4942 Munroe" is large enough to wipe out all life on earth in the event of a collision. We hope that the only collisions during re:publica will be of synaptic connections. Be there or be square!


Copyright: Randall Munroe