17 January 2013

What I Do, in #1000simplewords

Some time ago, web comic genius Randall Munroe at xkcd (see also the blogroll at left) posted a graphical explanation of the Saturn V* rocket, but with a twist: he used only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. "Rocket" isn't in the list, so that became "up goer" and "space car." Similarly for "1,000" ("ten hundred") and any number of other technical terms that had to be changed to fit our language usage. The result is both funny and fascinating...

The challenge posed earlier today at Highly Allochthonous (hosted by @highlyanne and @Allochthonous) was to explain what you do using only that list of words. Twitterer @Theo_Sanderson made a cool web-based text editor to help you out, flagging any word that you're trying to use but is not on the list. Further inspired by some more Twitter friends (@SnowHydro, @JacquelynGill@GeoHerod et al.) here's my own result:
I study water, especially where rain falls from the sky onto the land and the where the trees and ground move the water from place to place and back into the sky. The Sun is a big part of my study, because it makes things warm and that makes wind, which moves water around with the air. The Sun warms water on the ground and makes it go back up into the sky. The Sun also helps trees grow, and trees use water to move things inside them as they grow. In many places around the world, trees get cut down for people to make other things with the wood. Sometimes the trees get sick or burned or knocked over, and that makes the tree grow different or die. All of these can change the way that the trees use water inside and move water from the ground to the sky. When trees are cut down or sick or burned or knocked over, it also changes how the Sun warms the ground and the water on the ground, and so that changes the way wind is made and where the wind and water later go to make more rain. I use computers and pictures from space to study how all of these things happen between water, trees, wind, rain, the ground and the Sun.  
I also study where people use water around the world, and how much water they have to use, and how they use it. People in dry places with little rain do not have as much water to use for growing food and making things. People in wet places with a lot of rain can grow some foods but not others, and can make some things that people in dry places do not make. Many people in both dry and wet places have learned to keep water to use it for a long time, but some people still need help to get enough water for the things they need to eat and want to make. Sometimes people get too much water at one time and it can hurt the places that they live and can make them sick, and sometimes it makes them want to move to another place. Sometimes people change the way the land is used, and that changes how much clean water they can have. In many places, people put bad things into the water and it is no longer clean enough for other people to use. Many people must give money to get clean water, but some people do not have enough money to get the water that they need. Where there is not enough water for everyone to do what they want with it, some people fight over who gets to use the water to grow their own food or to make their own things. Other people will given them money for the food and things that they make, and then they can buy more water and other things that they want and need. Everyone needs clean water for life, but not everyone can get the water that they need because of where they live or how much money they have.
You can probably find plenty more efforts by searching Twitter on the hashtags #upgoer5 (or #upgoerfive) and #1000simplewords.

Update (19 Jan 2013): This idea is spreading nicely! There's now a Storify page, a growing Tumblr at "Ten Hundred Words of Science" collecting many entries, and the challenge has been repeated at The OpenScience Project. Pass it on!

*Correction (18 Jan 2013): on original posting, I mistakenly identified the rocket in the xkcd entry as an Atlas V, for which the launch program was not started until 2002. It is actually a Saturn V rocket, "the only launch vehicle to transport human beings beyond Low Earth Orbit" as stated on Wikipedia and mentioned in the webcomic. My apologies for the confusion.


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