• rkneuselbooks

Why "The Explainer's Guides"?

The first two Explainer's Guides are now available. But why "Explainer's Guides"? Here's the scoop. A while back, someone referred to me as a writer. While that is technically true, that's not how I think of the word ``writer."


To me, a writer is someone like J. R. R. Tolkien, i.e., someone who writes stories and writes them well. Of course, there are nonfiction writers, too. People like Carl Sagan or Stephen Brusatte come immediately to mind. They make reading nonfiction a pleasure similar to reading fiction: the words matter, the form and structure are pleasant and engaging and surprising in the same way you expect a work of fiction to be surprising.


That's not me. Sure, I think I have my moments, but I'm not a "writer" but an "explainer." My goal is to inform and entertain, true, but primarily to inform and to explain concepts that are sometimes difficult using language that (hopefully) everyone can understand. When I was studying physics, my professors always told us that if we can't explain the concepts to someone with a high school education, then we don't understand the concepts ourselves. The math comes later. Of course, often, the math was the struggle, but that's beside the point.


This brings me back to the Explainer's Guides. If I'm an explainer, then these are my guides to topics that I hope are of interest to others, ways of getting to the heart of what one needs to know while also pointing to more, and all in under 200 pages.


"The Explainer's Guide to Computer Programming" seeks to introduce programming concepts by explaining what it is programmers program (i.e., computers) and then by introducing the five main control structures that, along with data storage, form the core of what all (common) programming languages supply: sequence, conditionals, loops, functions, and recursion. Examples are in Python, which is perhaps the easiest modern language to learn.


"The Explainer's Guide to Number Sets" just happened. I wanted to discuss the types of numbers: counting, natural, real, complex, etc., and how they are related to each other by slowly building "The Diagram," chapter by chapter. As the book evolved, like all things that evolve, unexpected turns happened, and concepts from number theory, set theory, and abstract algebra crept in. It's a good thing, too, because they form a valuable approach to understanding numbers. I like this one. Give it a go; I think you'll like it, too. There are many engaging examples, from searching the decimal expansion of pi for predictions of future events (I mean, why not?) to alternate Mandelbrot sets and dual numbers. Dual numbers were discovered in the 1840s and then largely forgotten but are presently in the heart of modern deep learning toolkits.


More Explainer's Guides are in the works. I'm actively working on one related to geologic time because, I mean, the Earth is really, really old, and we poor humans have little solid understanding of deep time. Other Explainer's Guides will address topics like swarm intelligence, music, elementary physics, etc. Have a pet topic? Let me know.


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