The Hard Work of Explaining Things Out

by Chris Stones
I remember the moment Bill Nye changed my life. He would tellhis audience not to take his word for anything. He would tellthem to try it themselves and see what worked. It was the singlemost empowering concept in the entire program. And I remember the feeling it gave me. That was the real joy of that show for me. Here was someone tellingme I had the authority to make up my own mind and to figure things outfor myself. No one had the upper hand. I relished the thought. So when it came time to build my own show, empowerment was high on mytodo list. The more I thought about it the more I realized I needed tosit down and figure out just what my show was going to become. I knewI didn't want to limit the topics because what I cover isalmost as much a part of the message as how I cover it. It alsoneeded an autodidactic bent. (To hammer home the concept that youdidn't need an authority.)Chris Explains......is the title I decided upon. It's open ended but with a sense of what you're in for. And in for it you will be because I tryto bring a cinematic and quirky twist to everything I discuss. I wascalled something like "the Alton Brown of tech" back when I wasin the blender community spotlight briefly. (Blender is a softwareplatform for 3D modeling and Visual Effects. It's also how I pull offthe FX for the series.)I'm spending a lot of time designing the look and feel of the show. My choices stem from a different baseline philosophy. Bill Nye wasalways saying "isn't this cool?" or "Science Rules" and all that. Mr. Wizard was about curiosity. And Alton Brown wanted to give you theinside scoop on food chemistry so you knew exactly what you weredoing. College professors prattle on about the life long earnings ofcollege degrees versus those without. And here I am showing you how all the tools work so you can buildyourself powers. Enticing right? That's the idea. And for a show likethat how might you design the style? I knew I wanted it morecinematic. The visuals had to hold you. The thoughts had to beclear. The stage had to be set. The feel of the explanation had to bejust right. I want the viewer to be right there with me in frustration overbroken code as I'm making a point about debugging. I want them tobegin to believe they can understand and even control parts of theirworld. And I want them to finally get the esoteric joke at thebeginning of the movie as a reward for learning the material. Ultimately, I wish to leave the viewer with a smile and a "better"understanding. I think that's the minimum height for the bar becausewhen it comes down to the logistics of explanations the balancing actbetween topic coverage and understanding is pretty challenging. Ideally, each video should be atomic. Atomic as in from atomus,meaning indivisible in Latin, meaning that the explanations should beindependent and as self contained as possible. The problem then, isthat each idea often needs numerous supporting ideas and I can't coverthem all in a video about one topic. I am forced to referenceexplanations outside of the currently presented one. Sometimes I can get away with assuming the viewer knows or can gatherwhat the supporting terms mean from the context. For example, in theoriginal Memory Leaks video, I use real blocks to represent memoryblocks. Do they know what a memory block is? Not exactly but theydon't have to for that discussion. They know what memory sorta is andthat's enough. That's the problem. I have to define concepts in terms of otherconcepts and I don't want to lose anyone. So I figured I would link videostogether based on the interdependent explanations. In the process, Iought to make the ideas searchable and definable in an ideal platformKeyword being, ideal... But if I pull it off, I foresee visitors finding their way to mysite and submerging themselves in a labyrinth of explanation until theyrealize time skipped a beat and snap out of their internet trace. Reaching understanding becomes more about jumping throughexplanations and terms and less about the individual videos. Together they form a more convincing whole. I figure at some point I'll animate paragraphs of terms and zoom througheach into the video that explains each. Visualizations are a keycomponent to explanations but not every episode will beat the CGI todeath. Alton Brown showed me that basic props are often all you needto convey an idea vividly. And picking those ideas is just as important. As I setup topics to knock down I begin to wonder who this series willappeal to. I'm faced with the tumble weed problems of web obscurity. Ineed to break into the web in a big way and the only way I can do thatis through better content and proper exposure.[2] I realize I can spot undeserved topics and nail them with a propertargeted explanation. If I can get my explanation to pop up on theholy first page of search results I would have a foot hold. I couldclimb hand over hand from there. I began to realizethere could be a large number of undeserved search terms, conceptsno one took the time to present properly or with as much tender loveand care as my CGI and personality could give it. Fishing them outbecame a more consuming curiosity. I never used to play the game. I mean I never paid attention to whatwas out there before. Back when I made a movie-a-day I wasn't "trying"to do anything with them. They just came out. Today, I contemplate howI would target a topic and where it arises out there. And how wellsomething is being explained. If I could just explain something betterthan any venue it's brought up in I can win over a small slice ofthose users for at least a little time. And that should add up. NO onesaid I couldn't just pick a forum post with a question and customforge an explanation for that stage. But what do people ACTUALLY want to learn about? That's a question I feel like no one asks enough. College boards,government officials, heads of industry prescribe things and kids arechurned out having to deal with defined thought roads. How can thehuman spirit prosper in a world that keeps defining the roads tocritical thinking? In the age of the internet, the antidote is inreach, for the curious and the motivated, knowledge is a free resourcewaiting to be grazed. Curiosity is a funny thing. It's inborn. The question is how far youwish to take it and to what ends. In my case, I was never more happythan when I obtained a new skill I knew I could use to give myself anadvantage in the world. So for my brand of knowledge coverage, I wantto cover things that matter in ways that make people matter.NOTES:[1]They were exciting times cut short by a lack of coordination or miscommunication and the fact things were happening in my life thatweren't exactly pleasant at the time. So I never fully developed thestyle. [2] Also, building useful things that get used. [x]People whom know me were always telling me I did a good job explainingthings. They kept telling me I should be a teacher. I suppose Ifinally decided to listen to them and make something out ofit.

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