The Hard Work of Explaining Things Out

By Chris Stones

I remember the moment Bill Nye changed my life. He would tell
his audience not to take his word for anything. He would tell
them to try it themselves and see what worked. It was the single
most 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 telling
me I had the authority to make up my own mind and to figure things out
for 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 my
todo list. The more I thought about it the more I realized I needed to
sit down and figure out just what my show was going to become. I knew
I didn't want to limit the topics because what I cover is
almost as much a part of the message as how I cover it. It also
needed an autodidactic bent. (To hammer home the concept that you
didn't need an authority.)

Chris Explains... 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 try
to bring a cinematic and quirky twist to everything I discuss. I was
called something like "the Alton Brown of tech" back when I was
in the blender community spotlight briefly. (Blender is a software
platform for 3D modeling and Visual Effects. It's also how I pull off
the 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 was
always saying "isn't this cool?" or "Science Rules" and all that.
Mr. Wizard was about curiosity. And Alton Brown wanted to give you the
inside scoop on food chemistry so you knew exactly what you were
doing. College professors prattle on about the life long earnings of
college degrees versus those without.

And here I am showing you how all the tools work so you can build
yourself powers. Enticing right? That's the idea. And for a show like
that how might you design the style? I knew I wanted it more
cinematic. The visuals had to hold you. The thoughts had to be
clear. The stage had to be set. The feel of the explanation had to be
just right.

I want the viewer to be right there with me in frustration over
broken code as I'm making a point about debugging. I want them to
begin to believe they can understand and even control parts of their
world. And I want them to finally get the esoteric joke at the
beginning 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 because
when it comes down to the logistics of explanations the balancing act
between 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 be
independent and as self contained as possible. The problem then, is
that each idea often needs numerous supporting ideas and I can't cover
them all in a video about one topic. I am forced to reference
explanations outside of the currently presented one.

Sometimes I can get away with assuming the viewer knows or can gather
what the supporting terms mean from the context. For example, in the
original Memory Leaks video, I use real blocks to represent memory
blocks. Do they know what a memory block is? Not exactly but they
don't have to for that discussion. They know what memory sorta is and
that's enough.

That's the problem. I have to define concepts in terms of other
concepts and I don't want to lose anyone. So I figured I would link videos
together based on the interdependent explanations. In the process, I
ought to make the ideas searchable and definable in an ideal platform

Keyword being, ideal...

But if I pull it off, I foresee visitors finding their way to my
site and submerging themselves in a labyrinth of explanation until they
realize time skipped a beat and snap out of their internet trace.
Reaching understanding becomes more about jumping through
explanations 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 through
each into the video that explains each. Visualizations are a key
component to explanations but not every episode will beat the CGI to
death. Alton Brown showed me that basic props are often all you need
to 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 will
appeal to. I'm faced with the tumble weed problems of web obscurity. I
need to break into the web in a big way and the only way I can do that
is through better content and proper exposure.[2]

I realize I can spot undeserved topics and nail them with a proper
targeted explanation. If I can get my explanation to pop up on the
holy first page of search results I would have a foot hold. I could
climb hand over hand from there. I began to realize
there could be a large number of undeserved search terms, concepts
no one took the time to present properly or with as much tender love
and care as my CGI and personality could give it. Fishing them out
became a more consuming curiosity.

I never used to play the game. I mean I never paid attention to what
was 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 how
I would target a topic and where it arises out there. And how well
something is being explained. If I could just explain something better
than any venue it's brought up in I can win over a small slice of
those users for at least a little time. And that should add up. NO one
said I couldn't just pick a forum post with a question and custom
forge 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 are
churned out having to deal with defined thought roads. How can the
human spirit prosper in a world that keeps defining the roads to
critical thinking? In the age of the internet, the antidote is in
reach, for the curious and the motivated, knowledge is a free resource
waiting to be grazed.

Curiosity is a funny thing. It's inborn. The question is how far you
wish to take it and to what ends. In my case, I was never more happy
than when I obtained a new skill I knew I could use to give myself an
advantage in the world. So for my brand of knowledge coverage, I want
to cover things that matter in ways that make people matter.


[1] They were exciting times cut short by a lack of
coordination or mis communication and the fact things
were happening in my life that weren't exactly pleasant
at the time. So I never fully developed the style.

[2] Also, building useful things that get used.

[x] People whom know me were always telling me I did a
good job explaining things. They kept telling me I
should be a teacher. I suppose I finally decided to
listen to them and make something out of it.